Boredom

Last I wrote, I was doing nothing with my life. I start my day by doing nothing, and what’s developed from this ritual is a reminder to fuel my activities with boredom. It’s an under-appreciated motivator, but it’s responsible for a great many successes and serendipitous discoveries. I’m not saying that my life is boring and uneventful; quite the opposite. There are a lot of large moving parts at the moment, so I have to force myself to be bored in order to filter through the unimportant parts. It’s like when my piano teacher repeatedly told us that in order to perform quickly, you have to practice slowly. Some days I don’t get around to doing nothing. There’s an avalanche of tasks and anxiety at the start of the day, and I don’t have enough strength and willpower to take my timeout. Sometimes I can only manage to do nothing for 30 minutes, which doesn’t sound like a long time but it sure feels like it. Items have popped up on my radar that I didn’t even know were lurking, but really, they’re things that have been hiding under the surface for years but have been essentially invisible as I kept myself too busy. In these past two weeks of doing nothing, I cleaned up my contact list on my phone, I deleted photos from my library, I rearranged the layout of the home, I jumped on some home chores that would have normally been procrastinated for months, and I’ve been printing and modelling more in 3D.

While I’m learning to use boredom as a tool, I’ve been driven too long by anxiety. It’s too powerful and draining as an energy source. It’s a sticky feeling, taking quite a bit of both physical and emotional strength to peel yourself away even if you’re mindful that you’re having a panic attack. It makes me squirrely, turns my focus into tunnel vision, and I rush and make tons of mistakes. It’s like driving with nitrous in rush hour traffic. I’ve learned over the years how to profit off of my anxiety, like using the worry and fear to study for school, but it’s not fun and sustainable. Sometimes I’ll play video games, go to the gym, or play with the 3D printer out of anxiety, and that’s just not fun. The activities themselves aren’t so much the problem as my nervous energy. Once my anxiety is done with me, I’m left lying down on the bed or couch, heart pounding, mind racing, dazed and confused.

On the other hand, boredom is a special kind of fuel. Some of the best games we played as kids were invented when we were bored, like Night Crawlers. It’s a much gentler, powerful, long-term motivator, and I’m using it these days as the antidote to my insecurities and fears. It reminds me generally of adults who think bored kids should be doing something more useful with their time, but I don’t think so. Boredom is unpleasant, but it’s necessary for balance. Even though there are large impending changes currently underway for me, it’s easier to adapt and transition by essentially saying “No!” to all the unimportant things that want my time and attention. It’s not really that magic.

Some years ago, I had the brilliant idea of using an app that would download my contacts from numerous sources. I pulled contacts from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn, so for something like 4 years, I’ve had to sift through random usernames when looking up a person, and my autocorrect has just been a nightmare this entire time because of the odd names people use on Facebook to hide their profiles from coworkers and customers/clients. In one day, I deleted over 1000 contacts and trimmed down my list to around 250 people. In the process, not only did I remove contacts from those social networks like my best friend Barack Obama, but I also removed the people I stopped talking to years ago. feelsgoodman.webm. It may not have the same physical weight of cleaning your home and taking out the trash, but it certainly reduces the emotional weight of having digital crap piling up, taking with it some dust bunnies along the way.

Another activity I got around to was deleting photos. Storage costs money, on top of just feeling bulky. I had some 18,000 photos going back to 2009, many of which had lost their significance. I deleted around 2000. So many pictures of homework assignments and food. It was nice, strolling down memory lane with a machete. I found some old photos that I sent off to my brothers before they were deleted forever. Some photos not only lost their emotional significance, but some I couldn't even remember why I took the picture in the first place. That's when you know they truly become junk. There are the moments I won't ever forget, regardless of whether I captured it in a picture, so it was a nice reminder, reviewing hilarious or emotional memories. I haven’t picked up the exercise since, but I’m sure I will at some point. I foresee lots of boredom in my future.

Carrie just started a new job, and with my minimal hours at work, I’m resuming my role as house spouse. From my practice of doing nothing, I realized it was time to improve my cooking skills. I’m still operating off of the information I learned from home economics class in grade eight, so I think I’m due for an update if I’m trying to take care of two adults. I know the basics, but I want to learn stuff like how to properly chop different ingredients and how different flavour profiles interact and how to stock the home. There doesn’t seem to be a central place someone can learn these things, so I’m pulling from a bunch of different sources. I was told in Home Ec that you should refrigerate food right after cooking, but I was also told later that it can ruin certain foods like rice if you chill it while it’s still steaming. I have little understanding of the source of this principle besides that bacteria like warm places, but this is just one example of an area where there are so many unknown unknowns. I took a cooking class for fun once, but it was really just a bunch of people cooking different dishes and eating it at the end. There was no technique or lesson, just people cooking with and for each other. I could always watch YouTube videos, but the problem with that is you could watch five different people who say five different things, each of them adamantly insisting their methods are the best without any real reasoning. The limit with these videos as well is that there is only a one-way communication, so if I have questions, I have to hustle to find out the answer. I honestly don’t even know where to go from here. Luckily, I have a coworker who’s willing to teach me his professional skills. I haven’t given us food poisoning yet, but I’d like to level up my cooking so that it can turn from a chore into a fun activity. If you have any suggestions on how to improve my cooking game, I’m all ears.

