With tools in hand, I build,
Bricolage, a craft, art,
A creation shines.
With tools in hand, I build,
Bricolage, a craft, art,
A creation shines.
Unfortunately for myself, and everyone else, I’ve found myself involved in various disputes online for the last two decades (or more, but who’s counting). Over the years, I’d get in arguments about almost anything: technology, the news, religion, politics, the economy, art, you name it. I’ve spent a good portion of my time online throughout my life debating with a wide array of people. I’ve been in countless online arguments. This is not a good thing. This is not something to brag about, and frankly I’m embarrassed by it on some level. But to be honest, I love arguing. This is because I’m a selfish and arrogant person who thinks people need to hear my point of view because I’m right and they aren’t. This is a character defect, and I readily admit that. No, I’m probably not willing to change. But sometimes, I try to do better. Like in college where I monetized it and had a scholarship for participating on the Debate team. The activities listed above has mostly been an exercise in futility. Not because I lost arguments and looked stupid (I did). More because even when I won or ended arguments, I still failed to convince my counterpart of anything. I can’t recall many arguments where the person at any point said “You know what, your argument really convinced me, and I’m changing my mind.” I’m sure I did win someone over at some point, but I don’t remember that happening. Which makes my efforts appear even more absurd. Arguing with someone, beating them over the head with facts and logic, it just hasn’t been productive for me. Maybe arguments not being effective is somewhat unique to American society, as we have a strong tradition of anti-intellectualism. Whoops, there’s that arrogance again… But in any case for me arguing hasn’t worked very well. Maybe the cable news channels have effective arguments, but I’m just not seeing it. I think they are simply catering to the belief system their audiences were indoctrinated in. At the end of the day, arguing doesn’t change hearts and minds. Or if it does, it doesn’t do it well, or often.
What does change hearts and minds? In my own experience, the initial motivator for change has usually been pain and suffering. Nothing else has been nearly as effective. And I want to be clear, I don’t mean pain inflicted by an argumentative stranger on the internet. I mean life pain. I mean falling flat on your face pain. I mean losing your job, or your relationship, or worse. Life hit me with a truckload of that stuff, and sure enough, I responded. Because I didn’t like what was happening, I didn’t like how it felt, and I didn’t like being completely powerless. That kind of experience forces self-reflection on a person, and it can also motivate action. Of course, there are those reasonable people out there who when faced with a problem can change course. Sidebar: [ This is not a scientific essay, by the way. These are anecdotal, social observations based on my life experience] But even that change is still often motivated by pain or at least discomfort. A reasonable person facing a mild issue of some kind is much more likely to hear what another person has to say. They are also much more likely to take that advice and run with it.
What’s the takeaway here? Treat others with empathy and lead by example – be the change you want to see in the world. That will motivate others seeking change more than scolding them or attempting to argue them into a corner on the internet.
My favorite color has always been green. Perhaps that is why I’m finding it everywhere in my life these days. It has influenced me to the core of my being. The color green means what it means depending on the person viewing it. I feel green is beautiful. which is why it’s my favorite.
To me, green represents new life, the plants that sustain our lives. Green is the color of life and renewal. That’s pretty cool. Have a good day, whenever you read this. Because all that matters right now, as you see these words, is the moment we share together.
remember to breathe
even though I’m exhausted EXHAUSTED
even though I want to quit
I am an empty vessel
I am tabula rasa
I am whoever you need me to be
who am i?
I am nobody
“Who are you?” she asked. “I don’t know.” I replied. In that moment, my response was true. I couldn’t think of anything. What defines me? I didn’t know then, and months later I’m still not sure of it.
I. Son, grandson, brother. Friend. That’s a start.
Humans rely on stories: the stories we tell our community, our family, our friends, and ourselves. We tell stories about why the weather turned bad. We tell stories about why we are here and where we’re going. We tell stories about why our loved ones pass away. Some of the most important stories we tell are the stories we tell about ourselves.
My own story comes in two versions: the one I tell others, and the one I tell myself. The one I tell others serves as a vehicle to explain my thoughts, feelings, and behavior to the outside world. The version I tell myself is similar, just not sanitized and much more negative and critical. I have found that this version of my story has been very self-limiting, as it has inhibited change and growth. I have avoided making changes by telling myself things like “That is impossible, you will fail because it’s always been this way.” There is good news, however: this is just a story. Because it’s just a story, it can be changed. This change can even occur rather quickly, without much resistance.
I feel that last point is what my recovery boils down to at the moment – if I can change the story I tell myself, anything is possible.
