(Men)tal Health Needs To Be Addressed

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“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.”

– Carl Jung

 

Please allow me to get this possible controversial bit of opinion out of the way: most men, especially latino men, are a ridiculously stubborn bunch.

 

Goodnight folks, thank you for coming! *walks off stage while being pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables*

 

In all seriousness, as far back as I can remember we have been raised, programmed, and indoctrinated to be alpha males, hunters and gatherers, strong, unbreakable, stoic, etc. Human males are expected to be the protector, the guardian, the provider, yada yada yada yada ad nauseam.

You see it all the time in old school TV shows, sitcoms, and movies, those classic tropes:

Image result for archie bunker

The Portrait of a Real Man – back in the 70’s; *insert sarcastic social commentary here*

 

“Men talking about their feelings? Are you serious?! What’s wrong with you?!”

 

“The only “men” that talk about their feelings are either gay, emo, or both!”

 

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t bombarded with that macho, testosterone-laced rhetoric, day in, day out, constantly.

And bullied, beaten, and criticized for thinking and feeling otherwise.

There’s that word again.

 

Feeling.

 

Seriously guys, you didn’t see that one coming?!

 

I understand that we live in a day and age where our senses are constantly violated through the media, having the “ideal” image of what a man and woman should be casually shoved down our throats, without realizing – or caring – the hurtful impact it has on the general public’s psyche. As a collective, we have become victims of our own fantasies, obsessed with our media darlings, our aspiration to be models, entrepeneurs, tycoons, ninjas, sleek and stylish rogue agents, modern day samurai. We have stunted our emotional growth in order to foster a fairly unattainable lifestyle which leads most people to mental health ruin, among other things.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t strive to be our best, that we shouldn’t attempt to achieve our goals – it’s commendable to challenge yourself on a daily basis, set goals, brainstorm ideas, and find your calling in life; my point is that you have to set those standards WITHIN REASON.

You don’t plan to run a marathon for the first time with the expectation to finish top tier if you’ve never run in your life, do you?

 

If you do, please seek immediate professional help before you hurt yourself.

 

The sensible thing to do is to begin to train slowly – start running; set daily, weekly, and monthly goals, patiently creating endurance and strength, both physical and mental – all the while keeping realistic expectations in mind, with the possibility that you may or may not achieve the finish line.

And that’s perfectly fine.

That’s what second chances and opportunities are for.

Unfortunately, a lot of men seem to suffer from what I like to call emotional dysphagia – the inability to swallow your pride.

 

There has been a very peculiar trend I have been witnessing lately while scrolling through social media – so many brave women finally finding the courage and will to empower themselves, to make themselves be heard, invoking their well-deserved right to be respected, to be taken seriously, taking their lives back, gaining control over their mental illness and molding themselves into these amazing reborn Phoenixes, ready to take on the world through positivity, education, physical fitness, self-motivation, support groups, etc. The most beautiful part is that they empower each other as well, encouraging each other, cheering others on to take the path of resistance and challenge, to overcome, to persevere, to triumph.

Yet in comparison, there are very few men that have taken active roles in taking those examples and help their fellow male brothers out.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying they are not out there.

Sisyphus and the rock – no, not THAT Rock

 

Huge shoutout to my boy Sisyphus for showing my boys the strength to deal with the eternal struggle – for another great read, check out this article on an inspiring interpretation of the Myth of Sisyphus.

 

View story at Medium.com

What I am saying is that many men keep silent; they suffer in silence, out of fear of being ridiculed, emasculated, because they might be mentally ill and don’t realize it, don’t want to face it, and are unable to acknowledge it and keep themselves in denial, whether it be out of fear, socio-economic reasons, cultural pressure, or physical/emotional abuse.

 

And that, my friends is something that needs to be addressed. Pronto.

 

It took me a very long time to finally accept my mental illness and get the proper treatment. As a male Latino, I was the odd minnow swimming among a school of barracuda, and if I was to be allowed to swim among the predators, I was expected to learn to act like one or else be swallowed whole.

