Love Thyself, And The Rest Will Follow

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Allow me to explain.

 

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

 

Image result for bullyingIn other words, the perfect target.

 

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

And those were on good days.

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

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

Rinse, wash, repeat.

 

And then puberty hit.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Vote for Ogre 2020! NEEEEEEERDS!!!!

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

And for a while, it actually worked.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hard.

 

That was then; this is now.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

From that day forth, every day I choose:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Choose wisely, my friends.

 

Image result for choose wisely indiana jones

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Image result for don quixote

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Almost went off track.

 

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

 

You are not alone in this.

 

You can do this.

 

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

 

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

 

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

 

And I am grateful for that.

 

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

 

If I can do it, so can you.

 

I trust you can.

 

I know you can.

 

We all do.

 

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

 

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

 

There are good days.

 

There are bad days.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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Back to every day normal stress, yay! 

 

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

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

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

 

Sounds simple, right?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Out With The Old, In With The New

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

 

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

 

That being said, please allow me to be grateful.

 

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

 

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

 

I wanted to be “normal“.

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

 

I wanted to be free of my disease.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

To love.

 

To accept that I will never be “normal”.

 

And that is perfectly fine.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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Here’s your canvas – paint your masterpiece.

 

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

 

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Now go make 2019 your bitch. 

 

 

 

 

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:

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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.