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.

Absence

I’ve finally sat myself down in front of the computer screen with the intent of writing a new blog post. Referencing my most recent entries like I normally do, I’m utterly astounded at how long it’s been since I last pushed an update. I started to gather a lot of steam back at the beginning of early July, and that went flying out of the window with a series of health issues that came at me through a revolving door of illness from the middle of the month to the very end. Right around that time, a new PS4 game (Bloodborne) found its way into the household. Being incapacited and convalescent, I got in the habit of ignoring my to-do list and escaping through the distraction of video games. Apparently, I’ve been in a zombie-like routine — work, commute, eat, play, sleep, repeat — for far longer than I thought. To me, it felt like only three, four weeks at most.

That loss of momentum is a real shame; I was really riding high on a motivational train, up until it derailed and crashed into the metaphorical mountainside. There have been times over the past weeks where I’ve tried to recapture that feeling, but each time, I was stared down by those old nagging questions: what is it that I’m really saying, and what is it that I even have to say? What progress is there to report, what is there worth writing out when it feels like the needle isn’t moving at all in real life? Where is the proof of that power I’ve waxed on about in recent months?

In times past, having my body break down on me and separate me from that better version of myself that regularly works out and leaving powerless in front of those sort of self-analytical questions would have left me racked with anxiety and doubt, ruminating and pining for days when things were “better”. This time around, there was no break. It simply was what it was: something to ride out and patiently convalesce through until I could get back to real work. In all areas of life, I’ve been put to the test in practicing those ideals of strength and stoicism that I covet, and I’ve been able to do so without feeling like an utter failure or an impostor pretending to be something he’s not. Putting it all into words has been the real challenge.

What I’ve come to realize is that it’s the challenge that I most need to conquer first. Every time I put mind to what it is I should be doing to bolster my marketable skill set, it all ends up taking back seat to the writing I do on this blog. It feels vain in it’s own way, placing so much priority on writing about myself than on other things that would be of real use to others (and myself, by way of income generation). But monetary success isn’t my driver, legitimate and tangible self-improvement is. Here is where I’ve plastered myself online in the most honest and self-deprecating way, and as I know I’ve written before, deleting it all or sweeping it under the rug won’t do. If I am as removed from that past self as I want to be and think I am, I should be able to write with more ease and focus, and my words should inherently reflect that personal change.

Now that all the lament and melancholy that used to pervade my entire waking day is no longer in place, it has become a lot easier to think and process things about myself, my “self”, and my life, and more importantly, to verbalize them. I am finally back in my own corner, filled with unshakable confidence and determination in all those moments in life that don’t end up a status update or in a blog post. And it feels great.

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.

False Start

In what feels like the blink of an eye, January 2016 is already about to be over, and the past 30 days haven’t exactly been the best for me. I ended 2015 on a high and optimistic note, but in the weeks since then, I’ve been dealing with what has felt like systematic physiological failure. I can’t recall the exact order and/or duration, but off the top of my head, this month I’ve had:

  • Bronchitis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Persisting knee joint pain
  • Soreness on the balls of my feet
  • Oral inflammation
  • Dental pain (I think those wisdom teeth are now effectively on borrowed time)

It seems that fall last December was just the tip of the iceberg, and continuous wave of physical illnesses — along with the early nights and cold winter weather — knocked the fight out of me. As soon as I felt good to go and over one thing, the next one would kick in. Rather than getting bummed out and depressed about it, I ended up mentally checking out, using a fair amount of marijuana to mitigate the pain & discomfort and shifting my diet to one where I’d eat whatever the hell I wanted to.

To say to myself (and write publicly online) about this big push to make with the coming new year only to find myself betrayed by my body and incapable of following through…old, broken, hopeless…those are the types of thoughts I was frequently visited by. Even though I didn’t let the feelings take hold and get to me, it didn’t make the thoughts I was thinking throughout this time any less tiresome to process and push out of mind.

All of this is “the latest”, the reality that I have as a material for an update, and it’s obviously not the entry I would have wanted to find myself composing one month into the new year. In addition to being something I’d rather not have to think/talk/write about, doing so would then require doing something about it, which the past weeks have left me doubtful about being able to do.

Even now, this cloudy & windy Sunday afternoon, I’m not feeling anywhere near 100%. Honestly, it feels like my max has lowered and 80% is as good as I can get. Still, looking back on where my thought processes and general outlook has been this month, I’ve been contradicting my personal philosophy and resilient self-perception. Best to put a stop to it now rather than let it become the precedent for the remaining 11 months.

