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The iLung 4

3 min read

a backpack that looks like an iMac

Digging into my unpublished blogs and stories, I found this. I painted an image today and decided to publish this bit of satire. Enjoy.

Found were these notes from the Apple Keynote of the year 2100-

Breathing is intuitive. When we set out to make the iLung 1, we knew it also needed to be intuitive. More importantly, it had to be hassle-free. This is literally a life or death situation. Other oxygen supplies on the market were safe and functional, but clunky, confusing, and austere.

We engineered the iLung for comfort, ease, and of course, air. Today, we bring you the iLung 4. While our patented nose-pods still remain the most comfortable on the market, we are happy to introduce the new Breez connector!

The last thing you want to do is fumble around with the tube connection that supplies your oxygen. At the same time it must be secure when it is connected. Apple brings you the Breez connector. The Gust connector is no more. The Breez has been completely redesigned.

The iLung 4 is still made of a single piece of aluminum to make sure there are no leaks, but we've managed to increase the volume of oxygen it can carry by 35% while still making the unit smaller!

Of course, any sort of new designs are tested to ensure the highest level of safety. When you're carrying around flamible gas out in the tremendous temperatures that ravish the planet now, you want to feel secure. We wanted to do something special for you. We hoped to send the iLung 4 to the planet Mercury. If it could survive at those temperatures, the iLung 4 would survive here for at least another two decades. Ah, but that was the issue. In the amount of time that it would take for our product to get to Mercury, well we will have likely released 4 more updates to the live-saving device. It's no use showing you the iLung 4's durability if we're already giving you the iLung 8. (Pause for laughter) Instead, we put the iLung 4 on a robot and sent it to the super volcano that was once Wyoming. What you're about to see is the video of that super heated trip.

What you're looking at is 2 camera angles, on the left is infared to show us any combustion, since the traditional video camera is so distorted from the heat at the site. Those flashes are some of the robot's hydrallic hoses melting, but as you can see the iLung 4 is doing great! (Pause for applause) Now here the cameras give in to the heat, but sensors showed that the iLung 4 was still intact when we left! Of course, we don't recommend anyone take a vacation to the former Yellowstone park with your new iLung!

Edmontonians Who Own Trucks Will Really Suffer Thanks to COVID-19

4 min read

A parking sign

Our city runs on oil. It fuels our economy, the government, and the people of Edmonton. We love petroleum so much that we've named our hockey team the Oilers. COVID-19 has put an end to the NHL and most public events in our city. Next to our Oilers bumper sticker is another shaped like our province that states, "Alberta Strong." It's short for "Alberta is strongly opinionated."

Yes, without our hometown hockey team to throw under the bus, our citizens will be miserable. If there are no NHL games we will be unable to demand the team be more like the Gretzky team. With a lack of games and theater downtown, Edmontonians will not be able to gripe about parking. The sanctity of parking is held above all else in our city. We all know the gods gave Albertans asses to sit in the bucket seats of 3/4 ton trucks and shout racist slurs at cyclists. Trucks and SUVs powered by oil are the lifeblood of the city. If COVID-19 forces us to work from home, who will complain about the red light cameras? The Edmontonian identity is deeply steeped in vehicle culture. If we're not thundering down side streets in our lifted rigs, who are we? If I cannot go to a party, or social networks to complain about pot holes, I am lost. How can I just sit at home and isolate when there are unused bike lanes taunting me?

A vehicle in a garage deeply saddens us Edmontonians. When I think of the motorcycles, luxury sports cars, and jacked-up trucks that are no longer able to compete for the title of most deafening vehicle on Jasper or Whyte this Spring and Summer, I want to cry. Of course, I won't. I'm Albertan. The rumbling exhaust is Edmontonian music. We love it more than anything else, except for our Nickelback. I will miss my daily 20 minute practice of obscene profanity while I sit at the intersections where the LRT crosses. The COVID-19 pandemic will crush the UCP goal of a 1 to 1 ratio of vehicles to people. Jason Kenney will no longer be able to give speeches from the back of pickup trucks, but he will be sequestered in his mother's basement, talking to us via TicToc.

While our generous & loyal billionaire, Katz will help struggling employees through this pandemic, who will look out for our CEOs and corporations? There are stories about the charitable giants like Uber giving a whole 14 days of paid leave to those involved in the gig economy. Canadians are also calling for people to purchase gift cards to support their favorite local businesses and the arts. If money trickles down as our corporate masters tell us, certainly our traumas will trickle up. There has been zero talk of saving our national icon, Tim Hortons. What happens when we're not in the lineup daily to get our traditional brown sludge and microwaved meals? We must bail out Tim's!

Perhaps the best way to save Edmonton is the automobile! I propose we put together a government fund to remodel offices to drive-ins. Pull up in your SUV, roll down the window and hook up your laptop. Work from the comfort of the bench seats in your Hummer. Business overhead costs will go down-- no office furniture, heat, lighting, janitors or elevator maintenance needed. The pickup truck becomes the board room. Simply line up trucks, tailgate to tailgate, and get our 2 meters of distance and no threat of infection. And, with every office now mobile the demand for gas will go up. The Edmonton economy will be saved.

Down with public transportation, too many people in small spaces. Down with sidewalks, crosswalks, and pedestrians. We will have larger roads and all the parking we could want. Finally, we can return to hockey as it was meant to be played, outdoors. We will modify the uniforms to be a bit more like hazmat suits and watch the game from our trucks, parked around the rink. The only downside to this plan is giving the credit to COVID-19. We cannot start rebuilding if Kenney's war room sees coronavirus as a foreign contribution.

