Thursday, December 31, 2015

The End of My Month-Long Causes and Effect Blog Run


(Note: For the month of December, I took over the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog, which was created by Melinda Newman in 2013. Today was my thirty-first and final post for that blog. The words below made up the majority that post, entitled "Three Final Donations to Wrap us 2015.")

I have a confession to make:

I almost backed out of taking over this blog for the month of December.

When I found out late last year that Causes and Effect creator Melinda Newman was looking for 12 individuals to take over the reins of the blog in 2015, I was quick to throw my name into the ring. And I was incredibly excited when I got picked to be one of the blog's writers for a whole month. The only downside was that I was assigned to December and had to wait almost a whole year before I could dive into writing.

Then life happened.

Despite being grossly underemployed for the second year in a row, 2015 was a great year for me. But the lack of a decent income reared its ugly head around mid-year when a series of unfortunate events started to happen. At times I felt a bit like Lemony Snicket.

First the washing machine broke. Not surprising, really, since it came with the house when we bought it ten years ago, and it had probably been in the house at least ten years before that. Buying a new one was inevitable. While we were at it, my wife and I decided to splurge and buy a matching dryer, too. After all, the dryer was also pretty ancient, and we had never bought a brand new washer or dryer before. So forking over the money for a shiny pair of appliances wasn't that painful.

Speaking of pain, as 2015 went along I started waking up with a sore back and neck with some regularity, which I attributed to the fact that our mattress was about 15 years old. So my wife and I opened up the checkbook to buy a new mattress and foundation.

See, that's the problem when you age: everything you own ages, too. And it needs replacing. Like our gas range, which decided to die in the middle of baking a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies in late October. And the custom canvas awnings above our front and side doors that got shredded in a November wind storm and had to be replaced. Again, these were things that came along with the house and had just worn out. (For what it's worth, I had no idea that awnings could be so damn expensive.)

Things settled down a bit until some annoying episodes of atrial fibrillation--an irregular heart rhythm--started kicking my ass. After almost 18 years of having that condition kept in check by medication, I decided to have a catheter ablation done on my heart to try and fix the problem permanently. Because we buy our own health insurance, which has a pretty high deductible, that procedure ended up costing us quite a bit out-of-pocket. It was definitely well worth it, but it was also another unexpected expense incurred in 2015.

Lastly, just to put some icing on the proverbial cake, my wife and I bought a second car late in the year. Having one car is something we've done for a long time, but sometimes it's a bit inconvenient. So when the opportunity to buy a 2007 Ford Focus that a friend of ours was selling at a ridiculously good price presented itself, we figured what the hell. (Believe it or not, the car was the cheapest of all the purchases I've mentioned in this post.)

Now back to my concerns about this blog. It wasn't the writing that I was worried about; it was the money. Because the idea behind Causes and Effect isn't only to write about charities and good causes, it's to donate to them, too. At least $10.00 a day times 31 days meant that my family would be spending at least another $310.00 during the month of December (which is more than we paid for the Focus!).

I wondered if I should just throw in the towel and tell Melinda that I couldn't do the blog. Surely she'd understand. And it wasn't like she wouldn't be able to find somebody else to do it, right? But something inside of me told me to stick with it.

There are two things I know about money:

1. It really isn't everything.
2. There's always somebody who needs it more than you do.

I think that's the essence of the Causes and Effect blog. The idea that giving, even if it sometimes hurts a little, is the most incredibly rewarding thing you can do. Knowing that you are helping others and making a difference, no matter how small, just makes you feel good.

Writing the Causes and Effect blog this month has been one of the most amazing, gratifying things I've ever done. It's taught me so much, not just about writing--like how hard it is to sit down and write a reasonably meaningful piece every single day--but about life. I’m so glad I didn't back out of this wonderful opportunity.

Thanks to Melinda Newman (and Brian Mansfield) for having faith in my ability to take care of this blog for 31 days. Hopefully I've done a decent job. And a very special thanks to my wife, Kathy, for her willingness to let Causes and Effect become an integral part of our lives for the month of December. I couldn’t have done it without her.

Now let's just hope the refrigerator, dishwasher, and furnace behave themselves for a while longer.

"Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides....When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back." --Anne Lamott

Causes and Effect, 12/31/15: The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Shatterproof, and the Herren Project

The thirty-first--and final--post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, three separate charities--the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Shatterproof, and the Herren Project--are recipients of $10.00 donations from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to any (or all) of these charities, you can do so at these links:
Thirty-one down. No more to go. I'm done. It's been a great ride.

Peace.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/30/15: The Love Bus

The thirtieth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, The Love Bus: Sex Ed on the Move GoFundMe campaign is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to this campaign, you can do so here:
Thirty down, one to go.

Peace.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/29/15: WDET 101.9FM, Detroit

The twenty-ninth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, WDET 101.9FM, Detroit is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to WDET, you can do so here:
Twenty-nine down down, two to go.

Peace.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/28/15: To Write Love on Her Arms.

The twenty-eighth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to TWLOHA, you can do so here:
Twenty-eight down down, three to go.