Starting my day with nothing also helped with home improvement in these past two weeks. There are certain tasks around the home that take months of procrastinating before you get around to them. When Carrie was in school, one of the more important lights in our studio burned out, and due to the 12 foot ceilings and our lack of a ladder, we just left it alone for a long time. A while ago, we needed some plumbing work done in our place. I guess for safety, they install locks on the faucets so the boiling hot water doesn’t pump out during testing, but they forgot to remove them before they left. I noticed it immediately in the shower, so with some googling, I disassembled our shower knob and took out the little lock within the first day. With the kitchen sink though, I had no idea why it would only turn halfway. I didn’t clue in to the fact that it must have been locked from the little bit of work they did, so we just lived with it for months. Our problem was partially solved when our building upgraded the water heater, so even though our faucet could only go to half of the full range, it was hot enough to wash dishes. I didn’t even know what style of faucet we had, which was a rather minor mental barrier that only added to the problem. Once I actually had the capacity to face it, the whole thing was fixed in like 10 minutes. The problem wasn’t a lack of time since I was unemployed then, but I just didn’t have the emotional margin left over from quitting my job and supporting Carrie in her studies to deal with what felt like a small issue. I did this sometime late last year, but in the past two weeks alone, I rearranged the record player and vinyls, relocated the networking equipment, and reorganized my closet. These are the types of fixes around the home that I can get around to when I start each day by boring myself to tears. It’s a life changer.

I’ve been 3D modelling a lot lately. Here’s a picture of one of my projects.

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I often feel bad when my printer isn’t being used all the time because it cost so much money and I should use it whenever I get the chance since it’s a fixed cost and a depreciating asset that needs to amortize with each print and provide value to all my friends and family and potentially turn into a business if I can find the right niche to market and sell to because it’s fun and it makes me happy to make other people happy, and I like to find areas of interest in people’s lives where they would appreciate getting something like pop culture or a sports team they’re into or sometimes specialized tools can be cool too. That’s an annoying run-on sentence to read, but imagine if your mind operated like that on a regular basis. Ugh. I often fool myself into thinking I’m playing with the 3D printer for fun when in actuality, I’m doing it from fear and feeling like I’m running out of oxygen. The same goes with most activities. My autopilot is set to run off anxiety and shame from my traumatic childhood and history of abuse. It robs me of joy, so I have to slam the brakes with both feet before I get carried away. Boredom is the cure.

Boredom is good. Most of my adult life I’ve been only trying to climb higher and higher, but even roller coasters need to come down at some point. Starting my day with nothing is super hard, but early results are really positive. The fast lane is fun when you need it, but it’s taken me six years so far to learn how to get out of it. Boring myself is honestly such an amazing feeling. It’s incredibly restorative and cathartic, and the young me didn’t think I’d make it here until I was in my 40’s or 50’s. I would picture myself sitting in my recliner, pulling up a vinyl and some headphones, glass of wine in hand, soaking in the tunes. My hair would also be grey in that image, and the kids would be out for the evening. But here I am, pushing 30, learning to self-regulate, speeding up when I need to, slowing down when I choose to. I had always been trained to just keep going faster and faster, regardless of things falling apart like my health, but I was able to escape that state of carnage thanks to my counselling. Even though there are still some large moving parts shaking the ground around me, I’m able to recover and adapt faster than before. Forcing boredom on myself (aka foredom or borcing myself) is just being extra rigid about saying no to less important requests. No means no. Less is more. Boredom saves lives.

Nothing

I’m adjusting to life without my new three year’s resolution of not starting any new side projects. One of the ripple effects was that I got used to participating in much shorter transactions. I stopped watching movies and kept to TV shows. I mostly 3D printed little one-off models in favour of multi-part projects like helmets. Career-wise, I stopped aiming for bigger jobs and took on less and less responsibility. Now that I’ve taken off the leash, it’s a bit intimidating walking out into the world again. I more or less calmed the compulsive need to work insanely hard to feel worthy, but it’s a bit like learning how to ride a bike again after a collision.

Unsure of how to proceed after the resolution ended, staring into the void, I resolved to wait until I knew what to do. I went to work, slept, tidied the house, hung out with friends. Didn’t take on any major projects like home renovations, finding engineering work, fixing up the car, reading x number of books in y amount of time. I let the dust settle and spent a lot of time laying in bed and breathing deeply. What came of the endeavour was that I now start my days by doing nothing at all.

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It’s the first thing on my daily to-do list. You could call it by many different names, like mindfulness, meditation, zen, grounding, containment, solitude. I’ve changed my availability at work so that I don’t start before noon except one day, so most mornings I can take as long as I want for breakfast, workouts, creative work, and doing nothing. This also only works because Carrie is the primary breadwinner now. It’s like my own micro-vacation. I’m in the same mode as laying down by the pool or beach; not a care in the world. There’s no music, no TV, no books, no social media. Only lying in bed and observing what’s happening around me. There’s still a lot of value in packing up and changing countries so your mind can’t be tricked into slipping back into your regular routine, but that also costs money and time. Doing nothing at home feels like I’m coming up for air, and it helps me to adapt to quickly changing needs. Some days call for an audible and throwing out the to-do list entirely, and I can only sense that when I start the day by doing nothing.

