Tag: anxiety (page 1 of 2)

The Need To Break Through

break·​through | \ ˈbrāk-ˌthrü \
3a: a sudden advance especially in knowledge or technique

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary

We all have obstacles between where we are, and where we need to be.

Notice that I used need, as opposed to want. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m talking about our mental and emotional states. What we need in order to survive, rather than whatever desires or other motivations we might have. Physically, we need water, food, shelter, clothes, and the ability to address both medical emergencies and maintenance in order to survive. In the area of the mind, however, what is it that people need, as opposed to what they want?

This is a lot harder to quantify. More often than not, someone other than ourselves — ideally a professional — needs to help us identify what areas within ourselves we need to address, and work to process. As we are each individuals with our own experiences, perspectives, and traumas, so too are our needs vastly different. Some techniques may work for one group of people in spite of their differences; for others, the differences are too vast for that same technique to yield any progress.

That being said, there is something that is absolutely essential for an individual to meet whatever their needs are for moving past the obstacles between them and better mental health: the willingness to seek help.

While some may consider it clichéd, the 12-step program used by addicts to face and overcome their addictions has proven to be an effective template for the discussion of addressing and choosing methods for determining healthy courses of action for the addict. This parallel is drawn in the book Codependent No More as well as other areas of mental health guidance. While it is not an exact 1-to-1 parallel for every situation or for every individual, the first step is the admission that the obstacle exists.

The obstacle could be an addiction, or codependency, or a trauma, or a state of mind that tells us a condition in our lives cannot or will not ever change. The sort of mentality that has us repeating the words “always” or “never” when we talk about our situations, our lives, or our relationships. If we have repeated these things often enough, the words get burned into our neural pathways. Without thought or in the heat of an emotional moments, we can fall all too easily into those charred grooves, like an overplayed track on a warped vinyl record, whenever we place the needle on its surface in an attempt to respond to that moment.

First of all: this is not your fault.

More often than not, the impetus and factors that lead to these toxic lines of thinking were not placed there by conscious choices we made. The choices others made, circumstances we were placed in against our will, and the movements of the clockwork of life — those mechanisms that create tragedy and heartbreak and trauma and entropy — those are what push the needle of our mental focus into the same groove over and over again. It’s not your fault.

It is, however, your responsibility to keep moving that needle to healthier, better grooves.

This is as much a reminder to myself as to anyone reading this words, and I have discussed such matters as they pertain to myself in a previous post. As much as my experiences are not those of anyone else, I feel very strongly that the lessons I’ve learned in the past year are not just beneficial to myself. In my mind, while it is important for me to be kind to myself, it is a kind thing for others when I discuss what’s worked for me, what has lead to a healthier state of mind, and what gets me through moments where I feel the needle slipping back into old grooves, even for a moment.

As I stated above, we all have our own individual obstacles between where we are and where we need to be, in order to more consistently make those choices that are healthy for ourselves and for those around us in our lives. If we want to keep moving the needle, removing those obstacles will make it easier. So where do we begin? What’s the first obstacle we need to break through?

Our first and largest obstacle is ourselves.

We are, in a way, our own worst enemy when it comes to mental health. We can be in denial that our obstacles are our responsibility. We can say that since someone else is to blame, someone else needs to fix us. Or we may believe that we can never be fixed. Or our anger and frustration and fear at where we are, how stuck we feel, overwhelms any capability to see where our individual responsibilities lie and what it is we can actually control. We have to begin by admitting the fact that, when it comes to other people and the world around us, our amount of control is essentially zero.

When it comes to our own selves, however, our amount of control is a lot greater than it might seem. It bears repeating: you are always choosing. You may not have chosen what happened to you in the past, how others treated you, or the unforeseen consequences of a given situation. However, you can choose how you respond to those things. When you lash out in anger at a situation, you are choosing that. Lingering on grief or misery? That’s a choice you’re making. Pushing people away, or clinging to them so much they start to suffocate? Choices, you’re making them.