Peace.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/27/15: Help Get Gas Money (GoFundMe Campaign)

The twenty-seventh post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Help Get Gas Money GoFundMe campaign is the recipient of a $20.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to this campaign, you can do so here:
Twenty-seven, four to go.

Peace.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/26/15: Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, One Spirit, and Afghans for Afghans

The twenty-sixth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, three separate charities--Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation, One Spirit, and Afghans for Afghans--are recipients of $10.00 donations from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to any (or all) of these charities, you can do so at these links:
Twenty-six down down, five to go.

Peace.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/25/15: St. Andrew Church

The twenty-fifth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City, California, is the recipient of a $100.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to St. Andrew Church, you can send a check to them at this address:

St. Andrew Church
101 Donahue
Marin City, CA 94930

Twenty-five down down, six to go.

Peace. And merry Christmas to you and yours.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/24/15: atTAcK addiction

The twenty-fourth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, atTAcK addiction is the recipient of a $25.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the atTAcK addiction, you can do so here:
Twenty-four down down, seven to go.

Peace.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/23/15: Lupus Foundation of America

The twenty-third post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the LFA, you can do so here:
Twenty-three down down, eight to go.

Peace.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/22/15: The Compassion Collective

The twenty-second post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:

Today, the Compassion Collective is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the Compassion Collective, you can do so here:
Twenty-two down down, nine to go.

Peace.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/21/15: Dawn Farm

The twenty-first post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, Dawn Farm is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to Dawn Farm, you can do so here:
Twenty-one down down, ten to go.

Peace.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/20/15: Detroit Youth Volume

The nineteenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, Detroit Youth Volume (DYV) is the recipient of two $10.00 donations from my family: one for their organization and another for their Kickstarter campaign. If you would like to make a contribution to the DYV, you can do so here:
Or here:

Detroit Youth Volume's Kickstarter campaign

Twenty down down, eleven to go.

Peace.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/19/15: Work Options for Women (WOW)

The nineteenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, Work Options for Women (WOW) is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the WOW, you can do so here:
Nineteen down down, twelve to go.

Peace.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/18/15: The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

The eighteenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, you can do so here:
Eighteen down down, thirteen to go.

Peace.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/17/15: SLAM NYC

The seventeenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, SLAM NYC is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to SLAM NYC, you can do so here:
Seventeen down down, fourteen to go.

Peace.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/16/15: Supporting Crystal and Jeremiah (GoFundMe Campaign)

The sixteenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Supporting Crystal and Jeremiah GoFundMe campaign is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to this campaign, you can do so here:
Sixteen down, fifteen to go.

Peace.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/15/15: Heifer International

The fifteenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, Heifer International is the recipient of a $20.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to Heifer International, you can do so here:
Fifteen down, sixteen to go.

Peace.

Monday, December 14, 2015

What I've Been up To

I got to thinking this morning that a lot of you out there might be wondering what I've been up to. After all, it's been more than a month since I've posted a "real" post on this blog. So let me explain.

The last month of my life has been super busy. Between flare-ups of my atrial fibrillation, the decision to finally go ahead with a heart ablation, getting that procedure done, and taking over the Causes and Effect daily giving blog for December...well, let's just say things have been a bit chaotic. And on top of all that, I'm still doing freelance writing, helping moderate online forums about drug abuse and recovery, and looking for a full-time job.

It's funny. I haven't had a full-time job in more than two years now, but somehow I seem to be busier than ever, albeit with less money. And that's okay.

Just know that I'm still around, and that I'm still working my butt off to help break the stigma associated with addiction, although I get a bit sidetracked sometimes.

For the time being, you can expect me to post daily links to my Causes and Effect blog posts. I'm 14 days into that run and have 17 more to go. After that, things will calm down a bit and I should be able to get back on a more regular "My Life as 3D" schedule.

FYI, my ablation happened on the ninth of this month and went off without a hitch. My electrophysiologist said he was "very aggressive" and that I'm "going to be good." So far, he's right. My heart rhythm feels as normal as it ever has. Here's hoping it stays that way.

My son is also doing well. His depression still creeps up on him from time to time, but I think he's close to agreeing to see the new psychiatrist I mentioned here a while back. Fingers and toes crossed on that one.

Thanks for reading my blog, people. I really appreciate the support. You have no idea. And a special thanks to Anne Lamott, who blew my mind over on Twitter today. I'm posting a screenshot of her tweet below, but if you want to see it "live," you can do so at this link:

How Anne Lamott Blew My Mind Today

Peace and hugs.

Mind. F*cking. Blown.

Causes and Effect, 12/14/15: Help Ingrid Recover from Surgery (GoFundMe Campaign)

The fourteenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Help Ingrid Recover from Surgery GoFundMe campaign is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to this campaign, you can do so here:
Fourteen down, seventeen to go.

Peace.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/13/15: Motown Museum

The thirteenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Motown Museum is the recipient of a $30.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the Motown Museum, you can do so here:
Thirteen down, eighteen to go.

Peace.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/12/15: Wheeling Forward

The twelfth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, Wheeling Forward is the recipient of a $25.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to Wheeling Forward, you can do so here:
Twelve down, nineteen to go.