Feelings were for the weak; leave the touchy-feely stuff to the queers and weaklings that can’t fend for themselves – we’ve got beers to chug and bitches to fuck. All of that machismo and bravado dripping from alcohol sweats and insecurity, hiding behind a mask of “strength” through emotional attrition.

 

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Bada-bing-bada-boom, yeah, I’m emotionally progressive and in touch with my feelings – wanna smash?!

 

And yet behind that veneer of illusory confidence, inflated egos, and puffy chests I posit that inside laid many broken hearts, fractured minds, and wayward souls that wanted to cry out for help, but they didn’t know how – eventually leading to their emotional, and in some cases fatal, downfall.

They fell victim to the ideal of what a “real man” should be.

And that needs to stop.

If you are a man who is currently reading this, you probably have a sensible head on your shoulders, for you’re seeking the same community full of support, compassion, and understanding that we know will lead us to a healthier understanding of ourselves and those around us. Sadly, there are many more of us who aren’t that lucky or receptive. Let’s reach out to them, let’s let them know that it’s ok to lend a helping hand, that it’s not taboo to seek professional psychological and psychiatric help.

Mental illness is a beast that will attack anyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation, it does not discriminate according to the color of your skin, it cares not if you believe in God, Buddha, Allah, Krishna, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Odin, Joe Smith, Xenu or whatever religious denomination you choose to believe in – mental illness transcends all barriers and belief systems.

 

Forget about the concept of being a “real man”.

 

Instead, let’s learn how to be genuine, compassionate human beings – the first step is to seek help.

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

The Wheels On The Bus….

“Then we got into a labyrinth, and, when we thought we were at the end,
came out again at the beginning, having still to see as much as ever.”
― Plato

 

A comedian once quipped, “The good die young, but pricks live forever!”

So do daily habits.

Case in point? Smoking, for example.

I smoked menthols like a Victorian chimney for nearly two decades; my lungs may look like they were mined out of a coal mine, a thought that makes me shudder in disgust.

 

Image result for victorian chimney smoke

A typical mid-day smoke break for me

 

I am proud to say, though, that I have been smokeless for nearly 4 years now – the mere smell of cigarettes is enough to induce violent dry heaves.

What miraculous, expensive nicotine patch did I use to cure myself of this addiction, to curb my cravings and anesthesize the poking demon urging me to suck on a cancerous paper phallus?

What techniques did I utilize to program myself into taking better care of my health?

 

Simple.

 

I stopped.

 

Image result for cold turkey

Extra points if you guess 

 

I made the choice – I even had an unfinished pack that I crumpled and threw away the same day I decided to quit smoking.

 

Pretty anticlimactic, right?

 

Not really.

 

Change is rarely ever easy – in reality, we program ourselves to resist change, to rationalize our comfort zones, to justify behaviors and habits because they are not daunting, uncertain, nor scary.

 

I bring up how I quit smoking because I compare it to how I came to take my treatment for Bipolar II Disorder seriously, and how it changed my life for the better – it came down to a simple choice:

 

Do I want to stay feeling sick, or do I want to feel better?

 

And so, unwittingly, I went through the Transtheoretical Model, better known as The Stages Of Change.

 

In the 70’s, two brilliant folk, Prochaska and DiClemente, were observing and recording the experiences of smokers who quit on their own comparing them with those requiring further treatment to understand why some people were capable of quitting on their own.

It was determined that people quit smoking if they were ready to do so.

And so in 1983, the model below was born, which can now be integrated into any system of change that needs to take place in human behavior. As I stated before, I unwittingly used it to treat my Bipolar II Disorder symptoms, and to this day I use it as powerful tool for daily introspection, a framework to fuel whatever changes I need to make in my habits in order to live a healthier life.

