Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Display of Emotion

We had graduation last night, and once again, I found myself wandering amongst crying and smiling students alike.  We had a mix of emotions - happiness, satisfaction, sadness, regret, fear, excitement - we ran the entire gamut.  We had students in the graduation band crying from letter T on.  We had some, graduates and grad band members both, who wandered around after the ceremony looking like they were completely in shock.  Others looked like they were at a wake or a funeral, some looked like they weren’t sure how to handle themselves (freshman), and others were just happy to comfort the others who were overcome with emotion.  It was all very touching.
After the kids began to disperse from their hug and cry fest, one of the administrators asked if everything was ok.  He didn’t understand the display of emotion and assumed something bad had happened.  We had to explain that this is how it was.  Band isn’t just playing an instrument and marching around on a football field.  It is so much more than that.  I am glad he witnessed the power music has to bring people together.
How can it not be family.
Last night’s mix of celebration and mourning reminded me that band is more than just a class.  It is more than a curriculum or a collection of TEKS.  Music brings people together on a level unmatched through sports, academics, or any other activity on campus.  These students have created a powerful bond over their four years together remarkably similar to family.
Maybe that is why so many of the students had such a visceral reaction to last night’s graduation.  For many of them, they were experiencing the feelings our parents feel when they drop us off at college the first time.  They are unsure how to say goodbye, or unsure if what they are saying is goodbye or just “until next time.”  While hugging and crying, they only know that this could be the last time they are in the same room as each other.  An age has past, a phase in their life has ended.
It is more than just hard work.
For the graduates, they stand on the edge of a precipice, unsure of what comes next.  I remember my high school graduation thirteen years ago.  I felt eager to be done, excited I was complete, but scared out of my mind about what came next.  The unknown is always more scary than familiar fears.  Our seniors were feeling that fear last night.  Those of us saying bye were their anchors, keeping them grounded and safe.  As soon as they crossed that stage and accepted their diploma, they were cut loose, and they feel adrift.  We all know they will find their way soon, but for a little while, they have to just know that safe waters are ahead.
One of the juniors asked me why I was smiling as I wandered amongst my kids, handing out hugs of my own.  She thought I was making fun of those who were crying.  I told her I was just happy for everyone.  It is rare to see as blatant an expression of love and caring as I was a part of, and I was happy to be there.  While I was sad that my seniors, who I love as much as I would my own children, are moving on, I couldn’t help but feel the love in the room, and it brought a smile to my face.
I am proud of every one of my seniors this year.  Each has traveled a different path to get to where they are, the lessons they have learned along the way are varied but equally powerful.  This special group of people has worked hard for their accolades.  Sometimes they worked for for us, sometimes against us, but in the end they learned something, regardless of the results.  They have been my teachers as well, enriching my life with more lessons than I could ever learn sitting in a classroom.  While many of them will never realize it, the course of my life has changed simply by sitting in the same room as them.  Some will go on to change the world, some will go on to be a part of it, and some will go on to learn that life can be hard.  I hope they all move forward with a smile, eager to find the good in the world.  No matter what, I will always be proud of them as the follow the path to finding themselves.  Being a fresh graduate is always exciting, I know they will make the best of it.

Frank Chambers
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Baggage Fees

I am taking a break from writing the blog tonight, so I thought I would post one of my favorites from the last year.

As the airlines struggle to keep their bottom line on target with their stock holders’ desires, they have to find new and inventive ways to earn money.  The most popular and lucrative method has been the baggage fee.  Essentially you are charged for how much you would like to bring on your travels.  The cost per bag increases as you add bags and as your bags increase in weight.  From a fiscal point of view, this makes sense - someone who travels with just a light carry-on uses less fuel than the person traveling with three bags that weigh 70 pounds each; those three bags constitute the weight of another large adult.  Every added pound burns a little more fuel which adds to the cost to fly the plane.

As we go about our individual travels through life we carry our own bags.  Each of our bags are different and contain unique contents.  Some of our bags we haven’t opened for years and only vaguely remember what is in them.  There are many times we choose to put a bag down for good and other times when we choose to pick up a new bag without unburdening ourselves of others first.  Just like when you fly, there is an added cost for every bag you choose to carry as you move through life.

