The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Just. Get. Up

This isn't a "normal" posting for Blog of helios. Sometimes, there are important things to share with you, and in this case, I think this side trip is merited. I would feel negligent for not posting this. This could potentially be important to many.

I was looking forward to it. Going home that was.

I was stationed at Fort Polk Louisiana as an assistant squad leader with 2nd platoon. 1st squad of Bravo Company, 5th Engineer Battalion. My job? I blew stuff up and I did it with maths and C4 explosives. There were worse places for a soldier to be stationed in 1976 than Fort Polk, but I can’t bring any to mind...ever.

Having received orders for my 1st overseas deployment to Europe, I was due a 30 day leave. While I was looking forward to the Land of Beer and Bratwurst, I had a longing for home, and specifically, seeing my mom. Two weeks prior to leaving for Phoenix, I got a letter from my kid brother, and in part it was a warning:

“Bro, I need to tell you, mama isn’t well. She’s been in a severe depression for months and none of us know what to do. I hope seeing you brings her out of it.”

Depression? I knew about it in the abstract, something I had been trained to recognize. As a non commissioned officer, recognizing and acting upon depression within your command has become a topic talked about more and more with emphasis. We were only a few years out of Vietnam, and the senior non commissioned officer corps were said to be ate up with it. The on base NCO clubs had never seen such early-in-the-week traffic. Copious amounts of alcohol seemed to be the most popular means of self-medication. But personally, I had never encountered depression in real life and I had no idea of just how devastating this condition was, and still is.

That would change in a couple of weeks.

At first, I didn’t see anything other than what I had known of my mom for decades. A quiet demeanor with a slashing wit and a mind prone to thought before she spoke. She had worked her way up to the civilian rank of G-12 within the IRS within 16 years. She was Senior Corporate Auditing Agent for the Phoenix office but she took early retirement. She could no longer justify working for, what she considered, a soul-less renegade organization. Even with that, initially she had seemed fine when I got home.  

But as I settled into the second week of my stay, it was obvious that she was all but detached from everything around her.

I spent a few days with an old girlfriend and when I came home, she sat at her dining room table, wearing the same clothes she had worn prior to me leaving. Her ashtrays over flowed and there were over a dozen Miller Lite beer cans strewn across the table. She was immersed in one of the hundreds of romance novels that lay around the house. I finally put my hand gently on her shoulder and she jumped as if I had set off a cherry bomb.

“You OK Mama?”

She looked at me through pale, watery blue eyes and smiled softly.

“I’m fine honey. There’s a ham in the fridge if you’re hungry.”

With that she poured the remainder of her beer into her glass, lit a cigarette and returned to her book.

As the last week of my leave approached, I decided I would take a more active roll in at least getting her to talk to me. She slept on the couch down stairs and rarely, if ever; changed her clothes. My brother Mark told me that he didn’t think she had showered in weeks. I spoke with her throughout the day, mentioning that we might take a drive out to South Mountain or go out for lunch and maybe a shopping trip. At best, she would look up at me and nod absently. By the end of the day, I had lost my patience and I sat down next to her at 6 that evening.

“When’s the last time you were out of the house mom?”

She glanced up at me and then back to her book without an answer.

“Do you want me to fix you something to eat? Can I get you a bath ready? Have you talked to Grandma lately?”

With that, she carefully dog-eared her page and closed her book.

“I’m going to bed early tonight honey. You and Mark go out for a while. There's some money in the box on the shelf over the microwave. Take my car and have a good time.”

She re-opened her book and thus, excused herself from all other conversation. I took the book out of her hands and sat it across the table, and in a manner that I regret to this very moment, I said to her.

“Mama...Just. Get. Up."

She looked up at me as I stood over her offering my hand and she didn’t say a word, but in the way that some women can, she began crying. Silently...without gulps of air or attempts to speak. Without one sound. She kept eye contact the whole time. Tears flowed down her face, onto her chin and then onto her lap. They didn’t stop. She looked at me as if tying to ask me…

“Don’t you understand? Can’t you understand?”

I pulled a chair in front of her and held her close, She smelled of stale cigarettes, beer, and the musk of dry, unwashed skin,

and complete dispair.

Then she wept, in great, sobbing, gulps of air. Wailing and rocking with the pain of a woman too long in her own head and without the ability to ask for help, or to even understand why she needed it.

