Absent Cause

It’s been a few months since I’ve last sat down in front of a blank page/screen to do any writing for myself: 3 months since my last blog entry and virtually nothing by way or journal entries, written or typed. After the election climate, all the perpetual coverage in the blog and news feeds, I felt like every possible thought I could have on political matters was already being dissected and disseminated in much greater detail and clarity than I would muster. Not only that, I started having some health complications that had me in chronic pain and knocked me off the workout routine I was starting to actively pick up again.

The holidays gave way to the new year, and I was spending every waking day trying to muster the energy to get out of bed and just focusing on making it through until the part where I relax at home with my best friend before going to bed. I got locked in a zombie-like routine, and doing much of nothing beyond work and watching TV. Having only unplesant things bouncing around in my mind and not wanting to actively think about them, .

With the turn of the new year came the start of coverage with my Covered California health plan, and after a month of roughing it out I finally went to go see a doctor about the abdominal pain I was having. I had an ultrasound done, which came back clear, and no real resolution to what was happening.

Having missed the hitting the ground running at the milestone of the new year (which I’m sure many others did because of the current social-political landscape) I set a soft target for my birthday. I’d focus on getting myself put back together, healed up, and actively set to get to myself back to where I was physically before winter. That didn’t play out as planned; the things were going on with me alleviated but still persisted, and every week it seems I’ve been having some other temporary flare up with various symptoms.

Looking back at the past three months, the cold early nights of Winter, the rainy weather, and all of the things breaking down with my body have backed me into a mental-physical rut. Constantly in varying degrees of pain, unable to workout like I used to, and feeling defeated, as if this crappy state has become the permanent new norm. Much to my own disappointment and personal embarassment, my mental strategies for dealing with this all have been proving very ineffectual.

Now at the final day of February, I’m reaching my frustration limit. My whole goal was to journal progress with this blog, yet lately, I’ve lost so much ground that seems impossible to make up with no foreseeable improvement in personal condition that it’s highly tempting to hit the delete button and give up blogging altogether. But thanks to present circumstances commandeering my internal monologue, this blog is the last bastion of my psyche that refuses to give up. Without it, I would be in a state where I’ve given up on myself completely, and I can’t abide that.

A few days reflection and seven paragraphs later, I don’t really have a plan moving forward. All I know is that come tomorrow, another month will begin to tick away, and need to start doing things differently and get back to task, even if it feels like physical hell every step of the way.

The Consequences of Perpetual Marginalization

After writing my previous entry, I got up from my desk in an uneasy state of mind. A big part of why I don’t write so much lately is that getting the thoughts out of my head, into text form, and slapping a period at the end of them means that they’re completed and done with. Keeping things private and inside my head is a mental equivalent of bargaining “just one more cigarette”, a little longer to mull things over on a given aspect about myself. Being at home and without any reason to project otherwise, it was pretty clear to my roommate/best friend that I was not in a good place. He asked what was wrong, and I told replied that it was just more of the usual mess that runs inside my head that bums him out to have to hear, only now without any restraint. To myself, I acknowleged that it makes me feel guilty for talking to him about these things as well — roles reversed, I would feel very saddened and frustrated to have to hear from someone that I care deeply for tell me that nothing feels worthwhile and would love to not have to deal with being alive anymore.

We discussed what was going through my head and what I had just written and posted moments earlier in our conversation, but it ended up derailing and becoming more about the barriers in communication that keep me from being more open and forthcoming about. That conversation was eventually dropped in favor of playing video games and watching TV together. However, in the time since then, I’ve been continuing to unpack the underlying though processes behind that feeling of disinterest in life that keeps cropping up.

When I decided to start blogging about myself in this manner, the idea was to put my truth out there, to show what a bad place I was in and, over time, capture the journey down the road of self-actualization. By now, I had planned to find myself in much better physical shape and realizing that version of myself that I envisioned. Instead, I’ve continued to falter, merely trading in old problems for new ones. Skimming through all of my old posts (published and private) the entries I wrote from 2010–2014 all revolved around an identity crisis, lack of confidence, chronic self-loathing. From Fall of 2015 onward, I’d been doing pretty well, occassional falls of the exercise wagon not withstanding. I haven’t felt that ruminative melancholy and crippling self-resentment in a very long time. The thing I wrestle with now is that I still haven’t found the sense of purpose I started looking for this year.

I am a introvert. I like the idea of being one of those charismatic life-of-the-party types, and while I can pull it off when I make the effort, in truth it tends to tire me out. But while mine is not a social nature, it is heavily tribal. In an old-world social structure, I would have been a watchtower sentry — mostly removed from the group in order to keep it safe, but still very much a part of it. To be where I am now, without a tribe that I belong to after years in self-exile and having left behind family and many friendships, leaves me bearing the shame and and loss of purpose I’d liken to that of feudal Japanese ronin who refused to commit ritual suicide after losing in battle. Where before I didn’t see myself as capable of contintuing to fight, now I just don’t feel like I have a reason to. I keep working on career development, getting in top physical shape, making more money…but for what, to afford fancy material things? Secure a place to wither away and die in at old age? Without anyone or anything to be doing it for, it just feels like I’m doing meaningless shit over and over, day by day. While I would like to champion the idea of doing things for oneself, it’s not able to sustain me; all that translates to is dragging out an already long lonesome existence to its inevitale end.

