Depression is a Motherfucker

As many of you know (since I’ve chosen to share about this in the past), I deal with some moderate to severe depression, to the point of being on meds and seeing a therapist weekly. I’d like to say I’m only suicidal at the worst of times, but unfortunately it’s not singular thoughts or moments, so much as it feels like I have a chatty passenger on a road trip; only instead of normal conversation, it’s a voice telling me to end myself in whatever way seems most convenient at the time. Kinda constantly. 

Thanks to drugs and therapy, I’m able to ignore or at least tune out that voice most of the time, but sometimes a perfect storm type of situation happens and the voice goes from a dull whisper to an overwhelming roar that I can’t. shut. off. This past weekend was one of those times. 

Saturday and Sunday were tough, but manageable. I chalked it up to just being extra tired from getting back to a day job schedule; and tried to distract myself as best as I could. Monday, though, I started to realize I couldn’t handle this occurrence in my own. The whole day at work was me trying to get things done and failing miserably, all the while that fucking passenger telling me to just shut my computer and take a dive out the window I sit near at work. For better or worse, the only thing stopping me was the thought that, “Hey, I’m only 4 stories up, which isn’t high enough to really finish the job.” Morbid I know, but at least it stopped me from giving in. 

When I finally gave up on the day and headed out for the day, the voice decided to switch things up and taunt me to steer the car into oncoming traffic. Again, the only thought I could counter with was, “It’s rush hour, so I’m not really going fast enough to do more than hurt myself.” By the time I got to my therapist, I was a blubbering mess, and she listened wide-eyed and concerned as I relayed the events of the last few days. 

Thankfully, she didn’t immediately send me to inpatient (which stresses me out even more, seeing that I’m a Type I Diabetic, and most nurses work off an antiquated idea of diabetes management ,not knowing what to do with an insulin pump) and instead put me on a few days of my wife keeping a close eye on me at home instead. 

I’m through the worst of it now, and starting to feel like I can handle the outside world without just shutting down. I wish I could say the chatty passenger was gone, but really it’s just back to a whisper in the back of my head, rather than an overwhelming force. We’re gonna tweak some meds, keep a closer eye on things for the next few weeks, and hope that I stay on the upswing. 

I don’t really have a happy ending for you; I’m mostly writing about this publicly because it’s something that’s not discussed enough in general. Everyone knows someone who deals with a form of mental illness, but there’s such a social stigma associated with it that people keep their struggles in the dark. In the spirit of “we’re all in this together”, I choose to be open about my struggles with mental illness to combat those negative associations in some small way.

If you’re feeling suicidal, or dealing with mental illness at all, get help. Talk to a friend or family member about what’s going on. If you’re not comfortable with that, call any one of the numbers listed here. However you do it, whatever way you’re most comfortable, get help. Things may seem hopeless now, but they won’t be that way at forever.

Who the Fuck is Chris Novus?

Greetings and salutations, internets. Chris Novus here. Now, I’m sure you’re all wondering who the fuck that is, and what happened to grumpyhawk, and I’m here to explain just that. To do so, we need to go back almost 8 years. I was working my first digital marketing job, and having recently joined Twitter, would occasionally vent (shocking, I know) about work stuff. While never using any identifying information or anything like that, you could put the pieces together if you were paying attention.

That was all well and good, till I learned through the grapevine that corporate was monitoring all online activity for all employees. Being sufficiently panicked. I deleted my twitter, and started a brand new one, not associated with anything “me” related. I kept trying different names, only to discover they were already taken. After a bit, I finally settled on grumpyhawk, in part because, especially at that time, I was surly and grumpy most of the time. On top of that, I had recently taken the plunge on the whole mohawk thing, so it seemed a perfect fit.

This was right around when, at least in the circles I kept, twitter started blowing up, and we started using it for day job things too. New marketing info, blog posts, etc… I left the increasingly awful first job to come to Austin and work with some friends, who had already started calling me grumpyhawk at the office or when we were just hanging out (Hi, Nate! Hi, Timothy!).

When I decided to sort of make the break between “day job me” and “nerd/tech/futurist me”, sticking with grumpyhawk made a ton of sense. In a big way, it became a character I could inhabit and use as a sort of armor. I started going exclusively by grumpyhawk for anything that wasn’t day job related; in fact, there are people who were part of Your Nerd Is Showing Media who only know me as grumpyhawk, that’s how committed I was to the thing.