I held her for over 15 minutes, rocking her from time to time. She talked of losing her husband at the age of 57, of a job that sucked the very soul from her, she thought often of her youngest daughter, lost in a crack cocaine nightmare, and mostly she spoke of just not wanting to wake up the next morning.

When her tears subsided, I got her some water and one of the “tranks” I got for flying the long miles to come. I washed her face with a cool cloth and I kissed her on the forehead. She slept for 11 hours that night. About 9 hours longer than my brother told me she ever slept. He thanked me for whatever I had done. Something he could never figure out how to do and something I had no idea what I had done.

Even before she had her coffee that next morning, she had showered and fixed both of us boys poached eggs and fresh orange juice. She then announced she was going to the store, “for some things” and arrived back two hours later. It took us 20 minutes to shuttle those "things" into the house. She was humming.

I took the credit for something I neither understood nor felt comfortable claiming. It ate at me for the rest of my time at home, that I would have to leave her again. For three years. She eventually fell back into her disease and it took hospitalization to bring her back to half of the person she was. But even that...that was a win,

Will The Circle Be Unbroken...

The light switch snapped on, and when I squinted toward the door; Diane was standing in the doorway of our bedroom. She stared at me for an uncomfortable moment before she spoke.

“Is there something we need to talk about?” She looked around the room, taking into account the half full glasses of stale grapefruit juice, cereal bowls, pop tart wrappers and the dirty clothes strewn throughout the room. From her expression, I assumed it didn’t smell pleasant at all.

“You’ve been in here for days Kenny. What did I do to make you angry with me?”

Again I shrugged and returned my attention to my monitor and the best extinct friend a guy could ever have. To my mind, the Triceratops should still be roaming the plains with the bison and wild mustangs and I opened my mouth to tell her so. She moved sharply to turn the monitor off and sat next to me on the bed. The clock radio face told me it was 11:09 but I had no idea whether it was AM or PM. The blackout blinds I installed did a good job of blocking all evidence of life outside that 12x12 room.

With obvious impatience, she looked me in the eye. “Now, tell me. What’s going on with you?”

It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to Diane. I simply didn’t know what to say, where to start. So many things had arrived at a central point of focus at the same time. Another thing that wore on me deeply...wore on me when I didn't even realize it. This freak show chunk of plastic that jutted from my throat.
The monstrosity that made both kids and adults stare muvh longer than what could be considered slightly impolite.. I was under the impression that things like this were accepted, even common in our not-so-polite society.
Wrong. I began ripping the damned thing out of my throat and just leaving the raw hole covered by an bandanna. It's taken me a while to make those adjustments but to this day, I still get the urge to ditch the prosthetic and pretend that I am normal, well, at least until I key the mic to speak.

But with Diane, I didn’t know where to begin, basically because I didn’t know when to begin. Over the next 2 days, I did my best to tell her how I felt, and more importantly, how I didn’t feel. The most important thing in my life, the project that had fueled my energy and sense of purpose for 12 years….it just seemed like a burden now.  I felt like a fraud for even thinking that I had done one bit of good for anyone... Ever.

Had it not been for great friends and director Pete Salas, Reglue would have suffered. Pete, single handedly; took the reigns of Reglue every few days, days that I could not be there; and only contacted me when he needed money, parts or to check in on me.

It started exactly a year ago this month. In a relatively short amount of time, it became increasingly difficult to turn the key to open our shop. Every little task seemed insurmountable. I became exceedingly uncomfortable talking to people with my Darth Vader device and went out of my way to answer emails only when they demanded it.

One of the major tasks we face is the maintenance or replacement of machines already deployed with our Reglue Kids. In a 4 month period, maintenance or replacement of just over 200 machines became necessary. Remember the thing we say we live by?

“Once a Reglue Kid, always a Reglue Kid.” Yeah, that ain’t happenin’ any more.

That promise was in turn, depleting our bank account at an alarming rate, year after year. A video card replacement here, a blown power supply there...stuff we did not have on the shelves, we had to buy and in 2016 alone, $4200.00 of our budget was keeping student-deployed computers up and running.

