I’ve never paid for cable television. Neither have any of my close friends. I’ve never paid for a newspaper subscription either. Since young adulthood I’ve always gotten my news on the internet. My friends and I all much preferred playing video games, or watching DVDs of imported movies and TV shows to watching cable TV. After Youtube came around in 2005, and with the appearance of Netflix, I never saw the need for cable TV. I only watch cable on occasion for live sports, but in general, I can’t watch a movie on cable TV, because the experience is totally ruined by ad breaks every 12 to 15 minutes. The movie is censored, edited, cut down, and worst of all interrupted by commercials. Watching TV shows is equally annoying. I would much prefer to simply wait for a show to come out on Netflix and then binge watch it at my leisure. I could also watch on Hulu, which while it shows ads, shows fewer ads than TV and at least gives you the option of watching the show when you want. Using a DVR to record a cable TV show and then fast-forwarding with the remote through every ad break is an annoying and wasteful “solution” to commercials.
I don’t believe in determinism, the idea that we are not in control of our actions or events because everything that happens is a result of forces beyond our control. Laws of physics, genetic imperatives, chemical reactions. I will admit, however, that determinism has merit. It explains much of what happens in the world. In many ways, we are slaves to our programming. We are influenced by the way we are raised, as well as by our DNA. In some ways we are no different from robots. We have hardware and software that are responsible for much of how we act. So on the other hand, I don’t necessarily believe in free will either. I think reality is somewhere in between.
I’m reminded of the neuroscience discovery whereby it has been shown that the brain will start acting and moving a person before they have a conscious thought about taking an action. So in a sense we are always on autopilot. It’s akin to the story of the monkey riding the elephant. The elephant goes where it goes, when it wants to, but the monkey tells a story about why the elephant is moving, pretending as if it’s in control of the elephant. In much the same way our emotions, our actions, our thoughts are like the elephant, lumbering along beyond our control, while our conscious minds are like the monkey, telling a story about why things happen, because we need certainty, reassurance. We want to know how and why things are the way they are. The desire for certainty is very powerful.
O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.
– To Sleep by John Keats
My bipolar disorder first truly manifested itself at the age of 19. Like most people with this disorder, it is punctuated with alternating moods of extreme depression or extreme mania (energy, euphoria, elation). At 19 I experienced a full blown manic psychotic episode, highlighted by total mental incoherence and borderline insanity. In the 13 intervening years it has been a struggle to manage this illness. One of the hallmarks of my descent into madness is a total inability to sleep. Typically, after abusing substances and not sleeping for a few days, I would begin a severe manic cycle. As I have painfully learned to treat this disorder, I have learned about the importance of sleep for my brain. Lack of sleep is my number one trigger for problems. I have always had some form of insomnia, from a young age, but as I got older it became worse. Once I finally got to the point of understanding the consequences of not sleeping and abusing alcohol in particular, I have been able to ward off any further disastrous episodes and resultant consequences. It has been five years since my last hospitalization as a result of this illness. I have been hospitalized four times, arrested twice, and should have been hospitalized on at least two other occasions. This is why, at 2 in the morning when I can’t sleep, my desire to shut off my brain verges on total desperation. A hallmark of bipolar disorder is racing thoughts, and when I close my eyes and lie down, sometimes my mind fails to shut up and drift off. I call it “the clown car going in a circle in my brain.” The internal monologue intensifies. No matter how tired I may have been during the day, when I close my eyes for some reason I feel wired and wide awake.
It seems my country is in a downward trajectory.
The United States of America is still in an economic depression. Our nation’s economy has still not recovered the millions of jobs lost since the collapse in 2007-08. A huge percentage of the population is either unemployed or under-employed, working on a job making at or near the minimum-wage. Working part-time with no benefits. Paying taxes on income, on property, on purchases. A permanent underclass has been formed, oppressed, and controlled in service of the upper classes. The wealthiest, during this trying economic time, have simply managed to amass even more wealth, while unemployed Americans across the country struggle to make ends meet. The stories of the excess and abuses carried out by the banking class on the economy and the people are many. The bankers who created this mess demanded to be bailed out by the taxpayer for the good of the country, allegedly. This bailout did not fix the economic crisis. The gap between rich and poor is widening more and more as each year passes. The wealthy in this country are almost all completely out of touch with the struggles of the poorest Americans.