You can’t choose for others, either. Again, we have no control over others. Saying to another person “I will make you happy” is, fundamentally, no different than “I will make you like scrapple” or “I will make you jump off this building.” This is an unhealthy mentality, and the source of a great deal of abuse in relationships comes from one person trying everything they can to make the other person feel or act in a certain way. Be it desperation at the thought of being alone, an unhealthy desire for control, or some form of self-sabotage, choosing to act in a way intended to force a reaction out of another person is a cruel choice, disrespectful of the other person’s agency, and ultimately unhealthy for the person making that choice.

In all of these examples of ineffective choices, the common denominator is the person who is making these choices: ourselves. We see ourselves through certain filters, and project that image into the world. We are glorified or we are broken; we are victors or we are victims; we are saints or we are sinners. We dilute ourselves into a simple projection that is easy for ourselves and others to comprehend. We treat ourselves the way we expect to be treated. I know that I am, in some ways, generalizing the situation, and that each of us is different as I said. The point here is that the greater truth, the fact of the matter, is that we create the first and largest obstacle between our present self and our best self.

Just as we cannot control others, others cannot control us. Others cannot make us move past this obstacle. We can be given advice, we can have professional guidance, we can be prescribed medication, encouraged to change our diet, and taught how to practice mindfulness exercises — just to name a few methods of assistance available to you. The choice to listen to that advice, to seek that guidance, to take those meds and try those other methods — only we can make that choice.

And every choice we make moves us in a certain direction. It all depends on what direction you want to move in.

Here we come back to need versus want. We may want to be in a certain type of relationship, have a particular job, seek our own idea of success. How many of those wants can we achieve if we are making ineffective choices, doing ourselves a disservice, and allowing the consequences of our choices to take a toll on those around us? It begins with us, and those fundamental choices we need to make. Do we set ourselves up for success, or for failure?

I know why so many people choose to turn away from moving in the direction that means taking them through their own self-image and focusing on their responsibility for their own choices. It’s hard. It’s admitting we were wrong, that we had no control over the situations we tried to change outside of ourselves, and that no matter how far we feel we’ve come in our lives, we have a great deal further to go. Perhaps greatest of all is the fact that the process of healing, of getting anywhere closer to where we need to be to lead healthier and happier lives, is a slow and difficult one. It involves work, it involves pain, and it involves changing ourselves into what may be something we no longer recognize in comparison to who we were before.

People will say others “just need to get over it” when we face a difficult situation, or “get over yourself” when we come across as making things all about us. It’s a reductive turn of phrase. It plays into the idea that we’re not choosing to do something that’s easy, or at the very least convenient for the other person. The fact is, moving forward in our lives does not mean getting over things — we need to move through them.

We cannot avoid the facts of our lives, our pasts, or our obstacles. We can try to get around our obstacles or turn away from them, but those are ways in which we set ourselves up for failure. When we face them, and do the work to understand and get through the difficult moments they create, that is when we find health, and peace, and success. It isn’t easy, it isn’t pleasant, and it doesn’t happen quickly. Be it in real time, or within our internal mental landscape, where days can feel like centuries or millennia, breaking through happens one thought and one choice at a time. It’s an ongoing process, and as much as the tiniest bit of progress may make one feel worn out or discouraged, it is still progress, and is worth the effort. You are worth the effort.

Eventually, with enough time, enough work, enough progress, we break through. It’s inevitable. If we set our minds on getting to the place where we need to be in order to be healthier and happier, that is a place at which we will arrive. It’s the same with unhealthier places and unhealthier goals, and while I may be in danger of beating a dead horse — it’s all down to what we choose. If we choose to face our obstacles, take the actions required to begin working through them, and care enough about ourselves to assume responsibility for our own choices for the purpose of making better and healthier ones as consistently as possible — nothing in the universe can stop us from getting from the place of pain and loneliness where so many of us dwell for too long, and arriving in a place where the possibilities of life open up, and our choices make sense, bring peace, and lead to happiness and love.

It’s down to us. We choose what we focus on. We choose what we are determined to accomplish. We choose if we get up when the world knocks us down, face that great obstacle ahead of us within ourselves, and do what we need to do in order to break through it.

You’ve made those choices before. In every day leading up to this one, you’ve made these choices. And you will continue to choose, in every day that follows this one, as long as you are living, and breathing, and feeling.

