Pays au dela

"As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling [wobbling] in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate." Montaigne-"On the Education of Children"

My domain name, "Pais au dela," is the original French translated here as "extent of land before me." My goal for this page will be to explore, in an ambling way at times, the great land before me hoping to find clarity as I advance. I will focus centrally though not exclusively on mental health issues in my stumbling march forward.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Race for Your Mind Deux: Finish Line and New Beginnings

You did it. I did it. We did it.

I'm indifferent to race medals unless they have Willie Nelson on them.

I have a confession to make. When I set up my marathon fundraiser page several months back I didn’t think I would reach my goal of raising $1500 for the Huntsville affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Huntsville). This is the second time I have done a running fundraiser. The first—when I ran the Rocket City Marathon in December 2012—brought in just under $700. When I launched the second round for this year’s Austin Marathon that I ran on February 16th, I set a publicly high bar while secretly hoping the higher goal would bring in $1000. You all showed me. And I thank you with most sincere gratitude for your powerful show of generosity. The morning after my race, an anonymous donor made a $35 gift to push me to the goal I didn’t think I’d reach. Since race weekend, a few more donations have come in and the total is currently at $1776.

Hitting the number that I didn’t expect to reach felt great, but reaching that goal takes on a much fuller meaning when I stop for a moment to think about what it really means. Teaching and taking NAMI's Family-to-Family were life altering experiences following some of my lowest moments. The course, designed by Dr. Joyce Burland, gave me grounding insight into my own crash into depression and the struggles of my family members. I am well today, in large part because of the NAMI members and volunteers who brought me into the loop. And I know looking forward that soon NAMI newcomers will find the same crucial support and guidance thanks to the compassion you have expressed in your giving. That push forward to keep the cycle of NAMI support ongoing and expanding in North Alabama is what matters most about my run. By providing that collective boost, you enriched the solitary marathon experience with a profound sense of connection. Thank you.

Never to late to contribute to a good cause.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Race for your Mind Deux: West Bound and Down

Well almost...

9:14 AM
Huntsville, AL

Travel, running, writing, ce sont là les choses que j'adore. The snow pushed back the trip a day. I'm still at home for another hour or two of melting and then hammer down off to Texas. Debating right now whether to take I-20 through Jackson and Shreveport or I-30 through Little Rock and Texarkana. This is my road log that I will update periodically throughout the day from my pit stops.

10:40 AM
Huntsville, AL

Ready to blaze hell-fire out the door onto the road. Patience can be as much of a challenge as endurance or toughness during a long haul. No bonk! If it feels slow out of the gates, you're doing it right.

I've decided, after some consulting with my brother, I'll be smokin' up through towards Memphis here in a bit.

11:32 AM
Huntsville, AL 

As it tends to sometimes, my soul has deviated. I'm going to Jackson after all. Route downloaded. Near time to roll. 

12:31 PM
Huntsville, AL

Filled with Kerouac and Easy Rider Americana travel lust, brimming over with memories of this same drive from the last 16 years, I'm headed out the door.  

9:34 PM
Monroe, LA

It's not nearly so easy as I'd expected to take breaks from driving and write. Mississippi dusk light friscalted hard on me most of the afternoon. Darkness brought welcome relief to my eyes. Wi-fi less abundant on I-20 corridor than anticipated.

Luck, MS smells very much like cows.

Chasing after bed time, torn between jumping back in the car to move and sitting a while to sift out buried threads running hidden to fried chicken and potato wedges warming in glass cases in late 90's gas stations in rural Alabama. 

In honor of Bob, my dad, turning 64 today, I searched fruitlessly for hours for the next Waffle House on the left. Finally broke free of the compulsion and rolled into the bayou Five Guys from whence I write. Happy Birthday Bob.

Resisting urge to develop overly detailed allegory connecting Marathon race pace and all day driving. Miles to go yet, moving towards the far off country before me. From here, that place bears striking resemblance to weathered recollections of livestock trailers rolling through the streets of Claude, TX. 

10:50 AM
Austin, TX

Many a driving memory teased out and then faded due to the extreme and ill-advised challenge of typing behind the wheel. Two omens to report. 

2:37 AM blue lights swirling behind my VW Jetta at a standstill on the side of I-35 in Hillsboro, TX. On this evening, 83 in a 75 + 1 non-functioning tail light merits no more then a gentle warning from the cordial and kindhearted female peace officer, who seemed to believe immediately that I indeed had no weapons or contraband in my vehicle. 

5:03 AM pulling to a stop in front of my friends' house where I finally found the bedtime I'd tracked most of the night across a large fraction of Dixie. Patsy Cline's version of "Crazy" playing on the classic country station my radio seek button had found. 

