Better Late Than Never

On vacation for the first time since early this year. I’ve had discussions with people telling me that I should have taken more time off a lot earlier, and I think in retrospect they were probably more right than I wanted them to be. There’s a lot that probably could have been avoided if I’d have spent more time looking out for my own mental health. There’s certainly something to be said for being more attentive to how stressed I feel and how I should deal with it. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time stressing out and letting it get the better of me when I clearly could have spent a bit more time stepping away and coming to terms with the ramifications of my condition.

Since starting the Lexapro regimen, I’ve noticed a strong decrease in the severity of my reactions to things. I’m happy with the changes so far. I’ve gotten comments from other people about how my demeanor has changed. I’m less worried about that particular aspect of change with the medication’s introduction now than I was before. I’m certainly feeling the difference.

I’ve noticed that my thoughts have stopped racing like they usually do. I’ll sometimes catch myself moving between trains of thoughts, but for the most part that’s been fading. I’m able to give singular focus to activities I previously wasn’t able to, and I’m noticing that I’m far less critical of myself and others when I participate in them. I’m more supportive and generally anywhere from non-plussed to happy with a lot of what I’m doing. That’s a pretty big difference in the span of two weeks, but I can’t say that it’s bad by any stretch of the imagination.

Overall things seem less dire. I’m able to think about things a lot more objectively and critically. I’m concentrating better and remembering things more easily. I’m able to stop and notice things I previously wasn’t able to appreciate. For example, I can look at the window I have in my room that has a semi-transparent pride flag covering it. It’s casting many colors into the room that I previously would have just covered with a plain blackout curtain. I wouldn’t have noticed anything of the sort or have had the ability to appreciate it a month ago. Goes to show how much depression and trauma can remove the color from the world.

I’ll probably have my weekends back sometime soon, which means that outdoor climbing and hiking season will hopefully be in full-effect. I’m planning on trying to get trips planned with friends and coworkers before I head out to Portland, OR for a month starting in October, but we’ll have to see what happens. I think I’m working on getting to a point where things are more fluid in my life. I’m grateful for it and at the same time annoyed that it took me nearly two decades to get here.

Better late than never, I guess.

Re-entry

It’s been challenging trying to deal with what Burning Man participants typically call “reentry”, especially after so many days away from what passes for the normal pattern of life.  Returning to the seemingly endless expanse of lit concrete-and-steel boxes, the noise, the confusion, and the heat that comes from compression of human life and energy into spaces not meant for it all–the time away gave me space to gain perspective on things.

I encountered people both familiar and not, places that I’d never visited in ways that I hadn’t considered previously.  I interacted with real people, held real conversations.  Language was utilized and my brain processed real-world information–and now this; a return to screens, text, shrouds, and obfuscation.  Having to hide and find refuge behind headphones and unplanned work, all in an effort to preserve a certain level of comfort and life circumstance.

To be fair, it’s not as if I don’t enjoy the life that I currently have.  I love my friends, I very much enjoy what I’m able to do outside of work and all of those other adult-type commitments.  It’s just that I see so many other people, friends included, who are out there “winging it” and living life a lot more fully than I am.  I’m not sure that dropping everything and living out of a duffel bag is really the way to go for me, but the very notion is intoxicating in the way that the phrase “being a fly on the wall for when Hunter S. Thompson meets Henry David Thoreau in the afterlife” sounds.

There’s a general feeling that I’ve been wrestling with more now than at any point previously in my life, and that’s the feeling that I haven’t yet found what makes me happiest.  I’ve been counseled in the past from friends, coworkers, and well-meaning “adults” that this relatively recent obsession with “finding your passion” flies directly in the face of a reality that I’m not sure I fully accept.  Supposedly one that operates under the base assumption that life is mostly toil in the pursuit of (and ultimately in utter subservience to) capital, with “private life” relegated to the frayed edges of the aforementioned compulsory indentured servitude–and somewhere in the intervening periods between the peaks of wealth accumulation and the intermittent soul-crushing realizations that a privileged class lives completely separated from this paradigm, you’re supposed to get laid?  That’s supposedly a “respectable life”?

