The written word is a powerful thing. It allows us to put our thoughts outside our-self. Even now as you read this I am communicating to you, not in real time, but sometime from the past.
Our minds often become cluttered with various thoughts and worries, so a quick practice I like to do, as I did this morning, is to write all my thoughts down as they come. This sort of stream of consciousness writing seems simple but can take practice.
when you first begin it you might find yourself answering the voices, or challenge the thoughts, that’s normal. instead of doing this though try and instead just let the thoughts come. Let them all jumble onto the page, let them not make sense, and let them be counter intuitive. Just let them exist.
You will find the simple act of doing this will often relive stress, and then after you’ve let the thoughts sit on the page a bit, you can go back and offer advice to them.
What I often do in this case is a call and answer, where one color pen is the questioner of the thoughts and the other color is the emotionally charged thought. I don’t criticize the thoughts, but instead I ask them pointed questions.
In a way this allows me to explore the fallacies in my thinking without beating them over the head with judgement.
So next time you find yourself overwhelmed, try dumping that mess onto a page.
(Disclaimer: I have been diagnosed by an M.D. I am not a doctor, and I will probably get some of this wrong! Feel free to tell me what I missed!)
I apologize for the relative radio silence the past few days. I suffered from an acute spike in my OCD.
OCD is an often misunderstood and misrepresented mental illness. It is debilitating at times, and I have only a moderate case of it. Some people are literally boxed in by there disease stuck in their homes for fear of triggering their OCD.
OCD is in its simplest form is a runaway feedback loop.
The same way any other organ doesn’t stop working when we are not conciously aware of it, the brain doesn’t stop either.
In the neuro-typical (average functional) brain, there is a gatekeeper of sorts that screens this constant pool of thoughts. This gatekeeper tends to only allow thoughts that disagree with the core personality of the individual to pass into consciousness.
In someone with OCD this is the first stumbling block. That gaurds man is quite drowsy and lets a number of perfectly common but disturbing thoughts into consciousness.
Now this sometimes happens in most humans. The urge to jump off a high ledge will send a shudder down someone’s spine, or the idea that maybe we are dying of HIV might send someone into an hour or two of worry.
In OCD however, the this is the second downfall. In OCD the horrifying thought is picked up by and over sensitive brain and amplified. It is used as proof that by simply having this thought is an indication to action. Despite OCD thoughts nearly always being completely opposite of the true character of the individual, and against their wishes.
This causes considerable emotional distress, and to combat that OCD people preform compulsions, or behaviors to aliviate this stress.
The nature of these compulsions depends on the individual, and they are generally disruptive such as hand washing ect, and they are not always consistent. In movies an OCD person has to have every part of their room organized, in real life their room might be a mess, but the OCD Suffer’s hands might be bleeding from being washed too many times.
By participating in these compulsions, the brain incorrectly interprets the anxiety as valid. By running away from the boogy man he becomes real, even if he’s nothing more than a bundle of sticks in the wind.
And so it goes on and on and on, until the OCD sufferer if he or she is lucky learns about Therapies that work. The most effective being ERP or Exposure response prevention.
The therapy is deceptively simple yet exceptionally difficult. It involves avoiding the alleviation of anxiety. The OCD sufferer exposes themselves to things that trigger anxiety and chooses conciously to avoid making themselves feel better. Eventually, the brain learns that since no feedback is given to relive it that the fear they are feeling is disproportionate to the situation, and so the anxiety decrease. Thus Severing the Feedback loop!
Mind you this is not a cure, and it is difficult to do without the aid of Medication, and there are still sometimes the OCD sufferer will fail at this task.
I write this post t simply explain why I haven’t posted and more importantly to tell you all that struggling with a mental illness is perfectly normal, and I understand.
These are strange times, so take care of yourself, and if you do struggle try and get some help.
There is a strange ethic that runs through the culture like a common cold, or maybe a better comparison would be Mono. You know that disease that all the teens gave each-other when Stacy would make out with Jack and Jack with John, and John with Jill, ect. It would make you lethargic, and not want to do much of anything.
The ethic I am so haphazardly talking about is, well the idea of making up for yesterday.
“i didn’t eat well yesterday, best eat extra good today.”
“I didn’t workout hard enough yesterday and so I’d better do double today.”
and So on.
But the problem with this mentality is that it is a self replicating problem, and discourages what I think is the ultimate virtue that being Habit.
Habit, and true habit, is kind. Now some will say you must be firm, and kindness is weakness, and trivial kindness can be a sort of weakness.