Because of my trauma, it takes me a lot longer to chill out compared to the average person, if it happens at all. I have to manually power down. My heightened sense of danger stays on red alert unless I repeat to myself that there’s nothing to worry about. In the past two weeks, I’ve been writing lists of things to look forward to, things to anticipate or prepare for, all just so I can see that there’s nothing urgent to take care of. I have to check with Carrie if I missed anything on my list or if she wants me to add anything for her. I have to sit still and force the chills to run up and down my spine until I feel my body opening up and breathing deeply again. It’s uncomfortable, but if I don’t do it for myself, who will? I don’t know about you, but relaxation is an active process for me.

Doing nothing looks different for everybody. Zooming out, what I mean by "doing nothing" is that I don’t need any special projects to make me feel worthwhile. No losing weight, no starting up a business, no trying to beat Trial of the Sword in Breath of the Wild on Master Mode (so impossible!). It’s fine if some of these things happen as a byproduct, but it can’t be from a unified goal that I set for myself. I unknowingly learned this behaviour of working on the side from my dad because he left a lot of his main responsibilities to start side projects. Instead of staying at home and helping out our family, he was always flying to different countries to take care of other people. Instead of staying focused on his job at the church, he was off doing missionary work for a good chunk of the year, and as I hear, he’s doing more of the same now. The way this pattern looked in my life was when I had bad but passable grades in school, I would find refuge in side quests. I would later use them as excuses for why I wasn’t meeting expectations in my main job, a form of denial and self-fulfilling prophecy. While in university, I had my headphone amplifier project that I was selling online, I was in a long distance relationship with Carrie, I was volunteering several days a week at church, I was the Electrical Engineering Club’s co-president, among other things. These initiatives helped me feel better about my grades. It’s normal and healthy sometimes to work on multiple things at once because only having one job gets pretty boring. I took it too far though by using them to justify my poor performance at my one job, and then it would only get worse as I wrestled more with my self-worth being tied to my output. Lots of people have to work multiple jobs, and they can only carry on this way so long as those jobs don’t interfere with each other. As for me, my main responsibility now is to keep my family going, and that’s all I want to focus on. It’s full-time work keeping the home stocked and running smoothly, and we’re just two people.

The last remnant of this old lifestyle was my lifelong dream of designing products at Apple. I had a warped view of success due to my dad narcissistically manipulating me into being a shinier trophy so he could brag to people. I would weaponize my hobbies to boost my eventual application for the position of hardware engineering intern, which sucked the joy out of my hobbies and proved to be quite toxic for my health. I still enjoy designing and making products on my own, so I’ll keep my 3D printer and soldering iron handy. But as far as pursuing it seriously as a career option, I’m giving that up. I’m sure I could still do it at some point, but I always had the wrong reasons in chasing after it, basing my self-worth in my work. I can hear it now, people saying "Don’t give up, you can do it, you just need to believe in yourself, it can still happen." I don’t disagree, but when I look on the horizon and then at the road immediately in front of me, I can’t really reconcile the two. There are some very obvious and pressing needs that are presenting themselves right now, and it helps my imminent survival if I let go of that pipe dream. If all I ever did was marry Carrie, had kids, and took good care of all of them, I would be proud to live such a life. I no longer look back on my career and think "Don’t use your childhood as an excuse for not achieving your dreams." I know now that privilege plays a real role in people’s development. I’ve accomplished a lot in my short 29 years, but since I started a lot further back than many of my peers, it can look like I’m just humming along. (That’s also why it’s pointless to keep score with your friends.) The lifeforce needed to ramp up my resumé and experience to join Apple engineering within so many years, that’s all energy that would be better used towards taking out the garbage and picking up the dry-cleaning today. Also going dancing and partying all-out once a month with my friends.

I’ve been on a three year mission to escape the frightening, lasting effects of abuse, and the last major pillar of this endeavour was to stop finding side projects to boost my self-esteem. They were distractions that looped back toward a toxic motivation to find self-worth, which choked the life out of me. I can see now how it was a pattern I adopted from my dad, which I don’t want to continue. It’s all I can do to keep my own family going, so I’m giving up my dream of working for Apple engineering so I can focus on my daily chores, which starts with doing nothing. And now all I aspire to do with the rest of my life is taking good care of my family. In other words, nothing.

Review: New Three Year’s Resolution

I wrote about my new three year’s resolution on January 4, 2015. Back then, I was so miserable with life and bored at work that I would find side projects to preoccupy myself, which only made me more unhappy. I had a pretty bad case of performance orientation, which is another way of saying that my self-worth was only associated with my productivity. I felt that I had no inherent value for being me. I was working myself into the ground just to feel like I meant something, so my new three year’s resolution was a leash I put on myself so I would stop doing the only thing I knew to boost my self-esteem — working myself to death.

