The (Grateful) Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past

Over my 4 decades on earth, I’ve had a gourd-spilling, fruit-full cornucopia of reasons to be grateful. So many gourds, I tell you! I can hardly keep track of them all.

So here’s an in-depth, indebted rundown of what I could have said — and hopefully did say, more briefly — around various Thanksgiving tables I’ve sat at over the past 2 decades.

Including what I will say (if my parents haven’t already read it on my blog, that is) around this year’s table.

November 25, 2004 near Aspen: This year, I’m thankful that I moved to Colorado. Even though when I got here two months ago, on a lark, I didn’t have a place to live. Or a job. Or any plan at all, really. A wing and a prayer, but not much more. (And possibly less.)

As a result, I was deeply disoriented during the transition. I even called my mom one day to tearfully unburden myself because I didn’t know what I was doing. It felt like as I was writing the ongoing script for my life, I had temporarily lost the plot.

But now I’ve found a place to live for the winter, and a cool resort job, and some new friends. I live in the most beautiful of our 48 continental states, which I’ve wanted to do since my family visited Rocky Mountain National Park in the late ‘80s. And the other day, I skied on a real mountain (sorry, Pennsylvania) for the first time in my life.

Here’s to new beginnings, however traumatic they are right when they begin! *clink*

November 22, 2007 in Steamboat Springs: This year, I’m thankful that I somehow made it through my early-to-mid 20s in one piece. I haven’t taken good care of myself for most of the last 7 years, and I made some deeply short-sighted decisions about what to put in my body.  I can think of several specific times when I could have easily had my stomach pumped, or run my car into a tree. But I am fortunate to have survived it all.

And earlier this year, while a hangover eviscerated me after a friend’s wedding, I had an epiphany that changed everything. An epiphany about the sheer oblivion (and mortal peril) of annihilating my consciousness for nights at a time.

I am now 100% sober. I feel more lucid than I have in years, and I’m no longer desperate for the alcohol-induced approval of others. I thank God for keeping me alive long enough that I could finally right my own wayward, sinking ship.

Here’s to sobriety, clarity, and life itself! *clink*

November 26, 2009 in Fort Collins: This year, I’m deeply thankful that I met Danielle through the wonders of eHarmony. It blows my mind (and swells my heart) that in this wide, disconnected world, we managed to find each other through, of all things, a website. And that we happened to be in each other’s 25-mile eHarmony radius at just the right time.

Both of us, if I can speak for Danielle, had been burned before and were starting to lose hope that we would ever meet the right person. And because of that, when we started dating we were fairly guarded (which had never before been my M.O.). But as we got to know each other, our “roots grew towards each other underground,” as de Bernières once wrote. And that mysterious, subterranean intertwining has changed my life. A life I thoroughly enjoy spending, day after happy day, with this woman.

Here’s to wild serendipity, and here’s to true love! *clink*

[Fast-forward 6 full years this time.]

November 26, 2015 at my parents’ house (with 0 children sitting at the table): This year, I’m more thankful than I’ve ever been in my 35 years of life. Beyond any glowing words I could ever string together — like Christmas lights to celebrate the happiest news imaginable — I am thankful.

After 4 emotionally bruising years of trying and waiting and hoping and trying and waiting some more and seeing hope fade and trying and waiting some more and eventually losing all hope, last month we got our miracle news. At long last, and despite our recent daunting fertility verdict, Danielle is pregnant. We are swimming in a sea of joy (while our tiny baby swims in a sea of amniotic fluid). This is what I have dreamed about for many years, and what Danielle has dreamed about for 3 decades.

Here’s to the miracle of new life emerging in the face of seriously long odds! *clink*

November 22, 2018 at my parents’ house (with 2 children sitting at the table): This year, as with each of the last 3 years, my heart is pulverized with the deepest kind of thanks-giving. Two months ago, Danielle gave birth to our second Hail-Mary-level-long-odds miracle. Greyson Francis and Violet Skye Marie. These two are in a dead-even tie for the honor of “most beautiful thing either of us have ever seen.” They are our pride and our joy, and raising them will be — as it has already been — our ultimate adventure.