Because I’ve gotten very capable at stepping outside of my own thought processes, I can look at myself objectively and rationally. I realize that a problem that only I can fix. I realize that letting this go unresolved is likely enabling self-fullfilling prophecy complex. Yet, no matter how much I dissect things and try to goad myself with supportive messaging, it all amounts to very little; buying into that line of thinking seems like forcing on a pair of rose-colored glasses and false optimism and negligently ignoring years of historical data that tells me otherwise. With my mind being as logic oriented as it is, the latter train of thought always wins.


Believing What the World Has Repeatedly Told Me

Why does it feel like nothing matters?
Because I don’t matter.


From My Immediate Family

With my mother having sole custody, I was raised in a Mexican household with the cultural belief that family is of utmost importance and comes first, and I bought into it completely. So, even though growing up I preferred to spend most of my time to myself in front of my video games or a book, being the most intellectually inclined and technologically capable person in the family gave me a great sense of purpose from the times that I would be called on to do things for them that no one else could: format and revise my sister’s college papers, draft rental contracts in Spanish for my mother when she was managing my grandmother’s property in Mexico, design and create signs/flyers when needed, and so on.

But as I grew older and left adolescence behind on my way into young adulthood, the dynamic changed. I stopped being a part of the family after the events of summer 2001 (which I’ll get around to actually writing down some day) left me with only one of my sisters, who lives in North County San Diego, a 45 minute drive away. Not being able to drive myself anywhere at the time, I found comfort in a new “family” I fell into, my first actual group of close friends. After a couple of years, once the rage and resentment dissipated, I tried practicing forgiveness and started rebuilding relationships with my sisters. Though as much of an effort as I made in trying to be a good brother, my only reward was to be treated like a tool. Every time I would visit my sister up north, I was almost guaranteed to be updated that one of the others had called her and asked about me in the course of their conversation. It used to even bother her, as some calls she received from them were specifically to inquire about me and nothing else. Yet, my phone never rang…until they they needed something from me. My best friend lived with me for a time before I turned my back on them again for good back in 2012, and he’s recounted that he used to feel bad knowing how much I cared for them and that only time he ever saw them come to visit, he’d find me hunched over a desk fixing a computer or to have me e-filing their taxes for them.

In the Fall of 2010, my older brother went “missing” when he checked himself into rehab without telling anyone. In response, my sisters rallied and became a search party task force. They even reached out to their estranged biological father to enlist his aid, and for weeks straight, crossed the border into Mexico to keep up the search and make sure he was alive and well. Yet, when I was showing tell-tale signs of suicide risk and openly admitting severe depression, they let me go. None of them tried to support me, or intervene and fight for me when I started to drift away for good.

From My Extended Family

While everything above was happening with my immediate family, that one-degree-of-separation trend began manifesting itself with extended family. With my father’s home being located on the second story above the family liquor store business, I would regularly hear from my dad and uncle that one of my various cousins had stopped by and asked either for me or about me. I would always get in touch and let them know I’d heard they’d been by, and suggest finding a time to get together and actually interact; as is common with Mexican families, my cousins were like a set of lifelong friends and generally liked most of them. The idea was always met with with enthusiastic agreement, but it would never come to fruition. No matter how many times I made sure they had my cell number or followed up with them to make it happen, I could never get them to commit.

From My Friends

Once I noticed that trend with my family, I started to recognize that it was also happening all the time with my friends as well. I realized that the only time I would see the people I called friends was in large group gatherings. Because the majority of these friends overlapped between me and my best friend, I became the “comes with” for him — I would rarely get direct invitations, and was always informed about group plans through him, creating this feeling that I was constantly am unofficial invitee that he was going out of his way to keep me included.

I attempted to make a change by trying to find time to spend with them on an individual basis and strengthen those bonds in a way that group environments don’t really lend themselves to, to be more than just social drinking buddies. I started pitching the idea of haning out one-one-one with many of them, and just like with my cousins, they would seem delighted and enthused at the thought of it, but nothing would ever happen. I could give a two-week outlook on my schedule, and rare were the times that I would get a response to calendar, and even those were usually subject to last minute cancellations.

This is what made cutting all ties with family and friends in 2012 possible.

From My Relationships

The few times that I’ve been romantically engaged with people, there’s been a similar recurring trend there to. They got something out of me — emotional support, personal validation, etc. — but at the end of the day, I still wasn’t good enough for the long term. With every person, it’s always ended up in being left behind while they went off and made someone else their boyfriend.

And without fail, after the period of awkwardness passed and the emotional wounds healed, each one also came back later telling me how much I’ve been missed in their lives, regret over how things played out, and wanting to rekindle friendships.


The End Result: A Pointless Now


The above is only a surface level summary of how the various relationships in my life have played out. What isn’t accurately communicated is just how people that happened with, how many individual instances there were, and how often it still happens even today. Yes, the only way to create change is to take action and to never give up on trying…but my past experiences show me that no matter how differently I approach people, how drastically I change my thinking, how much weight I lose, things do not get better. Furthermore, not feeling like anything has changed makes me feel like a fraudulent hypocrite, writing today this post that flies in direct contradiction of the one I wrote one year ago to the day.