Everyday as I teach, I learn more and more about the students in my classes.  I see the days when they are up and days when they are down.  I see their victories and their defeats, I witness them tear each other down and pick each other up.  I watch them pick up bags and put bags down.  They teach me about myself in their struggle for identity.  I see infinite reflections of my own childhood in their actions.  I see the possibilities my childhood could have held had I or my family made different choices.  I experience joy and sorrow along with them.  After many of my interactions with my students I choose to reexamine my own bags.  I decide what I can put down and then I move forwards; there are many times when I want to leave a bag behind, but for whatever reason, I am not ready.

Our baggage exacts its costs in different ways.  The way we deal with other people is strongly determined by our own baggage.  Perhaps at some point in our life we picked up a bag that had to do with an personal encounter with another individual.  Now every time we deal with that individual, or someone similar, that bag weighs heavier and pulls us down - we are unable to continue moving forward unburdened, and so our pace slows, sometimes stopping progress completely.

Our baggage also exacts personal cost.  The more bags we carry and the more they weigh creates stress.  Our bodies are naturally designed to process a certain amount of stress, but at a certain point (everyone is different here) our bodies are unable to move forward because of the stress.  The amount of sleep we get drops and the quality of sleep diminishes, leaving both our body and our mind unhealthy.  Our focus levels decrease, our appetite craves unhealthy food, our psyche seeks out negativity instead of positivity.  We become stagnant.

Our baggage also has the effect of limiting our vision.  No longer will we see the big picture, choosing instead to focus on the little things, not seeing others but only seeing ourselves.  We develop tunnel vision and our drive aims to service ourself instead of providing service to others.  Our spiritual focus becomes corrupt, raising our bags as idols.  We worship past experiences instead of moving forwards into the next experiences the universe has prepared.  In essence we put ourselves into a bag and close it, forbidding anything beyond its exterior to positively act upon us.  This is a very dangerous place.

Too often we are convinced that letting go of our bags is the unsafe decision.  Some of our bags we have carried around since we were very young, and they have become comfortable - letting go of them, no matter how healthy it might be, seems akin to abandoning an old friend with whom you share a rich history.  Know that anything weighing you down, anything prohibiting you from moving forwards at a healthier pace, is unnecessary.  Putting down some of your bags may be the hardest thing you ever do, but upon that authentic release, you will feel lighter, freer, and happier.  You will move forward.

The airline industry has forced us to be more efficient with our travel, to be more attentive to our cargo, and to generally focus on what we bring with us.  We are cognizant of our baggage and recognize the costs associated with traveling heavy and the benefit of traveling light.  I implore you to do the same on your universal journey.  Take time to look over your bags, say goodbye to them, and let them go.  I pray that any traveller following behind you encounters a path strewn with abandoned baggage and observes footprints moving at a lighter, less burdened pace.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Free From Judgement

