I recently started going through the archives of Back to Work from the very first episode and jotting down key takeaways and general notes from my listening sessions. In episode 3, there was a line that strongly stood out to me:
It is possible to feel pain without suffering.
Beginning to letting go of imperviousness and practicing true strength and resilience has been a little difficult. As Merlin and Dan discussed in the show, we associate suffering with pain when in reality they are separate, albeit closely related. Having to endure pain, whether physical, mental, or emotional, can create a state of suffering but doesn’t need to. The poignancy of the statement was impactful itself, but became even moreso when my brain synthesized it with one of my mentally bookmarked posts from my reads on Zen Habits. Leo Babauta wrote suffering to be a miasma that “causes you to be unhappy, to be stressed, to procrastinate, to be distracted, to be angry with people, to be dissatisfied with your life, to be overweight and unhealthy, to not exercise or eat healthy, and much more.”
Prior to that moment, I would have described myself as suffering-free after all the time I spending all that time wrestling with myself over the fairly recent past and no longer dealing with that old familiar internal turmoil. Yet those subtler manifestations of suffering have still been something I’ve been constantly having to stave off. Melancholy and misery no longer pervade my day-to-day life, but the suffering apparently still does.
Leo also writes that the antidote for those forms of suffering is to practice self compassion — which is the complete opposite form of self-motivation that I’ve been utilizing. My internal monologue is less self-compassionate and far more critical and berating. Shutting down and letting go left me coaching myself like a drill sergeant. It’s sufficient, but also an incomplete and far from ideal solution.
The pains of the past are something that I’ve accepted is something I’ll never be rid of, at least not until the technology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind becomes a real thing. No one can ever be completely free of the most unpleasant parts of their past — memory is a double-edged sword like that sometimes. The thing that we are capable of moving past is the suffering those pains can induce. The full emotional shut-down of the past few years hasn’t been eliminated my own suffering entirely…and now that allowing feelings has become an option again, that self-compassion one of should one of first ones to get closely reacquainted with.
After acknowledging the truthful weakness of my nature a while back, I turned my attention towards getting myself to the point where I could see myself in the same light others do. Despite the lamenting self-critical tone of the majority of my writing (and by extension, the majority of my thinking), that’s not the persona I wear in day to day life. I follow that “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy and try to project that version of myself I really see myself as. Admittedly, the best I can muster is a cheap knockoff, but it’s sufficient. Still, after almost three decades of carrying the self-perception of a helpless incapable victim of circumstance, it was time to really start putting some realization behind that idealized self.
It all began with taking up the running habit. Over the months that I’ve been burning off pounds, building stamina, and gradually getting my body to match that idealized image I have of it “at goal”, it’s become easier to make enact similar changes mentally. The more I see my physicality reflecting the person I see myself as, the more natural my persona has become. At this point after all those pounds and miles, I no longer see myself as that depressed trainwreck simply pretending at being some better person I could never actually be.
But the transition from weakness to strength took a prolonged detour in a state of imperviousness. In some of my favorite television writing in the 6th season of Bones, they dropped a bit of dialogue that really resonated with me, with the lead character discussing the difference between being strong and impervious. In short, being strong is being able to withstand and thrive; being impervious is simply being detached and not allowing anything through.
As evidenced by most of the updates I’ve written in the past, I used to be in a really bad mental-emotional state. As much as I tried to accept my past and move on, I couldn’t stop living in it. It was easier to escape to the memories of what used to be (even with all the pain that came with it) than to face the prospect of having to keep moving forward in life and figuring out the person those experiences left me as. However, after indulging in that masochistic form of escapism for so long, I grew weary of feeling that way. Unable to sever the ties with the past, I got desperate and instead severed the ties with my emotions. It wouldn’t be possible to feel so depressed and perpetually downtrodden if I just didn’t feel at all.
Right around that time, an episode of one of the podcasts I regularly listen to mentioned a quote from to lyrics to the Dead Kennedy’s Your Emotions. “Your emotions make you a monster”.
