From Shame to Super Power

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Light is the only cure for darkness. It’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and in a piece I wrote for The Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition, I shared the wide range of experiences I’ve had with my own mental health issues. Please take a look and share for the next guy… who might really need it.

I’ve started and erased this story at least a half-dozen times. It’s not that the words don’t flow, it’s just that I get anxious talking about my anxiety because I get anxious about nearly everything.

Far too much of my life has been wasted leaving terrible thoughts and emotions to fester inside my head unchecked. More than 30 years went by between the time I tried to take my own life as a kid in grammar school and my first session with a mental health counselor.

I was filled with shame, inadequacy, and a general feeling that I’d be letting people down if I did anything other than try to tamp down and ignore the brush fire that was burning uncontrolled in my mind.

I had little self-worth, but have always been filled with love and empathy for others. My first stepping out of the shadows came only to help someone else. That being an ear for a friend became more of a pal-to-pal therapy session, and showed me, finally, that help was within reach.

Since those chats started five or six years ago, the weight of depression holding me down has become lighter in a way I didn’t think possible. Understanding it a lot better through introspection and professional help has also made living with mental illness much more manageable.

Before, crippling anxiety would leave my mind and emotions spinning out of control, often to the point of physical exhaustion and pain. I’d feel it pulsing deep inside my head and at the tips of my toes. I’d feel burning in my lungs and other organs I couldn’t necessarily identify.

Spending time talking about and understanding what is at the root of my anxiety—both the utter soul-crushing kind and the smaller not-wanting-to-answer-a-phone-call kind—helps me contain it.

It’s more manageable, but it’s still a struggle. St. Francis de Sales tells the story of a man who receives the gift of some precious liquor in a porcelain bowl, and how carefully the man walks home cradling the bowl and careful with each step, making sure not to spill any.

That’s the same careful journey I’m taking day to day, or hour to hour, or minute to minute– but as time wears on, I’m spending less time focused on the full bowl and more time focused on enjoying the walk through life.

I will never “be healed,” but I have experienced tremendous healing through therapy and putting my story to work to help others.

What was once my shame is now my super power.


Originally appeared in the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition Newsletter, September 2019

It was the Jackie Jocko’s heart, as much as his music

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The truth is, Jackie Jocko didn’t know me from anyone. We’d met a bunch through the years, and I even drove him home from EB Greens a few times toward the end of his career, but with Jocko, it didn’t matter who you were anyway– if you were in his company, he was there to entertain you with his musical ability but also to touch and warm your soul as one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met.

He didn’t know me from the guys from Iowa at the next table, but when he sang, “My friend Steve is a good guy,” he meant it. He meant I was a friend, and he meant that he saw the good in me… Because he was literally everyone’s friend and he saw the good in everyone.

If it was just the size of his talent behind a piano keyboard, it would have been an honor to have spent some time with him through the years… But he was a genuine and thoroughly good man to a degree where it seemed like he turned over his entire existence to the well-being of the people around him.

What else can you do but hold up a paddle that says SMILE, and sing… “My… friend… Jock… ko… is… a… good… guuuuy….. ”

May perpetual light shine upon him.

Another mass shooting, deeper lines in the sand, louder name calling. (Oh, and thoughts and prayers)

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The root of the evil in America is the loss of civility, common sense, and the ability to compromise.

I can’t think of a single thing in my life that is black or white. Everything is gray— which is a combination of black and white, which means compromise.

As Americans, we have to stop treating the issues that effect our very existence as if we’re rooting for our favorite sports team, and that rooting for our team means the same thing as rooting against the other team. In real life, when one side loses we all lose.

The only way this will get fixed is with everyone in the room agreeing to ideologically impure but **common freaking sense** ideas, and accept that it’ll cost votes on the fringes… but in the end is the truly American thing and the only way we all find a safer way forward.

We need politicians with a long view that can think about their grandkids and how they’ll be treated in history books rather than the next polling result or viral tweet.

I wish I was more optimistic about whether those folks will step up… and whether they’d even make it a step before We The People stomped them out of existence.

Milestone: no more colorful glass in the window across from Ken West

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Bottles had been displayed for decades in the window of this Delaware Rd. home.

For as long as I can remember, stopping at the light next to Kenmore West High School has made me smile.

When you were stopped on Highland, you were looking straight into a picture window which, forever, had a lovely glass collection displayed in it.

Driving by the other day, I was a little sad to see the house was up for sale and the colored glass bottles were gone.

Watching men land on the moon at Jenss Twin-Ton, 1969

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

When I was a general assignment reporter, I always loved the angle that when something big happens, anything that anyone is doing becomes a story. “How did you ride out the storm?” “How did you celebrate the big win?” “Where were you when the tornado hit?”

