Alone Time

So if the absence of the posts on this blog didn’t hint enough at it, I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting things done in a consistent way. This includes my writing, taking care of my health nutritionally, and exercising. I’ve had a few days to think about it, and I’m trying to work out precisely why by comparing how I spend my time now versus how I spent it when I was in a healthier and more productive state of mind and body. Either a couple years ago, or even as far back as high school.

Yup. I was more productive as a teenager. Ugh. Makes me cringe.

So I started with something in common: I spent a lot of time alone in high school, and often do now as well. But back then I would occupy it with stuff that brought me genuine satisfaction and fulfilment, whereas now I mostly fill the time with stuff that distracts me from whatever thing happens to be giving me anxiety/worry at the moment.

“Ah-hah!” part of me wants to say. “That’s it! You just have to spend your time alone doing better things!” But it’s more than that. The way I spend my time is a consequence, not the cause, so I needed to dig deeper.

I came to the realization that when I was younger, the time I spent alone was often not by choice. The transit system where I lived ended at 6pm (and didn’t run on Sundays), and I didn’t have a license, so my ability to meet up with friends was incredibly limited. I got pretty depressed. I would go months without having a conversation with someone in person besides my mom (I worked at a grocery store, but my co-workers there didn’t exactly provide stimulating discussion unless you were an NHL fan). So essentially, when I looked for activities to do, I did it with the driving motivation of finding something to fill the void of social and personal contact I felt. I needed something viscerally fulfilling and investing, so I worked out. I biked downtown every day (a close to one hour bike ride one-way) before or after work to work out (so an 8-hour shift, plus a two hour workout, plus 2x 1-hour bike trips). I would get home, make something to eat, kill time before bed, get up the next day and do it again.

Now, I still suffered emotionally. I was often angry and felt incredibly lonely, but my routine was something I could find genuine joy in to some extent.

In contrast, the time I spend alone now is very much by choice. Not a healthy choice by any means, but I have other options available to me. I live in a city with a decent transit system, friends within (mostly) walking distance. I COULD avail myself of these options, but I don’t, primarily because what motivates my isolation is this need to like… HIDE from seemingly everything when I’m not obligated by employment to do otherwise. So much of my default setting seems to be worrying. I don’t know WHY (depression/anxiety is PROBABLY a solid contributor, but it wasn’t always this bad), but I feel so overwhelmed, even when (hell, ESPECIALLY when) things are going well for me.

So when I’m alone, instead of searching for something to engrossing myself in, I numb myself. Either with distractions/stimuli to eat up all my brain’s RAM so that I physically CAN’T think about my obligations, responsibilities, etc (mindlessly surfing the internet), or things to give me that quick hit of dopamine to make me momentarily forget the negative feelings (porn again, video games, sugary, fatty foods).

I’m not entirely sure what the next step is. I know from reading my old notebooks that I need to somehow put the structure back into my life (recording calories, day-planning, streamlining things, etc), but I’m unsure what form that will take.

Join me on the next exciting adventure of Vince Tries To Get His Shit Together!!

Thoughts on Orlando

By now, most if not all of you have heard of the tragedy that befell a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, when a gunman opened fire and systematically took the lives of over 50 LGBT identifying individuals. I have many thoughts following this awful incident.

About this being a consequence of the refusal of certain senators to progress gun-control laws to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of potentially unstable individuals.

About the members of the Christian right who are attempting to turn this into yet another excuse to spew bigoted vitriol towards the Islamic community, despite themselves being the source of over 200 different anti-LGBT bills in the past six months.

About how once again the NRA lobby wants to trot out the scapegoat of “mental illness” to somehow convince us that this is yet another “exception to the rule” (in a week where the US has had 7 mass shootings since last Monday).where a crazy person somehow got a hold of a gun. How they want to shrug and, in response to yet another building filled with the decaying bodies that once held the promise of dozens upon dozens of lives, say that “These things happen.”

However, this post is not about that.

This post is about the thousands upon thousands of Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and social media mouthpieces talking about “how tragic this is”, or that “their thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who fell victim”. or even those who “stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community”

Notice how none of these statements have anything remotely approaching a stance. A call to action. A call to accountability. Something that requires you to actually put yourself out there and take a stand and say that something HAS TO CHANGE in order to keep this from happening again. The closest thing resembling a position in any of these is perhaps, “Shooting civilians is bad.”

But when you stop there, when you refuse to (god forbid) risk alienating some part of your fucking market demographic by saying something like “we need better gun controls” or “we have to address toxic masculinity” or “this is a product of the anti-LGBT bigotry we’ve allowed to spread”, YOU DON’T GET TO clutch your pearls and look like the tragic, compassionate onlooker who looks at the events as they unfold and say, “Oh no, what are we TO DO?!” You don’t get to pretend like you stand in solidarity while you sit idly by when it actually counts. When you COULD use your voice to contribute to some real, positive progress ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

Fuck every single celebrity, corporation, or brand that hides behind their marketing-and PR-team approved, non-committal sympathy. Fuck every single person with even the SLIGHTEST bit of societal pull who has the gall to give their condolences and then conveniently fail to show the fuck up when its time to put their money where their mouth is.

