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Patterns, Paths, and Pain

6 min read

Two paths, a sunny one and a dark, small one. Watercolor painting

I wanted some help with a project and I called on my friend German from The Modern Manhood Podcast. It was really great to bounce ideas off of him and he helped me focus on what was important. We had an enjoyable conversation over drinks and dinner and parted ways. Then, I was alone with my thoughts. The joy of the evening faded away.

I am a burden. I am pathetic. I am stupid. Obviously, I wasted German's time. He must think I'm an idiot. I imagine he's going home to tell his partner what a loser I am.

Walking home from the pub, I couldn't shake those thoughts. Despite the fact that we openly talked insecurities and mental health, my inner critic was carrying me away with anger, pain, and sadness after I left. These feelings are not based in reality, there's no evidence that German thinks any of these things.Yet, this is my perception when I look back on the evening. I am not alone, of course. We all look back at events with a cloud of apprehension or nostalgia. Dwelling in either area can be dangerous when depression is in the equation.

 

Introspection and Chocolate

There can't be such a thing as too much chocolate, right? Some, especially those who aren't into chocolate, may believe there is a limit. I wonder the same about examining my own thoughts and feelings. Is there such a thing as too much introspection? As someone who takes forever to make a decision, I can see the argument against examining one's self "too much." No matter how much I think about me, I still have to make the doughnuts, I have to go about my day and take care of my responsibilities. Whether German likes me as a person or not, the laundry needs to get done, food needs to be put on the table, and chocolate needs to be eaten. I believe this is stoicism, but that book is still on my reading list. Regardless of what I think, there's work to be done, so why bother being introspective?

On the flip side, chocolate is damn delicious. Some people use pumpkin pie as an excuse to eat an entire tub of whip cream. If you leave me alone with a pan of chocolate brownies, I hope you don't want the pan back because I'm liable to eat it as well. Being introspective is learning who I am. There are layers when I think about thinking. It can seem unnecessary from the surface level. The thoughts above about being a pathetic loser, for example, bring pain to me. Best to leave that alone, right? That's not going to get the housework done. Anyway... Yet, the next layer below is asking the question not of German, but of me. Why do I think I'm a loser? In my warped mind, if I ask German, he will never admit he doesn't like me. He'll want to spare my feelings, people are rarely honest, and so on. In other words, I'm going to believe what I want to believe. Time to ask why.

Instead of avoiding the pain, I have to go into it. Why do I think I'm a loser? The immediate response is, "just stop thinking this." Do I need to rehash some ancient memory to move forward? I think understanding it can take the power away from my self-critic. No matter how much money a man has, you're not going to take investment advice from him if he says he bought Bitcoin because he only invests in things that start with the letter "b." What if a teacher told 7 year old me that I was the worst student she ever had in class on Tuesday, and in the following evening during parent-teacher conferences I heard her say I was one of her favorites? That may have created some trust issues. I can't very well base my worth on what a 7 year old with one bad experience thinks. So, understanding the past is a good thing.

 

The Mean Streets of the Brain

The 7 year old is not alone, unfortunately. Using his lens, I've grabbed other experiences through the years to reinforce this idea of mistrust. I must be terrible because +add negative events here. It's like letting the tobacco or sugar industry study the affects of their products. "The things we make are great! Keep buying! There's no problem here."

Things are literally reinforced in the brain. The favorite phrase that I've read over and over is "neurons that fire together, wire together." When two brain cells make a connection, or wire together, they fire information through the wire. If they do this over and over, you brain builds a highway here. "Ouch! I burned myself on the stove again." The brain cells need better communication between the idea of a stove and hot, let's remove the traffic lights and put in an 8 lane superhighway here.

Now, over the years I alone have perceived that I am not enough. I feel that I am a loser. Those two brain cells, the loser label and the Chris, are affixed together with the neural pathway equivalent of the Autobahn. Through my recent groups, therapy, friends, family, and introspection, I've been trying to connect Chris to the decent and lovable brain cells. At the moment it is only a rough two-track. Actually, it feels more like a Rock Crawling course.

