“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel
I’m back after a short hiatus.
I could bore you all day with the details of how much mucous I’ve been producing, and how little sleep this incessant cough has left me. The sinus pain, like a vice grip against my cheeks and teeth. How little the pills, and vapors, and natural cures have cured.
But there’s something darker that reared its head last week as result of this bug.
I’ve suffered a lot of mental hiccups. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and all the twisted coping mechanisms that come with them, have been the monsters in my closet for a while now. But something else slunk out, ironically, in the midst of my attempts to get well.
I’m not talking about your general and passing lack of fucks to give.
I can’t explain to you how frightening it was to feel nothing. To have no care. Ordinarily, this might be a good thing for me, a way to let go, if you will, of the petulant details and relax for once. But this kind of apathy left me in a strange state. I wasn’t hungry, and didn’t eat. I stopped caring that I wasn’t sleeping. I fell into a lull wherein the idea of quitting my job, retreating from friends and relationships, and even throwing myself in front of a truck didn’t seem like such a big deal.
I just didn’t care. I felt so utterly numb that I didn’t recognize being in my own body or the life that surrounded.
And it scared the shit out of my rational self, who sat locked in a store room in the back of my brain during this apathy’s hostile takeover.
It was like having my mind overtaken by The Nothing. You remember, don’t you? The Nothing?
Maybe, if you’re into more modern day SCIFI/FANTASY you could say it was like the Alliance Conspiracy on the planet Miranda. Nothingness. A utter and complete lack of care.
What made this feeling worse than other things I’ve felt, was its lack of any dramatic or shocking arrival. It was only a calm letting go of everything–so easily laid over me that it seemed nothing ever really mattered to begin with.
Worse than black. All was gray.
Then I stopped taking the little clear pill that was supposed to suppress my cough. And the gray receded, like a wave pulling back from the shore. Just enough, that I remembered to take out the trash. That I felt hungry enough to eat something. That I cared enough to engage in my children’s lives again, and get the mail.
It took me a while to understand what had happened. That a combination of lack of sleep and fighting a virus, and the pressures of life, my hairbreadth distance from depression, and that little suppressive pill were like a team of anti-heros that kidnapped me for a few days.
I started to wonder if maybe the things that drive us to fight so hard (or even cough), even when its a stupid and pointless battle (and sometimes pops your hernia out or makes you pee yourself), shouldn’t be suppressed.
Because maybe the instinct that makes us react to even small things is a switch that could turn off our fight for and against the big things.
I don’t know where you are in your life, in your creative process, in your flu season. But I wanted to offer you a few key things I learned in hopes they can help you fight off any oncoming Nothingness in your own world.
1.) Stay grounded. With something, anything, that is important and true in your life. Maybe your family, or your job, or your art. Maybe it’s something as simple as your breath. Just keep yourself tethered to that one true thing. So you don’t lose sight of all true things.
2.) Know your body. I get a little head heavy on this blog, and that’s ok, but remember that our brains are organs too and when the body is out of balance and we’re throwing weights on either side of the scale, willy-nilly, things can get out of whack really fast. Listen to your body. It’s okay to be tired, its okay to rest. But it’s not okay to be consciously asleep with indifference.
3.) If you suffer from a mental illness, you should probably make sure your doctor knows before they prescribe you anything, even a simple expectorant. I’m not sure if my reaction was common, or just a fluke, but I’d hate to think what could have happened in a more severe scenario.
4.) Be better than me. When you feel this, if you feel this…please reach out to someone, hug on your babies, go to coffee with that friend, reconnect even when you don’t see the point. That little rational slice of brain locked in the cleaning closet will recognize it, cling to it, and hopefully use it to pick the lock.
That’s all I’ve got for this week. Heavy stuff. Leave your comments, questions, experiences below. I look forward to talking to you again…soon. And I mean that.
Okay…that’s not entirely true. Those of you who know me outside of the blogosphere know that I can be extroverted in some situations. On the floor of the dojo, I have to be loud and energetic under the necessity of keeping a five-year-old karate kid engaged and focused. I must be direct and clear spoken towards older students to convey the intricacies of technique and motion. Amongst friends at book club or UFC fight night I can be lively and even, occasionally, funny. But I have a very finite well for social interaction.
