Love Thyself, And The Rest Will Follow

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

So I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed today, and I noticed a few key words and hashtags yelling out at me through the rolling sea of text: self-love, self-respect, among others.

I paused for a second because it struck a particular chord, a dissonant note that irks me when I think about past transgressions – a classic record-scratch moment, if you will.

 

I am a recovering attention-seeker-monger-whore.

 

Allow me to explain.

 

For as long as I can remember, I was always an awkward kid – I was extremely shy, my body kept fluctuating from slightly chubby to abysmally skeletal year after year. I was clumsy, naive, and gullible.

 

Image result for bullyingIn other words, the perfect target.

 

My social interactions were basically reduced down to yes-or-no answers, and would usually devolve into incoherent babble if I became too excited. It was nearly impossible for me to hold any conversation with my peers – just the mere fact that the immortals chose to come down from Mt. Olympus to tolerate my presence was a blessing that must be respected with reverence and silence, for if I dared utter foolish words I would lose their favor and be banished once again to an existence where only my books and broken heart belonged.  I used to walk with my eyes firmly beelining the ground at my feet since more than a second of eye contact with anyone would throw me into a sweaty fight-or-flight fit of discombobulation.

And those were on good days.

As is the status quo of all children who deem others to be inferior, I was to be teased, pushed around, bullied – trips to the principal’s office were a common occurence as I would often lash out violently at my transgressors. For me, school was not about learning – it was about survival.

And so began what became the routine cycle of violence – awkward kid gets beat up at school, awkward kid strikes back, awkward kid gets in trouble, awkward kid has no eloquence to stand up for himself and explain what happened, awkward kid gets sent home, awkward kids gets punished and beat at home by exasparated parental figures, awkward kid cries himself to sleep, hoping he never wakes up again.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

 

And then puberty hit.

 

You know those summer growth spurts you see in movies? It’s a thing – by age 14, I reached 5’6″, weighing 160lbs of muscle and anger, which back in 1991 Puerto Rico was NOT a common thing.

I got into sports for a while, but I had the finesse of a drunk rhino – all strength, no coordination.

Not only were other kids annoyed by my awkward demeanor, now they were intimidated by the size that came with it – so they left me alone for the most part; the bullying stopped after I knocked out an upperclassman who kept smacking another shy bespectacled peer – who was afraid to fight back – upside the head one day in PE class. Unfortunately for that knucklehead, I no longer wasn’t.

You see, my bipolar disorder kicked into high gear, nitrous oxide packed, ready to raise some hell and payback.

High school came and went, a haze of teenage rebellion – I entered high school with straight A’s, but by graduation….well, let’s just say there was almost no graduation ceremony for me.

 

Now, college rolled on by, tabula rasa, the clean slate I was pining for after watching so many 80’s teenage rom-coms and college/frat/bro morality tales – the protagonists always got away with the girl after conquering insurmountable odds against the evil jocks, the stuffy, faculty establishment, handing them their just comeuppance. Let’s party!

 

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Vote for Ogre 2020! NEEEEEEERDS!!!!

 

College was a fresh start, a blank canvas with which I would paint my masterpiece, subject the world to the ideal me: and thus I created Sebastian.

 

I created a monster; I became my own worst nightmare.

 

I thought that what I was missing all those years was a carefree attitude – if you would define carefree as delving into extreme psychological manipulation.

I used exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive methods of manipulation to advance my own interests and agendas, often at the expense of others – textbook negative social influencing aimed at changing other peoples’ perceptions to fit my needs, as distorted and outrageous as they seemed.

I became a hustler, a scammer, a con artist – I could easily sway my way among any manner of crowds and cliques. I thrived in this new environment, because now I had a few dangerous weapons at my disposal – lack of impulse control, manic episodes that would fuel my party-obsessed mind for days on end, and an insatiable appetite for getting people to like me, to love me, to give me the recognition and notoriety I so richly deserved.