 

A Break in a Pattern is Not Always a Break in Habit

5 min read

hand drawn pattern in ink

Habit is comfort. It is predictable and saves us from unfamilair emotions. These patterns can be complex and often work at a subconscious level. A break in the pattern doesn't always guarantee freedom from the habit. It is not a failure, this is an opportunity to be kind and compassionate to ourselves.

I've started knitting as a mindfulness practice and similar to painting, it is nice to work with my hands. When I drop a stitch and don't notice, it creates a hole in the work. Yet, the work goes on. When you catch your finished sweater or blanket on something sharp there is a danger of unraveling. The pattern breaks down because the yarn has been cut. In the case of a missed stitch the yarn continues along the pattern, but is unbroken. This is often the case when we're trying to change personal behaviors.

If I cannot sleep at night, exhaustion finally takes me in the early hours of the morning and I may not get up until after noon. Half the day is gone, which frustrates me and I begin to feel like a failure before I've started. I have less energy and I'm groggy. I reach for junk food for a quick pick me up, but it just makes me feel worse. By the end of the day, I have the urge to stay up late and get something accomplished because I've spent the day unproductively. If I get a good night's sleep, I break the pattern, right? Not necessarily. The yarn can continue to tighten around me even if I sleep well. It's called habit for a reason. I only have to jump into the pattern anywere. A good night's sleep and a productive morning would be great. Yet, I can get in my head and think it is not enough. Now, I lose energy, reach for junk food, and I'm back into the self-loathing loop.

Self help books and programs like C.B.T. don't really talk about this enough, in my opinion. These resources are focused on encouragement, but the reality is that change takes time. The advice offered is still useful, but I have found that I am quick to dismiss those things that "don't work as advertised." These programs and books are often presented in "how to" steps and when step one is making a goal to break your current pattern, I am done before I begin because the pattern remains. This is evidence to my critical mind that the program doesn't work.

The motivation to change, the personal will that sought out the the book or resource is not always enough. Sometimes I wonder if authors of self-help books believe it is. The irony that I'm using the phrase "not enough" has not been lost on me. I am not seeking to blame the authors and creators of the resources I've found. Instead, I want to caution those of you reading my blog. Change is possible, but instant and perfect change is not.

To me, it feels like I've written over and over about getting caught up in a self-critical loop. I am not enough. I don't make enough money. I don't work hard enough. I'm not a good enough son, sibling, friend, or husband. So, I read a book and enter some programs to get better. Things improve and then I relapse. The program and book are probably great, but I am not enough. The pattern of self-doubt is difficult to unravel. 

Furthermore, this default method of thinking doesn't allow me to see when things improved. Biologically, we remember the "bad" things to protect ourselves. This scar is a reminder not to get near that predator animal. However, I did write "things improve" above. I cannot take that back. I mean I could go up there and erase it, but the point is that there is some sign that I am able to do this. A key to breaking from the habit, or pattern, is likely self-compassion.

When I look back, I think one of my most successful streaks was one where I was working toward compassion. I was listening to mindful driving guided recordings that encouraged me to let other cars into the traffic and remember that there are people like me in those vehicles. Maybe that person is having a family emergency and that's why they are driving aggressive. Did they lose their job? Are they distracted on their phone, or with the radio because they're trying to avoid pain, like me? These things that can usually make me feel uncomfortable or angry are actually opportunities for gratitude. The homeless man on the street who is aggressively asking for money and scaring people is suffering. If I am not ready to see that and help, I can be grateful that I have a home.

Trying to be compassionate to others, complete strangers, was my way of finding some compassion for myself. I am also a human who is suffering. I'm not sure when I stopped working on this goal. I suppose that's in the past now. Today, I can try to move forward compassionately. I may not free myself from the pattern today, but what I need when I realize I am still in the loop is love. Something I have been keeping inside me this past week is a phrase I heard. It's not elequent, but every act is an act of love, or a cry for love. If I feel like a failure today, I'm looking for love. If I cannot get that from myself, I can always ask those around me. Hold onto your supports and hold yourselves.

The Dangers of Self Sabotage

8 min read

oil pastel sketch of me crying in gray with red eyes and blue tears

The expected results are always easier to deal with than the unexpected. Consciously or not, I have had a tendency to throw myself under the bus. I know how to deal with failure and defeat. Success, in my mind, is just postponing the next failure. I am even more anxious after a success because I am waiting for the next shoe to drop. In fact, give me a hot minute and I'll convince myself I was not successful at all.

The first delivery person in history carried a package from one person to another. Eventually, they started doing more deliveries and got a cart. Soon they upgraded to a horse-drawn wagon, a flatbed truck and finally a semi-trailer truck. Now imagine the packages are personal traumas. Often we carry these around with us. I've got a fleet of semis following me. Rather than letting go of the traumas, working through the issues, and forgive myself, I add more trucks to the fleet. When I make a mistake, which is a great opportunity to learn, I look back at the thousands of trucks. Those semis contain evidence of past mistakes and failures. My mind believes a clear pattern and a self-fulfilling prophecy is at work.

If I have my arms out, carrying all these packages for decades, I would have no idea what to do without them. What do I do with my arms if I don't have all these gift-wrapped traumas? So, I ensure my arms still have work by creating my own problems. I know I shouldn't have too much sugar because of my diabetes, so I'll just eat all the ice cream. I get the satisfaction of delicious sugar and then the amazing shame in knowing I should not have done that. Procrastination serves up some daily pain. I make a to-do list that is so long that five people couldn't finish it and then I get overwhelmed and do none of it. The next day, I add more to that same list and my week becomes full of fail. I keep myself in this abysmal state because I am familiar with it.

