Currently biking around the world

Posts will happen significantly less often for a while as I am currently focused on biking around the world.

It could be a few months between posts or it could be a few years. I will almost certainly return to this blog one day. In the meantime, enjoy what's already been posted, or read about my travels here.

# My Mental Illness Feels Like

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

This is a guest post for musicpsychfan's project #mymentalillnessfeelslike. Enjoy! persistent and maybe they’ll give in.

In a creation of Orson Scott Card (whom you may know as the author of the popular book Ender's Game), there is an alien species that communicates with each other telepathically, instantaneously, and fluidly. As some of the human characters are ferried through the streets of this world by an alien driver, they are terrified by the style of driving. There are no rules to follow because every driver knows what the other will do just before they do it – yougoleft and I'llgoright. In a world where everyone understands each other, no rules are necessary.
A friend once described anxiety to me as the inability of an individual to process the inputs of the world. I think that's true. When I have anxiety attacks I feel as if – well, just that. As if I am being attacked. As if I'm a computer being overloaded with information. If you've ever woken up in the middle of a dream and lived the rest of the day half awake and half stuck in the dream, you know a bit of how I feel.
Sorry, I was busy, and then I forgot to reply.

My psychiatrist, along with many schools of thought, believe that mindfulness and meditation can make one happier, less irritated, less anxious, and less depressed. Science seems to agree 1. One method of meditation is to visualize the contents of your mind and to “clear them out.” For instance, you might visualize your mind as a field full of junk, and when you remove all the junk, what's left is a meadow with flowers and trees and such. It's all very fine and dandy.
No, I’m not sleeping with anyone else.

Extrapolating = interpreting = developing an opinion. The perception that people get from the type of comment you made is negative.

Except that I struggle to imagine my mind as anything but a corral. Outside the corral are thoughts. Sometimes they are people, sometimes they are animals or blobs or static, but outside the corral is everything that wants to come in. And most of the time when I visit this place, they are all knocking on the fence, waiting to be let in, to be thought about and processed. The problem is, there are so many of them. They will never go away.
Hey man, we need to talk. I consider you a friend.

I never really loved you. I lied about how I felt because I was afraid if I didn’t, I’d lose you as a friend.

Anxiety, for me, is fear that these creatures outside the fence will find their way in. Often they do, and as more and more come in, it becomes an attack – an anxiety attack – where I am stuck halfway between the world and my mind. Thoughts and images of my past, of potential futures, of have-beens and should-have-beens and fears and hatred rush through me. Soon I’m trying to stop the leak of things pouring through the fence, trying so hard I forget to breathe, and then I am washed away, drowning, and I literally cannot breathe, and I can't see because I’m drowning but I know the fence has broken. Then I'm on my knees, just trying to breathe, and...
I don’t know I consider you he and shoot me down but all she does what to say my sex life is are we out of a friend none of your business I can’t hear I do want toI are just trading sex for a ride the woods yet sorry I was a word busy and then is steal my to work? that’s to thatI won’t fall you say I forgot to reply spend time with you I’m friends, nothing happened internetare we out more true than you knowI am titanium just too busyof the woods

...then a friend is looking at me, worried, saying I look pale. I have a vague recollection of vomiting.
Yep. It definitely tastes like I vomited. I stare at a glass of water thinking, this can't make it all go away.
...even though it was an option I’d never make you go. You knew that, and you used it against me.

You get mad when I do nothing.

Days like this it hurts so much. Everyone deserves a second chance.

There is a Buddhist method of mindfulness that can be analogized as follows:
- Everyone has thoughts and feelings. These live, or are stored, in the “basement” of your mind, the subconscious and the memory.
- What you are thinking now is in the “upstairs” of your mind (if you've seen the movie Inside Out, it's on a projector screen for your personality to see and react to).
- You can't always control what is in the upstairs of your mind, but you can acknowledge it.
You were the one person I trusted to never treat me that way. Nothing is as heartbreaking as that. It has changed the way I let people into my life, how I love people, how I trust people.

Even if you don’t go, we will love you just for thinking about it.

I have no interest in you trying to defend yourself against what I have shared.

I used to try and push everything -- and everyone -- away. I would hold shut the door to the basement. Now I let them in – anger and uncertainty and anxiety. And I try to acknowledge them. I try and shake everyone’s hand as they walk in. Sometimes they come in and destroy the place.
Sometimes they come in and fly around and splatter paint on the walls. I just try and sit in the rocking chair and let them do their thing. I wait patiently for them to subside -- to join me and others by the fireplace, or to go back into the basement. Because I think when you hold emotions back, they find some way out. So I’m trying to let them come up when they want to. It’s hard. It makes me feel vulnerable and afraid. And sometimes crippled. I didn’t realize how helpless I would feel until I that first anxiety attack when I couldn’t breathe.
I’m going to make this simple.

I can’t tell you. Somebody might get hurt.

Sometimes, I imagine a world like that of the aliens I opened with. Where we are all connected. Where we all know everything about each other. And we can all help each other. And we can all support each other. Like a web. Where one part of the web starts to collapse and the rest of web goes towards it. I have this image in my mind. Of molecules attracting to the weaknesses. Supporting them.
But we’re all too afraid of being used. Of being hurt. Of being damaged. We spend our time connecting with our devices and our prejudices instead of with each other (more on this in a future post).
Remembering moments better as we wrote them than as we lived them. Writers live better as they suffer.

