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

 

Another Lovely Summer Day, another shooting.

In El Paso, a gunman used an AK-47, walked into a crowed Walmart on a Saturday afternoon, and took 20 lives before being arrested by surrounding law enforcement.

So on a day when people are celebrating summer, barbecues, bicycle rides, recreational sports, boats on a lake, our country has become immune to the reality of another mass-shooting in America. All the news outlets are 12 hours later showing the same initial video of the incident, and we will watch that for the next few days.

Meanwhile society will react, the same agencies will argue for gun control, the same politicians will fill the air with empty promises, the same gathering of empathetic souls will react all of the country. The same has became no different than the first horrific past of a massive shooting in a public venue.

Its not in my neighborhood, who wants a brat. The waves are perfect today, I could layout in this sunlight on my boat sevens days a week. Baseball, America’s game, tonight when we get home.

Wait, twenty people’s lives ended today, including that of a young child. Another lovely summer day including a mass shooting, like any other day. When or where will be the next one?

Another tragedy will rock America. Polarization of cultures will continue, and yet a blatant ‘manifesto’ exists with this evil person’s philosophy behind the cowardice of an assault weapon and a lost mind.

While we wake up tomorrow and continue planning our cabin drives, fishing trips, golf games, tea parties, happy hours – please! Let’s not forget our voice can be heard!

Our voice needs to be heard. We need to be okay with wanting to save lives by changing laws that give allowance for safe measures in our society, so that people from all walks of life will not gunned down for the color of their skin, in America.

My Dear Friend, Our Inspiration

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Coffee with Antonio Elias

Ah summertime. It is true. Many times in our lives, as a teacher, we would like to retreat toward that which would make life easier. Perhaps we choose to fall into a string of Netflix series, or our favorite crime show rather than take care of the busy work of maintaining our home, both the physical and mental. I’m guilty of that as I find myself in mid-summer, recognizing only too soon a school year ahead, whereby my focus will be on new students, new projects, new ideals. I feel fortunate that I have moments of clarity that are provided in my world to allow such priority to return.

Not a day ago, I was imagining the coming year, and felt great trepidation, a sometime normal response from a teacher sitting on their deck on a hot summer day watching the birds. The sun finally dropped, and I moved from the natural habitat of a backyard to my home, and turned on a baseball game, watched a Netflix series, flipped on my favorite crime show. Are you following the pattern? The reality is, I was actively trying to ignore the coming school year, knocking at my door as it does every summer right around the end of July. Today is July 27th, such perfect timing to have a coffee with one of my favorite alumni. That young man on my left is a former student who by his own actions  truly helps me and many of my colleagues recognize exactly why we chose our profession as teachers.

Since graduating high school in 2013, I have been fortunate to enjoy a coffee with Antonio at least once, maybe twice a summer. To give you a little background, this gentlemen was an exceptional student in the classroom, earning a modest scholarship to help solidify the start of his post-secondary education. Once out there, he realized a world existed that he needed to adjust to rather than let it mold him. He made difficult choices, took on wonderful challenges and today finds himself reaping the rewards of genuine effort and perseverance in ideal and dream.

When I first met Antonio he was a student in a writing class I had the honor to teach. We over the course of the semester became friends, he shared pieces of his life that were remarkable to me given the current state of our political demographic. I showed a movie in class once, and he later came up to me afterward, and in his polite demeanor, looked at me with a nervous smile and said, ‘Mr Amundsen, this movie, it is about my life.’ I was stunned. What began from that day was an opportunity.

I am grateful this young man was the product of a burgeoning English Learning program at Shakopee High School, whereby he would touch the lives of many over the years to come. I could not speak upon his merits without lauding such an incredible EL team that guided his education along with many other students under their tutelage the entire way.

Fast forward to today, a young man who has given graduation speeches both in our high school, and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, taken on non-profit projects that have only been met with success to together with a partner starting a challenging Spanish language only podcast that supported honest discussions around social justice and education. Currently he holds a position with the largest school district in Minnesota, Minneapolis Public Schools,  that continues to support growth and success in measures that are designed to provide educational and societal benefit to student and family alike.

