dermatillomania

I have been picking at my fingers since I was a kid, but until recently I didn’t know there was an actual name for this. Dermatillomania is a real disorder in the DSM-5, and is diagnosed when someone causes repetitive injury to the skin through scratching, picking, or biting that results in an injury, with an inability to stop. It is related to OCD, but differs in that people with OCD perform compulsive actions to relieve anxious thoughts, but skin-picking is often more pleasure or sensory-based. [Link]

Picking at my fingers is something I feel the need to do despite the pain, blood, and embarrassment. I find visible or perceived imperfections and have the urge to pick the target area. I also look for fingers that seem “too perfect”. I pick at and mutilate my fingers and cuticles, usually with a fingernail, my teeth, or tools like tweezers or a push pin. There is never a time when my fingers don’t have some level of injury, and I have permanently damaged a couple of fingernails due to the repeated picking.

It’s an uncontrollable compulsion that is always present; in the moment I know what I am doing, and I know I should stop, but it feels good to remove that imperfect piece of skin. However I can’t always remove just the imperfection, and I make the problem worse. I know when it is going to hurt and bleed, but I follow through anyway. I do it even though I know my fingers will look horrible to anyone who notices. Sometimes it is bad enough that I have to use band-aids to stop the bleeding or to help heal the raw areas. When I take the band-aid off, the skin is moist and pliable, and sometimes I go right back to picking in that spot.

I think the urge to pick increases during stress or anxiety episodes, or during a hypo or mixed mood, but I pick when I am feeling well also. I keep score of how many fingers are bloody at a given moment, and it correlates directly to my anxiety level. Today my score is a 6, but tomorrow it could be 7 if there’s a nice juicy cuticle that needs picking. Sometimes I can temporarily will myself to stop picking, or put off the urge, but eventually I will do it anyway.

It’s not a harmless habit, but in the big picture it is a minor problem. In the moment I enjoy the picking, but later I regret doing it. Having people see my bloody and mutilated fingers is occasionally embarrassing, and covering multiple fingers with band-aids is noticeable, but I don’t seem to obsess on that thought.

I searched for ways to help stop this behavior; several resources focus on combinations of therapy (sometimes CBT) and stress reduction using mindfulness (oh fuck, not that again). The Cleveland Clinic even suggests substituting different behaviors such as going for a walk. One, I can pick my fingers while walking; and two, if I could substitute another less harmful behavior, I would already do it. I’ve thought about wearing a rubber band on my wrist and giving myself a good snap, but that would be less satisfying.

restless

Being restless is a life-long condition for me. My adoptive mom was a school bus driver, so there was a lot of motion when I was a kid. The daily route to school was the same, but there was always something new I never noticed before. Sometimes she would get to drive a class field trip on Saturdays, so of course I went along just to see something new.

Maybe when your home is a place of stress and abuse, you want to be anywhere but at home. I lived literally next door to national forest land, and I explored there as much as I possibly could. I knew all the dirt roads and made my own trails, whether on foot or bicycle. My innate sense of navigation meant I was never lost, even when I wandered further than a youngster should. When it was time to come home, my mom would signal me with a boater’s air horn. I never wanted to hear that sound, but by then I was hungry, so I would make my way back to the house.

When I was younger, I didn’t fit in very well at school, and I was frequently melancholy or sad. I can clearly remember sitting in my 3rd grade class one day, not listening to the teacher, looking outside at the blue sky and the clouds, and wishing I was alone in my forest instead of being trapped in a social world I wasn’t part of. Sometimes I would fake a headache or stomach ache just to get out of school. I didn’t really want to be at the bus garage with A-mom, but at least I could be away from the other kids. Sometimes I would sleep or read in her bus by myself, but sometimes she would take me to lunch and I felt miraculously better.

When I was older I was allowed to take the car by myself, and suddenly I could explore anywhere I wanted (within the limits of my gas money). I never took the same road home from work, going out of my way to see something new. But I lived in a small town, and I ran out of new roads too quickly.

When I became an adult I had more freedom, so sometimes I would drive miles and miles late into the night. One time I had a tough day at work, and I could see thunderstorms building over the Sierra Nevada, so on a whim I decided to drive to the mountains after work until I found the rain. Another time I drove through the farms in the valley in the middle of the summer night, windows down, smelling the soil and the crops and the water. Sometimes I would take a drive to Sacramento or San Francisco and explore; anything to get away from the place I was in.

