Lost

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Artist unknown

I thought, what if those who don’t struggle with mental illness are actually the crazy ones? In a world this filled with pain, suffering and every-human-for-themselves (at any cost) kind of primal drivers for all the horrific things we do to this planet, how can one not feel anxious and depressed. Maybe the ones who power through with little empathy are the truly insane ones. Like Evan Rachel Woods’ character Dolores in Westworld, her cognitive dissonance of choosing to see the “beauty” over the “ugly” in her world eventually leads to an android mental-breakdown. Surely there must be some truth in all those “attitude of gratitude” sort of quotes floating around online with a pretty lake scenery in the background. But what if one is just unable to help but feel utterly out of whack, without any warning, occasionally enough to feel a bit off kilter? How much do loving kindness and acceptance of all that is, trying to force those concepts, truly help in the throes of total mind-shattering ego-death?

I only ask, because my whole life I’ve never felt quite right. As a child I saw right through the barricades adults put up to attempt some notion of authority (I got in lots of trouble with teachers). I never had many friends, and that wasn’t solely due to the fact of my family moving around a lot. I was always… too something; too weird, too intense, too loud, too annoying with my near desperate need to be heard. I was often told by teachers to let others “work in peace”. I felt so outside of everything already then, and didn’t know how to express this isolation other than nearly bossing others to be my friend. No wonder I was alone a lot. I recognize that my own behavior was odd, and don’t really blame anyone for being put off by it (and me). As an adult I learned ways to hold back and mostly just plain accept my solitude and strangeness. I found solace in art and nature and animals, who never judged me (even if a few cats would express their disgruntlement. But cats are assholes. Adorable assholes).

Lately I go through phases of feeling decent within myself, and reflecting this to those around me. But I pick up on annoyances rather too well, and have had to spend lots of time sifting through what is the result of my intuitive nature, and what is merely paranoia leftover from my childhood. And so these phases are paralleled by absolute opposite assumption of everything being wrong, of everyone I’ve spoken to obviously thinking I’m a terrible person and all kinds shitty thoughts that social anxiety causes, generally resulting in me choosing avoidance and isolation because at least I know what’s what and what to expect of myself. Other humans become complicated and scary.

I realized, how much my need to control situations sometimes causes me to make myself crazy with overly processed inner dialogue. Anxiety and control-issues often stem from feeling powerless, and I sure as hell have felt that most of my life. Even when it’s completely ridiculous; I know I can’t control other people’s reactions towards me. In my adulthood I have been trying to learn that fine line between being myself, and at peace with whatever myself is but also knowing when I’m not being that alluring best-self. This has been prevalent in my love life, as my first two partners, while not exactly malleable, did very much succumb to what I needed in terms of feeling valid and accepted by them. When I think back on both relationships, I see myself as controlling and needy, just desperately asking someone to love me. Their feelings for me surely were real, but I do feel a pang of shame at acknowledging just how much I tried to control the outcomes of every conversation. It all stems to my childhood, of having this huge personality, but no tools to exert myself if not gently, at least without force.

I have a love/hate relationship with routine. The insecure parts of me yearn for it like nothing else, because it gives a notion of control; I know how things will go and therefore I can put my anxiety at ease. But since I have such a wild and dynamic imagination, I also crave for adventure, the unknown, taking risks (*shudder*). And this push-pull of these needs battling for the top spot in my personal hierarchy of needs creates immense inner conflict within me. I feel torn in so many directions, eventually leading to a sensation of imploding from having so many parts of myself shouting over the other, trying to get a word in. It’s like this when I go through phases of ego-dissolution, which leaves me questioning everything and anything I’ve ever known, wanted, dreamt of or thought I needed.

Back to the first paragraph… so yes, I do, regardless of my questions on what mental illness actually is, often feel I have lots of issues that very much affect how I see myself in this world. Even as an “adult”, I still feel directionless and struggle with drive and motivation. My life seems a string of dreams that never quite got lift-off, ideas and attempts, thinking I’d finally found “it” for me, the thing that I will do and which will be my sole focus. And something always happens. I lose hope. I lose sight of what initially put me on said path. And in realizing that I have yet again given up on yet another idea that was going to solve all my bullshit sends me into rabbit hole of paranoid thoughts on how my life is pointless and I am useless in this world. On and on the merry-go-round goes.

I don’t have any answers on how to “fix” this. Maybe it can’t be fixed. Maybe my inner turmoil indeed merely reflects the state of the world. I care about so many things, animal rights, social justice, but feel often powerless to do anything. But I see others with multitudes less privilege than I have, doing amazing things for others, for the planet, and thus I feel even more like I have nothing to offer, and even if I do, I am too far gone in my head to get myself out. I have throughout my life wished to be emotionless, to have no caring for anything other than my own life. And even this creates such a painful paradox, for am I not absolutely focused on my own struggles to a point that I am stuck with them, and therefore cannot seem to exert any energy towards anything else?

I have uttered this sentence before, but I often feel nearly insane for acknowledging what I do to myself with my destructive thought patterns, yet like an addict crave for more of the stuff that is familiar but which has heinous consequences; as if I don’t know any other way. As if this is all my life will ever be, this shattered contemplation of whether any of it has any meaning. And why are we as humans so obsessed with meaning? Surely the anemone, an animal, a simple one but animal nonetheless, is content to experience the world through its nerve-net, waiting patiently for drifting pieces of ingestible matter to float by. Philosophy has for long been concerned with the “curse” of consciousness, that our higher-thinking mind is what births amazing art, technology and social order, but also renders us destitute in the ever-lasting quest for “meaning”.

While I distinctly remember the moment I became fully aware, at age 11, of how awful life can be, I feel I’ve always had an understanding of the curse of being human. Before I was able to recognize myself as a separate being from those around me, I always saw the actions of humans as desperate, greedy, hurtful and utterly sad. Coming to realize that I too am part of these awkward social contracts is when I felt “awakened”, shaken up and forced to leave the blissfully ignorant state of true childhood. Which brings me to concede that the concept of “adulthood” is surely why so many suffer with depression and anxiety. All the expectations and little alternatives for any other way of existing in a body that has been out of its womb for 18+ years.

