I Have Gold In My Mouth

I’ve got a vague memory I can’t exactly figure out. When I was a little boy, I remember having what you could call a 3rd front tooth awkwardly wedging itself between the typical 2 front ones. I think it was like a baby tooth or something to that effect that led a confused, bullied life. Ultimately, as my adult teeth came in, that little bugger finally got bullied out and was never seen nor heard from again.

Granted, when I try to remember it, I get really confused and doubt what I’m remembering, but the one thing I solidly remember it was being an already shy kid who felt uncomfortable and awkward because nobody else had a ‘middle’ tooth trying to poke its way through the fray. The memories of wanting to be even more quiet, not wanting to smile, or even risk being in a position where I might laugh are concrete. As a kid, you don’t have full grasp of your insecurities, so you fall in and out of being conscious of them very easily, so I’m sure that this bit of mental processing power was only a microcosm in the background of mini-James’ daily life. Minuscule as the seed may have been, I often look back on that tiny seed of insecurity in my life knowing the hazardous jungle it weaved.

It’s astonishing — the smallest nicks borne in youth that we end up chained to for our entire lives — you can’t predict that kind of stuff, only try to statistically eliminate the potential possibilities.

People always get on to me.

They ask, rhetorically, “why don’t you smile?”

We take pictures and they casually remark, “you never smile,” sometimes with hints of frustration or befuddlement — as if I didn’t know that.

I’ve got friends who can walk into a room full of blood thirsty savages and walk out with a dozen new friends. When I ask them how they’re able to so easily resonate with total strangers, they always tell me some variation of, “just put on a big smile and say hey!” If only it were that easy.

The truth is, it’s not always as simple as it could be, and I am pretty much have a reason for every single thing I do. There is nothing so small, so involuntary, or so subconscious for me to invest premeditation into.

Let’s pause for a second, and let me be clear: this piece of writing is one of the hardest I’ve ever put myself through. To force myself to follow through with it, but more so to hit publish. Sharing it? The gravity reaches Jupiterian heights as that moment approaches. If you’re reading this, odds are good you’ve read pieces of my mind before, so you should know I’m no stranger when it comes to baring uncomfortable truths like they’re mental genitals and I’m a pervy exhibitionist.

In all my life, this is very likely the greatest, longest living insecurity I’ve been attached to. As with any insecurity, If I have any hope of properly shaking, I need to work through its origins, its rise to maturity, and the many ways, overt and absconded, that it has affected me.

When I was a little older, in what you could call a kid’s prime years, my upper canine teeth came in. They were the last of them to really come in, because they didn’t really feel like arriving properly. It’s not something you have any control over. You just have to let it ride and fix it later. With that said, teeth aren’t supposed to grow outward like they did, and those self-conscious, insecure feelings over time grew, stirring me to squirm away and further try to reduce my social footprint.

I was shy. I wanted to be anonymous.

It’s weird to me how much my older sister mean to me. She is 7 years older than me, so most of my childhood with her was spent either being an annoying, hyper kid who got her in trouble, or just being lightyears apart as far as where we were in life. There is something implanted in most younger siblings. We see our older brothers or sisters and want to be so much like them. We want to be recognized for the things they do that we can’t. Just as we want to be admired for what they can’t do, we learn to strive for acknowledgement by not doing the things they shouldn’t do, too.

I don’t think you could call it a drive to be better than my sister, but, rather, because she was older, she had already set the path, the pace, and all the marks, and when you’re the one trailing behind on the path, you feel like you need to do as much as possible to stand off. Because, as the younger one, you’re always so impressed, so awed by how far advanced the elder is.

I tend to be stubborn and defiant. Given my nature, I found it was much easier for me to express how I looked up to my sister by rejecting the path she set and instead achieving my milestones of growth by my own means. Such tendencies lead to moments where you, as a naive kid to tell your parents that you’ll never get braces when your sister did. You don’t have to mean it or know what the hell you’re really saying for it to carry weight.

There really hasn’t been a point in my life where I haven’t, on some level, hated my mouth, hated my teeth, or hated smiling (as a result).

When I was in my teens, I realized I had inadvertently screwed up. Something I once told my parents in passing had led to a very crowded mouth and all types of personal discontent. On one end, it’s admirable that my parents would value my thoughts and feeling so much that, even as a kid, I could make pretty big decisions about my life. Their love has always shown how much they’ve valued me and I couldn’t imagine growing up any other way. I’d be a shadow of myself if I were raised any other way — and I quite fancy myself, but it’s funny how even your best allies can end up your greatest adversary.

The time came when I had fully come to grips how captive I was to my insecurities. I think that this kind of insecurity is intensely magnified, because basically everyone in our society couples those awful, spine twistingly awkward adolescent years with obtrusive metal and wires jammed in their mouth, and if they don’t utilize those already awkward years for that, they usually do somewhere on one of the ends of the awkward puberty sandwich.

If you skip out on this ubiquitous practice and aren’t blessed with a perfect mouth, you are immediately relegated to outlier status. So if everything else about you comfortably falls within that concept of ‘normal’ except one thing, that becomes the most harrowing thing in your life.

As with any insecurity, it was always much more monstrous with my own mind than it was was to the world around me, but there is undeniable influence of having messed up teeth; many of which hit in subconscious or immediately noticeable areas. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it is having to interpersonally weave through the many ways we can be subconsciously or immediately judged or assessed.

In this case, there are many things that negative perceptions that can be generated with people. Obviously, you can appear unattractive or at least not have a very inviting smile, you can give off the perception that you’re from a lower class background, less intelligent than you may actually be, or just don’t have good hygiene — among many other possibilities. In a lot of cases, this stuff shouldn’t matter, nor should what others think about yourself, but the problem is this: at the end of the day, they still do.

Anyone is welcome to think whatever they want about me, and I can’t control that — only influence it. The problem is, I want to at least have as much of a fair shot of influence as I can – I think that anyone should want that. I won’t lie, I am a lot more judgmental than I’d like to be, and surprisingly hypocritical, too. I think because of my own situation, teeth that aren’t perfect bother me more than they should (at first) — though I am hoping that is more because it is a reminder of my own fragility with the issue.

I wouldn’t recommend going through life without being able to smile. It’s a tremendous handicap.

When I was 17, I was going to get braces. Even when I was a lot younger, I was always very conscious of finances, and I hated the idea of causing unnecessary financial burden on my family. Especially considering ministry in a small church isn’t always the most financially stable situation. If it weren’t for TennCare, I probably would have never even told my parents that I need to get all my stuff fixed and sat on my inner demons even longer.

My teeth started out a cronie, a henchman, an afterthought that the hero effortlessly smacks away and never thinks about again. Over that entire timeline, it grew into a final boss. As with all notorious final bosses, the road to defeat the final boss is never easy. Just when you think you’re about to take the bastard out, he zaps you out of his space station and back in time or arrogantly reveals to you that the princess is in another castle.

After maybe a year of repeated dentist trips, root canals, fillings, and a few extracted teeth, I thought I was finally ready to endure the year plus of quasi misery to finally feel comfortable with my own appearance to begin to accept myself as something less than a self-created Quasimodo — I guess this is a good time to add another anchor that weighs you down when your teeth are messed up — even if you spend a lot of time taking care of them, it is easy to still encounter a lot of dental problems.