What will you choose today?

The Importance of Being Honest

Let me kick this off with some honesty: I still maintain standards for myself that are, at times, unrealistic or too exacting. When I expect myself to be flawless in my Magic gameplay, or further along in my personal goals than is realistic, I will still get incredibly frustrated with myself. It can shift those goals from being SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, for which I am Responsible, and Time-bounded) to being VAPID (Vague, Amorphous, Pie-in-the-sky, Irrelevant, and Delayed). As much as we might like to believe, they are rarely strictly one or the other. Much like ourselves, our goals can change in ways large and small based on life circumstances and shifting priorities. What is important is that we deal with these changes as they happen, accept that circumstances are changing, and make the most of the situation. That is a choice you can make. Just like choosing to be honest or not, or to do something helpful or harmful. It all comes down to choices.

Good and evil have nothing to do with inherent virtue, and everything to do with choices.

There really isn’t anything tangible to support the idea that human beings are born with a predisposition towards ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I think that brain chemistry and family history can be factors in what causes a person to make certain choices, and the environment in which one is raised inform a child as to what is permissible, expected, and taboo. These are merely factors; an individual is still responsible for the choices they make.

To be blunt: you’re going to make choices that are ineffective, and sometimes harmful to others. Even if a choice is to cut someone toxic out of your life, there could be ramifications that cause harm for others as a result. What I want to focus on, however, is the mistakes that we make. Either as a deliberate choice we make, or a snap decision that is ill informed or based on false assumptions, we make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes cost us dearly, in money or opportunities. Other times, there is emotional or even physical harm as a result. These mistakes do not mean that you are ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. If you can recognize the mistake, and make efforts in good faith not to repeat it and to correct what is possible and healthy for you to correct, that is a choice that matters far more than any judgement leveled upon you by others. The fact of the matter is this:

You are more than the sum of your mistakes.

Too often we allow the mistakes that we have made to hold us back from being who we want to be, or existing in the moment that is right in front of us. We treat situations with trepidation or even terror in spite of the evidence that is presented to us that the situation we believe exists is not reality. Yes, there are people who will cling adamantly and irrationally to the mistakes they’ve made and the opinions they hold because, tragically, those perspectives have become part of their identity as they perceive it and it will take far greater influences than our mere observations to change that, no matter how adamant we might be. The people who show up and are honest, first and foremost with themselves, and do not hide that honesty behind an artifice or use it as an abrasive bulwark against anything approaching vulnerability, are heartbreakingly rare. To aspire to be that sort of person is to fly in the face of everything modern society encourages us to be — shallow, immediate, knee-jerk reactionary consumers with myopic perspectives easily influenced by social media and broad stereotypes.

I know this is true because it is the kind of person I used to be.

It caused a lot of problems and it hurt people. I’m sorry that ever happened. To this day, it breaks my heart.

In the past, I would have wallowed in that pain and used it for one reason or another. We can’t do that to ourselves, though. It isn’t fair, to us or to those around us. I’ve had to let that behavior go because of its inherent unhealthiness. To punch down on oneself repeatedly is to inform others that you are someone who accepts being punched down upon, to at least some extent. Consciously or not, people will exploit that. If you are the kind of person who just accepts the status quo in your own life, that being lonely or marginalized or a failure is “just how things are, so I guess I’m just boned,” that is a choice you are making. And it is a dishonest one. Because it’s not true.

You can stop disasterbating.

We make progress in stages. It happens one day, one hour, one step at a time. It’s slow going. And things can often make us hesitate, and sometimes trip us up entirely. I do still punch down on myself on occasion. More often, though, I find myself disasterbating. Be it at home when all is quiet and calm, or in the midst of a social situation full of clamor and camaraderie, my brain generates questions about how I’ll act, how others will react, what the results might be or could be or should be, and the next thing I know I’m frozen in place unable to act, or so frustrated that I’m beside myself with anger or anxiety. And then, when I recognize it, I can become frustrated with that, and it takes a lot of energy and effort to course-correct and get myself back into a wise mind state.