I have struggled to find inner peace, meaning, quests, goals and everything one is supposed to do to lead a fulfilling life. I have meditated, done yoga, learned new skills, tried my hand at a few different job sectors, ingested mind-expanding chemicals (natural and artificial), trekked for days in the wilderness, hiked mountains, lived in cities, lived in high altitude desert, been a student, been a “professional”, volunteered, volunteered, volunteered, interned, helped friends for free, for payment, accepted (and asked, sometimes begged) financial assistance from relatives, made my own and saved shitloads of money, been homeless, lived for free in San Francisco, received government support for my education, received free education due to what it happens to read in my passport for “citizen of: …”, thought I was happy, known I wanted kill myself, been in love, hated my friends, realized my friends are gifts from the universe I have immense gratitude for, been abused by a partner, cheated on a partner, sworn to never fall in love again, and craved, nearly daily, to fall in love again, to experience a true, solid relationship based on mutual values and respect.

Occasionally I stop to think and realize it’s nearly a miracle I’m still here. That I didn’t just walk into the ocean one day 4 years ago. That I haven’t quit my current degree yet (even though every other day I feel like doing exactly that). I naively thought that by the time I’m an “adult” I’ll have it all figured out. It seems everything becomes only more complex and painful. I still struggle with depression and likely will my whole life. That’s probably the most difficult thing, to try find motivation regardless. Regardless that I may always feel like nothing matters, that I truly don’t have “meaning” in my life. That I can’t do anything for others and am not selfish enough to just live for myself.

Maybe one day I’ll notice I have stopped. Stopped searching for answers and learned to merely exist. Most days, it’s really all I want. As for whether I’ll get this one simple thing, I just don’t know. Until then, I hope I find ways to live day to day.

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Choosing to be “single” in 2018

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Art by Olga Khariton

While I have never done things in a conventional manner, I still crave and want what most people do; purpose, joy, contentment, and, love. Regardless of, or perhaps exactly because I am bit of a hermit, I fully admit to being a romantic. I feel deeply, with fervor and intensity that in my youth caused much heart break over the smallest of things.

I have never casually dated. At my age (late 20’s) I feel it’s bit of an anomaly. When I moved to my latest new home-town (2 years ago) some of my friends suggested I try Tinder. A little over a year before, I had gotten out of a relationship that completely changed how I view the entire concept of love, for the worst and the best. It has taken me a very long time to decompress and unpack all the trauma from it, and it may be an entire blog entry on its own, one day, when I feel ready. I went on 2 Tinder dates, out of sheer curiosity (and to get my friends to stop nagging at me to try it), neither of which ended up anywhere. I’ve known my entire life that I am just not a casual dater. All my 3 boyfriends I’ve had I met through friends, eventually talking more with this singled out person within a group, and eventually it was mutually acknowledged that we are together. All 3 relationships. I just don’t know any other way. I’m extreme in the sense that I am either fully, 100% single, or fully, 100% committed to one person.

I find the concept of dating a bore. I think a lot of it has to do with me being an introvert. Small talk is an utter drag for me. I want to talk about deep space and ancient Egypt and how microcosms in an ecological setting impact the entire world. For most, casual dating is a game (at least that’s how my friends describe it as). And while I enjoy mental stimulation, social aspects for me need to blunt and straightforward. I don’t care for these “will he text me, should I text first” sorts of games. I am an anxious person as it is, there is nothing about guessing someone’s motivations that is even remotely exciting to me.

Perhaps there is other kind of dating? My few months of trying Tinder, I have to say the pickings were slim and most males my age can’t seem to hold a conversation. I guess I’m lucky to not be superbly attractive as I never received lewd messages. It still felt like an utter waste of my time, and after deleting the app I had no intention to reinstall. 2 years later, I still have not.

“Don’t you get lonely?” “Don’t you miss having sex?” Yes and yes. Some friends of mine even go as far as to assume that I have no desire for company, emotional nor physical. Even if some days I feel I may as well be from another solar system with how little I relate to most people I meet, I am after all, human (darn it). Humans have these needs, but just because I can actually withstand being lonely and having no one to hold me at night, doesn’t mean I have no craving for affection from another. And this is where modern dating is just bizarre to me.

Apparently any kind of connection is better than none. I already have a hard time making friends, let alone meeting someone I feel attracted to on all levels as to entice me to take things further than one conversation. I am not sure whether it is obvious how “unavailable” I am, or that I just spew my strangeness so loudly, but I certainly have no suitors. Anywhere I go, I am not the woman anyone flirts with. In most ways, I find no issue with this, as I’d rather be left alone anyway. But those human needs… they still underlie my overall feelings. Most days I have complete satisfaction in being on my own. I went from one serious relationship to the next for 10 years. Having been single for the past 3 years has forced me to look at aspects of myself that I was surely avoiding, and seeking validation from the fact of having a boyfriend.

To understand why this was so prevalent for me, a little time-warp; I was bullied from 1st to 6th grade. I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 17, and before then I was sure I would die alone (and a virgin). I feel in my relationships (platonic and romantic), I have put up with a lot because I was so afraid of being alone. Regardless, I was still always intensely particular, and definitely chose my partners with care. And I deeply loved them all, as long as the love lasted. Now, in my late 20’s, single, no casual dating, I practically live the life of a nun. And while I crave for connection, I have no interest to go looking for anything. I am of the mind that if I organically meet someone, that would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath. My life is so unconventional, it is very difficult meeting anyone who would understand this. And when I think of what I actually want to do in my life, a partner would mostly be in my way. Unless he was equally strange with equally wild dreams. A rarity indeed.

I occasionally wish I could enjoy casual dating. I really do. It looks fun, and my friends who do it surely enjoy it. I feel like an outsider when few of my friends are sharing their dating stories, and I have zero connection to this “culture”. I am too serious and too much, too intense and too real for it. I take on others’ feelings very strongly, and especially physical intimacy is rather intense for me due to having empathic traits. Even from conversations sometimes, I carry the other person’s energy with me for days. I accept myself as I am, I have no other option. I do sometimes feel I’m rather eccentric and that I’m missing out on important experiences of my youth. I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t casually date, but in my circle of friends, I do feel that I am. It’s difficult explaining my stance at times.

