Journeyman's Row
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"In Our Own Voice"

Posted on September 24, 2017 at 3:00 AM Comments comments (0)

As of Tuesday, September 19th, I am now certified as a NAMI "In Our Own Voice" Presenter. Before I get into the details, I thought I would share with you some curious insight into what I felt leading up to and during the training graduation day.


First, and for several days before the training started on Monday, I experienced a flood of test-like anxiety. Part of this was from being anxious for having to dress up more formally for presentations on Tuesday. I half expected some nerve-wracking final speech I would have to pass, or a test, even though when the trainees were given the schedule paper on Monday there wasn't anything like a test listed. And yes, I checked the paper at least three separate times throughout Monday. My crew of two additional trainees, one of which is a valued friend of mine, and I had also endured an unnerving arrival to Pittsburgh the previous Sunday night due to two unforeseen problems which voided our cab and hotel arrangements. Furthermore, since my application was accepted a month ago I have been unable to comprehend where this IOOV Presenter training might take me regarding employment possibilities being that I am currently unemployed.


I have trouble perceiving any short-term gains from this or other such trainings. Not to mention the fact that I have declined trying the local NAMI help line since it is volunteer only. Initially, I had even declined applying for the training. This is fueled by strong anxiety which has, for a long time, influenced my career indecision problem. Adding to the mixture of emotions is the fact that in a couple weeks will be my birthday and a couple months afterwards the end of the year. The trip to Pittsburgh for the training was the longest out-of-town trip without my parents in over a decade - a fact that seriously makes me cringe worse than a classroom full of kids screeching their fingernails on a chalkboard. Although this was honestly not a stressor. The trip was also my first by train as well as the first travel (back) by Greyhound intercity bus, which were not stressful either but ended up being happily interesting for me to share here.


Sounds like quite a jumble of feelings, no? And this doesn't include the fact that my crew's trip back home was bungled by the cab company causing us to miss our train, but landing us a fortunately smooth ride by the Greyhound bus instead. Jingles! As Crystal would say, whom was the friend who accompanied our local group for the training. Yet, the training itself actually went quite well I was relieved to discover. But it wouldn't have been possible if not for two outstanding trainers, Susan Caban and Laura Thomas. Caban also happened to become an instant hero when she had to get out of bed much too early, drive across Pittsburgh to meet us Sunday night at our hotel in order to fix the problem with our reservations. Although rightfully tired, the look she gave me when I asked how difficult the training would be - a suddenly wide awake, creepy yet honest expression - will be something of a unique memory I won't soon forget from this whole experience.


Both Caban and Thomas gave a confident and insightful training which should prove invaluable with the presentations down the road for me personally. Though, I still have to finalize my speech segment cards before giving my first or any presentations. I also wanted to take a couple days before summarizing the training experience and blogging about it here. Now, I have no doubt about the opportunities where the IOOV presentations will avail for me in the future. I just need to coral my anxiety, keep my symptoms from getting the best of me, schedule that psychiatric evaluation locally, figure out and land something along the lines of employment for an income hopefully before year's end.


On the other hand, a big bonus and very positive element of the training experience was without a doubt the amazing eleven additional trainees attending (with the two people I traveled with). I have always said that, during my community service volunteer work since 2008, there have been countless fellow volunteers I have worked with whom are some of the most wonderful and inspiring people I've ever met. Imagine putting thirteen of them in one room. I know it seems like a bit of a cheat to say that this training had me witness thirteen (practice) IOOV presentations. Technically, I did. And I feel as though I just gained thirteen dear friends. Each and every trainee were not only amazing people, but their stories and experiences were absolutely heartwarming. I consider myself lucky for having ultimately decided to attend this training in the first place.


In particular, one of the trainees and I had so much in common that he felt like a brother or close friend to me. This was in just two day's worth of contact. Another trainee, though she is several years younger than me, shared numerous personality traits and we identified with each other's symptoms quite a bit. Additionally, a third trainee shared one of the most inspiring veterans comeback experiences that I've heard in recent memory. Each of them shared and presented what it was like to live with mental illness in every way that can be meaningful. Since only this year have I been exposed to other people's experiences this training turned out to be an eye opening experience personally.


I sincerely hope the training will not be the last time I meet, or even perhaps in the future to work with, these thirteen inspiring people as well as the trainers Susan Caban and Laura Thomas.


The bottom of my heart just does not convey enough substance. So, from all my heart I want to thank the fifteen individuals I worked with for this NAMI "In Our Own Voice" training and I look forward to seeing either of you again. Thank you very much. It was an honor.


In addition, there was also an unexpected source of inspiration whom I happened to connect with during my stay in Pittsburgh. On Monday night, when I honestly felt quite nervous about the more formal and uncertain second day of the IOOV training, initially I had some difficulty getting to sleep. By nine or ten o'clock, I tried busying myself on a couple of my gaming apps. Eventually, I decided to grab a cup of coffee from the hotel's breakfast lounge on the first floor. I noticed someone there whom I hadn't seen before since we arrived so I stopped and made what would turn out to be a very beneficial decision. I decided to go back to my room for one of my website advocacy business cards.


I'm glad I randomly made that choice.


This person, whom I have decided to keep anonymous, struck up what turned out to be an hour long conversation. They explained having relevant and concerning experiences with mental health versus what I offered to share of mine, fresh from suggestions made during that day's IOOV training I suggested to check out the NAMI Keystone PA office and website for helpful information and resources, we identified both personally and socially with having a number of similar experiences and were refreshingly like-minded individuals, plus I hoped to have been an ear for them to express their concerns about mental illness in general. When I finally got back up to my floor I instead went to Crystal's room, knocked on the door, and since I had no watch asked what time it was. A whole hour had passed. What a conversation! Then again, I am a talker. :) I also didn't have much trouble getting to sleep after then, nonetheless.