Know that you are complicit in this. Every time you choose to say nothing, to DO. NOTHING. You make it that much easier for this to happen again. You’re not shaken. You’re not sad. You’re not even sympathetic. You’re just a leech, nourishing your own goddamn public image off of the spilled blood of a tragedy.

Inspire Through Struggle

I had a bad day today.

Not because anything in particular happened, but rather because it didn’t. I’ve done just about nothing all day, despite having the whole thing to myself. Doing basic stuff like shaving, brushing my teeth, and getting some milk from the store constituted the most productive things I’ve done today.

Essentially, I’m dealing with a lot of negative self-talk in my head. In particular, the re-appearance of one of my longest running mental “scripts”; that being the “you’re not working hard enough, doing enough, trying hard enough, you’re lazy/you could be successful if only you’d try harder” script. It’s a voice I’ve been hearing going back all the way to elementary school, and any day where I don’t completely clear off my to-do list (and some days when I do) it comes roaring back. I’m working through some exercises in the book Superbetter by Jane McGonigal, and they’re helping, but this is such a deeply rooted script that it’s going to take a long time and a lot of work to dislodge.

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Cult of Positivity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of positive thinking. Particularly because I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. It seems like a fairly reasonable idea at first glance (“If you’re sad, why not think happier thoughts?”), but I think at the end of the day the problem with it isn’t that it’s WRONG rather than oversimplified. At my work (which shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) there’s a lot of lip-flapping about “creating a positive atmosphere for customers/members/workplace, etc”, but the practice of this version of positivity usually involves the punishment of those who speak of anything negative or critical of the company or its management to anyone other than the management in a one-on-one basis. It’s this sort of thing that led to my realization that a lack of negativity and the presence of positivity are not the same thing. All it resulted in was this latent tension as everyone is aware of things that are wrong but are too afraid to say anything (or are cynical because they’ve followed the prescribed procedure and nothing was done to improve it). It’s almost more stressful than an outright negative environment because of the amount of fakeness and performance involved.

But aside from the specifics, I think the cardinal sin of those in the cult of positivity is failing to understand the factors that lead to a positive mindset. And I think that’s it: having a positive (or Challenge, credit to Jane McGonigal and her book SuperBetter for teaching me that word) mindset is different, more complex, and more difficult, than the kind of fast-food drive-thru advice that people give when they say, “Just think positive!”

Essentially, it’s a means, not an end. It’s a result of a hundred different little skills that all take effort, to overcome a hundred little nightmares that haunt the people who struggle with them. The steps also vary from person to person along with how their struggles manifest, and I feel like that’s what not a lot of people understand. That even though one person may not find X problem a struggle, that does not make it less real or difficult for person Y. Especially with mental and emotional health, I think one step we can take towards better understanding is getting rid of the illusion that all pain is measured on a singular scale, rather than branching out like the subway from hell.

I get the distinct feeling whenever I hear that bullshit prescription, the only good it’s doing is helping the person who is saying it to think that they’re elevated in some way above the person asking for help. And it’s the perpetuation of that illusion that makes me pity them the most.

 

Stimulus/Response

One of the things I’ve noticed on one of my walks is how often I’m running from things. Not literal things. God no. If that was true, I’d be in way better shape than I currently am. For me, it’s sensations.

Feel tired? Immediately respond with caffeine.
Feel anxious? Immediately react by vegging out to video games for hours.
Feel depressed? Go out and get some form of carby, sugary junk food.

These responses have become so ingrained that I barely even think about them anymore. It’s like a little “click-whirr” motor in my head that goes off like a Rube-Goldberg machine and sets it in motion. Half the time, I’m three quarters of the way to the corner store before I even ask myself whether or not I’m actually hungry, or whether I can actually afford to eat out again for a while (spoiler: the answer to both is mostly no).

But I continue to do it, and so I had to ask myself why exactly that is. The conclusion I’ve drawn is that I’ve developed such a strong… aversion to any kind of internal unpleasantness that the MOMENT one of the aforementioned feelings arises, the subconscious first response system kicks in and I go into one of my coping mechanisms.

I’ve tried to replace them with more healthy coping mechanisms, with little success. What I think now is that I’ve skipped a step; namely, addressing that frantic, almost animal-like need I have to flee, run, hide from whatever I’m feeling in that moment by whatever chemical means necessary. Whatever I’m doing (or wanting to do in that moment) immediately gets pushed to the back of the list when this emotional fight-or-flight mechanism takes precedent.