Peace.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/11/15: #ChadTough

The eleventh post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Chad Tough Foundation is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the Chad Tough Foundation, you can do so here:
Eleven down, twenty to go.

Peace.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/10/15: Marching Band Uniforms for GP South GoFundMe Campaign

The tenth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Marching Band Uniforms for GP South GoFundMe campaign is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to this campaign, you can do so here:
Ten down, twenty-one to go.

Peace.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/9/15: Heart Rhythm Society

The ninth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Heart Rhythm Society is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the Heart Rhythm Society, you can do so here:
Nine down, twenty-two to go.

Peace.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/7/15: National Military Family Association

The seventh post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the National Military Family Association (NMFA) is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the NMFA, you can do so here:
Seven down, twenty-four to go.

Peace.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/6/15: Forgotten Harvest

The sixth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, Forgotten Harvest is the recipient of a $10.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to Forgotten Harvest, you can do so here:

Six down, twenty-five to go.

Peace.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/5/15: The Ark

The fifth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Ark in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is the recipient of a $100.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the Ark, you can do so here:

The Ark's contributions page

You can also become of member of the Ark here:

The Ark's membership page

Five down, twenty-six to go.

Peace.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/4/15: Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter

The fourth post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, Friends for the Dearborn Animal Shelter (FFDAS) is the recipient of a $20.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to FFDAS, you can do so here:


Four down, twenty-seven to go.

Peace.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/3/15: Sandy Hook Promise

The third post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, Sandy Hook Promise is the recipient of a $26.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to Sandy Hook Promise, you can do so here:


Three down, twenty-eight to go.

Peace.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/2/15: Al Gustafson

The second post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Alan Gustafson--Living with ALS YouCaring crowdfunding campaign is the recipient of a $20.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to this campaign, you can do so here:


Two down, twenty-nine to go.

Peace.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Causes and Effect, 12/1/15: The Leelanau School

The first post of my month-long stint as writer of the Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily blog can be found over at Tumblr. Here's the link to today's post:


Today, the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor, Michigan, is the recipient of a $50.00 donation from my family. If you would like to make a contribution to the Leelanau School, you can do so here:


One down, thirty to go.

Peace.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Countdown to Causes and Effect

(Note: I wrote about this same subject back in January, but as December inches closer I wanted to write about it again. Maybe that's weird, but it's my blog, so I guess I can do whatever I want, right?)

On January 1, 2013, Melinda Newman, former West Coast Bureau Chief/Deputy Editor for Billboard Magazine and now a freelance writer, started a blog. The name of that blog was "Causes and Effect: My Year of Giving Daily," and the first sentence of Melinda's first post summed up the blog's purpose quite nicely:

"Join me on this journey as I commit to donating at least $10 every day of 2013."

The idea for the blog came to Melinda "in a flash of inspiration, or maybe desperation," after a friend asked her if she was working on a book. The idea stuck with Melinda for months, and she felt a responsibility to follow through, calling the blog "an experiment to see what happens to my heart and my spirit and my soul" over the year.

In 2014, Brian Mansfield took over the blog. Brian is a former USA Today music writer and currently works as the Content Director at Shore Fire Media. Like Melinda, Brian did an incredible job over his 365 days of giving and writing. But it was a monumental task.

So for 2015, Melinda decided to divide the Causes and Effect duties among 12 different writers, each of whom would be responsible for a different month. Thankfully, I was chosen to be one of those 12 writers.

December is my assigned month.

Over the last several weeks, I've been thinking about different charities and causes that mean a lot to me. I also asked my friends for suggestions. At first I thought coming up with 31 organizations to donate to would be difficult; now--surprise!--I have a list that exceeds 31. (Thank God there aren't any rules that say I can only give to one cause each day.)

Nine days from now, I will take over the reins of Causes and Effect. For my donations I plan to follow Melinda's original guidelines. As she wrote in her first post: "Some of the giving will be to recognized international charities, but others will be to Kickstarter campaigns that catch my eye, friends’ 5Ks, and maybe even to homeless people on the street. The only criteria is to give the money to some outlet that needs it that day more than I do."

I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about this gig, primarily because I've never written blog posts for 31 consecutive days. Hopefully I'll be able to live up to the high standards established by Melinda and Brian; and by the 11 bloggers who have preceded me in 2015.

I'm thinking I'll probably be posting links to my daily Causes and Effect posts on this blog, too. I figure the more exposure I can give the causes I donate to, the better. But just to be sure you don't miss anything, I urge you to follow the Causes and Effect blog. Here's the direct link:

http://myyearofgivingdaily.tumblr.com

You can also sign up to get the blog's daily posts emailed to you. If you go to the blog, you'll see a button at the top of the page that says, "Followmyyearofgivingdaily." If you click that, you can sign up.

This 31-day journey will definitely make doing my federal taxes a little more difficult this time around, but it will be totally worth it. I hope you'll join me.

Peace.

