My Issue With Vaping

Recently, I presented a collaboration with colleagues on the dangers of vaping. Alongside we also explored rhetoric in advertising. An examples was a fifties picture of a pack of Viceroy cigarettes, with a dentist promoting the idea of using filters to protect our teeth and body. The premise was meant to identify safety in ingesting tobacco. We live in that time again of false representation, or we might easily acknowledge the practice has never gone away.

I remember as a child, or young teen, cigarette ads were banned from television commercials because somewhere along the line, someone with influence managed to convince the producers this method a dangerous precedent, especially given the impact on teenagers.

I was a heavy smoker from my late teens until around 15 years ago. There have been many gifts to my life that have occurred because of my decision to stop smoking. I can breathe again, without rasp, without a chronic cough, without the fear of blackening my lungs. I had a medical procedure nearly a decade ago. I had quit smoking a few years before hand, and so during the testing I feared they would find spots on my lungs. I was fortunate to live with the resiliency of our body’s capacity to recover their full health. Certainly not always the case. No spots, no memory of years of cigarette smoking.

So what does all of this have to do with vaping in today’s society? In my own personal life I feel fortunate to have quit smoking years before the trend began. Had I been a smoker I would have been one of the first to buy a vape device. I’m a trend junkie, and it would have been the right transition because it might have seemed and looked rather cool. I feel fortunate as I read the increasing evidence of its damaging impact on society, people, our teens.

I write about this today, because I came across a picture of this young woman laying in a hospital bed with tubes, diagnostics and oxygen at her nearby. The commentary to follow the photo is sad, supportive, hopeful and at times cruel. The idea of a person in a hospital clinging to their lives as being weak is reprehensible. The very nature of what we do not know about vaping and its unknown ingestion of chemicals just in simple terms scares the hell out of me.

So, two things pop into my mind about this picture. One, my immediate compassion for this young woman’s welfare. The very fact that even if the picture is photo-shopped or exaggerated, the truth is there are people in her position in hospitals across the country experiencing her condition as we speak. The evidence exists. This cannot be considered weak, it needs to be understood as dangerous and fact.

The other piece even more frightening is the practice of using pot, or THC to be hidden inside the wonder of a Juul. People laugh about it – they can walk anywhere and hit their Juul without being detected. The reality their body is impacted matters far more than a hidden treasure in the midst of a public audience.

So today, as I watch this phenomena in its still early stages, not even peaking with intrigue, I think of the young people whom are so easily drawn to the dangers of vaping. We know lung cancer is what it is, rather than directly connected with smoking or not. Imagine what will become common knowledge or memory for the lives of so many people caught up in the seemingly safe and potentially life threatening rave that is vaping.

Yes, as much damage as cigarettes did and do over the long term, vaping in any regard frightens me to no end. Those that have lost their livelihood, their health due to such an unidentified habit, my heart goes out to all and I only pray for their strength to overcome the medical consequence that may lay ahead of them.

We just don’t know.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

juulclaims.com

 

 

Ric Ocasek – Drive

Another rock and roll icon passed on today. His legacy with a certain genre of music caught my eye in the eighties. Most every song has purpose, in lyrics, in rhythm, the Cars were able to take us on a journey. There is one particular piece, has always stuck with me.

In ‘Drive’ the video I suppose makes it that much more powerful. I see a woman struggling with her own sanity, four walls around her protecting her own impulsivity, and the lyrics are haunting,

Who’s gonna hold you down,
When you shake?
Who’s gonna come around,
When you break?

I worked in mental health for a couple of decades, and in that time, I observed many struggling human beings in isolation. Our job, my job was to maintain their safety, to watch and make sure they didn’t try to harm themselves, but in that isolated space, they might find a calm, and return to the general population.

Some took hours, even overnight, some needed to be strapped to a gurney, rather than do damage to themselves. I always felt a certain compassion for their helpless nature in the throes of a psychosis. I watched tears, and I was in no position to offer them any professional solace, except one human being to another making sure they knew I was there to keep them safe.

So when I reflect on ‘Drive’ I realize the vulnerability of our lives, when we do become so lonely, there seems no solution. We make choices that we later regret, or haven’t a chance to regret. I think about an artist’s genius in what in their mind is just cutting another album, and part of the whole – sounds good in a mix, looks good in a visual, having really, sometimes, no idea the impact it might have on their audience.

I leave it to you to get through the ads, and watch the Cars speak to the frailty of the human condition, and yet plead for some common welfare to be found that will expand the possibilities of the human spirit.

 


© Thom Amundsen 2019

RIP – Ric Ocasek – The Cars

Once in a Savage Moon

It is in the city I live in, surrounded by neighbors I’d maybe wish to know better than I do, beyond the hellos, the waves, the talk of lawns and summer ending. Last night I imagined the moon and everything it brought to my mind. The rains were apparent, so I could not see it in its spectacular setting, instead, I visualized based upon the many moons I have witnessed in my life.