Depression, Anxiety, and Addiction

It's well known that depression and anxiety are like conjoined twins. They feed off each other in many of us. Occasionally, they are joined by their sibling, addiction. The cycle often goes trauma, depression and/or anxiety, and then addiction to dull the pain. The word addiction typically makes us think of substance abuse, from psychedelics to alcohol and caffeine. There are also behavioral addictions like gambling, video games, porn, and social networks like Instagram.

Dulling the pain with addiction is also feeding it. *Add a new truck to the fleet because I know I shouldn't be doing this. Anxiety flairs to hide the shame of it all. Depression builds until you can take no more and need to get another hit. The dopamine kicks in and you feel alright. Lather, rinse, repeat.

More than once I have heard people propose the question of being addicted to the depression or anxiety. These are behaviors of sorts, right? Could it be possible? If porn lights up the same parts of a brain in a scan as heroin, could the feeling of anxiety? One of Norman Doidge's books talks about people's brains that have been rewired to feel pleasure from pain. He specifically referred to a study of people who enjoy BDSM. The pain center of the brain has been linked to the pleasure center in many of these individuals. Could my brain be wired in a similar way? I want to be in pain?

Sabotage

Is my pain all I know and I wouldn't function without it? Maybe the familiarity and predictability simply a comfortable place for me? Is my brain specifically wired to give me shame and worthlessness? Regardless of the reason, self-sabotage isn't always so easy to notice.

New things are scary because of my fear of failure. So is it sabotage if I say, "no" to an opportunity because I will miss out? Or is it sabotage if I say, "yes" to the project since, deep down, I feel that I will completely screw up? On one hand, I feed depression by denying the opportunity. I can look back at the past and wonder what would have happened. If I accept the opportunity, I get a dose of anxiety about my possible failure.

"Get busy living, or get busy dying." This quote from The Shawshank Redemption is some toxic, tough love I give myself. I know being stagnant, frozen in overwhelm is not helping me. It's a long game sabotage. I can look back on my life yearsfrom now and think, "If only I realized my worth sooner. How much more could I have done?" Telling myself to get busy pushes me further into depression.

In Ian McEwan's latest fiction Machines Like Me new, artificially intelligent androids die by suicide. While half of them choose this option, there is one who seems to have deleted most of his software, essentially giving himself a lobotomy. The theory in the book is that this android attempted suicide and couldn't go through with it, leaving him in this state of minimal functions. I started to wonder when reading this is suicide the ultimate self-sabotage?

In my own struggles with thoughts of suicide, I have found myself thinking of lesser punishments or personal sabotage. Frequently, I've thought that I am such a burden to my loved ones that I should run away and be homeless. This fantasy is about removing myself from life as I know it. When I have those days or weeks when I don't want to get out of bed, it's in this same vein. Paralyzed in bed is hiding from my pain, fear, and shame. Or, I imagine being locked away in a psych ward where I cannot harm myself or others. These are all examples of me giving up. The twisted dreams of a sabotage one step away from ending it all.

The real danger of self-sabotage is when I cannot carry any more packages. When I look back and I can no longer see the horizon because of all the semi-trailer trucks full of the things I refuse to let go of. The fact that I can sit here and talk about self-sabotage is a testament to my resolve (at this moment). If I can notice it, I can do something about it.

Introspection

Philip K. Dick said, "The problem with introspection is that it has no end." Somewhere in this blog I have spoke about being present. Surely, I warned myself, and others, about getting caught up in the sadness of the past and the anxiety of the future. I think I have said that now is the only time that I really need to focus on. I recall offering the advice that each new moment, every 7-10 seconds, is a chance to change. The idea being many of our emotional states last this long. The catch is that we can use that time to trigger an additional 7-10 seconds of the same feeling. This is where I am lost. I am dwelling in the sadness and shame of my perceived worthlessness. Each time I start a sentence in this blog with "I," there is a desire to type "hate myself."

I have been here before. How did I get out? I don't remember, but maybe the important thing is that I did get out. In fact, my urge is to run away. All those lesser suicide options above are clues. I have been trying so very damn hard to be productive and pour myself into tasks. Another sign that I am avoiding the pain in hopes it will pass in the next moment. Self care of meditation, mindfulness, and art are no longer practiced. My mind thinks that those strategies obviously didn't work. So, why bother?

After sitting down to write this, I think my mind is somewhat right about those self-care strategies. While perfectly useful, at this point they are less effective. As I said, those fantasies of running away are the clue. It is time to stop running and do the opposite. What if I step into the pain and suffering? Allowing myself to feel those emotions and go deeper into Chris and find the version of me that wrote about being present. He's here, but he's buried under the fear, shame, embarrassment, insecurity, and guilt. I need to forgive myself for all the self-sabotage. I need to thank my inner critic for carrying all those packages of trauma. Even though my critic has mentally beaten me severely, he did it to protect me. Misplaced anxiety and fear sabotaged me in hopes to keep me from collecting more trauma. I have to learn to trust myself and that mistakes are how I learn to be better. Now, in this moment, I'm going to have a good cry.

Be kind to yourselves. Much <3 to you all.

