This Book is Stuck in my Head!

If you’ve already read John Scalzi’s Science Fiction novel, Lock In, or its sequel that just came out, Head On, you know the title is a tasteless joke and I’d like to apologize right now for being unable to resist it. If you haven’t already read either of the aforementioned Scalzi books, then I will apologize after I’ve explained why the joke is tasteless. In the mean time, the most important thing for you to know is that my favorite Science Fiction author has started a new series and the series is excellent.

Lock In and Head On follow FBI agent Chris (No, I don’t just like this series because the protagonist shares my first name. It certainly doesn’t hurt it, though) Shane who isn’t what you or I might call an ordinary person. Agent Shane is what is called a “Haden” in his world. A Haden is someone who contracted a flu-like virus, survived all three stages of the disease (Stage 1 is flu-like, Stage 2 is meningitis-like, and Stage 3 is a coma), but never woke up from their coma. They’re still mentally all-there and capable of sensory input, they just can’t make move and their brains have been altered by the disease (which is why the title is in bad taste). Some of those who wake up from the coma also have their brains altered, but we’ll get into that in a bit.

Agent Shane, like a lot of Hadens, gets around the meat world by using what everyone calls a “Threep,” a nickname based on C-3PO from Star Wars for what is legally called a “Personal Transport Vehicle.” It is basically a high-tech robot body that communicates with the device implanted in his brain so he can experience the world with a minimal amount of lag and all the perks of being able to record everything, access the internet with a thought, and bail out of your body if it gets trashed (as happens more than once). There are certain limitations, of course, such as the inability to eat things and the rather pervasive (if relatively minor) prejudice humanity if famous for, but it allows Agent Shame and many of his fellow Hadens the ability to live a relatively normal life.

To further help the Hadens live a normal life, there are these people called “integrators.” Integrators are the people who progressed all the way through the disease but did not either fall into the coma or did not stay in it. Because of the way the disease altered their brain, they were also able to be fitted with a brain implant device that lets a Haden basically take a certain degree of control over their body. The control is limited, as the integrator remains conscious and aware the entire time, able to reassert control over their should the Haden attempt to do something illegal or harmful to the integrator.

There’s a whole culture that grew up during the decades are the disease first appeared, and they place a central roll in both of Scalzi’s books since the protagonist is a Haden who works for the FBI and his partner is an ex-integrator. The two work out of the Washington D.C. office of the FBI and investigate Haden-related crimes that fall into federal jurisdiction. In the first book, Lock In, the story kicks off with an integrator who is found next to a dead body in a hotel room after a sofa is thrown out of a window. The investigation serves as an excellent showcase of Haden culture and some of the finest subtle world-building I’ve ever read. It introduces readers to many aspects of Haden culture as the two FBI agents try to unravel the true tale of what happened in that hotel room and has a lot of nods to the way the modern, primary world works. I’ll admit I might like it a bit more than I otherwise might because it changes our world’s history a bit to fit better in the future Scalzi created along with showcasing the kind of positive development you’d like to see happen in our species, but it feels like it really could just be a couple of decades down the line from our current time.

The characters are all wonderful, each of them a complex person with layers. There are no caricatures in Scalzi’s novel and that’s worth mentioning because the circumstances of the story make it incredibly easy to justify using them. The books are better for having a full cast of complex, multi-faceted characters, and while there a lot of the same characters across the two books, different ones are highlighted in each book. You can tell Scalzi is building a series out of these books without even taking into account the novella explaining Haden’s Syndrome and its history in greater detail than either of the novels does.

Head On focuses around a sport developed as a result of the ability to destroy a Threep without killer the person inside it, as one of the players in a huge game dies during the match after behaving strangely. A lot comes up during the investigation, including a few nods to current events, but ultimately the story winds up feeling pretty similar to Lock In. Which isn’t a bad thing. Head On doesn’t feel like Lock In repackaged in a new book, but it has a lot of the same qualities and features the same character work and subtle story-building. The investigation is different and you can see some growth in the characters, but it ultimately was made to serve as a stand-alone book featuring the same characters rather than a sequel building off the last book in any significant way.

If you’re looking for some new, fun science fiction to read and like these sort of “cop” books as well, I highly recommend checking out John Scalzi’s new book, Head On and the first book in the series, Lock In. You don’t need to read them in order, but it does help if you do.

Moderation Itself Can be a Kind of Extreme

If you’ve been following my reflections, you’ve probably noticed a lot of common themes. Stuff like “advocate for myself” and “communicate openly” are repeatedly featured, though they’re often worded differently or an implicit part of one of my other themes or self-directives. I’ve been trying to put them into practice and, between last night’s meditation (that quickly turned into sleep since I made the mistake of sitting in bed to do it) and this morning’s reflection, I’ve noticed a lot of interesting results.

Thanks to the way I’ve focused on the direction of my thoughts, the meanings and sources behind my various anxieties and moods, and the reminders I’ve written to myself, I think my overall mood is more positive. Maybe not in a major way, but I’d say the change is statistically significant. I don’t feel much better from moment to moment, but I have noticed I’m less likely to get caught up in my once-frequent small thought spirals or anxiety dust devils. Unfortunately, not a whole lot has helped my depression other than the exploration of my metaphor for talking about my mental illnesses and that only really helped me be more precise in seeing how my mood changes happen.

It’s too soon to see a lot of results, since I’m still trying to open up to people and advocate for what I want more often instead of trying to be constantly accommodating, but it feels nice to be making progress again. In today’s therapy session, I was able to tell my psychologist about all of the progress I’ve been making, thanks to the meditation and tracking everything in this little notebook I’ve got. Having her affirm my progress and talking about the things we can do to help me continue to make progress felt wonderful.

When I was seeing a psychologist in college, back when I was at the peak of my reflection and self-management game, most of my sessions would be me trying to convince myself that what I knew was the right solution was the wrong solution and my psychologist patiently backing up the part of me that knew what the right thing was. Once he pointed out what I was doing, we wound up meeting less frequently since I was good at figuring my own shit out. I still occasionally needed official confirmation or a bit of help when I couldn’t figure out what was really wrong or what to do about what was going on in my head. If I’d continued to see a psychologist after moving to Madison, I’m fairly certain I’d have maintained that skill and maybe have avoided some of the problems I ran into. By the time I started seeing a psychologist again, I was so caught up in how awful I felt and how my life felt like it was being taken over by my OCD, anxiety, and depression that I didn’t realize I was no longer certain of what was going on in my head on even the best of days.

Now, I feel like I’m getting back there. I feel like I’m starting to get a grasp on what is going on behind the veil of my thoughts and can start making progress at working on fixing what I want to fix. There’s a lot these days, but I feel confident I can keep making progress and that I’ll get there eventually. Since I’m making progress on my own and more effectively managing my moods as a result of being even more conscious of my thought processes and how to constructively combat the thoughts that come from my mental health issues, it lets my therapist and I work on some other stuff during our sessions. While I’m a bit concerned about keeping everything straight in my head and how much reading I’m going to wind up doing before meditating two weeks from now (I’ve already got almost two dozen pages of notes and reflection questions to review).