Even now, I have an understanding with my wife that I can go on a drive when I need to clear my mind or when I just become too restless. She has been pretty understanding about it, even when I spend the night. As long as I come home, she is okay with it most of the time. I don’t like taking the time for myself, but I need to do it sometimes. When I’ve been out long enough, I get to come back home to a familiar place where I am loved. That’s a pretty good deal.

mindfulness update: end of the road

My most recent therapy appointment was online because his child had Covid. I suppose that gave me a small advantage as I prepared to tell him how I felt about the mindfulness exercises he had recommended.

Let me backtrack: at the previous appointment, we went through a mindfulness exercise where I was supposed to simply listen to all the sounds around me, not trying to process them but just listening. I listened, but my active brain was spinning in the background; I was processing the sounds, as well as thinking about how I was getting distracted, trying to refocus, and continually wondering if I needed to stop seeing the therapist. For the second exercise, he went to the office’s kitchen, and while I thought he was rummaging through everyone’s lunches, he returned with a protein bar. The exercise was to fully taste and smell the protein bar, feel it in your mouth, and be fully aware of the process of eating it. I did what he asked, but my active brain was thinking the entire time that this was stupid and unhelpful (although the protein bar was very tasty).

Back to this week: As he greeted me and asked if there was anything I wanted to talk about, I looked at the notes on my scratch paper and started into a somewhat-prepared monologue. I said I didn’t think mindfulness exercises were helpful for me because I was stressing so much over doing them “correctly” that I couldn’t do them at all. I can’t shut my brain off for more than a minute or two unless I’m in the right place and time. I let him know I didn’t want to fail therapy for the fourth time, but I felt that some other kind of therapeutic exercises might be more helpful.

I told him that under the right circumstances, I can naturally achieve some kind of mindfulness practice when I am writing creatively, listening to familiar music I enjoy, hiking or being out in nature, or when driving and exploring new places. Sometimes it may only last for a short time, but for a while I can let everything else go and concentrate in the present moment. I also said that writing has been more productive for me than any other kind of therapy, and that it has successfully allowed me to deal with a lot of anger, sadness, and negativity more effectively than with the efforts of any therapist.

I think he was a little surprised, but he took it in stride. He said that we don’t need to do the exercises if I felt like they weren’t doing me any good. He agreed that writing can be therapeutic, and he thought for me writing became a sort of self-directed trauma therapy. We discussed how writing allowed me to take the past fears and memories in the dark corners of my brain, examine them carefully and objectively, and help them lose their power over my current emotions.

Anyway, it was a good appointment, and next time we will be talking about my social anxiety and what triggers it.

51 and 5150

At age 1, my infant brain had no idea what changes were taking place and what wreckage my defective chemistry would produce in the 50 years to come. All I wanted was a clean butt and a full belly.

At age 11, I was a child genius who loved playing. Baseball, basketball, four-square, card games, dice games, board games, word games, and trivia games kept me sane at a time when people around me tried to force my psyche into submission. I would play by myself often, being an only child, but I always wanted to play with others too. I was not yet anti-social, although I knew I didn’t fit in very well with people my own age.

At age 21, I was an unmedicated mess. I knew I was a little volatile, but I figured that was just my personality. I was emotionally damaged, but trying to recover in small steps. I was no longer a kid, but not a real adult yet until my mom died. I was left with a big mess (literally and figuratively), and my wife-to-be helped me deal with everything. I got married way too early, but we promised to make it work. I was in the middle of my retail career and my college career.

At age 31, I was still an unmedicated mess. I knew my life was spiraling, yet I was too proud to admit I needed help. I tried to figure things out on my own, and I struggled to survive my demons. I had the feeling of leading a double life, with fake-me pretending to enjoy spending time with the family, and real-me wanting to be swallowed by the ocean. I was writing every day, at first to an old friend, then just to myself. I created an alternate reality where I could run away with her, and I was angry because my delusions weren’t real. I was preparing to enter my darkest decade.

At age 41, I was a medicated mess, still fragile emotionally but trying to reclaim a little bit of solid ground. I finished one of the most difficult chapters of my life when I left my job as a long-haul trucker, and started in my current position with the gas company. I rejoined my family just in time to try to help Nicole as her mental illness started to become evident. At the same time I was trying with minimal success to take care of my own problems.

At age 51, I started coming to terms with my age while continuing to struggle with my mental health. I had a significant manic episode where thankfully nothing was broken, whether physical items or my bank account. I had my 30th wedding anniversary, which is something of a victory after all the shit I put my wife through over the years. The coronavirus cast a spell over the year, but thankfully I didn’t get sick. Hopefully the story of year 51 can end without anything bad happening.