Here’s to doubling our brood, doubling our wonder, and doubling our love! *clink*

November 25, 2021 at my parents’ house (with 2 children sitting at the table, both of whom can now use silverware!): This year, my thankfulness runs in a different direction than in any past year. All of my prior thanks-giving is still fully intact — for adventures of yesteryear, for the lucidity of sobriety, for the wonder of true love, for the radiance of our 2 children — but now I have a new arrow in my quiver of gratitude.

Six months ago, I plowed through the darkest chapter of my life. A deep black hole of depression, out of which it took months to emerge. A scary, unsettling, seemingly interminable period in which it felt like my true self had been flattened. As if my flame had perhaps even been extinguished.

But thanks to brilliant scientific research, an antidepressant was designed that somehow seems tailor-made for my exact serotonin deficiency. That tiny white pill gave me just enough of a foothold to climb up once again onto the platform of my self. From that sturdy surface, I was able to leap back into embracing fatherhood and conversation and artistic expression and nature exploration — all the things that make me, me.

Here’s to being rescued from drowning.

And here’s to resurfacing.


Thank you so much for reading. Facebook is my primary platform for sharing this blog, so feel free to give any feedback there. (Unless you somehow found my blog on the wide frontier of the interweb, in which case… welcome!) In either case, I am deeply grateful (and thanks-giving) for your interest.

The Power of Covid-Positive Thinking

I’ve carefully eluded the long arm of the law for 4 decades. Mostly by being law-abiding, if I had to venture a theory.

But how about the long arm of Covid? It’s really more of a long, intrusive, insidious tentacle. And I managed to keep its venomous suckers off of my carefully masked face for 20 months. I assiduously followed every protocol passed down by the CDC, federal and state officials, and my own conscience. My family quarantined harder than just about anyone, with the exception of those who banished themselves even from nature itself.

We were on top of each other for 17 straight months, both for better (so much time together!) and for worse (so much time together!), and we all stayed uninfected. More importantly, we helped keep my 70-something parents uninfected, which is rule #1 during a pandemic that disproportionately afflicts those who are older.

(What’s rule #2, you might ask? Try to ease up on the nonstop dad jokes if you’re in the same house as your longsuffering wife 24 hours a day. I was somewhat less successful in following that one.)

Then I went back to work in August for an employer that, God bless ‘em, was rigorously vigilant about public health, mandating both vaccines and masks. And I stayed uninfected for 3 more months.

But eventually, the coronavirus — cue your best Jeff Goldblum voice — found a way. Despite my best-laid plans (and best-laid masks), it somehow laid siege to my airways. I got chills one night. Then I felt fine the next day. But then I got chills again that night. And then I couldn’t taste my frozen waffles the following morning. That was the dead giveaway.

So I got the ‘rona, as the kids say. (Not my kids, mind you, who didn’t even know the word “Covid” until last week. They just call it “the germs.” Or more recently, “the tiger germs.”)

Thus was I generously given my very own personal breakthrough case of the tiger germs to write about while being sequestered in our guest bedroom.

What a gift.

I have many feelings about this surprising, mildly sabotaging development. Many of which are, dare I say, positive. But let’s start out with a few things that suck about having Covid.

I missed a Caspian concert. We had tickets to see the greatest band on the planet last Wednesday, and last Wednesday is when I tested positive. That isn’t just bad timing; it’s maddeningly awful timing. I don’t even want to talk about how stingingly disappointing it is to miss out on an experience as transcendent as a Caspian concert. So let’s not talk about it. I’m done talking about it. Moving on.

I can’t taste anything. This is beyond weird. Food has been reduced to a combination of texture and the way saltiness and sweetness hit my tongue, divorced from all flavor. As a snacky, deeply food-motivated person, this has demotivated me from snacking in the same way. I’m eating less late-night food and I “graze” a lot less throughout the day. My bovine qualities have been noticeably reduced. Heck, I haven’t even been tempted by the box of Oatmeal Crème Pies cereal (that’s right, cereal) that Danielle bought me. Who am I even?