So, it's no surprise that my older pattern of self-disgust kicked in after chatting with my friend German. It is frustrating that I am able to recognize the pattern, but still get dragged down by it. At least I'm noticing it, right? First step and all? At times I can see this, yes. However, seeing through the fog of depression can be difficult. The psychiatrist explained something to me once about emotional pain, it has no sense of time. The part of the brain that deals in emotions is not at all connected to the part that perceives time. When you think about the loss of a loved one, it affects you even if it happened years ago. Those feelings that I'm somehow less are painful, true or not. Time to dig into another layer perhaps. Meanwhile, construction continues on reinforcing the new neural pathway between Chris and compassion.

 

Conflict and Compromise: My 6 W's

7 min read

Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin

 

How strong are your beliefs and how do your convictions hold up when they are they put to the test? In other words, when do you compromise?


Standing up for what you believe in is one thing that people are doing much more these days. Whether it is not vaccinating your children, refusing to hire white men, or the recent attack on the US government for separating families crossing the border illegally, people are loudly fighting back. It leaves me conflicted because fighting isn’t how we accomplish things. Protests gets you heard, but the work is done through working together in a discussion.

War

As someone who is working on mental health, I read a lot about suffering. Many psychologists and therapists are fond of Eastern philosophy because various mental illnesses result in people isolating themselves. Thus, the Buddhist concept that everyone is suffering is a great way for people like me to see that we aren’t truly isolated. So, when someone attacks me for being pro-choice, they are inflicting suffering. The intention is not to get me to change my mind, but bring me pain.

But Chris, compromise doesn’t work with many people, especially if you flip the argument above. I’m pro-choice and I’m never going to get someone who bombs abortion clinics to compromise.

Good point. Violence works. Yup. No more babies died when the abortion clinic was bombed. Oh wait, anyone inside the clinic was once a precious life that was snuffed out by the bomb. So how does anger, conflict, and violence get things accomplished any better than talking? It makes our egos feel pleasure, but it never helps the situation.

Words

How about this, do you use Google to search online? It’s the best, better than the other search engines, right? How do you know that? For many, that opinion was formed through word of mouth. The options were Dogpile, Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, Ask, AOL, but after many years of word of mouth and advertising we use the company name as a verb, “Let me Google that.” Marketing is essentially just talking, and advertisers have us buying $1000 phones every 2 years because we need them.

There’s no secret cabal that meets once a year in a secluded location to discuss how to keep women out of positions of power and men from feeling emotions. The damage is done by the stories, words, we’ve been teaching our children for decades. Girls are delicate and boys are tough. “No daughter, you cannot play hockey, it is a rough man’s game. Son, stop crying and suck it up.” Words. We give them so much power. It should be no surprise that we use words in our own heads to start conflicts and fights. “Did that car just cut me off? No one disrespects me like that!”

Weigh

What warrants compromise? This is my current dilemma. More on that in a second. First, compromise brings us back to suffering. Is someone’s belief in pro-choice, Muhammad, Trump, the Redwings, cycling, or polyamory more important than their relationship with you? In the end it always comes down to people. Will I refuse to be your friend because your religious beliefs differ from mine? Will I suffer by staying quiet when the subject comes up or is it an opportunity for me to make you suffer by telling you how wrong you are? Can we talk about it without fighting? I suppose that’s the goal– respecting each other to have different opinions and beliefs.

Wavering

When respect comes into play we return to compromise. For example, my vegetarian spouse has a no meat policy when it comes to herself. As I respect this conviction, I cook vegetarian meals. She, in turn, honours my desire to eat meat occasionally. Her strong principles don’t prevent her from having dinner with me. Furthermore, she continues to be in a relationship with the carnivorous gas bag that I am.

My current dilemma revolves around privacy and data. I have no desire to use Facebook, Google, or any of their creations. Doing so is agreeing to how they use not just my data, but that of any of my contacts. My spouse told me to contact a hotel using their WhatsApp number. We were trying to book the hotel for an upcoming trip. This process has broke something inside me.

I need to book the hotel, but am I willing to install something I do not trust for this purpose? I mean, I am already on Facebook to compromise with those people who refuse to try other methods of communication. I use Instagram and Hangouts for a similar reason. So, I must not be willing to stand-up for my convictions about privacy and data, right? This is not a worthy cause to me, huh? Damn it, yes! It is.