5150 is the code word in California for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization. It was also a pretty good album by Van Halen. Finally, 5150 is a road sign that I happened to pass one day in the middle of Illinois:

the weekend update

Job update: I found out who was chosen for the job I interviewed for. She has no field experience and no design experience, but she was well known by the hiring manager. I was lied to, because I was told by that manager that they wanted someone with more field experience. I think I didn’t get the job because they didn’t know me personally and because I’m a middle-aged white male. I hate to be that way, but that’s the company culture. It’s not what you know, but who you know. I wasn’t bitter before, but I’m a little salty now.

Psych update: I saw the p-doc this week and told him I wasn’t having mood swings, but I’ve had a pretty good depression for weeks now. In addition, the Abilify makes me want to eat everything in sight. We are going to try a newer brand-name drug, Vraylar, because it treats both depression and mania, and weight gain is much less common. Hopefully I will have some good news to report.

Mindfulness update: I’m going to tell the therapist I want to concentrate on some other method of treatment. I’ve lost interest in the book, I can’t seem to get started on the exercises, and I don’t believe it will work for more than a few moments. What I need is to find a way to fight the social anxiety enough that I can actually exercise without thinking that everyone is looking at the fat guy trying to exercise.

Baseball update: I’m hoping the Giants can win today so they don’t have to play in the wild card game. I also hope the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in the wild card game. Fuck the Dodgers. If the Giants get to the World Series and lose, I’m afraid I will go into a deep depression like I did in 2002. It sounds silly, but I feel like I’m in a precarious place right now, and all I need is a trigger to push me into a spiral.

after the ordeal

Welp, the interview went about as well as I could have hoped for. Not great, not a failure, but a solid B+ effort. I’ll be mildly surprised if they choose me, as I think they are looking for someone with more field experience who will learn the office tasks. I have more office experience and would need to gain field experience. Overall I’m happy with it, I gave my best shot, and the rest is out of my control.

Talk about poor timing: my daughter was freaking out a little because she had missed her meds yesterday, and I was trying to talk her down a little, but this was two hours before the interview. I finally asked my wife if she could come home from work for a couple hours to help me out. Then I had to calm down and get back into interview mode.

I may have hyperventilated a little at one point, but at no time did I vomit. However, I may have accidentally peed on my leg a little before the interview. Don’t ask. You know how sometimes a fire hose will get out of control? It’s like that, but different.

I didn’t tell anyone at work except my supervisor, who gets notified by HR. I kept it to myself, and didn’t even tell my friends. Well, I told you guys, but I don’t think you would spill the beans. Then just 5 minutes ago, one of my friends at work texted me: “How was the interview?” Fucking Columbo. I thought about playing dumb, but I confirmed it. Good thing I didn’t choose a life of crime, because everyone would know who did it.

believe the hype

I have a job interview coming up (on Friday the 13th of all days). It is for a new job with the same company, but I still have to go through the formal process because Big Energy Company is all about following the process. I’m often not a “follow the process” kind of person, but I won’t emphasize that.

I’m practicing responses to potential interview questions, the ones that go like “Tell me a time when something really difficult happened, and you singlehandedly turned it into a success overnight with no authority and no budget.” You have to answer in a certain format, emphasizing the actions you took and the end result (which had better be positive). I would prefer to have more of a conversational interview, but again, follow the process.

Writing a resume isn’t terribly difficult because it’s factual. However, promoting myself and talking up my knowledge and skills in an interview is something I have never been comfortable with. If we could do it all in writing, I would do great, but I have to deal with my self-esteem issues long enough to hype my accomplishments and talk around my failures. It goes against years of bad habits to say something good about myself without following it up with a perceived weakness or flaw that would shoot down my chances quickly.

I figure the less I ad lib and the more I can stick to what I’ve practiced, the better off I will be. I have to build up the hype long enough to make it through the interview, then go vomit afterwards. It is a panel interview, with two managers and their boss, which is a little intimidating. One of the interviewers knows me personally, which could be good; she is the person who hired me 10 years ago. It is an online interview, which may help me a little since I can be at home. However I don’t know if I should dress up for the video like I would if it were in-person; any advice?

Anyway, fingers and toes crossed.

too

I’ve never been comfortable being myself. I’ve always struggled with defining my self-worth by the way I perceive that others see me. I look at myself as though I am a judgemental outside observer, constantly criticizing my faults and shortcomings. I suppose this comes from a severe lack of self-esteem, something I learned at home and had reinforced at school when I was a kid.

