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The Unsustainable Upward Trend

7 min read

neurons at a meeting on happiness, a watercolor paintinghelpless neurons

Sustainability often comes up in economics, but rarely comes up as a topic in general discussions of mental health. Some think talking about relapse will do harm. It is also triggering to caretakers, friends, and family to see someone in pain, so we avoid anything that is not progress. However, the goal for those of us who are neural diverse is finding balance not a cure.

When we talk about normalizing mental wellness these days people often compare things like anxiety and depression to broken limbs-- you would take some time off work and seek medical attention if you broke your leg, you should be able to do the same for mental health. Unfortunately, some injuries can be more serious than others. The leg may not return to its previous usability. This is always the case for mental wellness. Trauma alters our brains. While someone with an injured leg may have to rely on a cane after physical trauma, we may require continued therapy, medication, meditation, or other supports.

Pain is debilitating. A friend with a back pain has good days and bad days. On those bad days they have difficulty focusing and feel like they are better off resting than making things worse. Psychological pain is no different from this physical pain. There are good days and bad days. One difference between physical pain and psychological pain is that we can often notice when others are in physical pain. Those of us dealing with mental health issues have pain that is not visible to the naked eye.

It is common for people that are neural diverse to isolate when they are in pain. My depression relentlessly attacks me with thoughts and feelings that I am a burden to others. Therefore, I can hide my pain from you because I do not want to burden you. Or, I believe if I am so distraught that you can see my psychological pain it is likely to have an adverse affect on you. We don't want to see our loved ones in pain. The raw emotion is uncomfortable. We want to avoid pain. This is a natural, human reaction. Though, my depression sees your frustration as proof that I am a burden, you are not the cause of my pain. Likewise, I am not the cause of your discomfort. Yet, an uncomfortable past experience may convince you to avoid discussing my pain in the fear that you'll trigger me more.

When we avoid the reality of psychological pain it can reinforce stigmas around mental wellness, confirm my distorted view that I am a burden, and disrupt the process of finding equilibrium. Our mental wellness will not be graphed with a green line shooting upward like some sort of dream stock price. There are hills and valleys and recovery is a lifelong process. My hope is to find neutrality. I want to find something sustainable. I have no interest in trying to make each day better than the one before because that's unrealistic. Even for people who may not have depression, anxiety, or another neural diversity, mental wellness does not trend upward every moment of their lives.

Finding balance between the ups and downs of mental wellness sounds like a very difficult task. As such, standing by and supporting someone through it is equally complicated. You cannot expect us to keep 'getting better' in an upward trend, but you want to help us avoid the pain. Avoidance is a strategy that eventually implodes in my experience. I would classify avoidance as damaging and distraction as a better alternative. Personally, I struggle with that classification. Shame tells me that my distraction is an avoidance tactic. However focusing on grief, loss, anxiety, or whatever the psychological pain is for 24/7 is draining. Therefore, a book, a movie, a coloring book, cooking, or whatever you find some satisfaction in can be a healthy distraction despite what the shame says.

Speaking of draining, you can encounter fatigue trying to support someone dealing with mental wellness issues. That desire to stop our pain fuels the need to see a steady improvement like a stock. Not meeting that goal can be frustrating and draining as a support. Perhaps redefining what 'getting better' means is a strategy to help those of us that are neural diverse and those of you trying to support us. The definition will likely be different for everyone. In general, getting better may mean accepting where I am at and setting a goal of preventing myself from hitting rock bottom again. Maybe, understanding that good days and bad days are a reality, but being able to recognize when the bad days are trending in order to ask for more support? I certainly don't feel that I have communicated what 'getting better' means to me very well in this paragraph. That is likely a sign that I do need to sit down and better define it so that I am not trying to reach unrealistic goals subconsciously. sigh

Using those unrefined parameters, how will I know 'bad days' are trending? This is the benefit of the hills and valleys of mental health. We learn in those valleys. Failure and mistakes are how we learn. The way to find balance or neutrality is to experience the highs and lows. In economics, companies that constantly try to make 20% profit from the year before often make cuts to achieve those numbers. They fail to innovate and learn. It's a strategy that works well if you're hoping to get large numbers to increase your selling price and move on. However, it is not a sustainable strategy. And, I am unable to sell my collection of traumatized neurons. So living with them is a better idea than shooting for an unrealistic upward trend in mental wellness.

