Freedom

Whenever I can, I do nothing at all. There’s only so much you can do to tidy, file away, reserve, pick up. I don’t really have an urge to do much on my days off, which is a new experience for me. I don’t really feel like playing Breath of the Wild. There’s nothing terribly interesting on social media. I have enough new music on my to-do list that I don’t need to get too adventurous. Nothing I even really feel like printing these days. This is how life calms down. Back when I was in the corporate rat race, I felt like I was never doing enough. Even on my weekends, I had to relax extra hard because I worked extra hard and I was extra miserable. Now, I try to not be so extra. Eventually I want to get back into reading more books.

My schedule now is pretty light. Work five days, get two days off. On my days off, be productive during the day. Otherwise, if I sleep all day, I won’t sleep at night. Part of that productivity means writing on the first day, editing on the second, then hitting publish. About once a month, I go out with my friends, and we go hard. Sundays, there is family dinner. Every night before bed, I stretch my feet and neck so that the simple act of existing isn’t so painful the next day. I’ll meet up with a friend once a week or so. Any more than that, then my structure falls apart. Any changes to that structure puts pressure on everything afterwards, and then I stop functioning. I’ve found my rhythm. Steady state. Homeostasis. This is what I’m capable of for now, and I need to protect my schedule dearly.

Sleep solves and creates many problems, so it’s a matter of using sleep effectively as a tool. Through my worst days, sleep was usually a way for me to escape my situation momentarily so that I could recharge and attack it again. Thomas Edison famously napped whenever he was stuck with a problem. Sleep serves a couple functions, one of which is to improve your memory. Your memories are rearranged during your REM cycle, tossing out information you don’t need and consolidating the data you use more regularly. Even now, when most of my bigger problems have been put to rest and my day to day problems are smaller in size, sometimes the only way to solve an issue is to sleep on it.

This week, I somehow got around to processing a painful experience from a previous job. I was tasked with recreating someone’s work but in a format that was easier to audit and understand. I was given ample time, but the problem was much more complex than it seemed at a high level. Hint: they always are. I delivered it late, but I never heard anything from my manager. He never mentioned anything about it being late, asked why, checked in to see if I needed more help. That’s fine, but I also expected him to be more of a leader than that. He went to great pains to make sure the rest of the team was in check and had the resources they needed, but I was left out in the cold. I never knew he was upset about it until I got my annual review. I knew that I didn’t communicate my struggles and needs, so he wasn’t wrong about my performance. Nevertheless, the pain stuck with me. I was blind-sided, and I felt betrayed. I knew he was taking jabs at me behind my back with other coworkers. For some reason, that popped up this week. I had been thinking about it unconsciously for the past little while, but ultimately it was an unresolved issue that kept hurting me until I dealt with it. If I hadn’t created the space, the peace and quiet at home, creating structured unstructured time, it would have gone on continually hurting me.

“Don’t take it personally.” You hear it all the time, and it isn’t always helpful. “Just get over it.” This advice comes from people who currently aren’t hurt by whatever it is you are complaining about. There’s no empathy there. There’s no understanding that you’re human and that your reaction is understandable. It’s how Barney deals with getting sick:

It’s like when you’re rock- or wall-climbing. You’re supposed to rest the majority of your weight on your legs, but when you’re more experienced, you can use your arm strength and claw-like grip to lift yourself up. People with weaker upper body strength can’t “just do it” compared to someone with more developed abilities. Emotionally, we all have some ability to muscle through whatever is bothering us, and each of us has different strengths for dealing with different emotions. However, the energy to do that eventually runs out, and then suddenly you’re the one that snaps when you least expect it. You can’t always tough it out in every single situation. Since I’ve dealt with a lot of my deeper wounds, I’m less sensitive now. I still have to be aware that everyone has a different level of sensitivity, so I can’t just assume that since I’m okay now, everyone else should be too. People like to say that "time heals all wounds," but that’s not true of trauma.

There was a dead bee laying in our building’s basement. We go down there maybe once or twice a month, depending on what we need to put into or take out of storage. This huge fuzzy bumblebee died and laid itself to rest in the hallway on the way to our storage closet. Now, it’s already a creepy basement with poor lighting and fading architecture, and I was traumatized as a child by a bumblebee. We had this apple tree in our garden, and I went outside to pick an apple to sate my appetite on a hot summer day. I grabbed a juicy apple and bit into it, and as I was walking back to the house, a bee decided to pollinate my ear, which I guess must look like a flower to them. I was stunned for about 5 seconds, then I started freaking out and batting at my ear, shaking my head, screaming, and running inside. Pretty quick series of events, but ever since, I haven’t been able to get rid of the heightened fear whenever I hear a buzzing sound close to my ear. I wasn’t stung or anything, but I simply can’t handle little flies, mosquitoes, and especially yellow bugs like wasps or hornets. Anyhow, seeing that huge fuzzy bee in our storage area triggered that fear. I could have dealt with the trauma directly, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s the biggest worry I have, especially living in the frozen wasteland of Canada. After seeing it about three times over a couple months and reacting the same way every time, freezing up in fear for a second, I decided to remove it. I didn’t have a broom or anything, so I just kicked it with my sandals until it was outside, where the cleaner would remove it that night. Ugh. Gross. Blech. I shudder thinking about it now.

