I realized somewhat recently that everyone's life is a little miserable, no matter how good they have it, and that's helped me to set realistic goals for myself for the new year. I know I have a lot by way of relationships, education, earning potential and so on, but nobody's life is perfect. I've been binging Downton Abbey these past few weeks, and it's curious to see people who have so much that feel like they have so little. I still have problems, but there's no use chasing down every single one of them. In terms of risk management, I've taken care of the largest ones, and chasing down some of them any further would take away from all the others. Life is a multi-dimensional optimization problem, a balancing act.
I've talked a bit before about my battle between emotions and logic. It struck me a few days ago that one way of understanding it is by viewing them as different countries. I used to never visit Emotionlandia. Instead I only lived in Logicville. In Emotionlandia, I didn't know the customs, the etiquette, the language. Most of the laws of each country are unique to itself, and often they are in conflict with the other country's. Emotions don't go away until you feel or process them, and applying thoughts from Logicville won't necessarily affect those emotions. For example, there are people in my life who I truly admire and look up to, but it's hard being friends with them because of their poor social or relational skills. Telling myself that they're good people but bad friends doesn't really change how I feel about them. I still want to spend time with them, but introducing logic to the situation doesn't really affect the emotions. It's good to spend time in both lands because there are ways for both countries to interact, but it takes energy to travel between them. An example of this process of traveling is that I'm learning to appreciate meditation, but on the logical level, since you're not doing anything, it seems like it should be easy to do. Instead, it takes a bunch of focus and emotional energy to calm yourself and clear your mind. One thing I'm still struggling to understand is how exhausting emotional work is. I'm biting off more than I can chew emotionally because I'm so used to handling logical issues. I feel silly for still not getting it, but I think a feature of Emotionlandia is that things operate a little slower than in Logicville. The medicine wheel teaches that there are four aspects of the self: mind, heart, as well as body and spirit, so there are even other civilizations that we're not consulting here. We'll come back to this idea in a bit.
A topic that’s been on my mind for some time now is how guys don’t talk about their problems. This realization goes back to my post last year called Masculinity. I don’t presume to know much about gender experience, but I’ve received a lot of comments from male friends that think it’s mind-boggling that I talk about my problems at all, let alone online. Maybe it’s just the way that Carrie and I communicate that I’ve become accustomed to. We talk about almost everything, at least when we have the time. It’s been refreshing since her semester ended because we spend almost the whole day in conversation. I take for granted that not everyone has a support like Carrie (or that she has one like me). I write every week to dump the thoughts out of my head, but not everyone has such an outlet. It reminds me of my first year studying in the Faculty of Engineering. I transferred from the Faculty of Science when I realized I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore, so I learned how to manage the workload and studying habits in the Science-equivalents of the Engineering courses in first year. Once in the Electrical program by second year, I was shocked by the difference in work styles. For most courses, each assignment was worth only 1% of your final grade, so I figured it’d be okay if I skipped them when I didn't have the time. They weren’t worth much in the grand scheme of things, and I could always cram for the midterms and finals when it came time. At the end of that semester, lo and behold, I landed myself two D’s and narrowly avoided academic probation. I was stunned. I was always smart, I always got good grades, and I crammed plenty for the exams. Alas, I learned from my professors that they had to start including assignments in the overall grade because otherwise too many students almost failed. That is, doing the work on a regular basis was the best way to learn the material. Sure, you could always skip class to hang out with people or take a nap, but one sure way of passing was to engage on a regular basis. It's the mental workout. You can't fake it with physical exercise; either you can lift a certain weight a number of times or you can't. When the pressure's on during finals, it's hard to fake that you have the mental strength to solve their riddles in the time allotted. I'm certain some of you just came out of your own school semesters and are eager to not relive those memories, and that's why I'm glad I'm not in school anymore. Well, I kind of am in school because Carrie is. Gross.