When I first met Antonio, his main goal was to finish his education so that he could provide for his own family. He wanted to be that person to right the wrongs, or simply engage people’s lives in a positive direction. As we drank coffee today, it was evident in his smile and candor that that work in progress continues forward, as does his own idyllic outlook on life. What a delightful annual conversation with an intriguing and optimistic young man. I continue to be grateful to his willingness to share his life choices, and have an ongoing dialogue together around purpose and philosophy.


© Thom Amundsen 2019

photo permission – Antonio Elias

On Racial Disparity and an Unwillingness to Look Racism in the Eye.

In reviewing this tragic incident at Chaska high school this morning, I couldn’t help but feel some direct takeaways from the thread that follows this article. Clearly there is commentary that speaks to many sides of the issue, but the glaring reality for me is the ease we have with using blame and judgment to help us feel better about a situation that causes a certain anxiety in our lives.

With social media we are christened with an arm-chair response mentality, that we have seen can be as equally damning as the central idea of a topic. In this case a direct assessment of racial disparity in a public high school.

In the same article that speaks to the victims of the incident being asked to walk into a room and receive forced apologies from the students that created the mess, there is also reporting that suggests the administration sat on their hands about the incident at a timely Equity conference with parents and members of the community.

See this is the part I have a real hard time with. We cannot continue to hide ourselves behind the idea of racism when the reality of its impact occurs every day in our lives. We cannot simply hope incidents like this will go away without being dealt with directly. We cannot miss opportunities to open doors to this challenge of understanding how such moments interfere with our students of color and their desire to engage themselves in a community that openly ostracizes them, only to have the instigators receive perhaps public slaps on the hand for doing something they thought was ‘funny’ and harmless.

We cannot pretend that there is no harm that occurs beyond the incident of blatant racism itself. There is a great deal of damage that occurs when something of this level happens in any community. The traumatic nature of not being liked, or respected or appreciated for who we are cannot be measured in the eyes of a staged public apology. There has to be more.

Our students need to feel like they are being heard, their issues matter, they take the front seat and receive time and attention rather than a quiet dismissal to prevent a public outcry.

In reading the threads on Facebook that follow this article, I came across a number of personal assessments of the environment – “Oh (community) will never learn” or “same old ‘trash-**’ summarily beating the issue into the ground in such a manner to put it away, blow it off, call it unimportant, and try to put a ‘funny’ light on the issue. In fact, one thread noted, ‘this happened a week ago’ in a manner to suggest we move on. Really?

It is a sad reality that our students could continue to have such behaviors be condoned by society because of an internalized fear to have the difficult discussions. We cannot allow these moments to drift away because we are almost at the end of the school year. We cannot continue to rely upon our political horizon as the reason for such attitude and disparity in our communities across the country.

We must have the conversations and listen rather than simply join the outcry of ‘oh this is bad, but I have no commitment to helping change.’

We need to try to openly become a part of the change and move forward rather than continue to drift aimlessly backward.

A Teenager Committed Suicide

Yesterday, a former student took his own life. The circumstances are horrific to realize that life had come to such terms. It is also ironic for many people including myself. We all have dark moments that cause us to imagine a deadly option. This young man somehow felt there was no one he could speak to that might help him through his crisis. In my life the issue of suicide has always been thought to be a cop-out and an easy option, a valueless choice for those around their lives.

I have students crying in the hallways today. I had a student contact me yesterday evening in tears – we spoke for several minutes, and I invited him to come by. This situation has impacted a lot of people including those that have the feelings themselves. Nobody really knows what a person is going through when they choose this deadly way to stop the pain. Nobody knows the tears in the final moments because we just don’t understand. I do.

I believe suicide is a mental illness beyond the circumstances of finality for a person suffering from inevitable mortality. That is the only time when such an act seems feasible. I say that again knowing in my own life there are times when the world I live in becomes exhausting and I no longer like the loneliness I feel. I am especially mortified by this situation with our student. He touched a lot of lives. I watched him laugh both in the classroom and with his friends. I watched him be successful in his love of sports in the events he participated. I watched people groom his life.

