An Update

I know it has been several weeks since I last wrote about what has happened with my daughter Zoe, who attempted suicide recently. I did not intend to stop writing, but I found that I got to a point where my stress level reached a breaking point. I was exhausted, I was suffering from symptoms of what I assume were PTSD. I got physically ill, and reached my limit when I was trying to work on only a few hours sleep and was still dealing with the effects of a stomach virus. I was a basket case. I was sobbing every few minutes and just couldn’t take any more. I left work after half a shift and almost fell asleep at the wheel several times on the way home. When I did arrive home, I fell asleep immediately and was able to sleep deeply for the first time since Zoe’s suicide attempt. From that point on things seemed to get better.

However, I have just needed to step back from the circumstances of that horrible period of time and try to gain some distance. Zoe has also been in Oregon since just before Christmas and I think that has been a good thing, giving me a chance to heal and recover.

She seems to be doing better in Oregon, being able to spend quality time with her mom, her brother and her close friends. She also has been able to enjoy some liquid sunshine that she has really missed since moving to our sunnier, much drier climate in Utah. She will be returning soon and hopefully we will be able to start a new, more positive direction in our lives.

In the meantime, we are working on selling our RV so that we can move into the beautiful home where we are parked — both the tenants who had been living there abruptly moved around the time that this crisis occurred, a fortuitous set of circumstances for us. Hopefully we will have it sold before Zoe returns, but our landlord is hoping we can wait until he returns around the 9th of January. That is our highest priority right now, getting out of our cramped RV and into a house. It will make a world of difference for all of us.

I will return to writing again soon. I just needed some time and distance to try and heal.

A Letter to my Daughter, Part II

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My dearest Zoe, today I took a trip to Zion, which was badly needed. I dropped Brook and the kids of at the school around eight and headed east towards the park around 8:30. I arrived at the trailhead for Angels Landing around 9:40 and headed up the trail as fast as I could. I needed to be back at the school by 1, so I had to hustle in order to reach the summit and return in time.

The Angels Landing trail is considered by many to be one of the greatest in all of North America, and ever since I first reached the lofty summit of this magnificent peak in 2011, I have wanted to take you on it. (We got about 3/4 of the way up the trail about a month or so ago.) I sincerely look forward to the day when you and I can do it together. Of course, being that this trail has massive exposure, we will have to work on regaining a lot of trust before I take you on it.

I thought of you a lot as I hiked, but I didn’t once think of that terrible scene from a week ago. This is a trail that requires full concentration. Being freed from that God-awful mental loop was a major relief for me. This is one reason why I climb, it frees me from any and all issues I might be experiencing back in the “real” world. I think that you too will utilize this aspect of climbing as you grow.

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The famsters on the Angels Landing trail, in Refrigerator Canyon

 

I want to return to the thread I began in my last letter to you. I ended it by recalling how I ended up moving to Southern Oregon. Despite living about an hour from you, I made every effort to see you on the weekends, often driving over one thousand miles each month in order to do so. I am proud of that fact. I would have done it even if the distance had been further.

Shortly after moving to Roseburg, I met Brook and we fell in love and created a family together. Your brother Ryan was about a month and a half when Brook and I met, and you were so excited to be an instant older sister. You were six when this happened. For a while, you and Brook had a somewhat harder time bonding, but when you admitted to being jealous of her, everything changed. You guys grew closer and closer as time went on, something that made me profoundly happy. Eventually you even started calling her mama.

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This was during the worst period of chronic pain, as evidenced by my gaunt appearance.

 

These were some difficult times for all of us. My chronic pain issues reached their peak, and there were times I seriously considered suicide myself. I was in so much agony then, and it seemed like there was no escaping it. You were always so protective and compassionate to me when I would be wracked by pain. It was hard for me to be as good a father as I wanted then. Thankfully, I would eventually find the medication that would unlock the doors of this prison.

Despite that rough time, we still managed to find time to go climbing and hiking occasionally. I remember really well when you were seven, and Ryan was a year old, we hiked to the top of Mt. Bailey, an 8000′ mountain just an hour from home. That hike was a true mountain climb: 11 miles roundtrip with something like 3000′ of elevation gain. But you did it, and all under your own power. I was so impressed. On the way back down, you were so exhausted that you kept falling asleep on your feet as we walked.