Keep in mind that I randomly decided to backtrack to my room for one of my advocate cards. I could've simply said and did nothing. That is one of the dozens of beneficial qualities from being involved with NAMI; becoming more of an outgoing and proactive person to help and educate the general public about mental health. I know it may seem foolish or whimsical to say this, but this individual I met and talked to for an hour turned out to be a remarkable person even in such a short time. Kind-hearted, compassionate, intelligent, considerate, friendly, mindful, and in all seriousness was the inspiration that turned me around that Monday night. It's not like I thought I was going to fail the training. Certainly not. Anxiety can control and twist your emotions like this.


Though, in my humble opinion this person and I connected in a special way that did give me the confidence I needed to complete the "In Our Own Voice" training. Again, this person knows who they are and I wish nothing but the absolute best in their future. Bless their heart, indeed. The next major character I write will have this person's first name as well. Thank you for being you.


Before I wrap up this blog post, I also wanted to point out a name change for my fiction manuscript. It was originally entitled, "Memoirs of a Kind Man", but is now tentatively "Just Before the Dawn". You will see the change effective yesterday on my blog category to the right and any mention of the former title on blog posts has also been changed. I feel that the new title conveys a stronger sense of symbolism and curiosity, as well as being inspired from actor Aaron Eckhart's line from Christopher Nolan's film, The Dark Knight. The night is darkest just before the dawn, but the dawn is coming as is said in the film. This first of at least two manuscripts should prove to share some empowering stories of inspiration.

"Find Your Voice" Conference

Posted on April 23, 2017 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Welcome again for the latest updates and writing progress. On Thursday the 20th, for the most part the NAMI organized "Find Your Voice" Recovery Conference went really well. It was a new experience for me being around people from the community who share similar mental health issues, as well as being around so many mental health providers. It can be so easy not to see the wood for the trees. If you aren't stigmatized to keep to yourself about your differences from other people, or the mental health symptoms you do have, you still might not necessarily realize the bigger picture of details.


The devil is in the details, as the saying goes. Since November, I have seen and met with some mental health providers in this region. But even during the setup time for the first couple hours of the Conference, I still was taken aback by how many health providers who do deal with mental health. To see so many there even for a relatively small city like ours, it was an interesting treat. My hat goes off to everyone who attended. Though, you'll have to excuse the other unexpected reaction I had just afterwards.


I felt that not enough people from the general public were there and know exactly why I feel this way: my ambition. I don't expect every single person who would have been available to attend to have been at the Conference. There wouldn't be enough room in any building here locally to accommodate so many people. Crazy, right? But I couldn't help feeling a sense that in combination with all of the other important issues in the world, mental health awareness should be a priority too. Maybe even a little greedy that this cause should be in the national spotlight right now. I know I feel so empowered right now to create change and that I should pace myself. When the tide finally begins to turn against social stigma and mental health is taken more seriously, then maybe I will pace myself. :)


I would also like to thank the presenters for their invaluable contribution during the Conference as well. In particular, the key note speaker, Elisha Coffey, with whom I was fortunate to network and speak one on one during break periods. It was such a relief to share my advocacy efforts with someone so energetic, so comfortable and experienced with mental health, and to attend her presentation. I hope in the weeks and months to come I can gravitate towards similar pillars of the mental health community to begin discovering solutions for my career anxiety. Oh what a moment that will be when I finally tackle that most difficult of issues in my life. Before you know it, when I get my life on track I'll be hearing wedding bells and end up getting married.


Preparations are still progressing for the local May Is Mental Health Month Conference event, in which I will be one of three to four people giving speeches about our personal experiences with mental illness. May 24th for anyone in this region who is interested to attend. This will mark the first time I have ever given a speech to a captive audience about my personal experiences with suicide, depression, and mental illness. Yes, the first time ever. Although, I will not post the final draft of my speech here to make sure it is reserved for public speaking only, the speech is already eight minutes long and incredibly compelling. This speaking event will also serve as the beginning stepping stone hopefully into a path of career development. Coffey is but one resource I expect to network with in order to resolve my career indecision, because while I have been advocating and seeming to have a lot of experience, I am still in my own mental health recovery.


It will be such an honor also to be speaking with the other presenters for May 24th. I have been well acquainted with one of them, Crystal, and she has turned out to be someone I am beginning to look up to more for what she has been through. May 24th is just a date I can't wait for. It should be very exciting as that time draws nearer.


To wrap this up, since Easter Sunday I have finished "Gone, But Not Forgotten"© and it turned out to be what I feel is my best story yet. The main character ended up being so compelling, Eliza Oshii, I feel she is the best character I have ever written. On the other hand, the final sixth short story has hit writer's block to get underway. "In Love & Fear"©, which will involve more secondary characters, a new inner city setting, and a romance angle with the theme of anxiety-driven intrusive thought to serve as the antagonist. I will keep pushing forward to work out the kinks and write it hopefully to be finished by the end of May. By then as well I intend to rewrite chunks of "To Have Loved & Lost"© also, but my goal will still remain to be finished with the writing project before June.


I have also created a new Blog Category, called To Know Me Better, in an effort to organize specific blog posts in which I share mental health information about me personally or essential details about who I am.  This way, mental health professionals, potential employers, and the general public can go straight to these posts to get a good idea about what I've been through and who I am as a person.


