Dear Self: You Are Not Garbage

shutterstock_133599371

 

I woke up cold, in a little pain, and more than a little cranky. It’s dark outside, there’s a lot of wind and rain, and I didn’t want to get out of bed.

These are triggers for depression in almost any human being, but my brain still sometimes has a tendency to take the excuse of such triggers and double down on the resultant feelings.

This morning, because I  also slept late — on a Sunday before a Monday off — I started to beat myself up a bit.

The dog had gotten into the trash. Because I hadn’t taken out the trash when it was full.

Not her fault. Annoying, but not a big deal. Still, instead of making a note to take the trash out sooner next time, I turned the annoyance on myself.

Why didn’t you take out the trash sooner this time?

I ambled to the kitchen to make tea. We’re almost out of tea.

Why didn’t you get more tea?

Yet there is still tea enough for a few days. Then the cat started yelling for food. She does this whenever she is awake. And she had a late dinner last night, so it really wasn’t much of a problem that she was going to be eating a late breakfast today.

You don’t take good enough care of the cat.

I made tea. There was only one clean mug, and I usually make tea for myself and my wife. These things often happen after a busy week working and art-making in New York City.

Why didn’t you do the dishes? You’re dirty. You’re a dirty garbage-person.

I cleaned a mug. Our sponge needs replacing soon. Of course, this morning, my brain interprets this as something I failed to do earlier.

Nice job. You didn’t do that either. Dirty sponge for the garbage-person. Fitting.

By now, I suppose you see the pattern. These are all minor things, and none of them a big deal. But they roll down the hill of my head and combine forces and gather momentum.

Shut up. Stop complaining.

So, what to do in this situation? Do I just give up the day?

No. Not anymore.

I can’t do anything about being tired, in pain, or the shitty weather (except maybe rest). I can’t do very much about yesterday’s mistakes — except let them go and forgive myself for them. I can do something about the dishes, the tea, and the sponge. One task at a time, when it’s reasonable to do so.

Still, my self-worth does not depend — definitely not completely — on any of these things. More so, it depends more on how I defend myself against my own reaction to my “mistakes and failings”.

Right now, for the rest of today, you can watch The Videoblogs for free. I mention this because I made the film as a means of contributing to the conversation about mental health in this country. Which is what I’m trying to do as well, in micro, right now.

Mental health isn’t something we talk about enough, on average. Later today, I’ll be talking about it a bit with some collaborators and fellow storytellers. I’m sharing these details about what sometimes happens inside my head, because all of it just happened — because it seems important to keep talking.

Especially because I’m a man, it’s important. Men have some catching up to do in the department of squaring up to our feelings.

It’s not weak to struggle with your sense of self-worth. It’s human. What’s less human is to externalize “negative” feelings about ourselves by diverting them into attacks or mistreatment of others.

Anyway, I’m feeling a little better now.

First — once I realized what was happening — I stopped. Paused. I breathed.

I thought about the rain, and decided to employ a practice that has helped me in the past, also called RAIN. The more I do this the more effectively and efficiently it works.

Then I started writing. That always helps.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment, here or on social media, if you have anything to add to what I’ve said. And please join us later today if you’re available to participate in the Live Commentary of The Videoblogs. The event is free.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

 

TOMORROW (10/9): Watch The Videoblogs for FREE! Then, Let’s Chat

vbcomm

Happy Saturday, Monsters and Sprites! I don’t know why ya’ll are mythical, today.

Actually, I do know why.

I have great faith in you. I believe in you. You are magical beings that sustain me over the internet, and in real life. There’s no rule that says magic can’t exist, and pass back and forth between people — even in a world where seemingly everything has become a statistic.

The magic persists.

On that note, I want to make sure anyone who is a general fan or tolerator of my work knows about tomorrow. What’s tomorrow?

Tomorrow brings a Live Group Watch and Commentary Event to you, over the interwebs. We’re set to watch The Videoblogs with a group around the country (maybe the world!), in partnership with Nick Savides at the nsavides podcast, Producer Jenna Edwards (April Showers), Writer/Producer David Paterson (The Great Gilly Hopkins) and more cool people. The event begins at 230PM EST.

The event is free, we’ll be releasing The Videoblogs for free for the day, AND there are over $500 worth of prizes for participating. One of the prizes comes from me. I will read the script of one lucky victim — I mean, winner — and follow that up with a consultation.

Other prizes include a 30 min interview with Nick on his podcast, and a consultation package from Jenna, who seems like a pretty badass producer.

The reason I bring this up in the context of magic is because…well, this is what The Videoblogs is about. Strangers connecting online in the pursuit of something better.

Does that mean that I think watching The Videoblogs will make you better? Maybe!

I wouldn’t have made the film if I didn’t think there was a chance. But, to reiterate, it’s not really about that. It’s about a few sturdy handfuls of us (or more!) getting together, taking a real look at some real issues, and bonding over a mutual desire for greater hope.

I’d love to see you there. If you haven’t yet watched The Videoblogs, and want to participate, it might be most helpful to do that today, if you can. As always, you can rent the film on iTunes.

You can also watch it here, for free. To be honest, it’s a lot more helpful to us when you rent (or buy!) the film. But if you can’t do that right now, or want to sample it first, or live outside the US — go for it.

Have a great weekend, my mythical friends. Trailer!


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

All I Need Is My Lamp and My Dog!

 

I suffered through a small depressive episode last night.