 

Stages of Change graphic edit.png

 

  1. Pre-contemplation – Better known as “I Don’t Have A Problem, You’re The One With The Problem” phase – there is no intention on changing behavior. Things are the way they are, and always shall be. Everyone’s happy, except they’re not; there is a problem, and it needs to be addressed.
  2. Contemplation – Better known as “Well, I’m Screwed Regardless, So There’s Nothing That Can Be Done”  phase – there is at least an awareness that a problem exists but there is no commitment to action. Here’s where the see-saw of decision-making begins. You realize the problem is real, something needs to change, but you don’t know how – or you trick yourself into self-sabotaging your opportunities to change. Here’s where people rationzalize and justify toxic and destructive behavior, yet they are teetering on the edge of a breakthrough – all they need is a little push.
  3. Preparation – Otherwise known as the “Suit Up!” phase – the INTENT on taking action to address the problem takes place. This is a crucial step – this is where plans and promises are made, but everything is still up in the air; hopes are running high, moods are positive, the sky looks clear and blue, flowers bloom, cats and dogs get along….you get the point. I wouldn’t be celebrating just yet, but at least now there’s a promising outlook on the horizon.
  4. Action – Finally, we arrived at what I like to call the “Bingo!” phase. This is the bread and butter, meat and potatoes of the process – this is where plans come to fruition, steps are taken, and it’s time to put in the hard work, the time, the dedication, all that spunk and moxie you built up to prove that you can get the job done. Did I forget to mention this is the easy part? Which leads me to…..
  5. Maintenance – I like to call this phase the “Wait, You Mean To Tell Me I Also Have To Clean Its Poop!” in honor of pet owners who think their little bundles of cuteness come with an automaintenance robot kit to do their dirty work for them. This is the hard part, where change is sustained, and new behavior begins to replace old behavior. Plants need to be watered, cars need to be tuned-up, and human behavior needs to be kept in check – awareness, discipline, introspection; these are key components to make certain changes permanent. Sadly, this is where most people lose their footing, and end up in….
  6. Relapse – Sadly, this is the “It Was Just One Drink, Just One Fix, A Quick Smoke To Take The Edge Off” phase – Old habits die hard, especially when we are referring to addiction, whether it be to drugs, alcohol, or any other negative coping mechanism we desperately hold on to. Most people consider relapse a failure; in my opinion, it’s not – relapse is an essential part of the cycle. Relapsing does not mean you failed; it just means that the cycle starts again, with a new opportunity to do things right, and strive for a permanent change.

 

And soooo…. – sing along with me now! – the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round, the wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town!

 

“The only thing that is constant is change.” – Heraclitus

 

Life is full of change at all times – chemical reactions, biochemical and electrical impulses, an ever-flowing dance of beautiful, contradictory chaos filled with purpose and intent. Yes, there are an infintessimal amount of variables that are unable to be perceived, categorized,  and predicted, but within reason we can all make changes that we can control, witness, and nurture.

 

True change, my friend, starts with a single individual – yourself.

 

I made a “simple” choice, years ago, to make a change – I have wavered, I have stumbled, I have struggled – yet I continue to foster the belief in myself that I can still do things better, because my goal is not to be perfect – my goal is to look at myself in the mirror every day, smile, and know that in even the most microscopic of ways, I was an agent for positive change.

 

 

For me, the importance of walking down the path to prosperity lies not in reaching the destination, but in going through the journey.

 

 

*turns around, walks away, happily whistling The Wheels On The Bus*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Anti)Social Media(crity)

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Image result for if it's on the internet it must be true

“If it’s on the Internet, it must be true, right?”

That used to be a running joke – now, it’s a terrifying reality because we have become so intertwined and desperately co-dependent on maintaining these subjective realities we wish to convey upon our adoring public audience, that we end up believing our own stories, creating simulations, craving adoration, transforming our lives into public fodder for mass consumption to fill a void of our own creation – this void takes many shapes and forms, ironically enough, since a void by definition is the absence of space, emptiness, nothing.

What is it that we’re missing?

Simple – that same human connection, that warmth, that compassion, that sense of familiarity and togetherness we severed the moment we became dependent on fostering and “enhancing” that connection through technological advancement. We became weary of the influx of sensory overstimulation that cemented what we always feared: that the world is a big, scary place no matter where you go.