If I do not try, I cannot fail. Somewhere along the line, perhaps early in my childhood, I adapted this philosophy in a low. Shame or embarrassment may have triggered the thought and it became law. Much of my anxiety comes from the expectations I put on myself. I build them up into an impassable mountain until I have convinced myself not to try. As such, I see expectations from others and want to run the other direction. In the same way as a caretaker, friend, or partner of someone like me, you may have experienced a severe low in your neurally diverse friend. In that moment you constructed a law that you do not want to see that again. You want to protect your friend, just as my anxiety is trying to protect me.

Sometimes, I need someone to just listen. Sometimes, I need a gentle reminder. Many times, I am unable to communicate what I need. As a support, you cannot be expected to know what it is I need. Remember that connection is always needed. Validating and accepting where we are in the highs and lows goes a long way to help. Empowering people with neural diversity to make their own choices is part of that validation. Directly set boundaries for your own mental wellness and we will respect that. Communicating your concerns helps us reality check what anxiety or depression is telling us. Maybe you don't find me a burden and want to hear what I have to say, but today is not a good day. Perhaps, there's a family member in your past who had similar issues and I am triggering you. It is okay to be direct and set that boundary. "This triggers something from my own past that I would rather not revisit. However, ruminating on this stuff all the time is really draining. So if you want a distraction, please reach out. I can totally help in that way."

We are social creatures and isolation is part of many mental health concerns. I cannot say every exposure to others will be beneficial, though it can often help to be surrounded by strangers at a park or a mall. Connection, even those as thin as being surrounded by other humans that are strangers can be helpful. Please do not let anything I have written prevent you from connecting with myself and others who are living with neural diversity. Just try not to be like the helpless neurons above.

What is 'The Economy?'

5 min read

A digital collage of graphs money and a worker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fear of what will happen to the economy during the pandemic permeates our daily lives. Politicians, entertainer-journalists, and your friends and neighbors are frightened about the financial future. "What will happen to the economy?"

The Fantastical Beast Economy

I am fascinated that we refer to the economy like the weather. As if we do not have any control over it, the economy roams the planet devouring currency and disrupting markets. We lose jobs, our homes and possessions because of 'the economy.' The value of our labor and the products and services we offer changes because of 'the economy.' Leaders suspend protective laws, start wars, and base taxes on 'the economy.' If the economy isn't a creature like the Loch Ness monster or a force of nature like a hurricane, what exactly is it?

The definition of the word revolves around the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. We are the producers, the distributors, and the consumers. So do we fear ourselves? If the economy collapses we are out of work and cannot afford to consume. It's an ouroborus, the serpent eating its own tail. Or is it? We are the force behind the economy. Perhaps the problem we will face after the pandemic isn't 'the economy,' but what we choose to value.

Worth

As individuals we have different interests and passions. A Michael Jordan autographed photo has little value for myself and others. However, there are those who would pay top dollar for his authentic autograph. Of course, there is some complexity there. Were I to have stumbled onto a Jordan autograph, I may be tempted to find someone who would pay a pretty penny for it. This is how our society operates, trading valuables for promissory notes.

Prior to the 1930s many countries used the gold standard to back currency. A dollar represented a number of ounces of gold. Like the example above, I don't really have a need for gold. I don't create electric circuits or desire gold jewelry. Yet, gold was a commodity that one could trade for necessary items like food and clothing. Whether currency is backed by gold or not, I cannot deny that it is nice to have a standard accepted by everyone.

Once again, we are talking about representation. Money and the system obscure what is happening and the real value being traded. The economy represents production, distribution and consumption of goods and service. Currency now represents monetary policy, instead of gold. We've agreed I should be paid currency for my production. I will use the currency to pay others for their goods and services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there is less production as we get ill and stay home. Though, we all still need to consume necessities. Thus, 'the economy' is failing?