As we are all still hanging around, and you are sitting there, reading my blog, we can only assume that the end of the world predicted for 6pm on May 21 did not occur.  Either that, or all of us are left behind and will be in for a hell of a bad time between now and October.  I guess we will have to wait and see.  As of now, I am assuming the Rapture did not occur, and we are all still stuck here on this planet, for better or for worse.
Our band banquet was last night, scheduled to begin one hour after the predetermined 6pm.  Despite the warnings, all the preparations went ahead: people bought tickets, asked dates, purchased dresses, did hair, and took time to look nice.  Our students trickled in, dressed to impress, ready to have a good time.
One student in particular had an amazingly good time on the dance floor.  Amongst the throng of uncomfortable boys unsure of their dancing skills, and the girls concerned with how they might appear to others, this particular girl said to hell with everyone else, I am having a good time.  She danced by herself.  She danced with boys.  She danced with girls.  She danced on the dance floor and off.  She danced while walking back and forth.  She shook what the good lord gave her (in an appropriate manner, of course).  She did all this while having no concern for the rest of our opinions.
Not our students.
It was impossible not to notice her enthusiasm.  While most of the kids danced at some point, and many of the kids danced the whole time, they were particularly reserved, taking no risks with their dance moves (risk defined as looking silly).  If they did dance silly, they made sure everyone in the area knew that silly was their intent, desperately determined to preserve their teenage self worth.  Not this student.  She took risks, pulling off dance moves others wouldn’t dare try.  I won’t say she looked good the entire time - some risks don’t pay off - but she did not care.
Not a political statement.  He is laughing.  
As we noticed, adults and students alike, there were quite a few giggles, laughs, and guffaws.  I will not pretend that I did not laugh - it was surprising to see someone so into what they were doing and not interested in what anyone else thought.  Some students imitated her, not out of an attempt to flatter, but to get a laugh from friends.  She kept on going, unreserved and unabashed.  
At the end of the evening, as the kids were gathering up their belongings and heading to the front, she stopped me as I passed by, apologizing for being so crazy on the dance floor.  I told her we were just glad she was having so much fun.  She smiled and left.  I felt bad for laughing.
It is a rare person who can stand up in front of a group and let it all hang out.  So many of us are concerned with self image, we refuse to let ourself out.  When we have an opportunity to do so, and have fun in the process, we hedge our bets, preferring safe conservatism instead of risk.  She was not that kind of person, refusing to conform to the opinions of others, throwing it in our faces with her enthusiasm and good time.  The fact that she had noticed our laughter and continued to dance, despite our judgement, is impressive.  She was free from judgement, despite its presence in the room.
As the world did not end yesterday, perhaps we have an opportunity.  While I know many people mocked the entire episode, myself included, what if the world had ended.  Regardless of your belief system, would you have been satisfied with your life and how you lived it?  If the instant after the world ended you and I were able to sit and converse about our existence, how much would we be able to talk about the things we were proud of?  Would we talk about the things we should have done differently?  Would we celebrate all the things we did right?  How would we judge ourselves?
While we are free from eternal divine judgement for the moment, I think it would be wise to consider how we would judge ourselves given the opportunity.  We should take a look at our actions and our thoughts, purge those which don’t belong and reward those which do.  Regardless of the eternal aspect, do this and you might guarantee at least a better existence during the time left here on the Earth.
Last night, my student was free from the judgement of others, as so few of us allow ourselves to be.  She was not concerned with what others thought, preferring to have a good time finding comfort in her own skin, satisfied with who she is.  The rest of us could certainly take a lesson.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fake it 'til it's real

I had a student last week tell me that when I wasn’t smiling, I looked mad.  I was floored.  The surprise her comment generated caused me to reflect on the person I show people, which apparently wasn’t what I thought.  Instead of an easy going, congenial look, I wear a serious, you better not mess with me face.  This is not what I want.
Since then, I have worked to be aware of a smile on my face.  Even if I am not full out beaming, I still make sure the corners of my mouth are angling upwards, hinting at the amusement I feel within.  I am like a walking Mona Lisa.  This way, someone who sees me understands that I am not an unapproachable person, that I am nice and gentle and pleasant.  This is the face I want people to see.
I often notice and make assumptions about what people are like simply based on the posture of their mouth.  I see people whose mouths seem to have a natural curve downward and I can’t help but think they frown often.  I think my logic makes sense - if a person frowns more than they smile, the frown muscles are stronger, keeping their face framed by a perpetual frown.
The same works for a smile.  If a person always smiles, their face will always carry that same look when at rest.  Those muscles will always turn the very tips of their smile upwards.
Based on what your face shows me, I feel that I can accurately guess at how you react to and approach life.  I should be able to guess if you are a pessimist or an optimist.  Try it - go look in the mirror and see if you are a smiler or a frowner.  Show yourself the person others see.
One of the lessons Mary Kay teaches (I am a student of MK as much as my wife) is the concept of “faking it until it is real.”  If you aren’t feeling happy and excited, fake it.  If you aren’t feeling congenial and personable, fake it.  If you don’t feel like smiling, fake it.  The results are based in behavioral and physiological science.  As you fake your attitude, your brain will start to gear the rest of your body towards the attitude you are acting.  When you smile, even if it is faked, your body releases serotonin into your blood stream, creating the sense of happiness, peace, and euphoria you were missing before.  The end result being that the behavior your were faking becomes your reality.
If you find that you are a frowner, as I seem to have been lately, you can turn that frown upside down.  You don’t necessarily have to be in the best of places mentally to make this happen - you simply have to invest some effort into re-imagining your circumstances.  Start out by faking the smile, this will help your body.  Fake a good mood, your brain will pick up on it.  Fake being polite, do this enough and it will become natural.  Fake everything.  Eventually, the old adage loved by mothers everywhere will take place - the face you are making will stick.  People will see you and witness your smile.
This has been my battle the last week or so.  In the car on my way to work I run a happiness and peace mantra, thanking the universe for my peace and happiness (no matter the circumstances).  I practice my smile, not in the mirror, I am driving after all, but on my face.  I make sure I feel like I am smiling on the outside and on the inside.  I prepare myself to show the world the person I want them to see - a happy, peacefully, smiling Frank.  It is hard work, and I constantly have to readjust my face (I just reminded myself to smile), but I think it is worth it.  After all, first impressions are the hardest to change, and for many of us that first impression starts with your face.  Do you want to be a smiler or a frowner.  It is up to you. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Getting Ahead