I wish it were as easy as just saying “stop” and then stopping. I know that’s not the case. I don’t mean to be reductive in giving advice, even to myself. Rather, in a way, I’m setting a goal. I’m putting myself in situations where I’ll have a better environment in which to practice the prevention of disasterbating, and removing myself from those where it’s more difficult. And all of this — the goals, the choices, the lessons — come from a place of honesty.

That’s the foundation upon all of this is based. There is literally nothing more important than that. It begins with being honest with oneself. To see what is within oneself, no matter how ‘broken’ something might seem, and to make choices as to how to effectively address those things. Past that is to be honest with how one sees the world. Do we accept the facts that are out there? Can we honestly address the challenges the world presents? Is it possible for us to let go of viewpoints and opinions that do not fit the facts, or do we cling to what’s been said before, what the prevailing sentiment is, where the bandwagon is going? The more honestly we can answer these questions, the more effective we will be in showing up in a way that features our best self, or at least the best self we can be in a given moment.

I can’t think of a person I’d want in my life who doesn’t want that. We can be better than we were. We can treat ourselves with more compassion, and encourage others to be more honest and more present. We can get there with help, and if for no other reason than so many have been there to help me, I’m here to help others. If I’m asked, if I’m able, I’ll show up to help.

Now more than ever, and for as long as I keep moving forward on this path of honesty and love and determination, you can fucking count on that.

The Challenge of New Choices

There are some things in our lives that we don’t get to choose. I didn’t choose to be born bipolar or bisexual. People close to me didn’t choose how they were born, either. Naturally, others will treat those things as if they are choices, saying things like “just try being the gender you were born with a little longer” or “you just need to do X and you won’t be sad anymore” or “have you tried not being gay?” I hope there’s no need for me to elucidate on just how awful that ‘advice’ is. And I don’t want to make this about that. I felt it was worth saying from the outset, however, that with all of the words that follow regarding choices, I’m focusing on how we as individuals face the responsibilities that are ours every day, and the choices we make regarding those responsibilities. And while I can’t choose to not be bipolar any more than another person can choose whether or not to have been born in a body that doesn’t match who they are, when it comes to how we handle our day-to-day lives and our relationships with others, every single one of us does have a choice.

Everyone has a choice. Everyone can, and must, choose who they want to be. It may be one large overarching choice, or it can be a series of small choices that lead us to being who and what we are. There can be obstacles that make a particular choice difficult, or perhaps even obscure certain choices. At the end of the day, we are what we choose, consciously or not. And when we choose, there are ramifications of that choice, for better and for worse.

One of the biggest challenges that come with making choices is when we’re faced with choices that are new to us, outside of our comfort zones, or challenge our identities. There’s a lot of advice that people will try to sell you about not being afraid to make choices. You’ll hear things like: “Follow your dreams!” “Be bold!” “Seize the day!” Not unlike some of the other advice mentioned above, such pithy platitudes tend to be the opposite of helpful. It creates and reinforces the erroneous idea that these things are simple and straightforward. Sometimes they are — “do I toast a bagel or pour a bowl of cereal” is a pretty straightforward choice. So many other choices, though, may seem simple, when in fact they deserve at least a moment’s pause and consideration before we commit to the choice, and accept the consequences.

Clear, consistent decision-making isn’t something that we’re born knowing how to do. It takes practice. The more you do something, the better you become at it and the more ease you experience while doing it. Making decisions is, in that way, not unlike training to play a sport or learning to speak a language. It has to be done over and over. As we grow, decisions we make contribute to who we see ourselves as being, and the course that our life begins to take. And the more contributions are made towards that self-image, of both our present and future selves, the more the decisions that follow tend towards those selves.

So what happens when we try to choose something new?

Some of us fall into patterns that are bad for us. Others learn to play it safe — stick only with what “works”, what is known, even if that way doesn’t really advance any of your goals or bring you closer to accomplishing anything significant. Whatever it might be, our brains forge neural pathways associated with a set or series of choices, and our thoughts and decision-making fall into those pathways. They have their own gravity. Like the most well-worn groove on an old record attracts the stylus of a record player, our perceptions and analysis of our choices are pulled into familiar ways of thinking that, in my experience, can often lead us away from a better path forward and into stagnation or, worse, a downward spiral.