Punish Thyself

5 min read

A watercolor painting of a belt hanging on a pillar in a dark basement

"You know better." This is a phrase used by parents and teachers that describes the challenges of adulthood. We perceive societal norms and often judge ourselves to those rules instead of our own moral compass. For me, it's more than just ethical behavior and the word of law. I am also looking at the society around me and judging my every decision. "Would someone else post this very blog? Probably not, it looks weak. They wouldn't want to appear broken." Every time this inner critic engages me, right or wrong, I feel that I deserve to be punished.

There is no better person to punish me, than myself. Denial of the things I need and want is very easy because shame tells me I don't deserve happiness. This has had a profound affect on my therapy because if I find something that helps me, like writing, I take it away from myself. Unworthy and shameful are consistent emotional states that I am 'comfortable' feeling. They are familiar. Success and happiness are fleeting and will leave, so why bother experiencing them in the first place?

Yesterday, I learned that I also engage in physical punishment. When I was a boy, I was spanked. Now, I bite my nails. I eat junk food. Both of these feed the shame. They may seem like minor offenses, but the destructive nature of these acts encourage the continued shame cycle. After feeling shame for so long, it doesn't seem foreign to my mind to think about suicide. It's merely a continuation of punishment. The act of suicide, and thinking of it, is another thing to feel shameful for because some people think it is weak and "giving up."

Patterns of Discipline

The overwhelming internal theme for me is that I am not enough. So, the simplest of errors, like sleeping in, can result in me punishing myself by removing something that I have recently learned is beneficial.

Meditation has given me a lot of introspection and helped me. "What a waste of time. You should be working like everyone else, you loser."

Journaling and writing has been a way to explore my emotions and get things out of my head. "Yet, you still make the same mistakes that you've observed in your writing. Maybe your time would be better spent not whining."

Art is actually rewarding. Painting and creating is something I have found that I enjoy for myself, not for any outside validation from others. "Kid stuff. It's play. Of course you like it. Again, get a job."

I haven't read much on "love languages," but I would wager my father's was providing a roof over our heads. Perhaps my shame around never having a good enough job or career stems from growing up in my father's shadow. Of course, that's my perception of my father. I also see both of my grandfathers in that same light. My mother too, is in this category. I wonder if I am stuck trying to live a life following this example I have set for myself? In actuality, my "love language" might not be acts of service at all.

Regardless of my "love language," I certainly know how to inflict punishment on myself. It is something that I now see laced through my recovery. It's not that I don't apply myself after learning CBT or reading a self-help book. I take the gifts I received from those things and deny myself access to them. I don't deserve to be better. I don't deserve the help of my psychiatrist and friends. This is a familiar feeling that I have been managing for years.

Success and Failure

My doctor asked me if I fear failure or success more. To me, success is luck or chance. It doesn't seem sustainable. I don't fear it. I am afraid that it will set an expectation of success and that I will fail again. Logically, I understand that failure is how we learn, but emotionally I am living a very old pattern. If I don't try, I don't fail or succeed. Instead, I sit in the familiar comfort of shame. I even feel mortified in this realization. The loop continues. "You write all this and you still won't do anything different."

Change is as hard as we make it. I suppose the upside is that getting over this tremendous mountain will be that much more rewarding. I feel as if I need to remind myself that recovery isn't a binary of success or failure, but simply moving ahead. Celebrating the victories, the times when I am able to get past the criticism and punishment, is still very foreign to me. Being in my practiced loop of shame, it is easy to write off things as luck, or focus on the all the times I was unable to succeed. I hope you can take a look at your own behavior and question the motivation behind it. For me, finding the space between observing and critiquing myself is very difficult. I know you can do it, I just need to believe that about myself.

Black and White: Alberta Oil Versus the Climate Crisis Reminds Me of the Auto Industry Bailout

8 min read

White and Black coins that say

 

I moved to Edmonton, Alberta several years ago from Michigan. The automobile capital of the world is Detroit Michigan, otherwise known to hockey fans as Motor City. Three hours away I lived near communities with factories making rear view mirrors, upholstery, door panels, and more. The auto industry tentacles spread from Detroit all around the state like a virus attacking the cells in a body. In 2008, General Motors and Chrysler asked Congress for a bailout. The affect on Detroit was devastating and it was all over the news. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the story. Those communities all around Michigan making parts were infected as well. They didn't get a bailout. People had to leave their homes and the state to find work.

I share my story because it is the filter in which I see the oil and gas industry of Alberta. In the capital of Edmonton, politicians fight to keep the flame burning because it is the revenue that sustains the entire province. It trickles out all around in the "boom and bust" economy. For example, I have journalist acquaintances who have written for trade magazines for oil and gas. Those journalists wouldn't put food on the table without the work. When oil prices go up, Alberta is reliving the gold rush era. When the price goes down, things get bleak. As someone who lived through the auto bailout, this reliance on oil and gas in Alberta is terrifying.

Climate Crisis - Blame and Defense

When thousands of students held a strike at the Alberta Legislature on September 27th they were greeted by signs in the windows of the politicians that read "I Love Oil and Gas." Greta Thunberg is expected to come to Edmonton on Friday, October 18th and the current government seems hellbent to have nothing to do with her. Greta is black and the government is white. This is the political atmosphere of our world and possibly more dangerous than the actual climate crisis. The government has taken the defensive position out of fear. Being seen with Greta could hurt their chances of being reelected into a system that is about helping people. This is the goal of Greta too. Her actions are about saving people, not the planet. As a politician, would it not be nice to see a fellow human being following in your footsteps and choosing the path of a leader at such a young age? Can the environment minister, Jason Nixon, not support her for that, even if they have different ideas politically? That's the beauty of gray, and not part of our current cultural atmosphere where everything is about blame and defense.