I can’t smell anything.  This one mostly doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But then I realize that if our house was on fire, I would have no idea. So maybe the olfactory sense is pretty important. Violet has twice said “I smell a campfire!” on our walks, and I’ve had to take her at her word. On one of those walks, Greyson got some brown stuff on his shoe. I smelled it when we got home and thought “Well, that can’t be dog poop. It has no smell.” Then I realized that I actually had no way of knowing, and that it was almost certainly dog poop. But I do enjoy not being able to smell Violet’s stinky diapers when I take them out to the trash. Silver linings, right?

I have to wear a mask around my own kids. I don’t like this at all. Hiding my smile and my expressive face from my sweet, goofy kids is frustrating. It runs entirely contrary to my nature. I feel like a burglar in my own house, but the only thing I steal is snacks. (Albeit only the ones with an enjoyable texture).

I have to socially distance from my own kids. This is by far the worst. Holding and hugging and kissing my kids is second nature. Not doing so makes me feel like some aloof, repressed dad from the ‘50s who demands to be called “sir” and calls his wife “mother.” Physical contact with one’s kids is part and parcel of the parenting experience. Even more so for an affectionate guy like me. As Patrick Henry once said, “Give me snuggles or give me death!” Man, that guy really got it. He must have had young kids.

But to their credit, my kids aren’t even mildly traumatized by my mask or my sudden standoffishness. They understand completely. In fact, our 5-year-old and 3-year-old are infinitely more low-key about the mask subject than the 53-year-olds I see angrily protesting school boards. Heck, Violet insisted on wearing a mask the other day during a drive, just for fun.

Maybe the kids of America should run the government during the next pandemic. They’re clearly more matter-of-fact about safety protocols than many of their parents.

So what are the silver linings in my playbook? Is there anything good I can take from this experience? As it turns out, heck yes. I’ll start with the trivial and work toward the significant. A small laundry list of things I am grateful for.

I “made” $40 in gas money. Like I said, I’ll start with the trivial. I’m working remotely for a week, so I’m saving a chunk of money. (I’ll conveniently overlook the $50 I spent on rapid Covid tests.) For that matter, I’m also helping to save the planet! Maybe we should all quarantine again for that very reason. No, wait… on second thought, let’s not. I think 17 months of Covid claustrophobia is enough for one decade, at least. I’ll just buy a Prius instead.

I finally have some time to stream HBO shows. Since Danielle has to put the kids to bed while I retreat to the 1-man leper colony that is our guest bedroom, I have a few hours each night to myself. So I’ve been riveted by The White Lotus and Succession. After all, it’s not TV… it’s HBO.

(Disclaimer: HBO did not pay me anything for this publicity. Although I will gladly take Venmo if they decide to do the right thing.)

I was gifted a bonus week of nature time with the kids. For the last 9 days, I’ve gotten the kids outside for at least an hour a day, and usually closer to two hours. We’ve played in the woods, we’ve walked to a local farm, and we’ve been to the park every single day. There is no better way on earth to spend a lunch break, or the golden hour, than strolling through the woods with wonder-struck children. Especially children who are so impervious to nature that they (usually) don’t even mention the wind or the chilly temperature. I sure wish I lived close enough to my workplace so I could do this every day! But I’m grateful for my remote work day each week, and I’m grateful for this past week of bonus memories.

I apparently now have superhuman immunity. Between the antibodies I got from the vaccine and the antibodies I got from the virus, my body is now antibodied to the max. Maybe I should audition to be part of Marvel’s Eternals for their inevitable sequel. I could be the one who swallows up all the Covid aerosol particles to protect those who are vulnerable (and those who just refuse to get vaccinated). I’d be a superhero for a new virus-conscious era! Just call me Covidman. Or maybe The Antibody. I’m still working out the details.