The first half of 2017 alone promised to eclipse that figure by 26%. Aside from and with eternal gratitude for those donors who supported us with steady donations over a year’s time, other donations dwindled and they have almost come to a complete stop. Money was no longer an issue, but the lack of it, became the focal point of my life, and as frankly as I can be, It became easier to hide from the fact rather than attack it. Donations for Reglue have dropped from a comfortable 10k a year, to less than 2.5K and it troubled me to the point where I just didn’t want to turn the key in the Reglue door any longer. You can love something completely, but if you cannot nourish it,

It Will Die.

With Diane’s love and constant support, I began to seek help with, what I should have long ago recognized, as clinical depression. Doctors were quick to evaluate and agree with my self-diagnosis and were more than happy to treat me. The fact that it was in my family history fairly well firmed up treatment plans and medications and their focus never left that diagnosis.

So began the twisting, winding and sometimes circular quest to find the correct pharmaceutical combination that would set the ship right again, as it were. It was a series of glee and hopefulness...almost giddiness, followed by bitter disappointment that the meds that seemingly “fixed” me, would ultimately fail. I would drop as hard as a 1958 straight eight Pontiac.





It’s a hard way to live your life, over the period of a year, knowing that on any given morning, you would awaken, only to close your bedroom door and hide from the world. For days at a time. All the while knowing that people were counting on you to, without hyperbole, to change the course of their lives for the better. The wonder drug that had you on top of the world suddenly became a boat anchor around your soul.

Hard-edged insomnia, whip-like mood swings and hermit-like behavior was having a devastating affect on our relationship, but Diane didn’t give up on me. She prodded me to change General Practitioners, and made an appointment for me to see her doctor. She swore by him, as opposed to at him, which she practiced with abandon with her previous providers.

I sat in the office of this new doctor, telling him to cancel lunch because this was going to take a while. Which to my surprise, he did. We talked for 45 minutes and at the end, he ordered a head to toe physical exam and a number of blood panels that would almost necessitate the hiring of new personnel. I arrived the next morning to fill that requirement, and that evening I collapsed on the floor at home, I was transported to the Emergency room for treatment of arrhythmia. For those keeping score at home, this was a couple of months ago.

So when both blood tests came back, the panels from my doctor and those taken from the ER, one thing stood out. One thing that was so dire and so in need of correction, it was amazing that this had not been discovered before. I was terribly ill. My doctors had been so focused on treating me for depression, that they failed to look for physiological reasons for it.

It wasn't just the past year. Even before depression, I had zero energy. I was lucky to put in 4 hours at work and then slept the next four just to recuperate. This had been going on for years. It was explained that chemo and radiation treatments often leave individuals much less active than they had been prior. I simply accepted it.

Except that wasn't the problem. It wasn't even close.

Now some may feel the need to snigger because it's become a steady presence on every television, radio and magazine for a number of years. It's become somewhat of a joke. Unfortunately, this "joke" came close to killing me.

My blood work came back with a testosterone level of 83. A man my age should have a baseline testosterone level of 245. It was clear from the tests that this had been the case, and probably even lower for a number of years. My doctor began me immediately, in his office that day, on testosterone replacement therapy.

It's taken a couple of months, but for the first time in 5 years, I am able to get out of bed at 6:30, stay awake and functional for 12-14 hours and I have not felt this good in a long, long time.

Not that I am not grateful, but I am angry that I spent 5 years incapacitated by "depression", when it was a hormonal imbalance in my body. This is for life, and if I have to jab a 2.5 inch needle into my thigh weekly, for the rest of my life, so be it.

I loaded the car today with 9 computers that will become an after school center for latchkey kids. I'll complete that tomorrow and Friday I will be making a salvage run with a friend's pickup truck. That Friday afternoon, I'll start cleaning and organizing the shop. Again. Saturday I will be hosting a "Welcome to Linux" talk with over a dozen computer science students from the local high school.

So, in all....this isn't about me. It's not. This is about every man over 50 that thinks he's just getting older and it's just part of the game to ache over every little thing and spend more time sleeping than being productive.
this is about every woman that is completely grounded by inertia and it brings her to tears, the inability to do the simplest things

It isn't about me at all. It's about a generation of men who might be facing this same problem. A problem that can be relatively cheap to fix. And it's no shame to meet this condition head on. Now yeah, some of you will warn me of the possible dire circumstances of TRT. I've carefully weighed the risks. I will in return in warning you of spending days and sometimes weeks, frozen by fear and not knowing what day it is.

So this depression thing...?

Sometimes, it's not all in your head. At all.

All-Righty Then.