It’s difficult not feeling weird and old-fashioned about my views. It seems everyone has accepted that no one wants to commit, and that the pump-n-dump is a totally normal thing to do to someone. I have experienced it, only to find myself feeling like I gave away the most sacred part of myself to someone who had no ability to appreciate it, and it left me having major panic attacks about having made such a dumb choice nearly knowing how it would affect me on an emotional level.

Is anyone else out there refusing to take part in the horrid-seeming mess that is dating in the 21st century? I’m surely not the only one? It very much seems like I am.

How Christianity Still Rules Our Lives; 7 Deadly Sins

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Art by Camille Rose Garcia – http://www.camillerosegarcia.com/

It has taken me up to this point of my life to admit to a difficult truth within me; I don’t like “working”. Work is something we are ingrained to establish as a part of our adult lives, which gives us “freedom”; so-called freedom to pay rent, bills, purchase things like food and water which should belong to everyone simply due to being alive. We are trapped in the “hedonic treadmill” in which our work gives us monetary wealth to fill the emptiness we feel inside with material objects that ultimately leave us feeling emptier, hungry for real experience which can never be, because the mere quest for experience keeps us in the cycle.

My belief, after a summer of accomplishing “nothing”, and coming to full acceptance of this, is that regardless of how agnostic or even atheist we are as a whole in Western cultures, tenets of Christianity very much define how we live our lives and what we strive for. The ultimate goals of achieving worthwhile things, a career and material belongings such as a car or a house, are driven of course first and foremost by capitalism. But the core of what keeps us in guilt if we do not accomplish anything worthwhile in terms of capitalism, is rooted in Christianity. Here is my analysis on how the seven deadly/cardinal sins still drive our deepest urges in a generally non-religious society:

  1. Lust

We are driven by primal needs of love and comfort. This is something that a surprisingly large number do not receive from home, especially in mother-daughter relationships (which are further complicated by patriarchal logic of pitting women against each other). The ultimate normative goal is marriage, a successful relationship seemingly only accomplished by finding “the one” and committing to that person forever after. In truth, many are so desperate to reach this that they wind up in unhappy marriages. As a counter to this we have modern dating culture, which is the antithesis of wanting solid partnership. In this, we are like insolent teenagers resisting the obviously faulty goal of sticking with one partner for all of eternity through anything (like abuse). The extreme reaction of boasting about having multiple partners, in my view, stems from the Christian belief that all and any lust is sinful; so we rebel and show the world that we are free to lust all we want. While I do not judge anyone’s personal choices as such, I do not know a single person who sleeps around and is genuinely happy and fulfilled living in this manner. It seems there is a still a deep desire for the safety and friendship of a solid partner. But because this is difficult to find for many, especially in a world that is becoming more complex with technology and rising awareness of social injustice, most are terrified of ending up alone. The ingrained idea that lust is sinful, from Christian times, makes one react in the extreme, as if this forbidden fruit is more desirable simply due to being forbidden. I believe that if one takes the time to truly process what it is one wants from relationships, we can stop hurting ourselves and others by our nondescript assumptions.

 

  1. Gluttony

While the original intents of establishing this as a cardinal sin (some have great access to food while some have none) were noble, the current interpretation is nearly too obvious; enter, diet-culture. This cardinal sin has been misconstrued to serve a multibillion-dollar business that thrives on the implanted insecurity of mainly women. While no diet-company (that I am aware of) today has Christian beliefs as their driving force, the ideology of gluttony, eating in excess, being sinful, is very much borrowed from the deadly sins, and used in disgusting ways enslave women into mental slavery of never feeling good enough, of their main purpose in life to become as thin as possible. It is, after all, a sin to be overweight. In this logic, it is nearly laughable how many women diet but likely claim to be atheist, not realizing that their goal to become thin and frail is based on a twisted version of a Christian tenet.

 

  1. Greed

This, I find, is another rebellious reaction from humanity which, as a whole, is still in its teenager phase. Because greed was considered a cardinal sin during times when Christianity was the ruling way of thought, today’s humans have found it more pleasing and personally fulfilling to go after all one desires, with no limits or bounds. This is also based very much on the idea of capitalism, in which nothing is or ever will be enough. The backbone of Christian thought is thus still driving the base-actions of most people, acknowledging the “sin” in greed, a completely normal feeling in a higher-thinking mammal, and acting in opposite accordance to soothe oneself. It might be better, in my humble opinion, to acknowledge greed as a normal feeling, considering why we want more when have enough, and in this process ideally find the root of what drives our desire for more.

 

  1. Sloth

Oh sloth. This one has been my greatest awakening of how ingrained Christian thought is still in the minds and motivations of an average Westerner. Even within me. As a setting for my thinking process, I will need to share a personal experience. I have a long history with depression, and knew that leaving the place I felt at home in might subject me to regressing greatly in terms of my progress. This happened on an intense level this past spring, and I have been unable to work all year. Fortunately, and in full acknowledgement of my privilege, I had worked all of last year and have been able to live off my savings. But the thought that I am lazy and unaccomplished when not working, is a thought very much alive in me. I took the summer “off”, after a difficult semester in university, and gave up my apartment to live with my mother over the summer. A voice inside me kept nagging about how lazy and what a loser I am to have had to do this at my age. How I was nothing because I had to take a mental health “vacation”, sick-leave if you will. Even friends asking how my “vacation” was going sent me into spiraling thoughts of guilt, how they are working and having to pay for their lives, and I was living rent-free with my mother, seemingly care-free and relaxing. This was not a holiday. This was not vacation. I needed this time, after an awful spring of wanting to die some days. I knew this; yet, I felt I hadn’t deserved it. That no real “adult” does this sort of thing. That I was spoiled and bratty and didn’t have the right to take time off for my mental health. But in this, I started to process my feelings and thoughts on this matter; why did I so loathe myself for not working?

