Disconnecting

It’s time for me to #deleteFacebook. Not just deactivating, but deleting it permanently. I did a bit of a purge this week. I was having some problems with my phone, so I reset it to factory settings and didn’t restore my backup, which was easier than going through and deleting everything I didn’t want. I’m cleaning up and trying out what those consequences mean. Instead of filling my time with junk from the Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram, I’m disconnecting. There’s only a finite number of connections a person can have, and I’m happy with the ones I have now. Nobody ever really needs to get in contact with me that urgently, and there are still like 10 others ways to reach me if you really wanted. By removing social media, I’ll have more brainpower left over for the things I want to do. I’m ready to disconnect.

I’m expanding my morning ritual of doing nothing. Sometimes after doing a challenging chore, I’ll need a bit of time to clear it out of my brain with video games, TV, and the like. Obviously there are things that need to be done, but when there isn’t, I’m going to lie down in silence. I accomplished a lot these past couple weeks. I fixed a shelf that had been sagging, pulled out the stove and cleaned the floor underneath it, changed the filters on my humidifier and HEPA filter, unclogged the drain (3D modelling and printing a custom drain snake in the process), sold some jewelry, wheeling and dealing on Kijiji (Canadian Craigslist), and fixed the car. All sorts of odd jobs, all in line with spring cleaning, taking the initiative instead of just not doing it like I used to. Carrie said that in the past few months, I’ve done more than in the past few years. Calming things down and breathing deeply helps the body enter into a relaxed state, so it’s easier to enter into a productive mode when you need it. Less really is more.

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In line with preserving what little energy I have, it was reflected to me a few months ago that I have too much empathy. It’s a skill I over-use, and I’ve started to notice when I get too absorbed into another person’s perspective. It comes from being gaslighted by my family over the years, having my grasp on reality questioned conveniently timed with when I was confronting them with their mistakes. As a result, I’m prone to being absorbed into other people’s perspectives, even when it conflicts with my own. That perspective-taking is an essential skill for surviving as an adult, but I sometimes take it too far. I have felt bad for people who were maliciously attacking me, when really I should have been directing that energy to protecting myself. Now, I’m trying to value my own perspective and stick up for myself. Sounds selfish, but I’m really trying to stop being so much of a pushover.

Saturday, I had a pretty bad anxiety attack brought on by an especially stressful day. I lost sight of things and just started doing chores like crazy. Feels nice to complete a lot of work, but then I ran out of fuel by the middle of the afternoon. I was trying to sell something on Kijiji, and something that a buyer said triggered a memory of my dad. (Believe it or not, I try to talk or think about my family as little as possible, but whenever it does happen, I process the thoughts and feelings until it goes away so I can go back to dealing with more important things.) So when the buyer reminded me of my dad’s bargaining, I started venting to Carrie, but then something different happened. Instead of the feeling going away, it started amplifying. It got worse and worse, and then my body went into a panic. Heart was aching, chest was tight, struggled to breathe. I tried to carry on with my day, but by evening, all I could do was lay down until I drifted off into sleep.

It was a reminder that even though I’ve regained some productive capacity in recent weeks, it’s still quite limited overall. I always seem to forget it, or maybe I just don’t want to believe it because I’m used to being capable and strong and I don’t like operating from this weak position. But alas, I have to reconcile with this new version of myself. This is who I am now. I wrote the other day about how I still have so much darkness left in me, and what I meant was that I still have a lot of delayed emotional pain to process from the abuse. Feelings don’t go away until you feel them, often requiring physical sensation and paying interest on the delay. Essentially, I just need to feel sad. So far this year, I’ve cleared my schedule, simplified my life, and done a lot of nothing, but I eventually need to address all these bottled up emotions. About a year ago, I stopped seeing my counsellor because I had run out of free sessions; 25 is extremely generous, and it saved my life. I could have sought more therapy, but I put a cap on it so that I could refocus my efforts on tidying up the rest of my life and marriage. I’ve been able to do that, but now that cap seems to be leaking from the pressure. It seems like stress triggers these little panic attacks, so I need to be especially careful to not put a chink in my own armour.