Well, I want to thank you all once again for tuning in to WWHY 100.4 FM broadcast of the Journeyman's Row radio show. It won't be too much longer now until I resume regular blogcasting and I encourage you to check back again on May 7th for my next update. Take care until then and God bless.

Feel the energy

Posted on February 1, 2017 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

After attending my third ever local National Alliance on Mental Illness committee meeting on the 27th of last month, I couldn't resist writing a blog post about the energy and anticipation I've been feeling for the April 20th "Find Your Voice" Mental Health Conference. Just the energy I've been generating since I started blogging here, declaring to advocate for mental health, has given me a spark I haven't felt in a long time. It just seems like it's been so long, which is why I quickly jumped on starting my box-ercising routine to take advantage of it. For once I'm not as depressed about how stagnant my life has become, but I know all too well that a lot of people suffering from mental health conditions are not feeling much to be positive about.


Never have I felt so much hopeful energy that I don't know what to do with. The biggest reason I believe is because I have finally found my voice, as the Conference theme I suggested was chosen for. What started with simple reflection during 2012 on what I could remember from my past, combined with my community service volunteering with the Penn State Altoona, now has transformed into this advocacy. Advocating for mental health and awareness, which I have no training or professional experience for or to do. In the coming weeks thanks to the local NAMI chapter, I will be pursuing helpful trainings and potential opportunities. I can't help but think back to the conference planning committee meetings since November of last year, with how meek and shy I felt.


I was muted reluctant to speak at first because of social anxiety disorder. Yet, I've met some of the nicest and most dedicated people same as I had when I was on the PSU Altoona Alumni Society Board. A newcomer who started attending the meetings the month after I had, in December, continues to show up and offers refreshing feedback each time she is there. She also serves as a positive reminder that people are out there who want to help. The Conference in April feels like an eternity from now, and the urgency to find some form of gainful employment in the mental health field is constantly challenging my ability to keep myself balanced. There are too many times when people with mental illnesses become overwhelmed either by what they feel or from physical symptoms. The worse it gets, the harder it is for a person to push function.


I can sit here and type away until my heart's content, sharing as much about my own experiences with mental health conditions. But I don't lose sight of the people I am fighting for. I don't get so absorbed by the hope I am discovering without thinking about the people I can't save in time, or those of you struggling in your lives right now. I recently heard that there was a suicide at my former high school; a bully apparently described by classmates as being someone that few people would miss. I was stunned... Young teens being mercilessly picked on and bullies who have problems of their own both deserve to live their lives and be free from other people mistreating them. I don't care where it comes from. I will miss that bully very much, because everyone deserves not to be left behind or forgotten in such a manner.


Make no mistake that the fight against social stigma, bullying, peer pressure, and opposition to mental health is a constant battle. Kids will be kids, adults will be adults, and people like me will be advocates for change. I was raised by my parents not to forget my roots. I now know why I am here and I will never forget where I came from. I came from below average, non-privileged, hard-working, tough and determined, never quitting people. I came from amongst all of you. The growing energy I've been generating from my blogging, I've been feeling with my advocacy, and talking about at the local NAMI committee meetings, is a force I intend to use to benefit this cause. Social stigma is the bull, and right now I am grabbing it by the horns and hanging on for your lives.


I sound so fired up because this energy is just getting pretty intense, especially when talking to other like-minded people committed to helping improve mental health. For too long have I seen school students suffer; one after the other slipping away into oblivion and losing their only chance to find their places in this life. Bullies who suffer themselves, or the ones who don't grow out of their ways and push around adults. Parents who have to bury their children and are faced with crippling depression. Children who have to consider themselves buried, because they can't find the hope they need in time. Their walls closing in on them, from all sides. Parents and children who endure sometimes lifelong struggles to treat mental illness symptoms day in and day out by medications, as well as constant and often times long-distance contact.


And this is only February... All of this emotional adversity combined with a rapidly growing source of intense hope, gives me courage that this year will be the chance to finally begin making a difference many people can look forward to. This energy will not be ignored or wasted. This energy will not be disregarded or discarded. I, as one of more to come, have a responsibility to help as many of you as I can muster. I will not lose sight of that duty for as long as I can go to sleep at night and wake up the next day. As I will remind the committee members, this energy feels fairly strong now then wait until April. We will be bursting from the inside out.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness is just the beginning. I am merely a humbled, broken yet resilient person who has dealt with mental illness for two thirds of my life. A person who once gave up, who once contemplated giving up again, yet here I am forging ahead with the courage to do something about it. Not just to save myself, but to save all of you first.


Take this energy you feel, hold it high above your heels.

Grip it real tight, until your knuckles turn white.

Lift it high above your head, over depression and dread.

Unaffected by anxiety, out of reach from society.

Doesn't matter who you are, together we can go far.

This energy you now see, will get you there with me.


Just a little rhyme I randomly wrote, for all of you who love it in their music too. 8)

Volunteer vs. Society: Dawn of Activism

Posted on November 17, 2016 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

In hindsight with regards to the theater, the completely unexpected attempts at script writing further exposed me to creative writing skills, including monologue and dialogue, which I had always been afraid to write. Significant and subtle barriers had gradually been subdued ever since my volunteering began in 2008. This, as you have seen, helped pave the way for yet another change of course towards something more. So to take a look back, allow me to summarize the Volunteerman journey up until this point so I can make it easier to keep pace with what I share.