A friend once told me she could pinpoint the exact moment when I become introverted. She said,
“Your expression all the sudden fades from open and smiling to gray and downcast and you just sort of sink back into the furniture, and I think well, she’s done.”
I couldn’t have described it better myself. That’s exactly how it feels inside too. Like someone turns a light off inside of me and I’m no longer open for business. It isn’t that I stop caring, I just run out of the ability to express concern. I am overwhelmed with the individual energies surrounding me. I absorb too much.
I like people, in small amounts. I like to hear their stories and their laughter. I like when they feel they can open up to me even about the hardest subjects… but it takes a lot of energy to be honestly and truly engaged in other people’s lives.
And it should.
Some people have an endless well for this kind of interaction. Unfortunately I am not one of those people, not for lack of trying. Sometimes I wonder if I engage too well and end up caring a little too much and the energy that takes sucks my well dry faster than if I remained more aloof.
Some people are no good at alone. From a woman I know who can’t stand not to be married, and going on her sixth husband. To the friend constantly texting all the contacts in her list looking for conversation or justification, or just someone to escape normal life with…to the guy who’s always got a better-than-yours story and has a pathological need to share…constantly. The world needs all types and, to be clear, they aren’t bad people, they just need connection in a different way.
Sometimes I think they fear being alone. And I’m not sure why but it may have to do with how scary introspection can be. How scary the thoughts are that come up from the dark recesses when called out by the lack of outside stimulation.
Such things are easy to cover up with noise, and new love, and impressive stories.
If you’re uncomfortable in your own company, that’s something you should really take a look at. You should ask yourself why. Chances are, it’s because you’re afraid of what you might find.
We are scary, us humans. We have scary, weird thoughts, irrational, sometimes haunting. There’s a reason horror movies exist and why Steven King has sold millions.
Don’t forgo the experience and the knowledge it brings just because you’re afraid of what you might find on the inside, of what you’ve ignored. Facing it will help to make it real, and we can only deal with/solve/accept what we know to be real.
Most introverts know how to be alone. We don’t just know it; it’s our homeostasis. The safe place we return to at the end of the day to recoup and refill the well. We thrive in the quiet, where our brains and hearts can focus on one thing, usually of our own, that doesn’t involve the constant dance of keeping another person’s feelings and thoughts in our mind, ahead of and instead of our own.
That’s not to say that all introverts are good at self-reflection, but I think it happens more often for us, in part because of the quiet we seek out. Quiet fosters uninterrupted thought. I, like most introverts, am a person who needs to shut down everything else in order to check in with what’s happening in my own head.
Sometimes, without the quiet, and only the loud and obligatory, chocked-full days, emotional backlash catches me. I will spend time with friends, co-workers, students, etc and wonder why I feel so frustrated or angry, or sad, or antsy when I return home. But with all the obligations at home and work, I often don’t have time to understand that they aren’t my feelings, but ones that I have absorbed. So I am angry, frustrated…sad. It’s only when I can spare a moment to look at the interactions from a place outside of them that I begin to understand their effects.
From the quiet I can understand that one friend is an attention seeker, outwardly sweet, but always demanding of justification and the need to be right. So I walk away feeling drained and always wrong. From a distance, I see how I am often captivated by an individual and every tiny crumb of attention they drop, because they give them so sparingly. So that when they give I feel like I could fly from the elation in my heart, and when they hold back, I am cast into a hopeless darkness.
The friend who swears she is here to listen to me but every time I begin to talk, barges over my words with stories of her own so I can be assured that she understands my exact feelings. To the person who shrugs off my insecurities, because how can my life be as hard as their own…and proceeds to tell me why. To the parent who makes up their own side of a conversation when what comes out of my mouth is too hard to face.
It’s often difficult to convince myself, at the end of the day, that I’m ok. Just me. Outside of the worldly distractions, outside of the demands of family and friends, and coworkers and students.
I don’t know if I’m okay.
How can a sponge that absorbs so much of the dirt, and grime, and ugly underbelly of the world be okay? How can I be fine when my whole being takes in the emotions and worries of those around me? I can’t be.
Which is why being alone is so necessary to repair my damaged calm.
With only my own company to keep, I feel weight lifted off of my heart. I find I’m quite a pleasant person to keep the company of. I’m quiet. I’m funny. I’m hard working and driven. I don’t make a big mess and am an excellent stretcher. I’ve been known to cave into a nap when left alone, and always, always leave space for thought and breath.