The princess was in another castle.

After all the dental work, my orthodontist slapped me with the, ‘by the way, your wisdom teeth are coming in now’, so off to the oral surgeon I went, and by then another cavity or two had decided to troll me. If I remember correctly, I got really busy with basketball and putting in a lot of time to play college ball so the entire thing got put on the back burner until the season ended.

Of course that back burner has a way into turning into a few years. My last attempt, in early college, was a similar process with obstacles thrown in the way until my dental coverage was about to run out, I became discouraged, didn’t want to make my parents have to pay for all that out of pocket and surrendered; defeated and incomplete.

Over all these years, I imagine that I’ve just gotten very good and operating in a way that lets me feel as comfortable as possible. I don’t smile as much as I’d like to, and I have even spent years and years developing laughter and smiling habits that I feel conceal what, to me, is this huge radiating blemish on myself as an individual. I know that most people probably barely give any of this too much thought, but I think about it all the time.

I don’t do a posed smile in pictures for a reason (plus if you look at my dad’s pictures as a kid, we just have a tendency to smile with our mouth closed anyway). I can’t smile at a stranger because in my twisted thinking it will run them off more than looking uninviting or, as I’ve had some people tell me, intimidating. For me, that’s starting at neutral and I can win them over from there, even if it is actually starting from behind in the real scheme of things.

I also am less expressive of a person that I actually feel I am as a result. Though, I think that I’ve compensated on this part for so long that I may just permanently be more dry and expressive-neutral than most. Then there’s the whole confidence thing

Confidence is such a mystery. Most of the people I encounter with the most confidence usually have the most reasons to not be confident, at least by my assessment. For me, confidence is kind of like science. It is built on years of empirical proof. For example, it has taken me 25 years to really develop real confidence in myself athletically. From a pure athleticism perspective, I’ve got to be at least in the 95th percentile. People who don’t know much about my love for basketball or any other sport you can get me to play always hear me [half-jokingly] brag about how I can jump or how fast I am. It probably comes off as the typical self-assurance most of us have when we talk to trash to our friends, “oh, you think you can beat me 1 on 1? Let’s go to the gym some time and settle that“. Here’s the thing, though, it is very easy to see who’s who in an athletic regard from a pretty objective viewpoint, yet it has taken a quarter of a century of strangers, acquaintances, and friends approaching me unprompted and asking me things like: can you dunk? How can you jump so high? Are you a horse? Dude, your head is practically at the rim when you rebound before I finally started to accept it as canon.

It simply is true. Of course I’m not the best athlete in the world, but if we are talking raw athleticism, I know I can pretty much hang with anyone. Despite that, it still only takes a small leak or two to create bit of self-doubt and make me forget who I am for a short spell.

The smallest leak in confidence can turn your thinking into the ugliest disaster scene, even for the most empirical areas of life. What I’m getting at is that I’ve been living my life with a giant gash fuming out confidence with the force of hurricane winds. If you’ve ever seen me interact with girls that I don’t know, especially if I find them attractive, you know how I barely maintain any confidence. At best, I can fake it for a bit, but the entire time it is furiously exhausting from myself, and the longer I am interacting with someone I barely know, in my mind I feel like I am greater exposing myself. Effectively, taking my baseline of confidence, which is already leaking, and rapidly fractioning it off.

That’s my battle. That’s the war in my mind every single time I am interacting with anyone new (and it doesn’t have to be a single guy talking to pretty girl scenario, that’s just the most exacerbated example). I even feel pretty weak about it with those closest to me pretty often.

I think one of the least congenial elements of the whole thing is that I know it can be fixed, and I’ve been planning on fixing it for so long that the longer it takes, the more menacing it gets in my mind. Fatigue is undefeated.

For the first time in my life, I’ve been fully honest about something that’s plagued me for so long, looked at it’s lifecycle, and highlighted the many ways this has affected how I operate.

Honestly, I’ve been thinking about this point for so long, I never expected it to come, nor did I know how I was going to play it. A few years ago I was in the worst depression of my life and I basically laid out a plan. Finish school, get a job, move out, and so on. At the end of that plan was finally finishing getting my teeth fixed. After a lot of work, many blessings, and more delays, I’ve reached the end of that plan I so firmly dedicated my life to.

Even with good insurance, in the last year and a half I’ve spent a big portion of my disposable income on this goal. The unfortunate thing about not having any money for most of my 20’s is that it sent me back to the beginning of the dental cycle I detailed earlier, this time with wisdom teeth extractions and a few crowns just to get back to square one. I always knew that I was going to reach the end of this set of immediate major life goals, but I didn’t know how I was going to do this part. In my mind, I saw myself taking care of all this until one day it was all better and coming out and saying, “hey, here are these awful insecurities, by the way, I’m totally cured now!”

I wouldn’t put it past myself to try, in fact, I think maybe I could have pulled it off. I’ve had braces for a few weeks now. Well, half of them. I am getting the bottom ones in 2 days before my birthday. That’ll make for a fun birthday. As soon as I got them in, I knew that it was time for me to finally push through this, but I think part of me waited because I wanted to see if it was noticeable at all. Of course, it metastasized into putting it off, conceding to the power it has long had over me.

They’re placed on the back of my teeth, which is a lot more convenient in a lot of ways, but the unforeseen inconveniences of them are that eating was tricky for a while but now it’s only a slight inconvenience. The biggest part was that I’ve had to reteach myself how to speak in a sense. When speak slowly, I think I can achieve effectively the same speech patterns and sounds that I usually do, but I’m actually quite a fast talker. When you start stringing together words and sounds, the tongue gets a bit bewildered with the unfamiliarity of the metal attached to the back of my teeth (also when you drink and start to get lazy-tongued.. well it gets even harder).

That first week was pretty interesting, I don’t know how weird I seemed to be acting as I often was slowing down while I was talking to people, often briefly pausing to assess if the next word I was about to say would be hard to pronounce normally and, if so, devising a different way to say it with easier words.

Either way, after my last appointment my orthodontist jokingly told me, “you’ve got gold in your mouth,” he collected his thoughts for a moment then appended, “well, actually, seriously, you do.”

So there it is. I just wanted to let you all know, I have gold in my mouth. In a few more weeks, I’m going to take a really long time to eat my meals and probably act weird when I’m talking to you for a few weeks — and them hopefully nobody will notice anymore and just sweep it under the rug of it being a weird dude; as usual.

With all this said, I guess on some levels I’m glad to finally have all of this off my chest, but I think I am still going to continue to be very insecure about it all. I have patches during the day where I feel a lot more comfortable with everything just knowing that I’m finally at that point — a point I struggled to imagine for a decade and a half — where it is actually getting better. A point where I know the day where this becomes a fading memory is approaching. With that said, because I have been battered by this for so long, and just barely getting this out, I likely am not going to feel strong enough through it all to ever want to talk about it or still really actively acknowledge it’s a thing with anyone.

Not that I don’t want to, but I just think because it has been weighing me down for so long and it’s being fixed, I’d just rather let it fade into obscurity. In a sense, maybe I’m not really growing comfortable with this specific insecurity, but most insecurities we have to make ourselves outgrow. In this case, I’m merely eliminating it.