An image of text

'The economy' is about our work and consumption, right? Money is a stand-in for the things we need and desire. The currency is used to bridge the gap in what each of us value. I make a wooden chair, you trade me some promissory notes that I can exchange for some shoes from someone else. With my very basic and general understanding of 'the economy' it is hard to understand how it can fail. Of course, I am not getting into the speculation market and stock exchange. Perhaps that is what we fear will fall apart, not the economy.

Value

One definition for 'value' is worth. Another is meaning. The fact that nurses and doctors are working incredible hours in dangerous conditions during the pandemic is not about monetary worth. What they are doing has meaning far beyond currency. After being in a car accident, the value of my partner holding and consoling me is worth more than a suitcase full of currency to pay for a new car. No one wants the money for cancer treatment, they need the treatment.

Without promissory notes people barter. Prisoners find value in barter since cash is hard to come by and perhaps not worth as much as tobacco or real cheese. When Greece went through the recent financial crisis a barter economy emerged. In fact, the website created for this barter market in Greece exchanges credits similar to bank notes. So what is the difference? I would argue connection. A small community of people bartering is building a network of human connection. The value bleeds into meaning. We often take pride in helping others. We trust the people in our networks and those closest to us. Emotional connection creates a healthier society. Perhaps one where N95 masks are given freely to those in need and not hoarded for profit.

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel

The economy represents how we interact with each other and currency seems more like a placeholder. That Michael Jordan autograph may be worth a new TV to you, but I would likely only value the paper it was written on. I want the paper, you want the autograph, neither one of us needs the bank notes in reality. We only use them to represent value we create. There are only 5 Liberty Head Nickels. To a collector this single coin could be worth $2-4 million dollars. To the bank, the coin is still only worth $.05. Value is in the eye of the beholder, so how will our economy fail? The stock market, or gambling on the how people may value future goods, may indeed fail.

One of the disadvantages of the gold standard was the distribution gold deposits. This means some countries would have more than others and that could limit trade and growth.'The economy' is a system born from us. It is not as important as what we value. Perhaps the pandemic is an opportunity to examine what worth truly is?

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!

Relationships and Mental Wellness

7 min read

Two oval shapes mirroring each other in a gritty environment

"You're not responsible for the emotions of others."

This is something I've heard often in therapy, groups, and through other resources. Logically, it makes sense. If you could make someone feel love for you, there would be no need for dating. No, people are in charge of their own emotions. It may not always feel that way to us. Sometimes it seems like the emotions are in control, not the other way around. Dealing with emotions is a whole topic of its own. What I sat down to write about was healing yourself while being in relationships.

Much of my depression appears to stem from my worth as a person in this world. For years I have lived off the validation from others. I was desperate to impress everyone, parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, and strangers. Their praise was all I had because I did not love myself. I was ashamed of who I was. I used to joke that if I became President that one of my grandmothers would have said, "I think you can do better. That job doesn't pay that much does it, Christopher." That was my joke, these are not direct quotes from grandma. This is how I saw myself-- never good enough.

The path to healing is to find a way to love who I am, in this moment. I cannot change my past and fearing the future only leads to more trouble. However, I'm not alone in this journey. I have a partner and family. They say you don't choose your family. Would my partner have chosen to marry me if my depression was written into the contract? I was miserable when a former partner went through depression. In fact, I left. I grew up with my mother locked away in her room. When my father tried to talk me out of leaving my former partner, I told him that I didn't know how he could live like that. My mother told me that hurt him a lot, to hear me say that. Again, dwelling on the past or unseen futures is not typically helpful with depression. Though, here in the present, my mental illness is a factor in our relationship.

The shame of being unworthy is fueled by that past memory, but the difference here and now is communication. This is a key part of my healing and relationship. My personal message that "I can do better" is supposed to motivate me, but telling myself it over and over has convinced me that I'm not enough. It doesn't matter which relationship, mother, sister, spouse, I'm not enough. That desire for outside validation that I mentioned earlier morphed into a new shame delivery system.

"That person is just being polite. They know I'm not really talented, important, or helpful," I thought.

Therefore, communicating with my partner openly is far more helpful than listening to that punishing voice in my head. This is a double-edged sword, sharing my thoughts and emotions like this. Openly sharing has her trying to create a map of pitfalls to avoid. No one wants to see someone they love hurting. So, what are the situations we need to navigate around to avoid Chris feeling pain?