Progress is good, but I’m also worried about getting so wrapped up in trying to make progress and keep track of everything that I lose sight of what I’m trying to do. I want to be better, yes, but I don’t want to sacrifice everything else going on in my life. I want to write more, I want to get out more, I was to improve my mental health, I want to improve my ability to manage myself, I want to get back to working out regularly, I want to enjoy my summer by going camping or taking trips to the beach, and I want to keep paying down my debts.

As soon as I start lumping everything into one phrase like “making progress,” I run the risk of losing sight of the trees because of the forest. Sure, it’s mostly semantics when you really think about it, but semantics and framing are really important to how I handle things. “Progress” requires measurable change every day, but I can’t go camping and write more. I can’t pay down my debts by taking a day off to go to the beach. I can’t work out if I’m spending hours meditating and reflecting. Daily progress isn’t possible when it comes to collectively addressing my goals for this summer, so I need to focus on them individually and incremental progress. I can easily plan a trip after spending time reflecting, or figure out how to make a camping trip cost-effective so it doesn’t break my budget. If I work toward at least one goal a day and make sure to track everything with a checklist, then I can avoid feeling like I’m floundering or panicking because I’m trying to do too much.

As I’ve repeated many times in different words, I have a tendency to let obsession replace discipline. I need to proceed thoroughly and carefully. I need to exercise restrain and caution so I do not get over-invested in a particular way of doing things or in how I expect things to work out so I can avoid the crash that accompanies flawed expectations. That was the result of today’s reflection and something I am repeatedly emphasizing to myself. After, what is the point of trying to improve myself and work on my goals if I just transfer my unhealthy habits from where they are currently to the idea of getting rid of unhealthy habits? It may seem like an impossible oxymoron, but I’ve already done it before and that level of recursion creates mental hurricanes when it gets disrupted by sensibility reasserting itself.

It can be an incredibly frustrating balancing act and just trying to sort it out in a way I feel explains it well is giving me a headache. I know what I’m trying to do and, even if I can’t properly explain it here, I know how to do it. That’ll have to be enough for now. Maybe I’ll figure out the perfect explanation at some point. Maybe I should meditate on that tonight, since I feel asleep while trying to think about it last night. We’ll see. I’ve got a long weekend to work on it.

This whole thing is kind of funny. It reminds me of the lyrics to one of my favorite Andrew Bird songs, “Lull.”

“I’m all for moderation but sometimes it seems
Moderation itself can be a kind of extreme”

I can take anything to an extreme. Moderation is key and moderating myself requires I do it moderately. Talk about meta.

Reigniting My Own Passion Is Quite a Striking Problem

One of the most common things you hear from people dispensing relationship or life advice is to appreciate every day and never take life (or your partner) for granted. This is good advice because people tend to get used to the way their life is and either lose appreciation for what they have or they start to believe their life will always be the same. If you fail to appreciate a romantic partner, it should not be surprising if they leave. If you do not appreciate the good things in your life, you can lose sight of them or stop doing the work necessary to maintain them. While this is great advice and something I try to keep in mind at all times, I also keep it in mind at ALL times.

You know what happens when you take this sort of thing to an extreme (well, what happens when I take it an extreme, since I can only speak for myself here)? You spend your life living in fear of losing whatever it is you’re appreciating.

Every time I meditate, I read through my little notebook of questions to ponder, things to keep in mind, and the central thoughts my meditation revolved around. Last night, when I was meditating after my review, I landed on a thought from a few days ago. I invest in people so heavily because I’m afraid of losing them. I try to appreciate every day I have with people and doing what I love because I know how quickly life can change. As I meditated, I realized I was filled with a sense of dread and quiet fear of something I couldn’t quite explain. Eventually, I linked it back to the idea that appreciating every moment carries with it the implication that you do so because you never know when it will end. If you do not moderate the thought carefully, you can wind up “appreciating” your life and your partner because you’re not sure how long you’ll have them to the point of constantly living in fear of losing them.

 

My OCD and anxiety routinely have a field day with the quiet implication that all the good parts of my life are only temporary. Constantly reminding myself to appreciate what I have while I have it means constantly reminding myself that it is very likely I will, eventually, no longer have it. This is a quiet thought spiral that will sit inside me and build until I’m panicking about something stupid like rescheduled plans or not having the time to work on something I wanted to do. At which point, there’s little I can do but ride out the storm and try to stay calm enough to refrain from doing anything idiotic. While I wouldn’t say that I constantly live in fear of losing what is important to me, I can say it is a stressfully frequent anxiety of mine.

The thing is, no one tells you that you should get used to having your partner or the positive things in your life around. If you continue to do the work required to maintain your relationships and the things you appreciate most in life, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be around for a while. People make commitments to each other because they want to stay as a part of the other person’s life. People don’t just go from wanting to be in your life to leaving it aside from freak accidents. There’s usually a pattern of behavior or a shift as the relationship changes before people separate. If you’re paying attention to the relationship, you can see it coming. The same is true of things that people appreciate, like jobs or hobbies. Aside from, once again, freak accidents, people don’t just lose jobs or lose access to hobbies. It takes time and plenty of warning signs.

I feel secure in my relationship. Maybe not to the point of having nothing that needs work or not worrying about whether or not I’m putting in the work I should be; the relationship is only seven months old so there’s still plenty of room for us to grow together and get to know each other better. I just don’t worry about anything legitimate. I worry about horrific things like car accidents, natural disasters, the eventual collapse of society due to socio-economic or political factors, and whether or not I’ll have had a chance to try to prevent the end of the relationship due to something extreme and unpredictable. Just like most of my anxieties and obsessions. There is no way to predict when society will collapse or if one of us is going to get struck by a car, so there’s nothing productive I can do to fend off the anxiety. All I can do is try to put it out of my mind and focus my energy elsewhere, which is a lot like trying to not think about pink and purple polka-dotted elephants. Doable, sure, but not without a lot of practice and no significant amount of mental effort that can be instantly betrayed by a single stray thought as to why I’m so forcefully blanking my mind.

Like I said in the post I linked above, I need to invest less emotional energy in the sort of panic-inducing line of thought revolving around whether or not something crazy is going to happen that will take away everything I love and enjoy. Chances are REALLY good my significant other will still be around tomorrow. And next week. If I just assume she’s going to be around forever, then I run into problems. Same is true of my writing. I will have opportunities to write tomorrow or next weekend, but I can’t just keep putting it off by thinking that I can always do it later. I need to find balance between my anxieties about losing everything and the trap of assuming there will always be more time. Being this high-strung all of the time is really time-and-energy-consuming.