No matter what your answer is…it’s part of the larger story and worth celebrating. As a researcher and historian who combs through other writers’ and journalists’ archived works to re-tell their stories in the light of present day life, I love finding those little bits of everyday life set against the backdrop of big stories.

That’s why these ladies watching TV at a City of Tonawanda department store is my favorite image from the lunar landing. A million people are telling Neil Armstrong’s story– But we here care just as much about what was going on in the Twin-Ton Department store as he was making that giant leap.

The crew at Jenss Twin-Ton in the City of Tonawanda gathered around the TV set to watch live broadcasts from the moon fifty years ago this month.

Watching TV rarely gets you on the front page of the paper, but it seems appropriate that it did for the staff at Jenss Twin-Ton Department store 50 years ago next week.

That man would step foot on the moon is an unimaginable, superlative, epoch-defining feat in human history. But that more than half a billion would watch it happen live on their television sets made it a definitive moment in a broadcast television industry that was barely 20 years old at the time.

Gathered around the TV “to catch a few glimpses of the Apollo 11 events” were Mrs. James Tait, Margaret Robinson, Marian Feldt, Jack Dautch, Grace Hughes, Dorothy Wiegand, Rose Sugden and Rose Ann Fiala.

By the time of the 1969 moon landing, Jenss Twin-Ton’s future was already in doubt as city fathers in the Tonawandas were looking to expand already present Urban Renewal efforts to include the store at Main and Niagara.

Founded in 1877 as Zuckmaier Bros., the department store was sold in 1946 and became Twin-Ton in 1946. Jenss Twin-Ton closed in 1976 when the building was bulldozed as urban renewal caught up. Plans for the department store to rebuild on the site never materialized and the Tonawandas’ only downtown department store was gone for good.

The Twin-Ton Department store is seen on the left of this 1950s postcard. That side of the block was demolished in 1976.

When children are murdered, the answer is already in your heart

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I don’t even want to talk about today. I took this photo of a smiling, happy, really good kid a few months ago.

Today, I saw him, murdered, lifeless, forever 17 years old, wearing this same jersey laying in a casket. I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m heartbroken. For the senselessness of it all. For the life lost. For the pain. For his family. For all our Timon boys, with broken hearts and broken innocence.

Like anyone who has ever set eyes upon a teenager they’ve known murdered in a casket, I feel helpless, I feel the ground shifting. What am I supposed to do? What the hell can any of us do?

There’s one simple way make all of this bullshit stop, all of it– from immediate death from violence with guns on the street to slow death from violence with words on social media– stop looking for reasons to hate and look for reasons to love.

Be loving. Be kind. Be courteous. Be understanding. Find a way to build a bridge, not burn it. Bring a smile to someone’s face. Put a smile on your own face.

It’s gotta start somewhere, man… let it start here.

But really, I still don’t know what the hell to do.

There’s no sweeping big thing, no grand gesture, even though every bone in my body wants to find one. Still again, the thing I can do and WE can all do is make the world around us more loving and peaceful and happy.

Today at 7-Eleven, two little dudes were trying to figure out what they could buy with a couple of dollar bills and some change. It was a losing battle. I bought the two little dudes ice cream, watched them smile, and tried not to weep thinking about Paul and his smile.

Saturday’s gunfire robbed the world of a lot of smiles, a lot of friendliness, a lot of good. I’m so helpless in so many ways… but I know one thing I can do, is to try to bring those numbers of smiles back up, even if it’s only one or two ice creams at a time.

Looking at Joe McCarthy in the age of Trump

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In 2019, the Joseph McCarthy era is universally remembered as a shameful time in American history when the Wisconsin Senator wielded “his sensational but unproven charges of communist (and homosexual) subversion in high government circles,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

As it was happening, it wasn’t as clear cut. When our own Buffalo Courier-Express wrote about him at the height of “McCarthyism” in 1953, they invited everyone to read the paper’s story on McCarthy’s private life, “whether you curse Joe McCarthy as a demagogue and character assassin or cheer him as a patriotic crusader against Communism.”

A year later, in 1954, the Senate voted to condemn him on the charges that he disobeyed Senate rules and leveled unfounded charges against members of a Senate panel investigating his behavior.

Even longtime friend and Senate ally William Jenner, who stood with McCarthy as he ruined lives, eventually soured on his colleague and called him “the kid who came to the party and peed in the lemonade.”

Pissing in lemonade isn’t funny or clever.. and watching someone piss in lemonade is just as bad (maybe worse?) as doing it yourself.

#StopPeeingInTheLemonade

The July 4th Birthdays of Grandpa Coyle and Grandma Cichon

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandpa Coyle was born 90 years ago today. This is him on the diving board on his 57th or so birthday.