I think trauma leads to addiction, and I’m pretty sure I’m addicted to orange soda. It pulls me into the moment. The bubbles burning, coupled with the sweetness, makes my mouth taste the cold, tingly, citrus nectar. It draws my mind out of the troubles that might be plaguing me from the past or the future. It’s also super warm in our place most of the time, so it’s partly just another way to cool down. There are many things we do to draw our minds into the present, like playing on our phones, watching TV, going to the gym, taking a walk, video games, drinking and smoking. As long as the pain or pleasure is strong enough, it transports our headspace from wherever it currently is towards the present. I’m not drawn by the thrill of gambling in a casino per se, but that feeling still exists inside me, just in different areas. Taking questionable risks, betting on shaky ground, feeling a hot streak. Sometimes it happens when I’m 3D printing a detailed model. Addiction is incredibly complex, and I don’t claim to have much insight into how it works. However, I’m trying to play with ideas in order to get a better grasp on the parameters and impacts of my behaviour. Some nights I can’t sleep until I’ve snacked a bunch and drunk an orange soda. When I get stressed, all I want is a fizzy sugar drink. That can’t be great for my health long term.

Freedom. Why did I go through two years of counselling and let my world fall apart? Why did I go to school? Why do I write? Why do I fight so persistently with Carrie and not give up until we find a resolution? I wanted to be free of the trauma that trapped me, and now I have more control over how I regulate my emotions. I’m free from my family now, whereas I used to feel so poisoned with toxic stress and anxiety when I talked with them. I worked through my PTSD so I could live a normal life. I think addiction and trauma are so interrelated because they both point to a feeling of being stuck, trapped in a cycle. There’s a way to break out of the prison, but it’s really difficult when everything is falling apart at the same time and you can’t catch enough of a break to get ahead. My two most recent examples of creating some room was from a painful experience at work and a traumatic childhood experience with bees. Not only did I need to create space in order see the problems, but I also needed to deal with those emotions in order to create more room. The purpose is to live freely. Now I’m not afraid of going downstairs. I know there won’t be a monster hiding down there to terrorize me. It’s a straightforward mentality dealing with physical wounds, but we tend to ignore our emotional wounds.

It’s a new experience being able to peel away my mind and heart from an emotional situation and to decide whether or not I want to proceed. Being so sensitive before, most overwhelming scenarios would max out my anxiety and stress, and it would take days or weeks just to calm down about it. Now I can negotiate my emotions in the moment. Instead of thinking of a witty comeback three weeks later in the shower, I can come up with a response almost right away (or the day after). It’s a remarkable change. I used to just tell myself positive messages like “don’t let it bother you” or “you’re better than that,” but it never really started working until now. I used to need several hours a day to put my emotions on ice, and as a result, I was completely unavailable to Carrie after a work day. Now I can bounce back much quicker using several coping methods, and I’ll even clean up the home and get ready for bed early instead of simply passing out on the couch. I’m crashing and burning a lot less. Way less boozing. Eating my emotions less. I’m even being proactive and intentional with my free time, figuring out ways to get ahead for tomorrow’s needs. I spend less time feeling confused about what I’m feeling, why, and what to do about it.

I’m functioning better. I’m staying within my window of tolerance more often. Before, my stress would rise quickly and fall slowly, but now it rises slower and falls quicker. I can even avoid stressful situations altogether! Imagine that. Instead of letting my addictive tendencies derail my life, I’m creating balance through sleep. By taking the time to deal with my emotional wounds, I’m free to operate in the ways that I like, such as using my free time to do my chores and run errands. With that free time, I can do whatever I want, like doing nothing at all. That allows me to see new problems, and dealing with those problems creates room so I can sleep or do nothing at all. It’s a healthy cycle. It’s liberating.

Emotional Tiers

I wrote a little while ago about how we can choose our responses to everything that happens to us, but going further, sometimes we can choose our emotional state. For instance, even though I was unemployed and searching for work only a few months ago, I didn’t want certain types of work, like the service industry, factory jobs, construction. These are all things I could have considered, but I didn’t want to because of the emotional tier I wanted to occupy. I didn’t want to work in something I’d find too embarrassing to talk about. In fact, I quit my previous job during a time when people were being laid off and moving back home. When my dad fled from the Viet Cong, I’m sure that any job I had over my lifetime would be better than living under their regime. Some people are content with being miserable at their jobs. They take in a lot of abuse in order to get that paycheque or pat on the head. At some level, I have to appreciate that some people can raise a family on my retail salary, whereas I’m just preoccupied with buying better clothes and a new 3D printer.

I’ve observed that satisfaction with your life starts with a decision. As a kid, I knew that when I grew up, I didn’t want to struggle to find work or money. I knew I would go to school, but later on, I learned that getting myself into a relationship would also provide financial relief (and responsibility). Even through the unemployment, I could have done a ton of things to escape financial hardship. I could have not quit my job in the first place. I could have stopped counselling. I could have moved in with my in-laws. However, I refused to leave my emotional tier. I was relatively content with my setup, such as my living situation, my transportation strategy, my food intake. Instead, I refused to change up a lot of things which would have helped my finances. It was more challenging to get by because I didn’t want to lose any ground, even temporarily.