"I don’t expect my $10 to change the world, but my hope is it will somehow change me." --Melinda Newman

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Goodbye, Klonopin

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post entitled "Held Hostage by a RX Drug: My Klonopin Nightmare." In it, I talk about my horrific experience with Klonopin, a benzodiazepine (or "benzo") prescribed by my psychiatrist for anxiety. I took the drug--as prescribed--for years. Unfortunately, I also spent years trying to stop taking the drug because my body had grown so dependent on it.

Now for an update.

I'm happy to report that after years of weaning off of Klonopin, I finally stopped taking it entirely on August 7th. I've been Klonopin-free for more than three months, and I couldn't be happier.

The beast is finally out of my system.

Benzos are some of the hardest drugs--prescription or otherwise--to quit. So I'm pretty damn proud of my accomplishment. For a while, it was hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Klonopin was my ball and chain. But with the help of an awesome nurse practitioner, who helped me with the weaning process, I was able to break free from the nastiest medication I've ever ingested. (Thanks so much, Kim!)

If your doctor ever wants to prescribe a benzodiazepine for you, please be extremely cautious. These drugs--which include alprazolam (brand name: Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), triazolam (Halcion), clonazepam (Klonopin), and several others--are not to be taken lightly. Yes, they can be beneficial; but they are seriously strong and can cause some nasty side effects that can really kick your ass.

Lastly, if you're taking a benzo and want to get off of it, never, ever quit "cold turkey." The results can not only be hellish, but dangerous as well. Always wean off of the drug under a medical professional's supervision.

Goodbye, Klonopin. You will not be missed.

"Klonopin is a horrible, dangerous drug." --Singer Stevie Nicks (who struggled with Klonopin addiction)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Hearts Can Be So Fickle

It's been a little over a week since my last post here, which was about my recent "outbreak" of atrial fibrillation (AFib) and the troubles it was causing me. Today I'm here to give you an update.

I ended up taking the new medication (sotalol) for three full days: last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. While I didn't have any more unexpected falls (thank God), I did have some side effects from the drug. To put it bluntly? It made me feel like shit.

The sotalol, like pretty much any drug designed to slow your heart rate down, made me feel incredibly tired. For three days I kind of felt like I was asleep even when I was awake, and that was no fun at all. I also had a few bad headaches. Not only that, but the medication didn't really slow my heart down that much. For the three days I was taking it, my heart rate pretty much hovered between 98 and 110. Prior to the AFib flare-ups, my heart rate was consistently between 55 and 65.

I could still feel the AFib coming and going, too. I would have little episodes, start feeling clammy, and find myself feeling out of breath after standing for long periods of time or going up stairs. Truth be told, I felt worse than I did when I was taking my old medication.

By late Sunday night, after three days' worth of the new medication, I had decided I had had enough and would go forward with the catheter ablation I had discussed with my electrophysiologist. I felt a great sense of relief and couldn't wait to call my doctor's office in the morning to let them know about my decision.

On Monday morning I called and talked to my doctor's nurse practitioner (NP). I explained how the sotalol had kicked my ass over the weekend and told her I wanted to schedule the ablation. She understood completely and we scheduled the procedure for Monday, November 16th.

The NP also told me to go back to my old meds--propafenone, along with a small nightly dose of digoxin--until the day of my procedure. Needless to say, I was more than happy to do that.

Then something strange happened. By late afternoon on Monday, I noticed that I was feeling better. Not just better because I wasn't experiencing the side effects from the sotalol anymore, but better because my heart felt like it was slowing back down to its normal rate again. And I didn't feel any AFib, either!

Tuesday morning I woke up feeling fine, and when my wife headed out to run some errands I asked her to pick up some prescriptions for me, including one for Xarelto, the blood thinner my doctor wanted me to take for the two weeks leading up to my ablation.

A short time later, my wife called me from the pharmacy. The Xarelto--a brand name drug with no generic available yet--was going to cost us $364.00. I was shocked. So shocked that I told my wife to hold off on picking that script up. I haven't had a full-time job in almost two years and money is kind of tight. Call me a cheapskate, but there was no way in hell I was going to pay that much for two weeks' worth of meds. I decided I'd call the doctor later on to see if there was a more economical substitute for the Xarelto.

But by Tuesday afternoon, I was still feeling better. In fact, I was feeling normal. So I held off on even calling the doctor's office. Instead, I figured I'd just see how I felt over the next few days.

Fast forward to today. More than a week after I went back to my old medication that didn't seem to be working anymore, I still feel normal. My heart rate is normal and I haven't had a single AFib flare-up.

Not one.

It's crazy.

So today I called my doctor's office, told them I was going to hold off on the ablation procedure for now, and made an appointment for a follow-up visit this Thursday. I don't know if my heart will continue to behave like it has been for the last eight days, but I'm more than willing to take a wait-and-see approach to find out.

The human heart is a complex machine, complete with an amazing electrical system that can, unfortunately, act up from time to time. I respect that and will keep a close eye on how my heart is doing over the next few days. I'm also anxious to hear what my doctor will have to say on Thursday.

It's nice to know that the catheter ablation procedure is in my back pocket in case I need it. But for now, I plan on sticking with the status quo until my body--or my cardiologist--tells me otherwise.

Things have been pretty normal around here lately.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Of Irregular Heart Beats and Vulnerability

Something happened last night that scared the hell out of me.