One of the ways I’ve been considering pushing back against my inclination to over-invest and get caught up in disaster-focused thought spirals is to put more time and effort into choosing “me” over other people. Doing the lazy thing I want to do or advocating for the activity I’d like to do. Currently, I don’t do that very much. The past week and a half of writing reflective blog posts and not trying to write as soon as I get home from work has been pretty much the only time this year that I wasn’t caught up in trying to get something done. I’ve played more video games in the past week than in the month leading up to it. I haven’t read much more, but I’ve actually been buying books again, which is what leads to me reading books.

This is a common theme to a lot of my posts and the “what do I do about this?” part of each reflection. I need to spend more time and energy on myself. I need to value myself more and give myself the same benefit of the doubt I extend to everyone else. I need to work on living my best life and not sacrifice all of my todays on the altar of a potential, far-off tomorrow.

I wanted to make this year about writing. I wanted to write a blog post every day and work on some of my novel projects. But that’s just one thing. That’s just one part of myself and my interests that I’m address. I also want to hike more. I want to get back to reading at least a book a week. I want to continue strengthening and enjoying my relationship with my girlfriend. I want to do new things and stretch myself in ways I considered too scary or too difficult before. I want to be more than I am today. And yet all I’m doing is writing more. Yes, this is good. Yes, this is an amazing goal and getting nothing done but a year of daily blog posts would still be a huge accomplishment. None of that means anything if I’ve sacrificed every other part of myself to make it happen. I can do it for a month, to pump out a whole bunch of NaNoWriMo words, but I can’t, and shouldn’t, keep it up forever.

Every other year, after NaNoWriMo, I’ve always felt burned out and spent at least one month not writing anything. That obviously didn’t happen last year, and that was because I decided to stretch myself in a new way. Look how wonderfully that has turned out! I’ve made over two hundred consecutive daily blog posts! I never expected to make it this far without missing a day and all of this growth and new confidence is the result of a whim. A stray thought and just enough whimsy to decide to pursue it. I need to bring that dedication and discipline to the rest of my life. I need to do new things. I need to advocate for myself. I need to be open and honest with people, even if that’s scary. I need to figure out what I want out of this summer other than another ninety-two blog posts and then work on getting it.

I’m all fired up and ready to go, but I still have work to do. After work, I’ve got my weekly foam-fighting practice. Then bed and work tomorrow. I’ve already scheduled my next twenty-four hours and I can feel the thought of my ordered life draining some of the fire away from me. Pretty much every time I write one of these posts, the same thing happens. I lose the fire between finishing the post and leaving work. Then I go about my day’s activities, find a way to amuse myself for a bit, and then go to bed after meditating for a bit.

I need a way to keep that fire burning. I need to recapture the passion I once felt about everything I did. I want to be that person who used to be excited about everything and could get other people excited about stuff. Maybe trying new things and getting past the inertia from the past four years of doing less and closing myself off will help. It’ll be a real struggle, though, since I feel even more down and discouraged than I did before I got excited.

It won’t be easy, but I think it’ll be worth it.

Swimming in an Endless Sea

I like to describe my depression as an endless sea. I describe living with my depression as floating in said endless sea. I also describe my depression spikes–the times where it gets all-consuming and I have to put all of my effort into not letting it swamp me–as storms on that sea. I feel the metaphor works well because I do not feel like my depression is an emotion or something that comes and goes. It is always there. It changes the way I interact with the world and how I evaluate every decision I make. When it spikes, it turns a relatively simple and routine task into an all-out fight.

A lot of my metaphors for dealing with my depression center around this image. It comes out mostly in my poetry, but also in the way I talk about it to the people close to me. Just like describing my anxiety as wind (which can be anything from a gentle breeze or even still air to raging tornadoes and hurricanes) or my OCD as a spiral (thanks to the lovely imagery from John Green’s Turtles all the Way Down), I try to find a good image based on something that other people can relate to. It usually works really well because mental illness and our experience of it are subjective. There’s no way for someone else to describe someone else’s experiences with an illness that exists in the realm of their mind. There are biological descriptors and terms we can use that deal with diagnosing and treating the illness, but our experiences are our own. The same is true of physical illness. Sure, you can diagnose and treat a broken arm based on certain tangible facts and descriptors, but you can’t describe someone else’s experience of having a broken arm.

I’ve always liked my depression metaphor because it does a great job of conveying the weight of it. I am treading water in an endless sea because I can manage my symptoms, but I’ll likely never be entirely free of them. My depression colors every thought I have, it weighs in on every decision I make, it is as much a part of my life as being a guy is. It is a part of me. If you can imagine being stuck in an ocean without land or a boat in sight, you can imagine the sort of helplessness and hopelessness that can strike me when I’m struggling to manage my depression.

The endless sea metaphor also lends itself well to the ways I try to manage or interact with my depression. It can pull me down, which is a lot like going under the water. I can’t breathe, but I know that I can hold my breath for a while and swimming in the right direction will bring me back to the surface. When I’m on the surface, I can work on assembling rafts from what I find around me as I float.  It takes a lot of work to make one and they rarely survive a storm, but they let me take a break from needing to work at treading water constantly.

When my depression gets bad, because my anxieties start a storm or I get caught in a thought-whirlpool, it gets more difficult to tread water. Can you imagine how a raft might not survive a storm, dashed apart as the waves swell and crash? Or how it might get tossed aside after getting sucked down a watery vortex? Then I’m back to sinking or swimming under my own power. What if my anxieties and OCD start acting up at the same time? A raft would be useless in a hurricane. Which is why I prefer an anchor to a raft. It might not help me stay on the surface, but it keeps me from getting swept away in a storm or pulled into a whirlpool so long as the rope is strong enough. Even in a hurricane, the anchor will remain. I may not be able to breathe under the water, but I can hold my breath for a very long time at this point and the ocean is always calmer under the surface. Clinging to it often means going under a bit during a storm more frequently that I’m used to, but it also means I always know which way leads to the surface.

The metaphor isn’t perfect, as no metaphor is, but I’ve spent years and years thinking about this and it is so far the best one for me. If I ever come across a better one, I’ll immediately switch to that, like I did with my OCD and thought-spirals. I used to describe it like being unable to stop making a ticking noise with your tongue: it is annoying as shit to you and can get on the nerves of the people around you; it interferes with communication but can be worked around if you try hard enough and people are patient; it is something you know you should be able to avoid doing but can’t for reasons you’re unable to explain (which also frustrates you); and feels like an involuntary bodily reaction once you’re sort of accustomed to it. Spirals is so much simpler and so much more accurate because it gets at the core of what my OCD is and how it affects me rather than being focused on the symptoms.

For a long time, I was tempted to see the people around me as rafts. I could invest myself in their lives and problems, trying to help them and support them, so that I could use my effectiveness at helping them as a means of buoying myself. My past romantic relationships and closest friends were rafts because I could lean on them when I needed help. The problem with that is that I can’t rely on other people to get my through my depressions spikes. Not because other people won’t do it or that getting help from people is bad, but because I can’t expect them to fix me or be emotionally available all the time. They have their own problems to deal with. They can’t be there all the time and that’s fine. That’s a normal part of human relationships. We like to say that we’ll always be there for the people who mean a lot to us, but “always” is a tricky word. That’s a lot to expect from someone else, even if you’ve married them.