On one of my days off last week, I went for a nice meal, biked around the river through the yellowing autumn leaves, and laid in the grass with the sun shining on me. It was a beautiful day, but I still had to choose to be content. Even though I wasn’t over the moon or having the best time of my life, that kind of peace and quiet is hard to attain. Things aren’t always perfect, but when they aren’t bad, that’s great. We can’t always escape to Hawaii and stare out at the ocean or take a long weekend at the cabin, but there are pockets in our everyday spaces where we can transport our minds and stop worrying about everything. Presented with this kind of peace and quiet, it’s tempting to complain that I’m bored, but compared to just last year, my life’s amazing now that things aren’t blowing up anymore. I have to make intentional decisions to be glad because otherwise, I would be unhappy with my life no matter how good it got. On the flip side, there is no pleasing some people, who find any reason to be unhappy with themselves and others.

I’m feeling better about myself. I’m receiving more compliments for my work and my looks, which is a new experience. I’m sticking with a hairdo that works for me instead of buzzing it, I’m buying nicer clothes for my wardrobe, and I’m moisturizing. A friend patted me on the back the other night, and they were like “Whoa, someone’s been working out!" I have been working on my back, but I never thought anyone would notice. That compliment will probably stay with me for weeks. Each nice word I receive now feels like someone taking a brick away from the walls built up around my old identity. I was a perfectionist growing up, so I was never good enough for anyone, especially myself. I was awkward and nerdy (an awknerd), so I felt like I never fit in with most people. I hated myself, so I was ashamed of who I was and what I did. Most times when I would receive a compliment, I would correct the person by making a self-deprecating joke about how lame I truly was. Now people say I’m cool or I’m awesome, and it’s all terribly humbling and terrifying. Look how hot I am:

New profile for every account.

A post shared by Jon Lê (@jonle_) on

The compliments spike my anxiety. This goes back to a topic I covered while in counselling. My core belief about myself fits a certain definition. People tell me what they think of me, and if their comment conflicts with my own definition of myself, it’s physically and emotionally upsetting. I tend to have low self-esteem, and people saying such nice things about me is scary because it doesn’t usually fit in with how I identify myself. I have a distinct fear that they’re manipulating me to gain favour and to eventually screw me over. Ya, not a great response. I’ve never considered myself good-looking, but now that I think about it, there have been a decent amount of girls that had crushes on me based on only my looks. I don’t know why it is, but it’s usually people my parents’ age that say I’m handsome. I’ve never really accepted these nice words before. I used to fish for compliments and then reject them once I got them. Now that the counselling has helped me change my self-perspective to be more positive, I’m getting better at receiving compliments. I want to find other ways to feel good about who I am. Apparently it’s common that when people finish therapy, they start dressing better. Feel good, look good.

When you get to take control of your life, it takes a decision to be happy (plus a lot of time) before you reach that emotional tier. It doesn’t simply fall into your lap. Even when bad things keep happening to you, it takes a willingness to fight back and refuse to be broken down in order to eventually be content. It doesn’t happen right away, but given time and persistence, it’s attainable. I used to think I was supposed to be miserable. I was supposed to suffer being around people who brought me down, and I was resigned to my fate of misery. The situation only improved once I decided I wanted to be happier. It took years of hard work and support from my loved ones, but I’ve dealt with a lot of my emotional baggage, which has allowed me to feel better about who I am. I’m dressing better, working out more, and people are starting to notice. Not only that, but I’m noticing that they’re noticing, which feeds back into my goal of wanting to feel better about myself. Instead of criticizing, I’m being compassionate with myself and allowing myself to feel good, to reap the rewards of the hard work I’ve put into fighting my demons. Being in this emotional tier makes me want to cry.

Catching My Breath

Lately, I’m feeling grateful for living when and where I do. Global politics seem to have been tossed into a blender, but even then, I feel very fortunate to have my life, warts and all. I feel like I’ve dodged a lot of bullets in recent years, with great effort, and now I’m trying to just take care of myself and appreciate what I have. I’m thinking lots about what “value” means, in relative and absolute terms, with respect to my happiness, and I’m learning to breathe my way through my problems.

When I hit the lowest point of The Struggle, I had lost a lot of good things in my life, relatively. But in absolute terms, I was still doing great. I still had my education, my marriage, my home, some family in the city. I could still speak fluent English, conversational French, and broken Vietnamese, so I could still navigate the system around me. Even though I shunned my family of origin, I know they would still be there to help me if I really needed it; at the same time remembering that their help comes with strings attached that I wouldn’t like later on. I still had friends and a network of people in town on whom I could lean if I needed a place to stay or other assistance. My lowest point was a lot higher than most people ever reach in their lifetime, and I still had my whole life ahead of me. I’ve already won several jackpots, whereas some would be grateful for just one of mine.

I tried to remind myself of all these facts while the pain burned in my chest. Most of the time it wasn’t that comforting to hear. By all accounts, I experienced a deep emotional loss, which was difficult to reconcile with. Meanwhile, I observed many people in my circle who had lost much more at some point but still rebuilt their lives and moved on. I didn’t have to leave the country because of war. I didn’t lose a loved one. I didn’t have to move back home because of the downturned economy. I didn’t let down my kids because I was laid off at work. Transportation can easily cross distances in timespans that our ancestors never dreamed of. I have a bike I don’t use much, which I bought just because it would be nice to have. I can sample cuisines from all around the world within my own city. We have bathrooms with indoor plumbing. I can access the knowledge of the world without having to travel to some person in a distant land. I don’t have to print MapQuest travel directions on paper before going to a new place. I can have McDonald’s delivered to me using UberEATS. If I don’t feel like walking somewhere in my neighbourhood, I can fire up my car to get there, even though I have two good feet and a bike. To listen to music, I can choose the floorstanding three-way stereo speakers; the wireless one with the subwoofer; the portable Bluetooth waterproof one; the small wireless headphones or the large wireless ones; the wired headphones tuned for rock and roll or the top of the line headphones that sound better for most genres of music. I have clothes that not only fit my body and my sense of style, but I can easily replace items that don’t express my true identity as closely as I would like. To launder them, it takes a few dollars and crossing the hallway, which is sometimes even better than for those with a washer-dryer in their basement. I don’t have to carry everything in a big plastic bag and drag it across the neighbourhood or go to the local well and hand-wash them. My doctor’s office is literally on the same city block as mine, so if I don’t feel well, I can cross the field to be examined.