I’ve referenced that post quite a few times along the way, which is pretty impressive considering most people drop their new years resolutions within a few weeks. Re-reading it now has helped me to see how much I’ve changed and where I haven’t, so I feel like reviewing some of the lessons I learned and changes I made along the way.

Space

This is probably one of the biggest lessons I learned through the last three years. Essentially, my resolution was to create space for normal human experiences and to catch up on lost time. Contrast that with my default strategy at the time of working until I felt good about myself. By creating that space, I left my free time as a blank space and trusted that I would fill it in as the need arose. I had no idea I was going to seek counselling or to quit my job. I had no clue that important people in my life would disappear and that better people would take their place. I never imagined I would process so much trauma and get this healthy.

You need energy to solve problems. We all have a finite amount each day, and for most of us we waste it on entertainment and distraction; for me, that’s TV and reddit. It’s the part of the discourse I dislike about things like personal finance. “Just cut costs, then you’ll be rich.” The focus and attention required to examine every expenditure and income doesn’t come free. If you’re struggling to get by, it’s not just because you’re sitting around and doing nothing with your free time. You’re supporting extended family members, maybe you’re battling your own demons, maybe your job is too toxic and stressful for you to always be frugal. Those who have the capacity to help themselves look at those who can’t and think they’re lazy. Maybe the system is stacked to favour the few, who can’t see the struggles that the rest have to contend with.

Cycles

There are virtuous and vicious cycles. My trauma had me stuck in a cycle where I allowed people to hurt me, then I would pick myself up and go back for more. It’s really hard to break out of a cycle, but it’s possible. Along the way, we’ve seen quite a few brave souls in this world taking a stance at great personal cost in order to break the cycle:

  • Beyoncé’s Lemonade album
  • Edward Snowden
  • #metoo

I also have a virtuous cycle of writing this blog and thinking out loud. I’ve gotten amazing feedback and support from the people in my social network with only a few rotten experiences of trolls flinging mud. Maintaining a few healthy cycles keeps me out of the vicious ones.

Mental Health

I never knew I had anxiety and PTSD (undiagnosed, but I have the symptoms) until recently. I’ve always been able to turn on the turbo jets in order to get more work done, but never really had a plan for slowly descending back to earth. No wonder I would seize up with anxiety for some unknown reason and never knew how to work myself down except by crashing. I wrote a post called Every Day I’m Hustling where I listed things that calmed me down. I like to resort to it when I have a panic attack. I made a new friend who also has pretty bad anxiety, and it was interesting to compare experiences as I watched them have some four panic attacks in one outing.

I didn’t get the support I needed from the health care system. My previous employer wanted to play chicken with my mental health because I presume it was cheaper for me to quit than for them to help me get healthy and working again. Canada is pretty good with universal healthcare, but it’s murky with mental health. No one bats an eye when you stay home from work with a cold, but it’s not as easy to even say what kind of mental health issues you’re struggling with. Systems and agencies are all disconnected and uncoordinated, so people easily fall through the cracks despite waiting months. It looks like on a macro scale the public is opening up to the idea that mental health is important and that it needs to be treated and funded, but it’s very gradual. I don’t think it’s moving fast enough to support people in the way they need right now, but I don’t know how to speed it up. The most vulnerable people with the least energy have the hardest time getting help.

Kindness

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to be kind to myself. I used to treat myself brutally. I got this from my parents, who probably had to in some ways treat themselves harshly in order to sacrifice and provide a better life for their four children and the revolving door of people who they also supported.

From what I can tell, people don’t really change long-term when you crack the whip. You can easily change the behaviour for a short time, but you never get as far as changing their minds and hearts. Most genuine change comes from a place of love and kindness, when the sources of pain and strife are exposed and examined so that healing can begin, but the tradeoff is that it takes a much longer time. In my own case, kindness has helped the most in these three short years. I’ve always been my worst critic, and I never held back any kind of criticism or abuse of myself. I used to push myself so hard in the gym that I would throw up, but now I have a more holistic approach to physical and mental health as facilitated by exercise and diet. Counselling and therapy helped me to be kind to myself and to brave the murky waters of my emotions and childhood trauma, whereas cussing and yelling at myself for making mistakes only ever made me commit more mistakes.

Emotional Labour

I learned about this topic firsthand while Carrie went missing from our marriage. I would clean up the home, I would do all the groceries, I would fuss and worry about our relationships with friends and family, all sorts of stuff. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I made Carrie take care of these things in the past, like remembering people’s birthdays and other significant dates, replying to people that reached out to us to hang out or to say hello, making sure the home was fully stocked. We’re back on track now, splitting up responsibilities based on care and ability, but it was a dark period for me the last couple years. I’m terrible with finances, starting later in life with managing my own money and expenses whereas Carrie moved away from home to go to school at 18 and already held several jobs by then. I was super worried about money when I quit my job and went on EI, then lost it only to be backpaid after three months, then started a job in retail. I wanted Carrie to focus only on graduating on time, even though she was willing to take a break from school to ensure we made enough money to stay afloat. Before my resolution, the emotional labour I usually took care of was to make money, drive, and talk with Carrie, but now I see how unfair it was for me to not grocery shop, tidy, plan events with friends, share the TV, be attentive in general to the needs of our relationship. It was hard doing most of the emotional labour, but I also know that my hands aren’t clean.