The map is a myth. Even now, as I write this, I'm hoping to stumble on my own map to help her navigate my depression. You're not responsible for the emotions of others. Our minds are unique to the moment we are in. Our brains have plasticity and are constantly changing. There is no ranking sadness, anger, happiness, fear, surprise, and disgust. Each has the ability to overcome the others. Something that would normally disgust you to eat, may not look bad if you haven't eaten in 10 days. Fear of death is a big scary thing to some of us, but sadness of depression can easily dull the fear. Happiness that your partner is alive after a crash can overpower the anger or sadness you feel at losing your father's classic car. The point is, we cannot predict what others will feel. We barely have control of our own emotions.

Where Are We Then?

I share, it concerns my partner, and we're both left uneasy. If it was just me alone, my depression wouldn't affect anyone, right? This is depression talking again. That desire to isolate and shield ourselves away from any feeling whatsoever.

Now what?

Maybe the clues are above. My partner is concerned, she is affected by what I am going through. Her desire to avoid pitfalls is far more important than anything else. That's love. In that moment, she's trying to help. The same goes for me as I write this. The worry that our mental health is a burden on those around us is based in a fear of future pain. I'm missing that key present moment, she's doing everything to help. Her fear that she's not saying the right things or could be doing things that are harmful comes from how I behaved in the past. Instead of worrying about what may happen, all of us would be better off to focus on what's in front of us. I'm here and sharing. Human connection is an amazing thing if you just take time to really be present.

I'm not being critical of my partner or myself. Though, that is my old pattern. I'm simply trying to remind myself and those of you reading that nothing matters more, than this moment. Regret is born from realizing that fact too late. The "should haves" begin to slap the shore of your beliefs and you find yourself awash in feelings that you didn't do enough. There's that word again, ""enough." Maybe I need to try to remove that from my vocabulary with a Morning Mantra. In fact, I think saying "too late" was a bad idea as well. Truthfully, it is never "too late" when you're in the present.

Then & Now

I didn't leave my former partner because of her depression. I left to avoid mine. The shame that I was unable to pay the bills and returning to school because I couldn't hack university before was the motivation. I had failed my parents, my marriage, and everyone. I wasn't who I thought they wanted me to be. I suppose that was the question I was really asking my father at the time, "If you love my mother, will you love me if I can't be who you want me to be?" Of course, he didn't want my mother to be in pain. However, it wasn't up to him. All he could do was be present and communicate. Healing takes time, moment to moment.

I was lost in a future I thought everyone wanted. I was trapped in a past where I believed I made the wrong decisions about my education, house purchase, and letting others depend on me. I was depressed. When I observer the past, and don't get swept away in it, I can see my depression goes back much further.

Once my psychiatrist told me that the emotional parts of our brain have no sense of time. An emotion triggered by a memory can be just as powerful as the day the event actually happened. When I think of my father and all his medical complications as I write this, I feel sad despite the fact that he passed away a while ago. Wherever he is now, no matter what my beliefs, he's not hurting now. Living with my mental illness has not been a picnic for my partner. Tomorrow, may very well be another troubling day. Right now, in this moment, we have each other and I'm going to hold onto that and enjoy it. And of course, I have to continue to work on my relationship with myself.

Much <3

What The Politics of Khashoggi's Death Say About Humanity

7 min read

Flag of saudia arabia

(I wrote this a few weeks ago, but it made me really emotional and I just couldn't finish it.)

In the past I've written about the privacy concerns of our surveillance world in an effort to illustrate the dangerous power we've given corporations and governments. To my horror, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has brought to light something more frightening than the loss of privacy, the failure of humanity.

Government assassinations are nothing new. Recently, Russia has come under fire from a number of countries for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The CIA has been *suspected of removing (or plotting to assassinate) a number of leaders. In fact, in the 70s a Senate Select Committee investigated the CIA in regards to Patrice Lumumba, Ngo Dinh Diem, Rafael Trujillo, and Fidel Castro. Then there's Bin Laden, which there is no denying was killed by a U.S. strike team. What is new is that we live in a surveillance state.