I’m not sure how I feel about that aspect, and it’s kind of funny because I’m already looking ahead to the other small things that will bother me even after all the orthodontic work is complete (like how much I’m going to have to spend on veneers because of the decalcification I had when I was a lot younger because I wasn’t taking care of myself properly), but I thank you for bearing with me being me; which is to say a weak, flawed, and not totally forthcoming individual.

So there it all is. At this point in my life, there is no bigger insecurity tearing, cracking, and wearing myself down.

I look forward to the day that I can look back on all of this like a far off dream and simply smile about it.

Psychological Knots: Untangling the Harrowing Web of My Past

Often, I post things on Facebook that get me into trouble. Not any sort of tangible trouble, but they generate misinterpreted concern and worry. Not that I lack gratitude that people out there care about my well-being, but nobody wants people to think you’re not alright when you’re perfectly well (or doing great).

In fact, I’ve tried to make a habit out of making it clear when I am not well, and asking for help when I need it. I am awful at asking for help. Beyond that, I feel like I have, in the past, documented my dark days so extensively that I’ve earned some credibility. Basically, I wouldn’t try to cover up the fact that I am not well because when I’m not, I am not ashamed to admit it.

That said, I continue to be misunderstood, which is ok, because Facebook, Twitter, et al, are not good places to be properly understood, they’re drive thru windows that let us peek into a small selection of moments from hundreds to thousands of other people’s lives. So, for sake of clarity, I am going to elaborate on a thought that I posted when I should have been asleep the other night.

 

 

 

 

There’s no doubt that this can be interpreted as a negative or discouraged statement, but to take it that way precludes two points. First, it minimizes the implication that I am nearly beaten down by trying to overcome longstanding problems on my own on a regular basis, yet, and here is the key, I am not, and because it regularly threatens to, that I opt to get up and fight another day — everyday. I would also argue that the other subtle implication is that I am trying to fix my social, psychological, and mental issues on my own, but barely able to. Something, someone, or some others are surely attributed to my ability to keep going, because I surely am not on my own volition.

I know that I didn’t really imply it textually, but I am letting you know that it is implied by the absence of some statements, and the subtle implication of others.

To the more important piece of this, and secondly, psychological knots (sometimes also referred to as sociopsychological knots). These knots or holes that make it hard for me to function like I want are the driving force of what led me to post that status. We’ve all got them. I believe many of us go our entire lives without trying to untangle them. In my case, I’ve found that they’ve just gotten there incidentally rather than by overt environmental settings, and compounded into dangerous webs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about coaches lately. What are coaches for? What do they do? What do the best coaches do? What makes them so great?

In most cases, great players are going to become great players regardless of coaching. A coach can set them on the path to improve mechanics, understand game situations, and learn the X’s and O’s, but great players become great players because they not only have the talent, but they have an unlimited amount of fuel; fuel that propels them to obsess over the sport to the point that they would have developed most of these components on their own; maybe not to the level that they can with a coach to observe, poke, prod, and critique, but definitely to a level that sets them above the rest of the pack.

A coach can do all of these things for us, and does, but good coaches are a voice. To be more specific, they are a voice outside of our own. The one that tells us to take 500 more practice shots before we can go home. The one that gets in our face and pushes us to get it together when we’re falling apart. The one that makes us run when we don’t want to.

So a coach can teach us how to become our improved selves, a good coach is a voice outside of our head that pushes us to become that improvement much more effectively than our internal voice can, but a great coach is much more. A great coach is understanding. A good coach is another voice. A great coach is your voice; your voice freed from the bottomless pit of your own mind.

In sports, you might hit a slump. You can’t hit the ball anymore or you can’t seem to even make an easy shot, or there is just some sort of hesitation that sneaks in you’re just not performing anymore. Any coach will drill those mechanics, the X’s, the O’s, and the opponents scouting report in an effort to help pull you out, but the great coach understands what it is that is causing your performance to suffer.

Understanding. Because of understanding they are able to get to the core of your slump quicker and help you work your way out of it. Sometimes you might be making a small mechanical mistake and they know that they just have to work you extra hard to get it drilled into your muscle memory and let you see that you have no reason to lack confidence. Other times, they know it is something deeper, something in your psyche, or maybe something away from the game, and like a great musician, they find ways to tap into you, play the right notes and affect you.

Coaching. It doesn’t only apply to sports, of course. Why else do you think motivational speakers, business coaches, speech coaches, personal trainers, mentors, and so on are so prominent?

I don’t want to sound like I am devaluing the craft at all, but in many ways, therapists are our mental, social, and psychological coaches. If we are naturally obsessed with one thing, it is ourselves. We are intimate with our flaws and insecurities. In many cases, we are going to know exactly what is wrong with us, why, and who we want to be, but we have no mechanism beyond ourselves to mold us into that. Friends and family have some influence, but they can also be what has us so screwed up to begin with. More importantly, they aren’t in our lives solely to be that understanding voice that makes us do exactly what we need to do.

I’ve got a lot of psychological knots, and much of who I’d like to be is constricted in the tangle of flaws and fears. I was always too shy, softspoken, and afraid of being visible socially as a kid. Growing up, I was always jealous of the other kids who got attention from girls. I often felt like an outcast. I have no memory of receiving any valentines or schoolyard crushes. I spent most of my life believing I was ugly, insignificant, and inferior. The smallest flaw with my physically, mentally, or in appearance erupted into a wildfire of paranoia and insecurity to the point that I’ve taken most of my life to let go of most of them and accept that it simply isn’t true, but a machination of my own perverted, twisted self-view. I’ve always had best friends who were widely heralded as extremely good-looking. Because I was so overshadowed as one of the quiet, soft-spoken kids, I grew up associating any attention with negative feelings, even when it is an impossible connection. Even to this day, if someone compliments me on something such as my abilities as a basketball player, I want to recess into my cave and refuse to believe that I can be good, and likely will struggle with shelling up —  even in the most insignificant pick-up game. Many times, I still can’t accept anything good about myself.

The list goes on and on and on. The point is, all of these things were invisible as problems growing up, and over my short lifetime have compounded to an extreme degree. And because these things have been compounding for so long, when they interconnect they only ever served to make any flaws I know I have monstrously worse. If, for instance, I thought I was unattractive and that no girl could like me, if I got something like a zit on my face, or thought I had any physical flaws, they magnified and intensified with every related effect. If I had to hear about how this girl or that girl or, worse, the girl I have a crush on thinks that my best friend is hot in high school, then not only would I feel more pitiful internally, but those same flaws I felt like I had would gain incredible power over me.

Over time, these knots manifest in greater and greater inability.

I’ve been unwinding as much of the coil my entire life. In the past few years, I’ve made more progress in fixing my screwy wiring than I did in the other twenty-some-odd years.

To that measure, I am beginning to understand that confidence has two faces, at the least. Internal and external. Internal confidence is how secure and assured you feel of yourself to yourself. External confidence is how secured and assured you feel of yourself to other people (in your mind’s eye). These bake and form the entire landscape of your confidence. Internally, I am finally at a point where I feel close to supreme internal confidence. My external confidence still topples over when met with the slightest of force.