I think that’s what all religions are getting at. Oneness. A sort of eternal peace and a universal understanding. The vanishing point. The part where we become one not only with ourselves, but with other people, too. The part where we all understand all the love and hate and trying circumstances.
Call it heaven. Call it god, or eternity, or the cycle. Let’s all be happy. Let’s all just forgive each other and feel everything. We can stop believing in happily ever after and knights in shining armor and happy endings and superheros and just believe in the truth. In whatever we are.
Sometimes at night I feel a sort of listlessness. I want to go to bed but there's something holding me back. It seems to be the thought that my day isn't complete. That it's missing something. I look around my room, at all my stuff, and feel an emptiness. I lie awake and want to meet the world. I want to rise up and meet it and for it all to be okay. I just want everyone to love each other.
The world does not need more successful people…

I forgot to tell you. I was too busy. I’m sorry.

I do care about you. I’m just too busy.

If we all understood each other we could spend our time building and creating. And I don’t think we’d understand the people in the farthest reaches of the world… there would still be webs unknown to us. There would still be challenges and things to do.
When you experience some of the hatred, you experience some of the fear and the way that they almost want to make you out to be the wolf in sheep's clothing. They will try to villainize you and demonize you. That way you can't try to have an honest conversation about it. - Trey Peterson, Christian rock star, after coming out as gay
There are challenges aplenty without the challenge of being misunderstood, fearing for your life, for your job, for your safety and sanity. We have the challenge of saving the world from global warming, trying to feed 7 billion hungry mouths with so many are so far from reliable sources of food, trying to fight disease. And yet it seems we spend so much of our time judging and attacking and hiding and fighting each other instead of loving each other.
There seems so much pretense. So much “goodhihowareyou.” So much to move past.
I don’t want to be seen with you if you are dressed like yourself.

So many walls. So many people being “busy.” So much to work towards.
I don’t think it would mean less if we didn’t have to try. I don’t think it would mean less if we could move past it all.
I miss our friendship, I do. But the cost is too great.

In The Matrix, Morpheus explains to Neo that the everyday person is living in a simulation. And they are so hopelessly lost within it that they will fight to defend it. They will allow themselves to be possessed by agents who will violently secure it, sacrificing their lives and the lives of others for it to perseverance.
This is often how I feel when I talk to people about the idea of oneness, about the possibility of not working a 8-5, of not goingtocollege gettingmarried havingkids. Of not greeting every person the same (“How are you?” “Good, how are you?”) instead of actually connecting with them. Of being honest with, instead of ghosting the people we don't like. There seems to be an infinite resistance to it, a permeating mentality of this is the way the world works. A mentality that the ocean is too large to change. But it doesn't have to work that way. Even an ocean is just a collection of drops.
That argument is the reason people like you are so judged.
Why? Because you choose to judge me for it?

I am not Neo. I am Cypher. I want back in the Matrix. And I don't want to remember anything. I don't want to lie awake at night unsatisfied by my 8-5. I don't want to feel helpless to enact any change in the world. I don't want desperately to be a part of the simulation, to need to support everyone simply because they are human. Because that takes time and energy and sometimes it feels like I'm the only one.
In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, humanity is in a cave, chained to the wall, watching shadows in the back of the cave. That is their world. One day, however, someone realizes the chains are just expectations, and sheds them and exits the cave. At first they are blinded by reality – the sunlight, the colors, nature, the smells, the wind. And after exploring for some time, they re-enter the cave. When they try to explain to those chained to the wall that all they see are shadows, that there is so much more to life, they are pronounced insane and executed. can’t ask someone for the innermost parts of themselves and expect it to be completely acceptable and appropriate.

I sometimes feel like I am the person outside the cave. It's lonely out here, and I want back in. But I am terrified. I am terrified to express myself and share my ideas. I am terrified to go back to people and say, “there is so much more than this.” I am scared to death because some part of me really thinks I can be persecuted for thinking differently. I have been. I have been judged for the things I wear and want to do and want others to do and experience; while it is the right of others to judge me, it just feels unnecessary.
But you knew. I didn’t tell you because you knew.

There is nothing wrong with being in the cave, or the Matrix, or whatever you want to call it. I don't think of myself as a savior or a fighter or that I am somehow privileged or special. I think of myself as weak. A neanderthal who has just emerged from the cave and has to deal with the realities of the outside world, of bears and the search for food and the creation and control of fire. I can't go back, and I feel so alone.
How would I hit the ground? Feet first? I wish I have thought of that sooner, I would have dove.

I am lost in the complexity of words and feelings and prejudices that seem to rule my life. I am afraid of what others might think, how they might judge me for living differently, for wanting something I'm not “supposed” to want. For seeking my version of wholeness, outside of the 8-5, outside of being busy all the time, gettingmarriedhavingkids, hihowareyougoodhowareyou. I am torn between living life as who I am and who feel I am supposed to be, the person who loves his desk job and the person who gets fired from it because he has a mental illness, the person who is honest and down-to-earth and spontaneous and compassionate and the person who is cocky and self-confident and sex-driven.
And people say about mental illness,
Just ignore it.
You're just being dramatic.
You just want attention.

I can check my calendar if you want.

I was just wondering how you were doing. And what you were up to.

I guess there won’t be any need for a ratty old t-shirt tonight.

Please trust me when I say that if I could live without it, I would. If I could live without random bouts of breathlessness and feeling like my mind was a corral with a fence waiting to break and thoughts and expectations waiting outside to drown me, I would. But there is not simply an “off” switch, there is no Mr. Smith to negotiate a return to the Matrix with, there is no way to re-enter the cave and pretend again to be shackled.
I do care about you.

I’m just too busy to spend any time with you.

This is what overwhelms me. This is my fight. My anxiety. My depression. This is what my mental illness feels like.
I want something that says, “you’ve said something sweet and I don’t know how to reply.” Can it be the dragon?

1Brown, K and Ryan, R. “The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. April 2003. 84, 4. 822-48.