Irrational and petty as it sounds, like I’m choosing to trap myself in a self-pity party that doesn’t end…it’s as if there’s just something inherently wrong with me; why else is that even the people who allegedly cared for me the most have been so naturally inclined to use me as a tool, keep me at a distance, and turn me away/let me go so easily? I can handle rejection just fine, but a lifetime of positive verbal messaging and contradictory actions from others — it really fucks with your self-esteem and makes you doubt your own rationale, choices, and emotions. It took years of revisting old memories countless times to convince myself that I had done the best my young self could and that it wasn’t all entirely my fault.

It would be possible to disregard the past, commit to living in the moment, and believe in the future…were it not for present reality. Like I mentioned above, that enthusiasm about spending time together and subsequent lack of follow through still happens all too often. I know that a lot of it has to do with the current phase in life my peers are in; we’re not in our 20’s of abundant free time anymore, and many people have their jobs, significant others, and/or children to juggle in their schedule. Yet, with that being the case, and the detached nature of mobile messaging and social media dominating modern day social interactions, what chance does that leave to build the meaninful relationships that I would like to achieve? It feels like taking on a losing battle, one that I’ve already failed abysmally at multiple times before.

Thing is, I’ve already answered myself. Out of all the amazing things mankind has been able to accomplish, this definitely falls within the realm of possibility. The solution lies in the words of an old Roman emperor:

Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events.
That is all you need.

—Marcus Aurelius

The true challenge is not letting my inherent limitations as a human being and the weariness of so much past failure get in the way.

Galvanized

It’s been a rough past months. Since the last time I sat down to draft an update for this blog, I once again fell off the workout bandwagon. Where before this cycle used to be triggered by cycles of demotivation and lack of affect, these last three months the cause has been rooted in my physical health. I expected to get back to business as usual after that bout in September, but late October and again this month, they came back at me harder than before and knocking me on my ass, so to speak.

Then came the Presidential Election. That upset was strong enough to drive me to write myself a pithy journal update, but I didn’t feel like I had much to say there; I was thinking and feeling the same thing that pretty much every rational and objective American was thinking that day. That Tuesday night feel like watching a country, logic, and pretty much all fucking reason die in real time, and it made me sad for the country — not just because of the obvious rammifications to come, but also because it seemingly forced everyone to take up that bleak realist lens through which my years of depression I’ve long written about put on my eyes.

As I wrote the day after social media:

Well…at least all those past years of experience combatting depression and constant suicidal ideation using nihilistic suppression of psychological affect (to varying success) makes waking up to a looming Trump America a lot easier to process effectively. The way the world feels shitty and senseless after last night’s results? That was my day-to-day for the better part of a decade. #UsedToIt

That old adage isn’t entirely true, misery doesn’t always want company. And in time since, it’s been a struggle to fight through whatever mess I’ve got going on physically and regrouping myself mentally. As much I was handling it pretty well on my own, I’m highly empathetic to my roommate/best friend/“little brother”, and his reaction to the outcome knocked whatever fortitude I had right out from under me. So much to the point that even though I’ve been highly aware of how long I’ve gone without writing at all and how much I would stand to gain by processing my thoughts through it, it all just seemed so pointless. The world itself is in such turmoil now that anything I’ve got going on the individual is absolutely trivial by comparison, and rendered moot by the course reality has taken. What does it matter to self-actualize and start writing the personal narrative I’ve been trying to obtain for so long when there’s a looming facist government rule that’s going to ignore the pressing issues with climate change and kill social progress until the Earth literlally drowns itself?

This train of cynical nihilistic thought isn’t exactly something new to me. In fact, it even managed to bring back my pernicious lesser self that engages in mortal ideation — that part of me that doesn’t want to deal with my self or this world and just wants it all to be over. But just like in times past, when I’ve stepped outside of my perception and coached myself with the tenets of stoicism to recollect my personal resolve, the lack of affect has won out. I hear what I’m telling myself and I know I’m right, but I still can’t bring myself to care. Even my forceful negative reinforcements — “don’t be such a weak lameass and get back to work” — have had no effect.

I think back to when I was in my adolescent years, and I remember how it used to feel like I was constantly fighting for my self and my identity, as well as the energy, confidence, and optimism with which I faced it. Fifteen years later, after losing all those things and struggling to find them all within myself again, I been feeling ragged, worn, and weary. Years of effort expended, and with very little to show for it, barely breaking even with my teenage self.

But now that mourning period for the 2016 election results has passed, and this present day reality demands more from me. I demand more from me. As much as I want to get away from feeling like the lone wolf fending for himself and be a happy social butterfly, it’s my nature. And while I can resent it for being so all I want, at the end of the day, it’s where my personal strength comes from when I’m not fighting it. Not being afraid of being alone and dying is empowering, but it also requires being familiar with loneliness and saddled with awareness of one’s mortality, and that can be crushing in itself.

But as stated above, I’m used to it at this point. It gets me down only because I choose to let it get me down. Yes, I want to be “done”, but the fact stands that I’m not. Being dejected and unwilling to fight accomplishes nothing, so even though it’s hard for me to see a point to it at many times, striving from the struggle once again is my only way forward. Things may be in a terrible state right now, it may be too late for us to prevent serious consequences of global warming, and the election outcome may have broken me down, but all that this has ultimately accomplished is shock me back into action. In spite this body and spirit that are both moderately past their prime, I will run, study, train, work, fight, and every other verb you can think of, harder than ever before.