Rock Bottom

The two year period where I sought counselling is what I call The Struggle. I was juggling work, Carrie’s grad program, and counselling. I could probably handle two of those at a time, but somehow I thought I was strong enough to handle all three. A lot of my worst case scenarios played out during that time, all within a fairly short timeframe, and I hit rock bottom. I stopped contact with my family, a good half-dozen friends moved away for work within a few months, Carrie had a couple terrible semesters, and I had to quit my job to preserve my mental health. All of the burdens fell on me at once with few supports in sight. I crawled out of the wreckage eventually, but it was bleak. During that time, I wrote:

Counselling made me a lot stronger than I realized. There's a confidence that comes from hitting rock bottom. You know how bad it can get, and you also know that you survived. Even though I thought I had duct taped together a nice little comfy life by my mid 20's, I almost lost it all. That's made me less afraid of the world, and it also deepens my gratitude.

Suffering

What’s the meaning of suffering? One takeaway I have from all these experiences is that everybody suffers to varying degrees, and it creates common ground between us if we talk about it. The internet and technology in general have given voices to many that never had it before, which has both positive and negative impacts, but for those that are suffering, it’s a lifeline. When you mention you’re depressed on social media, someone around this world will reach out and offer assistance, whether by mentioning local resources and professionals or simply by empathizing. My blog has become a bit of a lightning rod for people who are in pain because every once in a while, I’ll get a message saying that a passage or phrase reached someone’s heart and eased their suffering. By describing what I’m going through, people can relate through one of their past experiences, or they at least know where they can turn to if it happens to them or someone they know in the future.

For those of us who don’t suffer as much, or for those times when we thrive and stop suffering, I feel it’s our responsibility to help reduce the pain and strife that others experience. Meanwhile, I have to fight the temptation to keep focusing only on myself and my inconveniences.

Trauma

When your body faces a threat and gets charged up to address it, there can be an interruption, causing that energy to stay in the body even after the threat disappears. Maybe the problem resolves itself, or the person’s body backfires and freezes up because the threat is too overwhelming. I did a lot of work in therapy to discharge the heightened energy of trauma stored in my body. There’s still some leftover in my shoulders, which requires the slow painful work of strengthening the surrounding muscles and massaging out the evil and darkness. When you’re a hammer, you see everything as a nail even when it’s not. I know I’ve been traumatized multiple times, so I tend to misdiagnose others as having been traumatized as well. Even still, I think it’s a valuable lens in examining why people are the way they are. There are tons of movies predicated on a character being traumatized and resolving it by the end.

———

Some of you are thinking “Okay, Jon, we’ve read all this before. There’s nothing new. Why did I come here? Give me something worth my while because that was all a waste of time.” To that I would say, “Hey chill out, dude. Why are you being so critical? Go fly a kite and stop riding my ass because I’m trying to be kind to myself and not let my inner critical voices dominate my experience. But you’re still right. Here’s something new.”

Leap of Faith

If you’re constantly growing, you have to take a leap of faith every once in a while. If you’re doing it right, you’re taking big risks on a regular basis; for me, I’m taking about one a year. I’ve found that there’s really no end to these big leaps if I want to be whole. If you shy away from the opportunity, then it’ll catch up to you eventually in a longer and more costly way. It was terrifying moving homes when we were already so comfy, but we were validated only three weeks later when the #yycflood hit our old place. It was scary taking a 25% pay cut moving jobs and industries in 2014, even while the oil industry in Alberta was riding high. It was nerve-wracking to buy our home when we had already decided earlier that year to not buy any real estate. My new three year’s resolution was a scary proposition because it meant sacrificing any elevated self-esteem I would get from doing more of the work that was killing me. It was scary sharing with the world that I was sexually abused as a child.

You have to be scared. Sometimes you have to suspect that the grass is greener on the other side and go for it even though everything is telling you it’s the wrong decision. You just have to trust your gut that you’ll land safely on the other side, even when there is plenty of evidence pointing to the opposite conclusion. My three years resolution made a lot of assumptions: that I would live another three years; that Carrie would graduate; that I could find wholeness. Doing the right thing requires courage to take the leap of faith.

Moving Forward

Was three years the right amount of time? How do I feel coming out the other side? I’m happy, and I don’t only find my self-worth in my work anymore. I derive worth and meaning from numerous areas, I do things for fun and to fulfill my life’s purpose. I know I have inherent worth and value even while doing nothing, which back then is something I could say for others but never for myself.

I don’t have the need to do important work in order to validate my existence. I don’t need to reach some title or position in order for my dad to be proud of me. I can be proud of myself even though I’m certain he’s disappointed in me now. I don’t need to attain some randomly assigned measure of greatness in order to feel accepted. I also don’t feel like I need to take a huge break to work on my problems anymore. The three years was a way of catching up on lost time, but moving forward, I can work on my problems day by day. I’m good enough the way I am, and as long as I live each day to the fullest, I’ll be okay. I’m going to follow my heart instead of my greedy eyes.