Between 1994 and 2008, depression had ruled my life, numerous anxiety disorders inhibited my development by influencing key decision making skills such as career choices and socializing, but despite a weak overdose attempt in 2003 I managed to find a source of inspiration to crawl, beg, and fight my way tooth and nail back to a chance for a future I could believe in. Though, by no means had I vanquished my demons. After 2008 and my return to Penn State Altoona, a spontaneous choice to volunteer as a student led to greater volunteer opportunities with the Alumni Society Board after graduation in 2010. Once I had served one three-year term and had a wealth of ambition under my belt, I explored the performing arts of theater to expand my search for finding my inner voice since 2013.


So here we are, to fill in the gaps which will be less about volunteering and more about mental illness, health and wellness. If between 2010 and 2013 seemed aimless with poor career decisions, these last three years have been even worse. But before I dive in, habits compel me to remind myself and everyone about two of my checks and balances: excuses and modesty. I frequently caution myself not to spout excuses for the actions I am responsible for, as well as to discourage sympathy from other people because I believe there are many others out there who have it worse than I do who deserve the attention.


Rather than listing mundane descriptions about my experiences fighting career indecision, also categorized as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), I doubt I could provide a good picture. To better understand what GAD has been like more recently, I wanted to relate a specific example from my last semester at Penn State Altoona during the spring of 2010. This example is not intended to criticize persons involved; only to give a timestamp and simple description. When I sat down with the career advisor for research, which was focused only on what my degree availed, my reaction was like the worst possible case of writer's block imaginable. Placing such information or decisions before me caused my mind to shut down, which is why as I write this I keep reminding myself about the excuses check to remain truthful yet honest.


What do I want to do with the rest of my life? The only answers I can ever come up with are too general. The common solution has been to just pick something. I've tried over the last sixteen years, but the anxiety gets worse each year that goes on without eliminating it. Sure I could just settle for a job at Walmart, if they hired me despite my college degree, but the anxiety would still wreak havoc on me anyway and not enough people accept or acknowledge this. That is why this anxiety is so torturous and controversial in my experiences. I tear myself apart for a simple decision that I can't even make, after graduating with a Bachelor's degree that I pursued when I didn't know what to major in at college in the first place. Insert hair pulling and face palms. Guilt and confusion are what has reigned supreme these last three years.


Yes, I should have pursued counseling much sooner but that would be an unfair judgment in hindsight. Work with what you have before you and keep plugging away. And I have kept plugging away otherwise I wouldn't still be here today, to be honest. At any time particularly after 2003, I could easily have just said enough is enough. To have used a gun on (only) myself or jump off the proverbial bridge. How or especially why subject myself to such mental stressors for so long when all I really need to do is apply for a job at Sheetz (as if I'd be lucky to work there). Simple solution, right? Well, to offer brief answers I would have to say the simpler truth is that I am actually a survivor. Not just of suicide.


I was born two months premature and extremely underweight, at two pounds fourteen ounces. The cutest bundle of joy you've ever seen; save for my looks now I am still that mischievous little boy. Underdeveloped lungs, my skin looked like a prune from jaundice, something I don't recall about my liver, the over-oxygenation later caused short-sightedness (myopia), megacolon (self-explanatory), inherent Attention Deficit Disorder, at least for a start. There was a girl born a week or so before me at half of my weight, yet we both made it. Thanks to the incubator. So, I really do have a birthright to consider myself a survivor. Why not embrace it now when all reasonable methods have failed? The terribles come in twos, and my GAD had a pair of its own unfortunately.


Social Anxiety Disorder, which originated in part from repeated rejection by women and is the only other major factor destabilizing my daily life. Dealing with these anxieties and depression, plus the career indecision getting much worse as I get older, I started to lose touch with my volunteer participation. Since my theater script writing also turned into a stalemate, I really don't know what I was trying to accomplish since 2013. To stay alive, I suppose. Which is why when a simple positive suggestion by my counselor back in September struck a cord with me, culminating in this blog website, I feel that perhaps I actually can make something from the last sixteen years of nothing. What do you think? Is it really possible? Would it feel real if I accomplished that after so long?


Believe me when I say that I didn't make it this far, so off the beaten path, without the help from other people. The same people I owe a great debt of gratitude to; friends and family. If anyone, particularly in the business community here in Pennsylvania, can help guide me towards a career involving advocation or mental health, there is nothing to describe what that would mean to me. We're talking about being indebted for life, as cheesy as that sounds.


Where do I go from here? Still unemployed and absolutely lost amidst the sea of both time, job ads, plus the self-inflicted social anxiety pressure. What do I do? Well, it just so happens that I have a potentially big surprise in store for all of you. I'm quite surprised myself. This new development may be a way to effectively channel my newfound energy, finally, into something that may give occupational direction to my life. Just maybe... Perhaps to make something out of nothing.


Allow me to treat all of you to the first ever story that I have semi-published publicly, by posting it here for you to read. For the next six days I encourage you to join the characters of Charlie and Amaia (uh-my-uh) on the most heartwarming journey I personally have ever written. The first five parts will be the story itself, followed by the Author's Note on the 23rd just before Thanksgiving Day.


Ladies and gentlemen, children and elderly, I know present to you:
"Lost & Found", and the dawn of my social activism.

To Be Or Not To Be

Posted on November 16, 2016 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Once I made the reluctant decision to separate myself from group-oriented community service involvement in 2013, I continued to make myself available for further Alumni Society Board activities. Though to accurately describe the last three years this post will cover is something even right now I find hard to put into words. Probably because of it being so recent and peppered with emotional sacrifices I still do not fully understand. Just to comprehend the enormity of how far off the beaten path I have gone these three years is a stretch. If I felt lost in life before then a new adjective needs to be created to describe it now.