Espionage is all about controlling data. Either protecting your own information, or obtaining confidential info from others, spying has always been about power. Using the information obtained, you can create a defense, plan an offensive, expose the truth or manipulate people. The information could be used to influence elections, for example. Extortion and blackmail are the types of things were often done behind closed doors. Exposing the information to the public is not as powerful as keeping secrets.

However, we now live in the world of Orwell's 1984. While many of us may not understand the technical wizardy around us, we accept the probability that a camera is watching. The cameras and microphones on our devices, plus other digital tracking systems used by Google, Facebook, Amazon, and our governments are also following the spies. Most likely, this is why so many people are ready to believe that Turkey has evidence of Khashoggi's death. Of course, they could have also bugged the building.

Power Over People, Not To The People

Turkey has chosen to use this information as leverage. This is the part I cannot stomach. I am appalled by this act. President Erdoğan keeps promising to reveal "the naked truth." The theory is that Turkey is releasing little bits of proof on a daily basis to strengthen it's relationships with the U.S. and other countries. Vice News reported:

A State Department official with extensive knowledge in the region told us that despite the rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan had signaled that he would be willing to quash the release of incriminating evidence at the right price. The State Department's official added, 'Erdoğan is playing this masterfully.'

Khashoggi was a human being, not a bargaining chip. Most likely you're reading this because you know me and occasionally stop at my website. Perhaps you don't know me, but have read something else here or on my social networks that made you curious to read more. Now imagine that connection between you and I being severed by my murder. The killer took my life because they overheard me saying I don't like coffee. My body was cut into pieces after being tortured and I was erased from existence. The one witness to the crime won't come forward because the murderer is her mail carrier. If she calls the police, she fears she will not be able to send and receive mail. In fact, blackmailing my killer allows her to now send letters and package without postage. My imaginary, and not very creative story is a gross simplification of the matter and sounds utterly ridiculous and awful. Why? It's called the ethics of reciprocity or the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is present in just about every religion on the planet, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's about compassion and avoiding suffering. Nobody wants to feel pain, ever. That's a natural human reaction. When we learn of serial killers or murderers that have taken lives unnecessarily it is unnerving. When our governments take lives during wars and conflicts, we focus on the end goal rather than dwelling on the casualties. When a government brutally murders a man and slices him up as an act of vengeance for words he's written, that is more than cause for alarm. When Turkey refuses to share the evidence of a human being's death in hopes to get a few more Easter eggs in its basket that is disgusting.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

Please don't lecture me on the minutia of foreign affairs and the economy. For too long we as people have looked the other way for some greater economic benefit. Well, we think you should treat your people better, enter country name here. So we've decided to issue you a stern warning. Now, if you could pass us those trade dollars. Thank you.

When is the government that represents its people going to start caring about humans?

Everywhere around the world we see decisions being made at the cost of human welfare. Trump's war against immigrants and their children, and the xenophobia in Europe is based on fear. People fearing other people! To answer my question above, governments will start caring about people when we do.

You and I need to set aside the past and forget about the future. We need to sit together, now. It's not about what kind of world you want for your children, but what sort of world do you want to live in? You and I can make those changes. I'm not talking about protesting Trump or shaming Turkey as my rambling post may appear. I believe we need to make changes at an individual level. Only by striking up a conversation with that person you fear, can you learn their story. That person is a fellow human. You can never truly experience the world as they have, but you surely have your own stories of happiness, sadness, and suffering.

Reconciliation between cultures doesn't happen in a meeting. It happens at an individual level and takes time. Rather than raising your protest sign to show support, extend your compassion to those in fear. Get to know their story of the suffering. If you're in fear, remember each of us is an individual. When I was younger, I was bitten by a dog. That event didn't make me steer clear of that dog in the future. No, I feared every dog for a long time. However, it was one individual dog, not her entire breed, not all white dogs, and not all big dogs. Fear does not have to be abolished, your lizard brain is trying to protect you. Understand that about those who are xenophobic.

