Tag: anxiety

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.

Tightening Focus

Courtesy cepolina.com - http://www.cepolina.com/camera-focus-spiral.html

Not all bipolar swings are inherently negative. A downward swing towards depression, if examined from an objective standpoint, can be a time for reflection and constructive introversion. Sometimes, one has to distance or disconnect oneself from the usual stimuli of the outside world to take stock, recover strength, and realign thoughts and goals. By the same coin, a upward swing — not necessarily into full hypomania — can be a boom time of great creativity, channeling energy into endeavors that suit one’s goals.

This takes time, practice, the help of a therapist and loved ones, and a good amount of hammering out new pathways in one’s thought processes and emotional self-examination. It isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.

It also eats up a bunch of spoons.

If you’re not familiar with the Spoon Theory, I expound upon it (and reference its source) here. Most spoonies deal with a purely physical ailment — fibromyalgia, endometriosis, auto-immune diseases, etc. Mental illness can qualify as well — bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and so on. If you get a flashback, a sting of anxiety, or enter a mixed state, you have to spend time and energy dealing with that state of being before you can move on to something like sleeping, or eating. You spend spoons you’d otherwise spend elsewhere.

It can be easy to realize, in retrospect, that we haven’t taken steps towards reaching our long-term goals. We might even look around us and see all sorts of things that could be addressed, in terms of chores or self-care. I feel that it’s important to keep focus on the fact that our worth is not tied to our productivity, no matter what this modern capitalist dystopia in which we find ourselves might say. We can, and should, find self-worth in who we are and what we cultivate in ourselves and the world around us.

There are two factors that inform the ways in which we contribute to the world around us: willingness and ability. If we have the willingness to contribute, but not the ability — be it because of spoons, money, skills, or other resources — that has worth, in and of itself, and in my opinion, does not get recognized as much as it should. On the flip side, if one has the ability to contribute, but not the willingness… well, that’s a completely different kettle of fish.

In the aftermath of those moments of introspection and personal re-alignment, the next step is to examine what is worthy of focus, and what can be set aside, at least for now. For example: I haven’t spent as much time writing as I have in gaming. I even tried my hand at streaming Hearthstone again over a couple of weekends. The thing is, there are only so many hours in the day and I only have so many spoons. And, let’s be honest, I’m a better writer than I am a gamer. I may get myself to Legend rank in Hearthstone, but I doubt I have the time and bandwidth to both cultivate tournament-level skills in that game and finish the writing projects that may actually achieve my long-term goal of writing novels as my primary means of income.

So it’s time to focus on that, and get the words out, and get this shit done.

For whatever it’s worth, May is Mental Health Month, and as we go through it, I’m going to also take time to reflect on how I’ve been improving over the last few months, what I can bring up in therapy, and how I can continue carving new and healthier neural pathways. I hope these experiences, and my words, prove helpful to you. It can be difficult for me to remember that focusing on myself and the way forward is not selfish, in and of itself; rather, if I do not build myself up, and celebrate myself, the world will be all to happy to tear me down and strip-mine me for useful material the way they have our planet.

But that’s a post for a different day.

Tuesdays are for telling my story.

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