What I’ve Learned In The Last 30 Days

So, it’s nearly Christmas. Did I mention that I’m not currently sick with bronchitis or pneumonia? Did I mention that I got all my shopping down weeks ago, and all the items wrapped (badly) several hours ago? The last time this happened I spent two days very very miserable and hungover, because I thought celebrating this with many pints of rum was a good idea. Instead, I’m celebrating this with some oatmeal cookies.

The thing I want to talk about, I kind of need to be a little vague about, and I hate having to be this way, but if I’m not, it’s just going to lead to a series of conversations with family members that are going to really not be very comfortable and really sort of suck the happiness out of future oatmeal cookie celebrations. (Some of my previous posts found their way into the gossip of people I can’t stand, and since I don’t talk to them, I think some people have been doing some Facebook reading and lack the boundaries and good sense given to horseflies, so I’m going to very politely tell people to go suck eggs and keep their fat mouths shut)

Over the last month or so, I’ve been on a very intense and incredibly personal mission to better myself. Moreso than in previous efforts, because modern medicine and therapy have combined to form a pretty good toolkit that have, at the time I write this, completely eliminated my depressive symptoms. Gone. Poof. Done. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to hurt myself. I don’t want to engage in behaviors or substances that make me want to hurt myself. I don’t want an escape from my feelings. I don’t want to run away from my problems. All that stuff has over the course of thirty days, evaporated and been replaced with better feelings.

I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about some stuff that’s been on my mind. (Note: I’m writing this post on Sunday, although it’s going up Monday, hours after the 30th day)

1. If there’s something you want to do, make every effort to do it. I have spent three decades-ish desperate for a cure for my condition. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 18, and I wasn’t diagnosed accurately until I was in my thirties, but I have spent years trying to find treatments, pills, therapies and cures for suicidal depression. I failed out of colleges for looking for cures (because I spent days in the library reading medical texts and psychology notes). I lost relationships looking for treatments (apparently unhealthy people being around unhealthy people will not spontaneously generate a cure). I lost jobs looking for therapies (retail jobs prefer it when you show up there rather than in doctors’ offices, I guess). The point here is not to point out that I lost things, but that I didn’t stop looking. Ask anyone who’s ever talked, kissed, hung out, humped, drank, done drugs, eaten or worked with me and they’ll all tell you I’m not someone who gives up and lets things go. Even when a lot of people told me that doing [fill in the blank here with an activity] was stupid or hard, I did it. Now, if I later found out that what I did was a waste of time, or that it was less positive than advertised, that’s another issue, but the point I want to make here is to find the things you want to do and absolutely go after them

2. De-clutter, de-clutter, de-clutter. I don’t know if you know this, but one of the side effects of not wanting to be alive is not really caring about the state of things around you while you are alive. This can lead to packing a house full of stuff in various states of repair or organization, where you never throw anything out (in case you one day get better and find a use for it) or where you never bother to organize anything (because who cares you’ll be dead soon anyway). It’s a point of shame for me that I let things get as near-Hoarders-episode as I did, and how skilfully I got at hiding stuff when people came around. I also can’t say I take a lot of pride in getting rid of things, or at least not as much pride as I’d like to, because I think this is something people are supposed to be doing anyway, so catching up to everyone else is good, but I’ll take pride in the maintenance long before I take pride in initiating the change. Part of this cleaning has been domestic (cleaner house), part of it has been professional (cleaner job), part of it has been relationships (cleaner friendships), but the overall effect has been one where I like my better. It’s nice to have rooms I can say now have distinct purposes beyond “space for things”, and it’s nice to have a desk and cabinets laid out the way I want, and it’s great to have cut out the particularly stress-causing people out of my life. Like an engine after service, everything runs better.

A note about trimming friends – It’s hard to be objective. It’s harder still when other people want to chime in with their own biases or justifications or efforts to prove they deserve your time. Here’s what I’ve learned – you’re in charge of you, and you don’t have to justify anything to anyone. An unhealthy relationship or stressor is unhealthy, period. Why voluntarily engage people who stress you out? Why let their negativity (complaining, lack of kindness, whatever) wreck what you’ve got going on? Do you think you can’t find better people? Do you think you’re not deserving of better people? I did. I had to prove myself wrong, and I’m really glad I did.