My hair was too messy. My braces were too geeky. My face was too dorky. I was too slow. I was too nerdy. I was too “husky”. I was too quiet, too depressed, too clingy, too intense, too creepy, too naïve, too introverted. I was too smart. I was too boring.

I wasn’t outgoing. I wasn’t down-to-earth. I wasn’t cool to be around. I wasn’t athletic enough. I wasn’t happy enough. I wasn’t interesting. I wasn’t dateable.

Ugh. Enough memories.

I still feel my flaws as much as ever, but now I suppose there is more of a reluctant acceptance of my flaws. Some of those perceived flaws are imaginary, a function of my own insecurities projected onto what I believe others see in me. Some of those shortcomings are realistic, and I just have to accept them and work around them. I don’t have much faith that therapy can fix this mindset.

I don’t like who I am on some days, but sometimes I’m okay with myself. For a perennial depressive, that’s good enough. On very few days, I get to feel more positive, and that is always welcome.

mind over ice cream

I don’t know if I am on the same page as my therapist. Yesterday was an awkward appointment. I had very little to say and didn’t want to be there, and he seemed like he was stumped, trying to find something to talk about. Neither one of us seemed prepared. Granted, I’m the one asking for help, so I guess I should be the one with questions. I would have been fine if he had let me go home early.

After flailing for a few minutes, he started talking about mindfulness as a tool for reducing anxiety. He described what mindfulness is, and I was having trouble concentrating … as he’s telling me how to concentrate on acknowledging distractions then coming back to the moment. My brain was tired but bouncing all day yesterday, so it was a particularly poor time to have to listen to someone talk.

I have to admit I don’t get the mindfulness thing. I thought it was more about doing something to distract you from everything in your brain, allowing you to have a little reset. I know how to be totally present in the moment, like while listening to my favorite music for the 100th time, or when being by myself in the woods, or reclining with a purring cat. But either I get distracted by something or someone, the moment is gone, and I start thinking about all the things I took a break from.

I asked him if mindfulness was blocking everything out and just clearing your mind for a few minutes, and apparently that was incorrect, because he was trying to convince me that something like eating ice cream or the act of standing up can be the object of a mindfulness exercise. (Really? Does pooping count?) I asked him what did that solve, and I never really got an answer. He said he wrote a dissertation about the subject, so I decided not to tell him I didn’t get the point.

Then he started talking about Buddhists and India, and honestly he lost me at that point. Nothing against Buddhism, but I just need something I can understand. However he did refer me to a book on mindfulness for anxiety, so I’ll get that from the library and see what I think. He also told me about some guy’s videos, but I told him I can barely sit through an episode of a TV show on Netflix. My brain moves way too fast to listen to some dude drone on for an hour about how to enjoy ice cream.

I don’t know if mindfulness exercises are going to work for me, but I guess I will give it a good faith effort to see if I can get something useful out of this. If anyone has any tips or references for helping me understand this, I’m willing to listen. Comment or email me if you have something that might help.

allow me to recapitulate

It has been an interesting year so far. Manic episodes, sketching house plans in the middle of the night, COVID vaccines, no more masks, mentally preparing to work from the office again, and the Giants still in first place bitches! (yeah, you, LA fan). 

Anyway, I feel like it’s a good time for a bulleted list, so here is a recap of the first 6 months of this year:

  • In January I began a strong manic episode for about 6 weeks, possibly encouraged by trying Latuda for bipolar depression. I had extreme anxiety and a couple of panic attacks, I couldn’t sleep most nights, and I was very restless. My OCD rituals became much stronger and nearly impossible to control.
  • In February I began to come down from the manic state but the OCD and anxiety continued in full force, and it was very difficult to work or be “normal” at home. 
  • In March, there was very little improvement, and I worried that something had permanently been damaged in my brain from the manic episode. (I still think that is the case, but I’m learning to manage it.) I was very concerned that my continued employment was in jeopardy, and the resultant worry fed my continuing anxiety.
  • In April I discontinued Wellbutrin and went back on Abilify, and my anxiety calmed down somewhat. I was officially diagnosed with OCD. I also began seeing a therapist for help to deal with the anxiety and OCD behaviors. My daughter spent a week in the hospital with a vomiting syndrome.
  • In May, the anxiety began to decrease significantly, although the OCD rituals were still a problem. I finally got to go on my planned hiking trip to Pennsylvania, which was calming and satisfying. We had a multi-family barbecue for the first time since COVID, since everyone is vaccinated now.
  • In June (earlier this week), I applied for a new position at the company I work for. It would be a promotion, although the pay would be about the same. I don’t think I have much of a chance, but if you get an interview, anything can happen.