Compassion is the way forward, not economic crumbs. The precious economy and the government overseeing it are made of people. Do unto others. If you have information that can end the suffering of Khashoggi's friends and family, why not offer it freely. Imagine, President Erdoğan, if you find success in this venture the precedent you set for your own life. Perhaps your game could backfire and MBS may offer a large, multi-year deal to the country of Turkey for you, dead or alive. Should we be bargaining with humans? I think not.

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.

 

Surviving the Status Quo

5 min read

A watercolor painting of a pink, purple galaxy titled

The mind unconsciously loves problems because they give you an identity of sorts.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

When I set out to focus on my mental health I did so to find solutions. How do I stop these destructive patterns? Despite telling myself many times over, "There's no magic pill," my mind latches onto the idea of a future day when I'll be better. When I concentrate on each moment, practicing being present as Tolle suggests, I believe there's a danger of stagnating.

"Things are okay right now." Sometimes, that's a way to avoid problems. For example, the first Morning Mantra is asking me to explore my emotions. This idea feels terrifying. Why don't I just stay here, where it's "okay?" This is what I mean when I say the status quo. Staying in the now and avoiding discussions or thoughts about my future seems unhealthy. I'm betting Tolle, would propose that I am not being present at all. Perhaps fear from the past is driving the desire to not rock the boat.

My relationship can feel stuck in this status quo space as well. My mental health has had affected our marriage deeply. Often, my partner treads carefully around me, attempting to protect me from frustration and hurt. When she's open and I have an honest and painful emotional reaction, I see her disappointment in herself. Thus, I begin to dance on egg shells as well. When we are communicating and "things are okay," I think we're both afraid to push forward, talk of the future, or invite new adventures. We're here in the status quo.

Knowing and Learning

What is the difference between the quicksand of the status quo and Tolle's now? Honestly, I wonder if the real difference to shine a light on is the one between my patterns of old and the status quo. The pattern of avoidance ran me for all these years. It won't just disappear overnight. There is no magic pill. I think the status quo is something new. It is the layer in between being in the moment, and my avoidance. I am recognizing the stagnation or status quo, after all.

The real difficulty is not to get upset at myself for falling into the pattern again. Admittedly, I am not so great at this. "Damn, I'm avoiding. Here I go again! Will I never get through this? I'm such a disappointment!" So many times the act of recognizing has spun me right back to avoidance and self-loathing. Therefore, this limbo of status quo isn't so bad. At least, that's the initial thought.

The status quo state is like having a contract with the current government in power in an election year. It's like not asking that person you like out on a date for fear of rejection. Not knowing can be more painful than a rejection. The status quo is a permanent state of purgatory for me.

Not Now

My purgatory lies between two indistinct fictions. One is the future where I am better. The other is my past experience that I relive and think of as endless suffering. I have never really defined better for myself. I can appear introspective and tell you that I know that this is a journey and there is no magic cure or pill. How, I feel is not the same as these rational thoughts. Furthermore, my definition of "endless suffering" is almost completely emotional. Each time I reach into my feelings as I've instructed myself to do in the Morning Mantra, it hurts. I hurt so very much.

Not only am I at odds with my emotional and rational brain, but I am ignoring Tolle's Now as well. My pain is in the past. As my psychiatrist recently told me, the emotional part of my brain is not the same section that understands the passage of time. Those emotions I felt this morning as I did the mantra were just as strong as they were 35 years ago when a teacher said he was disappointed in me. It's up to me to make that connection between the rational timekeeper section of my brain and the emotional portion. I've been working to remind myself that I'm still here. Early on, I was afraid to feel that intense emotional pain because I thought it would incapacitate me. I imagined myself in the fetal position on the floor of the psychiatrist's office. I figured they would lock me up if I tapped into my gooey candy bar center of emotions. That hasn't happened. I must keep reminding myself that, and continue with my work.

By not defining what better means to me, I am fixating on the future instead of being with myself now. Even above, my fears of being incapacitated by emotions is a state I imagined for my future. Avoiding my present moment, I dream of a healthy me or a institutionalized me. Thinking of being better is not about the things I would do, but I focus on the things I cannot do now. That is, I don't have specific thoughts of the ways I will be a better partner in my relationship. I am reminded of those things I lack now. There's a difference between thinking about the future and intention-setting.