That became my personal mantra, and in my efforts to rid myself of the melancholy, I also sacrificed my capacity to genuinely feel good things too. My readings on Greek Stoicism philosophy facilitated that process with its emphasis on objective reduction; feelings became nothing more than the waste material of the biochemical interactions going on in my brain that led to unhelpful perception more often than not. I shut that shit down hard.
In the recent months, I’ve been slowly allowing — no, retraining — myself to feel again. At first, I was extremely hesitant, worried that my old nature would come rushing back out and overwhelm me. Worried that I was still a weak fraud, and that all this time I’d spent on my so called personal development had been spent in vain.
I’m happy to say I was wrong about that.
A concept that I’ve noticed myself repeatedly thinking on with directness and clarity is that of “weakness”. Over the past months, it’s been something that I’ve been doing an extensive amount of thinking on and repeatedly procrastinating on drafting an entry on. After so much time continually shooting it off into the future, I’m well overdue to roll up my sleeves and give it my best shot.
When I first started really focusing my thoughts on the topic at hand, that first thing that came to mind was that familiar aggressive self-criticism: despite all the circumstances that caused it, the bottom line is that I simply wasn’t strong enough to not end up in a depressive spiral for an entire decade. To constantly see inspirational articles of people in the world conquering far greater adversities and thriving, finding myself with this very unflattering self-deprecating (and very public) writing log as the proof of the live I’ve led up until this point has been a source of both personal embarassment and resentment.
In turn, I found myself wrestling with the guilt of failing to recapture the strength that I once had. I recalled the memories of that time in my life where I knew happiness, and remembered feeling invincible in both character and mind. Yet, the more I reflected on these memories, the more I came to realize that I was recalling half-truths. Those times in the past when I was boisterous, opinionated, and outspoken…they were limited to the times I was around my family. I was free to be as arrogantly brave as I wanted to, because I had a nuclear arsenal on standby. If things ever were to go south, I had the assurance that the parents and siblings I looked up to would be there to back me up. The reality that I conveniently glossed over was that when I was physically separated from them, I turned into a docile sycophantic people pleaser.
If I jog the timeline all the way back to early childhood, I was completely soft, physically and emotionally. I had an extremely low pain threshold, and the sight of my own blood coming from even the smallest wound would send me into hysterics. As much as I was bold and outspoken, it was a confidence afforded to me by the comforting assurance that there were always people that I belonged to and would support me; my perceived strength back then was something borrowed, not innate. At my core, my nature was that of a pissant weakling.
A couple years ago, in one of those random conversations that take an unexpected turn towards a deep honesty I found myself having with my best friend, I remember him telling me that I was strong — the strongest person he knew. I recall feeling a brief esteem boost hearing that coming from him, right before being hit by an overwhelming wave of sadness at how untrue I felt that to be. Sure, I’ve exhibited resilience and resourcefulness that I never would have thought I had in me over the past few years, but the price I paid to do so is what destroyed me inside and sent me down that depressive spiral. I had to accept the loss of the life and identity I’d grown up with. I was forced to let go of all the people and relationships I was supposed to be able to rely on. Coerced into having to accept that the unconditional love of family and unwavering loyalty of friends was something that wasn’t real, or at the very least something the universe was determined to prove to me I wasn’t worthy of.
Revisiting those thoughts with my present frame of mind this year, I’ve finally flipped that perception. After all that time in isolation, going through those cognitive behavioral loops and rewriting the same old blog entries, I finally found the will to accept my reality and embrace the change into this new person I’ve been driving myself towards becoming. Before, it was out of a necessity that I resented, now it’s out of unbridled desire. Once upon a time, I was weak, and I knew it. I was insecure and utterly dependent on others for my sense of self and happiness. Now, the memories of my personal past, even up to just a few years ago, feel like the recollection of a previous lifetime. If I re-read my old updates, it’s almost as if I’m reading something written by a complete stranger.
