A New Year

I can’t express the joy that courses through my body when I consider or remember the fact that it’s a new year. 2016 brought many unspeakably awful things to bear, most of which I’m still working through. The prospects past this small bastion of new years celebration are dim. A president of questionable quality has been sworn in as the leader of the United States, and all of my friends and family are in an uproar about it. I’m mad too. None of my friends understand that I’m angry when I try to share my feelings with them. I feel that our best option in this current setting is to keep a close eye on the new president and his cronies and any superiors he might have. The media is a horrible and awful spin machine. I realized after the election that I was terrified into voting for Hillary Clinton. I did not want to vote for her, but the overarching message from the democratic party had been “you have to vote for Hillary or Trump will win!” first of all, 1 vote is a drop in the water. The collective action of EVERYONE voting DOES decide the outcome of the election, so it is very important to put your vote in… but in the grand scheme of things, your vote is a drop in the water.

I didn’t want either Trump nor Hillary, and I would’ve voted alternative party to help get a 5% representation, but again, was terrified into voting for Hillary by my democratic peers. Trump is a bad guy. But let’s consider where we get this understanding from. Keeping in mind that all media output is owned by corporations, that are considered people in our country, and have extreme lobbying power and control over the government. It is in their best interest to get as many readers as possible as it makes them more money and advances whatever mental framework they have going in their own minds. Unfortunately that means that integrity is not guaranteed among reporters. The news about Trump, while mostly true, has definitely been blown out of proportion, and has been used for fear mongering to control the citizens of the country, and those who care outside of our borders.

Two things that are certain now: Trump is signing executive orders to immediately advance his agenda, and some of the news reporting was correct pre-inauguration. Trump (or whomever) wants a wall built, and borders closed to muslims. This is a giant problem. Taking a sweeping action against a whole group based on the actions of a small sliver of it is short-sighted and antithetic to acceptance, peace, and understanding. It furthers hate instead of fostering compassion. It’s sending a message to the muslim people that they will be judged for actions they did not perform. This is the WRONG message. The correct message is that some people are very evil, but those evil people do not get the power of fear that we are throwing at them right now. We send love and compassion to our family, friends, and strangers that are muslim, and even to those who would fight and kill our people. One person’s terrorist, is another person’s freedom fighter. The wall is also heinous, but it is lest impactful than a ban on certain people entering the country. A fence covers most of our border with Mexico, and while I agree that we need defined borders, a wall is an excessive show of supremacy when we need to foster our relationship with Mexico, instead of building a wall between it.

Briefly on the minutiae of life: I continue to find it difficult to communicate to people the reasons why I decide I’m not up to talking to them on the phone or hooking up after radio silence for a couple of years. One of my college classmates and I have reconnected, and I had to ask her to postpone our scheduled phone call as I didn’t feel comfortable catching up with her over the phone. I’ve also twice now reconnected with someone to have them try to push something on me. I don’t know if that will happen in this case, but it should be fine. I am glad, too, that my vacation is over and I can go back to working on building up my daily routine and self accountability.

In conclusion, we must be very careful and prepared to deal with false or misleading news. It’s ALWAYS better to observe for yourself and make a call based on someone’s action, rather than someone else’s words that describe the action that took place. There’s a reason first hand accounts are very important for research work!

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On the Empowering Aspects of Instant Gratification

I’ve been examining myself for the last couple of months, wondering about my personal behavior patterns – the actions I take without thinking and how they damage my body and my mind every day. For a long time, I’ve “tried” to lose weight, though these were nothing but vapid aspirations engaged to make myself feel good. I’m constantly undermined by these behavioral patterns that I only just discovered a couple of weeks ago. In a way, it surprised me that I hadn’t seen this far earlier, but the ignorant mind feeding an addicted body is a powerful amnesia.

The first behavior I noticed was how quickly I stepped up to receive instant gratification from myself. 99% of the time, this comes in the form of food. Typically I eat large quantities with close to no physical activity. When I say large quantities, I mean I eat until my stomach hurts. If I eat less… if I don’t feel anything after I’ve completed my meal, I inevitably feel hungry again in a couple of hours. I believe that the most efficient way to deconstruct a behavioral pattern is to determine what built it in the first place, and break the foundations out from underneath. This is certainly a difficult task, but let’s examine my behavior with this point of view.