I think one of the disconnects I am still suffering from is the idea that allowing an influx of external confidence within me is tantamount to disproving what is ultimately my personal life thesis: that I am no good, unattractive, untalented, not particularly likable, unimportant, forgettable, and uncomfortable for others to be around. I know… I know that these things aren’t true. Within myself, I think I’m awesome, studly, overly-talented, the funniest, most personally magnetic person I know who is good at everything he touches, but to believe that within myself still keeps it a secret. Nobody else has to know it, but me. It is something I inherently knew my entire life, but didn’t believe. I believe it now, but to be externally confident steps beyond belief and enters into the realm of proof.

Getting back to this idea of psychological knots and coaching, I’m at a point where I’ve worked, tirelessly, to ingrain the idea of internal confidence within, but now I am at a rift between two cliffs and the only way to advance is by demonstrating what I believe.

I can achieve flares of external confidence by receiving validation from others. Someone might tell me they think I’m cute or look good, and I’ll feel like I do to the rest of the world (something I believe to myself already). They might tell me that they really like my writing or my creativity, and I’ll feel a little bashful, but also inspired that I can and should continue to not just create, but try to share it with the world around me. But being told I am awesome is just a band-aid that slips off easily. Too much of it, and I’ll find myself suffering from Impostor Syndrome, or counteracting it by dumping off some of my internal confidence out of fear of getting a big head, but the truth is, I still just grapple with these old ideas that formed with me since I was little. I can’t let them be true, because it would invalidate so much of what was my reality.

The problem is that I don’t want it to stop here. I want the confidence to manifest externally, and I want to be able to do the things I should be able to as a result. I think a guy like myself should be able to date around plenty, if that’s what I happen to want to do at the time, or write/record music and share it with other people if that’s the area I’m feeling the greatest creative hunger in. Whatever it is specifically matters not. The crux is that I know what is wrong with all my internal pieces, and I know what I need to do to fix them. I need practice. I need actuality.

Singing is an example. I’ve never been much of a singer. I was too intimidated by my dad and sister as a kid. That was their thing, so I never even tried. Over the years, I realized how much I enjoy it, and the voice is everyone’s unique instrument to the world. I’ve practiced a lot, learned some technique, and continue to develop my voice. Would I ever end up on American Idol? Definitely not, but I like to look at guys like Donald Fagen who don’t have the commonly accepted ‘great voice’, but really develop their singing ability and make it work for them. I am probably somewhere along those lines, but still developing technically (tend to be flat more than I’d like and my range isn’t what I’d like it to be). The point is, I think I am a competent to good singer now, but when people are around me — no matter how well I know them and am comfortable around them — I can’t truly sing. I’ll kind of sing, but I’ll hold back because I don’t want to show what I really have. In singing, you can’t hold back like that and expect to sing well. Yet, I’ll go up to the kitchen when no one is around, but clearly everyone in my house can hear me and really sing, and one of my housemates will tell me they heard me ‘gettin it’ or that I sounded good, and then I will feel sheepish.

In those moments, I am not only being TOLD something that validates my external confidence, but I am being told after demonstrating it. I have proven it, and thus had my deeply ingrained internal self belief invalidated. That’s the weirdest, yet most real struggle I’ve ever had.

It only takes one of these passing moments to send me stuffing my head back in the sand for days or weeks, even though it was an insignificant moment for anyone else involved. This is where untangling my own psychological knots gets really hard. If I had someone coaching me, per se, then I’d have someone pulling my head out and telling me to run 50 more laps until I start to feel that way no more because I start to get properly conditioned.

Like I said, friends and family help, but they are not here just to be our training wheels. Yet, when you’re an adult and suffering from awful, foolish, yet frighteningly real internal problems that should have been ironed out growing up, forcing yourself to learn to ride that bike alone is daunting. Worse yet, progress feels non-existent. Sometimes it’s just slow, sometimes it goes backwards, and sometimes you stall, but you can’t ever be sure which it is.

There are a lot of times I wish I had someone coaching me, or even a proverbial devil on my shoulder; being what, to me, is a bad influence, or really, just getting me to do things that I don’t want to do, but need to do. In such an example, someone would stop and tell me, “hey, what are you singing? Sing it!,” and not accept no for an answer. I liken these moments to jumping into a really cold swimming pool as opposed to just dipping your foot and dreading the microscopically small period of discomfort.

Only sometimes am I able to force myself to jump when I need to (though my ability to is sloooowly improving).

So there it is. These psychological knots of mine threaten to get the better of me everyday because they are so tightly wound. Because I can’t observe myself from the outside in. Because I have no voice outside my own mind. Because a head in the sand sometimes feels safer. Because sometimes I don’t get see the progress I expect. Because sometimes I see the progress I truly want. Because I can’t force myself to work on simple mechanics or X’s and O’s. And because even though I fully know what I should do to improve on them, I can’t understand what I need to do in order to make myself do it.

If I’ve learned anything as a friend or family member from my own internal battles with my past, it is that the most invaluable thing I can offer to another is to understand when they might need an understanding voice outside their own, not to tell them what they want or need to hear, but to tell them to do what they need to do in order to directly earn those things they should hear.

The examples cited in this blog are far from the only ones within me, and like I said, this is not about fishing for compliments because their effect is temporal anyway. Rather, I used them as examples because, yes, they are real, but more so because they are easy to understand and relate to.

As long as I’m looking from proof while also running from it, I’ll continue to crawl my way to becoming who I hope to be. Despite that, I am blessed at how great of a place I am in my life and the progress I’ve made thus far.

The Success Tree

I was rethinking how I see success and failure. I’ve been learning that I’ve been more afraid of succeeding than I ever have been of failing. I was thinking maybe we can look at failure like a seed. We don’t know what kind of seed it is, but all we have to do to keep it a seed is simply not try.

Don’t water it.The Success Tree

Don’t give it sunlight.

Don’t even drop it into the ground.

Success is the tree that seed could be, and that is scary because it carries possibility. What kind of plan will the seed grow up into? It could bear fruit and nourish others, or branch out into the sky, reaching ever far and in every which way; twisting, turning, touching. It might not even end up a tree. Maybe it’s a cactus, prickly and coarse on the outside, standing sentry over a barren, flat landscape, yet full of life deep down.

Success is unknown, and you have to dedicate yourself to maintain it. The seed is safe. That’s what makes failure attractive. Failure is no effort. Failure is comfortable.

Success is more.

Success is possibility, and possibility is unknown. Success is a planted seed that starts to take root then grow. The more the seed grows, the more the possibilities of success branch out into an endless tree of possibilities. But the more success there is, the greater the possibilities, the higher the tree grows, the more branches sprout, and the farther to fall. Ad infinitum.

But say that you succeed all the way and achieve something you always wanted. This is not bad, nor should it be scary, but when you’re afraid of success it is terrifying enough because you can only know yourself in the present, and the ‘you’ in the present does not know what he wants in the future, or what it will look like.

Maybe, he thinks, he doesn’t want to end up married to anyone he currently knows in his life. So he doesn’t make an effort to test that.

Or maybe, she thinks, she doesn’t want to chase her dreams of making art, and grow into more of a tree than she ever could have imagined, but not flourish enough to satisfy her parents.

Maybe they just think that no matter how good they are, they could never keep it up, so they never take the chance to find out what kind of seed they can garden.