Bringing it back to Logicville, it's important to get your thoughts out of your head. Some guys only live in Logicville, and they don't know what to do with themselves in Emotionlandia. It scares them. It scared me when I one day woke up in a new country and didn't know how to leave. I don't think it's always so mysterious or mystical how I'm benefitting and progressing from writing this blog. When I move the thoughts out of my head, onto the page, and into some poor soul's eyes, it creates room for new thoughts to take their place. Deeper than that, emotions can only disappear when you feel them. Sometimes you need to delay the processing of those feelings, and extreme cases are called trauma where it's delayed indefinitely until you're ready. I don't usually care to give advice, but I'll just say that it's unhealthy to keep your problems inside all the time. What I think most guys need is a low-risk, safe-ish place to express their feelings without fear of judgement or punishment from others and, most importantly, from themselves. The best I can come up with to start is to type your thoughts into a basic text editor (you don't want autosave to betray you) and then delete them. The physical version is to write someone a letter and then not send it. We're often our own worst critics, so we can bypass that somewhat with short bursts and small batches. The hardest part is starting, going from nothing to something, so the smaller the first one, the easier it is. Nobody really needs to write the way I do in a public forum. I certainly don't always enjoy being so open like this, but being silenced through my childhood has caused the pendulum to swing too far the other way where now I blurt things out and won't shut up. It's harder for guys to be allowed to show emotion because that's part of toxic masculinity. It's only acceptable for a man to show anger, which is just plain silly. Forget writing down your thoughts, it's hard enough admitting our own emotions to ourselves at all. If it makes you dudes feel better, emotions don't come from the heart but rather from the brain, communicating back and forth with your heart. If it's still too scary to think about your feelings, then try to just express your thoughts. At a surface level, emotions are attached to our beliefs, but the focus is on getting a conversation started with yourself. If there's anything else bubbling deep under the surface, you'll find it eventually from the gradual, regular expression of those thoughts. Rome wasn't built in a day, and your backlog of thoughts and feelings will only go away with a regular outlet of the pressure. If it makes things even easier, have a beer to get the creative juices flowing. I'm not sure how else to make it that much easier. Don't be like me where things got so bad that they exploded and drastic measures had to be taken to rescue me. Maybe that's what some of us need in order to realize how bad things are, but I hope in some way that I can help you avoid unnecessary suffering.
This week has been a struggle for me. I've been worrying about if I'm ready to start looking for work in January, and I've just felt incredibly tired and lethargic all week. The past few weeks, in fact. I couldn't understand how I took things slow, went to the gym, cared for myself, yet I still felt terribly weary and drained. It was really disheartening because I felt like I wouldn't be able to get back to work even if it were offered to me. I resorted to hiding from the world a bit this month. It took me a couple days of feeling dazed and confused to realize the source of the trouble.
The August fiasco reared its ugly head this month. I didn't care to share about it until now, but it's been interesting handling it this time around. I had put things to rest in October by simply shutting things down, but these past few weeks, I've been actually processing it, leaning into the pain and really trying to sort things out. Loyal readers will recall that in August, the fiasco completely wiped my energy, and I was unable to function in almost every capacity. When it was going full throttle, I was only able to manage feeding myself and almost nothing else. This month, I've actually managed to get by. I'm proud of myself for carrying on with my week without too much of an interruption. I went to the gym on my regular schedule, without my workout partner and even on Christmas Eve. Most days, I slept later and woke up later than my regular schedule, but at least I wasn't sleeping past midnight and I wasn't waking up around noon. My attempt at cleaning up my diet suffered with a bit more fizzy sugar drinks and McDonald's than I originally intended, but I wasn't too hard on myself since I was going through a lot. I even stepped up my 3D printing game by completing my Car Vent Phone Mount design through all of this. While my emotions were overwhelming me, I resorted to my healthy coping mechanisms. I exercised, napped, I snacked. Even though part of my consciousness was feeling completely exhausted for the last few weeks, I later realized that I had actually managed quite well. Comparing my performance from August to December, I went from a place where I couldn't physically move to being able to carry on with my normal life in December. I'm really happy with myself.
As a result, I feel ready to tackle the new year. I can set realistic goals, and I don't have to overachieve. I just have to show up. I don't know what's ahead of me in 2017, probably more chaos, but I know that I have the skills to handle it.