Too busy . . .

This is one of those weeks where I’ve just been a horrible friend!  I’m way too busy to even spit.  Parts of it has been really, really good.  I had my first “psych resident rounds” (basically where all the top shits – psych pharmacists in the area – get together and grill me on some topic.)  This week was schizophrenia week, and I got good feedback on it.  I guess I did pretty well.

But the craziness doesn’t stop there!  I’ve been going non-stop all day, and just got back from Mama Mia at the Hippodrome (birthday present – YOU READ THAT RIGHT, AUGUST 31 is my BIRTHDAY! from one of the other residents).  We had a smashing time!

Bright and early tomorrow morning, I have an in-service to give to the pharmacists about our newly implemented discharge counseling at Spring Grove.  So I gotta train the other pharmacists how to do it right.

Then I’m off to the School of Pharmacy to train the younglings in proper IM/SQ injection technique.

Then I’m gonna service Santiago . . . mmm

Then a trip to the gym before I just CRASH! 

Yes, I know . . . it’s not a very eventful birthday   But then again, I barely even remembered it was my birthday . . . so I don’t think I care much.

However, I must admit that I do care about my heart, and I know that when my time is limited, and I’m super busy, then my heart gets put on the backburner, and I’m feeling the aftermath of it already . . . I’m not really sure what’s going on, but I’m in some major pain at the moment.  I started to spontaneously cry this morning at work . . . thank God no one was around!

Anywho . . . if you happen to think of me . . . send out a prayer.

Peace and love!

D.J. Free!


Contemplation and the scratches on my legs . . .

The worries overwhelming my life are snowballing down a very large hill.  Fear not, I’m used to this sort of drama.  When life seems to get this way, I know it’s time to get away.

This past weekend, my church sponsored a contemplative retreat at the Bon Secours Spiritual Center.  There were probably about 30 or so of us – mostly the “spooky spiritual” folks at my church.  There were 5 other young adult ladies on the trip, but for the most part, everyone there was middle-aged or older.  These are the people that I see every week at church, but never really know what to say to them.  It was really great forging some new friendships – especially with those who have walked many miles down the paths I find myself on presently.  Their wisdom means so much to me – especially since I typically feel more lost than found on any given day.

How apropos that the theme of this year’s retreat was “The Inward/Outward Journey” – accented quite nicely by the beautiful prayer labyrinth at the facility.  I think nearly everyone took a whirl through that labyrinth, and everyone (including myself) had an amazing experience with it.

I would say the last 5 years of my life (especially the last 2) has been this very inward journey.  And necessarily so, methinks.  I desperately needed to find myself and be stripped of the baggage that I’ve picked up along the way to fulfill the expectations of those around me.  But in the last few months, I’ve felt a strong desire to start moving outward.

I think the most significant part of the weekend was a saturday afternoon hike I went on with the other young adults.  I knew we were in trouble when our “guide” (Rachel) blurted out “Gosh, I just got lost in the building!”  Eep!

Needless to say, we started off on the wrong trail, and then spent the next hour and a half trying to find the right one.  It’s funny how stubborn people can be.  No matter how lost we got, we kept forging forward, hoping that we could find the right way.  Eventually, we ended up in some country neighborhood, and I volunteered to be the one to go ahead and make a fool of myself by asking some random resident to point us to the river we were looking for. 

A half hour later, we’ve gone down the road and found the railroad tracks that run parallel to the river, and we’re walking, walking, walking – keenly peering at the woods alongside us, hoping to catch a glimpse of that elusive trail that would take us back home.

We never found it

Leigh Ellen and I found some sort of trail, seemingly etched out by a few lonely, bored hikers in days of yore.  We decided to check it out, and see if it would perhaps lead the way home.  The rest of our party decided to give up and go back the way we originally came, but not the dauntless Leigh Ellen and Darren!  No, we instead trudged forward on our “trail”, finding that it ran parallel to the railroad tracks (and the rest of our party).  But about 2/10 of a mile down, our path diverged from the tracks, further off into the woods.  We didn’t want to risk losing our party, so we decided to head back to the rairload tracks and rejoin them.