Instead, he holds onto that seed, and the seed is failure as long as it stays in the palm of his hand.

But that seed is also selfishness and comfort, because he knows if he never tries to plant it he never has to find out if it will grow or not, or in case it sprouts, how it might further bloom.

Success is a mysterious tree of possibility, and failure is not terrifying or daunting. It’s just another face of success. It’s the face that views of success — that seed that is being held onto — and can’t conquer the fear the the seed might do nothing more than wilt after a miserable short life.

I know what failure looks like, but success is mystery. I’m terrified of what I don’t know.

The Two Most Important Things I Did to Breakout of Anxiety and Depression

Depression and Anxiety

I think that in the past year I became, what I’d define to be, a man. Not to say that before I was a boy, but I was in some sort of flux.

I struggled a lot over the past several years with individuality and identity.

I still vividly remember the gray feelings, the dreariness, and the isolation that were the guts of my 2011. Notably, the couple years before that low point were all build up to that low point.

In less than 2 weeks, I’ll be 27, and I’m stoked. This will be the best year of my life, thus far, but I’ve also put an insane amount of work– deliberate work– into getting to this point. The past month has just been tune up to iron out any major wrinkles in all the slow changes I’ve made in my life.

There are probably several principles I’ve instituted in my life that took me from the cavernous fortress of solitude that used to be my bedroom, to having the opposite problem of having to make a concerted effort to spend a night with my lonesome. I think that most of these driving forces aren’t just great philosophies to institute if you’re struggling with loneliness, depression, anxiety, lack of confidence, or any other kind of social deficit, but also speak a lot to how to be effective at caring for people. While I’ve made all these internal adjustments, most have been small things that have layered, but I can break down most of it to 2 major changes I’ve instituted.

I usually write in a way that resonates more emotionally, more abstractly, but this time, I am going to try to be more practical. I’ve made a lot of internal changes over the past few years, and these are changes that not only helped break me out of depression and social anxiety, but also have made me better off than before I fell into personal winter.

My struggles with anxiety, depression, and emotional damage are well documented, but there are a myriad of people in my life who have no clue about my most recent metamorphosis. One of the things about sinking 20,000 leagues under the sea, interpersonally, is that a lot of the tactics you need to take to combat the anxiety and other emotional anchors that develop are not as viable, because it can be just that hard to function.

It may have taken longer, but, for me, they were just as effective as if I had, for instance, told myself with the social anxiety disorder that I had developed — “ok, I’m going to go out in public and force myself to talk to two or three people, even if it is just Hi and Bye.”

A lot of it boils down to tackling it head on, but sometimes we just lack the stability to go do it, or don’t have anyone who can push us and be our training wheels for a while. I had to develop methods that would put me in positions where I was forced to tackle it head on until I was always in positions to tackle it head on.

Now, I am in a place where I still have to make a point to be deliberate with some things in order to eradicate any remnants of my former anxiety problems, but I’ve developed so many habits and personal philosophies, that act almost as a fail-safe for when I think I am better off than I am and stop being deliberate with my improvement.

These habits and personal institutions are bigger than the end game I am writing about here, though, so we’ll just call them traits of compassionate friends.

1. Never Say No

When I was at my lowest point, I was so restless and cut off from people that I made a pact with myself. I wouldn’t say no to anything. Granted, there were some exceptions that are outliers (e.g. – if someone asked me to do bath salts with them, obvious no. etc.), but my lifestyle and decision making made those a non-factor. The point was, from a practical standpoint, it was a stupid personal rule to institute. You have to say no to some things. You should say no to some things. But for me, I needed that extreme.

Today, I’ve tapered that rule off into something more reasonable, but the point of the exaggeration is this: if I automatically was going to say yes to anything, be it an invite to a birthday party or a petty dare, then none of my other detrimental social manifestations would have an opportunity to get in the way, thus blunting the crippling effects of those socially destructive weapons.

Secondly, because opportunities are scarce when you’re in a rut, it ensures that you won’t be kicking yourself for days afterward for bailing on the first friend to try to reconnect with you in weeks. And once you start getting socially active again, eventually the next opportunity will present itself, and sooner the next and so forth, until you don’t remember when things changed or exactly how you seemingly won all your friends back and are surrounded by more than you remember ever having.

The Real Crux of the Never Say No Policy

Let me touch on something greater here, though. Look! THIS IS ME STRESSING IT!

My policy today is this: always show up to something you’re invited to.

Now, I don’t always show up to something I’m invited to, because sometimes it just isn’t possible, and heck, sometimes I’m just a lame friend, but because of this policy, I always, without hesitation– with excitement and gratitude– try my hardest to at least make an appearance.

We’ve all got those friends who we like, and don’t ever give up on with finality, but they just kind of, well, suck. You invite them to things, you text or call them after not talking for weeks or months, and when you do, they are always excited and you each promise to reconnect, then when you try again, it doesn’t happen. Usually, it doesn’t happen because they flake out, get busy (flake out), or just can’t iron our scheduling with you (flake out).

These things are fine. We all have to do this sometimes, but these types of friends are notorious for this. In fact, if you and your other friends ask how about them, all you end up talking about is how they are impossible to get together with, and you, in the moment, almost always seem to conclude the same thing: that person sucks.

The real truth is that these people just aren’t good friends. They might be great ‘in the moment’ friends, whenever those moments are. They aren’t good at being friends, though. For whatever reason, they may genuinely like all their friends and care about them, but for 99% of them, they can’t put anybody but themselves first. The fact is, I can’t find anyone who isn’t guilty of this from time to time. I know I am, but while far from perfect, that doesn’t stop me from taking a personal inventory on if I am giving someone a fair shake or not.

You could ask a myriad of questions for numerous people. Who usually initiates a conversation? Is it equal? Who usually is the one to let interaction die off? Does only one of us try to ever make plans?

And on and on and on.

This is good, but also exhausting, and you’ll still find a way to overlook people who really like you a lot, and who you enjoy as well.

And this is a large part why I am how I am with invitations.

Consider this: if someone invites you to something, it means they value you enough to ask you to spend time with them; to experience life with them! To share the world! In a lot of ways, they are putting themselves out there. Nobody expects everybody to come to something they are invited to, but you would never invite someone who you would be upset if they showed up (well, if you do, you’re doing something wrong). Likewise, you never invite someone who you wouldn’t be disappointed that they couldn’t come. This isn’t to say you pout or get really bummed out when they can’t, thanks to the invitation expectation quotient, but this is a case where absence of one thing equates to the presence of another. Excitement or disappointment.

Knowing full well how much an invitation actually means, how much value it indicates you have to another person’s life, then why, under any circumstances would you not desperately want to go to anything another invited you to?

Don’t answer that question just yet.

I’ve gone to plenty of gatherings and events I was invited to despite not knowing the person well at all, not strongly liking them, or even disliking the person.

That might be torture or impractical for some, but, once again, when I consider the implications, it shows I am missing something. This person sees something in me, so I at least give them a chance to see something else, but usually I give myself a chance to see something in them that I overlooked. I might have to go out on a limb, but I find that getting to know them is easier than normal because I already know that they tangibly like me as a person. If I don’t feel strongly positive things for them, I find that the pendulum swings quickly when I have the context of an invite illuminating what was previously a dark social cavern.

