Monday, March 5, 2018

The Grand Purge

My greatest fear in life is being non-essential.  Unimportant.  Valueless in the lives of the people I care about.  I've been doing a tremendous amount of thinking about this lately and I've come to the epiphanous realization that I fear these things because I've felt these things.  Many times, from different people I care about.  Especially in the last few months.

No one reads this blog so I'm perfectly safe in announcing to the non-world that I am getting divorced.  I move out Monday the 12th and will be "officially" separated until the paperwork processes.  To prepare for the logistical change I've begun to purge myself of unneeded and unwanted material things.  As I prepare for a new beginning I realize that I don't want clutter.  I don't want things that crowd and distract from my life.  I want to be in an environment that fosters clean, efficient, powerful growth and self-improvement.  I'm finding myself in an ironically similar place emotionally, specifically with relationships and friendships.

I had a memorable experience years ago during a parent-teacher conference for my middle child who was then in first grade.  He has always been a bit of a spaz so I didn't know what to expect.  He was smart.  Just...out there.  A lot like me.  But the main focus of the meeting was on his social talents.  His teacher called him a "bucket filler"... a term I'd not yet heard.
The idea is that everyone has an invisible bucket that carries their positive thoughts and feelings.  The beautiful things in life.  Some people have a bucket filled to the brim.  Others have buckets that need some work.  Bucket fillers walk through life, adding positivity to the world around them.  By smiling, paying compliments, showing love, and helping people in need, we fill others' buckets.  However, there are also those that are Bucket Dippers.  These are people that may not have much in their bucket and choose to fill theirs by taking from others' buckets.  They dip their imaginary ladles and remove positivity from others' lives.  Unkind words, selfish acts, bullying, cheating, and being dishonest.  This is how school children fill and dip from buckets.

Adults are no different.  We carry buckets with us.  I try my best to be a bucket filler.  I think, on the whole, I do a decent job at it.  I certainly know I can do better.  I also know that I have chosen to bring bucket dippers into my life.  People that have chosen to take from my bucket without returning anything to it.  Or at least taking far more than they return.

I am too resolved toward happiness and change to continue monkeying around with bucket dippers.  And for me it's become the smaller things.  I have lost patience and understanding for people that don't value me the way I value them.  This process of divorce has been brutal.  I've seen special people in my life change drastically toward me.  And it's hard.  It hurts.  I've lost sleep.  I've cried.  I've worried.  I've doubted myself.

A very close friend and I were recently talking about "the game."  The game of life and friendships and relationships.  He made a comment that "if you choose not to play the game, you choose to be lonely."  I believed that.  For a time.  But now, after a few weeks, I disagree.  I don't have to play SHIT.  And I won't necessarily be lonely.  Because the only thing worse than being alone is being with people that make you feel lonely.  I will choose solitude over loneliness, because I operate very well alone.  But I fall to complete shit when I'm lonely.

This close friend also said that when he met me he initially believed I get taken advantage of because I'm weak.  Last week he said he was wrong.  I get taken advantage of because I'm a genuinely good guy that pushes for harmony and happiness for others.  That made me feel really good.  But it also flipped a switch.  I don't want to be taken for granted.  I want to feel valued.  I want to feel essential.  I have let my fear of being unimportant in the lives of others cloud my vision and make me vulnerable.  And so today I begin the grand purge.  

There is no excuse for taking others for granted.  For not putting forth small efforts.  Return texts.  Initiate something.  Compliment people.  Smile.  Get uncomfortable to make others feel good.  Recognize kindness and return it.  Let someone know they are fun, or talented, or special.  Show appreciation.  It doesn't take much.  It's a conscious choice.  All it really takes is some effort and a little time.  

If you dip from my bucket without filling it back up, I have no use for you.  You are non-essential.  You take and don't give.  You are taking me for granted and I won't have it anymore.  I have friends all over this country that have been essential to me during my life that now fit this category.  It makes me sad, but distancing myself is now necessary.  It has to stop.  I can't keep filling buckets anymore, just to make people feel good.  I'm scaling back.

I'm taking my bucket and moving on.

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.