It turns out, though, that words are important. Like, yes, words are important, right? We all know this! But, when referring to yourself, and what you make your “personal brand” is important. I’ve been at the point for the last year or so where I’ve been claiming bad, excessive things on “grumpyhawk” “Oh, it’s ok, “Chris” isn’t ranty and angry and grumpy all the time, that’s “grumpyhawk”. Problem is, lines blur, and while I was using it as an out, I was also starting to live into that more and more. Plus, if I’m being perfectly honest, having to explain the name every fucking time I met someone is getting tiring.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know me, I’m never gonna be sunshine and unicorns all the time. It’s just not gonna happen, but, as everything else in my life is in flux right now (Closing down YNIS, changing jobs, refocusing more on my futurist/transhumanist tendencies), it feels like the time to have a bit of a fresh start. A new beginning. (Maybe.)

(Thanks to the 3 of you who read this far; hi mom) All of that to say I’ve chosen a new name for myself. From here on out, you can call me Chris Novus. It’s still not my drivers license name, but it has meaning to me, and it reflects the direction I want to take my life in. After all, Novus is Latin for new, and what’s newer and more focused on where we’re headed than the futurist and transhumanist communities.

If you’re already following me on Twitter, congrats! Thanks to them thinking about things like this, I can change my username there, and it automatically updates, so you’re still following me. I’m going to TRY changing my name on Facebook, but, you know how they are, and if I get popped, I may have to lay low for a bit and try again later. Everywhere else has made the name change pretty easily, so, just look for Chris Novus on whichever service you want to find me on. Chance is I’m there. Thanks for reading, now lets go build and/or steal the future we wanna see!

The Life and Times of Our Fluffy Friend – RIP Flip Flop

Our first year of marriage was a bit…different than most. Instead of the typical learning how to live with another person and small arguments about toothpaste tubes and how to put up a new roll of toilet paper (over. the answer is always over), we had to deal with my having life changing back surgery 3 months into the marriage.

Andrea went through it all like a champ; she always has. As someone with multiple chronic health issues, It’s one of the many things I love about her. Rather than letting me just wallow in my pain and suffering, she helped me get through the healing process, taking care of me along the way and kicking my ass when I needed it.

Fast forward a few months, and we’re closing in on Valentine’s Day. I’m feeling better, but nowhere near great yet, and have stored up my energy to go with my lovely wife and a friend of ours to the mall. For weeks I’d been trying to figure out the perfect gift, not only because it was our first married Valentine’s Day, but also because I wanted to do something amazing for Andrea because she’d been so incredible.

The whole time we were walking around, I kept running through my options, and kept coming back to the thought that we both grew up with pets (Andrea, at various time, having dogs, goats, and rabbits, among others), and wanted an animal of our own.
That’s when it hit me (likely in at least small part thanks to some kick ass pain meds). A pet is the gift that keeps on giving right? We should TOTALLY get a rabbit.

I mentioned this to Andrea, and her face lit up in that beautiful way that is does, and an hour or so later, we were headed home with a little bunny pal of our own. (Before anyone yells at me, I know now that mall pet shops are far from ideal, and we probably should’ve gotten him from somewhere else, but as you’ll recall, KICK. ASS. PAIN. DRUGS. and the fact that we barely got out of the house at the time because of me.)

young flip-flop
He would eventually grow into this head
From the very beginning, even when we were deciding on which one to take home with us, Flip-Flop stood out as happy but stubborn. Even our trip home with this little bunny head poking out the top of the cardboard box he was in every few seconds is seared in my brain, in part because ADORABLE, RIGHT? and because we didn’t want him to hop out of the box and hurt himself.

aka, the bunny tornado
aka, the bunny tornado
Those early years with him were especially…, let’s just say challenging (but ultimately a blast). He was a little daredevil, and there were many times we’d be chilling in the living room and see a flying ball of fur come careening into the room. Or even have to rescue him from precarious situations (like the time he got to to the top of a pile of boxes close to the ceiling, and then couldn’t get down).

Welp, I guess I live here now
Welp, I guess I live here now
We also learned what foods we could, and could not, eat around him. I was unable to eat an apple in peace for those first few years, as even the scent of one being cut up meant you had a determined little bunny dude trying everything he could to get to a slice of apple before it made it to your mouth. Really, fruit of any kind would send him into a frenzy that made me glad rabbits are vegan.