“A belief may be comforting. Only through your own experience, however, does it become liberating.” ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Maybe I'm not in the now when I am in this status quo state, but my intention is to break free from my patterns. Each time I fail, it is a reminder that there is no permanent solution. It is an opportunity, an experience. Things aren't okay, and that's okay. Each time I get to my nougat emotional center, it gets easier. I'm still here.

Much💜

Project Morning Mantra

3 min read

Water color picture of my dog meditating

Avoiding the well-worn paths that my mind has taken for so many years is incredibly difficult. Personally, I've found meditation and practicing mindfulness to be helpful, but I'm looking for something more. I require more self-compassion, confidence, and trust in this person that I am right now. In order to let go of the past and stop trying to predict the future I am going to try a mantra.

In the past, a therapist asked me to find a mantra and give it a try, but it felt sort of cheesy. The request has solid research behind it. Mantras work and that's why they've been around forever. Therefore, I wanted to create something personalized that I hope will work for me. I want to share this experience in order to get feedback and possibly help others.

My Technique

I find meditation incredibly helpful. Even the act of sitting down for 2 minutes and breathing in for a count of 4 seconds and breathing out for a count of 8 seconds can really help me focus. Breathing exercises and meditation can help reset your fight-or-flight response which can be triggered by stress. Your nervous system doesn't have to be in an actual life or death situation to go into fight-or-flight. This is why mindfulness and breathing exercises can be so useful. We're being triggered falsely and when we're ready to fight or run, thinking rationally becomes difficult.

Since I've felt that guided meditation has helped me through much of my mental health journey, I've decided to incorporate my mantras into a meditation of sorts. My first attempt at a mantra was done under the guise of "I must do this to get better or else!" I set myself up for failure by adding this kind of pressure. Rather than waking up and looking into a mirror like Stuart Smalley and repeating my phrase, I want to get myself in a receptive state. I want to calm that fight-or-flight system and really absorb the mantra.

Honestly, I don't know if I will really like hearing myself in a recording each morning. However, I want to try this because I really want to improve my self-compassion and silence my inner critic. Starting tomorrow, I'll post my first mantra which I intend to use each morning for the next month. Then, I will post a new mantra each month in an effort to make changes. Join me on this journey, or poke your head in to check in on me occasionally and see what I've learned. The one ingredient necessary to survive any and all mental health issues is social connection.

Much💜

Patreon Problems Highlight Issues of Corporation Versus Community

7 min read

eggs in one basket

Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs on Unsplash

All over the web, creatives took to social networks to curse Patreon recently because of failed transactions. The Verge reported that many payments have been flagged as fraudulent. In my opinion, much of Patreon’s recent problems have occurred because it is growing too fast, like so many venture capital backed startups.

There’s plenty of editorials around the web criticizing Silicon Valley and the get-rich-quick culture surrounding the web. The country club version of Tumblr, Medium has had a number of issues as it looked for ways to appease investors and the old dog in the neighborhood, Twitter, has always been in the negative. The currency of Silicon Valley isn’t Bitcoin, it’s us, the users. Show big numbers of signups and you get funding. Most new startups use the funding to expand the product and get more users, rather than really making a solid product.

As a Patreon user, I wouldn’t think the company has grown too fast. I sat through many monthly video hang times as users begged for the same features over and over. Meanwhile, Patreon kept hiring new people to expand. What were they doing? After a while, each video hang time included information from Patreon’s in-house data gurus. These presentations were to help users learn how to better extract funds from potential patrons, as in “Here’s what’s working!” It was also a bit of cheer leading to exclaim how great Patreon was doing. Of course, data is helpful for Patreon to expand as well.

Too Big

Eventually companies get so big that in order to solve a customer problem you must go on a quest through a phone maze, or Sagan forbid, navigate numerous automated emails to find help. To be fair, how else can you service 2 million users?