Discomfort

I’m a much happier person now, and my friends are noticing. As a result of numerous conditions, I’ve been less consistent about posting since the summer, which kind of confused me for a while. Recently, it clicked in why I don’t write as often. I stopped attending counselling, so my old wounds aren’t being ripped open as often. I’m employed now, so I’m getting my weekly fill of conversation with both customers and coworkers. I was working full time for the past six months, where I was feeling drained after work most days. I’ve also been ill for most of the fall season. Not resting like I needed, combined with abusing my body in order to go out and have fun. Going to part time at work has cleared my mind a lot. Critically, Carrie is available to chat with me a lot more now, whereas she couldn’t process as much with me when she was in school. I’m always trying to write some big emotional and meaningful post, but I’m sure that gets exhausting for some of you. I haven’t written a silly and pointless post in years now, so it’s a little scary worrying that I’ll lose some readers over it. In the end though, I have to do what’s right for me, not necessarily what will get me more clicks or make me more popular. Sometimes what’s inside me is a silly joke, and sometimes facing the meaninglessness of pain and suffering. I hope things line up for me to sit down to dump my thoughts online more frequently.

Starting to find balance in recent weeks. Now that I’m getting my needs met better, I have some room to see what’s going on and areas where I need some work.

Discomfort is a signal. It means things aren’t right, but the discomfort itself isn’t the problem. It points to a conclusion which requires work to arrive at. Lately, I’ve had a couple things fall into place because I accepted the discomfort for a time. There are also times when I’ve lost big due to my unwillingness to engage with an uncomfortable situation.

Ordering my iPhone X was an ordeal. I bought it and chose to have it delivered to my home. I was quoted two weeks, but then I was pleasantly surprised when it shipped a week early. I spent the day at work, frequently checking my tracking, but then in the middle of the day it said there would be a delay due to extreme weather conditions. Disappointed and stranded, I had no choice but to wait. Luckily I had the next day off, which was a Friday, so I could wait at home so as to not miss the UPS delivery person. The tracking never updated to tell me whether it was out for delivery or when it would arrive, so by 5 o’clock, I called UPS to ask if they had more detailed delivery information that I couldn’t access. The agent told me that since there was no indication that it was out for delivery, it must still be waiting on a pallet inside a truck, meaning it would deliver by Monday. Frustrated from waiting anxiously all day, I couldn’t handle the cabin fever anymore and went for an angry and cold walk around the neighbourhood. About an hour later, I got home and found a UPS delivery notice that said they attempted delivery around 10 minutes after I left for my angry walk. Fortunately there was a UPS Access Point nearby, so I walked there and picked up my phone. Much discomfort.

Massage. I’ve been to several massage therapists and physios over the years, even one acupuncturist, but only recently have I met one that truly connected with the trauma present in my body. I’ve mentioned to all of them that my trapezius muscles house deep, dark secrets, but only this new one actually connected with them. I don’t understand how multiple people and techniques can operate on the same muscles with only one reaching the emotional knots. At the very least, that one person processed their own trauma from a past injury. Some mind-body connection shit. I’ve always felt better after all of my previous appointments with the other specialists, but I hit a new level after this latest one. It was deeply uncomfortable and painful having some years-old problems twisted out of my neck and shoulders, but I felt better immediately after.

I still have the tendency to overestimate my abilities. I’ll take care of a huge task early in the day, and I won’t realize the toll it took on my until after I’ve overcommitted the rest of my day. I’ll wonder "WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?" It’s like my body has seized up and I can’t really function anymore. When my discomfort levels rise, that’s when my cravings set in. Sometimes it’s used to ease the pain in my chest, sometimes it’s a compulsive behaviour. When I work long stressful days, I need to watch hours of TV to bring down my anxiety enough to fall asleep; usually Futurama helps. Nowadays, I’m learning to live with general discomfort. Pain can’t always be avoided. Sometimes it’s fairly straightforward to take the time to process a feeling, but in the moment, it can also help to live with it. Driving in the winter here in Alberta can be quite messy because of the sand, gravel, and salt, so it’s not a great use of time to wash off every single little spot. Lump it together into a carwash on a warm day on a later date. I spent two years during The Struggle processing all my emotions bottled up since my childhood, but now I’ve put a cap on it in order to move on with my life, which has allowed me to process it little by little. When you have a backlog of work to do like that, it helps to work overtime and weekends to reduce the burden, but you can only do that so long before you start creating new problems which reduce your longevity. I’m done working on the backlog, so now I’m also trying to enhance my day-to-day by not obsessing over every little wrinkle. Life is messy, and not every painful experience needs to be treated as a tragedy.