Zoe, Brook and Ryan on Mt. Bailey

Zoe, Brook and Ryan on Mt. Bailey

Then a couple of weeks later we made an attempt on Union Peak, a smaller mountain in Crater Lake National Park. Again, you did great, but neglected to tell us that your ill-fitting shoes were forming blisters on your feet. When we were within a few hundred feet of the summit, the pain got to be too much and you had to stop just short of the peak. Unfortunately, your feet were so thrashed that you had to be carried out, something like five and a half miles. My friends Scott and Eddie took turns carrying you. Luckily you were small enough that this was possible.

Zoe on the way up Union Peak

Zoe on the way up Union Peak

During this period, we had a lot of financial struggles, and had to move several times. We lived for a time in a mobile home on the banks of the North Umpqua river and that was a magical time for us. Our good friends Amy and Erik lived next door, and their son Hagen and you really enjoyed being able to see each other that often. But all good things come to an end, and more financial struggles forced us once again to move, this time relocating to my Mom’s home.

Around that same time, you and your mom moved north to Portland, and my ability to see you on a weekly basis came to an end. This was probably the most difficult period we had faced, but again, we managed to stay close.

End part II

An Update

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Well, the news is better today. Had a really good talk with both Zoe and her mom today, and after some going back and forth, we decided that Zoe should start taking an anti-depressant, specifically Zoloft. So tomorrow she will begin, on very low doses and monitored closely by the staff at Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital. I am beyond relieved at this point.

Today was really rough before this decision was made, I was having horrible, horrible anxiety, wondering what we could do to truly help my girl. I felt so helpless and weak.

But now it feels like things might turn around. She will be staying for a little while longer while they monitor her and make sure everything is working properly. I miss her terribly and just want her to come home, but not at the expense of her health and her life. This is the right thing to do.

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Tomorrow I am taking a day to myself. I am going to drop off Brook and the kids at school and head straight there. I am assuming that I will probably be scaling Angels Landing via the cables route, but I may change my mind and do something else instead.

I really hope this is the shift we are needing. I really believe Zoe is a changed person after this. I pray that is true, and we can work towards building a beautiful future for her.

A letter to my daughter

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On Thursday, December 4, 2014, my daughter Zoe Lynn attempted suicide. It was only by intuition or divine intervention that I woke up and found her struggling with a rope around her neck. I was able to prevent her from dying, but there is much work that now must begin to heal her, myself and my family. I hope this letter is the beginning of such a healing.

Dearest Zoe,

You came into this world on February 3, 2001., surrounded by friends, family, peaceful music and candlelight. You were born at home, in our apartment off River road in Eugene, Oregon. When Clarebeth, the head midwife, lifted you up and cried “it’s a girl!”, everyone erupted in cheers. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life.

You were such a sweet, mellow baby, and I realized after you were born that i truly did not know what love was until you entered my life. I did not know what life was until you entered mine You were such a funny little goose. When you began crawling, you hated having your picture taken. You would fuss and scoot towards me, trying to get so close I couldn’t take a shot. You also were a little jealous, and never wanted your mom and I to be close, pulling us apart if we cuddled.

I remember all too well, when 9/11 occurred and you were just a few months old, how scared I was, and how I wondered about the kind of world I had brought you into, and whether it was fair of us to bring you here when so much bad was happening. Of course, I no longer feel that way.

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Your mom and I did not remain together much longer beyond that, a clash of personalities that was impossible to fix. But fortunately for myself, I was always able to see you on a daily basis, and as you grew, we became closer and closer. Many people said you were a daddy’s girl, and I still think that is true. We have always been close, and I hope we always remain so.

When your mom went to Nursing school, I took over the primary care for you for a period of a few years, and even though it was hard, it was one of the most rewarding periods in my life. I would wake up each weekday around 6 am, feed you and get you ready for school. Then I would return home and try to get a few extra hours of sleep. Then I would wake up, pick you up from school, we would have lunch and then I would take you back to the school for aftercare. Then I would go to work (as a manager at Sweet Life) and work from 3 until after eleven (most nights), then I would go and get you from your Mom’s house, where you were asleep, put you in my truck and drive back to my apartment. I was fortunate to be able to get to sleep by one in the morning. Then I would wake up around 6 and start it all over again.