Problem is, there was a good bit of land between us and them – and it wasn’t as easy to cross as it had been further back!  But we set out to cross it anyway.

Leigh Ellen walked ahead of me and dutifully warned me that it was a bit muddy. 

An understatement like this has ne’er been uttered!  I took one step and felt the thick mud oozing around my shoes.  I took another step and felt the same.  But the third step . . . the third step was different.   Suddenly, the mud felt . . . closer . . . as if I had actually made contact with earth. 

I had.

I looked back to see the very tippy top of my left shoe still lying in the mud.  I looked down to see the ground envoloping my foot!

I went into panic mode, and just started screaming all sorts of expletives!  (I believe “shit” came out – figuratively speaking, of course – at least a dozen times within a small span of time.)

I had now lost both shoes, and was carrying them in my hands, and that’s when we both realized that the thickets and weeds around us were suddenly getting deeper. 

. . . and they had thorns!

Next thing you know, we’re in the middle of this hellish bog.  We stopped for a second to reconsider our course.  Should we retreat and go back?  Or should we keep pressing forward to reach the tracks?  My partner wisely noted that either way we go, we’re going to get muddy and all scratched up . . . so we pressed on.

After what seemed like an eternity of vicious attacks from sharp-toothed weeds, we finally made it to the end of the bog.  I took off my socks so as not to get all that mud on the inside of my shoes, slipped them on, and then realized there was one last obstacle to reaching the tracks: a mound of rocks to climb!

That actually proved to be the easiest part of our journey.  After reaching the top and walking the railroad tracks back, we caught up with the rest of our party a half-mile later, with legs absolutely burning from scores of tiny scratches blanketing our lower limbs.

A half hour later, we found ourselves safely back at the spiritual center, but Leigh Ellen and I had definitely had an extra ounce of meaning to our journey.  We bonded through that experience.

As the weekend wore on, all of the metaphorical implications of this little jaunt of ours started to make their way into my psyche.

I realize that we’re all on a journey.  Thing is, I really don’t think anyone wakes up one day and says “gosh, I really wanna just get lost and all fucked up today!”  Yet it happens.  I think we’ve all experienced it, no?  We find ourselves in the middle of a bog and we wonder what in the world we should do now that we’re in a mess so big, that we never could have imagined even in our most eerie nightmares.

And this is why Jesus is so significant to me.  I don’t mean to knock any other Gods or gods or what have you.  I truly respect the deities many of us serve.  But what stands out to me about Jesus was how “Leigh Ellen – like” He is.  I don’t know that I could have made it through that without her . . . without her encouraging me, and speaking reason into the situation, and just being willing to keep moving with me.

The Christian God isn’t just this ethereal being “way out there”.  He actually came to the world He created, and interacted with it in a fresh new way: a human way. 

I found myself crying several times on Sunday – out of the blue, really.  Because I couldn’t seem to shake this image of Jesus being the kind of friend that gets His legs all scratched up with me.

I was brought up with this image of Jesus that He just rescues you out of your hell, and takes all your problems away.  So I spent years and years begging for just that.  But my real, true, raw God experiences have all been something more painful, yet somehow more beautiful than all of that.  They have been of a Jesus who comforts me by walking in the midst of my mess, and walking with me out of it.  He feels my anguish in a very real way – in the way that I feel it.  And He gets me to higher ground when it’s all said and done. 

And yeah, I walk away with a lot of scars, and legs burning – but those scars etch something far more meaningful into my soul than on my skin.  I learn to appreciate what’s really important in life.

God bless, one and all.  May you find understanding in the great mystery of those timeless, inescapable words “he who loses his life, will find it” – scratches and all.


Home sweet home? Or emotional Alcatraz?

I love my family.  I really do.  They’re great people.  I suppose everyone has some issues with their upbringing, I know that I do.  I know my family isnt perfect by any stretch, but I gotta say that my parents are really awesome people, my brother is pretty damn cool himself.

Yet for the past 5 years, I’ve felt this gap between us – and it’s widening daily.  When I was in college, I used to talk to my family a few times a week.  But the last few years, I maybe talk to them once or twice a week – and that’s only if my dad calls me.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s sort of “out of sight, out of mind” with me.