When I was a child, my mother would frequently scold me with the cliched parental phrase, “the world doesn’t revolve around you!” whenever I happened to be acting in a way she didn’t like.
My response, even from a fairly young age, while I was still in early elementary school, was to argue that the world did in fact revolve around me. From my perspective, everything did. I argued that because I see the world through my own eyes, that I can only understand things as revolving around my own perspective. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was actually making a fairly advanced argument for solipsism as a clever way to justify whatever behavior my parents didn’t like. Usually something involving not doing chores, I think.
At various times in my life I’ve felt a lot of anxiety. It has shown up at different times, in different places, and in different contexts. Some of it has felt overwhelming as I was experiencing it. Some was the result of me not taking my health seriously enough, and not doing what was necessary to manage my mental illness, while on other occasions it was largely the result of circumstance. I would say that most of my anxiety, at its core, stems from a deep, existential fear. In the process of trying to know myself, to understand my subconscious motivations and in general my emotions and their source, I have given a lot of thought as to where this fear comes from. What is this fear, and how does it inform all of my actions?
I guess it perhaps stems originally from early childhood, and it developed for reasons I can’t fully explain. I grew up in a very stable and loving household. Unfortunately, I was raised in a very devout Christian household, and I was taught from a young age that man is by nature sinful and evil, and therefore I was sinful, and evil, and in need of salvation through Jesus. Perhaps as a result of this, and other factors, I never felt good enough, I always felt defective. I worried that I was doomed to hell, and I prayed desperately for a way out. When I would engage in behaviors that my parents, pastors and peers called sinful, I would feel immense guilt afterwards, terribly confused about why my behavior was not in line with what I was taught I should be doing. A sort of existential confusion ruled my childhood. Because I was told that what I wanted was inherently sinful and basically wrong, I resisted wanting anything, I attempted to drown out my desires with distraction, because my desires were at root evil. I simply viewed myself as worthless, not worthy of love, not deserving of anything.
As I grew older, I thought, at the age of 22, that since my actions (not going to Church, reading the Bible, or praying) didn’t line up with the faith I purported to believe, I realized that my only logical option was to abandon my faith and declare that God was dead. I was miserable emotionally, and the struggle I had with my newly discovered mental illness made me consider that maybe religion had it wrong. This was a big event in my family, and when I revealed to my parents that I didn’t believe in God, they were terribly concerned and viewed that information as some kind of emergency. The real emergency was that I seriously needed effective mental healthcare, which I did not receive.
I did not recognize my anxiety for what it was as a child and a teen, because I wasn’t always very consciously aware of it. Looking back, I can see how it informed nearly all of my actions. Getting bullied at times, lashing out violently at students who mistreated me, generally experiencing unnamed fears over various situations and interactions, not doing things to help myself, procrastinating endlessly, I can now say all stemmed from my anxiety and fear. In my 20’s, as my illness progressed and worsened, these feelings at times became overwhelming. The fear manifested itself in many different ways. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection. Fear of making decisions or taking on challenges. Fear of school. Fear of work. Fear of losing all my friends, being destitute, being homeless. Again, at its core, much of this fear came from the early, very early notion that I was essentially bad, not worthy of love, and flawed. I was destined for hell, so clearly I didn’t deserve love. I failed miserably at loving others in my 20’s because I had never learned to love myself. I didn’t know how to express outwardly something I had never done inwardly.
Concepts like happiness, contentment, and inner peace were completely foreign to me. Not long after I had entered college, I turned to substances to replace my feelings, to numb out, to escape myself.
I remember vividly the first two times I was intoxicated. The first time, on a family trip with some cousins, I got fairly buzzed, but not fully drunk. The second time, in college, I drank heavily, and got very drunk. Both times, the feeling I got from alcohol was incredible to me. I had never felt this good before, that I could ever remember. I thought to myself, perhaps subconsciously, that I was finally alright, that this was the best feeling I had ever experienced. The beauty of it was that I could drink whenever I wanted. Instead of choosing awareness, and difficulty, and perhaps some form of emotional progress, I took the easy way out: I chose the bottle. A few years later, as I was a junior in college, I tried marijuana for the first time. The feeling I got from my first hit was wondrous, to me it felt just as good, if not better than the alcohol. I had a new favorite substance. I was finally home. The moments when I was high, I felt ok with myself.