During a recent play-through of Kingdom Hearts II a while back, there was a line of dialogue in a cutscene that stood out to me:
And so though it may have taken me far longer than it should have, through the copious amounts of weakness I once owned, I’ve carved out an awakened something new inside myself — its antithesis, an infallible reserve of mental-emotional fortitude and strength.
At this point, it’s been well over a month since the last time I posted an update. In the time since, I’ve meant to buckle down and post an entry many times, but I’ve been in a weird place this past month. It was not unlike those old behavioral loops I used to be prone to, only without the nagging rumination and general mental “funk” of times past. After all the insane amounts of running I did in August & September and all the social activity in my off-time during those months, I simply burned out. I lost touch with my drive, my thumos, and stopped working out regualrly and abandoned my self studies, opting for escapism instead and losing myself in video games and Netflix.
Throughout that time, I kept telling myself to pull it together and get “back to work”, but I didn’t. Couldn’t. I completely lost interest in myself and my projects. I kept trying to think of all the things I had running about in my head that I wanted to get out and commit to text, but was unable to muster up the intent to get it done.
Now, in what feels like a literal blink of an eye, I find myself at the start of a new month. I finally it together enough to write out one of my “life snapshot” entries in my offline journal, and seeing my current reality reflected back at me hard coded in words has jarred me back to my senses. There’s still so much to do, and time, as always, continues to tick away.
Over the past weeks, I’ve been myopically focused on my running and fitness. That race to [two hundred miles] before the end of the month of August consumed as much time as it did energy, and in the past week of recovery and return to my training, I’ve been mentally organizing all of the non-fitness related things I’ve been meaning to write on, and at the top of the list landed a recent meditation I had on the purpose of this blog.
As I’ve acknowledged many times before, I’m painfully aware of what a terrible web presence I’ve built over the past few years. I’ve reduced myself to a repeated string of unsympathetic lamentations, an addict of melancholy rumination, mentally-emotionally damaged goods unable to regain control of his own mind and thoughts. I’ve still been wrestling with the idea of unpublishing and deleting it all, but I always ultimately conclude that I can’t just give up — after all that time spent trapped in that lesser place and invested in attempts to write about it all, to suddenly and conveniently sweep it under the rug would be very disingenuous.
But where before when I took to writing about weight loss and battling depression I mainly did so to help myself make sense of it all and to earnestly self-express (even just in some largely unexplored corner of the WordPress space), as stated on the about page, now my the purpose for my efforts on both fronts stems from something else: now, it’s about power.
I re-read my writings from 2014, and they’re largely focused on trying to wrap up the loose strings in my mind and mustering up the courage to take that new self I tore myself out of my old life from to find out into the world and subject it to trial. The ones throughout this year have been of a self-coaching tone, motivations to seek out and embrace more intense challgenges for myself — physically, mentally, and emotionally. When my inner monologue starts dictating to my hands now, it feels more self-confident than it probably ever has. Though there’s still so much left to go on my journey of personal development, I believe that I’ve learned and made enough progress to speak on things with at least some degree of authority on account of personal experience. As if I’ve finally qualified myself as someone who actually has something worth saying.
Throughout the majority of my life, I’ve known myself as weak. Emotionally dependent on others, physically weak and soft (and drastically overweight/out of shape), socially inept and cowardly sycophantic. Every time I felt myself strong and capable, it felt like a borrowed power, not my own but a result of the synergy with whoever I had in my life at the time. Treading through the depths of depression and conquering a borderline personality disorder, abandoning my personal relationships and living in perpetual isolation in search of life without external influence — all of that effort has brought me to this current present, a place of strength and an unshakable holistic grasp & understanding of myself…an a renewed sense of purpose. The polar opposite of the person I was just a few years ago.
I don’t physically train for health or the vanity of appearance. I do it to prepare myself for martial arts training and high-level outdoor activities. I keep writing about myself not to be known or understood, nor the hope that my experiences might be of help to others other there, but rather the firm belief that they can.
