(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:

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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

 

Image result for don quixote

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Almost went off track.

 

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

 

You are not alone in this.

 

You can do this.

 

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

 

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

 

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

 

And I am grateful for that.

 

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

 

If I can do it, so can you.

 

I trust you can.

 

I know you can.

 

We all do.

 

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

 

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

 

There are good days.

 

There are bad days.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

They Can’t All Be Winners

“I’ve had the sort of day that would make St. Francis of Assisi kick babies.”
Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

#Trigger Warning: This post contains literary imagery that may be unsuitable for sensitive readers. Reader discretion is advised.

 

Yesterday was a very, very bad day.

 

I woke up groggy, irritable, impatient, intolerable. I wasn’t even able to finish my sacred daily morning coffee ritual before the first phone call with bad news was had. Calm words were spoken at first, then the tension grew until the eventual crescendo of emotions escalated the verbal barrage to surgical strike precision and mean-spiritedness.

More phone calls of the same irritating type kept smacking me in the face, urging me on to proclaim that Thursday, December 27, 2018 was going to be shitty day.

Words, thoughts, and intent are powerful tools; they may be used either for constructive, positive endeavors, or they can be handled as subtly as an angry bull wreaking havoc in a china shop cliche to swathe a path of devastation if someone even looks at you the wrong way. Either way, they prepare and condition the mind for events; that’s why mantras, repetition, affirmations are key to good mental health.

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Don’t maim anyone today. Don’t maim anyone today. Don’t maim anyone today.

 

And I should’ve listened to my own damn advice yesterday.

 

I should’ve cleared my mind, used my techniques, closed my eyes, breathe, self-soothe, etc.

Yet I CHOSE to have a bad day, whether I consciously decided to or not.

I hopped unto social media, opened up the research tabs on my browser, to then be bombarded by a relentless assault of negativity and vitriol not unlike the slime you find underneath and around structures and junk after flooding from rainstorms.

I froze.

I allowed myself to be enveloped in the comfy blanket of familiarity and just go into autopilot mode – I spent more than half the day sitting in my terrace, on my favorite chair, just staring out at the outside world.

 

Despising it.

 

Wishing for a nuclear holocaust.

 

Cars and motorcycles zoomed by annoyingly with their loud, penile-compensating roars; individuals went on with their days, walking, carrying grocery bags, living their daily life.

They were living, and I was seething in anger and loathing, stewing in the cesspool of judgment, uncertainty, confusion, feeling my eyes well up with tears, my arms and legs shaking like a bartender’s blender during Happy Hour, my chest thumping with the incessant need to go supernova, to cave in and just bleed out all over; I wanted to fingerpaint the floor with my entrails and draw a huge middle finger to the world.

Anger Is Not a Symptom of Bipolar Disorder, Or Is It?

An example of how I see myself during an anger-fueled manic episode

 

I screamed in agony, but nothing came out of my throat except a slight whimper, a sigh of frustration, as my eyes darted around looking for some measure of salvation that would not come. I kept swinging in my chair, faster, harder, the rhythmic squeaking of rusty joints singing a lullaby, the familiar sound of anxiety and hopelessness. There was no music for me to dance to and bob my head with, there was no YouTube video playing to make me smile, amuse me and comfort me, and I almost made the mistake of breaking one of the cardinal rules: posting on social media while angry and manic.

 

In the past, I have relied on others to get me through manic episodes, much to the detriment of many interpersonal relationships, therefore I desperately hesitated for a few seconds.

I thought about getting in touch with certain individuals, but that would be an exercise in futility; in my mind, in my experience, people have better things to do than to listen to someone whine and complain, even if there is merit to the pain they are feeling, even if they are just shouting out to the heavens for some release from a force that will not let them go, a specter of mocking indifference that haunts their every thought, every action, every decision.

Also, I would probably tear them a new asshole just for the hell of it, just because I didn’t want to be the only idiot in pain, according to Hulk.

(We’ll eventually dive deep into the subject of abusive behavior in interpersonal relationships soon in a future post.)

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I find comfort in attempting to make my day worthwhile by making others happy.

That is a common trait for someone suffering from mental illness, especially Bipolar II Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.

It is also a very damaging trait that can lead to some terrible and dangerous decisions – I’ll abound on that subject in the near future as well.

 

That being said, I decided to text my niece, whom I trust implicitly.