At this point you should be asking if there isnt’ some sort of problem here.  I mean, after all, I’m saying how great my family is, yet simultaneously saying how much I don’t really communicate with them.

This has been nagging at me for years.  You can’t imagine how much guilt I’ve felt about it all  I’ve talked about it w/ Lance (my counselor) several times before, and with his help I was able to come up with some pretty decent reasons for why this was – on a cognitive level, anyway.  But there was still this really huge missing piece that I could never seem to wrap my head around.

Thing is, I’ve discovered it now.  And the reason my head had such a hard time with it was because it wasn’t so much a head issue – but a heart one.

You see, my distance from my family has grown in direct proportion to my ability to uncover the deepest parts of me.  In other words, the more I find out about myself, the less I want to be around my family.  And I see that it’s essentially because I go home, and don’t feel comfortable.   I can’t be me.  I feel trapped – imprisoned.  I can’t cuss, I can’t drink, I can’t talk about really big things in my life that I struggle with – the things that really matter to my heart.

I have to be this really good kid that they’ve always known.  Problem is, that really good kid is only a memory to me.  When I look into the mirror now, I don’t see this stranger any longer – this persona I spent years developing and projecting to the world around me.  No, who I see is authentic Darren, more and more.

Without ever realizing it, I think I subconsciously decided that my family couldn’t possibly like the real me, and I couldn’t possibly stand to continue living in inauthenticity, so I just backed away slowly and inconspicuously – hoping that they wouldn’t notice.

They did.  They still do.  But no one really says anything about it.  I can just tell though. 

In my sane moments, I know that I need to give my family the chance to see inside my soul – to see Darren.  But sane moments are about as rare and elusive as that damn pink unicorn I keep trying to catch when I see him running alongside my car at night.  (Yes, I’m playing – I really have been around this psych hospital too long )

I dunno.  Pray for me.  It’s really scary to let my family inside to see me, but I feel I at least owe them the chance, right?  Thing is, I’ve been burned by so many people that I let get close to me, that I don’t know that I could stand being hurt by them.  But then again, I couldn’t possibly be helping my situation by withdrawing . . . I definitely lose my family then.  So I guess I’m gonna have to take some risks.  I hope you’ll be there for me during this really difficult process.  Thanks.  You really rock

Out of the Shadows . . .

My current preceptor at Spring Grove Hospital is awesome.  Kelly and I worked together at the Clozapine Authorization and Monitoring Program (CAMP Office) last year, so we already had a great working relationship.  It was kind of strange at first to be under her authority, since technically she was under mine at the CAMP Office.  But I quickly adjusted after realizing that she is not only a reservoir of vast knowledge, but also an excellent teacher.

Honestly, this residency is starting to make me feel like I’m drowning in work.  Part of that is my problem, I’ll admit: some parts due to a long history of procrastination, some parts due to dealing with some pretty heavy personal issues.

But Kelly has been awesome at giving me plenty of time and space to get my work done.  She also stretches me to learn as much as possible, and is constantly challenging me to “question the questions” (as my good friend Ling used to always say).

Kelly had me watch a short documentary called “Out of the Shadows”.  It was filmed, directed, and produced by a woman who’s mother has schizophrenia.  She follows her mom for 2 years, in and out of hospitals, and chronicles her family members’ perspectives about her mom’s illness over the years.

It gave me a fresh new look into this debilitating condition.  I mean, I see it every day at the hospital, and it constantly breaks my heart.  But I never get to see how the family and friends suffer

The one really striking thing about the documentary was that it poignantly underscored the one issue that has been bothering me (like a proverbial thorn in the paw) since I started this residency: the patient’s lack of insight.

You see, schizophrenic patients very rarely have good insight – i.e., they rarely know that they suffer with a mental illness.  A good number of the hospital residents that I see daily are now stabalized on neuroleptics (aka antipsychotics), so many of them can hold a good conversation with me.  As a matter of fact, some of them are close to discharge, and could potentially be holding a good conversation with you at the local grocery store, McDonald’s, gas station, etc.  You’d never really know they were sick, unless you’re pretty well attuned to mental illnesses. 