Finally, always accepting invites has really helped me not only show others that I care, it shows myself that I care.

Those two notions are mutual. The more I care for my friends, the more that they will understand that I care for them, thus I will have deeper, stronger bonds with everyone in my life. I believe that the greater number of close, strong bonds you have with people is a rough, but pretty good external indicator of one’s character. Not only are you augmenting your social life, making better friends, and really thriving off of your own ability to be a compassionate human, but you earn a lot of respect.

Any one of those reasons on their own is enough to justify the concept of always accepting an invitation. Heck, invitations being flattering is enough. The fact that it is so multi-faceted makes it one of the most important parts of my own life, though.

And before I move on, I might have come off as a little harsh on my feelings towards flakers and claiming those types of people can’t put anyone but themselves first, but consider this– you rarely get to see someone. You try and try, and maybe they always have a valid excuse. An excuse is only valid for a temporary period of time. If I am busy one time, what is stopping me from going the extra mile, proactively finding a time when we are both free and insisting we meet up?

Right. If you can’t do that, you’re selfish.

2. Learn how to be a lone wolf, then learn how to excel as a lone wolf

My previous social tale spin put me in an awkward position.

In fact, I only felt awkward. I felt awkward when I saw my friends. I felt awkward ordering food at the drive thru. I felt awkward at work. I felt awkward around my family.

To make matters worse, I was always on my own. Gone were the days where I could get a group of buddies together and go into something with some solidarity; some momentum. If I went to a party, I showed up by myself. If I went to dinner with people, I showed up and left alone. If I wanted to do something, I eventually just started doing it alone. First, because it was easier. Second, because I had so little self-worth that I couldn’t bring myself to ask, lest people find out how pitiful, miserable, and lonely I was. (All these things were grave exaggerations in my head.)

Not only was I typically alone, if I ever did anything, it had to be alone.

I had to become a true lone wolf.

Most People Have No Sense of ‘Alone’

One of the things that really bugs me about people is the general inability to be alone.

I know there are a lot of sociocultural pressures. For instance, as you progress through your 20’s, reach your 30’s and possibly even further, if you’re not married, family, friends, acquaintances all begin to treat you like you’ve done something wrong, or that you’ve missed some boat that only sails once (…like the Titanic).

“When are you going to settle down?”

“Why haven’t you found yourself a wife/husband yet?”

“Are you seeing anyone yet?”

And on and on and on.

Contrary to what too many outside influences have you believe, there is nothing wrong with being alone, in fact, being alone is a great thing!

This isn’t to say that you should strive to be alone, or that it is a permanent way of life, but it is just key to that entire moderation thing.

We’ve all had those friends who seem to have been in a ‘serious’ relationship with 80 people. Right when they get out of one, less than a week later they are dating someone else. Honestly, I would feel like a sociopath or might get myself checked out for borderline personality disorder if that were me, but it indicates that there is at least an imbalance on dependency or inability to spend time with yourself at all.

Maybe it’s just me, but that’s terrifying. Those people terrify me. Some of my longest, closest friends are like that. Hey, you, friends I love. You terrify me! Try chilling out for a while, please?

More Than Just Romance

It’s not just about love, though. I think the romantic element of being alone is an exacerbated demonstration, but it is more prevalent on a simple friendship level. And I can see why. We are social creatures. Going into any social setting on your own is tough. I’m sure there are biological and deeply embedded sociological factors that go into play with this. I mean, to survive, we’ve typically needed to group up, so when we see someone gone maverick, it can set off some instinctual cues that might make us wonder — “what’s wrong with this guy that he’s just parading around this place by himself? He some sort of black sheep?”

I still show up to things solo at least half of the time, and whatever it might be, I still feel some small nerves when I do, but once I get around people or friends, I am comfortable.

In fact, it is very liberating.

As somewhat of an aside, I’ll mention that I’m an overcommitter (go figure, you accept every invitation, idiot). One great thing that being a lonewolf has provided me is that I can make a circuit and see multiple groups of friends pretty easily. This isn’t a selling point for lone wolfing, but I’ve found it to be an added benefit.

You Were Talking About “Lone Wolfing”

I mentioned at the beginning that I previously struggled with individuality and identity. When you have to present yourself — on behalf of yourself alone — to various groups of people, you learn more about who you are and who you are to other people exponentially faster than if you always had your warm cocoon of comfort in numbers; your pack.

I became a Lone Wolf out of necessity. I had no other options, and that forced hand has become one of the greatest blessings I’ve ever had.

Not only does it help me learn who I am and how to represent myself, it accelerated my entire resocialization.

Socially, there is a concept that I like to refer to as an away game. In sports, you play an away game on your opponents turf. Their town, their stadium/field/court, their people, their fans. At the end of the day, the game is still the same game with the same rules and players, but it is startling how much impact playing a home game can have on a team’s winning percentage. Just goes to show how far support goes (not traveling helps).

Socially, it is not that much different. When you’re a lone wolf, you play a lot of away games. You might know one or two people well, and the rest are probably acquaintances or strangers.

First off, this forces you to always be on your game, even if you’re far from it. Even if you can’t snap out of it and just feel like you were a dud, the likelihood of it happening again, frequency, and overall depths you’ll sink to will all reduce over time. Away games are both highly stressful and highly rewarding, because they rebuild confidence rapidly, especially when it goes especially well.

Beyond that, playing a Lone Wolf Away Game also provides great potential to earn another true friend.

In the Friendosphere we’ve got Strangers, Acquaintances, and Friends. There are a lot of other levels of each of these categories, but the overlooked one is the friend you have that you’d never hang out with on your own (and vice versa), rarely communicate with, but when you see each other at some mutual friend’s gathering, you have a good time. They are more than acquaintances, but less than friends.

Over time, these types of relationships tend to cook until they come out of the oven as real friendships. And of course, sometimes you just hit it off with strangers and add another significant person in your life.

Being a lone wolf takes a certain kind of bravery, social aptitude and agility. Many people just don’t have these things developed, even if they’re social mavens — maybe especially if they are social mavens. The positive traits being a lone wolf instills are immeasurable for your other intimate relationships (and on that note, I’d suggest never dating/marrying anyone who doesn’t have the ability to lone wolf from time to time.)

Finally, because you usually have an inside connection or two with lone wolf social opportunities, you don’t have to submit yourself to the full on apprehension of interacting with total strangers, which is huge with severe anxiety. At worst, you can be a little clingy if you need a bit of a shield, just be conscious of it. Even if the best you can do from suffocating your friend is pull yourself away for a while at a party or something. I mean, I’ve retrospectively gotten put on blast for this before, but hey, I just needed timeouts because while they weren’t for anyone else, they were high stress situations for me. It didn’t mean I wasn’t having fun. Ironically, the friends who have put me at blast for this type of behavior were not my friends before my journey back into social normalcy. Now they are!

I know I just said finally, but I’ll say two more things about learning to Lone Wolf. Remember that counter-intuitive element to showing up and socializing on your own accord? The crazy thing is that it doesn’t show that you are some sort of outcast, but actually shows that you really like to be around people so much that you’ll show up even if it has to be by yourself just to have the opportunity to. Maybe a very select few people will stereotype someone like that, but people catch on to these subconscious notions very quickly.