3. If what you’re doing works, keep doing it. I have a really hard time understanding that there’s a grey area between “everything I do is awful” and “everything I do is barely passable”. There is in fact a whole range of qualifiers on what I do, because there’s a whole range of qualifiers on what everyone does. We’re pushed (usually through media or social pressure) to be critical of other peoples’ processes while clinging to some sense that our methods are better. The issue there is that not everyone else is capable of adopting your methods. Not everyone is going to stay up late the night before something is do and write. Not everyone can make it to the gym more than two times a week. Not everyone can edit thirty to ninety pages a day. And there are loads of reasons (actually valid ones, not those excuse ones we trot out to buy us a way out of talking about it) why they can’t — but that doesn’t make what you do less special if other people don’t jump on board with it. If you and the person to your left both do the same activity but with two different approaches, so long as you both get the results each of you are looking for, who cares about how you got there? My preferred method for sorting out my head is a combination of talking it out (or spewing words at a listener), thinking about it experimentally (I should write a blogpost about that), and thinking about the possible outcomes while listening to music. This process has helped me figure out what jobs to take, what habits to keep, and where I should put my focus. Contrast that with your own process, and you might prefer to sit quietly and not talk about your problems, sort of handling them in some tiny chunks during the off-minutes before you go to bed or while you commute to work. If it works for you, keep doing it.

4. Try new things that push yourself to new places. All too often I find myself falling back into a soft net of excuses or ideas I accepted as true. I took what people were telling me as true, I let a few people speak for a whole group, I made some generalizations based on assumptions, that sort of thing. It gave me no end of frustration when I had to interact with circumstances but it always let me justify why I was stressed or unhappy because it just proved what I thought. I didn’t have to test it – because that’s just how it was. And that’s really short-sighted of me. Let’s say for example that a friend tells you that Person X is really a jerk, and they list all these times Person X made them feel bad. Because you care about your friend, you color your interactions and have an expectation of Person X … but when Person X is none of those things to you, what then? Will you decide this is part of some clever ruse Person X concocted so that you don’t like them but they don’t benefit from it? (That’s what I did, and it made no sense). Once I started to test things out, I began to see a pattern, that my friend wasn’t really a friend, and that I really didn’t need that sort of attitude or behavior around me. And as for Person X, I’ve got no reason to think they’re a jerk, they’ve always been nice to me with no agenda hidden or otherwise.

But this is bigger than people. If you’ve been keeping yourself from doing an activity for some reason, and that reason isn’t something obvious like “I can’t take up marathon running tomorrow because I’ve got two broken legs.”, chances are that over time, you can eventually do that activity. Got two busted legs but you want to run? Heal your legs first, get some shoes, get conditioned for it, then run. Want to wear a particular outfit at an event eight months from now, but it’s a size too small? Take the time to get into a shape where you can. Don’t ever assume that because you’re [fill in the blank with whatever you think you are or whatever you think about yourself] that you can’t [do a thing or have a thing or be a thing]. Want to open a supper club? It just takes a plan and some investors and some risk. Want to ask that other human to read your book? It just takes a conversation and some risk. Risk isn’t proof of limitation, it’s proof of possibility. Why not try? If you lose, if it doesn’t work out, you’re right back to the spot where you were before you started.

5. It’s okay to be scared, but don’t lose sight of the goal. I can measure, in hours, the amount of time I’ve spent thinking I’m good enough to live well. I can measure, in years, the amount of time I was scared to try or do or question or speak up or fail. Being afraid doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Being afraid means that you have concerns over the future outcomes. Whether you’re about to fight a bear or whether you’re about to start writing chapter 2 (and really, are those two activities all that different?), you control where you put your focus. If you want a bearskin rug or want to be writing sexytimes in chapter 3, looks like you’re going to have to get through that fear and do some stuff. You can do great things with focus, discipline and support. But you need a goal, a sharp goal, a tangible goal. And you need a plan to get there. No, don’t say, “I’m going to lose 60 pounds” once, say “I’m going to lose one pound” sixty times. When you bring the goal some focus you make it easier to plan and accomplish. It’s scary because you don’t know how it’s going to go. But wait, if the goal is small enough and you’ve got a plan you can stick to, you DO know how it’s going to go. Going one step further, if you know how it’s going to go, and you know the end result you want, who cares how your process differs from someone else’s? Don’t lose the goal.

Given the infrequency of my posting, this may be my last post for 2014. I’m not a fan of resolutions (see number 5 above), but let’s promise to talk to each other more about writing, okay?

Go be excellent to one another.

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