Greta threatens people with her use of language. She is fed up that business as usual has tried to sweep the very, real climate crisis under the rug. Perhaps it is a poor strategy as she is putting people on the defensive? However, each of us are in charge of our own response. We value those who fight for what they believe is right, more than we value empathetic communication. So, the response over and over is one of anger and defense. It's a black and white world. Greta blaming adults and governments for not listening may be just as bad as those shouting that she's wrong. We don't live in a society of discourse. We live in a world of sound bites, memes, clickbait headlines, and choosing sides. You are with us or you're against us.

Too Big To Fail

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly I don't know why she swallowed a fly - perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider That wriggled and wiggled and tiggled inside her. She swallowed the spider to catch the fly I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!

Our world is a complex one. A single solution to a problem can often result in numerous other issues. The automobile virus that surrounds Michigan could not simply be eradicated. However, fear kept us from looking for alternatives. Cash for Clunkers was created to assist the Big Three automakers to get back to business as usual. Michigan wanted to put the past behind them. The state could not simply pick up and diversify in a short time. The infrastructure of its government, industries, and communities was all built within this huge system that relied on the auto industry. Similarly, Alberta, its inhabitants, and Canada as a whole stay afloat because of oil.

Alberta cannot merely stop producing oil and gas. It's a harsh reality. At the same time, as a species we cannot continue on like we are. Our children will pay with their lives. The climate crisis is not about "saving the planet" like so many in the 1990s and early 2000s boasted. It's about saving humans. Blaming temperature change on the planet is not a solution. Like Michigan and Alberta economies, the environment is a giant system that is woven into our lives. The hard work is in the sacrifices we decide to make to ensure our own survival. Time is wasted when we try to point fingers with blame. This is why Greta and others are striking. They are giving up something important, like their education and work, to bring light to an issue.

The time for choosing sides is over. It is time to seriously sit down and discuss strategies before it is too late. Greta herself, has even said that it isn't her you need to listen to, but scientists. The demand is that we do something about the climate crisis. It is not that we must all stop driving cars, using plastics, heating our homes, and using light bulbs at night. I'm not a scientist, but renewable resources seem like they would be more profitable for longer than fossil fuels. Of course, that's if you want to sustain your business interests and not just get rich quick. Your opinion can differ from mine and we can discuss it instead of being defensively trying to win an argument. Communication has to happen before it becomes impossible. See, communication needs oxygen. We may have that now, but the future is uncertain despite what those who want to keep their political positions, jobs, and cash, tell you.

That last bit feels as if I am also casting blame. It's a difficult thing to avoid today. Especially, when I am alone in a room typing this instead of having a conversation with my politicians. As I said above, this is not a black and white world. This is a complex system that we are all part of, whether we like it or not. The economy, the government, the planet, our communities, our jobs, and neighborhoods are all systems intricately tied together by a common thread, us humans. There's no argument of whether Alberta oil and gas is right or Greta is, if no humans are around to shout.

Responsibility and Resolution

In the 80s GM closed several auto plants in Flint, Michigan. According to The Detroit News there were around 80,000 people working for GM in Flint prior to the closings. In 2015, there were only 7,200 employed by the auto giant. At Christmas of 1988, Michael Moore told the chairman that he had filmed a family being evicted from their Flint home on Christmas eve. Chairman Roger B. Smith responded, "Well, I'm... listen, I'm sure General Motors didn't evict them. You'd have to go talk to their landlords."

Is Roger passing the buck? Is Moore blaming him for something he had no control over? General Motors is a complex system. I'm certain they didn't close those Flint plants on a whim, but had a meeting about the impact it would have on General Motors. The people who lost their jobs may have sacrificed themselves for the others who luckily remained employed at other plants. This kind of boom and bust is one that we are used to. The lose of drinking water and breathable air are not anything we want to experience. Oil and gas are intricate to the survival of people in Alberta, right now. Can we use those profits to build something better for our children? First, we have to have the conversation as a group of humans, not politicians trying to get votes or CEOs looking to keep investors happy. World War I and World War II did not end because of a show of might by armies. It was not the heroic fighting of the soldiers that we should idolize. The wars were won in rooms with pens. People, humans signed armistices. They declared to end hostilities. If we have any heroes today, they shouldn't be costume vigilantes, bombastic politicians, or striking children. Heroes are the people that can see that the world is not black and white and can come to the table to talk solutions.

Friendship, Isolation, Boundaries, and Authenticity

9 min read

me behind a brickwall in a watercolor painting

 

While sitting and listening in my recent group therapy I heard a lot of talk about the masks we wear. Like me, many of the people in the group are getting to know themselves. They expressed the desire to be around others who are authentic and genuine. This was a familiar feeling for me. I have struggled to make sense of this as well. Relationships flourish when we are vulnerable, but we can also have boundaries. How do we find balance between the two?

This Is Me

There's a danger in identifying with that which makes us neurally different than others. I have certainly fallen deeper into depression by declaring to the world that depression is all I am. We are not our injuries, disabilities, jobs, or parent's children. Each one of us is an individual. I simply wanted to state this upfront because it is important. If we are to be truly genuine, we are all the worries, feelings, thoughts, victories and failures together. We are not just one part of the whole. I recently heard poet, John O'Donohue, say this in an interview, "Identity is not biography."