Most of my work in the past has consisted of customer and food service jobs, most of which I’ve hated. And I’ve come to realize, that the whole concept of “hard work“, that work indeed has to be something “hard”, grueling, difficult, something to hate, is derived from Christian logic of suffering. And how does this suffering exist within the terms of work? In the cardinal sin of sloth. It is sinful to be lazy, to not work “hard”, to simply exist in this world without any need for accomplishment. I have struggled and strived my whole life to accomplish something, to feel that my existence on this planet matters. And that it won’t matter unless I achieve something great for all of humanity. But in my mental illnesses, I try daily to come to terms with the limitations of my mind. And it has been exceedingly difficult to accept, that I may not ever accomplish anything “worthwhile”. Is it completely radical to feel that regardless of this, I can actually live a life of feeling content and free of anxiety? I am not sure yet, and am still processing these very complicated thoughts and realizations. But I do believe, that my and the societal incessant need for accomplishment is driven by Christianity in its utter rejection of sloth as a way of being. If you ask nearly anyone, how would they live if they could live the life they wanted, and answer in full truth without fear of judgment, most would likely say that they would live their lives without having to work a single day.

Mind you, I am not opposed to work in the sense of feeling gratitude for one’s existence. I love making art. I love helping my friends by listening to their woes and trying my best to give them comfort and counsel. I love the idea of community gardens, of a world in which no one has to suffer hunger and lack of basic necessities. A world in which every living being has equal value. Often when I tell someone I’m an artist, I am asked if I sell my art. I have never sold anything, and I have a strange aversion to this idea as a whole. I would love to live in a cabin and paint all day. I hate that to do this, I still need a form of income. So in this, yes, I hate the concept of work. Like a meme I saw recently, “not to sound communist or anything, but I wish I didn’t have to pay to live”, or something along those lines. I feel guilty for not working. But this guilt stems from a deep-rooted Christian belief that as humans we must suffer in jobs we hate; this belief has been adopted by capitalism and corporations that run politics, and keep most of humanity trapped in slavery of all sorts.

 

  1. Wrath

The primal feeling of anger, a sin!? While yes, holding grudges and living in constant anger isn’t necessarily healthy for anyone, we feel and need anger for a reason. No injustices change without someone being angry first. We are, in Western cultures, told that anger is bad and that love and light will help us along, at least according to most new-agey belief-systems. If we don’t feel angry, we stay passive. If we don’t feel angry, we allow injustice towards our fellow humans and non-human animals and all of nature. Ideologies such as “positive thinking” and “law of attraction” have told us if we feel angry, we are not living our best lives and attract all the negativity present in our lives. Sound familiar? If we are wrathful, we are sinning. Feeling wrath, or anger, is bad for business, i.e. corporations that profit off of the suffering of others. This cardinal sin has been well ingrained into the capitalistic mindset, which thrives on ignoring basic instincts like feeling anger at injustice and environmental destruction. We are still living with this Christian ideology, and no matter how atheist we claim to be, this specific deadly sin very much drives how we operate in the world today, corporations instead of churches dictating how we are to feel and not feel.

 

  1. Envy

This one is complicated, because even in modern psychology, envy is seen as mostly a negative emotion. While acknowledging it as normal, envy in excess can wreak havoc in the mind of an insecure person. In envy, I feel like I am nothing in these dangerous comparisons to others. While envy is very much a higher-logic mammalian emotion, its roots lay in primal fear of not having enough to live, in the human brain this base-reaction grows in complexity, potentially causing one to stray far off from inner contentment and satisfaction in life as is. In our modern lives lived via social media, the nest of all feelings of un-worth and envy, we are exposed daily to this cardinal sin. It’s as if our deep need to feel accomplished (avoidance of sloth) drives us to more feelings of envy towards those who have things we do not, and this has become more apparent and prevalent with the rise of social media. Envy is such a human feeling, and regardless of times during Christian rule in the world, envy exists and persists in every soul. While I don’t think envy is good per se for anyone, the outright flamboyant advertisement of how much better our lives are than those of the ones viewing ours on their little phone screens may be yet another teenaged rebellious reaction to the ingrained ideology of envy as a sin; in flaunting with desire for envy from upon viewers, we give this Christian tenet the finger. While I don’t believe in the Christian tenet of extreme humility, I have to agree that envy-driven emotions and actions are indeed harmful in the long run.

 

  1. Pride

While yes, excessive pride is never good, utter humility and total rejection of oneself as a beautiful, perfect being is also harmful. Christianity, as whole, and in my limited understanding, tells us that under God we are but peasants to serve his mighty will. In having pride we believe ourselves to be “better” than God, and this will not do. This has resulted in a spectrum of self-worth, on one end narcissistic self-admiration (brought on by cut-throat capitalism and empowered by social media), and on the other, utter “poor pitiful me” humility. I grew up, partially, in a culture like this. It was shameful (sinful?) to feel pride over anything regarding the self, the only pride that was acceptable was national pride. This country as a culture has so much good, amazing inventions and innovations but few are known outside of this country. Why? Because of the absolute lack of pride for these innovations, made by individuals who have been brought up to constantly distance themselves from any feelings of pride. Pride is sinful, arrogant and obnoxious. In overt cases, this is true. But when complete lack of pride turns one into a self-loathing anxious mess, how is the ideology of pride as a sin serving humanity as a whole? One could argue that with the amount of self-admiration prevalent today, this “sin” has been weeded out from the brains of modern humans. But I feel, that even in the extreme cases of ballooned self-worth in which one is only living for oneself, the case is merely a childish act of rebellion against the ingrained Christian tenet of pride as a sin. In an ideal world, humans would have the right to feel pride over who they are regardless of what they have/haven’t accomplished (again, sloth as sin driving actions/thoughts), but enough humility to recognize the accomplishments of others as helpful to the whole planet, not something that takes away from their pride. In this, the cardinal sins of envy and pride are deeply connected.