Every day career anxiety weighed more and more on my conscience, and made it harder to engage in socializing as well as many attempts to research careers. I was able to manage getting job assignments through a temporary employment agency, but had no health insurance coverage as a result, no benefits or 401k for retirement, and even less job stability than a regular new hire. The 2008 housing market crash and ObamaCare only made matters worse. But I worked twice as hard anyway. Yet, each and every assignment I took I was given minimal notice of being laid off beforehand, and on numerous instances became emotionally distraught after each lay off. Despite the fractured occupational picture, my desire to help others like me began to transform.


While keeping the anxieties in mind, by 2013 my volunteering seemed to have reached a subtle turning point. I found myself desiring more and more to increase awareness of the afflictions I had suffered from for so many years, at some point eclipsing group volunteering. During 2012, for the first time I began reflecting upon my past experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicide while attempting to write a story about those troubled times. As I wrote, I was subconsciously analyzing myself trying to understand what I had felt, to remember any possible contributing factors, why had I reacted the ways I did, what the focal point might be when everything first started, all before any more memories faded into obscurity. Only four years ago now, compared to the twenty two years affected by mental illness.


However, after part of a year's effort with the writing project I just felt that I was not cut out for the worthy caliber of writing and decided to scrap it. What I didn't realize was that two crucial thresholds had been breached. The first was I now had greater confidence to write more expressively about myself and what I had gone through. The second was mounting anxiety had finally pushed me to a breaking point of desperation. I became more influenced by the fear that if I did not share my life experiences, I either might soon fall apart from fighting this too long or my life might be taken from natural circumstances at a moment's notice.


So as silly and nonsensical as it sounds the fear of death was now starting to drive my urge to help other people. And I am sure a lot of people already know just how strong of an influence it can be. After all, death does make humanity unique. One of my favorite film quotes comes from actor William Shatner's line in Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, where he points out how we deal with death being just as important as dealing with life. And he was right. In fact, each year since 2006's portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, movies played an ever powerful role in my life. So when my attention was diverted to another form of acting and expression, it makes perfect sense for the next step in my journey to advocate.


Enter the stage of the Grand 'ole Theater; a timeless form of artistic expression and an essential part of our culture.


During late 2012 and early 2013, a former high school classmate began encouraging me to explore theater production. She herself had become a most gifted performer by that time, and believed that from my previous attempt at story writing I might have the confidence to write scripts as a playwright for local theater groups. With the right amount and timing of encouragement, I literally threw myself into the daunting task of researching and trying to write theater scripts. I had neither professional writing experience nor a background in theater performance, other than a Theater 100 college class back in 2000. That didn't stop me from trying anyway. In fact, this level of determination hasn't been matched until I began blogging on my website last month, just to offer a helpful comparison.


While my job prospects continued to alternate between employment and unemployment as each day trudged on, I spent all of 2013 and into 2014 before completing three script drafts I had originally set out to create. All three shared compelling mental illness stories in ways unique to me, but as I'd hoped they could be inspiring to other people. The Altoona Community Theater performances I went to see during that time were very helpful to guide me along the way. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions in the last three years, I have not been able to take them any further. The last two years have been spent in a very real sense of limbo about what to do to share my story with other people.


The main reasons for this stalemate was an inability to gain favor with local theater production groups, whom also had limited ability with playwriting, not enough influence, no theater pedigree, not enough money to get the scripts revised and finalized for professional production, and I had been fighting an unintentional uphill battle against other theater talents. My goals were to get my scripts performed first locally, then as far abroad as possible to have a national and global effect on depression and suicide. Without the necessary pull, I was not taken as seriously nor were there opportunities that were fairly afforded to other individuals involved in theater much longer than I had been.


On the other hand, the stage was now set for another transformation after 2013. The problem was now as time continued to progress, the pressure to resolve my occupation issue also reached critical levels. One way or another, something is bound to give.

The Humble Volunteer Rises

Posted on November 15, 2016 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Now up to the spring of 2010, I had graduated from Penn State Altoona for the second time and found myself at a crossroad. The forces of depression and anxiety had waned just enough to keep from discouraging me to volunteer as a student, I had a Bachelor's degree in History and a Criminal Justice minor, but still no definitive direction in life or employment leads. Despite the daunting anxiety from this, I managed to break the mold with a decision that defied my past behavior and would begin defining my future.


For the first time, instead of retreating back into seclusion once I graduated I actively sought exploring community service volunteering through the Alumni Society Board. This was crucial because by having participated in volunteering as a student beforehand, I was far less susceptible to the social anxiety holding me back. Even more importantly, I also had developed a yearning to transfer the positive energy from regular volunteer work towards finding ways I could actively support the causes of depression, suicide, and anxiety that shaped my life.


That simple spark deep within my heart, all because of volunteering as a student and the uplifting experiences I had, changed the course of my history. Keep in mind that this fact is incredibly remarkable because from high school graduation in 2000, up to my second college graduation in 2010, all of my career decisions were aimless. Every single one, including the choices to attend college. Going to Penn State Altoona the first time was almost certain being so rushed after high school. But my return and spontaneous decision to join student groups, thereby beginning the volunteer experience, seem as if this was either a miracle or divine inspiration. I would say both.


Having no idea what I was doing and winding up in this situation in 2010, I can say without a doubt that I would not be here with a very ambitious passion to share my life for inspiring others if not for that personal choice. My career indecision and varying unemployment since as a result, would have me cultivating daisies. Or somewhere down a rather darker path and much less emotionally productive. Thank Heavens. With the empowering words from my capstone advisor Dr. Steven Andrews, "If you do anything with your degree, at least volunteer", I found renewed hope to search for a way I could personally make a difference in life.


