Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Reading My Journal

Over the past few days, I've read through some of the older entries in my personal journal. It's been interesting for me, because while I certainly have memories from that period of time, my journal entries afford me a clearer peek into the machinations of my inner life. After all, throughout our lives, each of us negotiates external and internal experiences; and the details and nuances of our inner lives, given their rich and mostly private natures, are all too often obscured in our memories by the wheres, whens, and whos.

Some of the things I read were shocking to me, given the developments of my life in the time that's passed since I wrote them. In several instances, for example, I could clearly "see" the origins of certain events and avenues of personal growth which have since manifested. In some cases, it was uncomfortable to revisit old concerns and troubles -- not to merely recall, but to reoccupy them, if only for a moment. And it was truly ponderous, having stepped back into my past, to lift my eyes from the pages and return to the present -- to traverse, in the blink of an eye, personal realities separated by years. 

I found myself wishing I could somehow reach out to my younger self. I wanted to tell him that it's okay to be confused and upset about certain things, and to not have the answers to certain questions. I wanted to tell him that "this, too, shall pass." I wanted to tell him that I know now that every experience in life, painful or sublime, is part of life's Story, and that we can and do integrate every experience into the fabric of that Story -- and that it is beautiful and good and wondrous. 

None of that is to say my life is now perfect, by the way. I still have problems and confusions and frustrations and foibles, and all the rest of the "negative" stuff that comes with the territory of being alive. But what I know now, in a much richer, more integrated way, is that my life has been, and continues to be, a gift. That's the undercurrent now. And what a gift to recognize that, and to have come to a place where I can affirm that. What a gift to be here now, writing these words.

I think we all need to be reminded of these things sometimes. That life unfolds ever onward, with or without our approval. That we will always have problems, perhaps, but that the nature of our problems is temporary. That, despite the fact we don't always perceive it, we can, and do, change (as do the shapes of our lives). That our cynicism, which would have us believe certain things about our nature, and the way life will unfold, is very possibly wrong. That each of our lives is comprised of a series of intertwining stories, which are inextricably linked to other people's stories -- and that none of us knows for certain whether any given event is at the beginning, middle, or end (or all three).

Thank you for reading today.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Ask someone with a chronic mental illness what it's like to live with it, and you'll probably hear -- among other responses -- that it's frustrating.

Many words are rightfully dedicated to the exploration of symptoms of various mental health problems, and coping strategies for the successful management thereof. After all, lots of people with mental illnesses need help learning about them. What is often overlooked in that sort of work, though, is the essential fact that it can be powerfully frustrating to live with a two-steps-forward, two-steps-back illness -- one that feels okay on some days and crippling on others. In that regard, as I recently pointed out, living with a chronic mental illness is no different than living with any other chronic illness, such as asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

I digress -- let's stick with the frustration that can be felt by a person living with chronic mental illness(es).

A person struggling with their mental health can make great strides on one day, and feel as though they've uncovered the key to their ongoing wellness. Illumination can occur by way of almost anything: a thought; a sight; a sound; an interaction; a line or passage of text; a therapy session; a movie; a piece of art; an action.

And that same person can wake up the next day and discover that same key, which held so much meaning and importance yesterday, doesn't resonate today; moreover, they might discover, to their dismay, that they feel just as pained and confused and lost as ever.

How incredibly frustrating. It's easy, perhaps, to see how one could lose hope in view of such ruthless eradications of progress. We human animals are programmed to respond to, and learn from, stimuli, after all. We need positive reinforcement to see things through. In general, it's very difficult for us to favor long-term over short-term thinking. Think about it: it's why countless New Year's resolutions never come to pass; it's why so many people struggle with maintaining a nutritious diet; it's why impulse shopping is a problem for many people. We want positive feedback and results, and we want them right now.

So it goes with managing a mental illness. It's an ongoing process by nature, but we want to feel better, permanently, right now. And who can blame someone for wanting that, and for feeling that way? Not me. Mental illness can be torture.

And so, as with many things in life, mental illness isn't fair: those with the most immediate and pressing needs for comfort and peace are asked to be especially strong, patient, and diligent. 

It isn't fair, and it isn't kind, but it is a fact. 

A few more thoughts before I wrap up this post.

The various religions and mythologies of humankind have addressed these aspects of human suffering, which is important to remember, as they offer a wellspring of wisdom, guidance, and comfort. I'm going to pluck three examples off the top of my head from this vast repository -- of which most content I am, admittedly, ignorant. At any rate, the examples are 1) Shamans; 2) The Beatitudes (well, one in particular); and 3) an old Japanese proverb.