I use my dependencies like fixing a leaky roof using cardboard boxes. Sure, it doesn’t always rain, so I may not always need resilient infrastructure. But in a real downpour, I’m unable to comfortably withstand the storm. Whenever I resort to my coping mechanisms, each can of fizzy sugar water and each bag of instant noodles, it’s like throwing newspaper over the cardboard. Temporarily patching over the holes in my roof can fool me into believing I’ve fixed the underlying problems and that I’m a self-regulating adult, but it’s actually a very costly and draining way to live. Sometimes that’s all I can afford to do anyways. Maybe a full remodelling of the roof isn’t a project I can afford right now, so all I can manage is to quickly patch over the problem while I deal with issues in the basement. What I’m trying to do differently these days is to withstand the discomfort of not relying on a quick fix. By resisting the temptation of my distracting vices, I can more clearly see the reality of the underlying problems driving my compulsive behaviours. With all the fading and crusted cardboard and newspaper lining the roof, it’s hard to even see where the leaks are coming from. How many holes are there? How big are they? Is my problem stress-related? Is my marriage part of the problem? Are my friends healthy for me? There are many similar such questions that I can’t answer until I can handle a higher level of general discomfort.

If I continue to avoid most forms of discomfort, I won’t achieve anything meaningful. On the other hand, is that so bad?

A friend recommended a book called “Adult children - The Secret of Dysfunctional Families” by John and Linda Friel. (Warning: I’m going to talk about my family. Leave now if you’re tired of it.) It’s firing off so many connections in my brain, helping to explain so much of how and why my family turned out the way it did. For instance, families with no clear chemical dependencies can still operate in the same dysfunctional ways, and you resort to certain tactics as a child in order to cope and survive. The simple and impossible trick is to undo those compulsive behaviours once the environment changes when you’ve been doing things a certain way your whole life. I stopped talking to my family who sometimes ganged up on and gaslighted me, which taught me indirectly to follow the crowd. I want to quote many long sections from the book, but one particular passage gave me permission to cut out my family:

This happens all the time unless the whole family eventually gets help. Little brother will continue to act out in more and more serious ways until he either grows up and leaves home and gets help, or until he gets put in jail, or dies of alcoholism, suicide or in a reckless auto accident. If he's lucky, when he leaves home, he'll try to get help on his own.

If the family still resists getting involved in treatment, his therapist will recommend that he stay away from the family as much as possible and that he develop a "new" family system to replace the old dysfunctional one. This new system may be a therapy group, a 12-Step group, such as A.A., Al-Anon, ACoA or some other structured support system that follows a functional set of rules in which little brother does not have to "feel crazy" to fit in.

In more and more cases nowadays, what happens is that the entire family does get involved in treatment; and not just for little brother's sake. Enlightened therapists and an enlightened general public are helping families to see that problems like these are really symptoms of problems in the entire family system, and that when one member of the system is displaying a serious problem in adjustment, it means, in most cases, that all of the other members are experiencing problems, too. It's just that these other members' defenses and roles are more socially acceptable and less troublesome on the surface.

I still get blamed for the problems of my family when really I’m a signal of problems lurking underneath the surface. I blew the whistle because I saw something going wrong, and people treat the whistle as the true problem. Because of the narcissistic nature of the issues, most outsiders can’t see past my family of origin’s carefully crafted external appearance (or they believe there can’t be anything deeper since they know my family better than I do). It’s been two years since I stopped talking to them, cutting off the primary source of the turmoil and discomfort in my life, and now I’m doing better than ever. People still wag their finger and warn me I’ll need my family when life gets tough because their own families are probably supportive people, but mine were the biggest reason why my life was tough in the first place. People still ask when I’ll soften up and let them back in to my life, but this book has helped solidify my position in waiting for them to change. If I were to let them back in my life, we’d all resume our roles, and maybe I wouldn’t be around much longer after that. Now that they’re gone, I can preoccupy myself with more important and uncomfortable problems, like helping Carrie with her private psychology practice.

This all comes from trying to deal better with aggressive people. Two people at work have pulled me aside to offer mentoring and assistance with whatever I needed, and this area arose as my main weakness. I’ve had numerous encounters where I sensed my discomfort rising, so I went with my instinctive reactions to run away and shut down. I distrusted the feeling of my spidey senses sounding off, assuming it to only mean danger. Leaving your comfort zone isn’t positive or negative necessarily. Just means it’s uncomfortable.

Intrusive Thoughts

Part of the experience of trauma is that it’s difficult or nearly impossible to regulate intrusive thoughts. I never knew this was a phenomenon until I grew older and sought professional help. It explains why my whole life I’d heard criticism that no one was really voicing.

One example right now is how I’m paranoid about privacy. Part of that comes from growing up in church where adults scared me into behaving because Jesus was always watching. Nowadays, our society hands over its privacy for free so that corporations can monetize it. Data is the new oil. Whether it’s a fitness tracker, social networking app, or a personal blog, we don’t seem to mind how we broadcast intimate details about our lives. We’ve taken on these risks for decades prior, but only recently have they been weaponized against us. Edward Snowden helped reveal to the world how governments are tracking citizens of their own country or those of others, and in a large sense, there was a collective shrug and dismissal. Yes, it’s a crisis, but a lot of people continued on their merry little way. And with the critical mass that social networking has reached, choosing to not participate isn’t enough. People will still take photos of you and post them online. We live in the Orwellian world of constant surveillance, but instead of having it forced upon us, we invited it into our homes.