Part of learning who I am means letting go, in a way. To really let emotions free is a scary process. I have always held them at bay and tried to control them. For example, I cannot cry in a job interview if a question evokes those emotions. It isn't socially acceptable to express our emotions freely. We must be humble in our success and persevere through pain. This societal messaging can seem like a systematic oppression when you're vulnerably exploring yourself. Once you open the valve, it is much harder to close. Thus, my mind can start to do some unhealthy comparison. I'm open and honest and the world is not. I must be the broken one. Personally, I find blame is often a sign that I'm not being honest with myself. Looking for faults in the world rather than acknowledging that I am hurt is a distraction. I am sad that others are still wearing masks and scared that maybe they are not. Maybe they do want to hurt me? All of these thoughts and emotions are within me, regardless if they are true or not, and it is my responsibility to welcome and respect them.

When I let myself be vulnerable, when I am authentically me, it is an alienating experience. One must be courageous to stay in that space out in a world that is black and white. In the larger society around us, we are right or wrong. There are very few places where emotions are freely accepted. Furthermore, I struggle to stay vulnerable because it is new to me. Going out into the public is like being covered in second degree burns in a sand storm.

"Why can't everyone be vulnerable and honest?" This question, a thought, comes in to bring me out of that emotional space. It builds and the frustration becomes resentment. Was I better off before, when I squashed the emotions? Maybe I am better off being alone because it hurts to get close to people?

Isolation and Solitude

There's a distinction between making space to process emotions and isolating. One I do consciously and the other is subconscious. One is work and the other is not. When I begin to question the world around me, I am once again, avoiding my feelings. I may think that I need some downtime and believe that I am doing some self-care by avoiding social situations. The question I have to ask myself is "what is the emotion behind the decision to stay home?" Is it fear of fitting in? Is it shame?

There's nothing wrong with solitude. At this point for me, it needs to be intentional. I am not protecting myself, but exploring without distraction. Can self-care be a cup of tea, a good book, or a movie? Maybe? For me, those often seem more like distractions from some emotion or situation I am avoiding. When given the opportunity to be social or stay home, 85% of the time the social situation is going to recharge my batteries more than staying home. Humans are social creatures. Anxiety, depression and other neural divergent conditions often encourage us to hide.

Friendship and Boundaries

What about our peeps? Can they be as genuine with us as we are with them? Again, 'maybe' is the answer. If it isn't us, we all have that "Debbie Downer" friend. We have the popular one, the chatty one, the artistic, new age one, etc. Our friends play different roles in our lives, just as we do in theirs. It can feel like rejection when you open up to someone and they do not reciprocate. People have individual tastes, though. My partner would not be open to your numerous stories of gruesome surgical blunders, but I would listen. Boundaries are healthy. If someone is truly your friend, you can explore boundaries with them shame-free. Through, open communication they can say, "I'd rather not discuss that." Likewise, you can say, "That makes me uncomfortable."

It can be very difficult to try to find boundaries in today's world. There's a culture of "Gotcha," a desire to call people out. As friends, I would hope we can respect each other's opinion. That's not always the case in the real world, of course. When we expose our emotions, things get uncomfortable. Maybe that's because we don't often speak with our hearts? If can tell a friend in passionate anger my opinion, can I not apologize with just as much sincere love?

Turning It On and Off

Is the switch to turn off my emotions behind my ear? My interior world before my breakdown was a place of paranoia, anxiety, and self loathing. A comment like, "Nice blog, Chris," would invoke questions of sarcasm. If not sarcastic, is the person feeling pity for me? Are they saying that because they think I want to hear it? In my mind, I could continue deeper and wonder what my late father or my deceased grandmother would think. Am I a disappointment? This is all to say that my interior world is a vast echo chamber. All of that and more can happen in the time it takes me to say thank you to the initial comment. Therefore, I don't have to turn my emotions off with a switch. I have plenty of space to process it.

As I said above, I feel very raw and exposed when I am vulnerable, but the best person to comfort me is always here. It's me. All those questions I asked after the comment are motivated by fear. It's a fear that I do not belong. Rather than express the fear with further questions to echo the fear, I can try to use the space to feel it. Welcoming the pain doesn't mean I have to tell the commenter. Perhaps those deeper issues of my father's opinion and feelings of failure may be better explored in solitude, but I can use my inner space to hold and welcome the emotion rather than more questions. Writing this here seems like one of those "in a perfect world" situations. Truthfully, I am not always capable of sitting with emotions.

Processing emotions is taxing. It can be exhausting. This is why people in my therapy group, and myself, struggle in a world that wears masks. We don't have the energy to put a mask back on. When we do, we feel inauthentic and that hurts. I thought I was finally getting to the core of my issues, but now I have to pretend that I am okay for the benefit of the world around me? It feels like a step backwards. I think my strategy is to be genuine with myself. I'll do my best not to wear a mask, but I will try to have boundaries. We are supposed to choose our battles, right?

Confidant

So, how do we find that close friend who we can be vulnerable with? Maybe we don't. Perhaps I can share my insecurities about my art with other artists, but my fear of being a terrible husband are behind a boundary in that case. Instead, I may address that directly with my partner, or a close friend who is also in a committed relationship. Yet, I cannot talk to my partner or friend about my artwork because I fear they won't understand. Does that make sense?

