I retired from the United States Navy in San Diego as a Chief Interior Communications Petty Officer in October of 2003, primarily, as a result of being placed on limited duty and prohibited from returning to sea duty. In 2004, I began my career as a Optical Manager with Walmart. In 2006, I returned to Michigan to care for my mother who had suffered a stroke. The stress of trying to maintain both my own home in California and that of my mother's home, as well as being her caregiver, compounded medical issues that started in the Navy. My family was able to join me in 2007 and our son began middle school that fall. Sadly, my mother passed in 2008, just as we fell victim to the economic crash and lost our home of 13 years in California.
During that time, my VA disability rating went from 30% to 50% to 70%, and back down to 40%. As a result, I began self-medicating on the various medications I was prescribed for back pain, and other issues. I soon began to realize that my anger would flare up, for no apparent reason, either at my family or our dogs. Additionally, I was isolating myself from my family, as well as being told by my optical department staff that I should stay away from patients, all too often.
I had been diagnosed with Major Manic Depression Disorder. My immediate family, for the most part, saw my depression, yet I was able to hide it from external family and friends. I've been described as happy, gregarious, etc., in public. However, when I get home the mask comes off and my family gets the short end of my emotions. I would like to stress that there has never been any physical abuse, but there is verbal abuse, for which I am always sorry, but I can never take it back. One of the best analogies I have learned through the Mental Health Clinic at the Ann Arbor VA is to think of a wooden fence. When you say something inappropriate, take a nail and hammer into the fence. After you apologize, go take the nail out. Then look at the fence, and see that the damage is still there.
My depression feeds a vicious cycle. If I take my medication, consistently, things in my life are relatively stable. Of course, there are still flare ups, and lots of isolation, but it is what it is. The problem with my medications is that I view taking them as a failure/fault on my part. I detest having to take them. So they are an all or nothing event for me.
During one of my "not taking my medication" episodes, the thought of suicide started to look like a viable option. So I developed a plan. Having taught classes in the Navy, on how to recognize warning signs that someone was thinking about suicide, I made it a point to avoid those activities. Such as saying goodbye, or giving away prized possessions. For most, once a person has a plan, they can't unthink it. It is always there lurking in the background. Luckily, I was already in counseling at the Mental Health unit at the VA. The primary thing that kept me from committing suicide was the fact that children of parents who have committed suicide are significantly more likely to commit suicide themselves.
Besides isolation, and relying on my dogs for support, one of the things I used to combat my depression was working on my family genealogy. One of the things that I have found out is that there has been four definite suicides, and two more probable suicides on my father's side. Part of what kept me going, even today, is you can never finish your family genealogy. The problem with this mindset, is that it conflicts with my obsession to finish all my projects in a timely fashion.
Another hobby of mine is Halloween. I'm that guy in the neighborhood who goes all out. I have grudgingly learned that I cannot get everything put together in the time frame I would prefer, so it has become a two-month long process to complete my set tasks, and at least another month to take it down. As much as I enjoy Halloween, it is not year round, and my HOA would probably frown upon keeping decorations up throughout the year.
Which leads me to my discovery of acrylic pour art. Last April, as I was watching You Tube classic rock videos, a how-to video for creating pour art showed up in the queue. I'm not sure why, but I watched it and thought that it was kind of interesting. So I spent about a week watching these types of videos on the process before I went out and bought some basic art supplies to try it. Working in the garage, I put on some Pink Floyd, set out a few fashionable adult beverages, and started painting. After the first few pieces dried I posted them on my personal Facebook page, and to my surprise, friends wanted to buy them.
It turns out that the process is so engaging and relaxing, that it helps me deal with my depression. With no education or formal training, I just started combining colors because they were there. I also enjoy the idea that there's no right or wrong in creating abstract paintings. The artwork is going to be whatever it turns out to be. So it helps eliminate my compulsion to do the next one better than the previous one and learn to accept it. I sign all my paintings as Paul S, in honor of my Mom, since she passed, I will probably never get use out of my middle name. I just hope she appreciates the gesture, as she can no longer yell my full name, when I am in trouble.
Finally, pour art has allowed me to donate some of my paintings to non-profit organizations, to be auctioned off in their fundraising events. I hope you enjoy my art! Thanks for reading.