Clearly portent though as of yet ambiguous signs. Out to find a local oracle who will interpret what the gods have announced about the race on Sunday.

"He rests. He has travelled.


Sinbad the Sailor and Tinbad the Tailor and Jinbad the Jailer and Whinbad the Whaler and Ninbad the Nailer and Finbad the Failer and Binbad the Bailer and Pinbad the Pailer and Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer and Rinbad the Railer and Dinbad the Kailer and Vinbad the Quailer and Linbad the Yailer and Xinbad the Phthailer.

Going to dark bed there was a square round Sinbad the Sailor roc's auk's egg in the night of the bed of all the auks of the rocs of Darkinbad the Brightdayler


Fundraising Websites - Crowdrise

Monday, February 10, 2014

Race for Your Mind Deux: Crests and Valleys of Preparation

The physical challenge of running 26 miles reminds me often of cognitive principles needed to recover from depression. I learned through therapy how to manage unreal expectations of success. I’d like to run three times weekly and have every run be a little bit stronger and faster than the last. But human progress and healing advance at non-linear paces. Some days you’re exhausted from work. Some days you’re sore. Some days you have to skip the run because of minor injuries. Training for the Austin Marathon, I've had to miss three of my scheduled long runs because of a nagging knee problem. 

When you don’t run as well as you’d like, or at all, it’s easy to let mental pressure build. But cultivating a reasonable attitude about setback keeps that pressure from exploding to crush you. A very good therapist taught me how to accept a single day’s disappointment and still return with resilience for the next challenge.

My training is done for the Austin race. I've been tapering and cutting distance to stockpile energy the past few weeks.  From here it's simple. Show up and run until it's over. I'll leave for Texas—winter storm Pax not withstanding—on Wednesday. On Sunday during my roughly 4.5 hour trek, I’ll be thinking of the meaningful connections I've made at NAMI Huntsville, grateful for so much running strength this organization has helped restore.

To donate visit my online fundraiser page ( or send checks to 

NAMI Huntsville
701 Andrew Jackson Way
Huntsville, AL 35801. 

Fundraising Websites - Crowdrise

Monday, February 3, 2014

BCS Fail and Anhedonia 2: BCS Fail

This is the second part of my experience with anhedonia, the loss of my ability to feel pleasure. Part 1 is here.

“I didn’t want to do any of the things I had previously wanted to do and I didn’t know why.” — Andrew Solomon in a recent Ted Talk on depression

Cam Newton shredding the LSU’s defense to bloody scraps was a joyless spectacle when I watched it live on the internet in Paris. That game should have been doubly thrilling. A big Auburn win + handing the corndogging faux-tiger Acadians their own asses. Life for a Barner doesn’t get much sweeter. Today my healthy brain delights watching the youtube replay of Cam Newton running nearly fifty yards for a score against LSU.

These were the worst days, just before rock bottom and my irrational fugue run from Paris back to Alabama. The following Saturday, I watched Cam catch a touchdown pass on a trick play against Ole Miss at my parents in the States. Absolutely depleted from weeks of outrageous, illogical emotion, I was on a wretched brink I never want to see again. Sunday night with my parents’ and ex-wife’s vital support and guidance (THANK YOU!), I went to the ER where I was admitted for a week stay in the psychiatric unit.

Anhedonia is “the reduced ability to experience pleasure” (Gorwood 2008) or the “loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities.” (Der-Avakian and Markou 2012). I won’t get into the brain science in detail, in part because I don’t fully understand. Even the doctors and researchers who study the neurology involved in pleasure can’t explain exactly why and how it happens (Support brain research!). But it’s important for everyone to know that depression and other psychological disorders cause physical changes in neurons and the neurotransmitters that flow around us to create what we feel. 

You don’t fault a basketball player for coming out of the game when he shatters a tibia. The gruesome replay is so disturbing that CBS will only show it once. You understand immediately that something is terribly wrong. When someone struggles with depression or schizophrenia or Parkinson’s or substance abuse or eating disorders, there are invisible stress fractures throughout the mind that make dragging yourself back to the land of the living a thousand times harder than you feel like it should be. I snapped my thumb in half in the first quarter of a football game when I was 15 and didn’t come out of the game. I played three quarters with a broken hand. The next day, I listened to the nauseating crunch of the orthopedist re-breaking the bone to set it back in place. Nothing ever hurt nearly so awful as being sad everyday and not knowing why.

Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps. You simply have to snap out of it. If you don’t want to feel better, nothing will ever change. I think you just want the attention. Please, please, please, please nobody ever say these things to a depressed person. I thought about saying here that if you do someone should tear the veins slow and barehanded form your throat. But I am a rampaging advocate for two-way empathy between people who are depressed and their loved ones who want to help. I see the fraught desperation in your eyes, family members, you who are spooked by the zombie metamorphosis of your sons, daughters, spouses, parents, lovers, friends, and siblings. I acknowledge your sincere desire to help through tough love. And I know from experience that you are right about how activity helps beat back depression.

Tough loving care givers, your heart is in the right place. And I thank you for your concern. But I’m begging you to consider very carefully the way you phrase your encouragement. Remember the person on the other end listening to you has a severe physiological problem that squeezes out the ability to feel pleasure. There is no “just” or “simply” involved. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is part of beating depression. Feeling worse than you’ve ever felt in your life, you have to find a way to say goddamn it all I’m getting out of bed and dragging my ass to the shower anyway. It’s a death march to lumber those 4 meters to bath. You get there by some small banal miracle—that you’re too sad to appreciate or even notice—and you immediately lay back down to hide beneath the stream of warm water. Rest on your back. Close your eyes and let the heat from the current dissolve the tension like in one of those mindfulness cd’s where the sveltey voiced lady helps you blow all your negative energy into an imaginary cloud on the exhale. Sounds relaxing?

It’s not. With anhedonia, your brain doesn’t respond to things that should feel good like a long warm relaxing shower. In a recent Ted Talk, Andrew Solomon has described these moments of stupid, daily struggle with his typical breath-taking eloquence. You know all this effort for tiny things is absolutely ridiculous. If you usually have a good sense of humor, you might try to make a joke about how dumb it is for everything to be this hard. You won’t laugh though. Jokes aren’t funny with anhedonia. Can you think of anything more fucking wretched in life than losing your ability to laugh at jokes? Remember this when you are trying to motivate someone who is depressed. Jokes have stopped working because of abnormal neurology. I'd rather snap my thumb in half again.

If you can help someone be active anyway, those pleasure circuits eventually kick back to life and start firing again. But to support effectively you must first acknowledge how hard it is to do anything at all in this state. Rhetoric matters! Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps needs to go for good. Revise the good intentions of those words and tell someone who’s depressed that you imagine it’s hard to keep active when you feel like that, when your brain prevents you from enjoying things you typically love, when JOKES AREN’T FUNNY for fuck’s sake. Tell someone you want to do anything you can to help them back to stability. And if you’ve been a tough lover on someone who was depressed, forgive yourself and move on. I’ve learned slowly teaching NAMI’s Family to Family course that “you can’t know what no one told you.” Let the past regress soft away from you. It will not help you or anyone else to dwell on what’s over and gone.

It wasn’t just football that I temporarily lost in those days. Cam Newton’s run, going to the movies at Opera, the Musee d’Orsay. A collection of paintings that has moved me and moved me every time I’ve gone back since I first saw them in the summer of 2000. Manet’s Blonde aux seins nus and Dammes aux eventails. I took a group of American high school students to see the art I love the most, and all I could think of while there was how much time I had wasted learning French language, literature, and culture. I had nothing to say about impressionist painting, never would again, and only wanted to race home and crawl back in bed. Everything felt lifeless. Running on the Champs de Mars, teaching, writing, reading, steak, pizza, duck confit, Proust! Montaigne, cooking, trips to the market, the Kaiser bakery around the block from our apartment and their almond croissants. Every morsel tasted like another endless helping of the same empty, stale mud.

If you know how I love running my mouth for vicarious War Eagle Tiger Glory, you might think I was relatively tame during the run up to the BCS Championship Game. I assure you I wasn’t. My brother, the bammer, recently introduced me to closed and hidden social media pages. Doubtless, I was more crass and obnoxious then I’ve ever been about a football game. I just took all my obscenity underground to a place of mutual consent where everyone had freely chosen to be part of a no holds barred trash talking group. Though even there, we briefly debated whether or not the cops should get involved monitoring the content of our posts.

Bama Bro and I have long had a very deep connection through humor, stretching to at least the mid-eighties watching and endlessly rehashing scenes from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I know you are but what am I? Oh! Our poor parents. We can go for long stretches without talking much, and we often did when I was out trying to conquer the world of Proust scholarship. After these long stretches though, our personal banter clicks back on instantly as soon as we speak. I know where he’s headed with his next crack before he hits it and vice versa. I haven’t had so much fun consistently interacting with him in a very long time.

The jokes are funny again. Auburn came within inches or seconds of the Mount Cam Pinnacle they summited in 2010, back when I was hell-plummeting through severe anhedonia. But for a blown hamstring on a kickoff coverage play and we might be talking about two national titles in the past four years. It didn’t go down the way I wanted it to, but, man!, I sure had a hell of a time coming in First Loser. WFE anyway.