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I am not very happy.
I don’t pretend that this makes me unique – even a minority. We are all, it seems, in varying states of unhappiness, struggling against the pseudo-apocalyptic adversary of 21st-century life. Statistically, however, there are certain factors that make people predictably more happy. One of them happens to be religion (which multiple studies confirmed as increasing self-identified life satisfaction and happiness).
In my ongoing pursuit of happiness, I’ve decided to give religion another go. I’ll be doing this through Buddhism, experimentally, for one month.
Why not, say, Mormonism? My family is Mormon, the community I’m going to live in will be Mormon, and so on. Alas and alack, however, I do not believe in the 1) fundamental moral principles of Mormonism, 2) the impact Mormonism has in the world, 3) the political norms of Mormonism, 4) the Mormon scriptures, or 5) the truth or validity of Mormonism’s religious history. (Sorry, Mom!)
Buddhism makes a lot of sense for me. It incorporates (or can incorporate) multiple practices that I have already found to be beneficial, including but not limited to:
Disclaimer: This is my personal blog, not my professional face. You’re responsible for seeking out my opinions here. That said, all of my written thoughts are – as always – expressed as honestly as I can make them.
The Summer of 2005. It’s a matra to me now. Right now I’m stuck on about five levels. I have two major articles (8 pages total) to write by tomorrow morning. I am 4 days behind on two of my recurring projects. I haven’t finished the newsletter for one of my major clients. I’ve been binge-eating.
I feel fat. I feel lazy. I am depressed and anxious and I never quite know how to solve this. But what I’m trying right now is to be the person I was in the Summer of 2005.
What would he have done? Well … stuck in a rut, Rob of June 2005 would have had a lot more failsafes, and he would have a lot less of his identity invested in his job. His work was not who he was, despite the fact that he felt good about it. His plan was that when he got fired he would pick up and move, just for the adventure of it. And he had theater as a backbone to his schedule. He would be at the show; that was a given. Anything else revolved around that timing.
But if he felt horrible, he would have … well, cut himself, probably. I always forget to mention that this happiest of summers is also the time when I was most deeply into self-mutilation. I carved the letters “CYP” into my arm. It stood for “choose your path,” a reminder that I could will myself to do anything.
I would also do yoga and meditate. I would pray. I would seek spiritual equilibrium as a foundation to any further happiness.
I was 18 back then. A self-mutilating theater junkie who didn’t care whether or not he got fired. Who went into debt when he wanted a laptop. But who was so happy.
Okay. I’ll probably skip the cutting, but how about yoga and meditation and then some work. 🙂 We’ll see what I can do.
One of the more common suggestions in getting motivation for something, anyway, is to visualize where you want to be. Our minds are solving machines, and when we focus on our destination our creative powers come up with solutions to get us there. I’m not going to stretch this out too far into future, and I’m not going to make it all-encompassing. This is about work (aka, money) and I’m looking to . . .
December 30th of 2012
My desk is by the window, my desktop computer, Serenity, sitting on the ground to the right. It’s whirring quietly, more suped up than ever. The acer screen, 22″, in front of me has its brightness turned down to conserve energy. The blue lights on the LED strip on the front of the tower and the fan inside glow out lightly, augmenting the lights of the room itself. The lights in the room are bright, almost a sunlight glow.
The room around me is strewn with posters, all of which have frames. My two demotivators posters and the demotivators calendar. The “I Think, Therefore I Am; I Feel, Therefore I Can Be Free” framed picture. 18 postcards of beautiful locations in Utah. The Hit Girl poster from Kick Ass. Two Monet posters. The Rise Against poster. The Buddha picture. The Spartan warrior picture. The Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children wide cloth poster. The Ironman poster. The Ninja Turtles poster. My four Oatmeal grammar posters. My license plate. A Firefly poster. The Samurai X cloth poster. The entire room is a mosaic of things that make me happy.
In the background, instrumental music plays – a calming, fluid set of sounds that resonates so crystal clear it might as well be live. My audiophile speakers are one of my many small escapes into pure quality.
In front of me, my Alot cup steams with a decaf green tea plus raspberry. I’ve added just the smallest drizzles of raw honey.
My hands rest lightly against the ergonomic keyboard. I pause for a moment as I think of how to best end the article I’m writing. After a few moments, I’m satisfied with my phrasing – it feels like it’s got punch – and I type it out at my touch-type speed. Then I look over the entire thing, taking my time to go through it sentence my sentence. I catch a few “whoops” mistakes that I quickly resolve. I look up whether or not to hyphenate one phrase and find, once again, it’s a tad ambiguous. I come up with better phrasing for two of my sentences. I change the title. I smile and nod. This is a good article. Then I click “submit.”
Using all the shortcut keys I know, I swap over to my “earnings” summary. I update the total for the day. It’s a Friday, which means I’ve set all my weekly maintenance items. I’ve also gotten ahead for items not due until the next week. My sum total for the day is $132. A very solid day. I smile at the figure, and the total that has populated in the spreadsheet below. $632 for the week. My mind starts to stray toward “taxes are going to be such a – ” and I interrupt myself. I have money set aside. That’s all taken care of.