I woke up in the middle of the night and had to go to the bathroom. That, in and of itself, was not scary. As a slightly-beyond-middle-aged male, I've grown kind of accustomed to that annoying trip to the bathroom every night. But what happened once I got to the bathroom was something I'd never done before.

I fell.

When I had gotten out of bed moments earlier, I felt that rush of blood to the head one sometimes feels when getting up suddenly from a resting state. I didn't think much of it, but when I walked into the bathroom it felt like I was walking into a carnival funhouse. I lost my balance, my vision went fuzzy, and the next thing I knew I was falling. And I couldn't stop.

I ended up on the tile floor after bouncing off the bathroom vanity first, and in the process sent the bathroom scale flying. I think I screamed, too. In fact, I must have screamed, because before I knew it, my wife was in the bathroom asking me what had happened and offering her assistance.

I had fallen, and I couldn't get up.

Now, before you all start thinking to yourselves, "Damn, this guy is old," let me tell you that I believe last night's incident was the result of my having started taking a new heart medication yesterday. (Damn...I am old.)

I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib) almost 18 years ago. After several episodes of a rapid, fluttering heartbeat--think fish flopping around in your chest--and a trip to the emergency room, doctors were finally able to figure out what was wrong with me. They put me under for 30 seconds (literally), used those cardioversion paddles you always see on TV to shock my heart back into a normal rhythm (CLEAR!!!), and all was good again. The same medication has kept my heart pretty normal ever since. But, unfortunately, sometimes meds stop working.

Almost three weeks ago, I started having AFib flare-ups with some regularity. In fact, I've probably had more flare-ups in the past three weeks than I'd had in the previous 18 years. And it kind of sucks.

For those of you who don't know, atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid, skipping, quivering beats. While my normal heart rate is around 60 beats per minute, during an AFib episode that number can go up to 125, 140, or even higher. (During hospital stays early on, I saw my heart rate rise to 300 bpm and beyond.)

The crazy heartbeat is caused by abnormal electrical signals in the heart. If you were to look at a handout in a cardiologist's office, it would probably say stuff like, "The top and bottom parts of the heart don't work together as they should"; "The heart beats very fast and irregularly"; and maybe "As a result, blood is not properly pumped to the bottom part of the heart and the rest of the body." All of this ends up causing some nasty symptoms--dizziness, light-headedness, shortness of breath, confusion, massive fatigue, chest pressure or pain, sweating, etc.--and, if not controlled, an increased risk of stroke and heart failure.

So thanks to AFib, I've had the best damn cardiologist you could ask for since the relatively young age of 36. (He's actually a "cardiac electrophysiologist," in case you want to get technical.) And yesterday I went to see him about my most recent flare-ups.

He told me he suspected that the drug I started taking 18 years ago (propafenone) had become ineffective, and gave me two options:

1.) I could try another drug (sotalol), and see how it worked for me.
2.) I could have a procedure known as a catheter ablation.

Basically, a catheter ablation involves a thin, flexible, tube with an electrode at the tip of it being inserted through a large vein in your groin and moved into your heart. The catheter is then directed to the precise location(s) in your heart that are producing the AFib. These points are then burned off by zapping them with the electrode. Fun stuff, huh?

As complicated as that procedure may sound, for someone who knows what they're doing, it's relatively simple. And the success rates are pretty high. Of course, there are the normal risks associated with someone putting you under anesthesia and burning off parts of your heart with a wire they stuck into one of your bigger veins. But, all in all, it's pretty straightforward.

To be perfectly honest, I went into my appointment yesterday ready to lobby hard for the ablation procedure. It's been a long time since AFib has kicked my ass like it has this month, and getting refamiliarized with everything the surprise flare-ups entail reminded me just how shitty the symptoms can be. Plus, I wanted nothing to do with trying any new medications. Why? Because the medications that help regulate abnormal heart rhythms come with side effects, the most annoying one being fatigue. When you slow down someone's heart with meds, they're going to be tired. Period.

After talking to my doctor for a bit, my wife and I finally asked him, "If it were you, what would you do?" His answer? Try the new medication first. Initially, I was disappointed to hear this, but his explanation made total sense. If the new meds work without making me feel awful, it's a win. And if they don't work--or if they work and make me feel miserable in the process--I can always go the ablation route.

So that's where I'm at. I took my first dose of the new medication last night, just a few hours before I ended up on the bathroom floor. I took my second dose this morning, and while I feel a little "off," at least I'm managing to stay relatively upright.

The last few weeks--especially last night--have really made me stop and realize just how vulnerable we are as human beings. Or at least how vulnerable I am. Life is a gift, there's no doubt about it. And the older I get, the more I understand that it's a gift with an expiration date.

Falling in the bathroom made me think of my dad, too.

In the months leading up to his death, my dad fell in his bathroom on two different occasions, and I was the person my mom called to come over and help him up. (I talk about one of those incidents here.) Both times, I was struck by how helpless my dad was in that moment. It was terrifying and sad. But you know what? That was me last night: sitting on the bathroom floor, in the dark, wondering what the fuck had just happened, as my wife stood over me asking how she could help. I am 32 years younger than my dad was, but still in the same scary, vulnerable position.

