Thursday, April 30, 2009

Slumdog; NOT Really the Best Dog.

A couple days ago I took in “Slumdog Millionaire” at the mall quadlplex just down the street and around the corner. Based on all the hype, I was expecting a real tour de force; instead I saw an ordinary film about as engrossing as an episode of just about any of a slew of American TV shows.

Long before “Slumdog” did so well at the academy awards, TV pundits were really talking it up; so much so that I made several mental notes that I was going to have to check it out some day. Then, after it made such a splash at the Oscars I put it down as a “must see.”

Don’t misunderstand; it was okay, but not THAT okay. It really makes me wonder about the people of “the academy” that vote for these movies. They couldn’t possibly have voted for “Slumdog” based on its superiority over other movies made in ’08, because there are plenty better. I have to say I’m really puzzled; then again, I’m still in shock that so many people voted for Barry Obama. Just goes to show there’s no accounting for taste OR intelligence. Okay, now that I’ve just insulted more than half of the US population…

“Slumdog” is a cartoon movie without the illustrations. The characters are caricatures and the storyline is easily predictable from start to end. I sat next to Divine and was able to pretty much tell her what was going to happen a few minutes before it did. I like doing that, making her marvel at my “genius.” I’m kidding, although she really does think I’m a genius! Kidding aside, it doesn’t take a whole lot of smarts to figure out this movie from one scene to the next.

Something disconcerting about “Slumdog” is that it is a huge slam on India. I used to think I wanted to visit that country, but not after seeing THAT movie. Almost every person in it, except perhaps for Halim, the young hero of the movie, was loathsome or a variation thereof.

This cinematic less-than-a-gem came up with just about every vice you can think of and jammed it into two hours of viewing. Here’s the short list: child prostitution, begging homeless children, the purposeful blinding of kids for profit, abject stinking poverty, mean-spirited wealthy people, slavery, sickening torture, corruption, murder, immolation, religious bigotry; and as I said, THAT is the short list, because there’s a whole lot more than that.

I believe “Slumdog” was not even an “Indian picture” per se; the director and producer are non-Indians, probably British; although I don’t know for sure. I just have a hard time understanding why anyone in charge in the Indian government film administration, if such a thing exists, would support the making of such an anti-Indian film. Do they really want the rest of the world to believe that things are as bad as what I saw in “Slumdog?” Then again, India IS a free nation, evidently without controls over what films are made or not, and what their messages should or shouldn’t be.

Watching the movie reminded me of the stories my last wife used to bring home from the small electronics plant she worked at in New Jersey. There was a large contingent of Indian workers and for some reason they would speak of their disdain for just about all things American to her; I guess thinking that as a fellow Asian, she would concur.

Well, they didn’t know Amalia very well, because she loves America; she loves it more than most Americans born there. She literally weeps with pride every time she hears “the Star Spangled Banner” or when “I’m Proud to be an American” is played. She would get a few minutes earful of them talking down some cultural aspect of the States, wouldn’t be able to take it anymore, and would then proceed to tear into them with a “Hey! If you don’t like it here, go back there, especially if you think it’s so good back there!”

I loved it. Only a naturalized Filipina American could away with saying something like that in our defense without being labeled as a bigot or worse.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The "Yellow Bully"

As I write this the only birds now left in my big bird cage are my “family” of finches. Actually, it didn’t take but a few weeks for me to become completely disenamored with their five fancier erstwhile cage-mates—these being the love bird, the pair of parakeets, and the two pigeon-sized cockatiels. But the first of these fancier fowl to become unwelcome to the point of eviction was the yellow African love bird.

I grew tired of watching “the African” bully around all the others, including the larger cockatiels, not to mention the way it wreaked havoc on all the plants in the cage. I asked my girls if they’d like to take it home. They loved the idea, and a quick text to their mom revealed that she was also agreeable to having a new bird for a pet. So, all that was left was the capturing.

I have a small bird net that I picked up at the pet shop. I wasn’t sure how effective it would be though, with a handle not much more than 2 feet long. It was designed for catching birds within much smaller confines than my big walk in cage. Nonetheless, with little net in hand I gave it a go. Soon though, I realized there was no way it was going to happen. The elusive love bird flew too fast and perched too high for me to snag it. Then—inspiration struck.