After all, is it truly kind to simply let yourself become fat? No, it’s not, and it’s a trivial sort of kindness, a short term sort of kindness that is confused with genuine kindness.
Genuine Kindness is to forgive the mistakes of the past and to simply resolve to show up, and do your best today.
Notice I said, forgive, not to forget, it’s important to remove stumbling blocks in the road, and to make the journey as easy as possible.
But the key, the ultimate key is to simply show up, and frankly that’s what most people need anyhow. Many a job or task simply needs a touch of human attention to run properly.
The world you see is quite boring in it’s growth. Even the most exciting events , avalanches, birth, and volcanic eruptions, are actually the final culmination of a million, million little actions taken over a period of time.
So, the key is to simply show up, and peruse that greater kindness. Each day take note of the past, and your failings and then put them aside.
If you ate poorly yesterday, eat well today, but just as well as you intended to yesterday, no more.
If you quit early exercising, exercise as much as you intended the day before and no more.
If you do force yourself to do more, your mind will inevitably, and quite subtly begin to see the task you want it to do as a punishment, and like all punishment will seek to avoid it.
If you further push yourself with negativity, you will catch your mind between two bad options, and well that is a very bad place for a mind to be. Learned helplessness is one hell of a drug.
So, to vastly simplify complex ideas, treat yourself as you’d want a kind father, mother, coach or authority figure to treat you. You can hold yourself to high standards, but when you fail, this kind figure steps in.
He or she says, “now, listen here, you failed to meet X goal, and that’s ok, but I know you can do it. So let’s just try our best today.”
While this is simple, if you’ve been negative to yourself, it can take a long time. That’s alright, keep trying, keep forgiving yourself, and keep showing up.
Compassion is not weakness, even though we culturally associate it with weakness.
The reason is that so much of compassion is inauthentic, and comes from a place of compulsion.
Many people are not compassionate because they choose to be compassionate, but instead they feel they must be compassionate.
Who do they this debt to? If you nailed them down and asked them to explain who they were preforming for they’d shrug. The collective default is to be compassionate, but many have never consciously chosen to be compassionate, and calculated what they are giving up .
Now there are some who will ague this is not the true spirit of compassion. That compassion should be selfless and thoughtless, but that in and of itself seems worthless.
Sacrifice is not worth anything if it is compulsive.
True compassion is the strength to think about a situation, and see the benefit in being unkind to others, and there is a benefit if you are willing to pay the cost, noting that cost, and then deciding to be compassionate anyhow.
When you choose to be compassionate not because you feel you must, but because you feel you want to, you are no longer a slave to culture, and instead are kind from a position of strength. Thus kindness stops being compulsory weakness, but instead becomes conscious strength.
The “nice guy” is a cultural staple. Most women I know have been on the receiving end of this phenomena, where a man (or woman, though the vast majority of these people are men), is at first overwhelmingly nice to a person only to turn upon them once it is established that the attractions they feel are one-sided.
Most men in this position respond in anger and embarrassment. Some demand recompense, and so on.
There are many problems with this, so let’s break them down. Starting with the core of it: They are handing away control of their well being to another human. This made doubly bad when you consider that the person who is being handed this power probably didn’t want it. Societal politeness might force them to play along for a while, but there comes a time when the person will begin to resent having to be in charge of someone else’s emotional well being.
Thus they reject the advances of the “nice guy” in effect they are handing back the reigns of control to him. He, having given up agency over himself, responds to this perfectly normal situation as if he’s been judged harshly and unfairly. He responds with what he thinks is righteous anger. When his anger is rebutted his shame feeds this anger, and so a toxic feedback loop is formed.
The average “nice guy” cannot see that the pain he’s feeling is self-imposed. He’s externalized his happiness unto an object, (most nice guys see women as objects) and when the object fails to meet his high expectations, he feels slighted. Thus he avoids self-reflection and growth.
Dating, careers, and achievements are the main focus on many a human’s life, and these are exceptionally important to a healthy life, but so many people hand away their ability to be happy to others who never asked for it. The nice guy fails to see that attraction is frankly not that romantic, though romance is important to the act of dating, the spark of attraction is largely subconscious. A smell, a face shape, how they smile or talk, these things trigger attraction, and cannot be influenced really.
More importantly, he pins his self-esteem on some external measure, and assumes, often without merit or evidence, that he’ll be successful, so when he is not he cannot tolerate the tension between what he thought the world would be like and what it is like.
So what can be done?