Beyond that, you’ll also find that many of your friends consider you as part of their inner circle, because you usually show up, and you don’t need this friend or that friend as a shield so things don’t ever get awkward. Because who the hell cares?

Just remember, being alone and being lonely are not the same thing.

There’s Always a Long Way to Go

Like with all things in life, nothing really comes easy. I’ll continue improving on anything I am aware of, and I always strive to be a better friend to those I know and better person to those who are strangers. I could cook out some other major factors that led to my ‘dark phoenix rises’ moment that I’ve worked so hard for, but these are my two favorite.

On top of that, they complement each other perfectly. Even if someone is only trying some variation of one, you pretty much have to develop the other.

I don’t know if anyone will ever read this and feel like it spoke to them directly, but this is something that was such a struggle for me. For a long time, it was my life. It was dark and gloomy and lonely. Because of that, this stuff matters a lot to me. Maybe it impacts no one. Maybe nobody reads it, but I think the best I could hope for is that if you at least know someone who has struggled with any sort of depression, anxiety, emotional or social problems, that maybe you can understand their struggle a little bit better, and be better equipped offer your hand to help them through that time.

There are few things as crushing as seeing someone who is a broken shell of themselves, but there are also few things as uplifting as seeing that person revived and in a livelier state than they ever were before. I’m living proof.

Mind’s Eye Blindness

I spent at least an hour the other night just watching myself. I fired up the camera on my computer and just took a good look trying to absorb everything, partly because I’m too broke to afford a mirror.

I came to a couple conclusions lately. First, I’m still not fully recovered from my last relationship (I like how I say last as if I ever had one substantial like that beforehand), and connected to that, and my hour of staring at myself, that who I see myself as in my mind’s eye hasn’t gotten any closer to matching up with who I really am.

I was there, trying to stare at myself in the eyes (which is where the mirror really would have come in handy over a webcam), digging up long lost facial expressions and even discovering ones that were never thought to exist before. The longer I did, the more I truly came to understand the disparity.

It’s sad, but who I am beginning to understand just who, the person everyone can see and experience with their eyes, am, and how he is perceived. When I compare my growing understanding of that with who I have always seen myself as, I recognize that my self-appraisal is a pittance of who I really am.

There are some other factors that I won’t get into even here, but I really tore myself to shreds through that five years of relationship, break-up and depression recovery, and I did it all to myself. In fact, this is internal behavior that I’ve always done. I’ve always had confidence and self-image issues. I think it is hard to not develop that stuff when you’re a shy, soft-spoken kid. Even before you start school, you get drowned out by the louder, comfortable ones who feed off of everyone’s energy. Or maybe it was me just being a weird kid, but I can remember thinking I was inadequate at a young age because I was always overshadowed.

Overshadowed by my best and longest friend, as he excelled at everything. He was stronger, faster, funnier, not only better looking, but the kid that every girl had a crush on in 3rd grade. Not only was he a good singer, he wasn’t too shy to even sing in front of anyone.

The list goes on, but basically as a kid, I remember always feeling overshadowed by everyone, and my closest company was the prime example.

It never changed as I grew up, even if it became ever obvious that these self-perceptions I had were simply not true. And I always let myself used my best friends as the biggest scapegoats for my weak thought process. I won’t say that my confidence has always been pathetic, but as I found things to be confident in, it was as delicate as a feather in a hurricane. That delicacy can take someone who put more hours into basketball and had more natural athleticism than 99% of the population and send him to the bench at his worst mental moments, but usually just made him just another player.

Confidence can make us feel and seem superhuman, but just as easily it can strip and leave us naked and powerless.

I never had a girlfriend in high school. I never even got Valentines from anyone throughout all of school. Even when I got to college and had numerous girls I had mutual interest in at once, I always felt like it should be impossible to be attracted to me. I am not saying I felt ugly, just that nobody should be attracted to me. Here’s a secret, if you feel like you shouldn’t be attractive to anyone, you’re not even going to be able to subconsciously attract someone, which is most of the game.

Let’s step further back, though, because I am not trying to tell some emo high school angst sob story, because that’s not what this is about. From my late teens to the present day, I’ve always felt that when I meet people that they instantly dislike me. When someone is nice to me, I am having a gory inner battle trying to convince myself that what I’m convinced of is stupid, because it is. Yet, if someone is even being nice or being very forward with me, I am instinctively convinced that they are simply going to extremes to humor me, which is funny, because they likely are that naturally inclined to want to be my friend, yet I feel like they dislike me more than I feel like the average person does.

A lot of these internal struggles have been embedded so deep and for so long, that a lot of times it feels like I have been hardwired that way. I now understand that in the past, for instance, high school, even when I was very social and popular and so on, that I was merely using external machinations to channel my messed up wiring as opposed to trying to actually fix the real problems.

For instance, when I get tired, which is early and often, it is very hard for me to be properly and normally social. As a younger person, I just accepted this was how I am, and let myself be useless when that happened. What I know now is that maybe I am this way, but accepting the excuse of being tired is a crutch to let myself be lazy and get out of things that I got a bad taste in my mouth for as a child, as opposed to finding out how to better them and co-exist with them. Now, I might get tired, but I still make an effort to not only be normal, but excel socially in all ways. So what if I don’t feel like it. Sometimes my muscles and joints don’t always feel like running like I know they can, but should that be a reason to get on a basketball court or soccer field and merely walk around? Nah.

So now I recognize all these things. I acknowledge them. And here it is:

Those 2 years of depression I let myself fall into reversed the clock years. In a lot of ways, I ended up back in the mindset I had as a 17, 15, 12, 8, and 5 year old, in all sorts of ways.

My life is great now. Inch for inch, pound for pound, I don’t things have ever been this good internally and externally. Yet, I’m still stuck, because of that whole mind’s eye thing. In my alone time, I seriously practice very basic social skills and other things that most of us normally develop in the socialization process– in fact– most of these things I properly developed, yet let shrivel up during those hard years. It’s ridiculous, but I have to. I could either settle for it, or have to humble myself to actually work on it and fix it.

I’m a marionette. I can pull the strings, and throw my voice and kind of come off as a human thing, but when it comes to the next step, I am not authentic, and I can’t do it.

My first year after the break-up, 2011, I went through a phase where there were several girls that I ended up straight up using and being shallow. And I wanted to. And I didn’t want to feel anything. And I didn’t. And then I did. And then it felt just as terrible as when I was on the thinner side of the scale.

Since then, I’ve become wedged between both ends of the animal. I don’t really know if I can let myself to commit anything, yet when I want at least someone to be forward with, I don’t think I can go back to feeling like such a dirtball again.

And this is the type of stuff that still bleeds into that hesitation I feel. I hesitate asking a best friend to hang out or come over say because there is still that fading reverberation in my head that people just don’t like me. And it’s a little louder for a new friend. It’s a little louder for a cute girl. It’s a shriek when it’s a cute girl that I want to meet. And so on.

And there I was, staring at myself. And I couldn’t comprehend what I was looking at. It wasn’t who I felt I was looking at in my mind’s eye all those years– even this year, when I can wholly admit that I am at my best looking, happiest, most free, best-everything– who I saw was someone who looks very likable, who can be expressive, who is handsome, who is more or less normal.