When he was younger, he actually wasn’t much of a snuggler; he barely like being picked up. We both think it was just an excess of energy, as he would occasionally burst into laps around our coffee table, just because. Again, ALL OF THE ADORABLE.

under the desk, at andrea's feet. his home away from home
under the desk, at andrea’s feet. his home away from home
Lest you think this is all about me, he was great for Andrea too. They shared many a long night in our office, her at the computer, him at her feet. When she was getting ready in the mornings, he was her constant companion, an onlooker as she got dressed, put makeup, did her hair, and whatever else. As much as I loved having him up on the bed, she did as well, and from time to time he would just sneak up on the bed, and stretch out contentedly between the two of us, awaiting all the scratches and snuggles he knew he’d get from us both.

this is what happens when you have the smell of orange in your beard
this is what happens when you have the smell of orange in your beard
As he got older though, he started chilling out a bit, and letting us pick him up and hold him. (ok, he still freaked out about picking him up, but once he was in my arms he’d calm down) Thanks to my back still being in rough shape, I still spend a fair amount of time laying down in bed, but I started to have company. I’d be laying there reading or watching something, and seemingly out of thin air poof a bunny would land on my chest. I’m sure at least part of it was he knew I’d break down and give him a treat or two, but I also think he genuinely enjoyed hanging out.

even he was super chill sometimes...sometimes
he was even super chill sometimes…sometimes
While being cute, this started to serve another purpose too. I’ve been pretty open about my mental health issues and the sort of break down I had a few years ago, and I discovered that “bunny time” could be pretty therapeutic. I could be in the middle of a serious depressive episode, but no matter how bad it was, that giant hop appearing bunny would make me chuckle or smile. I got to where I looked forward to a few minutes with him each night, rubbing his jaw just like he liked it or “hypnotizing” him by petting the middle of his head. It gave me something to do that was outside myself, and I always felt a little better after we hung out.

A few months back, we woke up to him being way unsteady on his feet and super lethargic, i.e. not himself at all. We both freaked out, because he was almost 9, and bunnies just don’t live forever (yet). Turns out, because he was an old man, he developed some arthritis, and once we started give him some medication for that, he was back to normal. phew Bullet dodged, we nursed him back to normal and life resumed.

When Andrea woke up this morning, she knew something wasn’t right. Normally we feed him first thing (have I mentioned he likes to eat?), because if you don’t, he runs little circles around your feet until the food dish is filled. This morning, however, he had zero interest in eating. Like, turned his face away from the bowl and everything. I woke up a bit later, and Andrea shared her concern. We picked him up, which went easier than normal (uh-oh), and I hung out with him on the bed for a bit.

We got even more worried when he refused a treat too. He normally goes batshit crazy for the things, but even when I held it right next to his mouth, he just kinda sat there. Still, we had been through something like this before, and figured he just needed some help from the vet and he’d be fine. After getting an exam, the vet said his belly felt a bit off and they needed to run some tests. Still thinking he’d be alright, we left him there and ran to lunch.

When we got back to the vet’s office, the nurse said we needed to “talk” about the results of these tests. I still tried to think happy thoughts, but Andrea had an inkling that something was wrong. The doc came in a few minutes later and confirmed our worst fears. Sometime in the early morning, a small rupture had formed in his stomach, causing the contents of his stomach to leak into the rest of him. We sat there choking back tears as she explained that most owners don’t even catch when something like this happens, and rarely, if ever, do bunnies come back from an injury this severe.

Tearfully, we agreed with the vet’s assessment that there was nothing more that could be done, and he would need to be euthanized. It’s here I want to give a shout out to White Rock Veterinary Clinic in Pflugerville. They were incredibly sensitive to the situation, and let us spend some time with our tough little guy before prepping him for the procedure. Even after they did their thing, we were allowed some final moments with him in each of our arms before starting the injections. Once he was on the table, we were right there next to him, and with the doctor talking so soothingly and calmingly to him, she started.

There were some complications (nothing painful to him), but ultimately, we were there and petting him through most his initial sedation and as his breathing slowed. Though short-lived, the pain he was in from his stomach was finally over, and we said goodbye.

No matter how much you try to prepare for something like this, you really can’t. Even though it was the right call, and he’s out of pain, it feels like a piece of me got torn out, and I know Andrea feels the same way. This is the way of the human/pet relationship though. You go into it knowing that you will outlive this other living being that brightens your day. All you can do is cherish the time you have together and hope (know?) that they loved you as much as you loved them.

