T.A. Barnhart

carpe bucko

telling the story

The journey from sad and lonely little boy to spirit-filled fundamentalist Christian to atheist Buddhist is just as convoluted as this sentence makes it sound. Add to that undiagnosed mental illness most of the way, and you have a life that has fallen far short of what might have been.

My life. A story of what could have been.

Regret is not something I have considered much. Instead, I’ve usually opted for shame and self-hatred. Regret is impersonal; shame is a laser-focus on how I have failed so badly. Regret stems from miscalculations, mistakes, pride, bad luck, the ill-will and stupidity of others, etc. Shame is a demand that I am to blame for every mistake and I can never be absolved or forgiven; punishment must continue until the day I die.

But shame only exists in a context of lies. Regret has the opportunity for honesty, but it also shares the same fatal flaw as shame: they’re about the past. And the past, of course, is a fiction.

Stuff happened, and then more stuff happened, and regardless of whatever stuff happened, more stuff continues to happen.

In other words, the past is the lie. The present moment is all I have; it’s all I’ve ever had. And in this present moment, I have nothing be ashamed of. In fact, I’m writing right now, and writing is what I love to do most, so this present moment is as good as any I could live. The goal is to get to a point of mental health where I can say that at any moment.

First, of course, is to deal with my mental health issues. Until I do, the past will continue to undermine the present, and that will do the future – as ephemeris as the past – no good at all.
In an hour, I’ll have my first session with my new therapist, Nicci. We’ve had an initial introductory session, but today, the real work begins. I’ve never had a permanent therapist before. I’ve had short-term help, but thanks to being on the market, as they say, I have insurance that includes proper mental health care.

I am almost giddy to think about that.

Here’s the challenge:

I had very few friends growing up, almost none after we left Corvallis, Oregon, in 1964. One year in the Los Angeles area, third grade at one school in Billings, Montana, where we ended up (my dad’s job), and then another elementary school. A small school where all the other kids knew each other and had no inclination to befriend me. And I don’t think I was very befriendable, either.
Then the parents split up, I had one good friend but no real happiness, and then, at the age of fourteen, became “born again”. That lasted for a decade, then I had had enough of it – but I didn’t know why. I also didn’t know that I had been suffering from depression all that time. I wouldn’t discover that for another two decades.

In the meantime, I got married, had two kids, got divorced, didn’t finish grad school, didn’t get a career, spent most of my kids’ childhoods separated from them, and eventually meandered my way into the working poor where I reside today. I discovered a lot of skills and talents along the way, but I’ve been resourceful at not making good use of these. In another person’s hands, those skills and talents may have led to a great career; in my hands, with my mental health issues, they’ve led to unhappiness.

And to Nicci.

I have a few reasons why I haven’t killed myself. One, I’m afraid of death; thanks, Christianity! But hell or not (not), death is a bit too final as a solution to my unhappiness. I stupidly still have hope.
Two, that would be a cruel thing to do to my family and friends. I’ve seen first-hand how suicide harms those left behind. It’s not an escape; it’s an attack on the people in your life.

Three, I have a boat-load of potential, even at the age of sixty-one. I come from strong genetic material; I ought to live another thirty or forty years, possibly even more. In a year or two or two, who knows what I may have accomplished? If nothing else, I can give it all one more try and then, if it turns out to be a bust, kill myself then.

Or just fade away into the Beartooth Mountains of Montana.

So I gotta run. Time to get ready to begin my mental health care treatment. I have been waiting for this for so long. I am going to try to use this blog to both document that journey but also to look back at my life. Not to relitigate that mess but to see what might be there of value to myself and to others. Just because the past is a fake that we create as we stumble forward through each moment doesn’t mean it has no value.

If nothing else, maybe I can find a story worth the telling.

T.A. Barnhart