The first step begins with removing your worth from the external world. This isn’t easy. There are all kinds of social games we have to play to be successful, but with enough training, you begin to be able to hold in your head that the social and societal games are just that games. When you find yourself in a moment that you find yourself upset, if you can, and it will take practice, try and take a breath, but do not try and calm down, but instead take the role of an observer. Observe where you’ve put the locus of judgment. Is it external? Are you expecting the world to give you something? What is going on here?
With time you will be able to see the partners that led to the externalization and begin making conscious choices.
When I started this blog, I wanted to do something positive, but being a human it’s taken me a while to realize what that is. I hold myself to a high standard, but lately, I’ve been doing so through a gentle coaxing of the kind uncle instead of the tyrannical dictator.
To be a young man, of any race or creed, in this time is difficult. This is an unprecedented time of change, and while I see a preponderance of people rising up to help those around them, I see no one doing so for the young men of the world.
This is not to say we can diminish the struggles of our brother’s and sisters. This is not my purpose, I want to hold them up, but in order to do that without a grimy layer of resentment bubbling under the surface, to defeat the demons we must address those people who are currently feeling attacked.
I am not saying the vitriol being thrown the way of the male isn’t justified due to the past behaviors of our ancestors, there have been many, many, many, tragedies visited upon the world by the leaders of the past. I am simply saying that in order to break the cycle we must learn.
I am a 31 year old strait white man. I am not qualified to speak on the issues of race, or sex. So I will speak on the issues that I know, the process of being a confused young man who got lucky enough not to fall into the pit of Misogyny and Hate.
Moreover, I want to offer advice to those men who know the role-models presented to them are not correct, but know not where to look.
This series will not be a pity party, nor an invitation to hate, but instead a series of lessons, I learned that delivered me from existential hell to some semblance of understanding.
I won’t say happiness, or peace , or balance. Those are not states of being but acts undertaken, but more on that later.
Instead I will say this. If you are lost, I cannot tell you the way, but I can show you what worked for me. I am writing primarily for young men, but the advice presented here works for anyone really.
It is the accumulation of 18 years of suffering, journalism, reading, studying and meditation. Talk is cheap, but it’s all I have to give.
So I hope to talk to you about the things I’ve learned as a young man in a changing world, not from a place of pity, but from a place of struggle, and struggle, the struggle is everything.
As I continue my mindfulness practice, I’ve been able to put space between my thoughts and myself.
As I observe the thoughts my mind spontaneously generates, I have taken to gently confronting them with reality. Recently, my father told me he’s never judged me, and for the first time I believed him.
For much of my life, I found myself living in the shadow of my father, making him the villain of my life, and now looking back, I can see I was deeply wrong.
In reality I was preforming to no one. I wanted a villain because it gave me an excuse not to try. I learned to be helpless, and I learned to ignore how my father loved me because he did not love me in the particular way I wanted him to.
My perfectionist desires, so branded into my mind ensured I’d never be content with what is.
As I find myself accepting what is, I am not happier, but I am sure as hell better able to deal with the world.
The sucky things still suck, but I don’t expect them not to suck, and that makes them suck for a shorter amount of time.
As I look at how I think now, I catch myself asking, “who are you preforming to? Who are you posturing for? No one can see your thoughts but you?”
The hypercritical part of my brain automatically generates these negative thoughts. I can see where it learned these behaviors, the people who imparted this negativity, but I see now, I let them.
This is not to say that I am at fault. No the fault lies in those people who were cruel to me, but I think the part of me that is responsible is the current version of me.
The child in me had no idea of how to resist or move around the wills of other people, and allowed the strongest to be imposed. That was not his fault, he was after all a child.
However, as an adult, we can choose. We can go back to the past events and forgive everyone involved. We can see those people who visited cruelty upon us were victims in their own way, and we can forgive our younger self for not resisting them.
Most importantly, we can observe the thoughts and learned behaviors with a mindfull eye, and question them.
“Am I really a loser? or was I a child with a learning disability that limited his ability to gauge social ques?”
“Am I a failure?” Or are my standards set without limits or regards to my abilities?
Do my thoughts align with the most objective reality I can grapple with?
Nonetheless, I know I am not done, but in reality, nothing ever is.
I live in a small conservative town. The people are kind for the most part. We have our fair share of entitled people, but for the most part most people just want to get along.
I have a habit of engaging in dialog with almost anyone. It’s something I’ve done for a long while, and it often leads me to philosophical paths. I do not intend for things to go there, but I like big ideas, and to hold ideas in my head that I don’t particularly agree with.