Today, I see the outcome. I sense the family and their reaction not as a close friend but as a person that appreciates the grief they feel. I understand why students are at a loss in their actions as they try to wrap their heads around his loss.

Suicide is something that everyone needs to acknowledge is a terrible way to end a person’s life. If someone reaches out be there for them, because the moment you take that for granted they may take action on something they didn’t have a chance to rethink or turn away from the act. Sadly one must though realize the end game is not their responsibility. A call, a visit, a wellness check may be all that is needed. Let them know they are not alone and they have a possible firm ledge to step back onto, let them find their own professional guidance.

Do not abandon a person when they are at their seeming lowest. Look for the signs and be there no matter the effect the notion might have on your own life.

The victim needs your real love.

The Scrutiny of Self Loathing

People generally believe we bring our pain upon ourselves, the decisions, choices we make. As true as that might be we want also to be responsible for shaking off the doom and gloom that keeps us down. There the difficult task arises in how we acknowledge our own fear in moving forward when caught in the web of self-deceit. We convince ourselves through various measures we are destined to live this way.

Take addiction for a moment and identify patterned behavior. The addict is easily drawn toward what feels good, the easiest route to pleasure. It is more often than not an addict’s choice to stay within the boundary of self loathing than give themselves a fighting chance of a good life. The drug, the habit, the glass of scotch, far too easy to attain and outweigh the risk of facing the contempt their lives become under the influence of a self-destructive pursuit they are unable to see until it explodes their lives and those around them.

A choice also has to be made by the messenger. I choose to write this why, because I have seen its impact on the lives of those around me? I also see on a daily basis the nature of addiction and how it determines day to day decisions in my own life. Not the observation of a friend, me.

On any given day I can be wrapped up in memory of poor decisions I made years ago that haunt me still today, most people would say, let it go you were a kid way back then. That’s true but I still made the choice.

Today I think about self-loathing and the impact it has on my life. Last night in my episodic frame of mind I thought about solutions that did simply scare the hell out of me. Too often we are in the middle of something and rather than face it we literally swallow it and move on. I choose to face it but I have no false pretense of an easy road ahead, I made a phone call last night that helped me move beyond a state of mind that was dragging me down so fast I was drowning before my ankles ever felt the water. Then in a bizarre dream overnight I was holding a device in my hand on stage that blew up and I was suddenly gasping for air in and out of consciousness. I take some dreams for granted, that one not so much.

Perhaps a metaphorical bomb in a crazy dream is what it takes to realize sometimes a jumpstart is needed to feel better and take action. For me self-loathing is no fun. I will choose a different path.

For the reader I ask two favors – one that you might take from this story some benefit for your own life and two that you raise your awareness around family, friend, colleague, neighbor and offer a hand rather than reject that reach with our well planted bootstrap society. Sometimes the boots will not go on.

This post is for everyone and is not about you!

The Beauty of Culture and Our Changing Society

Tonight, I had the opportunity to watch something rather wonderful. I wasn’t alone, we all viewed what represents the identity of who we are, how we represent, what is truly special about our school district.

Tonight, Shakopee High School, held a culture fest, one that celebrated a host of different ethnic groups that as a collective whole did speak to the beauty of our diversity. There were dances, puppetry, singers that modeled cultural mores produced by a student body that exists beyond the classroom. They smiled, they hugged one another, they reached out to a marvelous gathering of people from all walks of life.

Parents came to support their children. There were people that might not walk into a high school because there could be apprehension due to cultural differences that are sometime intimidating because of language barriers and matters of equity and diversity. There were visitors, faculty, administrators who attended and spoke to one another and celebrated students who came up to them and shook hands, gave high fives, smiled and laughed and beamed with pride and courage for what they were accomplishing together as a collective whole.

To be a teacher in this school district is a special blessing in the sense that we get the chance to interact with a student body that teaches us how to recognize and understand culture beyond what is sometime taken for granted. I am so proud of our students and the organizers of our Culture Fest.

A celebration of identity is truly important when realizing the beauty of how we can interact and engage together to showcase talent, passion, and a desire to be accepted in our constantly changing society. We can be extremely proud of our district and who we are and the golden opportunity we have to offer something special to a remarkable and invaluable student body.