What Happened to Schultz?

I have missed living for kindness.

What Happened to Schultz?
Lovingly stolen from Futurama.

For a time in high school and college, I was a big fan of the Beat Generation writers. It was somewhat unusual even in those days, while Ginsburg, Burroughs and Ferlinghetti, among others, were still alive. Today, you might as well be enraptured by 13th century Italian poets.

In any case, my girlfriend at the time loved movies, and I loved the Beats. So it was that we found ourselves at the local art house cinema watching a documentary called "What Happened to Kerouac?" I liked it so much that she very kindly went back later to buy the poster for my Christmas present. I had it framed and carried around from house to house for at least the next ten years.

It's not fair to say that I wound up like Kerouac, beset as he was by alcoholism and crawling ever further into right-wing extremism. But anyone who knows me knows that my output as a writer has slowed almost to a complete stop in the past few years. It's fair to ask "What happened to Schultz?"

The answers to that question will have to remain a bit vague, I'm afraid. That's partly for the sake of length, and partly because they involve stories that are not mine to tell. And, as my ever-practical wife says, I have a lovely navel, but that doesn't mean it should be gazed upon constantly.

So, the short version. It has been a challenging time. There has been some illness, some death, some mental health challenges, some job changes. I'll expand on the last two for the longer version.

Mental Health

I've known for a long time that I lived with bipolar II disorder. That means I've experienced mood swings, but never the dramatic manias of someone with bipolar I. Instead, there have been hypomanic episodes and periods of terrible depression. With medication and therapy, I have that under as much control as one can.

What I didn't know until quite recently was that I also live with ADHD. This makes a good deal of sense, since the two disorders take place in the same part of the brain. It's not scientific, but you could lump all the symptoms I've experienced under the broad category of "executive dysfunction." To put it another way, my forebrain is like a banged-up Nissan. The name of the pattern is less important than that there are, in fact, a lot of dents in that hood.

If we must have two issues, however, I'll pick ADHD as the one that has caused more trouble in my professional life. I liked being a pastor in part because the work is often rhythmic and seasonal. For the most part, you can concentrate on one thing at a time, and the repeated patterns make it easy to find a groove.

The secular world has been much more challenging, with multiple, often abstract, imperatives to track. In fact, it was a growing awareness of memory and attention deficits that drove me to see the psychiatrist. I hadn't even finished my explanation when she pulled a self-reporting scale out of her drawer. I met the criteria on 12 of the 15 indicators for ADHD, inattentive type.

Picard facepalming

I'll say more about this in future newsletters, but for right now, I want to tell you two things. One is that diagnosis is a two-edged sword. One side is the wincing recognition of how well the patterns fit and of how long they have been present. The other is that diagnosis does provide a structure for responding to the issues. Now that I know what's going on, I know where to look for coping strategies and compensations. Better, I know who to ask for help.

One of the very familiar struggles for people living with ADHD is the anxiety it creates. You know you're smarter than your mistakes, yet you keep making them. And of course, there is only so much bosses can or will or should put up with. The result is constant fear and conflict and trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with yourself. I have been so anxious about some positions that my pulse quickens and my hands start to sweat just thinking about them.

That anxiety, of course, hurts functioning. My amygdala must be the size of a grapefruit, and it squeezes out working memory, math, and that I have half a grapefruit waiting to be eaten in the fridge.

As you might imagine, a life like this is exhausting. I've entered not one but two new fields in recent years and struggled to keep up with them with one brain tied behind my back. That hasn't left a lot for writing. Honestly, I haven't even had the energy for much reading.


Not having much mental space is one thing. What's been even sadder is to realize how these struggles have driven me into survival mode. Living with mental health challenges is sometimes like having persistent vertigo in your sense of reality. You're so busy trying to keep the horizon in one place that you have no time for anything — or anyone — else.

I've had my head up my ass for the past few years, is what I'm saying.

That seems to be coming to an end, thanks be to God. Now out of a bad situation, I feel sharper, clearer and more energetic than I have in a long time. What's better is feeling my heart start to open as well. I have missed living for kindness.

It takes work to sustain that sort of attitude. I have plans. You will hear more about them later, I hope.

For right now, this is what I want you to know. Though he was often not the best at living up to his own ideals, late in life Kerouac became dedicated to Christian and Buddhist forms of compassion. Anyone who's read him knows that On The Road wasn't his best book. It could never match the open spirit and generosity of something like The Dharma Bums. Even so, for Kerouac, compassion was in the end just another piece of nostalgia for a perfect world he could never obtain, a world he hoped to reach by drinking himself to death.

As for me, I've written a lot of savage polemic across the years. And yet, kindness is the wellspring. It's not an accident that as I return to myself, the urge to write is also returning. The words are not my own, they belong to God. I get to use them in service of the mission, that's all.


But it's been awhile. The muscles are stiff, even if the memory is there. You'll see my byline popping up at Religion Dispatches and other places, with any luck. In the meantime, I'm starting this newsletter to get myself back in the habit of writing regularly on politics, mental health, God, whatever crosses my mind. You should see my column once a week, more or less. They won't all be this long or this self-involved. I promise.

But you gotta start somewhere. I'm back baby, and this time I intend to stay. Hit the subscribe button.