Funny thing, failure. It’s an unavoidable feature of life. I have tried my best to avoid failure and yet failure seemed to always find me. In the somewhat recent past I avoided failure by not trying. I avoided failure by avoiding making decisions. I mistakenly thought that this approach kept me safe, because if you don’t risk anything, you can’t fail. This approach was in response to repeated personal disasters in my life. These disasters included dropping out of school twice, as well as multiple hospitalizations and arrests due to mental health crises, related to untreated bipolar disorder and substance abuse. On top of that, my 20’s were marked by a general inability to get a career, friendships or relationships on track during that time. The weight of all this failure was felt deeply in 2010, a year in which I was arrested twice, went to jail, and was in 3 different mental hospitals and a rehab. This insane 4 month span of my life conspired to make me extremely risk averse and cautious. Once I managed to gain some mental health and life stability, I was determined to hang on to it at all costs. I was terrified of losing my freedom again. Hence the strategy of not trying, and extreme avoidance of any potential risk. One positive of this strategy is that I did manage to quit drinking alcohol completely. Quitting this one substance has turned out to have a huge positive impact on my life. On the whole though, this strategy of doing nothing as a way to avoid disaster, well, it quite ironically failed miserably.
This four year period of complete risk aversion, from 2010 to 2014, was in some ways much worse than the instability and chaos of my life before. Suicidal depression became the constant issue, and even though I had quit drinking and was taking medication, my mental health was not close to an ideal state. I basically retreated from the world for four years and took no risks. I was for the most part extremely miserable. I couldn’t hide that fact. I wasn’t trying to do anything with my life. At one point I was literally only smoking a large amount of weed, playing video games and eating and sleeping. I couldn’t shake the depression or the suicidal ideation. I suppose part of me knew there was more to life than that, and also knew I could do something interesting with my life, potentially. That knowledge just added to my despair because I believed I couldn’t achieve or accomplish anything. The difficulty was that in order to change my situation and get out of the spot I was stuck in, I would need to take risks and step into the unknown. By August of 2014, the depression and suicidal ideation I was experiencing during this period had finally become completely untenable. I found myself in a do or die moment.
I came to a place where I had to risk failure, or just continue to suffer in the pathetic misery of doing nothing with my life. I wrote a private essay on this website about how I felt no hope and wanted to die. I shared it with a trusted friend, who expressed to me serious concern. Through this process, it had finally become painfully apparent to me that my strategy of doing nothing, and taking no risks, wasn’t working. Someone in my life at that time suggested I check out addiction recovery, so on the couch that night some time in September, of 2014, I resolved to sober up and start making changes. It’s been mostly uphill since then. I’ve been hit with setbacks, and had some failures, but a lot more success than not. Part of learning to be successful has been coming to grips with the fact that failure and struggle are inevitable, especially for someone with my set of diagnoses (Bipolar Type 1, Anxiety, PTSD, Substance Abuse). My failures since September of 2014 need to be framed in the context of successful stability and sobriety. I haven’t used substances, I haven’t had a manic/psychotic episode, I’ve been able to successfully attend school and work. I completed a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. I’ve been active in volunteering communities, leading support groups and giving talks to audiences of peers, family members of the ill, and first responders. At times my stability has taken a hit, and I had to readjust. I even had to go back to the hospital at one point. I’m more able to accept setbacks not as failures but as opportunities for change and growth. It hasn’t always been fun, it hasn’t always been non-stop success. Sometimes, just existing has been pretty tough, especially when depression has me in its grips. At times I’ve contemplated getting drunk or high or just killing myself as a way out. I guess my brain just goes there organically. But I want to live. I want to fight. I want to matter. I have a choice: sit back, do nothing and decay, or get on with living and keep moving forward no matter what. I’m going forward.
One of the most common features of my bipolar mania were religious delusions. In the throes of a severe manic episode, at one time I came to believe that I had been immaculately conceived and was on Earth to announce the return of Jesus. At another time I believed I was the Anti-Christ. Both of those times, it made complete sense in my head. The universe was directing me for my special purpose. Luckily at no point was I able to perform any miracles. It’s interesting that my delusions were specifically based in Christianity, the faith I was raised in. Both of those delusions fell away as I verged into psychosis, with my thinking becoming increasingly scattered and incoherent, in 2010, during the worst mental health crisis of my life. Not that believing you are a prophet is coherent, but the place beyond that in terms of insanity is amazingly worse.