I’m not sure that any of what I’ve been counseled to believe is true is actually true, given the evidence right in front of me.  While there is merit to the notion that “finding your passion” has become a kitschy shibboleth for an entire sub-section of a society that has become disillusioned with identity of any variety (social, political, economic, national, etc.), I’d like to think there would be a common understanding that finding a passion isn’t about running off to an Elysian field or utopia.  On the contrary, I would instead posit that such a state or place does not and cannot exist, as Jeremy Rifkin similarly posits in this informative (albeit abridged) talk on empathic civilizations:

“Empathy is the opposite of utopia.  There is no empathy in heaven–I guarantee you, I’ll tell you before you get there.  There isn’t any empathy in heaven because there’s no mortality.  There’s no empathy in utopia because there is no suffering.  Empathy is grounded in the acknowledgement of death and the celebration of life, and rooting for each other to flourish and be.” – Jeremy Rifkin, author and political advisor

There’s something to be said for living a life where at the very least income is not a genuine problem.  But when that life is all that you know and that a persistent feeling exists in the back of your mind that you are not yet really “living life”, it becomes difficult to ignore.  I suppose the benefits of having the time and energy to consider it for what it is and process why it remains so prominent in my mind is a privilege; one that I intend to take full advantage of.

Distances

Been on the road for about five days now. I’ve traveled at least two thousand miles of road since I started on this adventure. I’m beyond happy that I’ve been able to get this far and do what I’ve been wanting to do for years.

Colorado is an amazing place. So many different people and influences, so much history. I’ve never met such friendly people, either. It’s bizarre to me that coming out here has been such a full hundred-eighty-out experience from anywhere else I’ve ever been.

I’ve been trying my best not to end-up stuck in my head, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve been successful. I notice that while I am discovering that I give decreasing amounts of weight to what I perceive others’ opinions of me to be, they still hold the kind of weight that can smash right through the thickest of armor. I still hold myself to a standard that isn’t aligned with my personal values or my beliefs. I can hold all kinds of opinions of other people, their capabilities, and intentions but that same kind of empathy is seldom extended to myself.

I still think to myself “Yeah, you look pretty good–but that person you’ve been eyeing for the last 10 minutes is way out of your pay-grade”. There’s still this pernicious lie that permeates my self-image and makes it hard for me to get out of my head and out of my comfort zone. Talking to someone new still scares the absolute shit out of me if it doesn’t have something to do with work or something physical like climbing or snow sports. When it comes to anything even remotely close to personal with people I don’t already know well, it turns into an exercise in anxiety. I still have a lot of people-pleasing behaviors that show up at the worst possible times and lead me into situations I’d rather not be in.

This Used To Be Fun…

It used to be that I enjoyed dealing with complex problems.  It used to be that I got a charge out of being in the heat of the moment and working to fix things.  It used to be that I loved being able to learn new things in the rush of everything.

But it’s all changed.  I’m angrier than ever that things don’t work.  That I’ve been working on the same types of problems over and over again.  That feeling that Groundhog Day isn’t just a movie–it’s how you experience your working life.

This all used to be fun.  I enjoyed what I did.  I liked the people I work with, and still do for the most part.  But the problems have become the same.  I haven’t been able to do much else besides tread water and hoped that the situation would improve.

I think I’m beyond that point now.  It’s not going to get better; if anything, it’s only going to get more difficult.  The amount of work is just getting larger, the list of to-do items ever-longer, and the number of immediate resources ever-dwindling.

At what point do you accept the situation and decide that “enough is enough”?  At what point is it acceptable to tell yourself that you gave it your best and it wasn’t enough and that it’s time to move on?  That’s what I’m wrestling with right now: disappointing everyone (including myself) by admitting that I’m not nearly as talented as I’d originally thought and moving on (whatever that means), or in the words of a close friend “sucking it up” and making it work.