However, in my town the two pervading forces are church, and right wing politics. Interestingly enough, I am not anti-religion, nor am I hyper liberal, but to many of those possessed by these ideologies any amount of fervor other than the maximum is not pure enough.
Many a kind conversation has turned sour when certain topics like mortality come up. I see the speaker’s eyes glaze, their jaw slacken, the words ” what do you think happens when you die?” dribble out of their mouth, and flop with a wet thud onto the floor.
In my younger days, I used to argue. I used to bring up philosophical questions, I used to care. But now, I kindly refocus the conversation, or attempt to. I’ve taken to directly addressing the wet mess on the floor. To some this is a wake up call enough but to most they begin to push their ideology.
This is not an exclusively Right-wing or religious idea. Man is a religious creature, and having killed god has sought for some time a replacement. Some have turned to post modernism, others harder to the established religious and some have turned to the state.
I understand. The need for certainty is a powerful driver, as someone who suffers from mild to moderate OCD, I have lived nearly each day in the shadow of doubt. But it is that doubt that has made me understand the importance of not knowing.
Ideologies are set in stone. There is no wiggle room. No doubt. One must conform to the tenets of the ideology, even as they are poorly defined.
There is no easy answer on how to avoid becoming possessed by an ideology, but there is a feeling. Supreme certainty of ones actions is a dangerous feeling, and one that should always be tempered with doubt.
Distraction is a powerful tool. Love him or hate him, whenever I see the president speaking in the news, I begin to sift through the news links on page 2.
Usually, congress, or some similar organization slips an unpopular piece of legislation under the noses of the United States’ people in plain sight.
It’s not so much a conspiracy as a tactic that taps into the central nerve of the current century. Our access to information is nearly infinite but our capacity to pay attention is hopelessly limited.
With the internet information’s power hollowed to a shell, the smartphone the last nail in the coffin. Few need a degree in English now that you have access to the opinions of the greatest literary minds’ on demand.
However, with this openness of information came the algorithmic dystopia. A constant nozzle of putrid bile, the worst of humanity poured daily into our minds, not our of malice, but instead out of capitalistic short sighted greed. Whatever the reason, man sits at the font of the whole of human tragedy, and sips from that poison cup, meeting it with near bottomless yet impotent rage.
Yet, it need not be this way.
The solution is simple, yet exceptionally difficult to achieve. Each wo/man must choose actively what they pay attention to.
It is not that the tragedy of the word are not worth paying attention to, but it is instead a humble detonation. “i am small. I can maybe save myself, and maybe I can make the world not a worse place to be. Saving others, that is truly an extraordinary feat.”
Many consider this defeatist, and I admire them for that, their hope and determination is admirable, but I think we do not honor the wo/man who simply does not make things worse, quite enough. The one who pays attention to what he can control, and directs his energy not at the masturbatory failures of the world but the failures of his personal world.
S/he is the one who votes in all the local elections, and volunteers where they live, donates what s/he can, and simply works to make their corner of the world a little better each day.
Some days you can only save one person, and it’s OK if that one person is you.
In the time between the 1950s and the early 2000s, knowledge was power. Information hid behind books, in scholarly papers, and in the minds of scholars.
Going to college qualified you for the highest positions of employment on the basis alone that you had access to this forbidden knowledge and more importantly the proof you’d studied it.
The university education however, began to slip with the introduction of the internet, and the paradigm of power shifted as fast internet evolved.
As a child, we’d wait 10 minutes for a 5 minute video to load, lectures that were an hour long would take 1-2 hours of uninterrupted loading, and considering that the internet used to take a phone-line to connect that was a tall order.
With the advent of faster internet and the slow building of the Internet’s collective database, information long lost to the stacks of libraries became easily accessible.
Businesses no longer needed an MBA candidate to tell them how to run their marketing at top level, when they could simply look up what that candidate knew.
Without really meaning to the internet transformed the once instant success of a college degree into a hollow shell of a requirement, many businesses demanding it for tasks as simple as mail room attendant.
Moreover, it should be stated that universities were not ever constructed upon the basis of job skills training. While this was often a pleasant side effect of the educations received at these places, the true purpose of any university is the advancement of knowledge. The teaching parts were often stapled on as an unpleasant reality for many a researcher, a requirement to receive the funding they need.
The outside world, the business world, decided collectively that the job should be correlated to the education, though as of late one might argue this is simply a convenience measure for their HR departments to quickly remove a swath of candidates from the running of any one position.
Thus, as knowledge became easily available it became worthless, and little has come in its wake to replace it. Or so it seems. As a new resource once seen as trivial replaced it.