It matters little the overcast sky when we think about a moon, such full nature, such depth, when trying to wrap ourselves around why it is we seemingly exist on this planet, inside this solar system, our galaxy. I am not a scientist by any stretch, so I cannot speak much further than the simple analogy I learned in grade school when we all put together our own mobile solar system for Civics class in sixth grade. It might have been 1st grade, apparently matters as much to me today as it did way back when.

The absolute though is that fifty years later, I am still looking for the same moon, and counting on its appearance to let me once again wonder its spectacular vision. I have spent nights sitting on a bridge near my home watching the moon rise, and during such time wondered often what people might be doing with their lives at that very moment. I have a brother once caught me staring at a moon one evening out our family picture window. He said to me, ‘you stare at the moon too long, you become a lunatic, y’know, lunar and all that shit.’ He then walked out the room with a smile on his face. I closed the curtains. That comment haunted me for years afterward. i was twelve at the time, I didn’t know that day dreaming could be such a dangerous affliction in our lives.

But the moon always brought me back. There is no question the fascination, and what it truly does to our state of mind in the peak moments, weekend, couple of days it fills. I worked in mental health for many years, and knew the general impression a moon, without notice would have on our population, including the staff who often because they were designated as such, felt themselves better than the patients  own matter of being. I remember one day, seeing a patient of mine, discharged, walking down a city street near my home. I actually waved, and she waved back. There wasn’t this fear of revealing my private life to this person who struggled to such a point she needed other folks to help her find her way. i would imagine her take on the moon would often have a bearing on the confidence of her state of mind.

So last night, I listened to the weight of the moon. I wondered about life around me, and how people might be going about their own night, whether that globe in the sky would have any impact on how they thought about their own lives and those around them. I thought clearly i was comfortable, I had my dignity in the comfort of my own home, realizing not nearly everyone has that same luxury.

I went to bed around midnight, accepting the reality that my own Savage moon exists for everyone, far be it be only designed for my own benefit. Good night, moon.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

Days Beyond Surgery

Ok, so I will begin and acknowledge a heavy dose of narcotics did prevent me from writing for days. Tonight, I am sitting a week away from surgery and there has been a story I wanted to tell, just haven’t found the right words. This procedure I experienced has had a major impact on my life, more so than major heart surgery seven years ago.

When I first imagined this surgery I looked at it as rather simple, an in and out of the operating room and back to my world. I even planned to return to work two days later. Much to my chagrin my doctors and family both disagreed, and suggested I take the week off. As it turns out, they were all quite right, and tonight I’m sitting a week later preparing to return to my job after the weekend. What interests me the most though is how much I took rest seriously, rather than taking it for granted and soldiering forward, a preference of mine on previous occasions.

In my head, I figured this hospitalization would be routine. So what is it about this experience that has changed my thinking? I cannot think otherwise, beyond the notion I am aging, and now more than ever I need to actively take care of my body, and my state of mind.

This summer I experienced a great deal of lows, times where I felt exhausted, and seriously wondered how I might endure the next 30 years of my life. I certainly contemplated justifying my desire to not live out those years, imagining that people would be better off, after exhausting those I am closest to with all of my trivialities, my personal demons, my neediness. Those were dark moments in my life, I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, though I know we all have had our times. I chalked it to having too much time on my hands, and figured the school year would quickly bury all that vague ambivalence I walked around with every day. There are people I am close to that helped me work through some of those personal fears, and to them I will be forever grateful.

So, now I look at aging and my second major surgery in less than ten years. I am walking away from this one realizing there is a purpose to continuing to find care with my physical needs. This event in my life was not life-threatening, beyond perhaps complications down the road if I hadn’t gone through with it. So why am I so impacted? Only one reason.  I continue to have a purpose in my life.

I received excellent care when I was in the hospital. I’m always rather embarrassed to be in the hospital. I don’t want to be defined as somatic, or having needless medical care. When I really feel that I convince myself I’m taking someone’s bed that needs it more than I do. My diagnosing Doctor told me he disagreed on Friday morning. He said there wasn’t anything somatic about an enflamed gallbladder, and I did the right thing coming in. Suffice it to say walking around with pain for the last six weeks convinced me to be seen, and rather than finding a mass in my abdomen they found something tangible. They removed it, and now I go forward. But my perception is different.

The self-persecution seems much less relevant, and the need to live my life in as positive a manner as possible is now my goal as I move forward. Like I said earlier, my experience with the medical staff was incredible. They all were filled with compassion. In fact, I encountered three of my graduated students and I looked at them and their positive energy, and I truly believe they were brought into my life for a reason.

That reason at this writing is only to suggest we have a lot more ahead of us. All of us.