Assumptions:

– I eat a lot of food

– I spend a lot of money on food (usually ordering out for convenience)

– My body puts up with the pain to “enjoy the flavor”

 

Let’s deconstruct the first point, “I eat a lot of food”. I refuse to believe that initially my appetite was so large that I ate more calories than my body could take. Even with the chemicals and compounds in modern processed food that supposedly mess around with the ability of my brain to hear the notification from my stomach that it is full, there is certainly a point where the body has to say “Oh shit stop, there isn’t enough room in here for any more food!” So clearly my consumption of large quantities wasn’t hereditary or caused by processed food. Further support of this issue not being hereditary is that no one in my family was excessively overweight.

I also didn’t have a particularly stressful childhood. The only stressors were primarily long and drawn out, such as my dad passing away when I was 11. I doubt that his passing caused my eventual rise to size, especially since there wasn’t any major weight gain until late high school. Perhaps the only option left is just that I REALLY like flavors and food always brings an amazing palette of flavors and spices. This was also aided by the fact that my mom always made extremely flavorful and good food.

The other aspect I believe contributed to this was that my family was never wealthy or even “comfortable” as far as money goes. The reasons surrounding this are irrelevant, but I think it built a kind of scarcity mentality in my mind. After leaving the house, the mixture of being able to horde as much food as I could to fix the scarcity and having money and being free of restrictions on getting fast food or other such things (such commands as “No McDonalds, it’s not healthy!” no longer applied directly to me!) made a cocktail of overeating that lead me to where I am now.

Now I can work on deconstructing this behavior. I no longer need (and arguably never did) the mentality of scarcity. I make enough money to live comfortably and fulfill my dietary needs without worry about when my next meal will be. In a way, I have been readopting the scarcity mentality so that I eat less. I’ve been telling myself “be scarce… embrace scarcity”. This can probably be confusing to most people reading this, and I will chalk up why it makes sense to me as having a weird brain. By reversing the power of the concept of scarcity, I can gain power over my quantity sizes. By living scarcely, I am living as a minimalist, as a small being. This can equate to being fit, as that is a massive size difference down from where I am. So really, this mantra has a double meaning (making it equally useful).

The second aspect of deconstruction revolves around that delicious home cooking my mom made. Many of the recipes I grew up with I can’t eat unmodified anymore due to my paleo/primal leanings. I can deconstruct my taste bud’s desire to taste everything over and over again by acknowledging that flavor is best enjoyed, and then left until the next tasting. It increases the wonder and joy of the tasting each time if there is a sizable break between consumptions. I think I can fool myself into thinking that the anticipation increases the flavor of the item, whether or not that is actually a psychological fact.

And the last aspect of deconstruction for this issue is that I do not need instant gratification to be satisfied. Sometimes it is okay (and biologically familiar) to be a little hungry. Life should and does revolve around satisfaction and gratification, and for stress relief purposes I’m avid about the fact that everyone should gratify themselves. But too much gratification can be hazardous. I take great comfort in my gratifications. My challenge comes in selecting the gratifications that allow me to safely maintain that mentality of scarcity that I described above.

A note about the mentality of scarcity, since we’re back on it. For some reason, I have an internal need to be as small and unnoticeable as possible, both in physical size, but as well as in social presence. I find that conflict happens far less when I am out of the way. That’s not to say I can’t relish in social contact and be outwardly vocal. Anyone who knows me understands that this is just the way I am. But when a situation arises that could be defused by me removing myself from the situation or from the main view aspect, I will almost always make that change to help soothe the situation. In a way I suppose this is manipulative behavior, but until I start using it for bad, I’m not too worried about deconstructing it.

 

My second assumption is easily deconstructed with the above statements, so I will pass on exhaustively spelling it out. I will say that it ties directly into the “never wealthy” aspect of my family life. Now that I have money, it’s easy to spend.

 

In a way, the last assumption is tied into the instant gratification deconstruction and the “mom’s food” deconstruction. The fact that my brain is okay with letting my body suffer to feel full or fulfilled indicates something inherently wrong psychologically. There are a number of reasons I could pull out as to way I have this desire to be fulfilled, but I think it would be more constructive (in the good way, not the bad way) to explore and discover this assumption with the help of a trained psychologist.