I went out and grabbed up a 5 foot length of orange PVC pipe. With the pipe in my left hand and net in my right, I was able to keep harassing pressure on the bird, constantly poking at it with the long plastic pipe. This kept it flying nonstop from one side of the cage to the other. Within a minute or two it was so fatigued that it could hardly flap its wings anymore. The other birds were just as agitated, greatly adding to the fluttering chirping squawking confusion, but I kept my focus on the African, flying desperately back and forth above me.

Finally, nearing total exhaustion, the panting love bird landed just 6 feet up on the cage’s netting only an arm’s length away. I easily dropped the net over it and folded it inside the material. Without thinking it through I reached in, figuring to grab the heaving little thing around its lightweight birdie body for the transfer to a small cage. HUGE mistake!

Love birds have fairly powerful beaks, something that I should have kept in mind the way it so easily popped open sunflower seeds and handily gnawed through the thickest of my potted palm fronds. With a vengeance it bit down on the base of my left thumb with all its strength. The pain was shocking; I wasn’t expecting it.

My first inclination was to just crush its tiny head, especially since it seemed intent on staying latched to me forever. Instead, restraining my initial reaction to commit bird murder, I grabbed it by its little skull and pulled as gently as I could, the whole time repeating “Ow!” through gritted teeth.

At last it let go. I hurriedly pushed my feathered little tormentor inside the open door of his new birdie apartment, immediately slamming the sliding door down behind it. Without hesitation it flew and scrambled across the bottom of the cage in a yellow blur and right back out, magically seemingly to pass right through the narrow bars of the little cage.

‘No way! How did you do that, you little piece of …?’

Dang! I had failed to notice that the built-in openings for the plastic food trays were just large enough to act as miniature escape doors for tiny-bodied love birds. Cursing, I retrieved and installed the trays to once more make the enclosure “bird tight.” Now, to catch that little rascal all over again.

This time, after capturing the African in the same manner as before, only quicker, I was careful not to expose any part of me to his vicious little biting beak. Actually, as bad as it had pinched me before, it had never even broken the skin—so, no blood, no big deal.

I felt bad seeing it stuck inside a tiny little cage again. It looked confused, frantic and forlorn as it searched for a way to get back out into the bigger world it had once “bullied” over. Once it had gone home with my girls though, I didn’t miss it a bit. Good riddance you destructive psycho birdie thug!

Now, I was down to just the pair of cockatiels, two parakeets and 7 finches. I waited to see how the social dynamic would change now that the yellow hooligan was out of the picture…

Saga of Pain

About the same time that I was worrying about the threat of deportation (or worse) my lower left back molar started to bug me. When I crunched down on it in just the wrong way it would twinge up. Still, it was no big deal; it only hurt when I chewed on it, and then only certain foods. Just the same, I made an appointment to see my dentist.

One look and she told me the tooth was cracked; but, after reducing the crack out of it, she said it looked okay to put a crown over it, which she did in short order over the next few days. But, within a week of getting the new crown, part 2 of my “saga of pain” began. Now, it was a general ache that seemed to come from the newly crowned tooth, or I assumed so, thinking that the crack must have gone deeper than the dentist could see and was now infected.

Back in the dentist chair, I asked her to go ahead and remove the week-old crown and do a root canal on the underlying suspect molar. She used what I call a sliding slamma-bamma hammer to remove the freshly glued on crown. It took a lot of bashing with the hooked device to get the thing off. It was a very uncomfortable experience to say the least, but eventually it came loose, after which she commenced to drill its supposedly infected root out.

Later that afternoon, back home, I waited for the anesthesia to wear off so I could eat dinner without biting my cheek; but once the numbness went away, it marked the beginning of some six weeks of hell, and part 3 of my pain saga. From twinge on chewing, to dull ache, now it had developed into a continuous agonizing throb enveloping the entire lower left side of my jaw.

For the next few weeks I obsessed over how I might get my hands on more potent pain meds. Everything I tried hardly helped at all, although I finally settled on some yellow pills called Diclofenac Sodium, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory that would take the edge off for maybe 4 to 6 hours at a time. Altogether, I ended up taking a couple hundred of them. I worried about that though, since I have cystic kidneys. I was afraid all the pain medication might seriously affect them, especially considering how many in a day I was forced to take. My choice was to take the pills or pay someone to kill me, so I probably did the right thing.