I don’t mind asking people for help and I do it when I need a little boost. If what I’m asking won’t cost them too much and will help me through the latest storm or whirlpool, then of course I’m going to ask for help. I just don’t expect it. I also need to be ready to handle all of them on my own because I’ve had times when no one was available to help me and they could have gone horrible wrong if I hadn’t been prepared for that.

There’s a fine line, there. I want to be willing to ask for and accept help from the people close to me, but never in a situation where I absolutely need it. There are resources for those moments, help lines and therapists, but those are people with training for those moments. Putting the need for that level of help on people close to me would be an incredible amount of pressure. I think they’d all be willing to do it if I said I needed it, but, having been in the situation of someone needing that from me, there is a cost that comes with it. I’m glad I have people who’d pay it, but I’d prefer they didn’t have to.

None of this, of course, is to say that I’m in a situation where I need anything. I had a depression spike yesterday that is carrying through today and was made worse by an unfortunate connection between some of my mental health issues and the movie I saw with my girlfriend, but I’m doing fine. I appreciated being able to ask for some comfort from my girlfriend while we watched Rise of the Guardians to clear the other movie from our minds, but it wasn’t something I expected to make me feel better. It helped in the moment and it gave me an hour’s reprieve from the storm I was fighting (we couldn’t find the movie anywhere but on 20th Century Fox’s website and they only let us watch an hour of it), but I eventually left and had to deal with it on my own again. If there was more she could have done to help, I’d have asked for it, but sometimes the only thing that helps me is time.

Before I went to bed, as I meditated on my depression and my girlfriend’s wonderful offer to help me if she could, I couldn’t help but think of the ways I’ve dealt with and talked about my depression over time. I went from dealing with it on my own in an unhealthy manner to relying on other people to dealing with it in a constructive and nominally healthy manner on my own. Even if the metaphor hasn’t changed and I sometimes need to remind myself that it is okay to ask for help as long as I’m not putting too much pressure on people, it is nice to see how much better I’ve gotten at handling it.

Doing New Things is Scary

I’m not very good at doing new things. By which I mean that I generally do not engage in activities or experiences that are new to me, not that I lack a certain basic competency when it comes to performing tasks or participating in experiences that I have never done before. I’m actually pretty good at picking things up and running with them. Quick learning is a skill I’ve spent my life developing and is part of why I like writing new and different things.

Despite being confident that I can muddle through any new experience, I tend to avoid them these days. I started this unfortunate habit because I was so incredibly busy with work, writing, trying to live a more healthy life, and focusing on growing the relationships I was establishing in what still felt like a new city. Nowadays, I still use that excuse but I mostly avoid them because of fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of losing something important to me that is never clearly defined and never makes sense if I actually dig into it. I don’t do open mic poetry nights because I’m afraid of sharing often very emotion poetry in a setting where I actually have to look at the people hearing my poem. I can post a poem online and use the internet as a barrier to keep me insulated from any reactions to it, but I can’t do that in a setting that sometimes even encourages people to interact after hearing a poem. I dislike crying in public. Not because I think crying is bad, but as an artifact of my issues showing emotion. I don’t even like being frustrated, sad, or angry in front of other people.

I actually quite enjoy a good cry. Pop in Les Mis or something on the warmer side and I’ll watch it just for the bit that makes me cry. Feels nice, you know? Refreshing. But generally not in public and as a result of a poem of my own that I just read to a bunch of mostly strangers. I just bared my soul and am now displaying how emotional that was for me. Even though I know they’d be a bunch of people I’d probably never seen again, even the thought of possibly doing this is making me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. Sure, you could argue that being open and emotionally vulnerable with a group of people makes them no longer strangers. You could also argue that being secure in my own emotions and experiences means there’s nothing a bunch of strangers could do to harm me or manipulate me using the emotions I just shared. I’d probably agree with you on both counts. That doesn’t make it any easier to do. And that’s just the emotional outcomes of sharing my work. What if someone hates it and starts heckling me or gives really terrible “feedback” because all they want to do is feel superior to other people? I don’t know if any of my poetry is good and I’ve never really tried to build my confidence in it the way I’ve built my confidence in my prose writing, so sticking my neck out feels especially fraught.

I used open mic poetry reading as an example (mostly because the one friend who read yesterday’s post and messaged me to let me know that it was, in fact, the one post she’s read since I started doing reflection pieces is the one who was always encouraging me to go to an open mic night), but I feel like it does a good job of illustrating just how complicated I’ll make anything new in order to avoid it. Which isn’t to say I’m wrong or that anything I brought up about going to an open mic night isn’t a legitimate consideration. Everything I’ve written about why I am disinclined to reading my poetry in front of people is true and a part of any decision I make. The big difference is I’m willing to just push past all of that consideration for things I’m more familiar with.

A D&D or Pathfinder encounters night at the local game shop? Not comfortable role-playing in a group because gamer communities at local game shops can be super tightly-knit and not the most-welcoming to new people. A book club focused around science fiction and fantasy books for people in their 20s and 30s? I don’t want to get into arguments with people about book analysis or have to defend myself if I dislike a book that everyone else liked. A local writers group to support each other as we work on our NaNoWriMo pieces? I don’t want the pressure of having strangers read my prose as I’m still working out the details of the story, nor do I want to get stuck with a group that isn’t interested in improving so much as just patting each other on the back for being a writer.

I can do it for literally anything. I actually DO it for pretty much everything. I supply my own reasons not to go or tell myself that I need to psyche myself up before I commit to doing anything like that. Then I never psyche myself up, make sure to keep the conversations with whatever friend suggested it to topics further away from “what should I do with my free time,” and eventually forget about it. At least, that’s what I did for a couple years.

Now, I’m trying to be open to doing more things. Trying new stuff. My girlfriend likes to go out and do things, like go to parties or attend performances by local artists at breweries. So I put the excuses aside, focus on the simple acts of getting there and getting back, and wind up having a good time. So far, I’ve been to more parties and local events since I started seeing her than in the almost four years I lived around Madison, WI before I met her. I even joined a Monday night D&D group with only two people I sorta knew from the foam fighting thing I do on Thursdays. I went to a performance by a small local musician she knows because one of her other friends was reading poetry from a poetry dissertation and had such a wonderful time that I’m actually considering workshopping some poetry with my beta readers to get some pieces together for an open mic night.

After writing that last sentence, I had to go take a break from writing this post to breathe deeply and think about something else. I’m still coping with stress and anxiety by ignoring it and busying myself, but there are times when no amount of addressing the anxiety is going to help and all you can do is plunge ahead despite it. This is one of those times. I don’t know when I’ll do it because I’m still nervous to the point of almost puking at the thought of getting up in front of people to read some of the poems I’ve posted here, but I’m at least thinking about it. And distracting myself with thoughts of presentation and what kind of business cards I could make to refer people to this blog for more poetry and some fiction as well. I don’t do advertisements on my blog because this isn’t about making money, but it still feels really nice to get views.