I like who I am without people.
But I have to carve out this time and space for myself. I have to make my health as important as I’ve made their company, even though it’s not an easy task for someone who wants to help others, to be sympathetic and supportive. As much as I enjoy being alone, I will always gravitate towards helping others lighten their load.
It’s in being conscientious enough of my own health to let it go of that burden at the end of the day that’s my challenge going into the new year.
We’re not only defined by what we chose to do in our lives, but how we do it. We are categorized by outward and inward perceptions, each of us, akin to novels, and are thusly classified into genres.
Ah, she’s a romantic mystery with a dash of humor.
That guy over there is a political intrigue, with a splash of old school patriarchy.
Ah, she’s a pushy self-help, peppered with self-righteousness and a healthy pinch of praise-Jesus.
That lady over there is a bitter cozy mystery with a hint of post-menopausal lack of fucks to give.
We are defined by the things we do. We’re put into categories by people we know, and by companies that gather our data. Even when we don’t ask for it, we’re given a neat little label. And sometimes, when we’re overloaded and overworked, we start using that label as our only sense of self, as we desperately try to remember our purpose… And sometimes, we use those labels as a scapegoat for our less-than-desirable behaviors.
I’ve been trying to meditate every day and have been working through a series on my app (yeah, look at me, getting all tech-savvy with an app to help me reconnect with my humanness…seems oxymoronic) about acceptance, depression, letting go, and stress management.
One recurring phrase I hear is: You are not your thoughts or your feelings.
This is a hard concept to grasp.
Humans are this odd mishmash of biology and higher neuronic thought processes. I mean on one of our great ape-grasping hands we’re barely getting used to this hairless bipedal thing, on the other hand we’re philosophical, heavy in the head, braining entities who, when left to our own devices will overthink ourselves into a coma.
Maybe there’s a fear that if we disconnect to our thoughts then we won’t know who we are.
Maybe we fear we’ll lose the basis of our existence if we let go of the ideas and feelings tethering us down.
But this is not so.
You see, thoughts and emotions change. All the time. And the reason humans become so miserable is that we tie ourselves to them, try to define ourselves by them. Then we are less apt to let them go, especially when they hold the addictive qualities of self-spiraling sadness and anger. We feel sad. We are sadness. We feel anger. We’re angry humans.
Conversely, when we are happy or elated and the emotion passes, as it will with the natural ebb and flow of life, we cling to it desperately and feel like something’s gone wrong when its tying us down.
Should we let go of happiness. No. Should we reject sadness and admonish ourselves for anger? Absolutely not. Be in the moment, with the emotion, understand it is a feeling, acknowledge it and let it go. You’re all that’s left.
Just as we aren’t tied to labels; we are not one genre, we are all genres.
Why is it important that we understand this?
If we are boxed in to what the world has categorized us as, to our labels, we won’t know we can change. We become stagnant and perpetuate behaviors that are detrimental to our happiness and the benefit of humanity.
Secondly: We will feel trapped. And trapped animals lose the will to live. Without will, without passion, we cannot create, we cannot solve, we cannot continue to thrive in the world.
So how do we escape?
Here’s the dirty little secret:
I’m not entirely sure.
I think it has something to do with opening your mind to new ideas, allowing yourself to be different, to change the things about your life you don’t want to be a part of anymore, without guilt or self blame, and to let go of the idea that you are the personification of your thoughts and feelings.
You can be anything. Or just some things.
Or nothing at all.
Cross genres. Explore. Maintain your free will. While those that seek to control will tell you, free will is our greatest vice as human beings, that it causes us to make decisions that don’t align with status-quo, religious concepts, or dictator-imposed law and thus brings about the downfall of society, this is not the case.
There’s a reason the Dark Ages happened.
Free will, your ability to change, to move, to think differently are vital to not just survival but your purpose in life.
“How often, you wonder, has the direction of your life been shaped by such misunderstandings? How many opportunities have you been denied–or, for that matter, awarded–because someone failed to see you properly? How many friends have you lost, how many have you gained, because they glimpsed some element of your personality that shone through for only an instant, and in circumstances you could never reproduce? An illusion of water shimmering at the far bend of a highway.”