It happened as if to spite me: last week, I was back on track, made my progress update, and had a good & active remainder of the week. Saturday, I forced myself to walk over to Hillcrest and catch this year’s San Diego Gay Pride Parade for the first time in years, on account of this year’s big Supreme Court decision. I sold myself so well on the significance of it that when that thunderstorm rolled in, I headed out in nothing but jeans and a tee. I expected high humidity and light showers. Instead, the region got hit with unusual record rainfall for the month of July. I ended up leaving the parade early and headed back home for that very same reason – not having anticipated so much water, I didn’t have any adequate protection for my phone, and I wasn’t eager to adding having to replace a cell phone to the budget schedule. After returning home, drenched to last inch, I changed into some dry clothes and had a drink with friends who had been running late stayed at the apartment once the rain started to fall while I did a load of laundry. They soon headed out to the festivities, but I had clothes in the dryer and was feeling tired enough for a nap. And then’s when I got sick.
I went down at about 3 PM, waking up briefly at around 6 PM to get up and go retrieve the clothes from the laundry room. Back inside the apartment, I went right back to sleep for the rest of the day. Sunday, I woke up in the midmorning hours and had a cup of coffee while I planned out my day, then immediately hopped in the shower. When i got out and toweled off, I ended up taking a nosedive into my bed and not waking up again until 6:30 PM. By that point, the fatigue had begun to heavily involve cold sweats, muscle aches, a headache, vertigo…all sorts of fun symptoms. I was up for long enough to go, with great pains, out into the world to refill a 5 gallon water jug and pick up something to eat for dinner. I ate, hydrated, and went back to suffering in sleep. Monday, I made it into the office and got a couple hours of work in before the headache and searing pain in my eyes put me laid out on the office couch, trapped in a forced sleep state, actively fighting against the pain in my head and eyes and trying to gain enough composure to survive a drive back home.
Yesterday, I woke up feeling better than I had the day before, but still light in the head and heavy in the eyes. I sent a message to the boss, and grabbed a few extra hours of sleep. That seemed to do the trick; as the rest of the day ran its course, I found myself feeling gradually better and more “like myself” again. Today the same holds true, and I think I may have enough strength back to be able to get back to my running this evening.
After all that, sounds like the worst part about being sick these past days was all the physical pain and discomfort. Truth is, it was all (even the migraines) manageable. To me, the parts that caused me most trouble were the forced & sudden disconnect from my “self” (going from 5-8 mile daily runner to bed-ridden & incapable), the acute awareness of all the lost time, and the existential resentment of having the luxury to be able to lie in a bed and ride it out while for so many people out there, a simple natural temporary illness can be ruinous on so many critical, sometimes even fatal, ways.
Being physically incapable of exercising like normal and being too exhausted to write (or merely even think), trapped in a state of weakness and incapability, not being able to fight the fight for self-improvement…that’s what really made it such a miserable past few days for me.
Also, 4 days spent sleeping and waking up only to use the bathroom and eat…I don’t even want to look at my scale right now..
Things on the physical front have been moving along in the same manner as my cognitive-behavioral efforts have: undocumented online, but still moving along steadily. I clicked into the cateogry archives to see when my last weight loss related entry was posted, and was surprised by the category description that loaded in the page header:
After some quick elementary school level mental math, the realization that I’ve been at this for three years now and am nowhere near completion started to nag at me. I haven’t updated since April to give myself time to focus on doing the work so that I’d actually have an update to make – March & April, I was having another one of those episodes of “unhelpful thinking”, and I overeat as a stress reliever in that mental space. For the past three weekends, I’ve kept telling myself “one more week” of activity before I start posting again.
Comparing my measurements and photos now to those back in March/April, there isn’t much difference on a surface level. I’m consistently weighing in a couple pounds lighter, and the targetted measurements at each body part is still more or less in the same range as before. Even though I’m still a ways off from a flat stomach & abs, all the activity has definitely had a great effect on me below the waist: I’ve started to build that desired “thigh gap”, and all of my leg muscles feel far more toned and strengthened.