So, once I graduated I actively reached out and was selected to become a member of Penn State Altoona's Alumni Society Board. From this important act, I would find a wider variety of volunteer work to explore amongst a truly one-of-a-kind group of people. This took the form of joining over a dozen Penn State affiliated peers to organize the Board's activities and community involvement. All while I was failing to find an answer to my anxiety-influenced career indecision. Instead of abating, this anxiety increased almost by each and every day since 2010. Something to keep sharply in mind.


While at first I asked fellow members if or how I could involve the Board with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) or the local Suicide Prevention Task Force, I also gained experience with professionalism from being around formal community associates. I quickly found by engaging in more volunteer opportunities that it continued to break down social anxiety barriers as did previous volunteer experience. Community involvement numerous times over the following three years also afforded valuable exposure to age groups ranging from young children to the elderly. This would help to improve my social skills for future endeavors.


I also particularly relished participating in this community service on behalf of Penn State University, because since 2008 I realized the immense efforts the university played a part of in communities worldwide and so it became its own entity of inspiration for me. Public awareness, outreach efforts, science and innovative research all since Penn State's founding in 1855. Compared to my complete lack of awareness or involvement with the university's volunteer efforts when I attended between 2000 and 2002, the second time around was by far a more well-rounded mature experience.


The range of volunteer activities I participated in included more Adopt-a-Highway roadside cleanups, a total of six Commencements, four times at the Blair County Arts Festival, two times at the African American Heritage Festival, a strapping seven times dishing out ice cream or serving Papa John's pizza at Finals Snacks Reception for Students, three times handing out Halloween candy on campus for Safe Trick or Treat, and one attendance of the PSU Winter Plunge which was postponed due to heavy snowfall. A literal wealth of humility and compassionate experiences that I would not give up for anything.


The fellow Board members were amongst some of the dearest and kind-hearted people I have ever known, and I am so proud to show my respect and share our hard work with all of you here. A special honor for the first Alumni Society Human Relations Director, Ms. Marty Jo Irvin-Stellabotte, and the second Mr. Dave Kimmel. Both were intensely inspiring to bring me onto the Board, and when Marty Jo stepped down Dave became one of the most inspiring volunteers I have personally known. Always so very full of positive energy, always being upbeat and smiling about something, while constantly running from left to right taking care of volunteer needs. My heart goes out to everyone I worked with and hope the very best to every one of them, as well as to wish continued happiness and success always.


By the fall of 2013, I had served one of my two consecutive three-year terms and decided to part ways with the Board until such time in the future that I was able to get my life together. With no obvious luck finding a solution with my ever urgent career indecision, I resigned to keep my distance from volunteer group participation until I managed to make more progress. As if I was not already down a road rarely traveled, since 2013 the path not only became far more strained but also even further from any reasonable providence.

The Humble Volunteer

Posted on November 14, 2016 at 1:05 AM Comments comments (0)

By the time I returned full-time as a student at Penn State Altoona during 2008, I was older, more mature, had several years to cope with a weak overdose attempt during 2003, depression and anxiety were not quite as strong even though I was still well under their influence. After my paternal Grandfather passed away just before the Spring semester ended, miraculously the denial which kept me from valuing or reflecting on my past had been lifted. The stage was set for the Fall semester of 2008 and an inspiring change of heart towards volunteer work, though not without obstacles to overcome.


So what exactly convinced me to change my mind about participating in community service volunteering? To not use all the free time I had for future planning in favor of extra-curricular activities with no traditional money making potential. Though not as oppressive, the influence of depression and anxiety disorders in 2008 were still forces to be reckoned with. Neither did I feel I was going to figure out what career before graduation anyway, just as I hadn't managed to in 2002. Guilt, fear, and anxiety all played their part influencing my decision making capability, echoing all the way back through high school.


The sole contributing factor for the onset of my debilitating chronophobia in 1994 was from being overwhelmed by career expectations. These were tied to the need for securing a money making future with stability. Nothing wrong with that, except for the overwhelming parts that is. What often makes matters worse is the very nature of how society hastily thrusts the expectations and pressure upon teenagers and young adults, to make a singular choice for a career path. A decision that many youths are ill-prepared for and not always capable to figure out on their own.


In 2008, I still had to wrestle with the anxiety and fear in any decisions I made at college. So, to some people it may come as a complete surprise just how well I hid the truth from everyone. I even managed to subdue the denial within myself as I went about my classwork before the decision to volunteer came about. I didn't know what I was doing, even then and the fact that I was using my own savings to attend this second time around. Such a troubled backdrop of emotional uncertainty was surprisingly countered by an equally unexpected turn of events.


Spontaneous decision.


Yep. Despite how deceptively simple this seems, during the fall semester of 2008 I almost randomly decided to join both the Criminal Justice Organization and History Society. Not just outright feeling suddenly comfortable being around more people. Many of my peers were awkwardly younger than me, I still lived at home while I constantly felt very self-conscious and insecure, having failed to be accepted by women yet I was surrounded by younger female students, anxiety left and right, and not being confident what I could offer either student club other than the hands-on participation. How is it possible I randomly decided to toss my emotional laundry into the wind to become involved in a more vulnerable social environment?


Well, there are a few sub-conscious habits I have been lucky to pick up since high school, which seem to sometimes counter my emotional weariness. Beginning with befriending my closest group of friends during Senior High School, I still recall the social anxiety symptoms half the time they would invite me to join them in public social settings. Somehow this longing to socialize with them resulted in a spontaneous response that many counselors and mentors encourage mental illness patients to try. Just do it. This habit carried onward to the present day, including the second time I attended college in 2008.