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Occasionally, I still wrestle with suicidal thoughts. When I get extremely stressed and overwhelmed, all my mind can think to do to remove the pain is to end it all. When the stress dissolves, the thoughts go away. I really don’t want to die, and I know I have options and places to turn to if I need. It seems like it’s time for me to pick up my shovel and continue digging into the shit-clogged storm drain of my past. I keep thinking of myself as a kid interacting with my dad, who was vastly more powerful than me, and how he repeatedly put himself first. Maybe he wasn’t capable of loving me. The human body is pretty remarkable in how it can delay emotions by bottling them up. My buffer is full though, and the only way to clear it out again so that I can adjust to the normal ups and downs of everyday life is by processing everything one by one. It helps to keep reading the book “Adult Children - The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families” because it explains so much of my family dynamics. If I’m ever going to survive, I need to continue dealing with the emotional abuse from my family. This go-around, I want to focus less on what they did and more on what happened to me.

Finances. This is one of the final hurdles for us. All that schooling, job changing, buying a place, it all adds up after a while. We have a lot of debt. It would crush lesser persons, but even though it doesn’t quite look like it, we’re in a much better position than previous years. All of our problems have gotten out in the open, and now it’s time to pull up our socks. I’ve more or less dealt with my childhood stuff. We both had our big spending years where we were soothing our inner children who grew up poor. We had our travels, our fun parties. We paid for our educations, and we had an awesome wedding. We made the timely job changes to escape burnout and misery, and now it finally feels like we’re settled. No need for big trips anymore. No need for super fancy status items or clothes because we already have way more than we need. Time to just buckle down and work on paying off our debts.

I never really meant for it to happen this way, but it’s time to grow up now that I’m entering my 30’s. Time to disconnect from the wasteful social media timelines and newsfeeds. Time to open up my capacity by resuming the process of cleaning out the closet of my childhood. Time to settle down, save money, and pay down debt. Time to see myself as a tired old man, and savour every moment I have because it could easily be my last. I’m disconnecting from the mental junk food of social media so I can reconnect with myself.

Survival

I started a special discussion group at a previous job. The industry was changing and moving so quickly that I thought it useful to discuss and process the implications of all these quick moves made in the industry and by competitors, so I selected a handful of brilliant minds that could debate these ideas and figure out what our next moves should be. There wasn’t anyone asking us what direction the company should take, but it was a mental exercise to learn where the puck was moving. Topics could range from global industry trends, technical innovations, regulatory consequences, and philosophy and morality. It was quite a beautiful group whenever we could meet. One question posed by one of our members was “what is your purpose in life?” Some people answered things like taking care of their families, to be the best person they could be, or to be a good steward of the earth’s resources. I couldn’t really pin it down to something specific because I was and still am trying to figure it out, but the answer I gave was that I’m trying to survive. With Carrie and I both coming from refugee backgrounds, there’s only so far we could reach in our new lands, especially since our parents could only guide us so much while they figured out their new homes at the same time. Maybe our kids will be able to dream big and make those dreams into reality, but we have to be a bit more realistic. I’m still very much an optimist, but I like to keep my feet on the ground. I’m playing the long game, so what does it mean for me if I exchanged survival for short term success? What are the trade-offs of dedicating my youth to making as much money as possible? What’s the point of getting rich if it all just slips away and jeopardizes my longevity? Through my morning ritual of doing nothing, I realized that though I have all the time in the world, I have very little energy. With what I do have, I have to be hyper efficient and effective with it because the stakes are high. Let’s examine some of the implications of fixing my goal on surviving.