The next morning, with the pain growing worse, my dentist agreed to see me short notice on the following day, a Saturday morning, two days after she had bashed off the crown. Her tiny office x-ray showed no evidence of infection in any of the teeth in my lower left jaw. By this time I thought the pain might actually be coming from the tooth next to the last molar, but she said the x-ray showed that that tooth had already had its root removed. There was no swelling in the jaw or in the lymph nodes of my neck. By now, to me, she seemed at a loss; I could tell she had no clue. Her final remark was if the pain was from nerves damaged when she had hammered off the crown, that maybe it would resolve with some time. I left her office feeling uncertainty and alarm. She wouldn’t even write me a prescription for anything stronger than Tylenol.

"Now what?' I thought, forlornly desperate.

(That was one of the things I learned from this little adventure in pain, that doctors here are averse to writing prescriptions for the most effective pain killers considered narcotic. Hint: if you must live here, try to bring “a stash.” Meds like percosets and morphine sulphate are incredibly expensive, if you can find them at all.)

First thing Monday I went to the hospital to see an MD. The doctor examined me, also noticed no obvious evidence of infection and decided that the pain must therefore be neuropathic. He showed Divine how to massage areas in my neck and jaw explaining that it should help the damaged nerves. A good thing was that he wrote the RX for the Diclofenac Sodium, which was the ONLY thing that allowed me not to jump out of my skin, or my "mortal coil," in Shakespear-speak. I was supposed to take only one every 8 hours, but by the end of "my ordeal" I was down to one every 3 to 4 hours.

Other than the one Tuesday after that Monday, I didn’t even try to go to the office for the next work week; I figured there was little I could do anyway with my brain hardly functioning on a thinking level.

But, after a week of suffering at home I went back in anyway, mostly out of guilt. I figured pain was no excuse when I had people depending on me. Thing is, although I was able to conduct interviews, provide advice and fill out forms, dang, I was not a happy camper. When dealing with my clients I struggled trying not to be abrupt to the point of rudeness, which is how I kind of am anyway. My “normal” personal style is blunt directness, but with nagging throbbing pain added to the mix, I became one part curmudgeon and two parts snapping turtle.

My precious yellow pain pills gave me brief stints of semi-relief, but for some reason gave me hardly any relief at all at night when the pain caused me to moan and writhe in spite of myself. Divine was wonderful. We discovered that hot compresses, one after the other, along with the pain meds, relieved the throbbing enough for sleep to take over after a couple hours. She went back and forth from bedroom to kitchen scores of times every night for days until she found a heating pad at the mall that did the same trick.

A month of that and thoughts of suicide began to leak into my mind. Eventually, my jaw locked so that going to the office was out of the question; if I couldn’t speak there was no reason to go in at all. That’s when I asked Divine to find a TMJ specialist. Her friend recommended one, and with a little hope rekindled anew in my heart, we made it to the appointment a full half hour early.

The specialist dentist took a look at my teeth and saw nothing remarkable. He sent us down the street to get wrap-around x-rays done of my entire lower face. Just over an hour later, after spending about $35 for an envelope full of toothy jawbone images, we returned and handed them over. Telling us to have a seat in the waiting room the TMJ dentist disappeared into his office.

‘Please see SOMETHING…!’ I pleadingly prayed.

Then, “Mr Spear, I have bad news for you and good news!” he called out.

My prayer was answered. Upon hearing his jovial remark, immediately I felt enormous relief, for I KNEW he SAW a problem, FINALLY! Now we had something we could FIX!

I answered him excitedly, “Doc, if you can actually SEE something, then it’s ALL the news is good!”

He called us in and explained as he pointed to the x-rays of my lower left jaw, “You see there under that tooth? Its completely infected. The entire tooth is now being acted on as if it’s a foreign object. Your body wants it out. You see here? There’s almost no bone left around it; its all been dissolved away by the infection. You say you were able to actually work like that? From the looks of that x-ray you have been in horrible pain. How were you able to do anything? You’re a pretty tough guy. Were you a Navy SEAL or something?” he joked.

“Doc, for the last month, I haven’t felt in the least bit like a tough guy at all. I have been a total ass to just about all my clients, and everyone else for that matter. But oh man, right now, I’m SO happy knowing that it’s almost over. I really had lost all hope. You’re a Godsend Doc. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

He just grinned, basking in my gratification.