 

I understand that the cardinal sins were originally established by the Roman Catholic church, but the concept of cardinal sins were also adapted in Christian ideology. I have little formal education on theology, other than my own investigations and interpretations. I have never before thought so deeply of how modern life is still very much driven by Christian ideology, in a world that is becoming increasingly non-religious. I don’t have particular faith, and most days I question everything, even the mere fact of my existence on this planet. But I see so much hurt, anxiety and depression in the world around me and within myself, and I have to wonder where these feelings originate from. Are they my own, do I really hate work, do I really have issues feeling proud of who I am just for being me? Or have I adopted ways of thinking that aren’t truly me, simply for having grown up in Western cultures. The sin of sloth was the one that started this internal processing, stemming a review of all the cardinal sins and their roles in modern non-religious life. I do not claim to know anything for fact, and I definitely am not mocking anyone for their religious beliefs. I know that Christianity as a whole is not the root of all evils, but it has had a hand in how the world of today works, and how the former power of the church has been adapted in a capitalistic society to pry out the deepest psychological fears of the human mind for profit. If anything in this world is truly evil, it is the logic of social Darwinism in which it is acceptable that while most of the world lives in poverty, few have more than they know what to do with. In my opinion, the greatest human sin of all is wealth inequality.

Vacation

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Art by Dalí, mostly to celebrate his birthday (May 11)

Vacation
noun

1. a holiday

2. the action of leaving something one previously occupied

(From Google dictionary)

How curious, the two meanings of this word. The amount of times I have traveled for the second meaning is probably more than some have traveled for the first.

As I prepare for yet another departure, from yet another physical space that was the literal and figurative home for me in the past year and a half, I find myself filled with confusing emotions. I have done this dozens (hundreds? I’ve lost count) of times. This should be nothing new, let alone confusing to me. But yet here I sit, feeling that familiar embedment of frantic energy. Often times this state of mind has been related to the full acknowledgment of what is to come, which has often been weeks, possibly months of displacement, with my belongings (which are fewer as the years roll on) scattered in the various spaces of other humans not necessarily blood-relations of mine.

Even when I make the choice to leave, even though it seems nearly ingrained in my DNA to eventually leave, even when the place I am leaving supposedly has no significance to me, all homes, no matter how short-lived have served their purpose for whatever I have needed at the time. My current home, which I am vacating in three weeks has been my first real, completely self-funded “adult” home that I have not had to share with anyone. From great to decent to horrific house-mate scenarios, my need for a space entirely mine had grown out of proportion, and when I moved to the city I currently study in, it was clear as day that a home occupied by none other than myself was of absolute necessity.

I have grown, grieved, wept over the home I left behind for this one, felt isolated in this still somewhat new town, faced inner demons in ways that perhaps were not possible had I not had an entire apartment to myself. I have disliked my leasing agency, their strange and strict regulations, how many issues this apartment has and how few of them have ever been properly solved, and the somewhat backwards and absolutely archaic culture of this country. But as I start to take down posters and postcards off the walls, planning and scheduling deep-cleaning so as to make minimal mess while still living here, I realize on a visceral level how sad in fact I am to leave this home. It has served me, protected me, it has been my nest and safe haven in the past year and a half that have been some of my most difficult. Moving to a new city, let alone an entirely unknown country as an adult, without knowing anyone, has been one of the most challenging risks I have ever taken. I am not very sociable. I am nearly ten years older than most other students in my course. I left a city I felt entirely at home and welcome in, to come here, to pursue higher education. And it has not been easy. I feel, the main thing that has helped me survive, has been this nest of mine.

Whenever I read essays by other self-proclaimed nomads (such as this one) or saw this video the first time (and watch it again now and then), I feel less alone in this world; I still struggle immensely with the concept of home. Even in what now seems like my past life, the city I left to come here was supposed to be a place I would stay. But the life I was living had little resemblance of my values, and due to complex circumstances, I felt stuck. After three months of sleeping in over fifteen different beds, I finally arrived, and within two weeks of having moved here, I signed the lease on my first apartment. I had always shared with others in the past, sometimes having no written rental contract. It was a huge moment for me. In the stress of figuring out life in a new culture, reacquainting myself to academic learning (let alone in an entirely foreign educational system), the novelty wore off. I have been frustrated, angry, at the poorly insulated building (in winter even with heating on I could see my breath), at the haphazardly constructed plumbing and other seemingly endless issues of old buildings managed by rental companies that want the most money for the least effort. In frustration, it is so easy to forget what initially drove us to where we are, and how much work and effort it took. I have had gratitude throughout this whole time, but I have been taken aback in the past week just how sad I am at the looming move-out date.

My mother is also in the midst of moving, from living with a hodge podge of friends and strangers, finally to live on her own. Even though this is much more suitable for her, she too speaks of this sadness related to moving. What is it, exactly? Why do we, even with a lifetime of nomadic existence, become sad even when the move is to something better? Is there an inherent grief in letting something go? Change is painful, which shouldn’t be news to anyone. For the fat cute little caterpillar to encase itself in threads of silk and spit and resurface as an entirely changed creature takes immense energy, and surely is not the most pleasant experience. But the end goal is a necessity for life to continue, as it has for millions of years. Even good, positive change is still change and causes grief; we have to let something go in order to grow, to make the proverbial space within us to allow a new form to emerge. So perhaps in the same predicament, even a voluntary departure is therefore painful and causes a myriad of mixed emotions with no proper boxes to shove them into; thus we can only sit with our sadness, over yet another home soon to become part of the mental catalogue of all the places that have served as nesting sites.

Humans are creatures of habit. Over our short span of history on this earth, we have conquered nearly every corner of the planet. With no need to relocate with seasons or a migrating herd of prey animals, in agriculture and industrialization we have rooted ourselves. Yet many feel the need and pull for more, to see what else is out there. Far as I am aware, my ancestors were very mobile. I also lived a childhood of suitcases and airports and a foreign language as the first one I learned to read and write rather than my “mother” tongue. Maybe I have no choice in this lifestyle, maybe I simply cannot help it when the call comes from deep within to go. Even with awareness of this sadness however, I know it will not haunt me forever. While there is one home I still occasionally grieve over, I know it is now long in a past life, and I have no desire to live in the town this home was contained in. Perhaps I miss the memories, the idea of a home that this little Spanish-style stucco building represented for me. In this logic, this home can exist anywhere, in the things I do and with whom I share my life.