Goodbye fluffy friend, you will be forever missed.

Shout out to all the friends who have taken care of him over the years and were a part of giving him the best little life a bunny could have.

water tongue
The rare photo of the bunny tongue

carrots are tasty
<munch, munch, munch, munch>

bunny nap
No doubt he’s bounding through endless fields of cilantro. and carrots. and celery. and lettuce. AND ALL THE VEGGIES.

Fuck You, Pain

I’ve decided to bring over some of my older posts from both my old site and the YNIS site. This is one of those.

So, those of you that follow me here or on Twitter know I’ve been going through some stuff. Short version: I’ve dealt with some significant back pain for the last 8 years. I had surgery to remove part of a bulging disc in 2006, and the pain got better. Not gone, but better. I still had days that were rough, but was functional again.

Fast forward to fall 2010. The pain started getting pretty bad again. It got to the point that I basically lived on an air mattress in our tiny apartment’s living room. After working with a pain management specialist and trying just about everything, it was determined that I needed another surgery, a fusion at L4-L5.

The recovery from that surgery was particularly rough, but I survived and the pain got better for a time. Still not 100% gone, but completely tolerable. I figured this was about as good as things would get. Sadly, it didn’t stay that way.

Starting in July 2012, the pain came back with a fucking vengeance. It hurt to walk, stand, sit, lay down, you name it. The surgeon ran a bunch of tests, only to decide he didn’t see anything wrong, and that I should take it easy and hope things got better. They didn’t.

Since then, I’ve been fighting severe pain off and on. I would have a few good days, or even a week, but invariably, the pain returned. Pain medication became an almost daily part of my life. I started having to use a cane just to get around, even for short trips. I did my best to bite the bullet and still go do things despite the pain, but most of the time I’d have to bail early.

I was able to make it to SXSWi this past March, thanks to shear determination and copious amounts of pain medication. I basically tried to take the free cars or shuttles around as much as possible, and stay in the same general area for a while each time. Anyway, post south-by, the pain just wouldn’t go away. I remember mrs. hawk and I took a trip to see some family, but I ended up spending the majority of that trip in the hotel room. If I did go do anything, I’d have to cut it short to go lay down in the car.

For the first time in all my battles with pain, I started feeling suicidal. The pain was just too much, and I couldn’t handle it anymore. I remember laying on the hotel bed in agony, and starting to look around the room to find something to end the pain with. I didn’t actually go through with anything, but it was a thought that wouldn’t go away.

I talked to mrs. hawk, my therapist, and a couple of close friends, since that felt like something I shouldn’t keep to myself. Everyone was concerned and super supportive, which helped. Unfortunately, neither the thoughts or pain would go away.

It got to the point that I remember one day the pain was particularly bad, I was standing in the work kitchen holding the one kitchen knife we have, contemplating the most effective ways to use it to end things. I ran my thumb over the blade, only to discover it wasn’t sharp enough to do anything. At that point, I put the blade down and went back to my desk and just kinda broke down. I didn’t tell anyone about that incident until a few days later, as I felt ashamed I had gotten to that point.

After discussing it with my therapist and wife, I decided I needed more help staying safe, and agreed to go inpatient at a metal hospital. As terrifying a prospect as that seemed, I knew it was the right decision.

The time at the hospital was weird, but very helpful. For the first time in years, I didn’t have any personal electronics with me. No phone, no computer, no kindle, no iPad, no anything. I felt disconnected to the outside world which, in a way, was a good thing. The doctors there worked with me on medication and coping strategies, and I left a week or so later.

While the pain got a bit better for a few days there, it’s all come crashing back down on me. Most days, it’s a struggle just to force myself to go to work and sit upright for 8 hours. By the end of the day, I’m just a ball of pain. Some days, like today, the pain is almost unbearable from the time I wake up through the rest of the day. Lemme tell you, nothing quite so distracting as pain on a 7-8 out 10 scale.

I’m not really sure why I’m sharing all this, other than to just let folks know where I’m at and why I may seem more on edge some days, or seem fragile and whiny. I do my best to push through and deal with things on my own, but sometimes that’s just too hard, and it bleeds over into the rest of my life.

If anyone reading this is going through the same type of thing, just know, you’re not alone. By no means am I saying the pain is over, or the suicidal thoughts are gone, but I can say I’m fighting both of those as best I can, and I hope you can do the same.