He was born on the 4th of July and created for himself the American dream: He was raised in utter poverty in a broken alcoholic home, but persevered to learn a trade, become a professional, and along with my grandmother, create a beautiful family that honors his story by our very existence.

Of course, if he was here with us, I’d have to sum that all up with, “Happy Birthday, Gramps… can I get you a beer?”

Can’t say for sure this is her birthday, but we spent quite a few of Grandma Cichon’s birthdays at the cottage she’d rent every year at Sunset Bay.
(L to R that’s me, my ol’man, cousin Tracy, Aunt Sue, and Grandma.)

Grandma Cichon was born on July 4, 1928– which was a shock to my dad to hear after she died… he always thought she was born in 1926.

She was only 16 when my uncle Mike was born, and apparently what you did then was make yourself older to make it less scandalous (or to get a better job to help feed your kids).

I think a lot about what had to have been a beaten up heart behind a tough as nails exterior. I think about the personal sacrifices she swallowed for her 11 children, including putting the second of those kids up for adoption and keeping that pain and sacrifice alone inside her heart.

I used to think it was funny or weird that she would refuse to say goodbye– it was always happy, and it was always , “Toodleoo!” and, of course, she was right. She knew the people you loved never leave you, so there’s no reason to ever say goodbye.

Lessons from Grandma Cichon in life and in death

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Grandma Cichon died 23 years ago today.

Cancer had been cruel in the horrifically painful way the vitality and dignity of this strong, larger-than-life woman was slowly drained from her… as if it melted drip by drip undetected into the couch she’d spent her last few months barley living on.

I can feel every tear and recite each prayer I offered the last time I visited with her. It ruined my guts, but I prayed for God to end her suffering.

I was blinded by tears and a twist in my stomach as I went over the bridge next to the old Seneca Mall, driving back home.

She died a couple of days later, and the pain was even worse that my prayers had come to pass. I was 18. I didn’t know what to do with myself, especially with everyone else despondent… with Grandpa refusing to let go of her hand.

The only thing that made sense to me in the moment was leaving to go to work. It didn’t necessarily feel right, but nothing really did. So in I went.

There aren’t many things I’d do differently in life, but that’s one. In that moment, I don’t think I knew that I family that I could lean on.

In that moment, I don’t think I knew I had family that leaned on me.

I felt unimportant and isolated and left to figure it all out of myself, which I did– for a very long time– by just ignoring whatever it was, and soldiering on.

It was a great life lesson, one of many grandma taught me. I can hear her laugh and her telling us, “tootle-oo,” but never goodbye… it can’t have been that long.

More and more, I hear her laugh in mine, and feel the same unbridled joy she did when expressing it.

And this just writing this proves that I’ve caught on to what Grandma knew with her salutations- there are no goodbyes when you live in someone’s heart.

Like each of my grandparents, she’s so much of who I am. It isn’t possible to be any more grateful. Each of them so full of love, and each so different and different in the way their love was shown.

The only right thing to do is to continue to turn out and offer up that same love to the world in their honor… especially today, for this beautiful, tough, artsy, survivor mother of 11.

Dad made candy taste better with “And don’t tell your mother.”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My ol’man loved giving a kid a candy bar or a buck or an ice cream. Sure, us kids, but really any kid– especially if they weren’t expecting it.

“Don’t tell your mother,” he’d say, sneaking it to you on the backhand no matter who your mother was, and even if there was no need to sneak it– just because it seemed to be more fun that way.

The exuberant joys of his own childhood are what carried him through a more cloudy adulthood. The memories would come alive in those wide-eyed gaping smiles that were smeared with drippy vanilla or glossy with dreams of what “a green dollar!” could bring on the next visit to B-kwik or Wilson Farms.

Some of the same clouds that hung over my ol’man’s days now hang over mine, too… but in two different ways I’m double blessed for his example.

I have those chest swelling memories of my own rogue ice creams, packs of Luden’s Cherry cough drops, cans of diet Squirt, packs of M&Ms from the tiny stands inside big downtown buildings, and Birch Beers sitting at anyone of a dozen different bars.

All those memories are great, but even better, dad showed me the best way to recapture that joy is to light it in another life, and that might be the best gift of all.

So com’ere buddy… take this 20 and don’t tell your mom. Just use it for something good.


My ol’man drank whiskey & Ginger Ale from peanut butter jars and ate cereal in old margarine tubs. Remembering him this Father’s Day with a to-go coffee in an old strawberry jam jar from JAM Parkside.

By the way, my dad referred to himself as “your ol’man” to us kids. If I called him “Father,”  as one reader intimated I should, he probably would have slugged me.