Repurposed

It’s hard to believe that March is almost at its end. Even though I’ve been telling myself I need to plant my ass down and write an update for “a while”, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since my last entry about that inconsequential social media block from BT. One of the main drawbacks to going so long without composing an entry is the loss of momentum — even with the blog feed pulled up on screen, I’m hard-pressed to remember what all I’ve written lately and what topics I’ve made mental notes to write about I’ve actually touched upon. It’s difficult enough to recall what it is I did just last week without having to use a point of reference like social media updates and camera roll snapshots, much less what it is I wrote about almost a whole calendar month ago. Now that I do find myself sitting in front of a text editor ready to get at least one of those talking points fleshed out and posted, it’s challenging to pick one and get to to typing — not unlike the exasperation that comes when tidying up a room that’s a catastrophic cluttered mess.

Having taken a good break after the introductory paragraph above, I’ve finally picked a thread to pull on: purpose. Late last year, I wrote an entry on the subject and concluded that it came down to “power”; specifically, how I went about trying to rediscover mine. Re-reading it now, it feels like reading something I wrote much further in the past, but the underlying idea still holds true. I know that I still have plenty more to say on that journey through my own personal hell, not to ruminate on it but to have something that may be useful to others come out of it. That said, in a fashion similar to how I looked back on 2014 in that entry and saw an entirely different state of mind, so too can I do for the ones I wrote in 2015. On this side of a new year (and another decade in age), I’ve now spent months of my life in the place of personal cohesion and fortitude that I spent years trying to obtain. Now that my “self” has been removed as an obstacle, now I’m faced with tackling the reality of my existence.

At this stage in life, I’m past the mournful remorse of needing to spend so much of my time putting together that broken individual I used to be and the setbacks it’s left me with. I browse my social media feeds these days, and see the peers I used to be adolescents with now become working professionals, homeowners, parents, and so on. Meanwhile, I’m little over a month into 30 years old, and feel like I’m at a place most people find themselves somewhere in their mid 20’s. Where in the past this used to be a demoralizing point to acknowledge, I now possess the clarity and acceptance to actually do something about it and make up for all that lost ground.

“Fear and Anxiety are what drive us to compare ourselves to others because we start deriving our sense of who we are and what our value is based on how we stand next to other people”

—Merlin Mann, Back to Work Episode 4

I’m in a good and stable place at the moment. I have a day job that I enjoy and pays moderately well. Though I regularly feel as if I do not have enough time to make the progress I’d like to, I know that I’ve got a comparative advantage over many people out there. I do not have the obligations of dependents or the considerable debts that come with educational loans that most others are working at paying off at my age. Yet, on the flip side, I’m also keenly aware of my disadvantages. My professional skill set is highly generalized. I don’t have anything by way of vocational or academic accreditation. As a matter of fact, I’m technically not even a high school graduate outside of the state of California; back in the early-mid 2000’s, the only out I had to avoid being a high school drop-out or repeating a year of general public education after the events of the home/personal life at the time took their toll on my credit requirements was to take the state’s California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) and obtain a certificate that is the legal equivalent of a high school diploma.

Though I’ll abstain from going off recapping in detail, what I’ve already explored multiple times in entires past does bear repeating at this time: my life after high school that has not been the best it could have been. Despite the ups and positive experiences I’ve had along the way, I lost whatever shreds of strength and fortitude I believed myself to have. I gave up on life. I became chronically depressed, I stagnated, and over time, grew to resent myself to the point of outright hatred, disdain, and disgust. Though I’ve only admitted this next part to only a few close friends, it got so bad in 2012 that I got to the point where I wanted to die. I never took up any actively self-destructive behaviors or ran the risk of suicide, but for a good long while, I did start my days secretely hoping that some mortal tragedy would find me, getting plowed down by a runaway bus or taken out in a terrible car crash.

2005 was when things first started to spiral downward, and 2011–2013 were my darkest times.

“No one should brave the underworld alone”

— Poe, “Hello”

But I did. I didn’t have the love or support of family or close friends to guide me through or alleviate the suffering, all I had was the pain, doubt, and self-hate that goverened me. Drowned in the chaos, I finally chose the metaphorical death in lieu of the literal one. I chose to externalize and detach from my past and my emotions. I chose to accept and believe that I didn’t have anyone, and that I didn’t need anyone. I chose to let that old self die, and to build a new one of out the handful of remnants that I allowed to remain.

Which brings me to circle back to the topic of purpose. This is still about power. These days, not so much on my efforts on how to find it, but rather how I did, and more importantly, how to begin utilizing it productively. That tumultuous past I’ve endured is something that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, but one that the Internet and current events clearly indicate others do share. I read about people, children even, who succumb to their hardships and misfortunes to where they do reach that point that I never met, where they do decide to give up completely and end it. Yet, I know first-hand that it is possible to go from losing everything, fiercely detesting one’s self, and feeling absolutely lost and hopeless to being strong, determined, and capable. But as I’ve suggested above, getting away from where you don’t want to be is only the first part of the battle — the second half, and arguably the harder part of the whole, is getting yourself to where you do want to be.