Louis CK puts this perspective in a more humourous way:

When I mentally keep score with my friends, I have to remind myself that we all started in very different places. I think I pushed out a lot of absolute value, but relative to others, it may not look as impressive on the outside. I have friends whom I love that had much more privileged upbringings, and they couldn’t help but to be raised in their environment any more than I could. I just have to remind myself that I started a lot further back than some people, so it takes a lot more for me to get ahead and keep up with them. At the same time, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my parents, my mom’s income and health insurance, Canadian healthcare in general, my dad driving us to and from school for years, taking us to piano lessons and allergy shots and to get our braces tightened, and on and on. We all face different challenges and receive different assistance, so the uphill climb is steeper at varying stages. With a large relative loss, my emotions needed to be soothed, but looking at my absolute geographic and historic place in this world put a limit on my pity party.

Breaking out of my structure. I had set up a bunch of rules to manage my old way of life. I was unemployed, Carrie was in school, and I was stressed out of my mind, so I went to the gym for several hours most mornings to pump it all out. Moving to this new world where Carrie and I are both working, I didn’t fully rearrange my routine to thrive better. There was a moment not too long ago where I had to simply call off all my rules. So many of the underlying assumptions which created those guidelines had completely vanished, so it made very little sense to hold my patterns in place so strictly. For example, I was writing every week because my heart used to be constantly ripped open, whether by counselling, struggling with not working, or feeling isolated from Carrie. In this new stage, we both started new jobs this spring and summer, I stopped counselling earlier this year, and we both started having a lot more fun than we used to. I had less material to write about, and I had less time to process everything anyways. As a result, it made little sense to force a post out every week. In general, enough of my life completely flipped such that it required that I rewrite a lot of my routine.

Focus, fire a gun. I started going to the gym almost a year ago to help my mental health, but sometimes along the way, I changed the focus towards improving my appearance or my physical health. Truly, I still need to exercise to serve my mental health, but I can easily waver and shift my attention slightly towards what’s good for my body. There are lots of exercises I can do that’s generally good for me, but then my brain gets neglected. I tried doing more yoga when I noticed that I had so many problems with flexibility. For that reason, I stopped going to the gym and just followed a yoga video at home. Then the stress slowly piled up, and then I had to go to the gym again to pump it all out. It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s really important for me to see the difference. Since counselling ended, I decided that I would stop processing my childhood trauma emotionally in favour of focusing on the physical aspects. That still means that I have to focus on the emotions and the trauma, even though I’m working out the physical issues of my shoulders always being tight and knotted.

Traumatic re-creation. Part of the cycle and trap of trauma is in the victim re-attempting to overcome the initial traumatizing situation. Entering the boss battle, losing, powering up, and trying again. We all do this, but trauma victims lose over and over. Part of what that looks like for me is shrugging my shoulders. When I was sexually violated as a kid, my shoulders seized up in a freezing response to protect me. However, that energy never really got released until very recently, so because of the traumatic tendency to revisit situations, my shoulders will usually seize up in response to overwhelming situations. Until I can fight back against the attacker in my mind, my body will keep looping that initial stress response until I can overcome the enemy. Without fail, every time I visit my massage therapist or my physiotherapist, they always say “your neck is reeeally tight.” I like to cross my arms over my head when I sleep, which might seem normal to most people, but to me, it forces my already tight shoulders to tighten even further. Sleeping on my side does the same. These postures might not be so bad for most, but when I have a history of tight trapezius muscles stemming from a traumatic event, I have to be more careful to avoid injuring myself. I’ve played whack-a-mole with my flexibility, focusing on my flat feet, locked hips, or tight neck and shoulders depending on whichever hurt the most that week, but now I think I need to focus on my shoulders for a while. I still have to maintain a level of maintenance on the other areas, but I can only focus on improving this one area. I’m doing it this way because of my emotions and trauma, not simply because it’s good for my body.

Catching my breath.

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I stop breathing whenever I get nervous. It’s not great. Right now, I’m taking time to manually pump air back into my lungs when I sense some anxiety. My dad was a bus driver when he was younger, and he said there were certain bus stops that were timing points throughout your route. If you were early, you sat and chilled out at your timing point so that you didn’t arrive earlier than expected at the next few stops. If you were running behind, then you had to skip past your timing point to catch up on your schedule. I’m doing this throughout my day now by taking a few deep breaths, and it’s helping me a lot. I’ll take a minute to myself to just shake off any scratchy emotions and take breaths between 10 and 15 seconds long. It’s very soothing. On my days off, if I don’t do anything productive, I’ll get antsy and feel the need to work on problems into the night. That doesn’t really set up my next day for success, so I’m trying to be more productive earlier in the day while still making time to rest and get ahead. To enhance my sleep, I have the HEPA filter running alongside the humidifier, which makes it easier to breathe in the dry Calgary climate and which makes my slumber more restful. Morning and night are starting to feel as important as planes taking off and landing. Those are the riskiest moments of every flight, so I’m learning to give my morning and bedtime routines my full attention to ensure a safe voyage. Breathing plays a big part in both, and it’s been the antidote to my anxiety as of late. An ex-girlfriend taught me that toddlers know how to breathe properly, but somehow as we get older, we only take quick shallow breaths that only fill up our chest and not our bellies. It can take years to train yourself to breathe properly again. I can quickly get worked up from all the varying layers of challenges thrown on me, and it physically pushes the air out of my body. It’s tough work making sure I breathe with my diaphragm. It’s a simple concept, but it’s hard to remembering to do it when I need to.