Moments Before My Surgery

The many thoughts that go through my mind before surgery. Why did I walk into the ER? I wasn’t losing a leg, losing my sight, losing my mind. I’m only going through a minor procedure, though some would say it is major. I’m not asking for something to be removed that is going to thrive in the next few weeks, months, years. I’m told it will only worsen. I know now the pain I was feeling is something real, and not my imagination, though it took a couple of days in the hospital to figure that out.

I guess that is part of my dilemma. What if I don’t go in? Then I walk around thinking of some mass in my body that is only going to worsen. Some condition that goes undiagnosed. Then I believe that because I already have an identified heart condition, that shortness of breath isn’t anything to take for granted. Then I wonder what would it be like if I lived in a society where I didn’t have nearly the medical benefits I have in my own world today? Would I just have to tough it out? Yes, unfortunately there are worlds where my conditions would not be resolved and my longevity as a human being would be shortened. 

So maybe that is the biggest question. What is our responsibility when given chances to maintain or extend our lives because of medical prowess. Shouldn’t we just let ourselves be in God’s hands? There are many factors that preclude that natural outcome with our mortality. Think of the things we lose when we are taken ‘before our time.’ We each have those bucket lists that apply to our own lives. We then are often brought to mind those that take their lives in their own regard rather than through the natural course of the human condition. So many factors are evident.

Today, minutes away from surgery, I wonder how important it really is. I am told the organ being removed is no longer functional and that it is not a dire loss to my body chemistry. Though there is a healing process, adjustments and recovery, and a somewhat lifestyle change. 

I guess my quick conclusion before I am drugged into anesthesia is that there is a purpose in maintaining our health, if the tools and devices are there and readied for our welfare. I suppose it gives us opportunity to again look at the bigger picture and understand theses choices are meant not to be in our own hands.

What I have ahead of me is a minor surgery in the greater scheme of things, but yet still a learning moment I cannot pretend is non-existent. 

The Importance of Beauty

We live in a society of measure. Of mirrors and reflections and purposeful glances. We operate by sensing physicality alone, even when made aware of a far deeper context to what is beauty in our lives, in our society. This is an important subject to dwell upon in light of the ugliness we are experiencing in our own country, in the world itself. The idea of glamor far exceeds the recognition of beauty and how it operates in the well-being of ourselves, our friends and family, our planet.

I remember as a young child knowing what beauty was in an innocent mind. I watched Diana Ross on Ed Sullivan, I noticed the screaming young girls at the front of a stage at a concert for the Beatles. I was madly in love with Gidget or Marcia Brady of course. In all those examples I was focusing on their physical attributes, which gave me a foundation as young boy to know what defined beauty in my life. It wasn’t until I watched a dear friend perform her gymnastic composition on parallel bars that I began to know another definition. It wasn’t until I walked home with a school mate, though a couple years older than me, and striking in her glamorous demeanor that I noticed beauty in a different level.

In watching my friend perform I was struck by her commitment to what she loved at the time, an athletic prowess as a young woman, one that allowed her to become a state champion in her abilities. To me that wonderment of effort was beautiful to observe.

Later in life, listening to a friend of the family talk about what is important, as we crossed our familiar bridge on our way home from school, and descended a hill that held our neighborhood. She was teaching lessons as a 12th grader to a 9th grader, how important it was to love yourself before you could love others. In listening to her, I realized there was more than fashionable jeans, a chic style sweater, perfect hair to define the beauty inherent with my friend. She taught me about compassion and that began for me a different focus upon beauty in our lives.

One day as a twelve year old I was getting a ride from my sister to basketball practice. She asked me what was wrong as I slumped in the passenger seat. I told her I was lonely, didn’t know what to do about it. She stopped the car, turned to me and said you have to find a passion in your life. As a twelve year old, I blushed and imagined passion to be something sexual, and I couldn’t believe she was telling me this. She then explained the word passion is not simply about sex, it is about loving what you do, finding something that gives you the ability to believe in yourself because your energy is drawn completely to accentuating your own passion.

That lesson from my sister, the walk with my friend, the athletic prowess of my schoolmate, all of those pieces of my life gave me opportunity to recognize a more holistic approach to understanding beauty in my life.

Certainly as a young man, I was still drawn to the beauty of woman, the wonder of her elegance, in the summertime, the fascination of her stylistic manner of wardrobe on a cold winter’s day, how intriguing it was to know she would be cognizant of a look she wanted to have in the midst of a bustling society. I remember knowing a woman who I watched cross the street one day, wearing a striking rain jacket and green knee high rain boots.

Her image has stayed with me all my life, as did the day she and I were lounging in her apartment, and I commented on her jeans, and she gave me a smile and said she had been wearing them for eight days. I thought that was the coolest thing, her sweet comfort level with her own self image caused me to feel beauty about her person, well beyond a physical characteristic.