Reckless behavior became my modus operandi –  “everybody loves crazy Sebas, he’s capable of anything! Look at him go! He’s confident, brash, takes no prisoners, gets along with everyone”, etc. ad nauseam. I was a proverbial walking social network before the Internet was ever a thing – or so I imagined in that delusional wasteland in my mind.

And for a while, it actually worked.

I was the life of the party – everybody wanted me around, I had friends everywhere! I paid endless rounds of drinks, partied hard every night until the wee hours of the next day – an endless cycle of pleasure, endorphins, alcohol, drugs, stimulants, the works.

I lived the lifestyle I so desperately craved and dreamed of for so many years – until manic depression  and suicidal behavior reared it’s head.

And then the weight gain ballooned my body exponentially; I went from 160lbs to 345lbs in two years.

That grandiose sitcom world I produced called Everybody Loves Sebastian was cancelled; my world came crashing down.

After years of alcohol and drug abuse, declining health, and a nearly botched bariatric surgery, my brain couldn’t take it anymore –  I crashed.

 

Hard.

 

That was then; this is now.

 

It took me nearly dying, losing so many good people in my life that I took for granted because I was too self-indulgent, egocentric, narcicisstic, it took nearly losing my family, my loved ones, the folks who cleaned up my vomit, who nursed my wounds, who took my verbal and physical abuse, it took looking at myself in the mirror one single day, thick tears cascading unto my cheeks, my chest imploding with hatred and self-loathing, screaming like a child, feeling the backlash of all those years of violence, of fear, for me to realize that all I had to do was one simple act of compassion – to forgive myself.

 

That single act took every ounce of energy and courage left in me, which honestly at that point was not much – but the moment I forgave myself, the moment I let go of resentment, of envy, of hatred – that day, I learned that all was not lost.

 

That day, I passed out from the strain, the mental toll it took for me to learn and accept that I am not my sickness; my illness does not define me.

 

From that day forth, every day I choose:

  1. To love myself – When you love yourself, you realize that no one can dictate how you feel, how you see yourself, what you give and what you get out of life – you are the sole proprietor of your emotions, the gatekeeper to a better life.
  2. To respect myself – When you respect yourself, you learn the value of self-esteem, the beauty of self-worth. You also learn the value of others, and how to avoid people and situations that will take away from your hard work on core values and virtues.
  3. To educate my mind – A healthy mind leads to clarity, knowledge, and wisdom; through introspection, honesty, and self-evaluation you learn to make good decisions that not only favor you, but will do good for others as well.
  4. To treat my body with respect – Physical ailments will always be a catalyst for emotional breakdown; treating your body with the respect and value it deserves goes a long way to foster mental health and stability, whether it be through exercise, nutrition, or abstaining from reckless, destructive activities.
  5. To nurture my soul – I personally am not religious, nor do I believe in dogmatic conventions, but I do believe in a higher power, a higher purpose, a higher consciousness; I personally believe in the concept of a soul, as I find it to be the repository for all experience, without a concept of good nor evil – an endless library. And like all libraries full of precious knowledge, I believe they should be curated, protected, and taken care of with the utmost respect and due diligence.

 

Every day I choose to thank the Universe for every opportunity I have been given and I appreciate the lessons I have learned, however harsh they may seem.

 

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once wrote, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

 

My understanding of self-love and self-respect did not happen overnight, and I still have much to learn.

 

The important part, though, is that I choose to continue learning.

 

Choose wisely, my friends.

 

Image result for choose wisely indiana jones

 

 

 

1 Bipolar, 2 Bipolar, 3 Bipolar, 4 Bipolar, MWAH HA HA HA HA HAAAA!!

“You know how most illnesses have symptoms you can recognize? Like fever, upset stomach, chills, whatever. Well, with manic depression, it’s sexual promiscuity, excessive spending, and substance abuse—and that just sounds like a fantastic weekend in Vegas to me!” – Carrie Fisher

 

My legs couldn’t stop shaking, sitting in the inner sanctum of the psychiatrist’s office – no 14 year old wishes to spend an afternoon being forced to answer awkward questions, feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and judged. The old mahogany chair with thick leather padding was oddly comforting, though – small streams of sunlight broke through slits in the window shades, shining on to what seemed an endless collection of musty old books, weird statuettes, and myriad pieces of art. My eyes darted from corner to corner, taking in all the details, avoiding the doctor’s eyes, feeling like they were going to swallow me whole, pull me into a black hole of shame that I would never escape – just another adult telling me that I was fucked up, unfit, hyper, pointing out how useless and disruptive I was and send me on my way.