I looked again at the dark area on the x-ray that signified infection under and around the root of the bad tooth, and suddenly realized the tooth in question was indeed the tooth NEXT to the one the other dentist had crowned.

Shaking my head I declared ruefully, "And to think I could have had that darned thing pulled over a month ago and been spared all this. Well, you definitely have earned MY business Doc!"

So, after 6 days on antibiotics to knock the infection down enough to remove the tooth he yanked that bad boy out. Before doing so, he injected anesthesia and epinephrine directly into the root area; to numb the tooth and to reduce bleeding he said. He took a strong grip with some hefty forceps, twisted it in, then to the outside, and out it popped—easy squeezy.

Ten days after the extraction and I had a new bridge glued in to cover the missing molar. I’m writing this now looking at the offending tooth sitting on my desk next to this computer. Seeing it reminds me that it’s such a relief to be agony free. Mental depression can be a real life-souring thing, but it doesn’t compare to what that little sucker did to me. I kept it to remind me of that.

(Oh, in case you’re wondering; the cost of the extraction and the bridge was about $210. Best money I ever spent!)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hazards big and small, Ya got to be careful

For foreigners here, I can tell you that despite all precautions, there are pitfalls and hazards big and small waiting to trip us up. Usually the consequences are trivial and inconsequential, but not always; and that’s true no matter how careful you might like to think you are. Like me for instance, I don’t do much besides going to the office for a few hours a day, except for taking in a little physical therapy at the gym afterwards. I really thought that as long as I kept my head down and my profile low that that would be enough to stay out of trouble. I guess not.

Not long after moving my bedroom to the back of my little rented house to get away from the trike and motorcycle noises coming at all hours from the street, I was awoken one morning by loud repetitive scratching sounds. It was one of the neighbor ladies sweeping her back yard concrete. The first time it happened we ignored it, but on the third day in a row Divine peeked over the fence and asked the woman if she couldn’t wait until after 7:30 to do her sweeping, telling her that her asawa (me) was being disturbed out of his morning sleep. The woman did not seem pleased with that simple request, but she complied.

Months went by and everything stayed quiet. Then, one morning a puppy began a plaintive continuous yapping. I wrote about what happened next and didn’t think too much about it afterwards. A few more weeks went by.

Then, early this past March, a rooster began to crow, which is not exactly unusual for this country, but in this case it certainly seemed unusual, especially as close to my bedroom that this one apparently was. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was located, but it sounded as if it was just outside my window; no wait, it sounded like it was under my danged bed! If you’ve ever been around chickens then you’ll know how piercingly loud a rooster can be, especially when they are within a few feet.

Filipinos don’t seem bothered by barking dogs, crowing roosters or over-loud off-key screeching karaoke. For the life of me, I wish I could be like that, but alas, cursed with being an over-sensitive foreigner, I’m not at all tolerant to the cacophony that saturates much of this nation. The rooster began its incessant cockle-doodle-dooing at about 5 am. By 5:45 I was already driven nuts by it.

I begged Divine to call the subdivision security people but she refused, saying we’d just have to wait until the office opened on Monday morning. I suffered through the weekend counting the seconds till Monday. I coped by keeping my MP3 on loud enough to drown out most of the rooster noise, or by playing the TV at full volume. I did this even through Sunday night and into Monday morning. Apparently, roosters don’t just crow at the break of dawn, they crow continuously; well, this one did anyway.

Having gone mostly sleepless since early Saturday morning, I was out of bed by 6am Monday and in the office two hours early. At 10 am I got a text from Divine telling me that the subdivision secretary was very sorry but there was nothing she could do. I called Divine on the landline and she gave me the whole story:

It seems that back when we had asked for some relief from the yapping puppy the secretary had been told by our neighbors that if I ever complained about anything ever again that they would see that I was deported, and that I’d also be subject to an “investigation” by the police. Not wanting to alarm us and probably embarrassed by the whole turn of events, the secretary did a very Filipino thing and simply avoided telling us about the blustering threat. She probably had hoped that the whole thing would just fade away.