Even though my running activity is higher now than it was when I first started occassionally running a couple miles as far back as 2010/2011, my body isn’t as responsive to my running activity as it used to be. Even with increased activity and dietary improvements, I’ve hit a wall. Though most people balk at the fact that I run 20 miles a day and would label me as highly active,, my insights from AddApp – a third party health data aggregator/parsing service – tell me otherwise.
My 5.2 miles that I try to do daily is only half of what I apparently should be doing each day. And both in my writing and to myself, I’ve been saying for a good while that I need to step up my game. Lately, I’ve taken to trying to wake up early in the morning to go for at least a short 3 mile run, clocking in over 8 miles for the day once the evening run is completed. So far, it’s definitely been testing my endurance and resolve. For the past couple weeks, my calves have been screaming at me for a break as soon as I step foot out the door.
Even then, that’s just a start. I did a search on bodybuilding.com for profiles that had my age/height/goal weight and a “fit” target body fat percentage, and pulled four random photos from the first page of results.
While I’m definitely much closer than I was a couple years back, there’s still so much more to go before I get there. I’m going to have to start implementing weight training, yoga, and crossfit into my routine, both long overdue additions. Not having much core/upper body/arm strength, I’ve been procrastinating and focusing soley on running to avoid dealing with the heavy soreness and pitiful performance that you have to overcome when you’re first starting to build muscle groups.
It’s a struggle, this quest for physical fitness. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from the process is a broader sense of compassion and understanding to extend to others. I know very well how hard it is to get motivated, to take that intial action, to stay focused and not fall back into bad sedentary & dietary habits. Then there’s the time, mental, and financial investments. Learning basic nutrition and anatomy, building a diet, having to go grocery shopping, having to cook, having to clean up, having to track of perishables and minimizing waste…it’s a lot of extra minutae to have to deal with. It makes me especially sympathetic to single parents who don’t have a family/friend support network to fall back on. The demands of modern life can easily make daily survival and personal health mutually exclusive.
Bringing my focus off the world at large and back on to myself, all there really is left to do is to get it done – and according to my Withings smart scale, I’ve officially hit the point where there’s actually a point in post updates to this blog category as of July 2nd. Time to push on up to the next level.
Almost two full months since last I wrote here. Looking through my archives earlier this morning, I realized that I’d been doing a fairly decent job at offline writing in my DayOne journal between May and now. Still, that’s pretty much the bare minimum, and it doesn’t get the blog updated.
Fact of the matter is, I scared myself away from online writing for awhile. At this point, I’ve beat the horse dead throughout all its lifetimes when it comes to expressing reservations about keeping the online writing habit when younger-me made the call to make myself the central topic; each time I do, I reach the same conclusion, where it’s something I can’t just quit, having put the worst parts out there.
So having made such a bold commitment to permanently moving past old habits, I’ve been doing my writing in a place no one else can see it in case I wasn’t able to make good on it. As it turns out that has not been the case: over the past two months, I’ve been enjoying a peace of mind and mental clarity I’ve been working so tirelessly at being able to reclaim – that default state of mind that’s easy to take for granted: to have the ability to wake up and feel finely in tune with your reallity and your ability to influence it, to see each day as an opportunity to do and accomplish instead of the necessary routine drudgery life can become for anyone, moreso for someone in a compromised mental/emotional state. More importantly, it doesn’t feel “borrowed”, as if something that could disappear at any moment. It feels innate and rightfully mine. After all the years of psychological/emotional/spiritual/existential deconstruction of my thinking and the past that influenced it, I’ve found myself finally returned to that place of unshakeable confidence that’s reached when you really “know who you are”.
As a result, it’s become much easier to write and journal for myself. Instead of spending my thought cycles trying to figure myself out and stave off those negative thought/behavior patterns, my mind is free (and able) to focus on articulating that which I already know.