Addicts of any kind tend to find comfort in self-destructive behavior, antisocial if you will (not to be confused with schizoid behavior*), because it is an immediate release of tension and frustration, finding solace in the numbing of the senses, desensitizing themselves to the world and the pain and confusion it harbors in our lives.

*On a very important side note, I feel the need to clear up the defining distinction between what people think antisocial means versus what it truly is. When most people think of “antisocial” behavior, they default to what is better known as schizoid behavior – which is “characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary or sheltered lifestyle, secretiveness, emotional coldness, detachment, and apathy.”

Antisocial Behavior is defined as “disruptive acts characterized by covert and overt hostility and intentional aggression toward others. Antisocial behaviors exist along a severity continuum and include repeated violations of social rules, defiance of authority and of the rights of others, deceitfulness, theft, and reckless disregard for self and others.”I don’t know about you, but that sounds like 90% of online social media behavior to me.

Why do I bring these things up?

Because, in theory, obsession with social media is an addiction just like any other, with just as much dangerous repercussions. Studies have now shown how detrimental and dangerous social media is to mental health.

Unfortunately, I am a recovering social media junkie.

I used to be OBSESSED with Facebook, typing away until my fingertips would bleed, criticizing every post in sight, ranting the night away until the early hours of the day – I would have surgically implanted a smartphone into my forearm if it meant I could be instantly jacked into Wall Feeds and comments sections, able to stream my consciousness straight into everyone’s glowing face, submit their eyeballs to the will of how I say things should be. Then again, I think that’s everyone’s power fantasy – that their meaningful words, their passion, their devotion to critical analysis, their creative genius, the world should bear witness and submit in awe to such raw talent and power!

Allow me to elaborate with a few examples:

Click-click-click-click-clickity-click-click-click-hashtag-emoji, etc., then she giggles, freezes in a seductive pose full of empty innocence and superficial flair – the world is perfect, frozen in time, a succulent feast for weary eyes, low self-esteems, and validation. All the boys will come to her yard, and that’s just the way she wants it – what SelfieGirl wants, SelfieGirl gets. (Nobody puts SelfieGirl in a corner!)

selfie2.jpg

SelfieGirl in action! Instagram me, babe!

Click-click-click-click-clickity-click-click-click, etc. – furious fingers stabbing the keyboard in righteous anger and judgment, filled with infinite knowledge and impeccable dry wit, wait, wait, wait, delete, delete, delete, *insert threat-filled bravado comment here*, *insert expletive geared towards Oedipal rage and discomfort*; people quiver at the sight of my words slashing through their sensibilities, and I will change the world!

angry-at-computer-300x198.jpg

AngryCommenterDude on every news article; Mansplain it to me, sir!

Click-click-click-click-clickity-click-click-click, an armchair general/political savant/social justice warrior/frustrated lawyer-who-never-passed-the-bar educates the masses on the virtues of social norms, blessing all with their impartial wisdom about injustice in news articles, shooting down differing opinions, engaged in the eternal conflict between right and wrong, in an infinite virtual landscape.

180227-binge-watching-side-effects-03.jpg

SelfRighteousLady who spent more time on hacktivism than actual study *sad face emoji*

What do these three scenarios have in common?

All three take place in social media environments 24/7, a constant barrage of data, rampant emotions, trolling opinions, superficiality, and reality distortion.

In laymen’s terms: people sometimes take social media WAY too seriously.

We create online personas, virtual egos that are untouchable, unbreakable, infallible, because they are intangible and ephemeral, or so we fool ourselves into believing. Lie enough times, and eventually you’ll start seeing them as absolute truth.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is a very scary thought.

For someone who is mentally ill, stability is a luxury that most times we cannot afford; we take things at face value, and we hold on to the idealization of a concept, we clutch it tightly, because we crave and desire a security blanket, a safety net that will save us from our tumbles down the rabbit hole of mental health.

And so we become obsessed with online life, because we can produce perfection with the touch of a button – we can create barriers, filter our thoughts, distill our memories, manipulate, restructure, recreate, redefine, all with our fingertips, some imagination, and the most dangerous ingredient of them all, anonymity.