Goodbye 2015

For the past few years, every New Year’s Eve I’ve unfairly gauged the quality of the year based on my attitude towards the coming New Year. And each New Year’s Eve, I’ve felt a sort of dreadful disinterest. Rather than the wave of inspirational enthusiasm that leads us to make resolutions for the coming year, all I’ve had is the feeling that I didn’t accomplish enough, and that whatever resolutions I would make are just additional items on the mental to-do list that seems to constantly grow but never shrink.

A couple of weeks ago (to the day, actually), I made the following post on Facebook which ended up very accurately and succinctly summing up my year:

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 9.13.03 AM

Taking it at face value, 2015 wasn’t too bad a year for me.

Still, that sense of needing to get the burners ready to run at full-blast looms over me. Going by my last update I was supposed to have done that this month. Just a few days after that post, I had a friend go through a nasty breakup, and moved all his stuff back to my apartment where he’d be crashing until tomorrow when the 1st hits and he’s able to move into his new digs. The move itself took up a fair bit of time and energy, not to mention having to help put things “away” so that the living room here wouldn’t be a complete chaotic mess. As the month wore on and the nights grew longer and much, much colder, my workout consistency dropped proportionately; I’ve mostly been gaining weight and getting fat this month.

Christmas week, I ended up having a nasty fall after a recent rainfall, slipping on a sidewalk metal utility access panel as I learned just how absolutely devoid of traction a certain pair of shoes I own are when it comes to wet surfaces. That spill hurt my hips, back, and shoulder pretty bad — and broke my phone’s screen, protective hardshell case and anti-scratch screen film on it be damned — leaving me spending the vast majority of the past week laid out in bed, swathed in topical analgesics and beached atop a heating pad. That same night that happened was the night my roommate’s family arrived from Germany. Months ago when those plans came up, it was agreed that the roomie’s brother would crash here with him for a few weeks during the lull until the Spring semester started. So, despite having a home full of people, the usual holiday blues I get compounded with the events of this month had me feeling utterly broken, defeated, and alone.

it’s been one of those times where all my usual talk of emotional separation comes into play. I was weighed down by negative feelings, but their very nature as feelings, manifestations of my emotions that I’ve distrusted and disregarded for so long now, made them powerless to actually break me down. It’s like…feeling the pain without allowing it induce actual suffering. Also notably: the complete opposite of how I used to cope with things less than a handful of years ago.

Today, on the eve of 2016, I’m back to being ready for the challenges to come. My body has healed from that fall, and as I stated earlier, this year doesn’t feel like a total wash. Quite the opposite, it’s been the first time in a decade where I had a sense of self that wasn’t mostly mired in melancholy and self-resentment. It hasn’t been the year in which I’ve completed many of the goals I’ve set for myself as a person, but it’s been one in which a lot of a progress towards those efforts have been made. By and large this year, I really fucking liked myself. Running those 200+ miles in August and through the humid 90º+ weather in autumn along with the body weight and dumbbell training I started in November had me feeling incredibly strong and capable. Mentally, it’s felt as if my brain has finally regained the ability to think with razor focus and clarity. That sense of individual wholeness that we take for granted as kids, that the depressed mind so desperately craves. And unlike in years before, it was consistent…and it hardly faltered.

To 2016 — I’m eager to see what my reflection on the end of the coming year reads like.

Unshipped

November seemed to just fly by, and all of a sudden, the final month of 2015 is now well underway. This one’s a particularly big deal for me, as I have a February birthday and with the coming of 2016 looms the inevitability of turning another decade older. Doing some reflective thinking on both the year and my life as a whole, I find myself feeling admittedly overwhelmed. My 20’s have been a decade-long ordeal — half spent spiraling into the depths of depression, the other half crawling and fighting my way out. It’s only in the past couple years that I’ve started to pull myself together as I intended to, and the pressing realization of just how much lost time I have to try to make up for bears down on me every day. I’m going to be turning 30, but vocationally and academically I’m not much further along than those who’ve just turned 20. All the time and energy that should have been applied on those fronts I’ve ended up having to allocate towards figuring out my damage and fix it, all the while feeling like shit for having it and for not being able to resolve it quickly and easily. More specific to this year, I’ve made constant mention of making a “harder push”: mapping out and manage my time with deadly efficiency, maximize productivity & learning, expanding the focus/frequency/insensity of my workouts, and improving as a writer. So far, the closest I feel that I’ve gotten to embodying that was back in August of this year when I ran a cumulative distance of over 200 miles.