I think the deeper context of who we are is often easily forgotten about, put aside, neglected. I have a brother who in his elder life, now sits in an art museum and curates the lovers of a gallery in his home town. We had a chance to visit him one afternoon, and he was so in his element – he knew the history of all the works in the gallery, and his smile radiated as we walked through the rooms. I took his picture afterwards because I wanted to have a record of the beauty that shined from him internally. He looked to be a happy man.

Beauty for me holds a lot of different values. Seeing a band perform live, watching my students reach fruition on the stage with their efforts. Observing a student find their way in a classroom studying a subject they have never understood. Seeing students take chances and risks knowing one another beyond a superficial level. Watching my family evolve as I see my two children continue to strive for happiness in their lives rather than letting hardships discourage them. Having close friends dear to your heart that are there to support you, laugh at your whims, share dialogue and understanding for your own passions.

That word passion comes back every time I struggle. The passion to seek, the passion to address needs of concern, the passion to love. We are a vulnerable lot easily drawn to the pain in our lives rather than seeing the beauty of who we are and accentuating beauty in the lives of those around us. My hope is that the people around me, those I am closest to, can see beauty for what it truly is, to give meaning to what is important, beautiful and eternal in our lives.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

The Notion of Giving Up

I’m in a bit of a crisis, so I’m going to write from my heart. I don’t really know where this will take me, if only to let me vent some of my fears, and find some peace. I recently came to a conclusion about important aspects of my life, and a need to make significant changes. We sometimes are forced to make those decisions only because we have to go on with trying to become who we are meant to be.

I struggle with depression, I have all my life. In different periods I used self destructive measures to deal with my anxiety and the fears that came along with not feeling good about myself. My self confidence has always suffered, and there have been rare times when I could look in a mirror and be happy with what I might see. I find that to be part of the human condition that we all carry around with us. It is ironic, because I know people that will clearly say to me, I don’t understand depression because I have never experienced it, and I find myself walking away, feeling envious. I have to believe though it is true, and they are part of a fortunate lot.

In my life, I have been vulnerable to my own insecurities. There are things that bring me happiness, probably the greatest one I can reveal here, safely enough is the birth of my children. They are truly the most beautiful gift in my life, and I am blessed. My wife has been the caregiver throughout our marriage, and together we raised our children to be wonderful contributors to our society. I am proud of them and feel fortunate that we have been given this miracle of a healthy disposition in our family.

It wasn’t always like that. My own struggles with addiction have weighed heavily on the fabric of my marriage, my relationship with my children and my colleagues and friends. I have been lucky to find a supportive environment that helps me discover stability, but I have to admit, I sometimes need that 24/7 and when a significant moment occurs in my life, I become shaky and wish for negative outcomes, only those that would apply to me, no one else, I would pray would be impacted by my own faults.

This leads me to speak to this current crisis I am experiencing. I have found that my validation that I grew comfortable with for a period in and around nearly two decades has become a bit of a false pretense. I have no regrets, I just believe I have to move forward, and rather than smile at the fear I have when I am around people, I must find peace within my own mind. I think that is a difficult process when fighting with anxiety and depression. I think we tend to connect with those people that understand our moods, our emotions, our challenges. I think those people are important in our lives, and they sometimes come from unique avenues in our world that we choose to live in. I think our fear of losing that can really shake a person up.

I’ve wanted to give up so many times in the last 50 years, it actually has become a rather comical curse for me to carry around. I’m not suggesting humor necessarily as much as I am speaking to the circle of deceit I have left myself living in, rather than foraging forward to find a solution to my fears. I have had occasion where I really did want to check out, and I looked for ways that might be possible. Ironically today, the first thing I thought about when I was experiencing self-defeating ideas is my two children, my son in particular – his vulnerability seems a bit more apparent having suffered through the loss of people he has been close to in his life. I thought of my own impact being parallel to what he has already struggled through and the message that would leave him with being horrific.

Tonight, I read on my twitter feed a person who has pledged 22 days of doing 22 daily pushups to represent support for our military who live in a constant struggle with their own lives. The 22 represents the number of military personnel that take their lives every day. I thought about that and applied it to myself. I have not been in the military, I have not suffered to the degree that so many people around me have. I have only struggled with my own addictions and self-loathing but it really is nothing when placed side by side with someone that has had to endure far more challenge than myself.

So tonight, I am reflecting. I have been forced to move forward. I will not let depression continue to enjoy a stranglehold on my well-being. I experienced something this evening that literally tore me apart and left me feeling sick to my stomach. I will practice humility and grace as I move forward beyond my own self-aggrandizing behavior. I have a responsibility towards a world outside my own rollercoaster of emotion, and I might well jump on board and own myself.

I hope you have been listening, and for those of you that made it this far, I appreciate you. Thanks for coming along on the ride.


© Thom Amundsen 2019