Money has been a little tight for us lately as we are working towards more long-term goals.  Needless to say, when May began and I picked up some judging jobs and a gig, I felt the belt loosen a little bit.  I considered what to do with the money - pay some bills, put it into saving, pay a little extra down on debt, or spend it on something frivolous (I probably would have chosen this option quickly five years ago).  The option I didn’t consider was fixing the air conditioning in the house, because that was a surprise.
This past week the house seemed to not feel cool as we slept.  As most of my daylight hours have been spent elsewhere, the only time I seemed to be home was when the a/c should have been dipping down to our night time sleep temp.  As we hadn’t had any recent problems (and the unit is only 3 1/2 years old), I wasn’t checking the temperature at night, attributing my bad sleep to other reasons.  Finally, I woke up one night and looked at the thermostat and discovered the house never cooled to its correct temperature.
We called the a/c people to come check it out, hoping it might be something silly, and they gave us a window of 1-5 on Wednesday afternoon.  Samantha rearranged her appointments to make it work and I promised to hurry home from my judging gig that ended at 5.  We waited for the call confirming they were on their way.  And we waited.  And we waited.  5 o’clock passed and we waited.  6 o’clock passed and we waited.  Then around 6:15, they called.
I blew up at the lady on the phone, complaining about the disrespect for people’s schedules, blah blah blah.  I think I might have hung up on her, but I am not sure - there wasn’t a closing to our conversation, just silence, then I hung up.
Immediately, I felt terrible about it.  Her job was only to call and inform people of the impending arrival of the repair technician and to field calls from customers.  It was not her fault that the appointment was over an hour late.  I tried to call back to apologize, but I only got the automated system.  Upset at myself, I waited for the technician to arrive.
A little while later, the phone rang again.  It was Kara from the a/c repair.  She told me she had spoken with the technician supervisor and since the appointment was late, they would waive the service fee associated with the call.  I thanked her and then took the opportunity to apologize.  I shouldn’t have been rude, I shouldn’t have been so abrupt and impolite as I knew it wasn’t her fault.  She thanked me, which meant a lot.
Anyway, the tech arrived and checked out the unit.  He tinkered around in the attic and took about thirty minutes to look over the system before giving me the prognosis - a leaking coil.  This meant that the refrigerant in the system was seeping out, preventing the unit from cooling.  While the part was under warranty, the labor to install it, and the cost to capture and refill the refrigerant, was not.  The total bill - approximately $1200.
So much for getting ahead, right?
It has always seemed that when we pick up some extra money here or there, it has a way of slipping from out pocket.  Too often, I have chosen to become upset at the situation, seeing it as a lost opportunity.  My elation at catching a break is broken at the thought of being right back where I started.
Not this time, though.  This time I am choosing a different mind set.  I am choosing to see it as the universe providing in a time of need.  Before I knew I needed extra money, extra money appeared.  Of course, my short sighted mind preferred to consider immediate uses for the funds (after all, who could anticipate a $1200 a/c repair), but the universe had different ideas.

I have faith that this happens to people every day, whether they see it or not.  Too often I have found myself wrapped up in the negativity of a situation instead of allowing myself to see the positive.  The silver lining in the cloud is always brighter!  You just have to let yourself see it.  Get out of your own way and look at the bigger picture, see the positive and focus on it.
I could be sitting here stewing that I didn’t get to spend that money on what I wanted to spend it on.  But, I was cool while I slept last night, and I know I have it paid for.  Thanks universe.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Man in the Mirror