Now that I made the leap of faith to join both student clubs, I propelled myself forward and activity by activity slowly became more comfortable being around other people. The benefit was participating in positively reinforcing and socially engaging behavior that in time became more and more appealing. Before I graduated in the spring of 2010, the activities included community-wide efforts such as going to local bars making sure they asked for identification before serving drinks, Adopt-a-Highway to safely clean up trash along a designated section of roadway near to the campus, assisting with the campus' Career Fair, selling food and decorative items through fundraisers, showing history-related films on campus for the general public to attend, and all the meetings therein.


From my personal experience, the volunteering became in its own way positively addictive. The more socially comfortable I felt, the more beneficial my participation was received by my peers, the less I focused on my debilitating emotional baggage and the more I wanted to be involved within the community. Even though there is little or no money involved. Believe me, the emotional premium good community service can offer is well worth it.


By the time I graduated in the spring of 2010 the anxiety from having failed to resolve my career indecision flared up again, but was quickly set aside when I made the next decision in my volunteering journey. The choice which I actively sought out on my own, rather than a randomly spontaneous leap of faith.


The decision was to apply for and join Penn State Altoona's chapter of the Alumni Society Board.


Volunteerman would return again.

Volunteerman Begins

Posted on November 13, 2016 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Some of what I will talk about and reveal may seem to have been rather easy to figure out. Not for the lack of trying, or for the absence of creative blog titles. ;) While Chancellor Bechtel-Wherry played a unique role with my volunteer passions, the origins began in a most unexpected way during the fall semester of 2008. However, going back eight years, prior to when I both graduated high school and started college, shades some startling light upon the difference those eight years actually made.


No cape. No cowl. No fancy motivational speeches. But plenty of pain therein, so let's dig in. Shall we? Be warned; the water gets murky real quick.


Describing the two times I attended Penn State Altoona can be easily characterized as night and day. However, the gray area in between easily becomes the toughest to pick apart. This is what makes psychology both sorely underrated as well as very insightful; for seeking to understand the why about people. Sometime during my childhood, I do recall having a modest interest to help other people. Yet, I was often told or influenced to accept that activism and volunteer career paths didn't pay off or pay much.


Some of the similarities and differences between 2000 and 2008 got quite mixed up when I sat down and thought about it. I did not participate in extra-curricular activities as a young student at Penn State Altoona between 2000 and 2002 because of my depression and anxiety. I had been overall very insecure about myself, not shy but not really comfortable in an engaging and unfamiliar social setting. Especially around girls. I simply went to class then came home. After 2008, I was still somewhat insecure but had a little better handle on it. Even during my first Alumni Society Board volunteering after 2010 I was quiet, nervous, and reserved at first.


During 2000, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at college in the first place and in the worst way. When I returned in 2008, I honestly did want to pursue trying to attain my Bachelor's degree. Beyond that I still had no clue at all what to do with my life. So a clear combination of being half similar and half different. The first time around I was essentially rushed into the technical school/college track before I came close to figuring out any concrete career interests. The second time I did have more time, whether I really figured anything out makes no difference by now anyway.


Before 2000, I had worked several summers through youth employment agencies but after 2008 I had actually held down my first full time job for four years. Besides the income and amenities that difference afforded, I had interacted more in the work setting with different people thus making the social anxiety disorder less of an issue. Another simple comparison is essentially before 2000 I was young and naive at nineteen years old, whereas after 2008 I was eight years older and more mature in general at the age of twenty seven. Not that paying attention and being able to absorb what was being taught became any easier with age. I did get better grades the second time around though.


From a mental health perspective, a frankly controversial difference to admit is the truth that before 2000 I had not yet reached the peak of my depression nor had I ended up attempting weak overdose, which was during 2003. After 2008, I at least had time to put that behind me somewhat, get a modest better handle on my depression, and I was just starting to experience the beginnings of my former desire to help other people. This, for a brief side story, was in fact due to one dear person in my life during 2007.


My paternal Grandfather, who moved in with my parents and I so we could take care of him after my Grandmother passed away.


The experiences of having my Grandfather not be four hours away and only visited a couple times a year really afforded valuable time to bond so much better than ever before. Collectively, the interactions and experiences I shared with my Grandfather became a crucial foundation to reverse the denial I had been plagued by since 2003. In short, I now had life experiences that I did not want to give up in favor of beforehand not valuing my life and being willing to do it over. A major turning point in my life deserving of its own spotlight, but further along on this journey.


My Grandfather's passing during the Spring 2008 semester, my first full time semester since graduation in 2002, spurred me on with renewed determination to at least get somewhere and accomplish something better for myself than what I had done. This was also the first time I achieved being on a collegiate Dean's list, which I would repeat once more before graduation. Not in a clear cut, black and white sense was I cured of my demons nor was I in total control of my emotions by 2008. I suppose time had availed the best opportunity for the positive changes compared to 2000. Time that I still do wish I could have used far more effectively, even though that judgment comes after the fact.


The stage was then set for a most unexpected and unlikely moment, after my Grandfather passed away in the spring, when during the Fall 2008 semester I finally broke the mold that had kept me so subdued for years before and out of the volunteer limelight.

A Chance-llery inspiration

Posted on November 12, 2016 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

When I returned to Penn State Altoona as what is referred to being an adult learner student, given my age being five to ten years older than typical post-high school enrollees, much about my life perspective had changed considerably from what it had been in the past. In 2008, I soon found an unlikely inspiring figure as I began volunteering with two student organization groups for the first time ever. Now, I believe it is time to share with all of you who this person is and the impact she has had on my life.