Anonymity breeds ambiguity – and that my friends, is a ticking time bomb for anyone who has a mental condition that clouds our judgment, that strips us of our clarity, that toys with our impulses, that enables our innermost base instincts to lash out, without foresight, introspection, or regard for common decency.

I have personally seen the dire effects of social media as it pertains to suicidal behavior, interpersonal relationship abuse, social instability, etc. We all have this morbid curiosity in vicariously living through others’ experiences, relishing in the misery of mankind’s folly, where reality is manufactured, recorded, and consumed in a gluttonous catharsis that alleviates any sense of dread because “it happens to others” and we find it hard to relate because on the screen, it’s not real; it’s just another TV episode, another form of entertainment and detachment.

I hate to break it to you:

Reality is what you make of it, but only in so far as it relates and affects others around you; it’s very tangible, very real, and whether you realize it or not, every little action, word, syllable, letter, click-clack and ding-dong you send out there will have a ripple effect. A smartphone screen won’t shield you from the repercussions of some anonymous entity’s thirst for notoriety. What we see, what we hear, day in, day out, is rammed right into our subconscious mind – no app will filter that, no matter how many blue light filters you have going, no matter how many notifications you disable.

When in doubt, disconnect – go into “airplane mode” if you will. Leave the toxic radiation emanating from that mini-nuclear reactor you call a smartphone, a tablet, a “productivity tool”, etc. – put it down, it’s ok, it won’t explode if you don’t use it, you won’t run out of life support if you’re not interconnected.

Take a breather, look out the window – better yet, go outside. Feel the breeze on your skin, feel the drops of sweat rolling down if you’re in a warm environment, revel in the snowy shiveriness of snowflakes and chills if you’re in the cold. Let yourself feel. No static noise, no scrolling chatter, no ads, no pop-ups, no ADD enablers, no fear – just you and your nerve-endings and neurons firing in synchronicity and harmony, your body tingling with sensations, mindfulness, awareness, and peace.

It’s ok to be disconnected in an interconnected world, as long as you know that it is a healthy, conscious choice, not a social obligation to please others – you are entitled to choosing yourself, your health, your sanity, your self-esteem, your self-respect, your dignity above all other things.

You are not your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, *insert exponentially multiplying social media platforms here* – you are a breathing, feeling, simple human being….and that is ok.

Like, share, and subscribe if you agree. *wink wink nudge nudge*

I’ll leave you guys with a clip from one of my favorite comics, masterfully throwing down one of my favorite bits that encapsulates the ridiculous idea of the “Modern Man” perfectly:

George Carlin, I freakin’ miss you terribly; RIP, you mad genius!!

Perfect Strangers or: How I Deal With Social Awkwardness/Anxiety

“He might have been encased in a thick glass bubble, so separate did he feel from his three dining companions. It was a sensation with which he was only too familiar, that of walking in a giant sphere of worry, enclosed by it, watching his own terrors roll by, obscuring the outside world.” 

― J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy

 

The restaurant was a blustering mess of humanity; babies crying, families exchanging casual conversations, musings on the mundane, the inconsequential, while hearty laughs bellowed in the distance, echoes of cheer, tension, forced pleasantries and polite behavior chafing my sensibilities like a potato sack chafing my legs during the Field Days of my youth.

 

If Hell is a construct of your worst fears, this was one of them.

 

I was hungry, my body slightly pained and aching, and I felt my irritability levels exponentially growing as the seconds ticked by. By nature, I am easily startled by sudden, loud noises, a direct response to one of my many childhood traumas. I am extremely sensible to my surroundings, a sponge of sensory overstimulation, and when it becomes unbearable, I freeze; my heart grows quick, my breathing becomes intensely labored, and my first instinct is to start throwing elbows like I’m swimming in a sea of bodies at a Slayer concert.

These are the moments where my mind wanders to dark places and wishes for nuclear holocaust or an Infinity Gauntlet.