10 Over 30

Ten days ago, I hit the big 30 milestone. To celebrate, I got taken to Arizona by my best friend to make my first ever visit to the Grand Canyon, a trip long overdue that had been promised as a 29th birthday present. All good things are worth waiting for, they say, and this was no exception. We both took Friday the 12th and Monday the 15th off from work to have a four day weekend for our trip. It turned out to be a very insightful and transformative experience. As much as I feel the need to expound upon that in a longform entry, I’m believe I summed it up effectively in the Instagram-to-Facebook cross-post I composed after our return:

My favorite snapshot from this weekend. All my thanks to Chris for giving me a perfect 30th birthday. I came back from Arizona feeling like I found important things there (and not a day over 29).

Out there, hiking down what felt like the edge of the world with just him, everything else in my life/past ceased to matter completely; I was whole, and I was happy. The family and past loves I’m missing in my life leave me lacking nothing — I’ve got Finneas, and he’s way better than any blood relative or boyfriend could ever be.

Today I turned 30. Spent it on an adventure & having the perfect day with my favorite person.

A post shared by Jimmie Lew (@thechexican) on

Prior to heading out on the trip, there were a few entries that I wanted to draft and get out of the way before turning a new decade in age. That didn’t happen, and the same can be said for my plans to compose those entires in the time since I got back from that trip. For the past five years that I’ve been posting on this blog, I’ve been through so many ups and downs, finding my way and putting myself together. In the 203 entries (70 unpublished & archived). LIttle over 200 entries over the course of 1,825 days, many of them repeating myself trying to find the perfect way to communicate what it is that got me to that dark place I used to be in and finding my way out of it. As I know I’ve mentioned before, my output on that front has been so limited because I’ve felt actual progress has been so minimal. In these past five years, I’ve remained married to that melancholy, feeling trapped and unable to move forward, an impostor and a hopeless fraud. While there has been the occassional entry at times in which I have found empowerment and momentum, the feelings have always been temporary and fleeting. At the end of each day, I’ve still seen myself as a tragically flawed and broken individual, unworthy of the expectation for a good happy life, resigned to fighting an unending battle of self-improvement to make myself, at best, marginally worthwhile.

Yet, for those four days that I can think of no other way to describe other than “magical”, I truly was free of all of that. I simply was, and I was happy. I had no tragic past. I had no remorse over the family I used to have and lost when I decided I needed to turn my back on them in order to start truly healing. That self-prescribed total emotional shut down of recent years didn’t exist. All I had was that present moment, one in which being happy and thankful to be alive was once again second-nature.

10 days later and counting, I still haven’t let that slip away from me again.

The Better Personal Quality That Was Lost

Shortly after typing up yesterday’s blog entry, I headed over to join the friends for that Thanksgiving day dinner I’d mentioned in the post closing. I’d been invited via direct message from the host, so I had no idea what it was that I was walking into as there wasn’t a social media event page whose guest list I could review in advance. I hadn’t really questioned it, and assumed that it’d be a gathering of the usuals when these sort of things come along. I arrived to a party of nine people, out of which only five I had anticipated. Three of them — the host’s housemate and two of his friends — left shortly after eating dinner, leaving me in very mixed company. On one hand, there was my best friend and two other good friends; on the other highly ambivalent hand, the best friend’s boyfriend, a former flame who was the first person I’d ever fallen in love with back in the final years of my age ending in -teen that I haven’t seen in ages, and his present long-time boyfriend/partner/whatever it is they would call themselves.

In other words: three people I would have chosen to spend the holiday with, and three people who are not a part of my life and effectively strangers but have some degree of history with that leaves me generally disinterested in socializing with them, given the personal sharing and “opening up” that doing so entails.

The initial leg of the evening felt stilted and awkward, something that I attributed to my general outlook on Thanksgiving day itself and not to the present company. That, and my sober state of mind. Shortly after the first hour, I decided to lend myself a hand a socially lubricate by helping myself to a few shots of whiskey. Not soon after I did so, I ended up in a “catch-up” exchange with Mr. First Love from my old past life. Admittedly, it was actually somewhat enjoyable, a brief glimpse (albeit a severely anemic imitation) of that closeness we had once upon a long time ago. Up until the question of family came up.

“How are your sisters?”
“I wouldn’t know, I haven’t had anything to do with my family for years now.”
“But what about all your nephews and nieces?”
“None of them either, they’re all just collateral losses”
“That’s unforunate, you used to be so close with your family…that was always one of your better qualities.”

I responded with a cold and matter-of-factly tone that it was something that it was something that did unfortunately need to happen and ultimately nothing more than the price required to be paid in order for me to find and take on other far better personal qualities. Naturally, his follow up question was “…like what?”, but luckily more people came into the room, providing the opportunity to break away from the “serious” conversational topic at hand to something more general everyone could partake in…and in turn, sparing me from having to fill him on the events of the past years and sharing about present self to provide context.

From that point on, I grew increasingly disinterested as the night wore on. As much as I told myself that I should be trying to enjoy the moment like I’d intended to before leaving home, after that exchange, all I could think about was how I should be using that time productively rather than socially. All I wanted to do was to be home by myself and using that time and energy to exercise or work on my present goals rather than having face-to-face discussions whose underlying themes were how drastically different I’ve become from the individual they all remember me as, especially in relation to the topic of family that I’d written about just hours earlier. I stayed for a little while longer, but took my leave and made for home right around 10PM before calling it an early night and climbing into bed.