Sometimes I am amazed when I catch a glimpse of a man passing by a mirror.  He stands taller and heavier than I do, his eyes creased with the effects of the sun, his face shaded in with the speckled black of a five o’clock shadow.  This man has a slightly higher hair line, though our coloring is the same.  He dresses professionally, wearing collared shirts and dress pants, button downs, polos, and fancy looking shoes.  He wears a ring on the fourth finger of his left hand but no watch, preferring to keep his mildly tanned arm unencumbered from the fetters of time.
I see this man frequently.  Sometimes, he leaps from the reflective pane, startling me with his presence.  Other times only a glimpse of his figure strides past the corner of my eye, fleeing before my attention is fully drawn.  He is a specter, a figment of my imagination, a golem formed from the soil of my past.
He is me.
I am sure many of you have gone through the same experience when catching sight of yourself unexpectedly.  We have come to be familiar with the who we see in the mirror, though many times we surprise ourselves with what is there.  For me, I am surprised to see a man.  I don’t say this with any sense of hubris, as in MAN, rather, I mean I see an adult.
Captured in my mind is the youth I used to be.  I am still the same young boy who used to treasure his He-Man action figures, who used to ride his bike to school, who was scared to talk to girls at dances, who played baseball, soccer, basketball, ran track, and swam competitively, who lived in a dorm, who cherished the freedom of his first apartment, who asked the love of his life to marry him, who interviewed for his first job, and who sits here typing this blog.  I am all of these at the same time and it feels like yesterday that I did all of it.  Seeing the man in the mirror reminds me that it was not.
The person we are inside, the voice in your mind, the revealer of our thoughts and memories, is timeless.  This person never seems to age, remaining immutable throughout our entire life.  This is why I find myself surprised at my own reflection.  I don’t feel like I should be standing there in my dress pants and button down shirt.  I feel like I should be wearing jams and a hyper-color shirt.  I look at my face and wonder why I need to shave - I didn’t use to.  I wonder at how the inside of me feels young and energetic, but the outside looks aged and experienced.  
It makes me wonder where that skinny kid has run off to, where is he hiding.  Is he still around, or is he gone?  How did he sneak away right under my nose?  How did he turn into the man that follows me in mirrors?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

 It is Mother's Day.  All over the United States, men and women, boys and girls, sons, daughters, dads, and grandpas are celebrating one of the hardest, yet most rewarding, jobs possible - motherhood.  Without these special ladies, none of us would be who we are today.  We owe our lives to you, and thank you from the bottom of our collective hearts.
What is a Mother?  She is more than just the woman who takes care of you, giving the whole of her being to ensure your development and survival.  She is the person who gave you the gift of who you are.  She taught you how to love, she taught you how to forgive, she taught you how to work hard and to finish the job.  She taught you when to say “I’m sorry,” when to say please and thank you, how to know when you are in the wrong and how to admit it.
Moms also teach us how to act.  They teach right from wrong and how to know the difference.  They teach how to act in public places, how to behave, and the consequences for not doing so.  One of my favorite stories about my Mom took place when I was much younger.  We were in the grocery store and I was throwing a tantrum.  I was trapped in the shopping basket seat and couldn’t throw myself on the ground to kick and flail, but I was making a go of it with my lungs.  My Mom, instead of threatening me, or yelling and screaming along with me, simply leaned down and whispered in my ear: “Everyone is looking at you.”  Instantly, I was better.  I sat up straight and put on my best smile, beaming for my audience.  My tantrum was done.
Moms have to be innovative.  While there are classes that are supposed to teach the ins and outs of motherhood, it is all theory; putting the lessons into practice is something entirely different.  Every child is different, we all come out with varied predispositions, prepared to approach the world in myriad ways.  Our environments are different, the people in them affect us all in different ways.  Moms have to negotiate these treacherous waters without a map, always doing their best to steer us to safety.  
Many times Moms are both the calm in the storm and the storm itself.  They have the power to break us down when we need it and to put us back together - better and stronger - afterwards.  They have the power to teach us lessons or let us learn them on our own.  They are there to comfort us when our hearts are broken for the first time - inevitably assuring us of the plethora of fish found in the sea.  They hold our hand when we feel unsafe, then teach us how to overcome our fears.
Amazingly, the relationship goes the other way as well.  Mothers learn from us.  They learn more about themselves as we each get older.  A new mother sees the world in a new light while holding her newborn, her priorities frequently shifting as she bares witness to the product of nine months of hard work.  As we grow older, we educate our Moms on who they are, on the meaning of life, on the reasons for living.  We teach them many of the same things they teach us.  We are able to offer them the same support and dedication they offered us for so much of our lives in return for their tremendous efforts.
Cherish your Mom, not just today, but everyday you can.  She is a rare commodity, one whose value is timeless.  If there are wounds in your relationship, heal them, if there is a void between the two of you, bridge it.  She is worth the effort.  You are worth the effort.  
Love You Forever
I think the link between mother and child is summed up perfectly in the children’s book “Love you Forever,” by Robert Munsch.  I encourage you to explore this short book and to share it with your Mom or with your kids.  For me, it explains everything about the relationship my Mom and I share.  It never fails to bring tears to my eyes, even when just thinking about its message.
Thank you Mom for everything you have given me over the years.  I honestly would not be the person I am today without you.  I love you very much and can never repay you for everything you have done for me.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Hide and Seek