My substance abuse helped me to fail out of college. I had, by my senior year, entered into a deep depression medicated by alcohol. After dropping out, I returned home and took solace in more booze, and this time much more marijuana. I eventually got around to trying pills as well, but usually infrequently and when it was randomly available. The next 11 years of my life were marked by moments of insanity, hospitalization, arrest, misery, and depression. My drug abused threatened any type of stability I had in my life. My only friends were generally people I got high or drunk with. I did this to escape my anxiety and fear, to treat my depression or my mania. To distract myself. Anything to avoid my feelings. The perpetual knot in my stomach signified an area of my brain and body that I refused to go to, that I refused to acknowledge or deal with or attempt to resolve. Functional relationships were extremely difficult, if not at times completely impossible. I did my best to muddle through, but it seemed like every time I tried to go to school, to get a new job, to do anything for myself, I always failed.
The hallmark of these times were usually short periods of attempted sobriety followed by even worse alcohol and drug abuse.
Finally, I reached a point in the last year where my situation became desperate. I had finally run out of answers and excuses. The way I was living wasn’t working. My mental life was a mess, and dominated by thoughts of suicide. After multiple months of this, looking for a way out, looking for answers, I finally realized that I needed to stop abusing substances. I had tried living clean before but it had never worked for me. This time I fully committed myself to the process and attempted to change everything about my life that was in my power. I wrote out how I felt, and I focused on what I didn’t want, and how my feelings were. This was the turning point for me. Sharing this with others, and then going back over it myself helped me to achieve some clarity. I’ve always been pretty bad at figuring out what I truly wanted and acting on it, so instead I focused on what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to kill myself, ultimately, and I didn’t want to keep feeling the way I felt. The drugs no longer numbed me out, no matter how much I used. The escape mechanism stopped working. I was forced to come to some realizations about myself and my situation.
With a lot of help from others that I reached out to, I started over again. I’ve been clean nearly 4 months now. I got a job, I changed my living situation, and started making friends with people who were also clean and making good choices. I’ve never felt more certain about what I need to do, and I’ve never felt better about myself. Still, the self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-pity that were my mode for so very long are still there, but less so. When I feel those things today I respond with action, with positive movement in a good direction. I realized that if I’m not moving forward with my life, if I’m not growing, I’m dying.
The anxiety and fear are still there, but I have to aggressively attack these feelings by continuing to walk through it. My confidence is growing, little by little, after having been crushed for so long by many personal failures and disasters.
I read something yesterday, spoken by Winston Churchill, many years ago that really got to me when I saw it. That’s how I’ll close this writing. He said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
I could not agree more.
I guess I started this blog because I need to write. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I’ve been writing in one form or another for a few decades now, and I rely on it as an intellectual and emotional outlet. What that implies about my life may be interesting, but mostly only to me.
I’ve been blogging since way before it was cool, on Geocities and Tripod in the late 90s, and then on my own domain, with blogger, and then later WordPress and a few different social community forum things. I can’t remember all the different sites and publishing methods I’ve used.
I’ve been using the internet in one form or another since probably 91/92 or so, as a young child. I’ve grown up with the internet as the technology itself has matured. For that reason it is where I feel most comfortable in different phases of my life. I crave all the forms of communication the internet makes possible, with the exception of video, which I feel is somehow restrictive.
Many, if not most of the platforms and technology I’ve used are long since defunct. This has made me somewhat jaded, and especially purchase phobic when it comes to choosing technology platforms on which to rely for a long period of time. It has also however made me very optimistic, as I have been able to witness first hand the rapid ascent of the computer age over the last 25 years. It has really been a glorious thing to behold. The internet has opened new avenues of communication to people all over the world, for the first time in history people across the world can cheaply and easily communicate with each other. The impact of this revolution is still yet to be fully felt, even as it continues to transform the way the world works. So there is hope as technology continues its now seemingly inexorable advance.
In a way all of the topics of this blog will be somehow related to that, as this revolution has informed my life and the way I think about the world.
It’s been too long since I’ve last blogged on a regular basis, hence the name of this here site. The idea is to write once a day, at least. Let’s see how we do.