The doctor sat behind his enormous, beautiful oak desk covered in papers, trinkets, and other little knick-knacks, unlike other places I had visited – this office was different, messy yet organized, retro yet familiar (even for the early 90’s). His eyes were wide, yet kind – crystal greyish-blue, like a calm ocean of patience and understanding; his white hair and beard, along with his Spaniard accent, reminded me of Don Quixote – I thought of the irony behind that thought and chuckled softly. At first I was terrified when he brought out what seemed an ancient tome of magical power, full of demonic incantations and necromantic rituals. He put on his glasses, slowly slid through the pages, with careful, painstaking precision; he then handed the book over to me.

 

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Also known as the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis – just kidding. 

 

“Read what’s on the page. If you have any questions, which I am sure you will have, feel free to ask – we have time”, the good doctor said.

 

Image result for don quixote

Take your time, dear boy, I’ll go chase a couple of windmills while you finish reading….

 

Big words, clinical terms all dizzied my brain yet I took my time; the more I read, the more I strangely wished to understand the alien language laid out in front of me, to decipher whatever code would unlock the secret behind what was wrong with me.

We spoke for what seemed a lifetime – but the doctor was kind and patient. He answered all questions, cleared any doubts I had, treated me with respect and compassion – he did not treat me condescendingly, like a walking pack of dollar bills, a future renovation for his swanky home.

 

He was preparing me and my family for a diagnosis that would change our lives forever.

 

I sobbed as my parents were called into the office. For most of my childhood, I was being handled as a child with ADD/ADHD* – back in the 80’s, that was the big trend: “Your child’s just being hyper, he’ll get over it; give him some pills, smack him upside the head if he gets too rowdy, and he’ll be fine”.

*For more information, feel free to click the links: ADDAttention Deficit Disorder, ADHDAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

 

The doctor carefully explained the scenario to my family –  the lack of impulse control, my sudden outbursts of anger, terrible fits of crying and wanting to disappear, wishing to die, aggressive behavior, etc. I was the perfect Molotov cocktail of mental illness, a ticking time bomb that if not treated soon enough, would’ve exploded into a full blown danger to myself and others – I had just hit the height of puberty. The sudden change in hormonal balance, exacerbated by an already pre-existing chemical imbalance became too much for my mind and body to bear.

 

In 1991, I was officially diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder.

 

It is very important to note that back then, diagnosing Bipolar Disorder was still fairly uncommon – the mere fact that my doctor at the time was willing to put in the extra effort to rigorously tend to my plight is a testament to the dedication that many mental healthcare professionals need to strive for. Unfortunately, that is a topic for another day.

 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) breaks down the disorder into 4 types:

  • Bipolar I Disorder defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
  • Bipolar II Disorder defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes described above.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called cyclothymia) defined by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms as well numerous periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.
  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders defined by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.

 

In my years combating the disease, I have learned a thing or two which I wish to share with you:

  1. When most people think of Bipolar Disorder, they typically default to Type I, or may confuse the behavior with another mental disorder that shares similar symptoms: Borderline Personality Disorder. It needs to be said that even though they share symptoms, they are NOT treatable in the same manner: therapies and medication always vary, and it is of the utmost importance that a mental health professional, a patient, and their family/support system work closely together to correctly identify the symptoms in order to get as clear a picture as possible – one simple lie or omission can turn into a cascade of complications that may aggravate the condition if the wrong therapy or medication is administered.
  2. Bipolar Disorder is not curable. Fortunately, there have been many strides made in treatment options, and with further education to the public the medical community has been able to reach out and better inform the general public about new medications, natural remedies, and all sorts of options available to alleviate certain symptoms.
  3. Bipolar disorder can be successfully treated. Just because the disorder is not CURABLE does not mean it is not TREATABLE – it does not mean that one cannot live a functional, even fruitful life full of success. Many successful high profile artists, authors, business people, and many more live with the condition and have been capable of excelling at their fields because they chose to take treatment seriously, to follow-through on their commitment to themselves, to their health, to their loved ones, to those around them.