To put it in perspective, 1% of the population suffers with schizophrenia, so that accounts for  about 30,000 people in the Baltimore/Washington metro area . . . and most of them are NOT in hospitals!

Despite being pretty functional in the community, however, a good number of them will never ever realize that they have a mental illness.  At best we can convince them to keep taking their medicines and hope that they’ll just do it simply because they’re tired of being readmitted to the hospital.  Sadly, though, most will stop adhering to their meds at some point (in large part because they feel that they’re fine, and don’t need to take them).

It really is frustrating!  I mean, they can be so logical in sooooo many other areas, yet they can’t seem to make the connection that their brains need a little help being chemically balanced!

It honestly makes me feel very hopeless .  Because if you don’t even know you have a problem, how in the world can you even begin to change it?

And then I think about how these residents aren’t really all that different from anyone else in the world.  We’re all delusional to some extent – completely blind to our own inadequacies, arrogance, pride, selfishness, what have you.


What hope is there for us? 

Again, I find myself in the middle of this tension that believes that Jesus came to offer us a picture of a far better way to live – to be fully aware, fully us, and fully alive.  But at the same time, I feel the hopelessness of this blanket of evil and oppression that surrounds us.

What the hell does one do with that?  I know that I keep asking that question, but I guess that’s just because I’ve never really had to face it before.  I’ve never looked beyond my own problems and issues long enough to realize that there’s a whole lotta world out there to contemplate – a whole lotta suffering, a whole lotta pain, a whole lotta doubting, a whole lotta evil.

Lord help us all . . . may we know what it’s like to come out of the shadows . . .

Blind . . .

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Lance?  I don’t think I have.  Seriously, he’s an amazing, amazing man.  I don’t think I could have survived these last 2 years without him.  He’s been a sounding board, a voice of reason, a voice of understanding, and an all-around great guy.  I can’t believe I found such a great counselor without even having to shop around much.

I’ve been thinking for some time that it’s time to quit (or maybe cut back on?) the counseling.  This last year has been a year of some major growth for me.  Don’t get me wrong . . . I find that I’m just as fucked up as ever.  But now I’m actually learning how to live with that.  So much has changed for me.

Like: I’m actually starting to like myself.  For so long I’ve lived in shame about so many things.  But I’m starting to see that I’m a pretty decent guy.  I’m even beginning to see that I’m WORTH being loved.  Who woulda thunk?

I’m also able to feel.  Not just good things, but bad things too.  Pain that I used to avoid and repress, I now allow to wash over me.  I used to believe that looking at my life’s tragedies would utterly destroy me – it would leave such a gaping hole in my flesh, that I would die.  So I used all sorts of tricks to keep the pain at bay. . . like porn, and finding “the one” to sooth all my aches and fix me, and forgetting.

Forgetting.  What an effective tool.  Just forget that anything ever happened.  Except . . . you can’t do it.  It’s impossible.  You always remember.  Maybe not consciously.  But deep down, you’re being haunted by your past.  It’s oppression of the worst kind. 

Yet, I know why the caged bird sings.  There’s freedom from these things.  And I’m so blessed to be experiencing it.  This Jesus guy.  He had such a radical message.  It’s a message I think far too many get confused about. 

See, I used to think that it was about finding the right rules to follow.  Finding the right group of people to follow.  Finding the right religion.  But this is simply a new kind of bondage.  You only find yourself exacerbating the hell you were already in.

Jesus though.  He taught about something deeper – and simultaneously higher.  Contrary to popular Christian opinion, He didn’t teach about how to keep yourself holy so you could then go around in your self-righteousness and point out why everybody else is so sinful and needs to change.  No, He found Himself at wells, talking to social outcasts, and showing them something far more mysterious and meaningful than the shit we seem to jam down everyone’s throats at election time.  He didn’t condemn this poor woman for seeking her life’s meaning in the approval and satisfaction of her many men . . . instead, He called her to something . . . more . . . deeper. 

I’m struck by how much Jesus was such a gentleman.  How he didn’t go traipsing into bars going “Y’all need to getcha selves together so you can be in my in crowd!”  Instead, He walked in and made them His in-crowd from the get-go.  He accepted them as they were, and beckoned them to more.