Please note it is not my intention to endorse or otherwise privilege any religion or belief system by selecting and discussing these examples.

1. You may know that the word "Shaman" is generally synonymous with "healer." What's interesting to me, though, is that a necessary precondition of being a shaman is to have experienced severe personal crisis. A shaman, then, is one who has been deeply wounded -- who has experienced, and possibly continues to experience, deep suffering. But the way through the crisis has endowed the shaman with skills of healing, which they then share with others.

2. The Beatitudes, according to Christian beliefs, were delivered by Jesus as a series of blessings and proclamations in his Sermon on the Mount. The one that comes to my mind is, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." What that means to me in view of this discussion of mental illness is this: the struggle can feel painful and hopeless and frustrating -- but it is worth it. Why? Because if you keep struggling, you will learn, on a level of extraordinary depth, what it means to suffer, to heal, to live -- and to serve yourself and others in your own particular way. 

3. If all that feels a little out of reach and esoteric, consider the third example I referred to -- the Japanese proverb. It is, simply, this: "Fall seven times, stand up eight." 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Trip Into My Past: Brief Thoughts on Negative Male Behavior in Romantic Heterosexual Relationships

I was perusing some of my old notes and documents, and I encountered the following snippet. It's rather cynical, but I stand by it, because A) it's part of where I've come from, intellectually; and B) I think the insight has some validity. Namely, I was attempting to honestly describe what I perceived to be a rather pervasive and destructive pattern of attachment in male-female romantic relationships.

Here it is, in only slightly edited form (as to properly represent where I was 'at' in a rather impassioned moment seven and a half years ago, at age 25):

A reason that men can be so horrible to their female companions is that they weren’t “allowed” to express themselves, or to sound off, if you will, to their peers as they grew up.  The [socially] acceptable manner in which males relate to one another during their adolescent years is dominated by sports talk and participation; neo-gang pack mentality; self-inflation (weight-lifting, braggadocio); and mischief and derision in general.  Men are, in essence, encouraged to channel their turmoil into one of these pack-endorsed pursuits.  When they land a girlfriend, then, they are presented with an altogether new outlet.  If the relationship matures, the man will recognize that the woman has accepted him to some degree for who he is, including all of his foibles and heretofore buried emotions.  The result is that the male will at first sound off to his girlfriend in quick, exhilarating vapor bursts of release.  As he receives positive feedback for this practice, however, he will make it his habit to closely include her in the smallest nuances of his emotional life, eventually growing to depend on her; and he eventually becomes, in essence, addicted to her ear.  The male will proceed to employ an astonishing variety of tactics in order to secure his girlfriend’s ear; he comes to operate under the premise that he even controls her, or that she is his right, his possession.  The original opportunity to grow, of course, has been squandered or missed altogether, and only through conscientious effort and communication can both parties rid themselves of this facet of co-dependence.

I don't usually write in such general, sweeping terms any more, and with good reason. And I spoke from a certain cultural perspective, of course. That and other criticisms notwithstanding, however, I agree with the essence of what I wrote rather hastily during a time of personal flux and transition. 

It's neat to revisit that time of my life -- not the outer circumstance, mind you, but the inner. Psychologically, I was highly interested in origins as my vehicle of understanding human behavior; i.e., I was interested in pathology, or the questions, "where does this behavior come from? how did it start?"  And that makes sense. After all, I was an actor, and part of my creative process entailed a certain reverse engineering from the outside in; furthermore, such methodology was my mode of introspection, and I came to greater degrees of self-knowledge that way.

Anyway, thanks for indulging this little trip of mine. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

It Dawned on Me Today

I think it dawned on me today
I think I figured it out
How to choose happiness

How to pluck it from the flood of thoughts
How to choose it
As if I were selecting vegetables at the grocery store
Looking each one over
Returning the ones that don't suit me
Selecting the ones that do
And moving on

Deciding with each selection
That my happiness
My sense of joy
My sense of ease
My sense of wellness
That feeling of feeling good
Is the most important thing

Because if I don't
If I avoid the choice
Or if I choose the rotten vegetables
The ones that make me sick
The ones that hurt me
That make me believe I'm broken
And dark
Then I become Slave to my misery
Always in relation to my misery
Chained to my misery
Unable to see another way
Or the existence of anything but it

So today I choose something else
Today I choose to feel good
Today is the day I decided
I am pretty great, as a matter of fact

Yes I am