Sotalol and I are not off to a very good start, but I'll keep taking the new medication for the next couple of weeks and monitor how my body reacts to it. If everything goes splendidly, maybe I'll choose to continue with that course of treatment. But if there are any hiccups along the way--or any more unplanned trips to any floors--you can bet I'll be turning my abnormal heart beat over to my cardiologist and his heart zapping electrode.

"When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability....To be alive is to be vulnerable." --Madeleine L'Engle

Dr. Luis Pires: The best cardiologist on the planet and the best doctor I've
ever had.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New Heroes in Recovery Blog: "Living in the Moment"

One of the most important changes I've made over the last few years has been how I live my day-to-day life. In fact, it might be the most important change I've made. I used to be so concerned with the future and worry so much that it would make my crazy. But now I just live in the moment, appreciating the here and now. And I feel so much better.

That's the subject of my latest blog on the Heroes in Recovery website. It's called "Living in the Moment," and I'd love it if you would take a few minutes to read it. Who knows? It might help you make a positive change in your life, too.

If you take the time to check out my Heroes blog, please consider giving it a "Like" and sharing it. I always like my message to reach as many people as possible. (Also, comments on the blog over at the Heroes site are always welcome.)

Here's a direct link to my blog:

http://heroesinrecovery.com/blog/2015/10/26/living-in-the-moment/

Namaste.

Monday, October 19, 2015

We're Doing It Again (and You Can Help)

The first My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest was such a success, my wife and I have decided to do it again.

In August, we awarded two college scholarships to students who have been affected by a sibling's addiction. The author of the winning essay, Ryan Gruchala, received $1,200.00 to help pay his tuition at the University of Dayton; and the runner-up, Luke Moran, got $500.00 to help pay for his studies at the University of Delaware.

Those scholarships were funded in part through the generous donations of ordinary people. People who realize that addiction is a family disease, and that it eats away at families in every way possible: emotionally, physically, and financially. Addiction affects everyone in the family--mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.--but I don't think anyone is affected as much as siblings. Oftentimes they don't understand what's going on with the brother or sister who means so much to them, or why it's happening.

A sibling's addiction can also have a negative financial impact on a family. While trying to help an addicted child, parents burn through money at a tremendous rate. They spend thousands of dollars on rehab treatment, hospitals, therapy, intensive outpatient programs, sober living houses, special medications, etc. By the time another child is ready to go to college, parents are frequently struggling financially. So every little bit helps.

My wife and I have decided to do another My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest for 2016. We will once again put up $500.00 of our own money, and we would love to have others contribute to the cause. Our goal? To meet or exceed the amount of the scholarships awarded the first time around.

I've set up a fundraising page on the YouCaring website. (I chose YouCaring this time because their fees are lower than other crowdfunding sites.) Please consider making a donation to this cause, even if it's only a couple of dollars. It all adds up, and you will be helping someone who is very deserving.

This fundraiser will be open through March of 2016. The essay contest will be announced in my blog in April of 2016. The winners will be announced in August of 2016.

If anyone wants more information about how the first essay contest was set up and run, you can visit my blog post about it.

And just an FYI: The checks for the scholarship prizes are made out directly to the winners' schools, after their registration is verified.

So, who wants to help make a difference in a young person's life?

"We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." --Winston Churchill

Sunday, October 11, 2015

25 Years Smoke-Free

(Note: This blog post also appears on The Huffington Post's blog site as "Breaking the Cigarette Habit: 25 Years Smoke-Free.")


October 11, 1990.

That date--25 years ago today--will always be significant to me. Why?

That's the day I quit smoking for good.

I started smoking in 1975, around the age of 14, because I thought it was cool. My dad smoked. So did my brother. And I'm pretty sure my sisters did, too, although my memory of that is a little cloudy. But I definitely grew up around smokers, even though my mom hated cigarettes with a passion.

I remember very vividly the first time I tried smoking. I had stolen a cigarette from my brother--I think it was a Salem--and kept it hidden in a dresser drawer until I thought the opportunity was just right to venture outside and light it up.

A few days later, on a Saturday afternoon, I was ready to cross over into coolsville by finally attempting an activity I had been exposed to all my life.

I took that single menthol cigarette and a book of matches with me as I snuck out the back door and walked to the furthest corner of my backyard. I huddled against a telephone pole that was planted where two fences came together, put the cigarette in my mouth, struck a match, and lit up.

When I first inhaled and the minty, tar-filled smoke entered my lungs, I coughed. How could anybody want to do this, I thought to myself as I took another puff. But that puff wasn't as bad as the first one. And the next one was even better than the first two. Maybe I was getting the hang of it. Maybe I was actually going to become a smoker. How fucking cool!

My euphoria was short-lived, though. About midway through my first cigarette, I turned around and looked back at my house as I exhaled smoke from my freshly soiled lungs. To my surprise, there was my mom, standing in my bedroom, looking out the window. Right. At. Me.

I was devastated. I knew how much my mother despised smoking. And here she was, looking at her baby in the backyard, puffing away. I immediately threw the cigarette down on the ground and stomped on it to extinguish it.