 

We had a very nice, short conversation.

 

I will paraphrase what she said in one of her messages:

“Well, drama will ALWAYS exist no matter how positive you are or try to be. Don’t believe everything you see; god knows if it’s relevant or accurate or whatever*. Just worry about your work and creativity. In the end, that’s what we take to the grave. Our legacy, not rude, immature comments. Wow, I went deep there.”

*Referring to social media in general.

(On a small sidenote: this 13 year old girl has more wisdom and insight than most “adults” I have seen skulking around social media; I am most definitely a proud uncle!)

 

Those few seconds were all I needed to snap out of it and put things into perspective.

 

An individual’s self-worth should never be measured by their actions or lack there-of. Expectations are appetizers for thought distortion, leading to a manic episode full course meal; eliminate expectation, live in the moment, and the nemesis of irrational thinking will come over to the table and flip it the hell over: lucidity.

I was far from lucid. I was in a state of mania; there was no coming back. The only way through the episode was to embrace it, accept it, find enough presence of mind to communicate it to my significant other who was present in our home at the time of my freak out, and then isolate myself from all forms of toxicity, all possible triggers that could worsen the situation.

So I avoided social media like the plague.

I turned off my laptop.

I put away my work materials, adjourned to the bedroom, lit some incense, allowed myself to cry, and then proceeded to painfully sob and scream into my pillow until my throat fed me cathartic bliss.

My body went limp. I lifted my head and opened my eyes. Light hammered into my eyes, slamming my brain with clarity. The pillow was soaked in a mélange of sweat, tears, saliva, and snot.

I got up from the bed, weakly limped over to the bathroom, feeling the strain of tension slowly melt off my body like a molting snake. I washed my face, rubbed off what little tension was left in my neck , walked over to my significant other, kissed her on the forehead, told her that I loved her, thanked her for her love and patience, went back to the bedroom, fired up my laptop, and played videogames until nightfall.

Unfortunately, I got absolutely no work done yesterday, no goals were accomplished – I felt worthless.

 

Or so I thought until I realized:

 

I didn’t hurt myself.

 

I didn’t hurt others.

 

I survived another manic episode.

 

And here I am able to retroactively introspect on what happened, now sharing a minor tale of triumph in the book of Life, with many more chapters to come.

 

I guess the day wasn’t so bad or such a waste after all, huh?

 

To quote a grand philosopher:

Image result for today was a good day

Id, Egos, and Superheroes

Batman/Bruce Wayne: “What have I done, Alfred? Everything my family, my father, built.”
Alfred Pennyworth: “The Wayne legacy is more than bricks and mortar, sir.”
Batman/Bruce Wayne: “I wanted to save Gotham. I failed.”
Alfred Pennyworth: “Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
– Batman Begins, 2005

 

 

Anyone that knows me even in the slightest realizes that I worship comic books. Those bright colors, those awe-inspiring panels full of great deeds, heroic journeys, witty banter, good vs evil; I lived and breathed for every single moment of joy they brought to my childhood, how they allowed me to escape the harsh brutality of a world that didn’t understand me, a world that likewise I was unable to understand.

 

Then in 2008, something absolutely magical happened: Iron Man officially kickstarted the MCU – otherwise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe for those of you few uninitiated living in a cave since 2008 – and my life was never the same.

Seeing my beloved heroes on the big screen, epic, fluid, majestic, flawed.

 

Wait….flawed?

 

Yes, flawed.

 

What makes a great and compelling hero, in my humble opinion, is not his power, it’s not his courage in the face of adversity, it’s not self-sacrifice; it’s the awareness that he/she is flawed, and they accept and live with those flaws because they are exponentially at risk of bigger failure than the average man.  They hold themselves accountable for their actions (most of the time), and when they do fail, they regroup, recover, adapt to the situation, and fight once again. They do this willingly because they believe in the greater good, because they represent the will to fight for a cause worth fighting for – the betterment of humanity.

No other character better encapsulates this idea than one of the most powerful, most recognized, and most polarizing comic book heroes of all time: David Bruce Banner, also known as The Incredible Hulk.

 

 

I screamed and bawled like a child with pure joy when I watched this scene in theaters on opening night.

The MCU finally gave me a possible answer to my plight, to finally conquering part of my disease.

 

“That’s my secret, Captain….I’m always angry.”