In my twenties, I bought a house and put on my big boy pants to look for insurance. I wasn’t finding the “deals” my parents spoke of, like when you have your house and car insurance through the same company. So, I started shopping for each separately. My parents warned me against the slick online companies like Geico and Progressive that were advertising such good rates. My father had the same local insurance agent for most of his life. There was a bond there. My dad could call up Vern and say that a rock hit his car windshield and Vern would take care of it without an out of pocket cost. I wasn’t going to have this familiarity if I went with Progressive, it would just be some woman on the phone in another part of the world quoting my deductible cost.

This is the problem of centralized internet companies getting too big. The humanity gets lost. I’ve had a brief conversation with Patreon CEO Jack Conte and I completely respect his work and vision. I interviewed another team member at Patreon and I call her a friend now. I have no ill will to these people despite what I am writing about Patreon, at the moment. I want them to succeed, but I think being a for profit company is getting in the way of helping people. The demand from shareholders to grow makes the product, and so many others like Google and Facebook, lose effectiveness.

That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but the current climate in the business world is all about more. For example, several years ago Facebook had already captured all of the developing world. The only way for them to get more users was to get Third World countries on their product. So, the company started making sim cards for phones. People in Third World countries could switch the sim card from their mobile carrier out and put in the Facebook card to access a version of the site.

Power in Community

Most cities, states, provinces, and villages were founded by like-minded individuals. The pilgrims came to the New World to accuse each other of being witches without the King interfering in their murderous behavior. Okay, that’s not a great example. My point is that the early web was similar. People who grew orchids got together on a forum site to share ideas and techniques. They may have had an area on the board where non-orchid conversation could happen and they got to know each other further.

Then, there was money found in the world wide web. We got America Online, MySpace, and Facebook. The orchid forum gave way to a more general gardening group chat. Instead of 400 orchid lovers from around the world, you got 4,000,000 people talking about weeds, basil, and hay fever. Instead of the passionate and opinionated conversation between Rosita, Cheryl, and Guillaume, you get a thousand people shouting just to be heard. The humanity is lost.

Communities are still possible online! We don’t all have to join a service just because our friends and family are there. It’s possible to share your pictures and thoughts on your own blog. Is it really that inconvenient to click on a bookmark in a browser? Nope. On Facebook, I am a number lost in an algorithm. On Mastodon, as a Trekkie I can join TenForward.social and share conversation with fellow Star Trek fans. Since Mastodon is built on a protocol (like email), I can also chat with people on other servers of different subjects. This way I don’t need multiple accounts for orchids, Star Trek, and my old high school chums. If I have a problem connecting or I want to donate to ensure the server doesn’t go down, I can contact the administrator directly. Seriously, you can talk to another human!

This is why I think projects like Mastodon are so important. This is the internet the way it was originally designed, information traveling freely, not through corporate silos. You may feel it is no different, either you’re under the thumb of Mark Zuckerberg or the administrator of TenForward.social. However, in one you are the product, in the other you are part of a community sustaining the server. If you don’t like the way it is administered, you can start your own, or just like a web page, you can buy your own Mastodon instance and make the rules.

Sustainable Growth

Of course, even non-profits aren’t perfect. LiberaPay, a similar platform to Patreon has had its problems as well. Though, it is interesting to note that the issues seem to be with the larger payment processing company, similar to Patreon’s many woes. Yet, LiberaPay may be able to weather the storm of discontent and problems because it is growing at a natural pace. Their 10,360 users may be easier to manage through a crisis as LiberaPay grows, than the over 2,000,000 users at Patreon.

Again, this is why I like the model of online communities. There could come a time when there are too many people or opinions on the Mastondon instance of TenForward.social. Perhaps a schism could arise between those who favor the new films and fans of the older films and shows. And so, a new community would be born, maybe Kelvin.timeline. The opposite could happen as well. Just as in the real world when a town grows into area communities and they join together to share resources, communities online could do the same.

Instead of going after users and numbers, we can use the web to connect to other humans, not profits. This is what many Patreon creators have learned. They started a community of fans and patrons who didn’t just support them financially, but interacted with the creators. The connection is what sustains the creators, not the simple number of payments they are receiving.

Patreon and the corporate sites aren’t going away, but you can choose how you want the web of the future to treat you. Do you want to be a commodity bought and sold by corporations, or do you want to be part of a community, sharing ideas and a common humanity?