It can feel like change is impossible, but I like to remind myself that I am not the same person I was twenty minutes ago. Those things we experience can change and influence us. If people change, so do our relationships. Our confidant today, may only be an acquaintance next week. It sounds extreme, I know. Fiction in books and movies like to tell us that emotional bonds are forever, but we don't need to grieve every loss. My best friend lives miles away in another city with his family. If we talk once every three months, that's okay. Before, we may have been much closer, but we both have families now. I can embrace that with joy and some sadness. I can make a new friend and confidant. And, that person could move away, or explore a passion that similarly removes them from my life. I think the key is to value the present moment with those around you.

How do you find friends? There's lots of things written on the internet on this topic. I think the first step is to not isolate so much and be social. This is where I am at. This is the thing I can do at this moment. Before I go, thank you for reading this. I appreciate your encouragement and comments. Maybe we're friends?

Forgetting: Aging or Rewiring?

5 min read

Watercolor elephant scratching his head with trunk

 

Inevitably, our elder friends and family joke about how forgetful they have become as they get older. Whether it's a power of suggestion or not, I find myself blaming age for lost thoughts. Yet the more I work on my mental health, I wonder if thoughts are all that helpful.

Certainly, the context of a thought matters. Not remembering to take one's medication is not great. However, not thinking of the 6,974 things that could go wrong if you miss your meds wouldn't be a bad thing. Thoughts can be a source of trouble because we sometimes feel they are facts. For example, I imagine you have stopped reading this already. I believe it. It's a fact, just as plainly as the fact that I am unlovable and a burden. Of course, these are not facts. Logically, I know this. Though, there's still a deep sense, a feeling, that those things are true facts.

Strive for Excellence

When we forget things it feels like a betrayal. Before we were able to do so much. Provide. Succeed. Retire. That cultural message is about getting an education, finding work, creating a family, and retiring after all your hard work. Be productive now and relax later. The cult of busy is something to take pride in and when you take it away in retirement, many people struggle. While I'm not retired, I spend a lot of time shaming myself for forgetfulness. Why would I forget something? What am I doing that is so demanding that would stress me so much to forget? Nothing. I am a loser. While extreme, it's similar to a retired person thinking, "I shouldn't be so forgetful, I don't have as much on my plate as when I was working."

Here I Am Now

Perhaps forgetting is a sign of being in the moment. So often my thoughts are about what's next or past gaffs. "What was I going to do after I got home from our lunch together?" Is that as important as spending time with you? (Okay, sure. Forgetting that I need to take my meds when I get home.) I am suggesting that maybe forgetfulness comes when we can truly relax. Maybe this is why age seems to come with this stigma? Retired folks with less on their plate have less worries plaguing their anxiety? Mortality becomes more real and is a far bigger fear than changing the furnace filter I would think. And thus, many seniors try to share the idea of making our time here on Earth count.

Inner Critic

We are fearless in our youth. We don't spend time thinking we could get hit by a bus or fall down an elevator shaft. As we age and slow down, we look back with nostalgia and gratitude. I think I also look back with regret. The regret of things I think I did wrong and my wasted youth. "If only I would have used my time more wisely." Thus, forgetting things now taps into this inner criticism of myself. I can blame the lost thoughts on age, but hidden behind that is a feeling that I didn't do enough when my mind was "sound." Forgetfulness becomes a tool to shame myself for growing old. Guess what? We all age. So get over yourself, Chris.

Am I romanticizing the idea of forgetfulness by thinking it could be a good sign of change? Perhaps. Though, being in the moment seems really important. Trying to remember my grocery list as I sit at a funeral may be escaping the situation. It's a distraction from the emotions brought by grief. Maybe focusing on how forgetful we are as we age is a distraction from the emotions brought up by the realization of our mortality. Better to try and fix the problem of forgetfulness than dwell on the fears of death. Again, when I write "death" I jump to thinking what that would be like for me, rather than feeling the sadness and fear of not existing. How scary that I wouldn't be able to write you anymore, feel my partner's touch, cuddle my dog, eat chocolate, or feel the sun on my skin? It's really scary. It is a pit in the stomach, tension in the jaw, and shallow breath frightening. Rather than letting my eyes well up from sadness, I again focus on the things I haven't done yet. I'm not making enough money. I'm a bad brother, son, husband, and I need to fix that. All these thoughts come at me as a subconscious strategy to avoid those feelings about my coming death.

The next time you forget something, maybe that's alright. It felt important before, but right now it isn't. Accepting that may be part of remembering. Understanding that the thought wasn't a fact and is an opinion is also helpful. "Don't forget to take your meds," is an opinion. Forgetting to take insulin and then having symptoms is a fact. One that will likely remind you to take the meds.

You know what? Forget this entire blog. Age or mental wellness aside, forgetting is not an issue at all. It is the dwelling on the forgetfulness that is a problem. These thoughts that I should remember, or criticisms that being old or forgetful is bad are not helping us remember! They only serve to shame us. Leave the past and the future behind. Feel into the now.

The Narrative of a Mind

5 min read

A thorny branch

"This is not an off leash trail! That's why we jog here!"

It was those two simple sentences that spun my mindful walk into a hellish nightmare. I was walking the dog at an off leash park and took a trail that I seldom take because I eventually have to turn around as it dead ends into steps to a neighborhood. However, I was hoping to find some good twisted branches or roots for an art piece. Our rescue dog has been diagnosed with fear aggression. As such, she's more afraid of everyone else than they should be of her. On occasion she will growl or bark behind a dog's back, as to say, "And stay away!" It's a toxic behavior that we are working on and one she displayed on the trail. The jogger had his dog leashed and my dog barked and lunged in their direction after they passed. This resulted in the jogger's dog running in front of him and almost tripping the jogger. I apologized and this is when he stated the quote above and ran away.