That’s one of the other problems, I guess.  I don’t know what I want to do.  There are lots of people who are being really encouraging and are behind me a lot of the time, but ultimately I’m still ruled by my fear.  I’m deathly afraid of “doing something stupid”.  That fear of judgment; “interrupting my career” in pursuit of something that might not work out.

I suppose this kind of fear is something that everybody experiences at some point.  The difficult part right now is figuring out just what I want to do about it.  I suppose that just doing what will make me happier is valid to an extent, but at the same time I wonder if I would be throwing away opportunities.

Being an adult is hard.

Fear

I’ve tried to more deeply consider the meaning of the word “adventure”; what it ultimately means to my soul, what it might hold for me in the future, and what I can do to cultivate more of it. I’ve been working harder lately to try and treat more things in my life as such. Getting-up before the sun to layer-up, put a full-to-bursting backpack in my truck, drive to the base of a mountain where I have no cell phone service, and then hike my way up a near-1200-foot elevation change.

The reward? Outwardly, not much. Near-freezing temperatures, winds whipping over the top of the mountain at nearly 20 miles per hour, and a lonely view from the top. But, at the same time, the lonely nature of the peak was crushed under the impressive view of the New Hampshire landscape and coming to understand that the only thing that kept me from doing any of this earlier was simple: fear. Not just your run-of-the-mill “this is kind of scary, I’ve never done this before by myself” sort of fear, but the irrational “what if I get lost or hurt or killed, what will happen” sort of fear too. It took me basically the entire drive up to the mountain to calm those fears and to make it safe for me to feel that way. I didn’t try to banish it, but instead I re-framed it and let it fuel my hunger.

“BE AFRAID!” came the cry from the back of my mind.

“No, I will not fear! I seek ADVENTURE!!” came the reply.

I was far from alone and far from danger. I rationalized: The mountain is situated in the middle of a declared national forest zone. It’s the Fall season, meaning that hikers will be around and available if anything goes wrong. I have the skills, knowledge, and tools available to make my situation work no matter what I find myself in. I have food, additional dry layers, and way more water than I need all in my backpack. I am prepared.

In responding to my fear, I noticed that that particular part of me became dormant. I became present. I was able to take in everything that was around me: the rustling trees, the quiet flow of the small water flow down the slope, the subtle feel of the stone as I tread upon it. It brought me back.

I beamed brightly during the entire descent and the on the whole drive back to the apartment. I had overcome something that I had believed was an irreconcilable part of me: the debilitating trepidation that has prevented me from doing anything meaningful to me. I was able to prove myself wrong.

I think we’re all victims of our own negative beliefs about our capabilities as people. I think we’re more afraid that we are capable beings and that to be visible as such means that we will likely have to either show up for others in our expanded capacities or to be more comfortable flexing our might in those areas or arenas that we might have otherwise avoided.
The question that comes to mind for me in this case is “Why am I afraid of showing up in this new capacity?”

Am I more afraid that individuals will take advantage of me? Make fun of my lack of skill or finesse? Or am I more afraid that I have allowed myself to squander some of the best years of my life out of the fear of being seen as more than I was?

Self-Compassion

I’ve spent a lot of time living under the belief that I am insufficient, deficient, or otherwise defective. I believed that this was the case because no one was even pretending to be my champion. I lived in such painful invisibility that I acted out in a number of ways just to somehow try and be visible. I participated in things I didn’t care about deeply and spoke half-truths that I really didn’t believe at my core to please people I honestly didn’t like.

I didn’t know how to speak my truth then. Even now, I’m still learning how to do it and do it with compassion for both myself and others.

It wasn’t until very recently that I started to learn what my truth actually sounded like when spoken from a place of self-love and recognition. I was in bed with a partner and was able to communicate specifically what I wanted in that moment, and was able to engage in the behavior that I felt was exciting for the both of us without any trace of shame or dependency. It felt absolutely amazing, and more importantly it felt right. We both emerged from the experience closer and happier.