My main job now is to be a house spouse. Sorry, I meant to say trophy husband. Everything else takes away from it, even if it’s a good thing or something I deeply enjoy. A friend pointed me to a great cooking app called Top Chef University, which has everything I was looking for that I mentioned in my last post. Videos that cover all the topics I want, from the basics to some of the finer skills, and the writing and editing are superb. Not too long, not too short, not condescending either. Friends at work were asking if I was going to apply for any new jobs, but I haven’t. Yes, it would be nice to get paid more, but I want stability right now. I love a challenge, I love to learn, but anything that takes away from my home responsibilities right now is a negative. I have this terrible recurring thought that “I have all this free time, so I should do something productive with it.” It’s one of the ghosts of my old lifestyle, where my only value was my output, and it has caused me much suffering throughout my short time on this earth. Why should I always be productive? What’s wrong with doing nothing? Isn’t it enough that I rest? Am I not productive enough at other times? My to-do list is basically the same every week, but it’s becomes an interesting challenge when you pepper in all the sudden changes brought on by life. I’m enjoying being a house hubby.

Being healthy can even be a distraction. There are lots of stuff I’m supposed to do in order to keep myself healthy, but are they all absolutely necessary? If my pursuit is to survive, does good health contribute or take away from it? The answer is that it depends. These are most of the things I’m supposed to do to be healthy:

  • Floss every day.
  • Roll feet with massage roller and hockey ball.
  • Exercise rotator cuffs.
  • Strengthen deep neck muscles.
  • Stretch out my chest in the doorway.
  • Pinch my shoulder blades together once per hour.
  • Exercise my medial glutes.
  • Don’t eat bread.
  • Eat organic even though the term isn’t regulated and it costs more.
  • Raw, natural sugar instead of refined, processed sugar.
  • No binge eating late at night.
  • Do nasal rinse twice a day.
  • Weigh myself once a week.
  • Do yoga couple times a week.
  • Moisturize.
  • Use sunscreen.
  • Eat yogurt to replenish gut bacteria.
  • Get a full night’s sleep.
  • Hit the gym couple times a week.
  • Keep the humidifier running.
  • Wash my face twice a day.
  • Use a heat pack on my neck before stretching.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook healthy foods.
  • Eat more meals with smaller portions.
  • Drink less.

That’s a long list of things, and they’re all nice to do. They aren’t absolutely essential for my immediate survival though. It’s easy to get caught up, running around and burning all my time and energy focusing on these things. I wind up feeling dizzy at the end of the day, wondering what I even accomplished. It doesn’t necessarily hurt to check off this entire list every single day until it starts getting in the way of my survival. I find that when I try to keep up with these little health tips pretty strictly at the start of the week, I crash really hard by Thursday. I take random naps, I binge eat, nothing gets done around the house, and then I feel guilty and pick myself up again at the start of the following week. Carrie likes to ask “What are you going to do with that extra life?” It’s fine if practising these things helps you to feel better because that’s what they’re for, but right now, I’m not just that interested in every moderate increase in health. Instead, I’m trying to be more adaptable as the situation requires. I don’t work 40 hours a week on my feet anymore, so it’s not absolutely essential that I spend time with the foot massage roller every single night. I abhor the wastefulness of the disposable dental picks, but as my dental hygienist says, it gets me flossing instead of not flossing. Raw sugar is expensive, so I’m using the refined sugar that we already have at home. Instead of doing all of them all the time, I’m trying to do some of them only on certain days. I’ve done a lot of things to increase my health, but if I focus on it too much, it gets in the way of my survival.

While I continue to start my days with boredom, my heart sometimes aches for seemingly no reason. With no impending deadlines or duties, my chest just pounds and hurts while I lay there doing nothing. The best way for me to understand it is that general anxiety is flushing out of my body. When you stop suppressing your natural alarm bells, all the little worries come out of the woodwork. I feel like I’m going through withdrawal from the stress and adrenaline or something. I’ll have nothing to do for three days in a row, but my heart will simply ache and pound through my chest the entire time. I’ll be exhausted by the end of the day, but I’ll also be confused because I hadn’t really done much visible work. However, I’m learning that letting the pain ache in my chest like that is considered emotional labour. I try to soothe it with the usual self-regulating processes, but for the first time in a while, I went on a raging snack attack. Grabbed the keys, jumped in the car, and roamed the earth until I ran into some food with high caloric density. It’s a terribly confusing period. Carrie reassures me daily that I don’t have to do anything unless I can handle it, so it’s fine if I do absolutely nothing all day. Not really sure why it’s happening, not sure how to make the pain go away.