Now, as I’ve been typing out this narration of the last night, I’ve been asking myself “where am I going with this?” At face value, it reads like I had the loss of family (and Thanksgiving with them) that I was trying to get away from inadvertently thrown in my face and subsequently ruining the night. In actuality, it serves to highlight the big difference between my thought process when I’m thinking (and writing) to myself and when I have discuss myself with others. For instance, in regard to privacy, I’ll publicly post what I write when I earnestly reflect on myself and think nothing of it; but when it comes to actually talking about myself in face-to-face conversation with others, I’m very highly guarded and withholding. Similarly, when I reflect on my life, my past, and present person with myself, I think of all the things I’ve lost along the way and the struggles I’ve faced alone…but when it comes to sharing it with others, I exemplify that calm acceptance and empowered bravado I want to naturally default to when I’m thinking to myself, especially since that’s what I end up writing & posting. The lamentation of my first post in the day is what I think; the aloof detachment and general “nothing” with which I was discussing my non-existent familial relationships is what I feel. Effectively, living with the pain of memory without the burden of suffering. It’s not something that’s exactly new on a day-to-day basis, but it is the first time that the holidays haven’t caused it to go flying out the window and reverting back to old thought/behavioral patterns.

As far as the effort to reconnect with my ability/willingness to be warm & open with people and the holiday spirit goes, last night wasn’t a smashing success by any means. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Still, it went fairly well considering it’s the first time in years that I’ve made some semblance of an active effort instead of just being a hermetic turkey-day scrooge. But when it comes to resolving my outlook towards Thanksgiving, strengthening my personal self-awareness, and ceasing to pine for times & people long since past, improvements were definitely made.

Sufferer’s Guilt: The Suffering of Others Does Not Negate Your Own

(Yesterday, I lapsed in the daily update goal I’ve set for the month. Nothing came to mind by way of a topic to write around. More accurately, a handful did, but I couldn’t find a structure with which to work it in as a progression of the last two. As I put my mind to thinking of one for today, one came to mind – one that, refreshingly, does not center around myself as the primary subject.)

After the last post I wrote about managing the lingering constant pain that things leave behind even after you’ve worked through them, the nature of suffering, and the need for self-compassion, the story of a dinner I hosted a few weeks back for my friend David, a serviceman in the Navy that had just returned stateside. We planned dinner for Friday at the beginning of the week, and as it ran its course, the event took on a social nature. What was meant to be a private personal get together became a group gathering. Immediately after getting home from work, I set to cooking a party-sized batch of fried potato tacos and sides of beans and rice to go with it. The night was a success and a very good time, and as it wound down to its end, it found only the guest of honor, myself, and two other very close long-time friends still standing.

As we enjoyed chill house beats into the early hours of the morning and basked in each others’ company, the conversation took one of those unexpected turns towards the serious. I’d been doing some pre-emptive cleaning inside so as to not have to deal with it in the morning. When I joined the rest of the group out in the balcony, I walked into the conversation as David was throwing out some sort of hypothetical thought experiment, I don’t recall what it actually was, that had to deal with the afterlife and the promise of paradise. He was pushing for Christian heaven with a veracity that felt almost missionary. We indulged, and with the other 3/4 of the participants being in the agnostic/secular humanist camp, had a very intoxicated philosophical discusssion (that probably wasn’t as intellectual as we all felt it to be in the moment).

After awhile, we called him out on his zeal and asked why he was so ardent about paradise-in-the-skies heaven. “I just want everyone to be happy” he answered as he entered the beginning stages of crying. Now, my friend David, he’s one of those one-in-a-million kind of good guys. Always quick to help out a total stranger, and generous to a fault. It’s something that you admire while at the same time feel frustration at his refusal to give much weight to how his good will often results in the neglect of his own best interests. Again, at this point we were into the early hours of the AM and were properly filled up on libations, so the three of us bore down on him with that “brutally honest tough love” and exectued it with a pack-like finesse. Or, in an unfluffed way of saying it: we ganged up on him pretty hard. I want to say that it we overdid it and were way harsher than we needed to be, but in retrospect, it was one of those times where the situation really did call for it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have broken past that whole wanting-everyone-in-the-world-to-be-happy layer of misdirection and gotten to what was unconsciouslly really talking about.

David had been given up for adoption as a very young child, and though he had the fortune of, as I’ve been told to believe, meeting and having a good ongoing relationship with his biological mother over the recent years as an adult. Unbeknowst to us, which looking back is embarassing to admit I wasn’t on-point and keenly already aware of, that dinner took place right after the one year mark of the passing of his beloved adoptive mother.

Now, here’s where I can’t help interrupt the narrative with myself. I’ve been writing about my whole emotional-depravation stoic attitude ever since I first took it up. Though I’ve been left, as recently recapped, completely bereft of self-compassion and feeling, it hasn’t made me a completely caring asshole. In fact, falling into that black hole and pulling myself back out of it has made exponentially more compassionate for others than I used to be. Sure, I can’t empathize to that insane degree I used to be capable of, but I’ve also been down that depression spiral that I never would have thought could happen to me. And not only can I logically not be the only one, there’s plenty of posts and status updates on the web to back me up on this.