I’m not well yet. I’m not doing worse, and I’m not suffering as much anymore. I stopped tumbling down the hill, and now I can start climbing again. I’m adjusting better, I’m hurting myself less, and I’m taking better care of myself. I still wouldn’t say I’m well. I still feel damaged and broken from my experience growing up in my family. I drink lots of fizzy sugar water. I feel better, and I’m starting to dress better as a result. Feel better, look better.

I miss my family. I missed Chris’ wedding and birthday, and it was Josh’s birthday recently too. Judging from the little communication I still somehow manage to receive from them, they don’t get what they did wrong. They think I’m just trying to live a better life, so I’m just optimizing certain parameters to their best values. No, I’m still trying to survive because they were negligently trying to kill me. Their inability to take responsibility for their shit spilled over into my life because I tried to keep the family running. Instead, I’ve had enough and need to protect myself before I die. It still makes me sad that I can’t be there with and for them, but it has to be this way if I want to keep going.

Interference

My three year resolution is still in effect. I have lots of projects I still want to start, like losing weight, working on debt, and picking out some hot sneakers, which is in direct opposition to the prior point. However, I’m not allowed to start any such long term, large scale projects until 2018. I’m still looking to stabilize. It’s tempting to think that I’m fully ready to start building up again, but I’m still in clean-up mode. A lot of people who start off with unfortunate childhoods never end up turning things around, so I don’t want to get cocky and start off on another adventure before I’m done wrapping things up. I don’t feel ready right now, even though I quickly and frequently get anxious to start working on new projects.

This week I want to talk about vibing with people. When you’re on the same frequency, you resonate with each other. Waves show similar behaviour. When they have the same frequency, they can add up. When waves are 180 degrees out of phase with each other, they subtract.

Constructive interference

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Destructive interference

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Destructive interference is what happens when we’re out of phase by 180 degrees. But what happens when we’re in between those values?

When we’re at different frequencies, in physics, it’s called a beat.

freq_beat = |freq1 - freq2|

That’s how we harmonize in music, when complementary notes are played together. Some combinations sound better than others. They can sound beautiful or terrifying depending on where we are in the greater context of the song.

Time domain measures in [seconds], but the frequency is the inverse, 1/[seconds]. If it takes me 10 minutes to eat a Big Mac (time domain), then I can eat 6 Big Macs per hour (frequency domain). Frequency domain is weird. It’s like the Upside Down in Stranger Things, and just as terrifying. Rules that apply in the time domain that we all know and love all look very different in the frequency domain. It’s the same world but a different way of looking at it. There’s a limit to how we can intuitively visualize waves in the time domain. Observe:

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I’ve been thinking about frequencies and vibing as it pertains to relationships. Some people you get along with, and some you don’t. If you look from the time domain, waves kinda all look sorta similar after a while.

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However, when you start looking at your interactions with people as waves in the frequency domain, it’s a lot easier to see that you’ll never get along with everyone. This is a stark reminder because I think I’m so great that everybody should love me.

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When someone stands with you, they’re choosing to be on your wavelength. We all have some emotional range, so we can adjust ourselves based on who we’re with. I laugh more around certain people, and around others I don’t talk much at all. Our identity is fluid based on the circumstance. At the extreme end, some characters are very rigid and don’t adjust themselves for anyone. On the other end, there are those that morph so much that they’re almost unrecognizable even by their loved ones. Last week I wrote “This is Me,” where I decided to stop accommodating others so much by inconveniencing myself. I’m still the same agreeable Jon you know and love, but I’m not bending over backwards anymore just to artificially boost a connection.

How do you know if you’ll harmonize with people around you? With waves, having the same fundamental frequency allows for resonance. If a guitar string vibrates, another string at standstill will begin to vibrate because of the first string’s energy. The fundamental frequency of 100 Hz will resonate with any whole multiples, like 200 Hz, 300 Hz, 400 Hz, etc. What does this look like in daily life? We can observe this at pretty much every concert, where the musician plays a song and everyone grooves to it at the same time. On a personal level, I’m friends with people who differ in age from me pretty widely, and even though we have very different experiences, we still get along great. Some people are a few years younger, some more than 10 years older, but we can still find ways to relate with each other. We’ll have similar values, senses of humour, personalities. Your physical rhythms might even be similar, observed by such behaviours as a head nodding in agreement.

I’m using age here as one filter for the entirety of a person, but we can generalize each person’s unique vibe into the concept of timbre. Most musical instruments can play the same frequencies, but they all sound different. Even instruments manufactured one after the other will sound different, and that’s all summarized as its timbre. Everyone has their own unique voice, but those voices can be grouped into similar sounds like how instruments are grouped into brass, strings, wind, etc. People will vibe with each other based on similarities. Shocking insight, I know.