Then I froze.

I didn't know what to do. There was no way in hell I wanted to go back in the house, so I just stood there, for a good hour or so, wondering what my mom was thinking and what she would say to me.

Twenty-five years later, I can reflect on that moment and laugh about it. But back then, it was the most terrified I had ever been in my life. Surprisingly, my mom didn't yell at me. She expressed her disappointment, lectured me a bit, then continued on with her Saturday afternoon house cleaning.

Fast forward to late 1989. I had smoked pretty much non-stop from the age of 14. There were some stints of being smoke-free along the way, because I had tried to quit on a few different occasions. One time I went several months without smoking, only to be sucked back into the habit by a new girlfriend who smoked. Apparently I thought that love was better--or at least easier--when both participants smelled and tasted like an ashtray. Wrong.

It took the birth of my first son in December of 1989 for me to once again start seriously considering giving up cigarettes for good. As months went by, I noticed my little boy watching me intently. No matter what I did, he watched. Babies are so observant, and much of what they learn they learn by watching their parents. Smoking was not something I wanted my son to pick up from me.

Unfortunately, wanting to quit smoking and actually quitting are two different things. Almost ten months after my son was born, I was still a slave to my Benson & Hedges Deluxe Ultra-Light Menthols.

But in early October of 1990, I came down with a nasty case of bronchitis and a sinus infection. I went to the doctor and he examined my nose and throat. "Do you smoke?" he asked (in a way that let me know he likely already knew the answer). When I told him I did, the next words out of his mouth were: "Quit. Not next week or next month. Today. NOW."

And that was it.

When I left the doctor's office, I went back to my office, went in the bathroom, took one last cigarette out of the pack I had, and smoked it. I flushed the rest of the cigarettes down the toilet. I was done.

I went back to my desk, pulled out a business card, and wrote on the back of it:


I put a piece of tape over what I had written so the ink wouldn't smear over time. Then I stuck the card in my wallet. Twenty-five years later, I still carry that card in my wallet.

Quitting smoking is right up there with the best things I've done in my lifetime. Smoking is dirty, dangerous, and expensive. The smoke-free me is healthier, will live longer, and has had a little more pocket change to spend during the last quarter of a century. (I think cigarettes were about $2.00 a pack back in 1990. If you figure an average of $4.00 per pack between then and today, giving up my pack-a-day habit has saved me around $36,500.00.)

To this day, I still get cravings for cigarettes. They don't come as often as they used to, but they do still come. Thankfully, I'm able to zap those cravings out of my mind almost as quickly as they show up.

It's been 9,132 days since I last touched a cigarette. And I don't plan on doing it ever again.

"Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times." --Mark Twain

Friday, October 9, 2015

Depression Sucks

(Note: This blog post also appears on The Huffington Post's blog site under the same title: "Depression Sucks.")


Depression sucks.

If I had a dollar for every time I thought that or said it out loud, I'd be sitting on my own private beach somewhere sipping ice cold root beer from a glass with an umbrella in it.

As I've told you before, depression runs in my family. Relatives and siblings have struggled with it. I've struggled with it. My boys have struggled with it.

Right now, my oldest son, whose depression was in remission for a good three years or so, is suffering again. His depression has been almost debilitating for the last couple of months. It's making it difficult for him to get up in the morning, let alone go to work and live any kind of normal life. His confidence and self-esteem are super low. And I'm incredibly worried about him.

My son's been on the same antidepressant (Cymbalta) for a few years, but my wife and I fear that it's just not working anymore. Some people can develop a tolerance to such medications, and when they do, it's like someone flips a switch. Goodbye, happiness...welcome back, depression.

Yesterday, my wife called the University of Michigan Depression Center, an esteemed facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that offers some of the most respected assessment and treatment options in the country. Their website offered a ray of hope when we perused it prior to calling about having our son evaluated there.

Unfortunately, getting quality treatment for depression seems to be just as challenging as getting treatment for addiction. The person my wife talked to told her that they weren't seeing any new patients until next year, and that appointments couldn't be scheduled until November. Hardly the kind of thing you want to hear when you have a loved one battling a mental illness that makes you wonder about their well-being. Oh, one more thing: Unless the patient's primary care physician is in the University of Michigan--our son's isn't--you can only meet with the Depression Center people once. And nothing can be done about medications in that one meeting.

Really? So much for the Depression Center idea.

And here's a thought: Getting help for a mental illness shouldn't be akin to winning a damn lottery.

Thankfully, I reached out to some people I know and got a recommendation for a top-notch psychiatrist. (Based at--ironically--the University of Michigan.) So today we wanted to call and get things in motion so our son could see this new doctor. But one thing prevented us from doing so: Our son wouldn't get on the phone and talk to the doctor's office. You see, along with depression, he's also frequently paralyzed by anxiety, which makes talking on the phone agonizing for him.

My wife and I talked to our son for a long time today. He was at our house, and we did our best to comfort him and tell him that we understand he has an illness. We also told him that he had to be the one to seek out help. That no matter how much we wanted him to get help, he was the only one who could actually do it. (Damn, depression and addiction are so similar, aren't they?)