My vaccine worked like gangbusters. I have virtually no “sick” symptoms, and there’s one primary reason for that fact.I got vaccinated last spring. As we’ve come to learn, the vaccine doesn’t prevent spread. But it does, with breathtaking (and breath-saving) efficacy, prevent hospitalization and death in a preponderance of cases. I should get a T-shirt that says “I survived Covid and all I got were these non-functional taste buds.” I didn’t get sick, or feel any pain. The only other symptom I experienced was some minor chills in my sleep on the first 2 nights. That’s it. Nothing else.

So I offer my warmest thanks to everyone who was involved in the mRNA vaccine research over the past few decades, which led to this miraculous vaccine. A vaccine which saved tens (or more likely hundreds) of thousands of lives, and just as many hospital beds. Those researchers truly did the Lord’s work.

Testing positive for Covid hasn’t been a positive experience exactly. But it could have been so, so much worse. It could have happened, despite my careful efforts, before the vaccine was available. It could have spread to Danielle or the kids. It could have knocked me sideways if I was immunocompromised in some way.

Instead, Covid did exactly one unforgivable thing to me (and Danielle). It mercilessly stole an amazing concert experience from us.

If I can somehow set that aside, despite my lingering bitterness, I think I can find it in my heart to forgive this virus.

I’ll never forgive Covid for the rampant suffering it has wrought in the world.

But on a personal level, I’m glad to let bygones be bygones.

And we’ll all breath a (maskless) sigh of relief when this scourge of the earth be gone.

EPILOGUE: I’m happy to report that I can end this on an unequivocally positive note.

I just tested negative!

Peace out, Covid.

A Beautiful Day at the Park, A Miserable Day at the Park

This is the tale of a park I visited 3 times in 6 months.

Twice as Dr. Jekyll.

And once as a very depressed Mr. Hyde.

I discovered Adams Ricci Park in Enola back in early May, as part of a spring blitz in which I took the kids to over 20 different parks within a 30-minute drive of our house. As the air warmed up and the flowers started to bloom, Greyson and Violet and I visited this sprawling green space one Saturday morning. (We were one long year into a rigorously maintained quarantine, and Danielle and I were trying to give each other much-needed “solo time” away from the kids each weekend.)

The 3 of us played at a small playground and explored a butterfly garden, with Greyson reading all the signs labeling the flowers. We also hiked down a steep path to the Conodoguinet Creek, a meandering waterway that was a big part of my childhood. I enjoyed a pleasant exchange by the creek with an Indian man in which I mentioned that I thought the Adams Ricci playground would be bigger, and he happily informed me that there was indeed a huge playground I had missed as I drove through the park. (That’s how expansive this place is!)

So I warmly thanked him and took the kids to that playground. Which turned out to be the nicest one we had ever visited. Greyson and Violet had a blast climbing around on the high-quality jungle gyms, swinging on 4 different kinds of swings, seesawing on a 4-person seesaw, and spinning on a new-fangled merry-go-round that looked like a space capsule.

And me? I felt pretty upbeat that day.

This was toward the beginning of my depressed, insomniac funk. But I hadn’t fully sunk into the quicksand just yet, and a beautiful moment in nature still had the power to fortify my soul. On that particular day I was thinking fairly clearly and finding beauty among the shards of bleakness of the world. I was deficient in sleep, but I was able to punch that fatherly clock (not to be confused with a grandfather clock) and do my best to enchant the kids.

All in all, it was a good day for the kids and a good day for me.

Fast-forward 2 months.

I took the kids back to Adams Ricci in July. By this time, my mental ship had run aground on the jagged rocks of the most debilitating kind of depression. The kind of depression that flattens out all emotions and turns everything to greyscale. So I decided to take the kids to a place that I remember being special, in hopes that a big, impressive playground could conjure up the magic and wonder that I was utterly unable to conjure up myself.