For many of the teachers in the state, this time of year is the most stressful.  TAKS is upon us and there is where to run.  The approach of the standardized test is usually hailed with TAKS pullouts, meetings and training, an avalanche of emails, and much groaning.   We learn the appropriate way to administer the test, how to handle the kids in the testing room, how to address any situations that may arise, and to help build the testing into a successful campus event.  It is exhausting, tiring, and extremely stressful.
For me, this time of the year is always a downer.  I admit I am not the biggest fan of standardized testing, so I generally fail to see the point of the efforts we go through, but I make sure to remain professional.  As a good team player, I make sure to do what I am supposed to with as little complaint as possible.  Because the message we hear is that “it’s for the kids!,” I push through, interested in giving my students the best possible chance at success, despite how I feel about the reality of that success.
This week, Samantha and I were talking about my general displeasure at the everything happening this time of year.  She pointed out that over the last five years, at this point in the year, I consistently appear unhappy.  This was a bit of a surprise to me, as I try hard to keep positive in everything I do.  I guess it is only natural to expect my spouse, the person who knows me the best, to see through my facade even better than I do.
In our discussion, Samantha pointed out when I become unhappy I tend to hide in my books.  For years now, the amount I read picks up in the Spring.  I had associated this with more free time, but after reflecting on her thoughts, I realized she was right.  My reading has overrun my free time to the extent I have ignored certain other obligations and responsibilities.  In the last month I have read five books, none of them short.  While I am a fast reader, I couldn’t have gone through that many pages without neglecting other parts of my life.
So, after realizing this, I decided to observe myself and see what else I did when I was in this unhappy state of mind.  First off, I realized that I am a person who eats their feelings.  My portion sizes creep up, the quality of the food I eat diminishes, and the frequency I crave food increases.  I have a hard time driving past fast food without wanting to stop, regardless of my hunger level.  I also have been craving meat - which for a vegetarian is odd.  Typically, my Starbucks tab also rises. 
I have also noticed that I have to have music on in the car.  Usually, I enjoy driving with the windows down, with nothing but the sounds of the road to accompany me.  It gives me time to think and reflect, or offers time to be still and silent.  I have had a hard time with the void of ditraction lately, preferring the radio and its inane commercials to the thoughts in my head.
I have been more tired, preferring sleep to other things.  I have been loathe to exercise, preferring to sit around than be outdoors.  I have chosen to avoid doing things around the house that need to be completed.  I have darker moods, been more cranky and temperamental, and been less satisfied with the hard work of others.  I can’t imagine I have been pleasant to be around at all times.
All of this boils down to one thing - I hide from the real issues.  By reading and listening to music, I don’t have to think.  Through eating, I boost my serotonin levels, eager to find happiness somewhere.  Through my lack of productivity, I prevent myself from being in circumstances where my brian has the opportunity to be introspective.  By being in a bad mood, I increase the chances of bringing others down to my level, helping me to feel less badly about my own poor outlook on life.
I should be finding a solution to whatever it is that brings me down.  But that would make sense, wouldn’t it.
Now that I have gained perspective, I can start working on the problem.  It is not unlike a medical issue - I have looked over the symptoms, determined a prognosis, and can now prescribe elements to return me to my right mind.  I should be back to happy in no time.
Now that I know what I am like when I dip into unhappiness, I should be able to prevent myself from descending too far into similar situations in the future.  Too often, we are more likely to see the problems others have rather than the ones we face ourselves.  It is too easy to hide from the issues than tackle them.  If we can keep in mind a certain awareness of our own behaviors and attitudes instead of turning a blind eye, we will notice ourselves, hopefully preventing a downward spiral. 
I am certainly glad Samantha was brave enough to be honest with me.  Without her, I might have just continued on the same path, obliviously comfortable with the weight under which I would soon crush.