Penn State Altoona's Chancellor and Dean, Dr. Lori Bechtel-Wherry.


I can still remember in 2008, having recently joined the student group Criminal Justice Organization (CJO), helping setup a Meet and Greet event with the Chancellor attending. From the very beginning, Dr. Bechtel-Wherry came across as a kind, genuine, and disarming person that I found myself hanging on her every word when she spoke. Quite a remarkably endearing personality. In the two years before I graduated, I crossed paths with her several times and was delighted by the fact that she remembered me for the work I had done. I felt honored. Time to return the favor.


Shortly after I graduated in May of 2010, I applied and was selected to join the Alumni Society Board chapter for Penn State Altoona. Not being sure where my volunteering initiative would take me in life, I bore witness to one of the catalysts which undoubtedly convinced me to seek out doing more. Dr. Bechtel-Wherry, and her Commencement speeches. As you will see on my About page, one of my favorite volunteer activities as an alumnus was to hand out alumni pins to the graduates at six of the Commencements I attended.


Given the fact that I was already inspired by the Chancellor's calming demeanor, it was easy for me to find inspiration from a speech she would give. On the other hand, her Commencement speeches were something entirely different. Graciously so for the dear words of an individual that Dr. Bechtel-Wherry quoted from, who formerly inspired people across the world with her wholehearted kindness.


Mother Teresa, and her Do It Anyway Poem, cited from PrayerFoundation.org:


"People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.


If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.


If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.


If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.


What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.


If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.


The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.


Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.


In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway."


The first time I recall hearing the Chancellor read Mother Teresa's poem aloud, during the Fall 2010 Commencement, I felt myself supremely uplifted with each individual verse. Forgiveness, kindness, honesty, happiness, goodness, and compassionate faith. Filled with so much positive encouragement, I felt guilty for not finding this poem before. Not only did it reaffirm my beliefs and faith, it also strengthened my yearning to volunteer and help other people. Possibly more than I may ever realize. Who knows?


At this important moment in my life during 2010, money making career decisions crossed paths with non-profiteering volunteer choices in a stark way. In fact, after I graduated Penn State Altoona the first time during the fall of 2002, the following summer I ended up attempting suicide. Lightning did not strike me twice. A testament to my strength, sheer will, valuable lessons learned, as well as the many friends I had made since.


I also very, very much loved helping to hand out the alumni pins to the graduates after having discovered a better emotional place within myself, and to pass that energy on to them. Plus I got to where my only suit and look pretty spiffy in public. ;)


Perhaps another reason why I felt so empowered participating in the Penn State Altoona Commencements wasn't just from Chancellor Bechtel-Wherry's speech or Mother Teresa's Do It Anyway Poem, but actually a greater connection to my fellow peer students and college friends. In order to encompass the entire back story of my volunteer experiences, let us wind the clock back (Again? Oh, I know). Let us begin from where I first began volunteering during the fall semester of 2008, as well as reveal some astonishing comparisons between both times I attended the university.


Don't forget to keep those seat belts buckled. This journey is far from over.

No-Shave Movember

Posted on November 11, 2016 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (0)

No-Shave November


Quoted from their website, No-Shave November is a month-long journey during which participants forgo shaving and grooming in order to evoke conversation and raise cancer awareness. The first time I participated was last year graciously thankful to a prior supervisor of mine where I used to work. Great guy, so filled with positive energy that, although I worked with him only for a short time, his charisma was awesome.


Only when I began searching for information about No-Shave November did I also realize why an NFL quarterback-coach duo of Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy a few years prior both grew in mustaches around November. At first, I joked about how awkward they both looked being the only ones. Much to my shame. They were participating in a similar public awareness effort. I had to know more.


Movember


Also quoted from their website, Movember is a bold vision to have an everlasting impact on the face of men's health. I was stunned I hadn't realized the reason for the mustache growing sooner. I figured a simple way to participate for public awareness, but my former supervisor provided the more important reason to participate. Not only was he intending to grow his beard out, but whether he realized it or not this supervisor's charisma literally inspired me to grow my beard at the same time. There was just no beating his positive ambition and upbeat attitude.


So, we both started on October 1st of last year, myself having shaved one last time right before midnight (there's that pesky OCD again). His facial hair inherently doesn't grow as fast and he wanted to get a head start. My reason was just to grow a longer beard than I'd ever done before, which was a few years prior as a twelve bearded days before Christmas thing. Since I have a natural red hair color, most evident from my facial hair, I started calling growing my beard bringing the Red back.


Participating in an awareness activity like this had a couple unique benefits I never expected beforehand. The first was from working around a lot of people who saw my full, reddish beard for the first time and I relished in the attention. Even better was how I checked out my beard in the mirror at home on twice a daily basis, which served to boost my self-esteem. I partake in the bathroom mirror just about as little or unimportantly as most everyone else. During the two months I grew out my beard I loved it. Couldn't get enough.


Except for the itchiness. A small price to pay. :P


This time, a friend from Facebook unexpectedly inspired me to participate again this year when he posted pictures of himself the night before November 1st. I figured why not, and a great way to begin focusing more on volunteering for health and wellness than I have in the past. Direct my efforts more towards the causes I have strong ties to.


Whether you are growing out your facial hair, or encouraging other men to for these two causes I respect and thank you for your devotion to promote positive awareness. On the other hand, there was one particular woman I have been inspired by from my Alma mater who played an important role with my collegiate volunteering history these last eight years. Someone that I feel deserves solid recognition for her hard work serving as a very busy administrative talent.