(Men)tal Health Needs To Be Addressed

Featured

“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 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.

 

Related image

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!

 

Related image

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*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Related image

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not All Bruises Are Visible

“There’a a phrase, “the elephant in the living room”, which purports to describe what it’s like to live with a drug addict, an alcoholic, an abuser. People outside such relationships will sometimes ask, “How could you let such a business go on for so many years? Didn’t you see the elephant in the living room?” And it’s so hard for anyone living in a more normal situation to understand the answer that comes closest to the truth; “I’m sorry, but it was there when I moved in. I didn’t know it was an elephant; I thought it was part of the furniture.” There comes an aha-moment for some folks – the lucky ones – when they suddenly recognize the difference.”
― Stephen King

 

#Trigger Warning: The following article contains violent literary imagery and extremely sensitive subject matter pertaining to physical and emotional abusive behavior. Reader discretion is advised. 

 

She sat on the bed, like a crumpled piece of paper ripped from a tear-stained notebook; I stood at the door way, blocking any means of escape, steadfast, white-knuckled.  The sobbing was barely audible through the screams; each broken plead smacked away with callous impunity. I was judge, jury, and executioner; the only victim was my bruised ego – nothing else mattered. Transgressions were to be punished until the perpetrator learned their lesson, until the unquenchable thirst for justice, righteousness, and virtue was satisfied – there was no room for pity, forgiveness, or respite.

 

The lesson must be taught by any means necessary.

 

That image will forever haunt me, will be permanently etched in my psyche, vividly emblazoned into my memory until the day I die – there will not be a day that will go by that I won’t remind myself:

 

I, Jose Sebastian Perez, was a victim of emotional abuse, and I am also an abuser.

 

Just like any drug addict, like any alcoholic, the operative word is not WAS….I AM – not because I choose to be, but because it was the choices I made that will forever label me; I CHOSE to emotionally and physically compromise peoples’ lives through manipulation, lying and cheating, through despicable acts of physical violence and emotional torture.

 

The subject of emotional abuse has been long overdue to be discussed, and due to pertinent and recent events, I am about to open a can of worms unlike any I have dared open before….

 

Why would I choose to act in such a cruel, disgusting manner? Why – after witnessing acts of cruelty, lack of empathy, violence – why – after huddling in a corner of my bed fearing for my life, waiting for the stinging pain on my face, desperately swallowing away the taste of blood in my mouth – why – after being covered in shattered ceramic, room temperature milk and cereal for eating slowly – why – after being humiliated, belittled, yelled at, threatened, barked, backhanded, welted with wire hangars, pushed head-first to the ground, kicked in the ribs, covering my 7 year old head – why – after being lied to, coerced into compliance, to strive for perfection, virtue, respect – WHY – would I want to put anyone else through that Miltonian imagery of suffering?!

 

Why? Why?! FUCKING WHY?!

 

Because that is all I knew – because that is what I was taught; perfection through violent training and conditioning is virtue.

 

I was a child whose innocence was stripped away, replaced with a sickening view of the world, amplified through the lens of mental illness – the very same illness which led my family to believe that my hyperactivity, lack of focus, and constant confusion was to be remedied through strict violence.

 

Image result for emotional abuse

 

Throughout the years, I used my mental condition and instability as a crutch, an excuse to condone behavior that is beyond reprehensible and condemnable – I used suicide threats as a tool to manipulate people for pity; I learned to mask behavior and mimic affection, snaking my way into roles of confidence and trust, only to then use that comfort for my own selfish needs and whims. I excelled at reading people, gaining insight into their hopes, dreams, pleasures and pains; I used that information to continue my charade of benevolence, all the while stuffing my maw with delicious gratification at the expense of others’ fragility and shortcomings, gorging on their weaknesses, exploiting them for my own gain.

 

The irony of it all, though, was that half of me was in on the plan; the other half of me was still that scared child, huddling behind the monstrous Hulk who was to be feared and respected – and I witnessed every event, frozen in fear, screaming at the top of my lungs at Hulk to not hurt the ones I loved – yes, I was still capable of feeling love, but it was attachment, necessity, desperation, that hunger for love and safety I was never gifted.

 

Abuse is simply about power and control, to use any means to attain it and maintain it – it is a sick need, a powerful drug, an addiction, that is born out of the desperation of having no control over your circumstances, of feeling powerless to overcome that agony.

 

Let’s take a quick moment to go over a few phrases:

 

“This is all your fault, I wouldn’t be upset if you wouldn’t have *insert arbitrary transgression here*.”

“You don’t care about me; all you care about is yourself!”

“Oh please, you’re ALWAYS the victim – you’re never wrong, I’m always the one at fault!”

“Why do you always make me do these things? You’re always bringing me down and then you wonder why I react the way I do?!”

“Why do I always have to do what all of you want me to do, when I have done everything that you ask of me?!”