― Kevin Brockmeier
As a fiction writer, especially of the romantic persuasion, it’s often easy for me to get caught up in my own imagination. My writerly brain has been trained to play out scenarios and let them run wild. It’s part of the creative process and the free reign I give these thoughts allows me to write the scenes and stories that cause heart palpitations and fingers to eagerly turn to the next page.
But sometimes, the delicate barrier between the two halves of my brain is a bit too porous. Sometimes the barrier is permeated. Sometimes, the imagination bleeds over. And it begins to skew my reality. What is actually before me can be muddled with the over-active nature of my creative process. Instead of observing at a safe distance, I scoot in closer and start to ask…”and then what if…”
It’s taken me to some interesting and inspiring side roads, but it has also led me this to some pretty dark and hurtful places. Places like paranoia, obsession, depression, and a loosening of the bonds of my reality. It can cause a false sense of what is real and, from that place, I have made poorly founded decisions.
I have been in situations where I lived in an heightened-aware but still fuzzier, reality. Lines get blurred and harmless words and actions became life altering. Sideways glances were sure signs of betrayal. Meaningless banter, the grounds for turning my back on people I loved. I’ve spent a lot of time hurting, in tears, wondering why the path I saw ahead felt so wrong to what my brain was telling me. I was at sea. Lost and drifting with no anchor to keep me grounded.
What’s the cure? What’s the fix? What can any of us do when our brains run away from us and our behaviors follow suit?
Sometimes the consequences of those misguided actions we take, in our obsessive/paranoia state, are severe enough to shake us back into reality. That may be the only way, when we are in too deep, to regain proper perspective.
But it is also the most damaging.
Occasionally it takes someone who can see your reality outside of yourself. Who cares enough about you to point out the cloud surrounding you and who can start asking the right questions. Like snapping spiritual fingers in front of your eyes, breaking through the rosy hue of illusion.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s easy. It’s often a long fall and a hard landing when you come down from your illusion. It’s painful. Reality isn’t usually a fun place to live in. But walking around, shrouded in falsehood, does nothing to better our humanity and the way we interact truthfully with one another.
Take a good look at your life. Be aware of the way you react to situations, be introspective with the perspective you use and step outside yourself to see what’s really going on. Because the further you go down the rabbit hole of the world you want to live in, the worse the consequence, the higher the risk, and the deeper the damage in the world you actually live in.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to keep my mouth shut and calm the creative-brain response, until I’m sure my words and actions are justified and are coming from a place that is true. It requires that I remove myself from being the central character in a story and take a moment to look at the setting, the other characters, their perspectives, the actual thread of what is going on.
Being a good human is hard. But if we truly love, when all illusions have been stripped away, then we owe it to our fellow humans to try to live the most honest, real life we can.
“Meanwhile, the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.
She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly -the thought of the world’s concern at her situation- was found on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself.”
― Thomas Hardy
I missed last week’s blog post. I’m not sure if anyone out there even noticed, which is fine. I tell myself that I don’t write to garner a following. I write to hold myself accountable to the passion that shapes me.
But last week…
I was fresh out of passion and had given up on myself. I was feeling shapeless.
This is not a new story for myself and, probably, for all writers, artists, musicians, and those who contribute slices of our brains and hearts to public scrutiny. There are days when the offering of our thought, time, and energy to the craft is returned with silence, or rejection. Most days we let it go and move on.
But even for more sane people than myself, a long drought of success, can cause us to question the path. We question if it’s worth putting our hearts in the hands of others. We start to wonder if a nice, minimum wage job in a cubicle somewhere isn’t the better option. (At least the coffee is ‘free’, and I’m done at 5).
So, last week, I didn’t bother writing a post. I didn’t even think about trying. I just said, nope, fuck it, what’s the point?
Because sometimes life is like that. And sometimes we need to throw up our hands and surrender to our own suck-itude, (sure its a word).
But this week I’m back. Not because I’m feeling any better than last week, but because writing is what I do. And I’m not quite done with life yet, so as long as I’m drawing breath I’ll be drawing thought. Some days those thoughts are vibrant and inspirational. Some days they’re like walking in a bog of hopelessness, and I apologize to those reading when I drag you along behind me on those darker days…but no human is a ray of sunshine all the time. (Unless they’re one of those freaky-uber-happy-Suzie-sunshine types and nobody really likes those Pollyann-kool-aid-drinking assholes…but I digress.)