But no such luck. The park was pristine, but my headspace was a mess. It was the kind of day where the kids would have been much better off just exploring the playground by themselves while I sat on a bench and watched from afar. Then my clouded eyes (of the cumulonimbus variety) and canyon-deep furrowed brow wouldn’t directly affect their play. But they were clingy, needing me to stay with them. And I couldn’t keep my grinding mental funk from permeating our interactions.

I remember a feeling of desperation and claustrophobia. And heat. I was sweating bullets from the blazing sun, from the demands of taking care of the kids, and from my own pummeling sense of inadequacy. Every little fuss from either Greyson or Violet felt impossible to handle, like a stinging personal defeat. And in nearly every moment, I was assaulted by guilt for not being able to give them what they needed.

Even the kids, who can entertain themselves better than anyone I’ve ever met, weren’t having much fun. I think they were absorbing my mental chaos by osmosis. I had planned to stay at the park for a few hours, but instead we left after just 30 minutes. As I recall, we then went to my parents’ house, who were not home at the time. There I laid face-down on the carpeted floor in their sunroom, trying my best to render myself invisible while the kids played.

I was exhausted. I was overwhelmed. And I felt worthless.

Fast-forward 4 months.

I took the kids back to Adams Ricci last weekend. It was the first Saturday of November, and the radiant weather made it feel more like September (but with foliage).

I had felt like myself, that greatest of all feelings, for 3 peaceful months. And I decided to revisit a few depression-scarred places in one weekend, to personally redeem them from oblivion. The next day I would solo-hike White Rocks Trail, another beautifully serene place where I remember feeling truly despondent last summer. Hiking it again replaced that despair-saturated memory with a happy one.

The same goes for Adams Ricci. Our November visit was the diametrical opposite of our July visit. The kids had a wonderful time, and I felt both deeply connected to them and deeply in command of my dad role. I also struck up a few fun, friendly conversations with strangers while I pushed the kids on swings or the 4-person seesaw. My extrovert self was back in full bloom, and I was readily able to savor each moment with the kids.

It wasn’t a perfect day. Greyson had a fussing jag about his feet being cold, and he insisted that he wanted to go to Grandma’s house. But since I was once again in command of my parenting faculties, I was able to weather it. (The peanut butter sandwiches I had brought along helped too.)

I would also give ample credit to the greatest seesaw-type contraption I’ve ever seen. A ride so smooth that the kids were happily hypnotized by it for a full 25 minutes.

3 different seasons. 2 opposite headspaces. 1 beautiful park which became a microcosm of my whiplash-inducing year.

I am deeply grateful to be fully on the other side of that whiplash. Will depression at some point whip me again and put me back in a clouded mind? Or will exercise, daily writing, frequent time spent in nature, and an effective antidepressant combine to preserve my sunny headspace?

I can’t pretend to definitively know the answer to that question. But I’m taking one day at a time. Even as those days grow shorter, and I’m well aware of how the encroaching darkness of November and December sometimes blunts my joy and blurs my clarity.

But even if that happens, I’ll try to write my way through it. Because writing is my therapy.

Writing infuses me with a deep sense of purpose.

And it fills me with pure joy.

The Worst Summer of My Life, Chapter 12: The Darkest Hour

“The darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.”

~ Thomas Fuller, in the cleverly and jauntily named 1650 text, ‘A Pisgah Sight of Palestine and the Confines Thereof: With the History of the Old and New Testament Acted Thereon’

It’s mid-June. I’ve been burned out and bottomed out for 7 weeks. And I’m now armed with a little orange canister of tiny white Lexapro pills. A canister that I resisted adamantly, then eyed warily, then accepted reluctantly.

Desperation can drive a man to hang up his hang-ups and avert himself from his aversions.

But here’s the thing I didn’t know about antidepressants: They don’t work quickly. Like, at all. And even worse, they can make things worse before they make things better.

On a beautiful Friday morning shortly before summer solstice, I spent a few hours at a lake with my family. It was a moment that would have been heartwarming and vividly memorable under normal circumstances. But it felt dishearteningly colorless and forgettable in my grindingly greyscale mental state.