I am preparing not only to vacate my current home, but for a summer of active voluntary relocation. While I know I will have moments of frustration, wishing I wasn’t yet again living out of a backpackful of personal items, I await the coming months with excitement and curiosity. I still feel most at home on the move, mostly on trains, at airports, in strange cities where I have to be utterly alert, taking in my environment in ways that make me feel alive and inspired. Not every move has been one I’ve chosen, and in this I realize how privileged I am to be able to undertake my plans. When I return in the fall to continue my studies I will need to find a new home. I feel I have a better idea of what this needs to be; but I also know it will certainly not be a potential forever-home. My life has been one giant lesson of non-attachment (which is not the same as detachment), and even with my experiences I still struggle to let go, to let what has been pass on to the hazy forest of memories shrouded in a fog that just so reveals the instances and details, but keeps the core of felt emotions veiled, perhaps an evolutionary trait to allow the silly human mind to focus on survival.

I allow the sadness and grief. There is no use in fighting it. Only in awareness I can recognize the sources of pain, and make informed decisions as to my reactions. And hope that the next bigger move, while surely bringing an equal amount of unaccounted-for sadness, will be yet another smooth transition executed with professionalism only a mind used to uncertainty is capable of. Perhaps I have life skills and knowledge that such existence has conjured. Perhaps I will find a way in my future to utilize this resilience at the big scary inevitable unknown.

 

Go travel, they said…

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Picture from my trip to Venice in July ’16. Journey described below is not from this same trip.

Travel is often touted for its life-transforming and mind-bending effects, and while all these claims surely hold truth, the myriad of ways in which these effects take place is infinite. And they are not always positive, as is commonly assumed. Another statement often claimed is that if you truly want to know someone, travel with them. I can say from personal experience that travel has shaped and formed me the most into the person I am today, because you also truly get to know yourself while completely out of your comfort bubble.

Since we’re on the topic of common sayings, that good old “You can’t always get what you want” is one that rhymes true in my life. This concept, along with effects of travel on mental and personality aspects, became acute in the extreme for me in the last 4 days.

I had wanted to travel solo for a long time. As someone with medium to severe social anxiety, this was always a rather frightening thought. But since I enjoy independence and being on my own, the goal of making a solo trip eventually was unavoidable. I have also read from other socially anxious travelers that exploring on their own actually helped, not hindered, the eventual social aspects of their travels. So the time came for my first solo trip, that I had somewhat impulsively planned (I like oxymorons, what can I say) a few months ago. 3 days before my journey, I got a sore throat. Well, no problem, it’s only an innocent sore throat and I have 3 days of rest before my trip, it’ll be fine (famous last words). The morning of my trip arrived, and I was feeling miserable. Sore throat had evolved into a nasty phlegmy cough, my voice had been reduced to a raspy, husky whimper (and not in a sexy way). I knew, deep inside, that it would be a terrible idea to fly, stay in a hostel, attempt to enjoy all the things on offer at my chosen location, in this condition. For reasons I will state later, I chose to go regardless.

By the time I arrived at my hostel, I had little voice left. I could barely tell the reception guy that I was checking in. Before leaving on this trip, I had been feeling pretty decent mentally and was ready to mingle and meet like-minded traveling weirdos. But when you have no voice, it slightly complicates your communicative abilites. So there I was, in this beautiful, culturally diverse city I had wanted to visit since I was a teenager. And while I did get to see many amazing things, and enjoyed the green parks and multiple water-ways, I found myself feeling so isolated, so out of touch, because of how physically ill I was, and my limited communication. The town I currently live in is very much the opposite of the city I visited, and I had been yearning for contact with those of an understanding similar to mine. I have struggled greatly to make friends where I live, and was highly looking forward to this opportunity to meet other travelers. Regardless of my social anxiety, regardless of my reservations about talking to strangers.

During my trip I self-diagnosed with bronchitis and possibly laryngitis, very violent forms of both. While I’ve dealt with a lost voice before, it has never lasted multiple days; until this time. I was hacking up all kinds of lovely yellow globules, and the cough was pretty much non-stop. On the first day I was sitting in a park enjoying the warmth, reading and painting, but within two hours my body went into full fever-mode and I started shivering and shaking (the skin of my hands turned blue) and I had to trek a 40-minute walk back to my hostel, all the while coughing, with a terrible sore throat, and savoring last drops of water in my stainless steel bottle. I was so delirious by the time I got back I walked by the hostel 3 times until I figured out where I was. Needless to say, I was a hot mess.

In essence, I got to still see things and enjoy some parts of the local culture. But I had to go sleep very early (at 5pm one “night”), and I felt so awkward not being able to chat with the other travelers I was sharing a sleeping space with. Ironically enough, I had avoided traveling alone due to my fear of being the awkward quiet person, and here I was, totally relaxed about being around other people, but unable to make conversation, probably coming off just as awkward and quiet as I feared I would. After a particularly bad night of coughing (imagine a wet, moist, phlegmy seal-bark cough) a girl in my room offered me some Mucinex, bless her soul (I must have sounded like death).

Being the gratitude-obsessive that I am, I forced myself to enjoy the city, to revel in the fact that I was finally there. It was very, very difficult. In the mixed feelings of guilt, enjoyment and total rage and disbelief at the shitty timing of catching an infection, I felt despaired, spoiled, bratty, privileged; I had, after all, the means to make this trip, shouldn’t I just be amazed at this fact? Well… onto the multitudes of lessons I have taken, and am still unpacking from this whole ordeal. I do believe as I was booking my flight there was an offer to pay slightly more for the flight ticket and have the option to cancel with full refund. My thoughts at the time; nah, nothing bad will happen, I am going on this trip dammit! Lesson; just pay the cancelation insurance. One reason I chose to travel regardless of my poor health was money. I’m a student, and while I’m somewhat comfortable in my savings, I still live a very meager and frugal existence. I deplore wasting money. So instead of wasting the ticket money and not going, I chose to go, and realized just how bad an idea it was. To not have gone, to me, would have been money wasted since I couldn’t have gotten anything refunded. But I was miserable during the entire trip, and in this it was equal amounts money wasted. Next time I travel, I’ll just buckle down and pay a little bit extra to insure a flight for cancelation. If I can avoid it in the future, I have no intention on traveling while sick again. Travel is stressful as is, add on being in a foreign country, away from your comforts with the pressing guilt of going out to see things when all you want and probably should be doing is lay in bed (and maybe cry).