At the news I turned pale with anger; sweat suddenly pouring down my forehead and stinging my eyes. Wiping it off with my ever present swath of terry cloth I told Divine to go ahead and make the complaint. She refused. She said that if I wasn’t concerned about my wellbeing then I at least should be concerned about her and her family’s. My naturally feisty sense of Scottish and Irish indignation notwithstanding I realized that there was nothing to be done except to move.

I felt sick to my stomach, like I’d been kicked in the guts. I couldn’t understand this immediate tendency to give in, despite having done nothing wrong. To me it was simple; the park rules clearly state that pigs, goats, and chickens, all farm animals in fact, are not allowed. Ah well, rules in general, why even bother to have them? It was a rude awakening, seeing this unpleasant difference between how folks react to adversity here as compared to what I’m used to. Folks here generally operate under a sense of powerless acceptance.

I won’t go into too much detail as to why these people have so much clout, but it turns out that a high ranking law official was involved. It seems that having positions of authority in some countries gives them carte blanche over those without it. The trick to successful living in these sorts of countries is to avoid those people, and when necessary, give way when unpleasant interactions cannot be avoided. And listen carefully, I’m not even complaining or saying that this sort of thing should be changed here; that would be nothing but a display of arrogance on my part. I speak of this thing only to describe one of the events that led to my present bout of depression and to offer it as a “lesson learned” for any other foreigner who might land in a similar situation.

Bottom line: avoid, don’t fight, accept, and move on. Always remember, this is NOT your country; thus, it’s not yours to try to change—don’t even try; that means don’t try to tell folks from here how things ought to be here. Your suggestions and recommendations are not welcome, no matter how many polite nods and smiles your “helpful” comments might seem to elicit. Obviously, the way things are is exactly the way the people native to here prefer it. You are a visitor and even if you are here for 50 years you always will be a foreigner. If things become more than you can stomach, either go back home, or find another place in-country that is more suitable. This is a huge place with more variety of people, geography and sub-culture than most can imagine—get out and find that more “perfect place.”

Anyway, by the fourth day the rooster was gone, except for a brief period about a month later when it mysteriously returned for about a day and a half. I can only presume that they got it to teach me a lesson or maybe they were “rooster sitting.” Who knows? I don’t really care. I do know that that was the final straw. By next year at this time I hope to be living in a different province on a large parcel of land with a view of the water as my brother-in-law and I “build as we go” a big old house right smack dab in the middle of it, as far away as we can construct it from crowing roosters, yapping dogs, and mind numbing bad karaoke.

Some good things: The puppy has accepted its fate and barks only on rare occasions and never for long. And happily, as I already said, all the crowing roosters around here now reside at least three homes away, so that's no longer a problem. And finally, now that I know about the "status" of my neighbor, I know now to avoid making them upset. Live and learn on my part--my bad.

At about this same time in early March a second calamity befell me. It was a HUGELY persistent pain, the kind of continuous agony that drives one to despair. It was a pain in my jaw that became a pain in the butt!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where Have I Been?

So where HAVE I been? Well, right here; just not blogging, and barely doing anything else for that matter; unless you call suffering, fretting and brooding as doing something.

I’ve mentioned a time or two that I am a depressive; in fact, since being diagnosed first with Dysthymia in 2002, and with Major Depression not long after that, I have been receiving treatment for my “depressiveness;” although since losing my Cybercare psychiatrist about 3 years ago the treatment has been limited strictly to meds through the local VA pharmacy.

I hate sounding like a drama queen, (it’s so “unmanly”) but it’s a struggle 24/7 to keep my external persona from mirroring the way I actually feel. A psychiatrist, who also happens to be a buddy, told me once that being depressed is a choice. Maybe he’s right. If so, then I take little comfort from that premise since, if true, it implies that there’s something in me that makes me WANT to feel awful despite all the good things in my life, and if I’m honest, I do have a lot of good and even joyful things that should be outweighing all the bad.

So then, according to the good doctor, the way I am, feeling like this, is all MY fault, since anytime I want to I should be able to WILL myself into being and feeling something different. Now THAT I CAN buy, seeing that I’m always willing to blame bad stuff on me. There, you see how I skew good advice into bad? (Rereading the above, doing a little self-analysis, I see evidence of some low self-esteem there. Hmmm. That’s a symptom, right?)

I’ve come to realize that much of my problem is my intellect; not that I’m all that smart, just overly analytical; and what rhymes with analytical? Well, critical. And I AM the ultimate critic, especially when it comes to me and things around me.