Writ

Clicking the button to agree with terms of service in Gmail allows Google and 3rd party developers to read your email conversations which means you’re giving away other people’s privacy even if they are not Gmail users and never clicked “yes.” That box that you think is so annoying every time you sign up for a new trending service or app is a legal writ. And so, by using WhatsApp to talk to the hotel I’ve given my identity and my contacts to Facebook legally.

As an aside, both co-founders of WhatsApp have left the company. First, Brian Acton bounced to form a nonprofit focused on privacy and public good. “This isn’t just important for select people in select countries. It’s important for people from all walks of life in every part of the world. Everyone deserves to be protected.” Recently, Jan Koum departed WhatsApp, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Worthy

I think it is time to be more like my incredible spouse. Perhaps, I should treat my feelings about data privacy as she treats vegetarianism. Maybe, I would feel better about myself if I stop compromising to make others happy. While my simple protest may not change the world or these data giants, I will suffer less. I can feel good about my decisions and myself.

Over the years, I have found a number of great, open, decentralized services to replace FB, Twitter, Google, and more. I currently host my own Nextcloud to replace Google Drive or Dropbox. I have my own email address, instead of Gmail. I use DuckDuckGo for search. My personal website has been syndicating my posts to FB and Twitter instead of me posting those places directly (a function will stop working soon). Though, I have been spending more time on Mastodon for social networking and chatting with friends. The Twitter-like service is self-hosted by many people and regardless of the server you choose using Joinmastodon.org, they all communicate with each other. It is similar to email, it doesn’t matter where you sign up, or if you host your own. You can still connect with friends. There’s no trade off, your data isn’t being sold or leaked because there is not central authority or shareholders to satisfy.

This is not an easy decision as so many of my friends and family may simply put the onus on me to contact them. So, is this my depression telling me to isolate or a strong conviction? The best answer is to take the reigns and reach out to people through other means. I can call and text my friends and family. Why do I need FB to do that? Of course, I will miss their images and sharing, but we have email and other ways to share. In August, I will begin the process of being true to myself and convictions. Much <3

Everything's Fine

3 min read

KC Green This is Fine.

Quite possibly the worst thing to tell anyone is “Everything’s fine.” That phrase means absolutely nothing. People utter these words for a variety of reasons, but the definition of “fine” is so fluid that it can mean anything in the known universe.

At age 7 I was told “Everything’s fine” when I was out of my wits with fear of swimming lessons. What about that big presentation you have tomorrow? Your coworker’s advice is “It will be fine.” What did you tell your friend with the terminal cancer? “Everything’s going to be fine.”

How is that Google maps, an application, can direct us from our homes to the latest vape store accurately, but we can’t communicate with each other? Perhaps my mother should have said, “I know the swim instructor scares you, but I promise you that she will not let you drown.” Your coworker would have been better off saying, “If you’re that nervous, let’s see if a meeting room is empty and you can practice in front of me.” That terminal ill friend is far from “fine.” So what can you do in the meantime. Are you scared? Do you not know what to say to this person in crisis? You know what? You can say that. Your honesty is an incredible gift to anyone, at any time. Remember that.

In keeping with the ideas of communication and honesty, everything I just wrote above is my opinion. I am not a psychologist and I did not study sociology. It’s based on my observations and interactions in a world where men aren’t supposed to have emotions. The social world of North America that I live in seems so deeply ingrained with the idea of polite affectation that it feels like we, as humans, rarely communicate. Play your role, tell everyone you’re “fine.” Ask about their work, family and kids and get on to business. Don’t share your pain. Don’t share your struggles. Don’t. Do not share emotions.

What good would come of losing that polite affectation? How could sharing my burden with everyone serve to help us as a community? It comes back to the fact that none of us are “fine.” We are alone with our emotions. Except, each and everyone of us humans has those emotions. Sharing brings us together. Opening up to others means sharing the burden. Together we’re stronger. Even then, we will never meet the definition of fine which is “superior, best quality, excellent or admirable.” However, we can strive towards excellence as a bonded community of humans. Isn’t that the challenge of life? There’s no such thing as perfection, but together we can reach admirable.

The image above is a popular meme from the web, but it originated in K.C. Green's web comic Gunshow.