I’m starting to see that.  To experience how patient and graceful Jesus is.  He’s like this ever-present reality, and He’s constantly telling me “Darren, you’re OK.”  He tells me this because I need to hear it.  All the time.  My default setting is “abnormal freak”.  It’s how I see myself.  It’s how everyone has told me I am.  Not directly so much (though there have been some rather harsh people in my journey who have done so).  No, most people said it quite subtly.  A non-listening ear here.  A funny look there.  A whisper behind my back.  An unwillingness to see my heart.  A “I can’t handle this”.  After while, you start to get the hint.  You don’t know what exactly is wrong with you, but you know it must be something.  Or else, why do people keep doing the hurtful things that they do?

But then Jesus comes along and offers repentance – a rethinking, if you will.  A rethinking of how things have been, and how they could be.  He just starts throwing out questions like “What if you really are lovely?”, “What if you really aren’t a freak?”, “What if it was all a lie?”

Those kinds of questions can be rather disturbing, especially when you’ve already made up your mind that you’re just a disgusting monster.  Yet He definitively starts to say things like “You’re OK”.  It’s taken me a long time to believe such a thing.  Because everyone else is in a perpetual state of trying to prove the contrary. 

They tell you you’re not man (or woman, as the case may be) enough.  Not strong enough.  Not together enough.  Not stable enough.  Not smart enough. Not fast enough.  Not exciting enough. Not cute enough.  Not skinny enough.  Not bold enough.

ENOUGH!  It’s such bullshit!  Seriously, it saddens me to no end that Christians seem to be far better at spreading these unreachable expectations, and setting the unreachable bar higher and higher than many unchurched!  No fucking wonder nobody wants a damn thing to do with Jesus!

But that’s not the Jesus I know.  Sorry.  I realize that makes me plenty of enemies.  But I can only speak of what I know.  And I know a Jesus that doesn’t seem to make a very big deal about homosexuality, but He does make a big deal about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.  I know a Jesus that doesn’t seem to fight big political battles so He can make laws to regulate the land, but He does seem to strip Himself of everything and wash the dirty feet of the ones He loves.  One begins to wonder what it is we’re fighting for, and who it is we’re serving when all we can manage to do is get on TV and make asses out of ourselves, depicting Jesus as this champion of the middle class white man, and a rather hatemongering one at that!  Somehow, I think Jesus is calling us to something far, far higher.  You don’t soften a weary, broken, bitter heart with a new law . . . or a culture war. 

Where the hell did we get this idea that a war against the “baby killers”, or a war against “the fags”, or a war against “those who hate prayer” was EVER, EVER the point?   Why in the world do we think that Jesus is blowing the trumpet on such a war, and marching us into the city with a banner held high?  Where did we get this notion? 

We’re walking blind . . . so very blind.  We think we’ve got God all figured out.  Personally speaking, I’m not really all that sure what He’s doing, or how He does it.  But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s so much bigger than our feeble conceptualizations.  Jesus doesn’t seem to be very colonial or war-like.  He seems to be deeper than that . . . I wanna go deeper still . . .

Ups and Downs . . .

My heart feels so hollow right now.  It’s been such a struggle this week not to completely withdraw from the world, into myself.  I have to keep my heart engaged in my work, or else I’m absolutely no good to the people at this hospital who desperately need a touch of grace and love in their lives. 

Yet, when all you feel is the empty echo of your own loneliness, how do you keep your heart engaged so that you can actually serve?

Somehow, I’ve managed.  Every once in awhile, an actual feeling comes skipping inside my chest, and I realize that I am of some use – but I feel as though I could give so much more.

I’m thinking of having a no visitors policy from now on.  Because every time I allow wonderful people like Jonathan into my home, I hate to see them go away.  I really think I should get a roomate, because sometimes it sucks to be alone.

Anyway, Jon and I had SUCH a great time together.  Thanks for coming down, bro.  It was awesome getting to catch up with you . . . being with you is so refreshing.  You energize me and give me life.

Right now, I have a ton of work to do and schedule, so I better get back to that.  I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend!