Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Creature of Habits

I'm a creature of habits.  This is very different from being a creature of "habit", mind you.  That just implies you enjoy a comfort zone in life.  You like the same restaurants, the same types of movies, the same daily routine.  You don't stretch outside of this comfort zone often because you feel safe in these familiar places.  But no, unfortunately, I am not one of these.  I am a creature of actual habits.  Those often unwanted little compulsions that you feel helpless against.

I've battled habits for as long as I can remember.  The first I can remember had to do with my eyes.  I would constantly open them as wide as possible.  There was something about the air hitting the whole eyeball that kept me doing it.  I've been a chronic nail-biter.  I've dealt with facial ticks of various kinds.  I crack my knuckles.  I flick my big toes against their neighbors anytime I'm barefoot and bored.  I've compulsively abused food at night while the world slept.  I'm talking full meals here.  I'd always felt helpless against these awful, terrible habits.  Until 2010, when I chose to stop biting my nails.

I had just lost a ridiculous amount of weight.  Like 50 lbs.  And it wasn't even hard.  I just started watching my calorie intake and the fat melted from my body.  No exercise.  Just an exertion of will over food.  I was on a high and thought, "Hey...I don't like these hangnails.  I think I'll stop biting my nails."  And I did.  It wasn't even a challenge.  I just...stopped.

Naturally, like many other well-intentioned food warriors, I fell off the wagon and gained every pound back +20.  But I never started chewing my fingernails again.  That one was conquered.  It had to have been a 25-year habit and I just chose to end it.

I'm starting to learn that the vast majority of things that happen in life are the results of choices.  Some things we can't control.  Others we can.  I can't control the weather.  I can't control time.  I can't control people.  But I can control the way I act, react, prepare, and process them all.  I can't change them.  But I have full control of how I allow them to change me.

I have decided to change many things.  I'm making choices to improve myself physically, mentally, and emotionally.  I have seen immense change in my physical self through diet and exercise, and this is just over the past couple of weeks.  I am continuously searching for ways to improve my emotional and mental state.  These are admittedly harder, but they tie directly with the success I am seeing with my determination to get healthy and fit.

I refuse to allow anything or anyone else to control me.  I've been lost in the fog.  I've hoarded fear.  I've ostriched.  I've battled the darkness alone and afraid.  And through it all I realize, more strongly than ever, that I chose every one of them.

I chose them.  I chose them.  I chose them.

I have fallen in love with the feeling I get from overcoming the awful shit that bogs me down and the habits that feel out of my control.  I have one very difficult nervous habit that I am committing to eradicate right now.  I hate the term "nervous" because this habit is ever-present...not just when I'm feeling nervous or anxious.

I have an eye twitch that I actively battle every single day.  I have to focus to not do it.  It affects my eyebrows, eyelids, and eyeballs.  It's about balance and pressure and airflow and if I lose focus, my entire occular area goes apeshit.  Sometimes I notice that people are no longer looking in my eyes. They are looking at them.  It has to make people feel uncomfortable.  I'm over it.  I'm fixing it.  I swear, if I can conquer this thing that has plagued my face for my entire adult life, I can conquer anything at all.

I'm choosing happiness, freedom, and power.  Starting with my eyes...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Best Way Out

A good friend to my family passed away last week.  He was just 36 years old, though I remember him as the delightfully quirky teenage kid that could wrap his feet behind his head, thread Oral-B through his schnozz and floss his sinus cavities, and give my kid brother a notion of a challenge at Mario Tennis on N64.  Oh, and he taught me how to make napalm.  I knew he was peculiar.  I loved it.  He fascinated me.  I also knew he was teased for being different.  In addition to being beautifully odd he was also thin and gangly and not remotely athletic.  He and my youngest sister had a special friendship.  They adored one another because they both identified as misfits or outcasts.  Although misfit for very different reasons, they found support in one another.  It was always platonic, though I think he wanted it to be different.  There just wasn't anything there for the other party.  I had no idea he suffered from severe mental illness.  Crippling Bi-polar Disorder.  It plagued him, even though he was a successful attorney with his own law practice.  Eventually it grew too strong for him and he ended his life.

I am so sad.  Why does it seem like depression and mental illness only claim the lives of the eclectic, artistic, imaginative, and unique among us?  It's never the successful business professional in the news for cashing it in.  Why Robin Williams?  Why not Trump?

I'm quite familiar with the darkness that can claim an imaginative brain.  I've experienced it.  I've taken on demons.  I've fought shadows.  I've battled the worst parts of myself.  I've been to the brink and looked over the edge and ultimately decided to stay on the ground.  My brink was in a CVS parking lot in 2015.  I was that low and I don't have any diagnosable illnesses outside of some treatable depression and anxiety.  I can't imagine how hard it was for my friend to have soldiered on for as long as he did.  I am sad and I feel it is tragic.  But I understand.  It's a way out.  A foolproof way to not feel pain, ever again.

I had two friends end their lives when I was in my teens and early twenties.  I still think about them from time to time.

What I'm about to say is in no way a commentary on what these friends of mine did, or on the actions of those who choose to end their lives.  I am a huge proponent of individual thought and personal choice and it is not my place to criticize or question the decisions of others.  I respected them then and I respect them now.  I just want to talk about the ugliness I've seen and how I have found, to date, ways to go on.

Robert Frost once wrote "The best way out is always through."  That simple idea carries immense power.  I know from personal experience that there are ways out that aren't necessarily through.  You can go around.  You can walk away.  You can avoid.  Or you can ostrich.  But I can promise that the best way to get out of anything is to push through it.

There were two albums that I give credit to for helping me through my own personal low: "I See A Darkness" by Bonnie Prince Billy and "Carrie and Lowell" by Sufjan Stevens.  Neither of these records are fun.  They are both dark, emotional, and RAW.  I remember being questioned about why I would go to such dark music when I was already in such a dark place.  Why not some Beach Boys or, God forbid, MOTAB?  The best way to disperse darkness is to shine light on it, right?

I was concurrently listening to a podcast called "The Hilarious World of Depression" where well-known comedians, actors, and artists share their own personal experiences battling depression.  The very first episode addressed the counter-productive effect of positive, happy music on depression.  Every person experiencing depression feels alone and misunderstood.  When someone in that state listens to happy music, they just see one more person that doesn't "get it."  Yet when you hear some dark, sad, melancholy music with visceral lyrics, it feels like there is someone else sitting next to you at the edge of the abyss.  Someone who relates to how you feel.  Someone that experienced it and was able to create a beautiful piece of art from it.  It's a way through the depression.  Through the pain.  It's not avoiding it with distracting pop music.

I'm currently still pushing through.  Sometimes it's too damn hard and I look for alternatives.  Easier paths.  Smooth road.  Happy trails.  But for me, right now, it's all about through.  I'm going to the gym for the first time in my life.  I'm watching nutrition and staying active every day.  This is how you fight through obesity.  It's not easy, but it's the best possible way.  No pills.  No fasts.  Just massive adjustments to life.  And those are NOT easy to make.  I've ignored them for years, even though I know they're there.

I'm so sorry for my friend and his family.  I'm sad that he had to fight such a curse through his life.  But I'm happy his pain is over.  And I'm grateful to have had the chance to experience his beautiful soul.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Octopodes and The Ostrich

Did you know that the proper plural for octopus is "octopuses"?  At least that's the most widely accepted plural.  Technically, the word "octopus" comes from the GREEK word "oktopus" and the true plural would be "octopodes."  Like awk-TAW-poh-deez.  Which brings a mental image of an eight-armed gladiator or a pimped-out cephalopod holla'ing "awktawpohDEEZ NUTZ!"

Other fun facts about animals.  Did you know that you can't get warts from touching a toad?  Or that a mother bird won't abandon her chicks if a human touches them?  Or, my personal favorite, that penguins don't fall backward when they look up at airplanes?!  Last, and most relevant to me, ostriches don't really bury their heads in the ground to escape or hide from danger.  It's a total myth.  They do bury their eggs in the sand and peek in now and then to check on their progeny, but they never actually jam their heads into the ground for safety.

This last one blew my mind.  I've long-identified with the ostrich of old.  In fact I've patterned my approach to life's difficulties after its clearly effective yet apparently false strategy.  Just shut your eyes real tight and wait a while and the problem disappears.  It's like magic.  And it works for everything.