During a recent listen to an old episode of Back to Work, the following question was posed to listeners:

What Haven’t You Shipped, and Why?

I decided to start blogging again years ago as an accountability mechanism and as a progressive journal. For the longes time, I didn’t write much because I felt I didn’t have much progress to log. Yet, with all that’s changed/improved over the recent past, the output doesn’t reflect that. As for why:

  • On Guard

In my entry about Thanksgiving this year, I made mention of how openly I write about myself publicly but am very guarded when it comes to discussing myself in person. Similarly, I write more freely about myself when it concerns my past, but when it comes to the present or recent events, there’s a heavy reluctance to do so. Partly because I’m still somewhat figuring that out on a day-to-day basis, and partly because of…

  • Sense of Lack of Authority

Writing about being a depressed trainwreck of a person is easy — it’s what I’ve lived most recently for such a prolonged period of time, it’s what I know best. In areas of other relevant interests, like Greek stoicism and Buddhism, I’m such an unlearned novice that trying to take those on as writing topics feels like it would only result in uninformed noise.

  • Time Mismanagement

As stated above, there’s a lot of other things that I’ve got on my plate in terms of personal improvement. Physical fitness goals, career skill development, hobbies. In constantly shifting my focus across the board instead of dedicating time to hone in on one at a time, I’ve been getting a whole lot of nothing done.

  • Good Old Fashioned Procrastination & Laziness

Enough said.

Ultimately, these are excuses more than they are reasons, in spite of whatever amount of validity there is behind them. Last month, I thought I’d be able to pull off a repeat of August with my running and get a lot of writing done riding the NaNoWriMo wave. That got derailed, but already finding myself a week into the last month of the year, I’m feeling the fire under my ass I should have been channeling last month.

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.

Ingratitude

Growing up, Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday out of the entire year, even more than Christmas and its promise of presents. It was the day out of the year where family squabbles would be put aside and I was most likely to see all my siblings, nephews, and nieces gathered together under one roof. In our home, once everything was laid out and everything had taken their seats, it was my mother’s custom for everyone at the table to take a turn and express what it was that they were most thankful for that year — even the youngest children who barely had the cognitive & speech development to grasp the concept of being thankful got a turn to reflect and share. After dinner was done and the space cleared, the rest of the night would be spent in mass harmonious familial coexistence. Every year, I looked forward to that time of togetherness, to getting my turn to have everyone hear me verbalize how happy I was to have everyone gathered together and always çhallenging myself to do a better job than I had the year before.

When I lost most of my family after the fateful summer of 2001, my feelings toward Thanksgiving began to sour. For the better part of the decade that followed, I still had an active relationship with one of my sisters and getting together with her family was still something I looked forward to. Yet, in the recesses of my mind, I carried a private lament that the times of family-wide reunions would no longer come again. In the past handful of years that I’ve been completely separated from my entire family, fighting my way out of depression by myself and killing off my emotions in the process, that soured feeling towards Thanksgiving has turned into a yearly dread.

I still very much believe in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but like many other things in life, I’ve come to accept it as something that other people get to have and experience that I no longer get to. I see friends on social media sharing their get-togethers with family & loves ones and feel happy for them, all the while feeling the stings of the reality that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that perfect sense of absolute unity and belonging myself, and the strong likelihood that I won’t ever get to again.

My attempts to look at things objectively and be thankful for the “small” things don’t fare much better — they come loaded with guilt.

I tell myself I should be thankful for my current job and the fact that I’m not stuck in a dead-end drudge like I was before, but immediately think of all the people out there who are.

I tell myself I should be thankful for the comforts of “first-world” life and the luxury of having a warm bed that I can sink into at the end of my day, but there are millions of others out there that can’t because they weren’t born in the right place/time like I was. To focus on that is effectively feeling relief that I’m not suffering as much as other people in the world are without having done anything special to deserve such an exemption.

I tell myself that there are plenty of people & friends in my life that I should be thankful for, but the ways that my experience with the disillusionment of unconditional love, support, and trust with my family and my efforts in removing myself from my own emotions keep me from feeling gratitude for them. To not feel thankful for them them now reinforces just how broken and incapable of basic human function I’ve become over the course of my life. To force myself to be thankful for them in spite of all the above feels like I’m relegating them as consolation prizes to a nobody.

Such is the way things have been for years now, and the way I refuse to let things continue. That is why this year, instead of holing up and shutting myself away for the day like has become customary, I’ve decided to take up an invitation to go spend Thanksgiving in the company of said friends.

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.