Doing nothing every morning started off as a cute, light-hearted exercise. I was satisfying a years-long thirst for peace and tranquility. It was like taking a picnic by myself, drinking in the sunshine, patting myself on the back for doing the important and non-urgent work of genuinely resting. Then as I was sitting there, minding my own business, I slowly developed a sneaking suspicion that something was watching me. I was partly right. In fact, there were a couple things staring at me. Slowly turning around to identify what was stalking me, it was all of the long and winding storylines that were watching me with anticipation, waiting for a satisfying conclusion. It’s like I’m in the final season of Game of Thrones, wondering how these huge, distinct subplots should crash together into an unpredictable and penultimate climax. If we take the last five or six years alone, there’s my move to Calgary to start a new life with Carrie. There’s the one where she felt stuck in her old job of four years. There’s the one where I went to counselling to save my life from my own childhood. My spirituality is shifting, having burned out from going to church events 3 or 4 days a week for most of my life. Keeping to just the years we’ve been married, Carrie and I have taken many huge risks: paying our own wedding costs, buying our home, changing jobs (I’ve worked three, she’s worked nine), traveling, partying, escaping a dysfunctional family system, paying for and surviving grad school, and launching the private practice. By comparison, we have friends who’ve lived in the same place, worked the same jobs, and hung out with the same people. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily (in fact, that sounds like a mighty fine life), except until they judge our position as being as simple as theirs when really, we’re walking on thin ice. Years back, I craved stability. All I wanted was to be bored, to work the same job, to have the exact same schedule every week. A lot of that was motivated by my trauma, being unable to adjust to the shifting tides of everyday life. Now that I’ve processed a lot of it through therapy, I’ve been able to let go of the notion of a “normal” life, the 9-5 Monday to Friday glamourized by big corporations and skewered by Office Space. The universe is messy, and surviving it means being able to roll with the punches. By doing nothing every day, I’m paying tribute to all the vastly different and interwoven storylines, allowing the plot to thicken before they all get sorted out in dramatic fashion, where I’ll probably still be doing nothing every day.

I still have so much darkness inside. When I take a moral inventory, I see that I still have much pain and misery from my childhood. I’m managing, I’m doing a lot better, I’m self-regulating, all that good stuff, but at the same time, there’s only so much goodness in store for me in the future. There’s an upper range to how much better it can get for me, as good as it already is. If you were physically assaulted, you might have injuries that stay with you forever. I was emotionally abused for a long time, so I have to reconcile with the fact that it will take a long time to recover from it, if I ever do. That’s pretty much why all I can really hope to do is survive. That’s why I quit my previous job and why I’m not looking for engineering work right now, so I can work somewhere that doesn’t work me into the ground. I don’t want to get rich or die trying. That’s why I want to do stuff like learning how to cook better so I can take care of my family. That’s why I parted ways with my family of origin. I’m just trying to survive.

From trial and error, the road gets a lot bumpier when I want to thrive instead of just surviving. When I think that since I have so much time I might as well take a little excursion or detour, that’s when I get into trouble. Some of it is unavoidable, but I can help myself by not being distracted with things like getting too healthy. I’m a house spouse now, and focusing on the home will help me to survive by conserving what little energy I do have. Even though there is still a lot of pain and darkness in me, I’m doing really well. I have people I love who love me back, health, education, income. When I get greedy, I’m never happy because I’ll never have enough. When I remember that all I need to do is survive, then I can see that I already have everything.

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.