“It’s always about what YOU need, about what YOU want; what about MY needs?!”

 

Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

 

Notice how all of them are directed towards someone else, blaming someone for behavior that does not correspond to them? Notice how it makes the recipient “responsible” for any consequence? Notice the accusatory tone, the aggression, the attack on character and emotion?

 

They are straight out of the Abuser’s Handbook To Manipulating Guilt In Their Favor.

Abuse quote - The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the onces who were benefiting from you having none.

 

The second you relinquish any sense of self-respect, self-worth, and allow emotionally aggressive behavior to go unrecognized without consequence, congratulations, you have officially allowed yourself to become a victim of abuse.

 

And thus the cycle begins:Image result for emotional abuse

 

  1. Tensions building – This is what I call the transgression phase, or “walking on eggshells”. This is where you notice meek behavior, a fragile state of fear where even the smallest hint of weakness will be perceived as an opportunity to strike, to exert power and control. These are the moments where abusers who feel powerless lash out and do whatever it takes to regain that loss of control, always at the expense of the victim of said abuse.
  2. Incident – This is the “shit has hit the fan phase”. Here within lies the main antagonist, the monster of subjugation, the duel of wills, the power struggle. This is where the majority of verbal barrage and attacking takes place, as well as physical violence – the escalation is intense, a terrifying game of “chicken” if you will, to see who will survive the ordeal. It almost never bodes well for the victim, for the abuser is willing to play dirty, willing to go to lengths of unimaginable mental and emotional depravity to exert his will upon those who have bested him – it is a do-or-die contest, and victims are blindsided so badly, that they relent to the assault.
  3. Reconciliation – Otherwise known as the “I Gone Done Fucked Up And Now I have To Clean Up This Mess” phase. Sometimes I consider this phase to be the worst part of the abuse, but that is definitely up for debate. Here’s where deadly charm and persuasion play a role in smoothing things over – every emotional guilt trip trick in the book is used – the term gaslighting* comes to mind. (To gaslight someone is to manipulate someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity)
  4. Calm – And finally, the most famous term of them all, the Honeymoon Phase, known in other circles as “lovebombing” – the victim will be showered in adoration and gifts; promises are made, pacts are built, makeup sex is stupendous, and all is forgiven. “It won’t happen again, I promise. I’m a new person, and I will make amends. Everything will be better from now on. I swear.” Meanwhile, the abuser just hit the reset button on the next incident’s timer. The countdown has begun once again.

I realize this is a severe oversimplification of such a complex and sensitive subject, but the point I am trying to make is that emotional aggression is only a single type of abuse:

Image result for types of abuse

A popular representation of the different types of abuse

 

There are boundaries and limits that should be established in ANY interpersonal relationship, whether it be familial, romantic, or platonic.

 

At this point I realize I have been pontificating, preaching to the choir like a humongous hypocrite.

 

“Sebastian, ” you say, “how dare you criticize and condemn the behavior which you have so shamelessly attributed to yourself?”

 

Because I am both a victim and an abuser. This subject needs to be talked about, exposed, discussed, scrutinized, and handled every single day, at every single moment.

 

Nothing, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING can condone abusive behavior. NOTHING. 

 

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, run. Run like your life depended on it – in many sad and unfortunate cases, it does, and many men and women have needlessly and tragically lost their lives due to this horrendous behavior.

 

There is hope, however – with professional treatment, therapy, honesty, and brass balls, the cycle of abuse can be broken. This is not always the case, though, and it takes effort, dedication, love, patience, anger management, trust-building, and most of all – time.

Here are some tips that worked miracles for me:

  1. The first, and most crucial step is to recognize and accept that you are an abuser, or that you are in an abusive relationship. Internalize it, accept it, assimilate it, brand it into your DNA, douse yourself in strength and courage, surround yourself with positive influences, and seek a functional, stable, reliable support system.
  2. Be the architect of positive change, not the author of your own regretful obituary; pity parties – one of my favorite terms – are not a gala event people wish to attend.
  3. Hold yourself accountable for every action taken, every decision made, and every word spoken.
  4. Leave the promises to the indebted gamblers and finance brokers; do, don’t say. I know it’s a cliche, but actions speak louder than words – demonstrate that you are aware that there is always work to be done, and there is always room to learn and grow.

 

You know the old adage that a sheet of wrinkled paper can never be smooth once crumpled, no matter how much ironing you put it through?

 

It will never be the same, but that does not mean that the very page that was crumpled can’t be used to write a beautiful poem, to draw a simple, pretty sketch, or be shaped into a soaring paper airplane destined for clear, blue skies.

 

 

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.

 

Image result for thanos snap

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.

Related image

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. 

 

Related image

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?

 

pay attention.jpeg

 

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.

97314c9131faf31bd7cc7bc0f410bbd4.jpg

 

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!