Another feature of mania, and a most common one for me, was aggression and anger. This was unfortunately directed at other people at times, and it was not good for everyone involved. Other times, it was directed at the invisible, external forces guiding events, allegedly. I still sometimes rage at the absurd farce that is humans being cruel to other humans. I sometimes rage at the inherent unfair nature of existence. Obviously, as a mostly reasonable and sane person today, I have to set aside those problems I have with reality. Firstly because I need to accept the situation of existence on some level in order to function. Secondly because there’s nothing I can do about any of it. Naturally, I find the whole state of affairs that is “reality” quite ridiculous and upsetting (and really it deserves the air quotes). I’m sure at this point I sound petulant, but that’s tolerable. I simultaneously view my opinion of reality as a character defect while also being mostly correct. Unfortunately for me, when I’m manic, this character defect tends to go off the charts.
I think it was maybe 2006, summer time. I had some friends over, I made a camp fire. There was weed and alcohol involved. I don’t remember all the details because I was losing control. I was at home with parents. There were arguments, me with them, my friends with them. The fire. I threw some makeshift, symbolic cardboard sign I made into it. Everyone left or went to sleep and I was still wide awake. I was in my clothes, in blue jeans, jumped in the pool anyway. I started shouting angrily at nothing, cursing God, cursing Satan, daring them both individually over and over to kill me, letting them know they wouldn’t do shit. Informing the nothing I was shouting at that I didn’t believe in it. Just raging. Probably at nothing, because I’m still alive. I’m still here and would still like to file a complaint with the management of this universe. It was a long time after that when I would finally be okay for a moment, here and there. That happens more often today. I’m okay, some of the time. It could be a hell of a lot worse, because it has been, before.
Everyone has some problems, some struggle. But my problems aren’t even that important or bothersome in the grand scheme of things. Except for one problem. The one, all-encompassing problem that has affected me my entire life: my thinking. My thinking, mainly about my situation and about myself makes every day a struggle. I don’t know how to turn off the negative critic. I’ve tried meditation, positive affirmations, therapy, group therapy, work in recovery, support groups, writing. Is it hatred of myself? Probably. Has it always been this way? Yes, to some degree, but as I’ve gotten older it’s actually gotten quite a lot worse, as I continually realize I’ve never accomplished anything significant with my life. As I’ve been in recovery and been sober for the last five plus years, in some ways it’s actually gotten much worse.
I have 5 years of trying to get my life together under my belt and don’t feel I really have anything to show for it. I have no drugs or alcohol to numb the pain or quiet the negative critic. I’m stuck with my self-destructive thoughts, and sometimes I just relentlessly attack myself. I realize some things have changed and that my perspective is twisted around, but I don’t know how to get out of this spot I’m in. I just want some days where it’s not a complete struggle. Is that too much to ask?
I think it’s time to bring back two old programs started under The New Deal: with the Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration
The benefit was that people that were unemployed were given meaningful work to do. I have four main suggestions.
1) Get people to do work improving infrastructure, cleaning up cities and towns, and building public amenities, like they used to do in the 1930’s and 40’s.
2) Remove the marriage penalty for getting welfare, to discourage the decline of nuclear families on benefits. In some states, marriage means you get fewer or no benefits, making parents more likely to split up or not live together.
3) Remove the welfare cliff so people on benefits don’t get punished for working as you earn more money. Instead of dropping off welfare completely and suffering a net loss for working, have the benefits gradually step down so you are encouraged to work and actually able to build up a savings.
4) Increase the food benefit – people should not have to depend on charity food banks to meet their basic food needs. It’s an abdication of responsibility by our society to offload these concerns onto private charities.
5) Medicare For All – healthcare is a human right. It should be available for all. Not having access to healthcare is a huge barrier to living a life of dignity and decency.
I strongly believe that when people are sure their basic needs will be met, and aren’t stressed and occupied with basic day to day survival, most people receiving these benefits will be much more likely to participate and engage with meaningful work. I believe more people would work, compared to the current system where those on benefits live under the threat of losing their safety net unless they work.
The system as it is designed today is fairly cruel.
The real question is something along the lines of: “why do the wealthy political elites allow the status quo to continue?”
The answer is because they can pat themselves on the back and say, “Look at all the programs we’ve created for the poor! We’re doing something!” In reality, the poor are ghettoized and cordoned off from middle and upper class society so that the rest of us don’t have to face what their lives are like.
Wealth and income inequality present an existential threat to society.
“The rich get richer. It’s the law of the land.”