That’s another thing I’ve noticed about us depressives—our tendency towards the “me.” We are supremely self-centered and self-indulgent—self, self, self; it’s ALL about us. That’s another idiotic tendency I strive to battle. I fight this propensity by trying to concentrate on my kids and veteran clients by supplanting as much as possible all other thoughts with them. The problem though, is that instead of taking joy in doing that; instead, I tend to worry about them. In other words, it doesn’t help much, if at all.

There are many ways to define a depressive, especially a dysthymic one, where feeling down NEVER goes away; but personal experience leads me to this definition: it’s having an all-pervasive tendency towards the negative, no matter WHAT. THAT negativity, for me, seems to be overarching. Give me a silver lining and I WILL find the problem with it. In other words, when good times are upon me, that just means “the other shoe is about to drop.”

And hell, think about it; isn’t that the basic way of life? Here’s how I see it: Life is a sequence of events—no matter how many good and wonderful things happen throughout it, it’s continually punctuated with horrible ones. Nice things—like falling in love, getting married, having a child, getting promoted, retiring, winning at sports, or just living through everyday satisfying moments—all that for me is wiped away by the inevitability of such things as disease, accidents, and the ultimate downer--death.

The irony in my case is that for the most part most of what’s happened to me in life has gone my way; yet, I take little satisfaction in that since "I know" it’s all "useless." Everything good is fleeting and therefore contaminated by despair; try as I might, THAT is how I see it, even though as I read it back I can see how wacky it is to feel that way! You see, I can intellectualize it all I want to, but I STILL do it.

With that admitted "weirdness" said, for me, the torture of life is not so much living through the bad times; no, it’s the “waiting” for “the inevitable” during those periods of “the good,” or even through just “the normal,” and KNOWING sickeningly that the next “bad thing” is long overdue. Its decades of Chinese water torture, with life’s hellish droplets falling on the torturee’s forehead in an unending but sporadic tempo, the torment stemming from the continuous expectation of the next painful “droplet.”

Obviously, again, with the watchword being pessimism, if not outright fatalism, it’s not always a good way to be in my sideline as benefits advisor, where I meet lots of folks claiming to have a mental condition. But aside from that, what I HAVE observed from doing this volunteer work with veterans who need my help in dealing with a very adversarial local veteran’s office is that when it comes to symptomology and overall diagnoses there are all sorts of variants.

Just the same, for all the different types of depressives, our commonality, once again, is negativity. You can’t be an optimist, except for maybe a part time one, and stil be a true depressive, at least not like the depressive that I am. Although, I DO know how to “sound” optimistic—I will try on occasion to mouth hopeful words without truly meaning or believing any of them. It’s all a part of doing the “dutiful” thing, that is, putting a happy face on over my doom-and-gloomy one.

Then again, I’ve heard of manic-depression, now popularly known as bi-polar disorder, where supposedly one’s mood waxes and wanes between the extremes, but I wouldn’t know someone like that if I met one, although based on the stats I’ve probably met more than quite a few out there. Still, it certainly doesn’t describe me or “my kind.”

So, while I’m in this fleeting mood of “sharing,” three things happened to me about 8 years back that seemed to cause my particular depressive condition, all three of which took place almost simultaneously:

First, I lost my athleticism—my ability came to an end to run long distances, an activity that had once daily pumped vital good-mood-enhancing endorphins into my brain.

Second, I developed hyperthyroidism, a disease that went undiagnosed for many months, and ultimately caused the end of my military career while causing me to lapse into the throes of chemical depression, a condition from which I never really recovered.

And finally, the fact that my career ended sooner than I had long envisioned that it would was itself the final blow leading ultimately to the worst of what ails me.

In short order I lost two very important things: my military service and distance running, both of which used to provide the bulk of what I saw as my self-worth over most of my life. All together, it physically, mentally and spiritually bashed me down like three huge blows of a hammer—Bam! Bam! and BAM! Just the thought of it as I recount how it all came about causes me to sink into my swivel chair.

So, there you go—now you know. I’ll try to get back into this and do some writing and start reading too while I’m at it. I probably should attempt to describe two recent “bad things” that happened in tandem that drove me down into this current pit. One was a physical ailment, the other was an altercation with a neighbor—together, those two things about did me in.