Earlier in the weekend, I was out with the same friend at a bar and was playing pool against several other patrons there and was able to hold my own for several games. People were making passes at me, which I accepted without judgement on how they looked or their intent and appreciated it for what it was to me: a payment of appreciation for my appearance and personality.

A year ago or more, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. I would have been hiding behind whoever I was there with, nursing a beer, and just generally being anti-social (but forcing myself to be “social”).

I think it says a lot about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned about telling my truth, actually hearing what other people have to say, and how much more compassion I’ve been trying to extend to myself. There have been a number of noted spiritual and philosophical thinkers who have had a lot to say about self-esteem and self-confidence over the course of written history, many of them sharing some of the same basic philosophies at their core:

  • Letting go of what you cannot control, focusing on what you can
  • Focusing purely on success diminishes the worth of the effort expended in the pursuit

Among the most prescient of the ideas that I have come across recently is the notion that without self-love and acceptance of imperfection, all other points are moot:

“You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.”

I’ve also found that thinking about the self-talk that I engage in and comparing it against what might be the reactions of others if they overheard such speak against myself has helped me a lot in breaking out of the black-and-white modality that I find myself in when I am in a negative headspace. It helps me to understand and really start to believe that others actually do like me, they do trust me to some extent, and that they genuinely care about my personal wellbeing and growth. It’s still sometimes difficult for me to accept, but I primarily chalk that up to the upbringing I had and the blind eye that was turned to my troubles and experiences.

Growth is slow, and I still hit what I refer to as “speed bumps” occasionally, but they are becoming easier to manage in no small part to the people that surround me in this life I’ve made for myself. I, who came from nothing, am grateful for those who see me and recognize me for both who and what I am: human.

Land Mines

I felt like part of the world yesterday. Getting up, getting on a train to Back Bay, having brunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple months, ambling around Harvard Square without any “hurry” or “busy-ness” attached to it. The surreality of the experience was so vivid that at several points I had to stop and question if I was dreaming or actually having that mythic “normal day”.

In retrospect, it seems insane to me that having a normal day should be so noteworthy. That instead of feeling like a series of crises parading through the reality that makes up my life, I’m feeling this strange sense of “empty fullness” (if that makes any sense). As if instead of zipping around trying to tame every dragon, command every demon, and to destroy every monster, I can now see that it wasn’t just fruitless, but without sanity. I can wake up in the mornings on the weekends and not have this feeling of impending doom hanging over me, and even that sensation still feels bizarre and alien.

In knowing that the situations that persisted for so long were partially of my own making in the sense that I emotionally over-extended myself in both investment and expectation is pretty damning. A lot of the time, I had pinned my self-worth on visibility and approval at work and as a result of a what I felt to be a very extreme lack of visibility and impact with the people I worked with, I became desperate. I threw myself on proverbial grenades, swords, and land mines in an effort to be visible and appreciated. I burned myself out on the most minor things and as a result made it impossible to spend any real time on personal or professional growth. I spent so much time burning the wax trying to look good for everyone else that I had no energy left for myself.

I recognized it only far too late. I found that a lot of the time no one really cared. The issue wasn’t that I wasn’t investing enough time or energy, the real issue was that I was investing time and energy in things that were better left to be prioritized and handled by people hired to do exactly that. The fact that no one had the time or energy to invest or spend on prioritizing the problems, assign them to the people best suited to resolve them, and to help mentor and ultimately lead the people they were supposedly managing directly contributed to my departure.

And now, here I am. Sitting in a coffee bar, typing up a blog post on a fairly lazy Sunday morning, a cup of coffee sitting faithfully to my right and my climbing gear stowed in the truck waiting for me to get to training. Thinking about how best to I can spend my downtime before starting the next big chapter in my professional life and being okay with the thought of spending it reading tech blogs, watching Marvel movies, and listening (unashamedly) to acoustic folk music.

Productivity can sometimes be painfully overrated, visibility the worst of japes. I’m learning much too late in the process that acceptance of my own worth, evaluating my own progression, and being honest about my goals and productivity are of paramount importance.

Screw the grenades, swords, and land mines. Let somebody else jump on them.