 

It’s scary how comfortable it feels to gratify yourself, even at the expense of bodily pain. It’s a typical addictive behavior, saying “I know this will hurt me, but it will also make me feel good. And it makes me feel way better than it makes me feel terrible, so I’ll just go ahead and do it.” But the brain often doesn’t have the capability to look ahead or outward, especially when fixated on an object of desire. It can’t see that the choices it makes to achieve its fix will cause pain and terrible feelings in other aspects of life. For overweight individuals, the most obvious example is the lowering of self confidence and the diminishing of body image for someone who continues to be overweight. Having to buy new clothes that are bigger than the last time you went shopping, or never finding clothes that actually fit or are fashionable for your size. These are the after effects of your fixated brain’s choice. It’s incredibly harmful.

A Lesson from Star Trek concerning my future

Recently, my roommate has been playing Star Trek: The Next Generation on our projector as background noise. I’ve been drawn to it multiple times because the dialogue is so intriguing that I couldn’t possibly focus on anything else. One particular episode that we watched put Geordi in command of the Enterprise while Picard and Riker were trapped on a planet. At one point, Geordi has to make a tough decision that leads to splitting the saucer from the battle bridge and sending it off to safety. In the crosshairs of an invisible assailant, Deanna pulls him aside and points out that the Ensigns that are manning the helm for him are uncertain and liable to crack if they are not reassured. Geordi makes a point of vocally putting his confidence in them, helping to win a victory for the Enterprise and allowing the reclamation of the Chief Officers from the planet.

How, then, might this concern my future? I’m at a crossroads right now. I have a decision to make between two paths, one of which causes a great deal of anxiety in me, and the other, which is incredibly easy. They’re both GOOD paths. There’s nothing particularly wrong with either of them. But it isn’t true to my nature to choose something just because it’s easy, despite what my brain has been yelling in my ear. I am currently a contracted employee at Amazon. My contract ends on Tuesday and my two paths are taking an offered contract position for 5 months on one team, or following through on my current interview for a full time position (ie indefinite in length and not contracted). As I mentioned, both are good options and I would be happy with either. Now, I won’t bore you with the details of my pros and cons list, but the full time position does come out a little bit ahead.

Star Trek becomes relevant, because I’m one of the ensigns with shaky hands, doubting myself. The only reason I would go for the easy path is because I’m too anxious to try for the normal interview. I’ve been extremely impressed with my current managers, and my respect for Amazon’s leadership principles was just reinforced, as I received a response to an email I had sent to the hiring manager for the full time position I’m interviewing for. I had expressed to him my concerns and doubts, and asked his recommendation. While he didn’t do what Geordi did for those scared ensigns, he did point out that I had value by recommending we stay in touch either way. It’s eye opening to see that some managers don’t rule with an iron fist that they use to terrify you into work. Amazon is refreshing in that the managers would rather you be comfortable and confident, not terrified and paralyzed. His words in the email helped me realize that I was just being a slave to my anxiety and depression, effectively washing away the shroud that was being firmly stapled around me.

And now all I can think about is a quote from Dumbledore:

“…if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy…”

I think that time has come. It would be wrong of me not to pursue the more challenging course. Even if I fail, at least I tried.

What It Feels Like

I figured that as an individual particularly gifted with words, and also incidentally a sufferer of some sort of anxiety, that I might try to describe what I feel when I’m having issues. Please note beforehand that I know almost nothing about my condition or anxiety in general. I’m just starting to learn about all this sort of stuff.

 

I guess the place to start would probably be the only incident in my life that may have created post-traumatic stress disorder for me. Now originally I thought this first occurrence would have been when I was 10 years old, seeing my father in the hospital a few months before he passed away from uncontrolled skin cancer. I recall that without warning I fainted while visiting him. I didn’t really understand what was going on, so it must have been a subconscious stressor. I fainted a few times after that as well, but generally haven’t since. I realized though that it wasn’t particularly traumatic. Yes it sucked to see my father in a vulnerable state shortly before seeing him for the last time, but I think that event would contribute more to any feelings of depression I may stay have lingering in the back of my head.