This is why it can be downright terrifying when we come to the conclusion that we need to try something new. It threatens our world-view and our state of mind. Humans are highly adaptable; we can adjust to just about any situation. We can acclimate to high altitudes, working in zero gravity, travelling to the deepest part of the ocean, and so on. Our minds are no different: given a state of affairs existing for a prolonged enough period of time, and the human mind begins to accept it as ‘the way things are’. We create a narrative for our present circumstances, and assign ourselves a role within it. The days roll on. The groove gets deeper. Our choices almost seem to make themselves.

And then, when something changes, when an event occurs that shakes things up, or there’s a moment of clarity regarding what was a toxic or untenable or stagnating situation, the idea of choosing something different, something new, rattles our cage and sets our teeth on edge. It feels like we’re doing something dangerous, something potentially catastrophic, just thinking about it. Hell, even writing on the subject somehow feels provocative, and the thought keeps occurring that maybe I should just pitch the whole damn thing and watch The Expanse again instead.

Our brains will actively resist us because the thought patterns are new and unforged. They’re not familiar. They’re not “safe”. Even if the current situation is ineffective or unsustainable, it’s what we know, and therefore it is “safer” than choosing something new. We may even find ways to reason ourselves into continuing to make those ineffective or unsustainable choices when it’s clear that making a different choice is either morally correct or will yield better, more progressive results.

That’s the thing. It’s the most frustrating, challenging, and ultimately rewarding aspects of working to make better, healthier choices for ourselves. We get to define who we are. In spite of the aspects of our lives that are out of our control, regardless of happenstances of biology or circumstance that were defined before we took our first breath, every day, every moment, is an opportunity to make at least a small tweak in the course of our lives. Some of those tweaks are more difficult to make than others; it’s the difference between “I’m going to have the spicy thai thing instead of a salad today for lunch” and “I’m going to be honest about something I’ve been ashamed of for a long time.” One is just a potentially scary experience for your tastebuds and may require a lot of extra hydration; the other could throw your entire life as you know it into upheaval.

But it’s still your life.

And as long as you are alive, you get more and more opportunities to make better and better choices.

You’re not always going to get it right. Because in addition to being alive, you’re human. Unless this is being read by some nascent upswell from the Singularity hidden somewhere in Amazon’s servers, in which case, hi we’re pretty wasteful and petty little shits most of the time but a lot of us are really nice once you get to know us so please don’t wipe out our entire race thanks? Being human means you’re fallible. You’re imperfect. And that’s okay. If you were perfect, there’d be no room for improvement. You’d have nowhere to go. And you’d be just as inscrutable to us mere mortals as we would be to you. But since so much of consumer culture tries to sell us on this or that image of “perfection”, we often find ourselves acting out of fear that we will move further away from our particular flavor of that illusion if we make some new or different choice.

And yes, you might experience a setback in pursuit of whatever it is you personally want to achieve. Hell, a choice you make might involve giving up that pursuit entirely, because it’s an unsustainable journey, or the path which would lead you there is unhealthy for you or someone you love. There are consequences to every choice we make. Even if the choice you make is to do nothing! “Nothing will happen right now if I do nothing, but I’ll keep feeling shitty and miserable.” Guess what, that’s still a consequence. Sometimes, doing nothing is the right choice, and it can be very difficult to make that choice in a situation where you feel morally or otherwise compelled to do something to make a difference. That’s all part of the horror and wonder of the human experience: seeing your choices, sussing out the consequences, and then committing to your choice.

Stepping out of the pattern of choices you know into uncharted territory can be a harrowing, earth-shattering experience. There’s a reason why a lot of people don’t do it. But if we don’t make the choice to challenge ourselves — if we don’t make apply our thoughts actively to weighing our options, considering the potential outcomes, and then making a choice that will move us in a better direction, even if it scares us to do it — what about us, and our lives, and our world, will change?

Nothing.

You won’t change.

I won’t change.

Nothing will change.

Ever.

500 Words on Communication

Speak up, it's okay, you'll be heard.