The three of us shifted over into supportive-caring-theraputic friend mode, and seemingly pulled off making him feel better about his mother’s passing. For a couple minutes at least, right before another unexpected left turn happened and we had him back to broken down and crying. This time, because he didn’t like himself — because he had to have been born defective in some way, enough to the point to where he didn’t want to be kept and was given up for adoption. While we three were once again able to collectively (and supportively) address why he shouldn’t carry the weight of his biological mother’s choice all those years ago on his own shoulders, the part that I did almost all of the speaking on was over the idea of not liking himself as result. If I’d had a tape recording of that moment, I’d be a transcription job and some supplemental writing & editing away from having a good few good weeks worth of content taken care of.

I drew on all my years of self-loathing and depression over similar-if-not-the-same thoughts he was throwing out, and didn’t stop talking until I felt sure that he was in a better place on that matter than he was before I started word vomitting all over him. I’ve been down that path, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone; I would become that overbearing supportive person I could have used to keep me from falling myself to keep anyone from having to go through that. Especially on him — David is too good for that. He’s the kind of person this world needs more of.

The night ended on a good note, and he messaged me with thanks the next day; that it’d been a very helpful and needed healing experience. Now that the story’s told, I’ll circle back to what it was that made me choose this to be my next entry and the meaning behind the post title.

Throughout the talk earlier in the night, David kept circling back to feeling so silly for feeling so sad when there’s so much greater suffering in the world. What gave him the right to feel sad about mourning his mother after all the time they had together when people across the world are going through such far worse tragedies. Very much like I was able to opine profusely on the matter of him “not liking [him]self”, so to was I able to do so on the idea that other people’s suffering would trivialize and invalidate his own.

As I spouted on about how objectivaly illogical and unnecesarily cruel to himself that notion was, all I had in the back in my mind is how often I’ve said the very same thing to myself. And I quote:

“Considering all the greater adversities that other people are facing and conquering every passing day, this tireless determination to tell the story of my own makes me feel that I must either be really in love with myself or addicted to dwelling in my past misery.”

As much as I’ve flip-flopped back and forth on the matter myself, addressing it with the pure objective clarity that comes with weighing in on someone else’s problems permanently locked me onto one side of the argument — in the end, fuck what everyone else’s problems are, you’re not stuck having to live everyone else’s lives. You’re a person and human being, born with the right to not have to be perfect, and with that comes hardship, sadness, pain, and sorrow. The fact that other people do, for whatever different reasons they may be, does not deny you the right to your own.

Pain Management

I recently started going through the archives of Back to Work from the very first episode and jotting down key takeaways and general notes from my listening sessions. In episode 3, there was a line that strongly stood out to me:

It is possible to feel pain without suffering.

Beginning to letting go of imperviousness and practicing true strength and resilience has been a little difficult. As Merlin and Dan discussed in the show, we associate suffering with pain when in reality they are separate, albeit closely related. Having to endure pain, whether physical, mental, or emotional, can create a state of suffering but doesn’t need to. The poignancy of the statement was impactful itself, but became even moreso when my brain synthesized it with one of my mentally bookmarked posts from my reads on Zen Habits. Leo Babauta wrote suffering to be a miasma that “causes you to be unhappy, to be stressed, to procrastinate, to be distracted, to be angry with people, to be dissatisfied with your life, to be overweight and unhealthy, to not exercise or eat healthy, and much more.”

Prior to that moment, I would have described myself as suffering-free after all the time I spending all that time wrestling with myself over the fairly recent past and no longer dealing with that old familiar internal turmoil. Yet those subtler manifestations of suffering have still been something I’ve been constantly having to stave off. Melancholy and misery no longer pervade my day-to-day life, but the suffering apparently still does.

Leo also writes that the antidote for those forms of suffering is to practice self compassion — which is the complete opposite form of self-motivation that I’ve been utilizing. My internal monologue is less self-compassionate and far more critical and berating. Shutting down and letting go left me coaching myself like a drill sergeant. It’s sufficient, but also an incomplete and far from ideal solution.

The pains of the past are something that I’ve accepted is something I’ll never be rid of, at least not until the technology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind becomes a real thing. No one can ever be completely free of the most unpleasant parts of their past — memory is a double-edged sword like that sometimes. The thing that we are capable of moving past is the suffering those pains can induce. The full emotional shut-down of the past few years hasn’t been eliminated my own suffering entirely…and now that allowing feelings has become an option again, that self-compassion one of should one of first ones to get closely reacquainted with.

Strength

After acknowledging the truthful weakness of my nature a while back, I turned my attention towards getting myself to the point where I could see myself in the same light others do. Despite the lamenting self-critical tone of the majority of my writing (and by extension, the majority of my thinking), that’s not the persona I wear in day to day life. I follow that “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy and try to project that version of myself I really see myself as. Admittedly, the best I can muster is a cheap knockoff, but it’s sufficient. Still, after almost three decades of carrying the self-perception of a helpless incapable victim of circumstance, it was time to really start putting some realization behind that idealized self.

It all began with taking up the running habit. Over the months that I’ve been burning off pounds, building stamina, and gradually getting my body to match that idealized image I have of it “at goal”, it’s become easier to make enact similar changes mentally. The more I see my physicality reflecting the person I see myself as, the more natural my persona has become. At this point after all those pounds and miles, I no longer see myself as that depressed trainwreck simply pretending at being some better person I could never actually be.