Looking forward to the rest of 2021, who knows what will transpire? We do have a few plans:

  • As of July 6th our company will begin a hybrid work schedule, which means I will be able to work every other week at the office again. Maybe I will remember all the people who I used to see every day.
  • In August we will have our annual family camping trip at a local state park. We had to cancel in 2020, breaking a streak of 12 years. 
  • In September my wife and I will take a short vacation to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We’ll probably take a bigger vacation next year, but my daughter can’t be alone for more than a couple of days, so we’ll see what happens then.
  • In November we will be seeing Genesis in concert. 

… and off we go.

what do you want from me?

The problem with being a child genius is that everyone wants something from you.

The kid in 2nd grade wanted to cheat off my paper. The kid in 3rd grade wanted someone to be the butt of his joke. The girl in 5th grade wanted someone to manipulate. The teenager at church wanted to mock me as I performed for him. The school principal and the teacher wanted a spelling champion. Another teacher wanted an aide to help her teach the kids who didn’t understand. The kid in 6th grade wanted a partner in crime so he wouldn’t get in trouble all the time. The people at church wanted another fine young man to mold into someone who was less of a disappointment than their own kids.

The problem with being a child genius is that you want to prove how smart you are.

I let people cheat off my papers. I allowed people to bully, tease, and manipulate me. I performed for those who wanted entertainment from me. I spelled everything that was thrown at me. I gave answers and spread wisdom and behaved the way I was expected to. I believed the hype. I was full of myself.

The problem with being a child genius is that you believe you have everything figured out while you fail to realize you are socially and emotionally inept.

I couldn’t relate to my peers socially. I didn’t understand how to have meaningful friendships. My own depression was off the charts, even before the bipolar symptoms emerged. I kept my home life secret from everyone out of shame. I tried to use intelligence to buy acceptance and friendship. I would latch on to people hoping for understanding but receiving dismissal.

The problem with being a child genius is that eventually nobody gives a shit.

ten things

I wrote a long post about work, and decided it was too much right now. The TL;DR is that I’m unhappy at the best job I’ve ever had, but there’s nothing better out there right now, so I need to change my attitude and deal with it.

I had other things to write about, including my recent bipolar problems (I’m a little more stable right now), my recent anxiety-driven excursions (which helped me cope), and saving one of a kitty’s nine lives (I was able to hit the brakes in time).

But I can’t really focus right now on anything coherent. Instead I will give you 10 random facts about me. These were written a long time ago and hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar until today. So in random order:

3. I played trumpet, trombone, baritone, euphonium, and tuba during high school and college. I was once in the state honor band. Unfortunately I don’t play anymore.

7. My first post-college job was to perform wetland delineations. I used to know the fauna of the northwest very well. One day I was chased out of a wetland by a pissed-off nutria.

4. I can look at maps and air photos for hours. Google Earth is the best thing ever.

1. I’m addicted to crackers, bread, and anything salty.

8. The last time I smoked a cigarette, it gave me a massive boner. I liked it so much I smoked another.

2. I have actually hugged trees. I love hiking and being alone in the forest. When I was a kid, the forest behind my house was my refuge from life.

6. When I was growing up I wanted to be an engineer. Once I became an engineer, I wished I could be something else: naturalist, writer, musician, baseball player, geologist, or a world traveler.

10. Many years ago I was charged with a felony for violating California environmental laws stemming from a contractor mishandling PCB-contaminated soil. The charge was dropped.

5. I love rain and dreary weather because it makes everyone else feel miserable.

9. I wish I was a cat instead of a human.

11. I’m 1/4 Canadian, 1/16 Mexican, 1/16 Native American, and 100% looney.

where there’s smoke, there’s pizza

I think I’m coming down from the recent manic episode. Monday I got my first good night of sleep in several days. My tension headaches are still there, my anxiety is still elevated, and I’m still twitchy, but sleep has returned.

So why am I up at 2:30 writing blog posts, you might ask? My daughter decided to bake a frozen pizza just after midnight. Apparently there was something that had dripped in the oven, so when she turned it on the “something” started to burn. She opened the oven door to put the pizza in, the smoke came pouring out, and the smoke alarm went off.