We attract types. There are people who I think are amazing, and I wonder how their coworkers don’t feel lucky to be around them all the time. Some friends always seem to date jerks. There are people who I think I should be friends with on paper, but for some reason it just doesn’t work out in reality. We have similar values, experiences, compatible personalities, and yet it doesn’t really click. I met someone new with whom I thought I should get along, but they have too many connections already to fit in someone new, regadless of compatibility. He’s a spitting image of somebody that I used to know, with whom I had a similar problem.

Let’s say you have only a few slots within your inner circle of friends. There are those that only allow people in if they’re the same as them. Think "Mean Girls" or the cliquey popular kids from high school. You have to be from the right race, gender, socioeconomic class, physical ability. I don’t necessarily care to argue with my friends all that much, but agreeing with someone all the time gets boring. Besides which, my head gets a bit dizzy from nodding in agreement so much. I like surrounding myself with people who have vastly different experiences from me. I don’t exactly know what’s the common thread between people I attract, but I have noticed a trend of people who have been deeply hurt before but who also overcame the pain. I used to suppress my troubles, so the people I attracted back then also did the same. But now that I’ve processed a lot of it and come out the other side a kinder, more compassionate person, I’m starting to befriend those kinds of people.

We need all sorts of friends at any given time, and we need to be these kinds of friends to those who’ve enlisted us as well:

  • We need friends to roast us and keep our egos in check.
  • We need people who respect and admire us.
  • Someone to be in love with.
  • The hard OGs to kick our asses when we act a fool.
  • The soft and cuddly types that we can be real and vulnerable with.
  • The homies that peer-pressure us into trouble and shenanigans.
  • The all-day friends who know far too much about what’s happening in your schedule.
  • The responsible friend from whom we can copy homework and assignments.

Sometimes you meet a person that fits a role in your life, but they don’t want to connect with you. It’s ambiguous and painful because everyone has a different way of telling you they aren’t interested in you the way you are in them. You can get the cold shoulder or direct rejection, unreturned messages. Overall, there’s tons of awkwardness. You might try to convince them you could be good friends, but no response. Maybe it’s the other way around and someone wants to befriend you, but you’re too nice to turn them away. We all have a roster of our go-to people. There’s a nasty way of letting go of people who bring you down. Some go to school and think they’re too smart to hang out with people who have lower education. Some get rich and leave their less wealthy friends behind. Some get married and ditch their single friends bnecause they don’t have a guest to bring along to dinner parties. Some people settle down, and they judge people who haven’t done the same yet. It hurts being rejected, but I think it evens out because we’ll all get to be on the other side of the fence eventually.

I’ve been pretty deliberate over the past few years about surrounding myself with better people. Part of the challenge is in finding the right people, but I think the harder part is letting go of the decent ones. There isn’t room for great friends when your bench is full of good friends, old friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, family friends. With my music collection, I go through phases of repeating songs and playlists for a month or so, then I’ll hunt for new songs for a week. However, there are only so many songs I really care to have in a playlist, and sometimes it means deleting songs that I loved for a time but eventually which I got tired of. Similarly, relationships have seasons. When you’re in school, you generally make friends with people who are physically near you and are forced in to the same schedule as you. As you get older, you move schools, you live in different places, and then you just stop talking to a lot of those older friends. Social media gives the illusion of connection and intimacy. We can cast a much wider net of friends compared to people living before the Internet, but our hearts haven’t really changed as humans. We can still only manage to have a few really close friends.

Listening to new songs, I can tell pretty quick whether I’ll love this song or not, so I skip through them pretty fast. I made some new friends recently, and it stunned me how we’ve all quickly clicked. Normally I’d be really apprehensive about adding someone to the fold, trading numbers, figuring out the whole social network thing. (Who should initiate? how long should I wait? do I really want them to see my old pictures?) You’ve read on this blog that I was worried about losing a bunch of friends, and now you’ve also read about how some of those spots got filled up after about a year.

We have these job postings created for friends to fill, and we have to take care in crafting those job descriptions if we want to derive true enjoyment and satisfaction from our relationships. Sometimes we have ideas in our heads about what we want, but our bodies might know better than us at times. I’ve had a few friends for a long time where my body was shouting at me to stop being around them, but I didn’t get the message until a few years into it. Now I’ve had some positions vacant for about a year, only to be filled when I gave up on them. What I learned is that it’s an area where you can’t really force anything to happen. It starts and ends organically, so having my type A personality doesn’t really speed up the process by trying to control everything. It’s one of those instances where I had to use a light touch. I needed to stop being such a nice guy and to be assertive in rejecting certain applicants, but I also just needed to let it happen on its own. When I meet friends of friends and they ask how I know our mutual friend, it usually goes something like "Um, I don’t really know. We met through another person and just started hanging out, I guess." Desperately trying to fill the void did nothing for me. It took lots of deep breathing and returning my focus to living my life, and then it kinda just fell into place. Things worked out when I accepted the discomfort enough to carry on, even if it felt like an open wound. You eventually figure out who’s on the same wavelength as you, and it’s something you can’t really change about a person. If one of you decides to make a big change, then that’s how people naturally grow closer and drift apart.