The old cliche about bravery is that “being brave” means feeling scared but doing whatever it is anyway. I don’t know if I’d want to go so far as to claim I’m being brave, but I definitely don’t want to feel as stagnant as I did a year ago and I don’t want to let fear rule my life. Which means doing new things, growing as a person, and eventually getting up in front of an audience to say something I feel is important to me. That is, after all, the point of writing stuff on this blog.

 

The Choice Between Silence and Speaking up can be Imposing

One of my most important habits, in terms of maintaining my mental health, is taking moments throughout the day to be quiet. I take them during breaks, if I’m feeling particularly frustrated, when new work comes piling in, when something goes wrong, when I need to talk to someone who pushes my buttons, and when I need time to clear my thoughts. They’re an integral part of my ability to cope with the mess in my head and the stress of the world around me. It is hard to get at work, but nothing is quite as calming to me as a few moments of silence. When I get home from work after a stressful day, when things are pushing me to my limit, or when I’m trying to sort through a tangled mess of emotions in order to share how I’m feeling, silence is the foundation from which I respond as needed.

There are other times I like silence as well, beyond as an aid to my coping mechanisms or emotional needs. Sharing a few moments of silence with my friends is a great way to get comfortable being around each other. A silent moment with my partner lets me feel more connected and appreciate the moment we’re in. Silence when having a deep conversation lets me take a moment to appreciate what has been said and how I want to contribute. Silence as I go to sleep helps me feel calm and at peace so I can dodge the anxiety cannon in my head that’s waiting for a single spark of a thought to go off. Silence is important to me, as you can probably tell given how often I write about it.

All of those are just times it came up as a major theme or the subject of something I’ve written and posted on this blog. If I spent more time, I could probably find enough references to make each work in the sentence a different link. If I included stuff I haven’t shared, I could probably do that for the entire paragraph.

That being said, not all of those references are to times where silence was a good thing. As much as I enjoy silence, I cannot deny that I have a complicated relationship with it. Being silent because I want peace is one thing, being silent because I feel like I have nothing to say or that I can’t find the right words is something else entirely. This whole blog started with a post about needing to speak up more and to make sure I didn’t lose my voice to choosing silence over speaking all the time. Imposing silence on myself and having it imposed on me by others is a sure-fire way to get me all fired up in one way or another. If I’m doing it to myself, I’ll get a little angry but mostly sad because I’m struggling to fight a habit that has been a part of me for most of my life. If someone else is trying to silence me, I’ll get incredibly angry and will struggle with the desire to make noise simply to spite them.

Choosing to be silent and imposing silence on yourself are two different things. I often choose to be silent in meetings because, while I could affirm the point someone is making or add another data point to the general consensus, me speaking up adds nothing because the point has already been made or the person has already been convinced. I often impose silence on myself when someone says or does something that upsets me because I don’t have the emotional energy to get into a discussion with them or because I just want to move on without making a big deal of what happened. You could say that I’m choosing to remain silent in both situations, but only in the second one do I have something I want to say that will possibly bother me in the future as a result of not saying it. Ultimately, the distinction is only meaningful here because I’m giving it meaning. Other people can define it however they want and give it whatever emotional weight they want, but that is the difference in my eyes.

The problem with such a hair-splitting distinction is that I often struggle to tell which is which in certain situations. Sure, maybe staying silent after my friend says something careless that hurts my feelings is “choosing” silence, but it often feels like “imposing” silence in the moment. I can only really tell after the fact and then, sometimes, it is too late to choose anything else. I don’t like the idea of bringing up stuff from the past, but deciding to watch out for it in the future and preparing to speak out then can create a barrier between you and whoever you’re preparing for. Additionally, it gets harder and harder to speak up the longer you remain silent. Silence in the face of something is often seen as approval and can be widely interpreted by whoever is watching. I’ve had people in the past blow up at me because I was silent a couple of times before bringing something up with them. One of them routinely used it as a way to change the subject and avoid whatever problem I was trying to address by steering the conversation from there using their outrage and anger at what they called an ambush to browbeat me into letting go.

Silence is dangerous. It is addicting and can be used against you. I used to believe that saving my words at my previous job would mean people would take note when I eventually spoke. Turns out that all it accomplished was to get people used to ignoring me. I’m pretty sure my habit of not talking during meetings when I didn’t have anything to actually add to the meeting is what held me back in my manager’s reviews of my performance. Start staying silent when you think you should be speaking up and it becomes easier to justify it in the future. Not necessarily because of the “slippery” slope idea, but because you’ve already done the work of justifying it once. It takes less work after that. Sometimes, in order to combat part of it, you need to create a whole new blog based around the idea of speaking up and, when that obviously didn’t help the way you wanted, commit to updating it every day for a year.

That’s an extreme example, sure, but it’s one I have personal experience with. Even then, it hasn’t helped as much as I wanted it to. I’m still silent most of the time. I hold back and think and then the moment has passed and I feel like saying anything is only going to even more of a disruption than what I wanted to say might have been. Except in writing. On my blog I am honest, I hold very little back (because I don’t want EVERYTHING on the internet for anyone to find), and I feel like I can express myself easily. Half the time, I consider writing a post about how I feel and then sending a link to the relevant parties so they can finally get to hear what I think about something. At the same time, since very few of the people I’m closest to actually read this blog, it’s a pretty safe place to write something without needing to worry about upsetting someone who only has half the picture.

That being said, I’m willing to bet that everyone I’m close to is going to wind up reading this post and having something to say about that. Typical.

Silence can be good. Silence can be wonderful! But it can also be dangerous and you can drown in it. Finding the balance between speaking up at the right times and staying silent when it is a choice is one of the things I need to work on. Even though the list is getting huge, I think I can manage it. I’ve got everything written down in a little notebook using a system I created just for this purpose. Hopefully, I can keep track of everything this way and, between my own efforts and my occasional therapy sessions, work my way through it.

That’d be a nice accomplishment for this decade. I’d like to say “2018,” but setting goals is all about making sure they’re reasonable. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need more than another six months to work through all of this.

I’d like a Prescription of Sleep to Address my Tiredness Problem, Please.

The last couple days, I have reached mid-afternoon and felt totally exhausted. I finish up whatever I’m doing (Pokemon Go Community Day events yesterday and moving the bed set I bought from a friend today) and, as soon as I take a moment to relax, I’m suddenly so tired I want to collapse.

Because of my insomnia and tendency to avoid sleep in order to maximize the amount of time I have to do things with my day, I tend to crash when I go to bed instead of just fall asleep. While I could easily blame this for my sudden exhaustion after doing something moderately active (lots of walking and moving a bunch of crap), I’ve lived in this state of perpetual crash-readiness for over a decade now. You can’t lie awake staring at the ceiling for hours because you can’t turn your brain off long enough to fall asleep if you’re so tired your brain shuts off as soon as you’re in bed. You can’t waste your night feeling anxious if you’re too tired to feel anything but sleepy.