 

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These are the moments where I actually sympathize with villainous motivations

 

It was supposed to be joyous occasion, to spend time with loved ones, familial warmth, the sanctuary of genuine laughter and good will.

Except my mind finds it extremely difficult to accept those concepts still, because my life experiences have always been distorted, especially through the lens of mental illness – my formative years were filled with violence, both physical and emotional, so my coping mechanism was to hold all things at arm’s length using sarcasm and unapproachableness as my sword and shield, to protect myself from the dangers of a cruel world that I did not understand, a world that I was thrust into to fight against, a gladiatorial contest of will and survival by any means necessary.

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The perfect representation of how I see Me vs the World – thank you Taika Waititi for your genius vision on Thor: Ragnarok (still one of my top five MCU films)

 

So, how do I survive these encounters, these unnecessarily stressful situations that are undoubtedly an important part of our lives?

 

Well, brutal honesty is not a tool I pull out of my Mental Toolbox Emergency Kit in a family setting; even though honesty and sincerity are key to dealing with mental illness, there is another crucial precision tool that needs to be taken into consideration: tact.

I’ve always been famously known in many social circles as a tactless, brash grump, a Troll with a heart of gold who unfortunately wields a poison tongue – and I am not afraid of whiplashing the shite out of folk for my own sick amusement from time to time (Hulk speaking) – but I have learned to sheathe my razor tongue and wield its power for the forces of good unless there is no other recourse. 

 

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Hulk’s definition of finesse

 

 

After years of jackhammering my way through social situations, I finally learned the subtle art of situational awareness

 

According to the source of all knowledge and wisdom – Wikipedia – “situational awareness, more commonly known as situation awareness, has been recognized as a critical, yet often elusive, foundation for successful decision-making across a broad range of situations, including aviation, air traffic control, ship navigation, health care, emergency response, military command and control operations, and offshore oil and nuclear power plant management.Lacking or inadequate situation awareness has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error.”

Situation awarenessmeans the up-to-the-minute cognizance or awareness required to move about, operate equipment, or maintain a system. […] In the applied behavioral science community, the term situation awareness has emerged as a psychological concept similar to such terms as intelligence, vigilance, attention, fatigue, stress, compatibility, and workload.

 

So how did I apply some of the tenets of situational awareness and use them to my advantage?

 

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Intelligence – By nurturing the growth of emotional intelligence and its role in my life I was able to accurately assess the situation.

 

Compatibility – I accept the fact that I am never going to be 100% compatible with everyone around me, and vice versa – being aware of that fact allowed me to adapt to the situation.

 

Attention – Attention to detail is key in human interaction; being able to identify mannerisms, social cues, gestures can all lead to healthy means of communicating.

 

Stress – Yeah, I was stressed the hell out, which usually exacerbates my anxiety to the point of the proverbial volcanic eruption, but by being aware of my stress level I was able to act accordingly and manage it appropriately – crisis averted.

 

Vigilance – By adhering to lessons learned and staying mindful of past transgressions and their aftermath, I was able to translate that knowledge and put it into action. Always learn from the past. If you make the same mistake twice, it tends to mean that it is no longer a mistake; it has become a choice.

 

In simpler terms, just be aware of not only the things that are going on around you, but observe people, be mindful of your actions, words, body language, etc. Human interaction is a delicate dance full of fluid cadence, beats, rhythm, and nuance that takes time and practice to perfect.

If you are aware of the situation you are currently experiencing, you learn to act accordingly, adapt to your surroundings, and find yourself able to be honest with yourself about how you feel without shame nor guilt; it is ok to be uncomfortable, and it is ok to express discomfort – just don’t make a scene nor disrespect someone because you feel the need to point out that they are disgusting for not picking that atrocious piece of lettuce out from in between their buckteeth.

I felt extremely uncomfortable in the restaurant, but I was aware of it, and I made my discomfort known clearly yet subtly to my significant other, and we were able to take steps to make the experience as enjoyable as possible by adapting to the situation.

 

It ended up being quite a pleasant family gathering, surrounded by noisy, inconsiderate jackasses, but enjoyable nonetheless.