Not long ago, I was worried I would lose all my friends. I thought I was going to drift into my 30’s and fatherhood with no one noticing while I kicked and screamed because I still wanted to party. I was putting out good vibrations and energy all on my lonesome, thinking no one would pick up on them until after I faded into obscurity. Things haven’t turned out as grim as I expected, and even more, they’ve turned out better than I ever imagined. A difference in frequency is called a beat, and some beats work better together. We attract types, so given enough time, we’ll fill our lives with people of similar vibes. I don’t need a ton of friends, but I do need the right ones. Life’s too short to have mediocre relationships, and the road to happiness is paved with a hundred “no’s” for every “yes.” I had terrible results when I tried to force some relationships to happen, and despite learning to let things happen organically, I also had to be deliberate in letting some friendships go and in showing up for the people that showed up for me.

This is Me

I have better enjoyment of life when I choose my emotions. Circumstances are often out of our control, so it isn’t always reasonable to choose to be happy in response to all of them. It's not that it's impossible to reach a positive emotional state, but it can certainly be a lot harder when life layers on the challenges.

I’ve learned from observing myself and others to never underestimate a person’s selfishness. I think that’s our natural state, to think only about ourselves, and it takes work to socialize people into caring for others. For the most part, I don't care if someone is an insufferable asshole so long as they know that about themselves. Keep being yourself, but just not anywhere near me. I often place myself at the centre of most experiences. I’ll choose to be unhappy if I don’t get a new iPhone every year, even when most people hang onto theirs for probably two to three years at least. Hanging out with people, sometimes it can feel impossible to have a good time, but it can also mean it required a higher amount of effort to have fun that night. I’ve held my happiness hostage before until my vague and infinitely long list of demands were met, which usually doesn’t happen. Especially being out of school and into marriage both for around five years now, more and more of the list of demands seems to move depeer into the area of first world problems.

It’s also worked in the opposite direction for me as well. When I should have been angry or upset, I chose not to be. When I should have gotten aggressive in response to an attack, I chose to run away. That helps when you’re trying to de-escalate a situation, but sometimes you need to respond with plain old brute force. In those cases, the decision preceded the emotion. I had already chosen to not get upset at all, so whenever my heart applied for a permit to be upset, it had already been denied well in advance. Being traumatized since childhood, I was stuck in a state of fear for a long time. Sometimes it’s helped me push past struggles, sometimes it’s worked against me.

”Fear. What happens on Earth stays on Earth,

And I can’t take these feelings with me

So hopefully they disperse

Within fourteen tracks, carried out over wax.

Wondering if I’m livin’ through fear or livin’ through rap.”

Kendrick Lamar

If I’m stuck in a state of fear, then I’ll eventually find something that I should be scared of. It’s been hard for me to relax my whole life because of that trauma. I thought I was just tightly wound, but it’s one of those deep psychological complexes. It’s harder for me to choose my emotions because they’re physiologically locked into my body, but again, it’s not impossible to break free. It takes a lot of work, and I got a big boost from professional help. Now that I’m not stuck in that state anymore, my emotional range has opened up. I’ve downgraded from traumatized paranoia to heightened suspicion now.

What’s an example of a time when did I not choose the best emotional response? The most recent example was Chasing Summer Music Festival 2017. Because of some changes this summer, it’s probably the last big event I’ll attend, never forgetting that I already spent a big chunk of dough going to Coachella. I had worked hard to trade shifts, to get my hair cut, to make sure we synced up with our friends, and even still, there were moments where I wasn't enjoying myself or loosening up. Some sets that I was anticipating were pretty awful. There were also some pleasant surprises like meeting new friends. However, it was only after I decided to just run with it and enjoy myself that I actually started smiling and dancing. I could have chosen to feel butthurt about the prices, the crowds, the smells. Maybe the DJ didn’t play the song I liked or they mixed it in a way I didn’t vibe with. Like the last two years, it rained cats and dogs, and I had to walk around and dance in wet socks for the rest of the day. I think it would be understandable if I were sour because of all those conditions and more, but I just decided that life was too short to be so bitter while so much more had lined up for me to enjoy myself at the event I was looking forward to the most for the year. I didn’t have to travel or find accommodations for this festival. A bunch of friends came in from out of town. I hadn’t seen Zedd in a few years, and Jauz moved up to the main stage this summer. I could have been selfish and increased the items on my list of demands, but after being a bummer for a while, I chose to appreciate what I did have, especially being surrounded by the best people. I’m privileged enough to have these first world problems.

Okay, so that’s a surface example. What’s a dark and terrifying place in my chest that needs some light shone upon it? This month marks roughly one year since I took short term disability from work. I was stressing about my job rotation and my mental health, and I had to quit once I realized I wasn’t getting any more support from HR. I got on medical EI for four months, tried to extend it in January, and I was looking for work and not getting responses. My health was not in a great place overall. Nowadays, I have a job with benefits and vacation. Carrie’s done school and working now. The car is functioning. I have amazing coworkers who’ve become friends, and I’m having fun 3D printing again. I’m still getting used to shift work as opposed to office hours, but there are upsides that I’m still discovering and learning to take advantage of. That is, I have a lot to be grateful for. I could go back to my old ways and demand that life remove my every annoyance and inconvenience, but I don’t want to be that person anymore.