This was the morning when, in distracted agitation, I called in my Lexapro prescription. On the drive home, I picked up my prescription at Target. Shortly thereafter, I popped my first little white pill. I knew it wouldn’t immediately kick in, but I hoped that it would at least help alleviate the insomnia that had ravaged my body.

No such luck. I couldn’t sleep that night. Or the next night. And even worse, the pills made me feel even more anxious while I tossed and turned in the dark and listened, in quiet desperation, to the most somber and sedated songs I could find.

My relationship with music was an odd aspect of this bleak chapter in my life. Typically, I am as intensely and viscerally connected to music as anyone I know. There are 50 different bands I adore and am drawn to in any given mood, at different times of the year, and even during various types of weather. Bands that connect me to 100 different specific points from my own personal saga.

But while I was depressed, I was ambivalent to 98% of that music. I had no desire to listen to anything that had energy, or a propulsive beat. I didn’t want to hear music with either buoyant hopefulness or even a darker, poetic angst. I was frozen in time and numb to nostalgia, so I resisted any musical artists that would remind me of other chapters of my life.

Nearly all of my usually-favorite music simply reminded me of how not-myself I was. How turned-inside-out I had become.

The only thing I could bear to hear was hyper-tranquil, hyper-ambient, hyper-sedated music. Bands like Stars of the Lid, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, or Hammock (but only their more narcotized albums). On a day when I was marginally more inspired, I would type “relaxing classical music” into my search bar. I spent one week listening exclusively, over and over again, to a theoretically sleep-inducing soundtrack to a Disney nature documentary that I found oddly haunting (and by the 6th listen, faintly and oddly haunted).

But no matter what sleep soundtrack I chose, I could not sleep. I tossed and turned even more miserably in my first few Lexapro nights than during the previous 6 insomnia-ravaged weeks.

So after 4 days, without consulting my doctor, I quit taking my antidepressant. I pictured how dilapidated my body would be after another few weeks of terrible sleep, and I couldn’t bear to risk it. I was ravenous for sleep. And the idea of an antidepressant increasing my anxiety seemed like a maniacal grift. Like a painkiller that heightens your pain.

A few days later, I messaged my doctor to tell him of my decision. He wrote back to say he would instead prescribe me Remeron. This was apparently a combination antidepressant / sleeping pill, which sounded like a miracle drug to me in that moment.

I started taking the Remeron, and it did indeed zonk me out. I would still wake up in the middle of the night, but I could fall right back to sleep. I started building up reserves in my sleep bank for the first time in months. However, and this is a pretty big however, my depression continued unabated. My primary burden was as heavy and as dark as ever.

So about a week in to my new regimen, I again messaged my doctor with an update. And he then informed me that Remeron, at the dosage he had given me, was primarily just a sleeping pill. I would have to take double or even triple the dosage to also get the antidepressant effects. To which I thought, but didn’t say: “Is that something you could have perhaps told me, oh I don’t know, when you prescribed it to me?

I was once again frustrated with Doctor #1, the one with the bombastic personality. Should I have stuck with Doctor #2, the one who had gaslighted me but at least had a fairly empathetic bedside manner?

In any case, I was once again back in the vicinity of square one. Which was the last square I wanted to be in. Heck, I would have preferred Red Square at that point in time.

My frustration with Doctor #1 aside, he recommended that I restart the Lexapro I had quit. He told me I needed to be patient this time. So I gritted my teeth for the journey. Although now I would be taking it in conjunction with the sleep-inducing Remeron.

Maybe that pair of medications would help me escape the mind-obliterating labyrinth of depression. Maybe they would help me find my way back to the place I needed to be.

That place being clarity.

And hopefulness.

And restfulness.

And above all, the place that each of us should inhabit.


This is part of an extended series of posts about my recent mental health struggles. Thank you so much for reading. Facebook is my primary platform for sharing this blog, so feel free to give me feedback there. (Unless you somehow found my blog independently, in which case… welcome!) I am deeply grateful for your interest, and I hope that you find some warmth, validation, or solidarity in my memoirs.