 

Just like any disease, there are variations, and with those variations come options: not all diabetics need to inject insulin, not all cancer patients go through chemotherapy, nor undergo invasive surgical procedures as part of their treatment plan. The key to living with bipolar disorder, in my opinion, comes down to a few key details:

  1. Know yourself – A huge pitfall of many folk who deal with bipolar disorder is blurring the lines between personality flaws/virtues/characteristics vs behavior that is attributed to the disorder. Attempt to identify a baseline for your personalty and behavior; define those details and anchor them – they will be your point of reference if you ever feel that your symptoms are starting to rear their ugly head.
  2. Be honest with yourself and others – Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you have a handle on your symptoms on any given day that you’re honky dory and ready to dance. You will always have the condition – you cannot afford to rely on complacency and blind yourself to the fact that symptoms can not only exhibit themselves in the blink of an eye by some internal/external trigger, but they may escalate just as quickly, if not exponentially quicker. If you feel that you are off your baseline, evaluate, act accordingly and alert someone you trust who knows of your condition of the situation.
  3. It is OK to take a break – They are not called Mental Health Days for nothing; everyone is entitled to have a bad day, maybe a few bad days in a row in some rare situations, and that is perfectly fine. Mentally ill patients sometimes need to distance themselves from certain sources that may possibly aggravate their condition, especially if they are aware they are off their baseline. Distance and rest is good, but, just like anything else, it is only healthy in moderation – distance must not be allowed to turn into permanent isolation; rest must not turn into hibernating in bed for days on end, without the will to see the light of day.
  4. Be diligent with your treatment plan – I cannot, CANNOT, stress this enough. All the medication in the world might curb a symptom or two, but if you do not seek psychological therapy as well as pharmacological treatment, and formulate a stable treatment plan including your doctors and family in the process, you will never, EVER learn to harness the powerful tools and techniques that will give you an advantage over the beast the lurks inside the ill mind. A basketball team full of point guards isn’t going to be competent team, let alone a winning team – it takes different elements, with different skills, that work together in harmony to succeed at any endeavor, and that includes mental health treatment.

 

Yeah, big words, lots of words, ocean full of words, big ocean….wait….

 

Almost went off track.

 

Look, I know – it’s a long preach, there’s no entertaining narrative trope to make it noteworthy nor interesting, and it seems like a never-ending, lonely path to uncertain doom, but trust me when I tell you: it’s not.

 

You are not alone in this.

 

You can do this.

 

I have lived, I have lost, I have learned, I have suffered, I have laughed hysterically, screamed my throat to hoarseness, sobbed ’til my eyes throbbed, stabbed and put out cigarettes on my arms in acts of desperation, cut my thighs in penance, drank myself into filthy gutters and pools of vomit, woken up in strange places with strange people, I have been institutionalized, scrutinized, analyzed, poked and prodded – I have lied, I have manipulated, I have confessed, begged, pleaded, bargained, coerced, faithfully promised.

 

The point is….I am lucky to be alive and healthy(ish).

 

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

 

And I am grateful for that.

 

I was 14 when I was diagnosed – I am now *ahem ahem* an undisclosed age which I will not divulge out of personal pride and because I just don’t feel like being roasted even though I maintain my ruggish, handsome good looks *ahem ahem* – and yet here I am, alive and kickin’, working hard, focused, determined.

 

If I can do it, so can you.

 

I trust you can.

 

I know you can.

 

We all do.

 

Every day I wake up, open my eyes, and thank the Universe for giving me the opportunity to allow myself to be the eternal student, to keep learning about myself, to learn more lessons about life, the Universe, everything, and to share those things with you guys.