Yes. I am quite aware this isn’t healthy and I’m taking things to an extreme to make a point. I live like this all the time, even when I’m being very physically active, so why am I suddenly exhausted when my day is barely even half over?

As I lay on the couch, trying to not fall asleep so I didn’t let my dinner burn in the oven, it struck me. I’m so tired because I’ve been spending so much mental energy on myself lately. Normally, my mental energy is what I’ve got in excess and what I use to help mitigate a shortage in either my physical or emotional energies. It is my will power and I’ve been spending it a lot as I try to make myself focus on something I’ve been deliberately ignoring for a couple of years or longer. Which means my relatively low levels of physical energy due to sore muscles from my weekly fighting practices and my very low levels of emotional energy because I’ve been digging through some tough shit don’t get replenished. This can cause weird moments like how I felt when I got back to my car after dropping off the U-Haul van I rented to move the mattress, box spring, and bed frame. I wanted to just collapse on the seat with the door open, cry my eyes out (not for any particular reason, I just felt like crying), and then drive home without calling my girlfriend to see if she wanted to do anything like we originally planned or just rain check it because she was tired from the engagement party she went to the night before. I just burned through all of the energy I had and was left with only the last dregs of my willpower.

I did not of those things. I turned my car on, took a few calming breaths, spoke with my girlfriend, and then drove myself to get some things for dinner. Now, having eaten my dinner and had a bit of caffeine to help me hobble through the rest of the day, I’m updating this blog because I’m not letting anything stop me from updating it daily. Even now, as I write, I want to just lean back in my chair and cry. Or put my sheets back on my bed as I exhaustion-cry before closing the blinds and collapsing onto my bed to sleep until time has no meaning and idea of “Chris” has melded with my new mattress and the universe returns to being the illusion new age gurus would have us think it is.

This leads me to believe that my willpower is limitless or at least a poor concretion of a difficult abstract idea. I’m doing none of those things. I’m doing what I think is an important part of my day-to-day life, keeping up with the goals I set for myself, and taking the requisite actions to ensure that my health (physical and mental) doesn’t deteriorate beyond repair.

I used to really love the “spoons” metaphor as an example of what it means to live with a chronic illness (mental illnesses are included in this) but I’ve kind of found that it doesn’t exactly work for me. If I feel something needs to get done and I have no way of making it easier on myself by adjusting the goalposts, I will just get it done. It’s hard to say I’m restrained to a certain number of spoons if I just give myself more for free when I feel the situation calls for it.

Now, I wonder if I am hurting myself by pushing myself past the point where all I want to do is collapse, or do I just feel like I want to collapse because my depression and mental illnesses tell me that I’ve done so much already and deserve to rest? Do I naturally have this energy and don’t feel like I do because my depression hides it behind a steady litany of how unable I am? I’ve heard of a lot of people who have similar anxiety, OCD, and depression problems who have said they felt like they regained a ton of energy once they were on a medication that helped treat their mental health without over-burdening them with horrible side-effects. Part of me wants to try out the medication route again just to see if I can get a similar boost. Even if I have the same amount of energy overall, no longer needing to fight myself and this weird feeling of consumptive exhaustion in order to use it would be amazing.

I don’t know. I’ll talk about it with my healthcare providers and we’ll see what comes of it. In the mean time, I’m going to reflect on my habit of exhausting myself, why I feel so tired this weekend, and how I can seem to spend so much energy on untangling my mind without realizing it. I hope you had a great day and found something in this rambling reflection piece that got you thinking. I know I did.

 

Living a Clean Life

Sometimes, I really wonder about myself. I am rather fastidious when it comes to my personal hygiene, but not always very good about things like dusting my room or doing the dishes. All of my shelves are full of alphabetized books, comics, and video games, but I leave random crap all over my floors and any surface that isn’t used every day. I like to say that I leave all of the heavy cleaning until I get very stressed out so I have a mindless organization based task to do in order to help me feel more in control and relaxed.

Lately, I’m not so sure. I haven’t done any major cleaning in my room for a while and it definitely isn’t because I’ve been saving it for when I feel stressed out or like my life isn’t under my control. I’ve felt both of those things a lot lately and still, an ever-growing layer of dust coats the top of my bookshelves (which accumulates quickly, thanks to my pet bird who is a dust-generating machine) and no cleaning happens beyond the basic quick cleaning I do to keep my room habitable. I’ve even started putting off the cleaning because I feel stressed or exhausted from how much effort and energy everything takes.

I thought about this a lot as I started last night’s meditation. In fact, it was hard not to think about it because I kept finding little bits of paper and shells from bird food stuck to my feet or poking me in the leg. When I finally cleared my mind, this thought was the first thing out. “If I really like cleaning and it really relaxes me, why am I not doing it?” As I meditated, I remembered all of the times when I’d ignore cleaning that needs to be done (at least the ones after I went to college since I never really wanted to clean until I was cleaning up after only myself) and some new patterns emerged.

Up to a point, I think I find cleaning relaxing and positive to my mental well-being, but I don’t think I enjoy it as much as I’ve led myself to believe. I think I spent a lot of time convincing myself that I enjoyed cleaning since cleaning is something that needs to get done regularly, is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and is a good way to help you feel mentally organized. I don’t think I really enjoy it. The feeling of positive reward is pretty much the same feeling I get when I can stick to some of my core habits. I feel the same way about cleaning my spaces as I do about brushing my teeth. Since I never tried to convince myself that I enjoyed brushing my teeth, I never really tried to see that positive reward of following a habit as enjoyment like I did with cleaning.

That being said, it really illustrates just how hard we can try to convince ourselves that we like something when we really don’t.  I’ve heard of and personally seen relationships that only stayed together because neither person broke up with the other. I’ve seen people who are pretty miserable together and who argue constantly (sometimes even viciously) stay together because they’d convinced themselves that this was what they wanted. I’ve seen people who probably still work at my old job, who I worked with every day, go from hating their job to convinced that they love it despite being constantly miserable and complaining all the time. It is incredible how much work we will put into making ourselves believe we’re happy instead of facing the truth that we aren’t and the quandary of what to do it about it now that we know we’re unhappy.

Or how hard we’ll work to make ourselves believe something that isn’t true. You see it a lot in society today, what with all the climate-change deniers and the people still advocating for trickle-down economics, but there’s a more micro level version, on an individual basis, that involves the way we view ourselves or the world around us. A lot of the time, though untruths are mostly harmless. Things like how these pants look on us, how much alcohol we can handle (though this might be more common in Wisconsin), the exact number of our weight or height. Stuff like that. Little things that are just a part of being a human in a society that isn’t necessarily what our brains are best adapted to. There are bigger ones, though, that can heavily impact our lives and the lives of those around us. “I don’t have a drinking problem” despite binge-drinking a few times a week, or ignoring the homelessness problem in your city because they seem to get around pretty well, or even something that is often turned into a joke: “I’m not racist! How could I be? I have black friends!”