But the transition from weakness to strength took a prolonged detour in a state of imperviousness. In some of my favorite television writing in the 6th season of Bones, they dropped a bit of dialogue that really resonated with me, with the lead character discussing the difference between being strong and impervious. In short, being strong is being able to withstand and thrive; being impervious is simply being detached and not allowing anything through.

As evidenced by most of the updates I’ve written in the past, I used to be in a really bad mental-emotional state. As much as I tried to accept my past and move on, I couldn’t stop living in it. It was easier to escape to the memories of what used to be (even with all the pain that came with it) than to face the prospect of having to keep moving forward in life and figuring out the person those experiences left me as. However, after indulging in that masochistic form of escapism for so long, I grew weary of feeling that way. Unable to sever the ties with the past, I got desperate and instead severed the ties with my emotions. It wouldn’t be possible to feel so depressed and perpetually downtrodden if I just didn’t feel at all.

Right around that time, an episode of one of the podcasts I regularly listen to mentioned a quote from to lyrics to the Dead Kennedy’s Your Emotions. “Your emotions make you a monster”.

That became my personal mantra, and in my efforts to rid myself of the melancholy, I also sacrificed my capacity to genuinely feel good things too. My readings on Greek Stoicism philosophy facilitated that process with its emphasis on objective reduction; feelings became nothing more than the waste material of the biochemical interactions going on in my brain that led to unhelpful perception more often than not. I shut that shit down hard.

In the recent months, I’ve been slowly allowing — no, retraining — myself to feel again. At first, I was extremely hesitant, worried that my old nature would come rushing back out and overwhelm me. Worried that I was still a weak fraud, and that all this time I’d spent on my so called personal development had been spent in vain.

I’m happy to say I was wrong about that.

Weakness

A concept that I’ve noticed myself repeatedly thinking on with directness and clarity is that of “weakness”. Over the past months, it’s been something that I’ve been doing an extensive amount of thinking on and repeatedly procrastinating on drafting an entry on. After so much time continually shooting it off into the future, I’m well overdue to roll up my sleeves and give it my best shot.

When I first started really focusing my thoughts on the topic at hand, that first thing that came to mind was that familiar aggressive self-criticism: despite all the circumstances that caused it, the bottom line is that I simply wasn’t strong enough to not end up in a depressive spiral for an entire decade. To constantly see inspirational articles of people in the world conquering far greater adversities and thriving, finding myself with this very unflattering self-deprecating (and very public) writing log as the proof of the live I’ve led up until this point has been a source of both personal embarassment and resentment.

In turn, I found myself wrestling with the guilt of failing to recapture the strength that I once had. I recalled the memories of that time in my life where I knew happiness, and remembered feeling invincible in both character and mind. Yet, the more I reflected on these memories, the more I came to realize that I was recalling half-truths. Those times in the past when I was boisterous, opinionated, and outspoken…they were limited to the times I was around my family. I was free to be as arrogantly brave as I wanted to, because I had a nuclear arsenal on standby. If things ever were to go south, I had the assurance that the parents and siblings I looked up to would be there to back me up. The reality that I conveniently glossed over was that when I was physically separated from them, I turned into a docile sycophantic people pleaser.

If I jog the timeline all the way back to early childhood, I was completely soft, physically and emotionally. I had an extremely low pain threshold, and the sight of my own blood coming from even the smallest wound would send me into hysterics. As much as I was bold and outspoken, it was a confidence afforded to me by the comforting assurance that there were always people that I belonged to and would support me; my perceived strength back then was something borrowed, not innate. At my core, my nature was that of a pissant weakling.

A couple years ago, in one of those random conversations that take an unexpected turn towards a deep honesty I found myself having with my best friend, I remember him telling me that I was strong — the strongest person he knew. I recall feeling a brief esteem boost hearing that coming from him, right before being hit by an overwhelming wave of sadness at how untrue I felt that to be. Sure, I’ve exhibited resilience and resourcefulness that I never would have thought I had in me over the past few years, but the price I paid to do so is what destroyed me inside and sent me down that depressive spiral. I had to accept the loss of the life and identity I’d grown up with. I was forced to let go of all the people and relationships I was supposed to be able to rely on. Coerced into having to accept that the unconditional love of family and unwavering loyalty of friends was something that wasn’t real, or at the very least something the universe was determined to prove to me I wasn’t worthy of.

Revisiting those thoughts with my present frame of mind this year, I’ve finally flipped that perception. After all that time in isolation, going through those cognitive behavioral loops and rewriting the same old blog entries, I finally found the will to accept my reality and embrace the change into this new person I’ve been driving myself towards becoming. Before, it was out of a necessity that I resented, now it’s out of unbridled desire. Once upon a time, I was weak, and I knew it. I was insecure and utterly dependent on others for my sense of self and happiness. Now, the memories of my personal past, even up to just a few years ago, feel like the recollection of a previous lifetime. If I re-read my old updates, it’s almost as if I’m reading something written by a complete stranger.

During a recent play-through of Kingdom Hearts II a while back, there was a line of dialogue in a cutscene that stood out to me:

awakenthroughweakness

And so though it may have taken me far longer than it should have, through the copious amounts of weakness I once owned, I’ve carved out an awakened something new inside myself — its antithesis, an infallible reserve of mental-emotional fortitude and strength.