I hope my son's anxiety will ease up a bit so he'll be able to call the doctor's office later today. Or at least early next week. With the way he's feeling, I don't think we can afford a lengthy delay. If for some reason he can't call the doctor, I'm not sure what my wife and I will do, because our hands are kind of tied.

The fact that I'm having trouble getting help for my own son isn't lost on me. Believe me, I think about it often. I'm allegedly some sort of plainclothes "expert" at helping people who are struggling with addiction or mental illness, but when faced with my own family crisis, I have to sit back and twiddle my thumbs while I wait for my son to take action.

What is wrong with that picture?

Of course, I do realize that even as a parent there's only so much I can do. (My mom actually reiterated that to me this morning, bless her heart.) Parenting isn't easy, and when you're dealing with a child who's combatting mental illness, it's exponentially tougher. The one thing we absolutely must remember is that depression is an illness.

When my son left our house a little while ago, he hugged me and, in tears, said, "I'm sorry." I told him he didn't have to apologize. "You're not a bad person," I told him. "You have an illness. If you had cancer or diabetes, you wouldn't be apologizing for it. So don't apologize because you have depression. But if you had cancer or diabetes, you would do everything you could to get it treated. So you have to do the same for your depression."

I'm hoping what I said got through to him.

I'm hoping he makes that phone call soon.

I'm hoping he can return to being happy.

Today, it's all about hope.

"Gravity and sadness yank us down, and hope gives us a nudge to help one another get back up or to sit with the fallen on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity." --Anne Lamott

Friday, October 2, 2015

"I didn't choose this business, it chose me."

I was presented with an award this past Monday at the Moments of Change conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, and it still kind of feels like a dream.

Winning the Heroes in Recovery Award is something I never could have imagined ten years ago, when my wife and I first started dealing with our son's addiction. Ten years ago I was lost, wondering where in the world I would find enough strength to help my son. Today I am actually helping others, and have the great pleasure of knowing and working with so many amazing people. It's all kind of surreal, but in the best way possible.
My Heroes in Recovery Award

I heard someone say something during a presentation at Moments of Change that really resonated with me:

"I didn't choose this business, it chose me."

Like so many others who go through a loved one's addiction, I was thrown into a situation I was completely unfamiliar with, one that scared the hell out of me every single day and made me question my parenting skills for the longest time. But somehow I managed to navigate through the storm, and now helping others do the same is my passion. I hope to make it my full-time job someday.

I want to thank everyone at Heroes in Recovery and Foundations Recovery Network, not only for the award but for the opportunity to come to West Palm Beach and accept it in person. What you all do is amazing, and I'm honored to be a teeny tiny part of it.

I will cherish my Heroes in Recovery Award forever.

"We only have what we give." --Isabel Allende

Me with my wife and Foundations Recovery Network CEO Rob Waggener

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Support SLAM and Win a Trip to NYC

Kristen Johnston is a badass.

Not only is she a person in recovery and the author of a brutally honest and funny memoir--Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster--she's also co-founder of SLAM NYC, an organization committed to starting the first sober high school in New York City.

And oh, yeah. She's an Emmy Award-winning actress, too.

Last month, Kristen's sober high school dream began to come true. The John W. Lavelle Preparatory Charter School on Staten Island became the first school in New York City to begin active development of a dedicated program for students in recovery. SLAM (Sobriety Learning and Motivation) has created an alliance with Lavelle Prep to get students supported as soon as possible with SLAM’s vision.

To celebrate this monumental event, Kristen and SLAM are hosting a free event on Thursday, November 12, at the St. George Theatre on Staten Island. In addition to a screening of the powerful documentary The Anonymous People, there will also be a Q & A session with recovery experts, celebrities, and Borough President James Oddo.

Sounds like a great time, doesn't it? Well, maybe you can go!

Because so many people have expressed an interest in attending this SLAM celebration, Kristen has decided to donate two round-trip plane tickets to NYC, as well as a two-night stay at the Wythe Hotel, a stunning new hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. To top it all off, the lucky winner and their guest will be Kristen's dates for the evening.

So, how do you enter to win this fabulous prize?

To enter "The Lottery," all you have to do is go to SLAM NYC website and donate $25.00. After making your donation, either tweet Kristen (@kjothesmartass) or direct message her (if you follow each other on Twitter). Include one word--"Lottery"--and your first name and last initial only (or your Twitter handle). If you've already donated to SLAM and want to enter the contest, you can. Note that all entries have to be submitted by noon EDT on October 12th, and the contest is only open to folks in the continental United States. The winner will be chosen on the afternoon of the 12th. (For more details about the contest, please visit Kristen's blog.)

After almost a decade of relentless determination and hard work, Kristen Johnston and SLAM have achieved an amazing goal that will help countless young people live better lives. I can't even begin to tell you how important this is. By donating $25.00 and entering K-Jo's cool contest, you can help SLAM continue their incredible work--and maybe win a fun trip to the Big Apple in the process.

So, what are you waiting for?

"There’s nothing as unstoppable as a freight train full of fuck-yeah." --Jen Sincero