As for the rest of the lessons, they are still forming and I am trying my best to see the silver lining as I believe all experiences can be great teachers, especially the difficult ones. This was mentally and physically one of the roughest trips of my life, and in ways being on my own made it just so. Lying in bed in the middle of the day having bizarre fever dreams, waking up to nosebleeds from blowing my nose so much (and frantically washing blood off of hostel pillow cases at 1am, such fun, I highly recommend) along with a general floaty, surreal hazy feeling of existing as if in a dream all contributed to feeling helpless but having no one there to get me through, so tough it out on my own I did, as I have done thousands of times before. Perhaps I learned some severe independence?

I know I’m not the first and surely not the last to get sick just in time for a long-awaited event/trip/etc. I know this isn’t going to be the last solo trip I’ll ever make, even if it may take a while for me to be able to travel again. Was this bad luck? Who knows. I can make myself crazy asking questions that have no definite answers. I can also choose to dwell on the adverse turn of events, or I can accept them, take the lessons and acknowledge what a first world problem this is to begin with. I don’t think it diminishes the fact that it was really unfortunate and that I have every right to be upset (because I am, and I am still sick and still have little voice to speak of, pun intended).

In a rather nihilistic sounding manner, I guess I can say I don’t feel much will phase me after this. Being in this incredible, rich, delicious environment while feeling like the ass-crack of Satan himself, was so frustrating, had I only had the energy to be frustrated. Mostly I felt defeated. And happy to be there. And sad at missed opportunities. And inspired. As I stated, this trip was rough, especially mentally, even more so than physically and the mixture of feelings was incredibly overwhelming. Fighting off negative feelings is a fucking feat for anyone, let alone for someone with years of history of depression. I hope I can apply some possibly newly learned coping skills in my eventual future bouts down-under (I don’t mean Australia, though I would love to visit there too, but no, I mean the deep dark valleys of feeling emotionally like horse-arse).

From every journey I have learned new things about myself, how I relate to the world around me and what I can do with this knowledge in my daily life. Sometimes it’s really small things, other times my entire ideas of what I assume to be true get shaken to the core. I can’t however recall another journey during which I had to practice patience and self-love to such a degree as on this latest one. I’m not going to sit here and type all this pseudo-Buddhist bullshit about love and acceptance, because I am human enough to admit that today as I was unpacking, I had a cry about how sad and frustrating it all was. To deny negative feelings related to an event won’t get any of us anywhere. It’s important to acknowledge that we’re pissed off, angry, emotional, raw, eventually just plain indifferent from feeling so much.

I realize how privileged of a problem I am sitting here with. I’m not going to sugarcoat the fact that I had the means to go travel, and that my disabilities aren’t so severe that they would prevent me from doing it. I do feel however I got a tiny glimpse into what it’s like living as a mute person; the longing to speak shared words, to express myself vocally, to be part of interesting conversations, was heart breaking. I definitely became more of an observer, which isn’t new to me, but this felt different somehow. I won’t claim to fully understand what life is like for someone who truly cannot speak, but I do have multitudes more empathy. While communication happens in so many different ways, conversation with spoken word is such a special gift which I don’t think I realized the magnitude of before.

I’m sure the resulting growth (that’s what I hope for at least) will trickle down, for years to come. I still have aha-moments from experiences long in my past. And the best way for me learn my own mental process is by writing. Somehow getting the experience out in written form, working through the puzzle of articulate wording and precise expression helps me digest the resulting emotions.

Do you have an awful sick-while-traveling story? Please share in the comments, I would love to read them!

 

 

 

Why don’t you drink?

Last night, I was at a bar with 5 other people. 3 out of 6 were not drinking; one a Buddhist, myself and the other person for non-religious/spiritual reasons. As I had just an hour prior met these strangers at a speed-friending event (an excellent way for introverts to meet people), I found it quite substantial that half of the group chose not to indulge; I must confess, I was expecting myself to be the only one. Take that, ego, you’re not so special after all.

If I said I have nothing against alcohol I guess that wouldn’t be entirely truthful. I will not run around demanding everyone stop indulging, because who am I to do that? But since I stopped drinking regularly, then occasionally, and recently not at all, the way I view alcohol-culture has changed drastically. It is one of the most powerfully addicting substances, yet it is legal, legally advertised, nearly glorified, and utilized as an escape from the stress and rigor of daily life. “Can’t wait to get wasted, I’ve had a shitty day”. I used to say such things. It is very true that those in restaurant and catering businesses drink excessively; it can be incredibly taxing work, and indeed, I drank heavily when I was still in those industries.

Back to last night, even those in this little troupe of strangers who did indulge had 1 drink each. It was the soberest bar-experience I’ve ever had, and I must say that the conversation was great. Especially for myself, an introvert who definitely used alcohol in the past as a magical potion to get over my shyness, I was so pleased that I was able to converse so freely with these newly-met humans and not feel the need to intoxicate myself. Of all the mind-altering substances that have entered my blood stream, alcohol is the only one that fully changes my personality, and not for the best. In the past few years, this acknowledgment paired with hazy memories of nights past, it has become a very easy decision to not drink. Being at a bar especially, it was so interesting to observe those around me who were partaking.

I don’t think of myself as high-and-mighty, a cured addict, a bastion of clarity – just… no. But I am very relieved that I no longer have a desire to numb my mind when out in public, to be able to relax, to have a good time. I suppose nothing is harmful in moderation (well, maybe arsenic), and on the flipside even remotely benign chemicals can become harmful when consumed in excess. I have found it curious in the past few years, usually when meeting new people, how surprised they are when I say I don’t drink. It is such an ingrained part of life (globally), and it seems my statement is likened to saying I don’t breathe air. I’ve received less shock during the times I wasn’t drinking coffee (something I truly was addicted to) than in my present lifestyle of declining to ingest alcohol.

It was refreshing to experience a social outing, especially with entirely new people, without alcohol playing the main role of the night. In the past, I generally would meet new people by way of hanging out in bars and utilizing liquid courage strike up conversations with random (and often awesome) strangers. To each their own; but the amount of time, money, energy and overall health that I have savored due to not drinking is something I treasure as an unthought-of byproduct. No, I haven’t found spiritual enlightenment (the westernized version of it anyway), become a yogi (even if I do enjoy my own private practice at home) or claim that I will never drink again. I don’t believe in absolutes, as in this whacky universe there are no absolute truths; it’s all so very subjective and held within the eyes of the beholder. These decisions must come naturally. Along with quitting smoking (going on 8 years now) and going vegan (1.5 years), no longer having the need to drink has been beyond liberating and allowed me to explore those parts of myself that I was possibly avoiding. In this I have rediscovered my artistic ability, the joy of moving my body in ways that suit me best, and enjoying the simple clarity of mind on a lazy Saturday afternoon without a hangover. It’s not an end-all cure-all, but it’s certainly helped me realize that some of my habits weren’t necessarily benefiting me. I guess my liver is pretty stoked too.

Misconceptions

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Art by Samuli Heimonen

”You seem happier”.

If I had a coin *insert currency* for every time those words have been said to me, with every one of those hypothetical coins I could bet that anyone with long-term depression has also heard such words from their friends and relatives. What does that say about who we are when in the pits, how much our loved ones truly understand us, and how much of a mask we walk around in?

In my best ability to not sound like an angsty teenager (nobody understands me!) it’s difficult not feeling like there is a massive disconnect between how I present myself and how others see me, and to what degree we make presumptions on others’ moods based on surface knowledge. Often when those words have been said to me I am in a very low state, that has been prolonged by various factors only adding to the pile of miserable emotions. So why are those words said to me, when I feel the worst? I think in a way one with history of depression learns to live with it, and I myself don’t want to burden those around me and probably put on a front of being “okay”. I’m sure this applies to a lot of people. We are also told to “cheer up”, think “positively” and remind ourselves of all the things are ought to be grateful for. I do not in any way think those actions are in vain or stupid, they all in fact form a large part of my coping mechanisms. But the fact stands that when you feel like garbage, you feel like garbage and none of the things you do in general to keep yourself from falling down to begin with will help in such a mental state. All you can do is exist in the dark, muggy dreary feelings and hope that eventually they will subside.

I will make a bold statement: I think saying “you seem happier” to someone you know struggling with depression (whether continuous, seasonal, occasional, etc) is as damaging as saying to someone who has struggled with an eating disorder that they’ve lost weight, and how great/healthy they look. While both sentences may seem to the person saying them as positive and encouraging, they in fact can make it worse for the person hearing them. I can’t speak for everyone with mental illness, but I don’t see the encouragement in such words. Especially if I am not feeling happier, such words remind me of how miserable I in fact am feeling, and the worst part; it makes me feel so alone because this person who I consider someone close to me is so unable to read me. Maybe I have mastered the art of appearing “okay” a tad too well?

I take responsibility for the fact that I am a difficult person to really, properly get to know. In that I don’t at all think I’m special, as humans are multilayered (hello, onion-analogy) and to truly know someone takes years. Not only that, our personality isn’t static, we are ever-evolving and changing and learning new things about ourselves through our experiences which constantly molds and shapes us for optimal coping of whatever is happening in our lives at any given time. So to expect, even from our most closest loved ones, to 100% understand us, is unrealistic.

But especially with this in mind, I would like to recommend to anyone reading to please never say “you seem happier” to someone who struggles with depression. It can be damaging. Essentially you are placing your own presumptions of what happiness is or looks like upon someone who is not you. Their ideas of feeling happy may be wildly different. Even though the intention is good and caring, such words can make a depressed person feel pressured, that they should be happy and why aren’t they??

I fully acknowledge the place of love and caring these words surely come from. But a better way to address the situation would be to ask, “how are you feeling lately?”. In this way, you give the person the agency to express in their words exactly what they are going through, you give them the space and freedom to feel their true feelings and not have the need to dress them up so as to not feel they are inconveniencing anyone with their low mood. Depression already makes you feel worthless, and to respond to “you seem happier” negatively, that no I’m not happier, can create guilt and frustration, neither of which help moving forward to a more neutral mental state.

How we address others is infinitely important. Surely most of us are taught this obvious fact at home, but it seems as we move out on our own to learn to navigate the wild, “fun” ride of adulthood on our own terms, this valuable lesson from home seems to evade us. We see the experiences of others from our perspective. How would I feel, what would I do in X, Y or Z situation? This is most reflected, in the most extreme scenario when one wonders why won’t someone who is abused by their partner just leave. It seems obvious, but unless one has experienced such a situation it’s impossible to know what it’s like. And in this, putting ourselves in the other’s shoes does a disservice. So what can we do?

Listen. Just listen, give others the spotlight when they are talking about their feelings and experiences in the world. Maybe you won’t be able to perfectly relate, but you can be an ear. And not make assumptions of how they must feel based on what you’ve been told and how you would feel in their situation. What depression does extremely thoroughly is make one feel they have no agency, no control, no ability to handle what their mind is doing. It can be a terrifying state of disassociation that renders one hopeless, destitute and a whole wonderful plethora of confusing emotions ranging from irritation to anger to numbness. It’s awful and very much impacts one’s success in life, because when you don’t feel in control, you don’t believe in your abilities to live the life you want. The best most loving thing you can give to someone who is depressed, is allow them to express themselves unedited, without your interpretations.

So next time you see a friend/relative you know has been struggling, even if they’re smiling and cracking jokes, please don’t tell them they seem happier. This reminds them of the fact that they didn’t seem happy before. It takes away their agency to discuss their mental illness at and on their terms. If they want to bring it up with you, listen and be supportive. If you suspect they are falling further down or withdrawing, check up on them and ask them how are they feeling, and tell them whatever emotions they’re going through are okay and valid. And if they tell you, “I’m actually feeling a lot happier”, just say that you’re glad to hear it. Because you probably are.

Take care of each other.