It’s just weird. It took sitting down and writing through some of the pipes and inner workings to really piece together how my self-perception can be so perverted, so dead wrong.

And I have to wonder what all these new people in my life think about me. If they notice there are large pieces of me missing or what.

Either way, nothing has ever come easy in my life. I’m just going to keep trying to fix my mind’s eye poor vision, even if I have to regularly spend an hour a night being vain.

Smiling Practice

This morning, I made it my personal goal to hold a good, genuine smile during my drive to and from work. I did OK on the first leg, and we’ll see how the second leg goes, but besides being a mood augmenter, the personal challenge is eye-opening to a lot of things.

While the more I’ve learned about people, the more I’ve come to understand how strange each single person is, it still doesn’t exclude the fact that I’m a strange person. A few months ago I started practicing smiling. In fact, there are a lot of really subtle things that I go through phases of training and practice with. Smiling just happened to be the one that popped into my mind a few months ago.

One of the things I’d do during this phase was try to hold a smile the entire time I drove anywhere. Partially because of easy mirror access to judge how well I was holding up, and the other part because if you’ve ever driven a car, then you know how hard it is to stay happy for long.

The thing about smiling is that it seeps into your mood. If you’re smiling, and by that I mean replicating a genuine looking smile, then eventually the line will cross from just forcing that smile to actually smiling, and because pleasantness and happy emotions are so strongly bonded with that facial expression, that smile gets you feeling better; feeling good.

Life’s been pretty great lately, but I still have found my mood wanting to fluctuate, and I admit, I have a few things that my emotions are trying to hang on to against my will that I currently have no reason to be holding on to. Sometimes I feel like I’m too much of a loner. I make it work, and I can surround myself by people, but you can always be around people and still be a loner. An example like this is just one element. Elements. Just enough small elements to pull my average mood down to a slightly less vibrant coefficient than what that factor was sitting at a couple months back.

My drive in to work got me realizing two major things: first, that I was generally feeling happier and in a more consistently in a buoyant mood back when I was actively practicing smiling. I don’t think that this is a spurious correlation by any means, and maybe I can be proven wrong, but I firmly believe that the more you smile, that more you’ll feel happy (even if you’re not, holistically). It’s a chicken and the egg kind of situation at times, but if I want to feed myself, I’m going to stock up on as many chickens and eggs as I can. Why be exclusive?

Second, and less encouraging, is it makes me realize how much pettiness we have in the things we get upset about. Before you read this and fuss at me — hey, jerk, don’t lump me in with you, I don’t get upset at stupid things! 

Bull.

I always pride myself as someone who is laid back and able to take almost everything in stride. HA! How silly. Even though I don’t let annoyance visibly mount, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there often, and even worse, when I look back at all the things I got frustrated by in the past couple weeks, almost all of it is is so stupid. You know those bags of chips you get sometimes that are, like, 1/4 full? Well, it is like the reasons I get get upset are produced in a factory that follow Six Sigma standards, except if reasons I get upset were like a bag of chips, my personal factory produces those defective back of chips 99.99966% of the time, and a legit reason the other 3.4 million times. What a rip off.

So there I am, driving, bright expression on my face, happy because I woke up early and it is a beautiful day in a beautiful world, but every 2 minutes, a miniature, invisible Spider-Man attaches two webs to the corners of my mouth and yanks down.

🙂    —->   : |

“HEY, PERSON IN THAT HYUNDAI, IF YOU’RE GOING TO DRIVE 2 UNDER, GET THE HELL OUT OF THE LEFT LANE.,” the thought courses through my mind. Then I parse it, and force the muscles in my face, and with more strain, the little urges of mood flitting around inside me to prop back up.

^ _ ^’  ….

Back to full power

Don't Worry, Be Happy

 

 

Not even a minute passes.

“Oh, hey there person in the lane to my right. Oh, you want to speed up? Ok, I’m slowing down. Wait, why are you slowing down now? Stop that, you trickster. Hey. HEY! I NEED TO GET OVER. HEY, TRY THIS COOL MAGIC TRICK: PUT YOUR CAR KEYS IN YOUR MOUTH THEN SWALLOW! BASTARD.”

Seriously?

 

 

And then I want to break.

And sometimes I dip down a little bit lower than I should.

No way..

 

 

Then the safety net embraces me as I catch myself. Why you heff to be mad? So worked up, and over something so small, so inconsequential that the other people involved will never realize that they did anything to upset anyone (though some of these people really do need to learn how to drive, but that’s beside the point).

All these thoughts want to dent my ornate set of armor.

This person never talks to me unless I contact them first. Do they even like me?

Why do these people aaaaaalllways misunderstand me?

How is she going to trust HIM over me?! So stupid.

GAAAAAAAH, someone teach this person how to put what they’re going to say all in one text instead of carpet bombing my phone.

Why does this dude insist on calling me when he knows that I can’t answer right now?

These passing thoughts continue, and they riddle and splatter into everything like raindrops in a thunderstorm. Then you look up and realize your umbrella is terrible.

RIP Umbrella
RIP Umbrella

 

So that’s that.

My personal goal this morning was to hold a good, genuine smile during my trip to and from work, but now my goal is to smile every day when I drive to and from work.

Give it a shot.

I don’t know what can be done about the things that upset us— the things that upset me, but I at least know that if I can turn the volume on Channel Feel Good, that it will start to cancel out the profanities and infrasound coming from The Downer Network.

So..

:)

 

 

The Pristine and The Ugly

I’ve grown up so much in the past couple years. Especially in the past 6-12 months. A lot of times, it is easy to assume — time has passed, I must have matured some more! Check yo’ face, cause often times that might be the only way you’re maturing. I am talking about growth that I can visibly, circumstantially see.

I’ve been keeping a personal blog since I was at least 16 or 17, and it has been one of the most instrumental pieces in my personal growth and discovery as an individual. When I think about it, it is a measuring stick– a qualitative, wordy measuring stick. I don’t know how anyone could live without one? Not necessarily a blog, but a means to personally measure where they are in life like marking our height on the wall over the years.

I am paranoid of stagnation. Gosh, how many times have I talked about my struggles with stagnation. Usually, it is a life stagnation– where there just isn’t a lot going on with that whole life thing, but beyond that, a personal stagnation is what really has me wetting the bed at night. Is wetting the bed a fear related thing? Crap, I don’t think it is.  Well, let’s just say wetting the bed in fear of the monsters beneath it. Salvaged.

I think anyone who gets to know me can see a trend of obsessing over my own betterment. It can be kind of subtle, but I am always trying to better myself in every way that I have awareness of. It takes a toll on my sanity sometimes, and it might even be a little unhealthy, but if you’re going to have a bad habit, it might as well be one that makes you better.

I lost my way for a few years. I was kind of a worthless human for a while, and even worse, I felt I had absolutely no worth. It is kind of hard to function like that. If you know me well, or have read anything I wrote from back then, you can see the development of all my anxiety, depression, and sometimes anger sporadically directed outward; like a malfunctioning sprinkler.

That was a long 2-3 years.

When you have no sense of self-worth (and when you’re me on top of that), you dedicate every thought and goal to making yourself better. Continue reading “The Pristine and The Ugly”