Part of being human is having the ability to fool yourself into believing anything. Another part that unfortunately goes with it is getting defensive when strongly held beliefs are attacked or tested. The Oatmeal did an excellent job explaining in this comic, but a quick explanation of the comic is that humans tend to treat attacks on firmly held beliefs or opinions as the same thing as attacks on the self. Your brain reacts the same way to being physically attacked as it does to having your core beliefs challenged or attacked. This can make it difficult to change your mind about things that you view as important to who you are as a person. That’s why people get so upset if you have to convince them that they have a drinking problem or that their relationship is only making them miserable or that the cause they’ve dedicated their life to is only going to make things worse for people.

I try to live without any big lies and I try to take stock of how I feel about things without misleading myself. I think that, at least in terms of misleading myself, I haven’t been doing a very good job of avoiding this behavior. I don’t think I live with any big lies, but this tangled mess inside my head doesn’t exactly make it easy to figure out what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling. It is a lot easier to ignore the immediate reaction to something when I can sweep the whole thing under the metaphorical rug before I’ve got time to really think about it. I don’t think I’ve done it for any huge problems, but the only real evidence I have of that is none of my friends calling me out on toxic or self-destructive behavior. I mean, I’ve clearly been lying to myself about enjoying cleaning, so what else am I lying to myself about? I’m pretty sure I’m in this mental mess right now because I’ve been lying to myself.

I stayed at my last job way longer than I should have because I thought I’d make the most money there. I kept going, convincing myself that I could change things if I just kept trying. I worker harder, telling myself that someone would recognize my work and reward me, even if it didn’t exactly fit into the easily quantifiable metrics my manager used. I kept going from day-to-day because I knew I only needed to keep it up for a while longer and then things would finally start getting better.

None of that was true. I make more money at my current job. No one wanted things to change but the people without power and the powerless people couldn’t do anything about it because the system was designed that way. No one cared and my boss never used anything but the metrics. Things didn’t finally get better. In fact, they got worse and then took a hell of a lot of work on my part to simply stop getting worse, let alone improve.

I lied to myself a lot, about a lot of things, and I know that I need to stop it. I’m good at pushing past my limits, but doing so in these types of situations only made my future more difficult and my mental health worse. I need to watch out for more because I know I’m not where I want to be and I need to ensure that staying here is actually because it is the best way to get where I want to go rather than simply easier than making a change. Otherwise, I’m going to stagnate and get stuck again, and I don’t think I could handle it a second time.

Love or Idolatry

One of my favorite songs from Steven Universe is the end credits song, “Love Like You.” Throughout the show, it is played in short snippets as the credits roll and it takes almost two entire seasons to go through the entire song. The song’s creator, who also created the show, has gone on the record in recent years, to talk about it. When the soundtrack of the show came out, compiling most of the show’s songs up to that point, Rebecca Sugar said that, initially, the song was about an alien who wanted to be able to love the Human she was in relationship with the way he loved her. She wanted to feel how he felt and surmised that if she could return his feelings, then maybe she would no longer feel like she falls short of how he sees her.

The lyrics paint a picture of someone who doesn’t understand the idea of love, except in the context of the way it marks the singer’s partner act around her or see her. The singer doesn’t think very highly of herself and is constantly measuring herself up against the way her partner sees her and, in her eyes, falling short. It’s almost heartbreaking. “I wish that I knew what makes you think I’m so special.” It gets me any time I actually listen to the song instead of just letting it play in the background. As someone with self-esteem issues and a history of difficulty making meaningful, lasting connections with people, the song resonates rather strongly.

After spending the evening with my girlfriend, this song came on the radio (well, my iPod was plugged into my car radio and the playlist eventually cycled to it) and it made me think about the nature of love, the way we think people see us, and how we see ourselves. Love can be great because it can show us how we look to someone and, sometimes, even let us catch a glimpse of the person our partner sees us as. At the same time, if we feel like our partner is not actually seeing us but some false version of us or they gloss over any problems, it can be discouraging to constantly be compared to this version of ourselves that we feel isn’t grounded in reality. That could easily make self-esteem or self-value problems worse.

A while after giving the initial interview about “Love Like You,” Rebecca Sugar has said she now views the song as being more about her relationship with all of the Steven Universe fans she has met as the show grows in popularity. Because she has created this show and so many people feel so strongly about it, they transfer some of that attention and love to her, the show’s creator. She said that she feels like she can’t measure up to the sort of almost worshipful adulation they heap on her and that the song now speaks more to the way she wishes she could return all that love but can’t figure out how to.

From what I’ve read, a lot of popular creators feel like this, but particularly the ones who spend a lot of time meeting fans, such as show creators, voice actors, writers, and so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if musicians felt this way as well. It can probably be rather alienating, to be worshiped by almost everyone you meet. To be loved so strongly and so enthusiastically by someone who doesn’t actually know you that you can’t help but feel the weight of their expectations settle more heavily on your shoulders with each new person who gushes about how much they love you.

I think I can sometimes have that effect on people. And not just celebrities or creators I admire. People in my day-to-day life. As I’ve mentioned in the past few days, I have a tendency to invest completely and quickly in relationships. I think that can probably be overwhelming for a lot of people because they start to feel like I’m loving the person they act like they are rather than the person they see themselves as. I think some of my past relationships fell apart for exactly this reason, even if other reasons were given. I mean, how can you communicate honestly with someone who you feel doesn’t really understand you?

I’m pretty sure I do that to my girlfriend sometimes, too. We often have a communication issue where we use different words to say the same thing and get frustrated because we can’t seem to make the other person understand what we mean or it seems like they’re being intentionally obstinate. We usually figure it out pretty quickly, thankfully, but it can be discombobulating when it happens multiple times in a conversation.

I like to think that I look for the best in people and try to appreciate them for who they try to be or who they want to be. I like looking for the good in people and trying to look for the positive aspects of people’s lives. I don’t like being negative when I can avoid it, since I have a tendency to be gloomy and melancholic at the drop of a hat, but I think I can understand how this would be frustrating to people I’m close to. Sometimes, you don’t want people to always see the light in you. Sometimes you want someone to acknowledge the darkness. Not because you want them to fix it, but because you want them understand and love all of you, not just the golden idol they seem to worship.

Which isn’t to say that I’m worshiping some perfect form of my girlfriend. As I said, I only THINK I do it SOMETIMES. This was just what I thought about during my meditation when I woke up in the middle of the night thanks to a leg cramp and had to spend half an hour stretching my muscles and drinking water. Personally, I don’t think I worship perfect versions of people, I just love strongly and love people as they are. But I know exactly what I mean when I say things and I know the intentions behind my every action. I’m not always that great at letting other people know those things right away. I have a tendency toward muted reactions, very little emoting, and not making myself clear when I speak because I get my thoughts jumbled up and miss the important bits that would have made it all sensible.