The point is, I was in a hard place last week. And I don’t know if it’s much better now, but at least now I’ve mustered enough fucks to sit down and write, pour out my self-pity and self-doubt and let you all make your own judgements about what I’ve got to offer.
Whether you write or not, we all have days. Days when we’re tired of fighting and tired of trying. Days when we’ve fallen and we don’t care if we stay down. Days when the battle hardly feels worth the effort. It’s part of what makes getting back up so beautiful. To win the battle over apathy and despair is a shade of divinity particular to humans. Not only just for physical survival, but for our emotional and psychological longevity.
I’m not all the way back up, but I’m not dead yet. And I guess that’s something.
A large part of human nature’s beauty lies in our failures and follies. Perfect people are rarely very interesting. As a writer, creating ‘perfect’ characters is a sure-fire way to distance your readers and lose their interest. Why? Because no one wants to read about someone who always gets it right. Who can share commonality with that? And yet…our reality is often ruled by what we, as actual humans, fail at.
When thinking about human frailty and my own failings I stumbled across the largest stone in my path of late; Self-Worth.
I know I’m not alone. I see you out there.
It’s more than fair to say that we are comparative beings. The media propagates it, competitive constructs in work and school demand it, and long-standing cultural threads tie our successes (and our failures) to what we’re worth in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Its the single most destructive lie we’ve ever been told.
And its easy to say that it doesn’t affect us. That we don’t care how we stand in relation to other people, that we don’t have a competitive nature, that we don’t feel the need to be anything else than what we are. I say those things all the time. And they rarely do more than offer a feeble disguise over the surface of self-doubt.
If we didn’t care, we’d cease to try. We’d stop looking for ways to improve. But something that should drive our greatness often tears us apart and we are left with shreds of the human we used to be, torn apart in an effort to create something more inspirational in the eyes of the world.
I was recently told, by a very generous soul, that my self-worth shouldn’t come from anyone but myself. That I couldn’t let the berating, criticism, or comparisons of the world let me feel any less than what I was worth. That it wasn’t the outside that should decide, but what was inside of me.
So it made me wonder; What am I worth?
In terms of chemistry, my physical make-up is probably no more than about $3.00 worth of material.
If you broke down my daily tasks and how much you’d have to pay someone else to do them, some would say I’d be worth about $140,000 a year. If you based my worth on what I contribute to the world with my writing we’re looking at a solid $50 a year. Monetarily, its not very impressive. And again, I’m basing my worth on what other’s consider useful tasks/materials.
So what am I worth? What are you worth? Sit still with yourself and ask the question:
“What do I do, what am I, that matters to me? That impacts the world? That brings me contentment?”
Deep…yes. Sometimes we gotta get past the cloak of simple thought to really understand why we matter. We have to, for the sake of our own self-preservation. After all; if you don’t see worth in yourself, you start to feel like a burden to the people you love. And all sorts of ugly outcomes arise from that train of thought…trust me, I’ve been building a scary set of tracks in that direction myself of late.
So I sat down, prompted by my friend’s words and suffering through a trough of depression, and asked myself what I was worth.
I came to the conclusion that for a long time I’ve let the words and actions of other people (in their own beautiful human imperfection) determine my self worth. If they were mad at something in our shared existence, I took it on as a fault of mine. As a problem that I didn’t fix or prevent. If comments were made about appearance, I took the darkest path of focusing on my imperfections and felt the need to correct them by any strange and unhealthy way possible.
It left me wanting and sick.
Why do I let my brain do that?
Because we’re taught to improve. To impress. To be better. To strive for more. Instead of just being what and who we are and understanding that we aren’t responsible for other people’s happiness or conforming to ideas of perfection. We must set boundaries to the information we let affect us. Even my friend’s well intentioned advice was still someone on the outside telling me what to think about my self worth. It’s not about letting someone tell me I am worth-while. Its about knowing my own worth and not letting the outside world sway that knowledge either negatively or positively.
Now there are times, when someone who loves us may come to us with good intention, and full hearts and offer us a viewpoint about something destructive they see in us. There are times when someone has honest praise to offer. With careful appreciation of the information we’re given we can chose to look at it with neutrality and see if there is helpful advice within it, and take it as an opportunity for self-reflection.
I love you guys, for all you are. Just as you are. Have a beautiful week and stretch your brains and hearts to fit the worth inside of you. It’s there.
“You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away. It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away.”
― C. JoyBell C.