We humans are social creatures. We make connections with one another, and maintaining those connections requires communication. We’ve done it through letters (and honestly, I should write more letters), telegrams, telephones, and now the Internet. But throughout all of the iterations of our communication means, one fact has remained the same: it’s a two-way street.

We live in a world where, every day, it becomes more and more apparent that some of us are dealing with head weasels of various shapes and sizes. Some of them say that we’re not worth talking to. Others pull us back from seeking connection, or re-connection, out of fear or guilt or anxiety, be it rooted in reality or a creation of the weasel in question. People get wrapped up in work, studies, real-world concerns, or the static of emotions and thoughts that are no fault of their own, the echoes of trauma and anticipation of fresh wounds. Through this, one of the lines of communication goes silent.

Do we, on the other end, leave our line back to that person open?

For the most part, I say yes, especially if the person is someone we care about. In most cases, I prefer to make myself available. Sure, a person may seize upon that opening to try and cause drama, or express a toxic opinion, or otherwise attempt to undermine whatever progress I have made or am making. In which case, fine, eat my static. I’m not responsible for the pettiness of other people, save for my desire as a human being to bring out the best in other human beings. And, let’s face it, being petty and projecting upon others to avoid our own issues is far less than our best. I’ve learned to do better. I still have a lot to learn, for certain, but at least that’s crystal clear.

Enough about trifles. There are far more important people in my life than those who would trifle. I can’t help but see the potential in others, a strength or fortitude they may not see themselves. Worse, some of the people I see have within them the desire to overcome what impedes them, but don’t necessarily believe that they can. I want to foster that belief. I want to stoke that fire. I’ve had it done for me, by therapists and friends and loved ones, and I want nothing more than to turn around and do the same for those I admire, care about, and love.

I don’t want to put people on the spot, or name names, but… dammit, if you’re reading this, and it resonates, feel free to reach out to me. It’s okay. It’ll be okay. I will hold space for you and try to hear you out, because that’s what I’d want you to do for me.

Maybe I’m wasting my time in writing this, or this will go unread, or…

That’s my own head weasels talking.

And you, and I, can always talk louder than they ever could.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

500 Words From Heinlein

Courtesy floating robes
Courtesy Floating Robes

I lie. Not all 500 of these words come to you from the pen of Robert A. Heinlein. But most of them will. Mostly because, after several years, I once again picked up (or, in this case, began listening to) The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, a seminal book of my early teen years and the one that pushed me towards this writing business in which I engage.

… I have this one nasty habit. Makes me hard to live with. I write …

At the moment, writing is not my primary profession. But it’s always there. In the back of my mind, a prodding need persists. I’m a storyteller. I have to tell stories. It’s a basic imperative, like my need to eat and breathe and gallivant as urbanely, responsibly, and respectfully as possible. Those things cost, and writing, at least in the stage I linger at, does not pay.

… writing is a legal way of avoiding work without actually stealing and one that doesn’t take any talent or training.

I’m in a perpetual state of “I’m working on it,” with a few projects. I am, hopefully, in a place where I can carve out more time to do it. And none too soon, because it’s really started to bug me.

… writing is antisocial. It’s as solitary as masturbation. Disturb a writer when he is in the throes of creation and he is likely to turn and bite right to the bone … and not even know that he’s doing it. As writers’ wives and husbands often learn to their horror …

I of course am not so ignorant as to blame my writing for the skeletons hanging in my closet. My mental illness and prior emotional instability were the impetus for several bad decisions, but as any storyteller would tell you, a good character becomes aware of their shortcomings, and seeks to overcome them. So it is with me. And yet, if writing is a shortcoming, I do not seek to overcome it.

In a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private, and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears …

If nothing else, writing is a way for me to express my emotions in a safe environment. The lines of journals become a padded room. And as plotlines and characters take shape and grow over the course of my writing, parts of myself and my experiences and emotions flow into them. I have professional therapists — and a battery of medications and vitamins — but my pen, perhaps, is the best tool for how I continue to get better.

Besides…

There is no way to stop. Writers go on writing long after it becomes financially unnecessary … because it hurts less to write than it does not to write.

Indeed.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Older posts

© 2020 Blue Ink Alchemy

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