 

The moral of the story:

 

We all live in our own bubbles of reality; it is up to us if we decide to let them burst in an explosion of disastrous proportions, or if we decide to be like this adorable otter of meme fame and maneuver our bubbles with panache, dignity, and meme-able expertise.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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:

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

 

 

 

Out With The Old, In With The New

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.” – Joseph Campbell

 

So I’m sitting here in front of my laptop, thinking, pondering, wondering how to not sound like a cliche – to be honest, there is no way to convey certain messages without sounding like a broken record imitating other broken records.

 

That being said, please allow me to be grateful.

 

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2018 was a turning point in my life; I have had many tumultuous years in my short life span so far, but none have been so transformative, so tempestuous, so life-altering – well, maybe it’s tied with 2005, but that’s a whole other story. This year has been more than the emotional rollercoaster it usually is, year in, year out, day in, day out – it is the culmination of experimentation, and the realization of what I need out of life.

 

Let me start off by saying what I’ve always wanted:

 

I wanted to be “normal“.

(Then again, what the frak is “normal” anyway, right?)

 

I wanted to be free of my disease.

 

I wanted to be rich, infamous, and adored by all, hated by just as many.

 

And then I realized, those are all delusions created by my disorder, dreams and illusions, manifestations of my insecurity, my low self-esteem, my addiction to validation, my desire to be accepted, to be loved.

 

Now all I need is to live, to be healthy.

 

To love.

 

To accept that I will never be “normal”.

 

And that is perfectly fine.

 

In 2018, I lost my job after 4 difficult years of hard work and dedication – a milestone for anyone who suffers from mental illness will attest to – and it was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I am grateful because even though it was a humiliating experience, it was a learning experience, and I am grateful for anything that will make me learn, that will make me a better person.

In 2018, I lost many friends due to manic episodes, erratic behavior, and other mitigating circumstances that were out of my control – and even though those losses hurt, I learned from them, because I discovered that I am capable of self-soothing, that I do not need validation to give myself worth. My social circle became minute, miniscule, but as many physics buffs might tell you, the more concentrated the mass, the greater the strength.

 

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Friendship is about strength, unity, and support, not how many Facebook likes you garner or how many Instagram cults you develop.  

 

And yet I am grateful because in 2018 I learned so much about my condition, about mental illness in general – I took the daunting step to begin this project, to go into treatment with an open mind, to be responsible and diligent with my treatment plan, to allow myself to be held accountable for my actions, my mistakes, to accept compliments, to respect myself, my significant other, my family, and many others, to discover and embrace my flaws and virtues.

In 2018 I learned that it is possible to live with a debilitating disease, and make the best of what most would see as a no-win situation.

 

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Learning humility is not a weakness; it is empowerment of the will to walk the road that lays ahead. 

 

Today is not New Year’s Eve to me; today is a day just like any other – I woke up, I got up from bed, made coffee, sat down in front of the computer, and smiled.

And now I get to share that warmth and good vibes with all of you; I have the chance to continue sharing those tidbits of knowledge, wisdom, and wit that don’t make me a wise man, a guru, a teacher, a pontificating hoity toity know-it-all – it just makes me a simple man who is working for a better tomorrow.

Every day is a new beginning, tabula rasa, a clean slate for which we are given the opportunity to claim what truly belongs to us: choice.

 

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Here’s your canvas – paint your masterpiece.

 

So now I invite you to embrace a new day, a new year, and make the choice to live a life full of promise, wonder, uncertainty, ups and downs, twists and turns, to look into the unknown with courage, shake with anticipation, walk with caution and maturity towards that fog of mystery that will be 2019 – when the clouds of pyrotechnic smoke dissipate, when the crackling and thundering of fireworks and loud chants of celebration die down, step to the closest mirror, look at yourself, wink, smirk, and be grateful, filled with joy and anticipation, knowing that you are still here, that you still breathe, that you feel, but most of all that you live because you made the choice to do so.

 

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Now go make 2019 your bitch.