Money set aside. That brings me to “point the next.” I pull up my MACU account. The balance is $5000 in savings, $785 in checking. I stick my tongue out at the number in checking, then laugh a little. I have money in PayPal too. Plus, the $5000, that’s enough to cover six full months of no income, now that I’ve paid off my consumer debt. Still another $5000 to go to meet my goal, though. I shake my head at my own pessimism. Come on, Rob, I think. You could take more than a semester off. You’re doing fine. No, you’re doing great. Give yourself some credit. I pause and nod to myself. This really is good, considering everything. Yes. Really, really good.
I shut down the bank page, trying to get past my silly fixation on money. I switch the music to a techno rock station. Then I look down at the system clock. “1:34pm.” Woohoo! I didn’t realize it was still so early. I’ve got plans with friends tonight, at about 7, but until then I can just . . . whatever. My portfolio is up-to-date. I don’t have classes today. I think I’ll read . . . maybe get in some good creative writing time. I’ve got a few short story projects I’m really excited about, or I could submit my existing projects to a few more publishers. One of these days, someone will say yes. I know that. I absolutely know that. And the more I submit, well, the sooner that will happen.
I look outside at the snow. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and cold. I’m staying inside. I’ve gotten into the routine of doing yoga at night, so I’ll save that for later. I’ll maybe cook a nice lunch. But my time is mine, and I’m totally free for the rest of the weekend. I feel free. I feel empowered. I feel like I’ve done an excellent job at maneuvering my own life.
One more thing first, though. I pull up my email and go to my last “yearly review.” I fill in the segments with the new information.
December Review1) How was this month’s earning?
It’s been bad recently.
This is something like . . . should we call it day nineteen? Two, maybe three weeks into severe depression.
I’m cornered. Trying to get myself out of depression, I hype up on energy drinks and start having panic episodes that last three to ten hours. Trying to get myself out of anxiety, I avoid work or I drink, triggering depression. In both states I overeat, and feel ashamed for it. My psycho-semantic worries (oh no, is my heart rate going up? am I freaking out? Well, if I wasn’t before!) surround me like jail-keepers.
It all roots back to not knowing what I’m doing any of this for. Yes, I’m fighting, I’m struggling, and I’m even capable – but why? So I can live a standard life in the status quo of this society?
Does this – can this – all be simplified to a desire to tell stories? It’s the one thing where my passion and desire haven’t disappeared completely. I can still see a peace in telling stories, a peace that’s been robbed in everything else. But is it enough? It doesn’t feel like it some days.
Day nineteen. My professional and school-oriented work have stacked up and now cage me in. My fitness has gone out the window. My apartment is a mess. My friends have come and spent time with me here recently, it’s been a boon, but I still feel this desperate, hollow loneliness. I want to be touched, loved, held; I want to get lost in an obsession as high and persistent as a daily SSRI.
“Do you think about hurting yourself?” asks the doctor. Constantly, I think. But instead I say, “Self-mutilation is part of my history, and it’s certainly associated with depression. But no, I’m not afraid I’ll hurt myself in any substantial way. I’m certainly not concerned that I’ll kill myself.”
Every time the train comes, I envision myself toppling in front of it. The free-fall sensation that turns to a sudden infinity of noise, dissolving into embracing silence. We call this suicidal ideation. “Suicidal ideation,” I tell the doctor, “has been a part of my lifestyle at least since high school. I’m not worried that I’ll act on any of it. I use it as a way to . . . calm myself down. Knowing I always have that escape hatch, it makes things seem smaller somehow.”
If I were my clients, I would have already dismissed me. That’s not to say I’ve completely abandoned things. But I’m behind. I’m trying to communicate, I’m trying to catch up, but I’m not the writer I should be. It’s just a few hours of work left to catch up, but it still feels like an insurmountable barrier.
I have dreams where I’m trying to defend myself against attackers, and I go to punch them, but as I swing my arm the muscle goes limp and I can’t hit them with any force at all. That’s what this struggle feels like. Every day.
This is the second time I’ve poisoned myself with caffeine, although admittedly it’s far less severe. In addition to having ingested less, and having fewer “extras” in my system (last time I also had pain killers thinning my blood stream), I’m reassured by the fact that nothing terrible happened last time.
It was 4 energy drinks over about 6 hours this time, equating to something to the tune of a thousand mg of caffeine in my bloodstream. That’s roughly a third the lowest that’s ever killed someone, and they had the caffeine shot into them intravenously. That being said, my heart is going crazy, jumping between 90 and 130 bpm at random, switching from faint to hammering at an instant.
I just have to keep reminding myself to breathe, and that the misery will be over within a few hours. While the adrenal sensation, the bursts of muscle tension, the facial twitches, the perpetual nervousness, the nausea, the stomach pains, the lightheadedness, the tingling skin, is miserable, odds are very low that I’ll actually be damaged by this in any way – temporarily or long term. If I die from this, it will set a new record.
But it’s 1am, and I don’t have anyone to talk to. I don’t have anyone to make sure I’m okay in a few hours. I feel very alone and very stupid.
This post isn’t fishing for sympathy. It’s more of a trail marker, just in case something happens. It’s helping me calm down to catalog all of it. Anyway . . . I’ll update when I’m feeling better.
Update: The symptoms lasted until approximately 4:30am. I feel almost completely better today – sans a headache.
Copyright © 2017 Rob Blair Writes