As you can imagine, it makes it very difficult to do any work when I feel at the whims of my sympathetic nervous system. Medications help, but they’re only part of the solution. I think another component, the one I’m trying to address now, is the ability to not only be present and mindful (something I’ve been trying to do for a very long time), but also to… endureĀ when being in that present moment forces you to have to share space with something unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even scary. It’s like being stuck with a smelly, hairy, oversized commuter on a bus who is constantly twitching and murmuring abusive things at you. Add the fact that there’s not even any guarantee that being willing to sit next to your very own Hobo of Self-Destruction will make him go away, and it doesn’t sound like a very appealing sentiment.

However, what I’m just starting to understand is that while those feelings may not abate entirely, being willing to endure them in that moment at the very least provides me (I don’t want to speak for anyone else) with the powerful knowledge that you can weather the storm. That if you decide to not hit that oh-so-tempting eject button and go hurtling towards your coping mechanism of choice, you won’t fall to pieces. And once you withstand the hurricane and find you’re still standing, it can take a lot of the wind out of its sails the next time it tries to pay you a visit.

Thoughts on A Philosophy Blog? (And Philosophy in General, I guess)

So, I’m a philosophy minor. More than that, I’m a big fan of thinking about things (sometimes too much, as the number of posts on here about anxiety will attest) and picking them apart. However, one thing that bugs me about mainstream philosophy (if there is such a thing), is how…. limited in scope it is.

I find as I ascend in years at university, I find the questions get smaller and smaller. For instance, in a Theory of Knowledge class I had, the question that the entire semester revolved around was that of what the professor called “Epistemic Akrasia”, or the question of whether or not you could rationally do something that you were aware was against your own self-interest.

Now, to me that question DOES sound interesting. But the class, as philosophy often does, devolved into minutia about questioning the definitions of “rationality” and “what we could define as ‘awareness’, as well as the usual questions about free will that normally seep into many a philosophy class like a gas leak (and potentially just as explosive). That in itself isn’t necessarily BAD per say, as one of philosophical thought’s most valuable traits is teaching the ability to tease out people’s assumptions about meaning and put them to the test. The problem I had was the heavy feeling I had in the pit of my stomach after the class was done. The feeling of “Where did we get to? What was the point of this?” and the general dread that it felt like a pointless exercise in nigh-masturbatory nitpicking.

I feel like when we engage in philosophical questioning, a good thing to do might be to take a step back and also ask “Why are we asking these questions?” “What are the implications for operations within the real world for the things we might glean from their investigation?” Too many times I’ve read a philosophical paper or essay that included the statement that “Answers to question X may have important implications for A, B, and C”, but then fails to go on and give any kind of detail as to what those might be. For a sub-branch of philosophy as potentially useful as epistemology for affecting how we relate and engage with one another both individually and societally, to spend hours and hours quibbling over the definition of “aware” not even in general, but for the hypothetical purpose of a single PAPER, seems like a tremendous waste of mental energy.

Meanwhile, so-called ‘serious’ academics scoff at what someone might disparagingly call “self-help” philosophies, notably the rise in the interest people have in scholars like the greek Stoics. As if it’s a sign of weakness or intellectual frailty to look to philosophy for ways to live a good life, to improve our outlook on the world, or deal with its pain and difficulties. I feel like I have to ask: if philosophy isn’t making peoples’ lives better, what GOOD is it? Having dealt with the usual assumptions from people outside the field that we’re all a bunch of closeted eggheads with interest only in pointless discussions, views such as the above make me shake my head. Is it any wonder that universities defund philosophy programs, or that people don’t want to even talk to philosophers, when all we talk about are topics that have exactly ZERO relevance to the average person’s existence?

It’s in this line that I’m wondering about making a dedicated philosophy blog. I use “dedicated” in the loosest possible sense, as I mentioned above that I’d want to keep it as open as possible in terms of topics and ideas. Philosophy is something you can do with ANY topic, no matter how personal, cultural, or global, and it can help provide comfort and healing in times of darkness, perspective in times of confusion, and a potential path forward when the road seems muddled and confusing. I just… don’t want to start it, and then be afraid to start writing because of potentially having an audience. Ugh.

Unclogging

Well, one good thing will come from me not being able to sleep at anything resembling a reasonable time: I’m writing again.

That’s not to say I HAVEN’T written, but incredibly inconsistently, and almost never when I’m not being paid. At least not for the past… 6-8 months or so? A big part of that are the changes that have been going on in my life otherwise. For instance, I’ve been struggling HARD with depression the past while. Less so the cognitive factors (though those are, as always, a bitch), but the constant fatigue. It feels like walking through a thick, black ichor… a deep, oily mire that pulls and drags on my body and mind to the point where no amount of sleep or recovery seems to make it lift for long.

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