In the meantime, I was just waking up from a dream in which Tony Danza was showing off some exceptional drumming skills while on the set of a tv show. His character carried a pair of drum sticks in his back pocket, apparently for drumming-related emergencies. As he was finishing another paradiddle on a kitchen countertop, I woke up to the sound of the smoke alarm.

I hit the snooze on the alarm clock first, and when that didn’t work I realized what it was. Awake in a heartbeat, I jumped up, put on pants, and went rushing out the door while shouting at my wife “SMOKE ALARM”. I got downstairs and found my daughter standing in the kitchen with a chagrined look on her face. I pushed the button on the smoke alarm and went back to my still-sleeping wife and told her it was under control. “Mmmph,” she responded, as she settled into the covers.

Of course I’m wide-awake at this point, and so of course I turn on the computer and start reading to calm down. Two hours later, I’m still awake. I will try to take a nap in my easy chair before the night is over.

manic wanna-be architect

I’ll preface this by saying I might be having a little manic episode, but it’s nothing to worry about, right? I’m not out of control or in any danger, I’m just riding the wave for a while. I’m mildly amused at my condition right now, but I hope I don’t have a crash in the next few days.

I haven’t slept a lot during the night for the past several days, yet I have fallen asleep at random times during the day and evening. My anxiety has been high due to work issues and problems with my daughter. I’ve had tension headaches which turned into a migraine on Thursday. I’m writing a lot, and trying to keep from posting it all. I went looking for a difficult word search, and ended up downloading and printing 40 different ones I need to stay off Fakebook and stay away from Amazon … or the car dealership.

Yesterday I got up at 7:30 on an off day, I was awake all day, and I went to bed at my typical 9:00 to 9:30. Then I woke up from dreaming at about 1:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was not a weird dream, but I remembered it very clearly when I woke up. I was in a different house, and I was designing it in my dream, arranging rooms and hallways.

I was laying there, completely awake, and I decided to get up and capture my dream house on paper. So I got up, got my graph paper, a scale, and my mechanical pencil (because geeks have those items handy in the middle of the night), and started drawing my house.

My daughter (whose sleep schedule is often backwards) comes upstairs and asks why I’m up, so I explain to her. Then we talked for a while, but the whole time I’m thinking about my house. Finally she went back to bed, and I started drawing again.

I realize I’ve lost track of time when my wife gets up at 5:30. I explain to her that I might be a little manic, and I spent most of the night designing a house. She said, “That’s not bad. At least there aren’t computer parts all over.” [That’s another story to tell someday.]

Here is the final sketch I came up with during the night:

I didn’t finish obviously. I still need to do a lot of details, and I might put it in Autocad today and work on it this week. Or I might do it online in Sketchup, since I don’t have architecture blocks for my Autocad installation. In fact, I have no architectural anything, because I don’t know how to design houses. I’ll post something when it is done.

low brass, high anxiety

I was a good trombone player back in high school. I was also good with a tuba and a baritone, but the trombone was what I enjoyed the most. I earned a trip to the state honor band playing trombone, which I thought was pretty cool even though I was seated in the 3rd chair.

When I went to college in Reno, I joined the marching band and immediately realized I needed to elevate my trombone game. I was suddenly surrounded with serious music students who could play circles around me, so I needed to get better. Even though I was still 3rd chair, I improved, and I knew I belonged.

After my short stay in Reno, however, I didn’t play my ‘bone for a couple of years. The local junior college had no music program, and there was no community band to play with. I missed playing.At college in Hippietown, they had an infamous marching band, but I didn’t have time to commit to practice and performances.

There was an informal jazz band, so I joined that group hoping to have fun. Unfortunately it turned out there were serious musicians in that group as well. One time we got to a place in the music where there was supposed to be a trombone solo, and I didn’t know what to do with it. The director, trying to help, said “This is yours, man – just blow!” I had no idea how to improvise, and I quickly became intimidated and embarrassed to be there.

The last day I went to the practice to tell the director I was leaving. I made up an excuse about not having enough time to be able to practice, which was mostly true, but not the real reason I was quitting. As I was walking out the door, he turned to the group and, exasperated, said “Great, there goes our trombone player!”

That hurt. I felt like I was failing, and abandoning the group who had accepted me. Then again, I’ve abandoned lots of people and places over the years, and not dealt with the wreckage. It turns out it gets easier each time, and you care less much faster.

The sting of that day stuck with me, and I never played the trombone for anyone again. I kept it long enough to find out neither child had interest in playing music, then sold it for $100.