It’s interesting trying to think back to The Struggle. Since I don’t feel absolutely and constantly devastated anymore, it’s almost like it never happened. I know in my head that it was the worst time of my life, but emotionally, it feels like the very distant past. It’s weird not being able to empathize with my past self, the one person I should be able to empathize with out of everyone. It’s easy to forget the hard times because I think the mind tends to erase unpleasant memories. I think back fondly to that time I went to Vietnam with my family of origin, but I also know that we stayed way too long; something like five or six weeks in the summer. It was scorching hot, the sun rose at like 4 AM, not to mention the car mechanic across the street started work around that time everyday. I didn’t like the Malaria Mosquitoes and Assassin Ants, the rain was overbearing, and the language barrier was difficult to navigate, especially talking to anyone that wasn’t a family member. I had to ask someone with a different dialect to repeat themselves five times, and they were only asking how I was doing. I know I was miserable at the time, but I still think of that vacation as only good times. During The Struggle, I never really felt like I had control of my feelings. I had the ability to choose to submit myself to certain experiences, but I spent a lot of time being surprised at how I felt.

"Why is this bothering me so much?"

"Why isn’t this bothering me more?"

Should I react or respond first? I think it’s healthy to react privately and then calculate your response afterward. I find that my reactions are much more base and instinctive, rash and animalistic. I used to have a serious problem with rage. I had so much pent-up anger inside that I would constantly plot how to kill people. I never did, but that's not a great thought to brood on. Apparently that’s a normal response to being abused and having my boundaries violated deeply and regularly. If I don’t release the tension built up in my reactions, then my response isn’t always ideal. That’s partly why I write. Typing helps me to slowly channel my rage onto the page, and once I can examine them objectively, I can tweak my response accordingly. I have a lot of reactions that are ridiculous in general, but I keep it to myself and try to respond with kindness. It’s not so bad if I react to something, but I like to be more measured instead of blurting things out, which I only do if there’s a lame pun to punish my readers with.

Is it possible to have too much control? When I should be mad but respond too quickly with generosity, it seems disingenuous because nobody processes feelings that quickly. It comes off as robotic, and even though there’s an underlying niceness, it can be as harmful as having a quick reaction. Being way too nice, I developed this mentality of being a pushover. When someone wronged me, I would quickly respond with “No worries.” Hakuna matata. What a wonderful phrase when it’s genuine. Saying it too quickly makes it seem suspicious. I was selfishly nice. My whole life I was told to think about others, but later I learned it was a manipulation tactic to take advantage of me the whole time. I thought I was supposed to be super nice to everyone because they would be nice back to me. That's not how the world works. I shouldn't be nice just so I can get something in return. I should do it because that's who I am and how I choose to interact with others, not with the expectation of a reward. In my experience, that reward is rarely ever presented.

On top of being forced to consider others, I’ve always felt rushed so I could fit someone else’s pace. Now I’m learning to assert myself and to go at my own pace. Instead of getting out of the way, I’m telling the world "This is me." My dad always rushed me to succeed so I could reach higher, so that created a pattern throughout my life where I wouldn’t centre myself before making my next move. I’m learning to ground myself, to take deep breaths, and to commit only once I’m ready. In an alternate timeline, Carrie and I would have had a lower cost wedding. We wouldn’t have traveled to such faraway and expensive places. We would have taken smaller risks, gotten married later, and had kids earlier. We would have bought a house on the outskirts of town, and eventually we would have grown resentful towards our kids because we did everything we were supposed to do when we were supposed to, all for their sakes. Societal and cultural pressures demanded them. Instead, we marched to the beat of our own drums instead of rushing so that I avoid inconveniencing someone else.

Your reactions can surprise you, which makes it harder to respond when you don’t know how you feel. At one of the after-parties for Chasing Summer, I ran into this girl who was just way too attractive. Not only was she gorgeous, but she and I were vibing on the dance floor. I’ve spent a lot of time on many a floor of dance before and I’ve run into plenty of pretty girls, but the combination of the looks and moves on this one girl just devastated me. I wanted to be with her, to know her problems and to take them away, to give her everything she needed. There was a searing pain in my chest that I felt wouldn't go away until I could make her happy. I haven’t felt this way in I-don’t-know-how-long, and it caught me completely by surprise. I was shook. I had a junior-high level of hopeless infatuation with her so bad that I’ve been thinking about her all week. It’s new to me. It does happen to people, even when they’re married. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much in love with Carrie after being together for some thirteen and a half years, but the heart wants what the heart wants. Feeling this way isn’t wrong, but certainly choosing my response can be judged in that realm. Being that our wedding anniversary just passed, I’m certain this was some sort of test, and it was a tough one that came late at night when I wasn’t expecting it. I think I did well because I didn’t ask for her name or number, I kept my distance, and I left the venue once I couldn’t handle the pain anymore. I sometimes think about her during quiet moments, but luckily she’s beyond my reach now and I’ll probably never run into her again. Until the next test.

We out here. The trend of the universe is towards darkness, chaos, emptiness. The very act of existence is a rebellion against what the world wants. By being born, by being yourself, you defy all the forces trying to end you. There are those that would take your money, your attention, your health and well-being for their own selfish ends. By saying “This is Me,” you fight back against everyone trying to exploit you, trying to colonize your body for their own profit. Be yourself. Write your own story like Kendrick. Don't be like Drake the actor. Sometimes you can choose your emotions, but it can be a lot of work. Sometimes we need to listen to our bodies and bend to its emotional pull, but other times we need to overpower our feelings with our heads to get things done. We're selfish beings, so it takes a conscious effort to remove ourselves as the centre of all experiences. Life is best when you live for something beyond yourself. On the other hand, you have to address any damage and missing pieces before you can do that. It’s all good as long as you’re saying this is who you are and who you want to be.