Anytime a difficult conversation or conflict comes on, don't say anything you really mean or feel.  Just apologize and agree with everything the other party says.  Cut yourself off when you are about to say something honest and real.  Bite your tongue and nod.

If there is a bill that has to be paid or a project to be done with a looming deadline, just don't think about it.  There are so many more positive things you can put your mind to!  Like TV.  Or FOOD.  Coincidentally, if you don't want to clean the kitchen or do the dishes...then don't!  Just shut your eyes tight and pretend it's clean.  If you wait long enough it will magically happen!  Same thing with yard work and house cleaning.  Just close your brain and wait.

You don't really need to return rented videos or library books.  Just hold onto them.  Eventually the phone calls stop and nobody will bother you again.

You don't actually have to register for the draft.  What the hell is the point of that?  The army is obviously not for me so I'll just blow it off.

If I don't want my parents to see my report card I'll just hide it in the closet.  POOF!  Problem gone.


DISCLAIMER:  If you are a fellow ostricher and happy to be so, read no further.  Spoilers ahead!  Minds are fixin' to blow.  Ready?

The kitchen doesn't actually clean itself!  If you wait long enough, someone more responsible than you comes up behind you and cleans it.  And likely resents you for it.  By that time the alfredo sauce has cemented itself to the bottom of the pot and needs a blowtorch and chisel to come off.  There is no force on earth that can get Raisin Bran flakes to detatch from a bowl if it sits long enough.  And grass doesn't cut itself.  It just grows and grows until it chokes itself out and dies.

When people stop calling about a bill it's not because they don't want your money anymore.  It's because they've shut your account down and you're at their mercy.  Good luck using that VISA that is 120 days past due.  Now the financial special forces are onto your ass and your credit is fooked for life.

Blockbuster didn't forget you owe them a rental return.  FUN FACT: In the "olden days", people had to travel to "video stores" to rent movies instead of paying the $15 to buy them.  You would pay money to borrow a movie for three days, then return it when you were done!  Or if you failed to return it you could simply buy it.  For $49.

Mom will find your report card and you'll be grounded for the remaining two months of summer because your grades sucked and you hid them.  

Hypothetical Situation:  Let's say it's 1989 and you have a school paper to write on a famous person from history.  You go to a public library and they give you a card that allows you to "check out" a book called, oh...let's say "Joe Louis: The Brown Bomber".  You get this book for two weeks.  You read it and write your paper and get an A!  Now you just need to return the book.  But no one is forcing you.  You didn't pay any deposit so what's the point?  Way too much effort here.  Just forget about it and pretend it doesn't exist and you'll never have to think about it again.  Flash Forward to 2004 and you want to go to the library to check out CDs to illegally copy by the dozens but you can't because you've still got to return The Brown Bomber and your card is frozen.  You can buy the long-forgotten book for its current value that has tripled over time, or you can invent an elaborate story about how your identity was stolen and someone else named Peter Tyler Pearson checked out The Brown Bomber in 1989.  The latter totally worked.

Oh, and it turns out that registering for Selective Service, aka "The Draft" wasn't optional after all.  Good luck getting any kind of federal loan or assistance if you failed to register.  I've never been through more hoops for anything in my life.

Bottom line, DON'T OSTRICH.  It is painful.  There is no sense in not just doing shit when it needs to get done.  I don't think I was lazy.  I think I just didn't care.  There wasn't any real-time accountability.  And it is the absolute worst practice imaginable for communication and relationships.  Say what you mean.  Speak what you need.  Hold your ground.  Know yourself and respect yourself enough to insist on your right to feel and think and want things.  Be perfect in your speech.

I am new to this concept.  Truth and authenticity at the cost of comfortable environment is scary.  But I believe it's crucial to a happy, healthy life.  I can't just sit back and pretend my body and mind don't need work.  They won't fix themselves.  I have to actually do something about it.  The concept of doing important things now or being straightforward and strong in life may seem so simple for non-ostriches.  But my avian brethren get it.  It feels complex and difficult and scary and, frankly, sometimes impossible.  But it's not.  Difficult?  Sure.  Scary?  Yes.  But it's not complex and it's not impossible.