I want people to see themselves the way I see them. I want to see myself the way I see other people. But I think that, when it comes to other people, all that comes across is the love and not enough of the projection of how I see them. When it comes to myself, all I get is the projection of how I see myself and not enough of the love. I need to work on letting people see my emotions a little more and doing a better job of communicating my feelings in their entirety, rather than just the snippet conveyed by the words coming out of my mouth.

I don’t know if you’ve put together the pieces from past blog entries or, I don’t know, the title of my blog, but I have a hard time getting the right words out when it comes to talking. Or, at least, I feel like I do. This is going to be hard, but I think it’ll be worth it if I ever figure it out.

Too bad I can’t just write everything I want to say to people and have them treat it like I just spoke it to them… It works fine until someone needs a response right away. Writing it correctly takes time and effort away from a conversation. It isn’t exactly plausible if you’re trying to communicate with a partner or a close friend when something is going down.

At least trying something is better than silence. I always try to express myself rather than sit in silence. I’ll give myself that much credit. Sometimes, though, it feels like silence would have been better. It can be difficult to tell.

For What It’s Worth

During last night’s reflection, I had a hard time focusing. I spent almost an hour trying to clear my mind and start meditating, but I never quite made it. My roommates were being noisy (which is fine. That’s what excited people do), it was uncomfortably warm in my room, and I was exhausted. Every time I tried to relax and let my mind clear, some random thought would show up and bring a bunch of its friends along. Normally, that’s what I’m looking for, but this was before I could clear my mind so it was all about stuff I’d read that day or the games I’d been playing earlier that evening or the books I was planning to start reading this weekend. None of which is conducive to untangling the knots of my mind.

I took a break to get ready for bed because it was late and taking a bigger break from trying to meditate is better than fruitlessly trying again. A chance to reset, do some mundane tasks, and hopefully give the AC a chance to cool down my room without me in it. While I was preparing for bed, I caught myself feel slightly upset with myself about how the night had gone. Sure, I enjoyed playing video games with my roommate, but the game was less fun than usual because we spent a lot of time doing the same thing over and over again to unlock these quest item things we were given. It was frustrated to see how much work it would take to finish the quest and not to know if it was actually worth it.

I never ate before sitting down to play, so I ate my dinner at 10pm and spent more time than I planned eating and playing a handheld game, so I wound up spending an hour of what should have been my reflection time eating and playing a game. Throw in the general feelings of frustrations and anticipatory stress I’ve got from how busy my next two months are going to be and the fact that my phone call with my girlfriend was nothing but planning out the next few weekends. All together, it left me with a sort of general dissatisfaction that is only possible to feel when everything isn’t a problem now or got you exactly what you needed, but you know it’ll be a problem later or left you with the realization that you didn’t get what you wanted and initially set out to get.

Nothing bad happened, it just wasn’t satisfying. The general dissatisfaction with everything I’d done since leaving work and the specific dissatisfaction I felt at being unable to clear my mind combined into a heavy weight that hung around me neck as I brushed my teeth. It was not pleasant. By the time I was ready for bed and once again trying to clear my mind for a last stab at meditating, the dissatisfaction and disappointment with myself had settled into my mind like a boulder covered in fly paper. It attracted all of the stray thoughts in my head and held onto them, but it was too heavy to clear away so everything got to stick around and buzz angrily in my head.

After a while, though, I realized that I was being unduly hard on myself. The day had been long, I was tired, and I was trying to sort out some plans for this up-coming weekend that were outside of my control. All I could do was ask people things and hope I could make it all work out in a positive way for myself. I’d felt sick after work (which was why I didn’t eat when I got home) and hadn’t even gotten home at my expected time because work is growing increasingly busy. Plus the whole “reflect and don’t do your normal blog posts” thing is throwing my routines out of whack and that always upsets me. I like my routines. They make it easier to control my anxiety and focus on enjoying whatever it is I’m doing.

It was interesting to realize and really think about how much of my sense of self-worth is tied to daily accomplishments. It isn’t just “am I making progress on my goals?” that’s getting me down on myself. I’m asking myself “did I make progress on my goals TODAY?” and that’s a pretty unforgiving line of questioning. In the past, a lot of my focus on making this more healthy (or at least less unhealthy) has been centered around what I define as “progress.” Doing things like considering resting up after a busy few weeks or taking the time away from working to refresh my mind by reading something new as progress instead of just the quantifiable, measurable “more words written/things done.” What I probably should be doing is working on addressing why I lose self-value when I don’t make immediate progress.

Not that I shouldn’t continue redefining “progress” while I’m at it. Doing these blog posts and meditating during what is normally my writing time is the opposite of what I’d consider progress, but it’s going to help me in the long run by making it easier for me to write. At the very least, I should have more mental energy for writing if I’m not trying to make my way through or around my current mental knot.

This whole “self-value” thought process wound up being very productive. Apparently, I value other people at a minimum level based on the fact that they are a Human and all Humans are worth a certain amount of respect because they’re Humans. However, I don’t extend this value to myself when it comes to considering my own value. I know the reasoning behind that (or lack thereof) is tied up in a lot of the issues I’m working through, but I know one of my defenses against self-destructive thoughts was to always have something that I was doing that I felt must go on. These days, I don’t need that defense any longer, but I seem pretty stuck with the instinctive need for some life-affirming task.

I used to write almost every day when I was in high school. I dropped off a bit during college, but my senior year and the year after college saw me writing so much that I’m pretty sure I wrote more during those two years than in all the rest of the years of my life put together, excluding the one that started November 1st, 2017. These past seven months of writing would put my current record-holding years to shame. I’m writing an average of 1000 words a day and I’m pretty sure I’ll pass my two-year record sometime in July. If I go add up all my words, anyway.

That’s a huge deal. It may not be my record-setting days from crunches like NaNoWriMo or previous vacations where I’d write 8000-12000 words a day, but it shows more growth and consistency than I’ve ever seen in my own writing habits. That’s worth a lot, since I know a lot of writers who struggle to be able to write this much overall, let alone write every single day. By the end of the year, I’ll have written enough words to have written the entirety of the Lord of the Rings. That’s a lot.

And, honestly, I’m a human being worth at least as much as a human being is. This isn’t about accepting myself or letting myself off the hook as much as I’d let other people off the hook, this is about valuing my thoughts, opinions, and contribution to being human as much as I value everyone else’s. If I can do that, maybe I can go to sleep early some night instead of trying to cram in as much as possible before I crash. That was another thing that came out of last night. I need more sleep. After meditating for a while on the ways I assigned value to myself, I woke up at 4am with a crick in my neck, drool on my shirt, and numb legs. It took a lot of effort to haul myself into bed for the last two hours of my night. Maybe tonight, I’ll actually go to bed early because I’ll remind myself that my value is the same as everyone else’s, even if I go to bed before I strictly NEED to.