No, I think the place to start would be my only car crash. Thankfully the crash itself wasn’t very serious, no one was hurt, and the vehicles sustained only minor damage. I was driving down the major freeway in Austin with some friends, heading to a concert. Now, if you’ve ever visited Austin, you know the traffic is horrendous. This was a Saturday afternoon and early evening, so I figured the traffic wouldn’t be very bad. I was cruising along at about 60, coming up on a dip in the freeway where it splits to two upper decks and two lower decks. I decided to take the lower deck. Since the road dipped ahead, I couldn’t see ahead very well. Add on to this, that it was dusk and I was talking quite passionately to my friends in the car, and you get the recipe for disaster that I drove into.

The traffic was stopped ahead at the dip, and I noticed this too late and saw the brake lights on the car in front of me on brightly. I of course hit the brakes as hard as I could uttering various curses. Thankfully the skid was minimal and when I actually hit the car in front of me, I was only going about 15 mph. All the specifics afterward aren’t really that important. In that moment I felt myself starting to black out. I think my body figured I might be dying soon, so it started to black out my vision and thoughts so that I didn’t have to deal with it. As we glided toward our future state of rest, I felt flung further and further back in my mind, as if I was abstracting from my body. As soon as we made contact, the crunch and the momentum flinging me forward against my seatbelt rubber-banded me from my calm, ignorant introspection back to the reality of the situation.

For almost a straight minute, I couldn’t say anything. My passengers were asking if everyone was alright. I just sat there with my hands gripped on the steering wheel, not knowing what to do. Eventually I was snapped out of it by my friends and we continued on with the required insurance proceedings.

For a long time, I thought that it hadn’t affected me. As men are often conditioned to do, I just buried the whole experience subconsciously and forgot about it. In retrospect now, I wish I hadn’t buried it. I wish I had processed it very specifically, and dealt with the feelings that ended up surfacing over the last 3 years. Perhaps I wouldn’t be the way I am now. Who knows.

The feeling and the fear resurfaced a couple of months ago while I was driving to pick up a friend. Almost the exact same situation happened. The road was different, the state and traffic were different, but the near crash was the same except I managed to brake hard enough to not hit. But as soon as I slid to a stop behind the car I almost hit, my hands were shaking, my eyes were twitching around the road, trying to determine if anyone had seen me. I couldn’t think, or talk, and I could only barely breath. I should have pulled over on the freeway and stood up, gotten some fresh air, and walked a bit. Instead I kept on with my drive and only gave my self a chance to actually regain my breath while I was waiting for my friend to arrive.

Now, I know the traditional definition of a panic attack and it doesn’t fit what happened to me, but I had some sort of anxiety episode there. Ever since (and I realized at this point, as mentioned before, that this had happened for the last couple of years randomly) I would occasionally get this tight feeling in my chest. I’ve actually felt this sensation for well over a decade, I just never knew what it was. I think a certain amount is healthy, but when it becomes a near daily occurrence, and it happens without any logical stimuli, there might be a problem.

I think the easiest way to describe it, is that there is hand that grips my emotional core (which is what I loosely call the center of my chest where I feel sadness, happiness, and other feelings) and just fucking tugs. Whenever I have this tight feeling, which I’ve come to learn is anxiety, it just feels like the hand is gripping very tightly, and pulling down and down and down.

The feeling I get when I have a panic/anxiety episode (or whatever it is), is like the hand suddenly and abruptly yanking. If you imagine that someone’s emotional core connects physically to the top of your neck, there is only a limited amount of length that can be taut before it starts stretching past where it should be, kind of like a rope tied to a post. The abrupt yanks feel like pushing beyond the limit of what should be possible when pulling that short distance of tied rope.

Some days, there is no yanking and no feeling of the hand. Sometimes I can feel the hand but it’s not tugging or pulling, just idly hanging on as you would a leash attached to a calm dog.

 

If you have anxiety of any sort, or panic attacks, please share how and what you feel. I’m interested in how other people define the issue they have. For instance I’ve seen the description of depression as a dog that varies in size and follows you around, sitting on you sometimes.