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During that period, I would take you on walks up Spencer’s Butte almost daily, carrying you in the baby backpack as we wound our way towards the summit. I remember once when it snowed, you hiked all the way to the top on your own (in over a foot of snow, too!) When your Uncle David and cousin Travis came to visit us, they took you on a hike on the Butte, but it quickly got too dark to continue, and you threw a hissy fit because you wanted to reach the summit. Of course, as a climber, I loved that.

I started taking you to the rock climbing gym at three years old, and wow, you blew me away with not only your natural climbing ability, but also your determination. I remember seeing other kids around your age trying to climb at the gym, and mostly they seemed to want to just swing on the rope and play. Not you. You were aiming for the top. I actually had to make you stop, take breaks, get a drink of water, because otherwise as soon as I lowered you from a route, you immediately wanted to go right back up.

I remember when you graduated from pre-school at the Waldorf. I was the one parent there who was bawling like a baby, it was so embarrassing, not because I was crying but just because all the other parents weren’t. I have always been very emotional about you.

A series of events (your great-uncle Jorge, your Pampa (my father) and my friend Traci all passing away, a painful breakup with my then-girlfriend Bethany, stress at work) put me on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and I myself went through some serious emotional trauma, which culminated in me taking myself to the hospital and getting mental help for a few days. I remember times when I would be just sobbing, and you, all of three or four years old, would drape yourself over me, trying to comfort and protect me with all of your soul and body. Eventually I made the difficult decision to move an hour south to Roseburg,  a more rural area so I could decompress for a while. Yet I still was able to have you for almost every weekend, and even though I didn’t get to see you every day, I was still so grateful to see you as often as I did. It wasn’t easy for us, but we always made the most of the time we had.

End Part I

 

 

 

Some reflections on a life of (mostly) failure

ImageI think I should be a success. I’m an intelligent, well-read person who seemingly has all the tools to lead a successful, healthy, happy life, but the truth is, I have failed in my life, repeatedly, over and over again, no matter how talented I may seem in that particular area of failure.

First and foremost in my mind is school. I went through basically twelve years of hell in school, averaging something less than a 1.0 average, despite all my test scores placing me in the upper five to ten percent in the nation. I was told I was lazy, I was told I didn’t apply myself (that term still provokes a feeling of nausea in me when I hear someone utter it.), I was made out to be something that I wasn’t, and as far as I know, not once in that time did anyone ever seriously consider that maybe, just maybe something deeper was wrong. Despite the fact that I had a serious head injury when I was five that required me to stay in ICU two nights.

Socially it was just as bad for me, I only had a few friends, a lot of my class- and school-mates regarded me as a strange, isolated kid who was obviously intelligent but indecipherable, so in addition to feeling like a stupid, lazy piece-of-shit, I was also left feeling like an incredibly isolated, stupid, lazy piece of shit. I used to stare at myself in the mirror and call myself all sorts of horrible names, I told myself how much I loathed me, I hated the ugly image in the mirror. It is no surprise then, if I admit that by the time I was ten, I has already seriously begun contemplating killing myself.

I recall clearly the first time I almost did it. We lived on this incredibly steep hillside in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains, and we had this old Dodge pickup truck that was parked pointing straight down the steepest part of our hill, and I sat in that truck, all of ten years old, ready to pull the parking brake, put it in neutral and go to my fate.

It didn’t get easier for me as I got older. My isolation only increased when we moved to Oregon when I was fourteen and suddenly thrust into the country world of Glide, Oregon. The first two years at Glide High School were pretty bad, I was this tiny little dude and definitely got picked on a lot, but by the time I was a junior and senior, I wasn’t getting picked on too much, but I was just as isolated as ever.

Throughout this whole time, I was still essentially getting D’s and F’s, I was still just as baffling and confusing to the teachers and staff at the high school, and my depression was getting worse year by year. The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize I was depressed. I just thought I basically sucked, no one genuinely liked me, and that I would never amount to anything. Actually, that is still my ‘default’ mode that I go into when the black dog visits. In any case, I wouldn’t realize that I was clinically depressed until after I was hospitalized at nineteen.