Things are starting to get very interesting for me and my writing output…
This day has traditionally been the most challenging one of every year, one with it’s very own uniquely painful thought loop that leaves me thinking/saying/feeling/writing things that I immediately regret the day after.
It begins with seeing everyone sharing their love and celebrations for their mother, the influx of marketing messages extolling the greatness of “mom”. For a short while, I become bitter with envy, jealous that I don’t get to see my mom, call her, or go to bed at the end of the day with the comfort of that unconditional love and support and the assurance that it will still be there when I wake up – but I do get to see how everyone else does. Yet another way in which I am not like most other people.
Then, I make the usual mistake of asking myself “why?”, and those trapdoors to the past get flung wide open. I tell myself to stop and cut it out, but I never listen, I always go through them. I spend a good portion of the day in a pseudo-meditative state, letting my strong sense of recall do the driving, retreading the past that has lead to this present reality. And so every year on this day, I usually go through it all over again: the fear, the betrayal, the anger, and most of all, the loss. I relive what it was like to lose that closeness to my way into this world, that special relationship with that one person who will always be there for you. And also how in the process, I also had my sense of family unity, one of my key defining elements, ruthlessly stripped away out from under me.
By the time I’m done working my way up to the present day in my introspective trip down tragic memory lane, I’m usually in a very agitated state, angry at life for how it has played out, for all the years lost crippled by the past, and myself for not being strong enough to rise above it all, for being a hypocrite and failing to be that better self I tell myself to be, for being weak and wanting to go through that process just for brief glimpses of the comfort in what once used to be.
But not this year, not anymore. With all this focus on actually letting go these past couple of months, I don’t feel that familiar burden anymore. Today is just like any other day, vibrant with the buzz of other people who do have healthy relationships with their mothers. Rather than focus on the outcome of the relationship with my own, I remember what it was like when it was there, and am happy for those out there who haven’t taken similar unfortunate turns.
That said, I’ve got a few wonderful people I know who are mothers that I need to write personal celebratory greetings to.
To all the good moms out there: Happy Mother’s Day
It’s been almost three weeks since my last update, and a lot has changed in the time since then. I’ve done a lot of thinking on that recent mental relapse and all of the unhelpful thought & behavior loops that fed into it, so as to permanently distance myself from it all. Becoming that ideal self I’m always writing about, the one that actually practices that stoic resilience that I adulate, means giving up the comfort of running back to those old familiar habits. Clinging to them and fighting the same battles I already know is easier than holding myself to the higher standards I set for myself and self actualizing.
In this recent round of self-reflection and mental debugging, I learned a lot about myself, things I do want to drill down to in finer detail later on. Most importantly, I’ve come out of it not feeling like I’m having to convince myself that I’ve “figured things out”, but rather feeling as if another piece of the myself has fallen into rightful place. Back in January, I wrote that I felt myself closer to the goal than I did my starting point all those years ago. Indeed, what’s taken me three weeks to do with a clear and focused mind used to take me months with questionable outcome in times past.
I acknowledged that the road ahead would be a difficult one at the start of the year. Forfeiting an entire identity and becoming a complete nobody to myself was a challenge in itself. Figuring out the person I actually wanted to be and convincing myself I could make the change, that I wasn’t the lost cause I felt myself to be, another huge obstacle in the personal journey. Having started to actively enact that change, my previous posts feel more and more foreign to me when I reread them – which leaves me feeling as if I’m finally able to legitimately speak on matters of overcoming depression and personal betterment.
All these past years, the majority of my 20’s, lost to overcoming the aftermath of the life that once was. Having to walk away from it all and start from scratch was my only escape from the spiral of depressive madness, and my strong sense of recall did not help matters; being capable of mentally reliving the memories you’re sacrificing makes it that much harder to let go of them. In turn, it feels like I’m born again at the age of 29, finally a “real” person again and immediately in debt with the task of cleaning up after my recent past, on multiple levels.
And it’s now nothing but more doable work that needs be done.