 

Unknowingly, unwittingly, they killed two birds with one stone: they gave me the secret to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and Narrative Therapy.

 

Unfortunately, it took me 10 years to finally learn what those techniques are, how to use them, and how they would change my life for the better.

 

Better late than never, right?

 

According to Psychology Today, “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps you accept the difficulties that come with life. … Categorically speaking, ACT is a form of mindfulness based therapy, theorizing that greater well-being can be attained by overcoming negative thoughts and feelings.”

ACT focuses on 3 areas:

Accept your reactions and be present
Choose a valued direction
Take action.

 

That’s technique number one in a nutshell; we’ll discuss how to apply it in a few.

 

Here’s technique number two: Narrative Therapy.

One of the best definitions I have found during my research for narrative therapy comes from ThriveTalk:

Narrative therapy is a form of therapeutic counseling or ‘talk therapy’ that trains us to identify and change the stories that we tell about ourselves, in a way that promotes mental health. This approach also teaches us to identify underlying skills and positive attributes that can help us to improve our life circumstances.”

 

So what does this have to do with fighting super villains and saving the world you ask?

 

One of my main struggles with Bipolar II Disorder is managing stressful situations, especially as it pertains to anger management and all of the emotional distress that occurs during manic episodes.

 

This brings me to Bruce Banner and The Hulk.

 

For those not familiar with comic books, Bruce Banner is a brilliant scientist, who, during the testing of a gamma radiation weapon for the military, sacrificed himself to save a young man who was idly standing near the test site, by pushing him to safety before the gamma blast goes off, thereby  absorbing the radiation,  unlocking and unleashing his alter ego, the Hulk.

Image result for bruce banner saving rick jones

 

Banner is the representation of repressed emotion, a man who is terrified of the monster that lurks within.

 

Hulk is the manifestation of pure, unadulterated rage; he is a product of the release of anger – raw, powerful, increasing exponentially as his anger keeps growing.

 

After I watched The Avengers in 2012, a running joke began and spread among my family, friends, and colleagues; Marvel had put me on the big screen.

 

Image result for hulk smash

How most people tend to see me. SEBAAAAAA SMAAAAAAAASH!!!!

 

I took that joke and turned it into a healthy coping mechanism.

 

I finally found a way to identify my anger, acknowledge it, and thereby separating it from who I really am, giving me the necessary tools to finally learn more about myself, my condition, how to find better, more productive, healthier ways to manage my emotions – by giving them a name, by creating a narrative of who I am when I am Hulk, I was finally able to acknowledge the problem, be mindful of situations, my reactions, my body language, choose the proper course of action, and then with all of the pertinent information gathered, ACT accordingly. (Pun fully intended)

 

I am writing this right now, crying, because even though Hulk is ever present, ever watching, ever waiting to strike, I now know he is there, and I know who he is; I feel him, I contain him. Hulk is a part of me, and I accept it, I acknowledge it, and when He comes out to wreak havoc, even though I feel guilt over whatever destruction He unleashed around me, I am not consumed by it.

That makes tears of joy stream down my cheeks because that is a breakthrough I will always be proud of.

I learned to separate Hulk from Sebastian*, and in the process shining new light into aspects of myself that I can now work on and improve.

*FYI, my real name is not Sebastian. I didn’t know it back then, but many years ago I had used narrative therapy to create the Sebastian persona, but that is another narrative tale for another day. Just go with it. 

 

I am not a super hero; in fact, I am far from it – but not all heroes wear capes, as they say these days.

No.

Sometimes being the hero is acknowledging that you are, in fact, not a hero; by accepting your limitations, and working on becoming a better person, you are displaying the same courage and fortitude that comic books put on display – the sheer force of will, the motivation to make the world a better place for yourself, and for those around you.

 

We are all heroes in our stories; the key is to write stories that heal and save the world.

 

One comic book at a time.

 

 

 

  

Resolution Blues

“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” – Mark Twain

 

Oh, it’s that wonderful time of year once again!

 

No, I’m not talking about Consumer-Is-Mass, not Don’t-Krampus-My-Style; I’m talking about whipping out that notepad and pencil, laptop, desktop keyboard, and social-media-ize the hell out of your good intentions to change and be a better person through meme after meme, post after post of New Year’s Resolutions!

 

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Tradition dictates they will last about a day or two, depending on how vain, superficial, idealistic, naive, or stubborn you tend to be. Carry on.