One aspect of mass surveillance that I take issue with is when it’s used to oppress the already-marginalized. Activists for the queer community, women, and people of colour are closely monitored while white supremacists roam free. One aspect of personal security audits is to evaluate your risk profile. There are different security requirements for an average citizen and a politician. In general, I think I’m twice as cautious as I need to be due to my trauma. I put a lot of effort into never breaking any traffic laws while driving because I never want to encounter a police officer. I make several backups of my information, both locally and remotely, such that I don’t expose myself to the risk of data loss. Friends have poked fun at me for wearing my tin foil hat when it comes to privacy, but I also don’t think they understand at a deep level the degree of vulnerability I feel on a daily basis. Feeling even a little exposed is a frightening position for me. A quick fix is to stop blogging so openly about all the ways people can and have hurt me, but that’s not the life I want to live. I must write. I must express myself. There are numerous areas of risk where I feel exposed, and though privacy is just one of them, it’s an important one.

Counselling helped me to realize that even though I feel a certain way about my personal safety, grounding myself in objective facts and reality can keep my mind from running away with anxiety. Reminding myself of ways that I’m able to protect myself, as well as how I’ve done so in the past, is a great way to empower myself and to lower my fears. It’s important to distinguish the hand-waving and minimizing people often resort to in order to slap a band-aid on an emotional wound.

"I had a rough day at work."

"At least you have a job."

There’s a time and place for taking perspective, and that’s after the emotions have been acknowledged and normalized. However, not only do I have to give credibility to my intuition and emotions, but I also have set up guideposts for them with cold hard facts.

After acknowledging my childhood abuse, I was faced with a decision. Either I could live a quiet and restricted life, or I could blast through it and try to live life to the fullest. I chose the latter, and I paid dearly for it. It’s still a constant battle for me to feel comfortable in my own skin because of the physiological impacts of my trauma. I have the tendency to get so absorbed in video games to escape the uncomfortable feelings that it can hurt other areas of my body. Sitting on the couch with controller in hand, playing for hours at a time, it becomes very painful once I finish a gaming session. I played Starcraft II for the first time in a while, and I left after one mission because I was feeling super dizzy. Sometimes we need to talk about our problems, and other times we need to shut up about them. Due to how my brain works, it’s better for me to resort to escaping my problems since I’m a bit obsessive.

My coping mechanism can be both the solution and the problem. If I don’t sleep well, I’ll feel disconnected from my body all day. Then I’ll turn to obsessive behaviours in order to feel reconnected with myself. I’ll eat delicious junk food until my tummy hurts from stretching. I’ll drink the hyper sweet fizzy sugar beverages. Binge eating and video games tend to exacerbate my anxiety, which leads to worse sleep. Sleepiness and exhaustion enhance our cravings for fatty and sugary foods, and Coke is my productivity drink of choice when I didn’t sleep well. Then it ruins my sleep. Right now, the gym is my saving grace because of how effective it is at tearing my mind away from my intrusive thoughts. Failing that, sometimes I need to zone out using various news feeds, but it only works when I’m bothered by small to medium issues. Otherwise, I would have to read for so long that my eyes hurt, which simply shifts the problem and usually still leaves my brain hurting from the original issue. That’s why dancing is so important to me. It combines physical exercise, friends, delicious drinks, good tunes, and tons of fun. Dance therapy.

We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind

Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance

Well they're no friends of mine.

  • The Safety Dance

There is a positive aspect to having obsessive thoughts. I’ve learned to use it to my advantage, especially in aspects of design. I’m able to look at a problem and walk around, asking a hundred questions in order to crack the puzzle. It’s helped me design electronics and 3D models, and it helps me to learn and improve my performance in various areas at work. On the same token, it can be a challenge to turn off the designer’s mindset. It’s super annoying to look at everything and wonder “how would someone use this if they were hearing-impaired or colourblind?” While it’s a useful and worthy perspective to take at times, constantly thinking can be really annoying. Brains are stupid. What good have they ever done on this earth?

I’m happy to be in this space. I know what I need, and now I simply need to follow through. I never used to be able to escape those nasty feelings, and they would pile up week after week. That’s probably why you’ve read so much on this blog about what’s bothering me. Every once in a while I try to write about what I’m grateful for or what’s going right for me, and it’s a practice I’m trying to do more regularly. Healthy minds already fixate more readily on negativity than on positive thoughts. You could receive 20 compliments and feedback on one “area of growth,” and you’ll forget all about the nice things people said and only remember the bad one. It requires more effort for me to appreciate the little bit of life I got left.

I’m going to part time hours at work. I’ve been working too hard both at my job and in my marriage, so I’m going to let Carrie carry me for a while. I’m burning out. I feel like my mind is sending commands to my body, and all my body responds with is a shrug.

Me: "Let’s go brush our teeth and sleep at a reasonable hour."

Also me: "Nah, let’s eat instant noodles and watch Futurama until we pass out on the couch instead."

Not everyone gets a life partner who’s willing to pick up the slack. Carrie is fortunate to have me, and I’m lucky to have her. That’s a pretty good thought to allow to intrude on my mind.