I ended up dropping out of school when I was six months from graduation, in part because I wasn’t going to graduate anyway. and I in part because I hated it so much I just wanted to get the hell out. I wouldn’t make a serious attempt at formal education again until this year.

Which brings us to my latest failure. I enrolled in UCC for the fall term, got approved for financial aid, and took a step I honestly didn’t think I would ever seriously try. At first, it went pretty well, I felt enthusiastic and energized, I was on top of things, but as the fall progressed, my pain issues increased, dramatically so at the end of the term, and I was in so much pain I began to struggle getting to class. It didn’t help any that I was also feeling anxiety about being around a bunch of strangers when I was hurting so badly that I wasn’t sure if I could suppress a groan when it struck. Plus, I had to take a lot of pain medication, which sure as hell isn’t conducive to things like focus and concentration. Anyway, I really struggled in the lat month, I managed to get caught up in my writing 121 class, and ended up, to my surprise, with an A. But my journalism classes I only got a C and a D, which officially makes me suspended from school.

How can this be? Well, when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I made a feeble attempt at school, but being the dumb-ass that I am, I ended up not going to them at all, mostly due to my then-overwhelming fear of being in any kind of group situation. The terrible part is this: I don’t always understand how systems work, I just don’t get it, and in this case I ended up going to maybe one or two nights, but never again after that. I didn’t, however, take the vital step of withdrawing officially from my classes, not understanding that it would mean three F’s instead of just a withdrawal. So now, with my D in writing for the media (getting this grade also came down to me not turning in one final assignment, which I stupidly did not realize was our final), I am officially booted from school. I doubt I will ever try again.

All I had to do was get a C.

When I was in wrestling, I was pretty talented physically, I was quick and could get take-downs on a lot of opponents, but as talented physically as I was, I was mentally incompetent. I would give up, beating someone but good, then getting tired and giving up, almost always getting pinned in the process. My friend Brandon told me it was the most aggravating thing to watch me wrestle.

When I joined Tae Kwon Do when I was sixteen, things began to shift, but not right away. I took to the martial arts, utilizing my quickness to rapidly establish myself as one of the best in our little dojo within just a few months, but when I went to tournaments, I initially was only able to finish second or third, I was usually too wound up, I was too blindly aggressive and could never get the win. This went from yellow belt through my blue belt. Then, when I was a brown belt, I finally went to a tournament with a relaxed attitude, and I not only won, I dominated. I became a more passive fighter, relying on my defensive skills and preying on my opponents mistakes. After that, something clicked in me and I went on to win five of the next six tournaments. But a tragedy was to soon alter my psychology for many years to come.

I had a friend in high school named Lynn Powell, we were never close, but for a time she babysat across the street, and we would hang out sometimes. She was always really kind to me, and I always felt cared about by her, not a common feeling for me in those days, and I always cherished her friendship for that. She had this vibrant spark to her, and one always felt a little better being around her, at least I always did. So when the news of her death in a horrific car accident reached me that terrible morning so many years ago, I literally went into shock, I couldn’t believe it, not her, not Lynn. I was shaken to the core by her passing.

After that, I really passed into a deep sorrow that I wouldn’t come fully out of for a long time, and I lost the joy I had for the martial arts, and most everything else too. So soon I wasn’t practicing, but I vowed that I would go back, and that I would win a tournament in her honor. After several months of sorrow, I did return, and trained for about one month before entering a tournament that just happened to be occurring locally, at Douglas High School.

What I most remember about this tournament was the fact that I was in a nearly unconscious state when I sparred, I was so fully in ‘the zone’, I remembered almost nothing of the actual matches. I know two of my three matches were stopped because I was beating my opponents by five points, a sort of ‘mercy’ rule some tournaments use. The next thing I know, I am being handed a trophy, I start crying, and I don’t stop crying for half an hour. I had done it. I had won it for Lynn. Later I would take the small trophy and leave it at her grave.

I never seriously trained in TKD again. I was less than six months from testing for my black belt, and I gave up, I quit, never to return.

My daughter Zoe’s middle name is Lynn, and it is partly in my old friend’s memory that she was given that name.

End of part I