Observations

The jogger was angry. The younger man was almost tripped and his morning workout was interrupted. On my way back through the trail, I saw no signs stating I was leaving the off leash park. Although, the boundaries of a park are not typically marked on trails. I ran into 7 other dogs on the trail. The jogger and 1 other person had the dogs on leashes. Both of us had tame, but unpredictable, animals. That is dogs are like people, we don't always get along with everyone else. My dog is my responsibility and the instigator in this situation. I apologized and leashed her, though he didn't see that. The jogger is entitled to his emotional response as am I.

Storytelling

First I fell into shock, but more on that in a bit. My mind went to work instantly desiring to counter his anger with more anger. Fight or flight popped in, adrenaline showed up, and I was ready to use my found branches as blunt instruments instead of art materials. As he ran away the events played back in my head and I saw his rage at me. Wait. He was angry, but not fake TV wrestler steaming. No, he was disgusted with me. Disappointed. I failed him. Wait. He has no investment in me. I failed myself. I should have known it wasn't off leash. I am the worst. What if he jogs back this way? I'd love to get the leash around his neck and see how he likes that. Wait. I will tell the next person I see on the trail about the angry jogger. I'll warn them about him. Wait. Let it go. He was angry and I'm just reacting. Yeah, I need to have some compassion. Why didn't that asshole show me compassion? Wait. I just want to go home.

Respond Not React

In the first two paragraphs above I had a hard time not embellishing what actually occurred. Like the jogger's anger from almost tripping, my emotions are still in the driver's seat as I try to share what happened. Immediately on the trail, I said I was in shock. I was actually caught in a loop, a cycle of shame. After apologizing, I realized the event was triggering the shame inside of me. The terrible husband, loathsome employee, pathetic student, bad brother, and useless son within me awoke. Jogger man becomes another person in my life that wishes I was dead. Of course, that's all in my head. And, this all occurred before he reacted with his angry words. This moment of shock was winning. I knew myself well enough to understand that the events were activating some past emotions.

Then the jogger said, "This is not an off leash trail! That's why we jog here!" I slipped out of the self-aware into despair. It was if he said, "No, really I want you dead. You're a pathetic person who doesn't deserve love." The familiar narrative took over and I thought all those thoughts in the storytelling section above. My desire to tell others on the trail about the jogger was also motivated by my self-loathing. I wanted to be consoled. I wanted someone to tell me that I wasn't to blame. I wanted to continue running from myself and my emotions.

It's difficult when you recognize a pattern and it continues repeats itself. Not so long ago I was reeling because someone said I spoil my dog and another person gave me a broken laptop and felt bad that it caused me turmoil. I'm still here in this pattern, really? I suppose that moment of shock is a progress. Writing this out is therapeutic, even if I cannot retain it. I have also been working to manufacture my own loop or cycle. It goes like this: The jogger triggered all sorts of emotions in me. Perhaps my face, my dog, my reaction, or jogging triggered something emotional in his past? When I am hurting and I want to point a finger and blame someone, I start to wonder what their story is. I like to think this is the beginning of compassion. We all suffer, every single one of us.

We're all individuals and like the dogs in today's adventure we respond differently to each other. It's not what people say, or even how they say it. No, it is how it makes you feel. What you do with those feelings is up to you. If I can have compassion for a stranger who yelled at me, maybe one day I can have compassion for myself.

Emotions and the Inner Child Meditation

macro image of a dandelion

 

I've only found a few meditations on healing the inner child on Insight Timer. None of them really got me where I needed to be, so I made my own.

Ever have a dream or nightmare that was so real that you woke up feeling like the events actually transpired? Emotions are very powerful and completely disconnected from that part of our mind that keeps time. So, I wake up angry from a dream argument. I am afraid of the nightmare and cannot return to sleep. I am on edge, stressed about money because I dreamed that I made a bad investment. In our day-to-day lives we can tap into emotions from the past and not even know it. Every time you meet someone with cancer you may start to replay the emotions from the loss of a loved one with cancer.

Imagine one side of your brain handles logic and rational thought-- math and time. The other side is the emotions. What you feel is happening right now, not in the past. A memory from the past may have triggered the emotions, but they are happening in that moment of meeting another person with cancer. I believe this is an important distinction because we spend so much time avoiding emotions. It's easy to think, "I shouldn't be so upset right now, my father passed away years ago." A thought like that is bottling the emotions up. It is telling myself, "I should not feel this way. It is wrong." However, we cannot bottle emotions away. Eventually they return. Instead, we need to sit with them. We need to feel them. Processing emotions is nothing more than being with them. They are a part of being human.

Our rules for living in this world are developed as a child. You touch a hot stove at age three, you know to never ever do that again. If your mother sent your brothers outside to play while you did housework and helped her with meals so you could learn to be a good housewife, how does that affect you as a child? Perhaps, you think it is bullshit today, but still feel guilt or shame at the thought of asking for help with the housework? Maybe helping your mom was a pleasure. Maybe it didn't affect you adversely. We're all individuals.

While that time of child development is important, we can also experience things as an adult that leave a lasting affect. The example of loss I used above is one such event that can produce lasting emotions that we relive subconsciously. Despite the title, my hope is that the following meditation allows myself and you to explore whatever comes up, whether it is from childhood or adulthood. Do the best that you can. This is difficult work. Be kind to yourself.

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