Ali

The NAACP Image awards were on Fox tonight, and while I was doing some web surfing, and a bit of writing, I kept it on in the background. About 90 minutes in, they gave Muhammed Ali the equivalent to a lifetime achievement award, so i stopped what I was doing and watched. 

Growing up, he was a hero of mine. I liked his boxing style, his humor and confidence/arrogance. His interviews with Howard Cosell are the stuff of legend. Hell, I even bought the novelty record about him back in the early to mid 70’s. I saw all his fights; Smoking joe fraxier, George Foreman, all of them.  He was the consummate athlete-everything i wasn’t-and continue not to be.  I knew nothing about his politics, his turning to Islam, his refusal to fight in Vietnam, and the turmoild which followed that. 

All I knew at the tender age of 9-10 or so, was he was fast and could kick your ass 10 minutes before you knew what had happened. 

On the show tonight, they did the obligatory bio, rehashing his life in a nice 3 minute bite. The lights dimmed a bit, a spotlight came on, and the curtains opened. There he sat, in a white, wing back chair, trying desperately to control the shaking from his Parkinson’s. No longer able to speak, his wife? daughter? (I’m not sure who-they never said who it was), spoke for him.  My heart broke, if only for a moment. This was not the man I remembered. This shuddering, twitching shell of a man dressed in a tuxedo and lopsided bow couldn’t have been the hero of my youth.

But it was. And in what may be a final act of heroism, he sat there, shaking and all, determined to be there-even as a mere ghost of who he once was. Oversized black and white photos adorned the stage and the contrast between then and now was palpable.

Jennifer Hudson then came out and sang, The Impossible Dream; perhaps one of my favorite songs, and the tears came. Not just for Ali, who endured being sang to like a nursing home resident on visitors day; but for everyone who has the strength and determination to not go gently into the night. 

For the past month as I’ve sent out resume after resume; felt sorry for myself for not having the money to finish my dental work; not being happy with my writing, playing warcraft a bit too much; I’ve been isolating myself. not blogging like I have-or calling friends or family. It’s been a nice little pity party.

Once again Ali showed me that even in the most adverse of times, there should never be shame, never be a rock to hide under. There should always be dignity, and a respect for oneself at all times.

Depression

In 1990 I was diagnosed with major depression, recurrent. It was during a 10 day psychiatric stay that I found out about this, and that wanting to kill yourself on a daily basis wasn’t normal thinking. That may be overstating it a bit, as I wasn’t continually suicidal, but the depression was always overwhelming.  It was difficult to get out of bed, let alone go to work or be productive.

And it was then I bought into my first myth of depression. Labeled as an SMI (serious mental illness), I blamed all my problems on depression, and its attendant problems. However, simply being on meds wasn’t enough for an effective change.  It certainly smoothed out rough patches, but life was still not easy. The fact I was also fighting a neverending battle with alcohol and drugs didn’t help either.

In 1992/93 I was hospitalized again, and this time I applied for and received SSI. For the next 7 years I lived on 540 dollars a month. The depression grew worse. Even with meds, med changes and all that goes with a public healthcare system (rated as one of the worst in the country at the time) I felt no better than I did in 1990.

A chance meeting in 1997 at an AA group led to my first job since ’90. The benefit of working and staying on meds did more to improve my mood than anything. I was able to get off SSI, work and try and restart a life that never really took off. I was 32.

In the following 11 years, I’ve maintained employment, apartments, some relationships and a bit of sanity. I no longer let the depression control me. More accurately, I don’t let societies ideas of what being mentally ill is, control me. I stopped buying into the lie that I couldn’t be productive. That relationships were a dream, and happiness unreachable.

When someone like Pacione blames their own illnesses for asshole behavior, they do a disservice to those of us who choose to fight our problems the right way. Those of us who understand the debilitation of depression, and march forward are being shat on by his ilk. They seem to think they can do no wrong because it’s the “disease”.

My depression has exacerbated other shortcomings, which makes every day an uphill fight. But I don’t give up. I don’t back down.

Mostly importantly I train the demon, it doesn’t train me. I choose my own path, make my own decisions, and in the end have no one to blame for failures but myself.