 

Who is it that said “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? I always get them confused, but whoever coined that phrase is a cynical, bonafide national treasure in my book.

Look, I’m all for change, growth, self-improvement, etc. Hell, this is what this project is all about! But if there is one thing I’ve learned from all of this in 2018, if there is a single lesson I have taken to heart and will death-grip with all of my Force abilities until the day I become a Force ghost, it is this:

 

Intent does not make a person; action does.

 

When I was young – back in the days of cocaine cowboys, kitschy glam rock, big hair, and genius John Hughes movies – I could care less about the troubles of the adult world. Bills, responsibilities, work, adulation, infamy, social drama, gossip, those were all grown-up problems. My biggest concern was making sure I got as much fun out of my toys and imagination before heading off to bed at 7pm EST. I had a strict sleep schedule, even back then, though that was more obligated than self-imposed.

(I would later discover that avoiding sleep deprivation and maintaining a well-regulated sleep regiment is a key component to treating mental illness; go figure.)

Life was all about the now, the current moment, what made me feel good and alive, and all of that was done naturally, unwillingly, without thought or hesitation.

 

And then I grew up.

 

We all grow up, become adults, and get bombarded with the idea that there is a finite timeline to how events in your life should unfold, that a perfect schedule of appropriateness and success has been formulated, prepared, and disseminated unto our society, and if you do not adhere to those sacred instructions, well, you are worth nothing.

 

That, of course, is utter bullshit.
Bipolar disorder tends to wreak havoc with its absolutist sense of morality; good is good, bad is bad, and whatever shakes that foundation, whatever makes us doubt is instantly discarded, like most hangover-laced resolutions being whispered when hardcore celebrations of another yearly survival ritual have ended.

At some point, you realize that life is not supposed to be about constant happiness, eternal bliss, a quirky sitcom with an UH-OH problem with resolution and happy endings in the span of thirty minutes.

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Yes. I did. *cue laugh track*

 

Life is all about moments – strands full of colorful, bright, and dark yarns that weave through the infinite tapestry that is the Universe.

The human experience is not a fixed, resolute, finite, etched in a stone slab for all time; it is the constant ebb and flow, bob and weave, of our collective senses assimilating information, always giving way to new things, wonderful, painful, orgasmic, numbing, chaotic, CHANGING.
So with all of that being said, why do I feel as if New Year’s Resolutions are a bunch of Hallmark obsessed hogwash?

 

Because every day, every single moment, is a new resolution, a new opportunity to make change. You do not need a list, you do not need to validate your intentions with the parking attendants that are the people that surround you.

 

Once upon a time, I used to smoke like a chimney. I would smoke at least three packs of menthols; the stink of cigarette smoke and failed intentions permeated my clothes, my skin, and my soul. I had that hacking smoker’s cough, that alveolus burst of lung failure and despair that always reminded me that I was but a few drags away from calming my anxiety. It wreaked havoc on my health, on my hygiene, and most of all, on my significant other. The stench of constant disapproval and concern always lingered; as the days went by, and the foul stink grew ever more disgusting, I would promise myself and others that I would stop the habit, break free of it, always buttering up the bread with luscious, creamy, convincing lines of assurance and misled, false conviction.

And then, one magical day, this wise woman who saw through my bullshit said to me:

 

“Show me, don’t tell me.”

 

From that day forward, I stopped smoking. Cold turkey. Haven’t had a single cigarette since.
My world view changed once I heard, accepted, and internalized those words.

 

It is a truth the echoes in my mind every day; it is a spark that always lights the kindle for motivation, good will, and prosperity within me.

I no longer make promises, nor resolutions; I just do what I must, accept failure when it arrives, and celebrate victory when I triumph.
You know, live life and stuff.
When you feel tempted to announce how you’re going to “change”, “make things happen”, “insert-motivational-here”, keep in mind the irony that even if in the theater of the mind we have a never-ending adulating audience, the harsh truth is that nobody really cares, and those that do, don’t need to tell you.

 

They just show it.

 

It is up to you if you want to be the voice of change, or the agent who carries out its will. You don’t need a public service announcement, a carefully redacted list, or anyone’s approval to remind you that you, and only you, can make positive change happen.
PS. Write that down.

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Van Wilder knew what was up. Genius. Ryan Reynolds IS a freakin’ national treasure.