 

Life begins anew daily when you learn to love it, to love yourself, to sincerely fight the good fight, to not give up.

 

There are good days.

 

There are bad days.

 

But there are still many more days to come, and that’s what matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s IQ Got To Do With It?

“Experience is not what happens to you – it’s how you interpret what happens to you.” -Aldous Huxley

 

Fireworks lit the sky with thundering colors, bright and loud tributes to the celebration of the new year.

 

It was beautiful, full of electricity and exhiliration, hope, and promise.

 

I assume that’s how most people felt when the clock struck 12am on December 31st, 2018 – unfortunately, I did not.

 

I was too busy going through the beginning stages of a depressive episode.

 

I was fully aware and had my handy proverbial toolbox of techniques ready to handle the situation – hence why I had delayed writing for a few days, trapped inside depression’s gaping maw, quietly kneeling inside the belly of the beast, meditating, pondering, letting all of the emotions flow through me.

 

Image result for lost in the labyrinth

 

I was lost for days in the labyrinth of my mind, scared, feeling alone, hopeless, confused, wondering why I was feeling the way I was, how in the wake of new beginnings, new ventures, I cried; I lay in bed, my senses being assaulted by everything and nothing, my heart sinking into the messy sludge of stories untold, entangling myself in the web of the unforeseen, tumbling inside the avalanche of the ever-growing snowball that was my imagination running wild.

 

And that’s all it was – my imagination running wild.

 

I was aware, not fully in control, but with one foot in the door of rationality; I kept myself honest, both to myself and my significant other, maintaining at all times the fact that like all things fleeting, the emotions will pass, the tides will recede, and the shore will be closer than I thought.

Slowly but surely, what I thought were centuries of agony passed in a couple of days; I was able to claw my way out of the spiny shallows I was floating in, swim back to the safe shores of reality, and drag myself back to the sanctuary of clarity. I proverbially lay there on the beach, having survived the undertow of depression – while catching my breath I stared up at the cosmic swirl of my thoughts, soaked, exhausted, yet smiling, because I knew the worst was over. I was back at the wheel, in the driver’s seat, and all is at it should be.

 

Image result for relief emotion

Back to every day normal stress, yay! 

 

All it took for me to survive was to learn and assimilate such a simple, yet diverse and debated concept – the concept of emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman revolutionized the mental health landscape in 1995 with his landmark book Emotional Intelligence where he “used the phrase to synthesize a broad range of scientific findings, drawing together what had been separate strands of research – reviewing not only their theory [John Mayer and Peter Salovey, 1990] but a wide variety of other exciting scientific developments, such as the first fruits of the nascent field of affective neuroscience, which explores how emotions are regulated in the brain.”

Emotional Intelligence is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

 

Sounds simple, right?

 

Well, to be honest, it actually kind of is simple – just like studying for an exam, learning a new subject, hitting on a girl at a bar, or putting together a puzzle; it just takes constant discipline, practice, and dedication. And maybe just a tad bit of good luck; then again, we are the architects of our own success, yes?

 

It took me years just to accept the validity of the concept and all of its advantages; it took hard work and vigilance to finally understand how important it is to be mindful of yourself and your surroundings, to be aware of every physical and emotional cue. Even to this day, it is a day-to-day struggle – some days are better than others. The good news, however, is that it CAN be done.

 

There are many ways you can make this work for you, but I have found the way to make it work for me is to be absolutely, unequivocally, unflinchingly, brutally honest with yourself, and with others – there’s no shame in communicating your thoughts and feelings, whether they be positive or negative, as long as you do it in a manner that imposes on no one, a manner which is respectful of boundaries, that shows that you care about not only others, but about yourself, and how those interactions can be healthy and fruitful as long as they are handled with care, love, and decorum.

 

In the simplest of terms, and at the risk of sounding like a cheerful, Flanderian automaton:

Image result for you can do it

May the copyright gods have mercy on my soul; it comes from a jovial place!