I think I felt over-exposed, after sharing some of my internal creative dialogue here, after this guest post (on depression and suicidal ideation) was published on The Mighty, and after The Videoblogs received a few bumps in attention.

On the surface, these are all good things. They also represent sincere efforts at helping others. Still, it is the curse of those so afflicted that even good things can kick up old fears and insecurities.

Except now I have a base of acceptance, understanding, and compassion that I can fall back on, when I’m having a tough night, or day, or week.

I’m still not feeling the best. It was tough to get out of bed this morning. I similarly didn’t feel like writing this.

But I have a lamp and my dog to help me. Let me explain.

I’m also, more importantly, married to someone who both understands mental illness and knows how to react compassionately when someone is struggling.

It started with some physical symptoms, that appeared on my way home. My body started to ache. I felt tired. I lost the energy to do much of anything. I eventually found myself standing, staring blankly, in the middle of the apartment.

My wife asked if I was okay. I talked to her. This is the first right thing I did — by telling the truth to someone I can trust.

I decided to lay down in bed. Sometimes, you just have to do that. It’s no different than if you have a cold.

Some time later, my wife came in and asked how I was feeling. Not much had changed. She gently suggested that lying alone in the dark might not be helping. I heard her, but didn’t want to move. She left to heat up dinner, and we talked about me joining her to eat and watch some TV.

After a few more minutes, the dog showed up.

It is well-documented how helpful a dog can be when you’re feeling down. I let her up into the bed. She seemed to want to play. It wasn’t long before we were playing a bit, and her joy lightened my mood.

I kept it up. During a lull, I thought about what my wife had said, and turned my bedside lamp on — at its dimmest setting. For the next several minutes, I continued to focus solely on the dog.

Eventually, it was time to eat, and I was able to get up and watch TV. I felt significantly better. Before bed, I journaled for a few minutes, as a means of (non-judgmentally) externalizing my feelings. I slept without too much trouble and had odd, but not entirely dark, dreams.

As I’ve mentioned, today has been less difficult, so far, though I’m still feeling somewhat…flat.

It helped that my wife gently nudged me this morning, when I was snoozing a bit, because she knew I wanted to get up and write. It furthered helped to turn on the living room lamp, to offset the predawn darkness, before I sit down to work. I do that every morning.

Finally, there’s the dog. Without fail, she settles in beside me while I write. She’s here right now.

10806473_10101691511259672_1247149900258809877_n

These are touchstones of light and connection. It helps to turn to them when thoughts go dark and lonely. As for the rest of the day, I plan to take it easy. To stay in touch with people. To take care of myself.

Already, these things are working. Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

This is part twenty of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

Day 18: How to Decide What to Make Next

Day 19: Take Faith for Yourself, Give Them Skepticism

 

6 Ways to Bring Balance to The (Artistic) Force

 

they-are-sick-that-surfeit-with-too-much-as-they-that-starve-with-nothing-2

 

I’ve written about this before, but lately I’ve been thinking again about balance.

Beyond this, I’ve been thinking about the complexities of negotiating balance, such that we might hopefully arrive at and sustain a general level of contentedness and passion — by which we might thrive in life.

This becomes a tricky subject, when you’re artistically inclined, or similarly believe in or are attracted to some calling. That’s so loud to you that can’t ignore it, despite all evidence that, to many others, it’s either a non-sound, a far-off whisper, or manifests instead as a quiet alarm.

How exactly do we thrive, do we find and maintain balance, when there’s so much else to modern life that runs counter to such a comparatively liberated lifestyle?

By now, I’ve figure out some of the answers, even though I often forget to trust in them (more on this later).

Many have been oft-discussed by artists and people more experienced than me. Still, here are some ideas, in case they help.

1. Prioritize

If you’re goal is to write — prove it. Write. Early and often. Everything else can be slotted in below. If it’s something else that you want to do. The answer is the same. Put in the time. It doesn’t have to be all day, but it does have to be the most important and focused part of the day, as often as possible.

 

Script
The earliest version of The Videoblogs.

 

2. Live Life

There is no ideation, no creation, without the raw materials of experience and observation. And our relationship with both or either can range from small to large.

A spec of dust drifting on the air at dawn. Heartbreak — which only happens when we risk our heart. Both are of the stuff of life. We must tend to such things.

And then, beyond living, there is the stickier point of making a living.

 

13227465_10102429808950182_8567527542589561944_o
Taking time off from business to hang with friends.

 

3. Accept The Necessity of Sacrifice

Barring inherited wealth or quick luck, any major artistic or business pursuit that begins with one or a handful of people is going to require sacrifice.

This can be a tricky concept. Sacrifice is a loaded word in our culture.

It’s neither noble, nor appropriate, or even ultimately helpful to us, to sacrifice relationships, or balance (see examples above) in the nominal pursuit of the time or space we “need” to create and thrive.

To mistake such avoidance as sacrifice is to hollow out any eventual victory. It frames the very basic and understandable needs we all have as humans in the world — to be understood, to feel important — in baser terms. To be understood by an eventual, adoring audience or customer base, who will not (cannot) sustain us during the hardest and loneliest part of the process (the making of a thing), to be called essential by them after it’s done and we’re depleted — these things do not replace the basic human need to be loved by the self and one’s family and friends.

So, this is not what I mean when I say that, to negotiate the time and space to pursue passion in the midst of a busy life, we must be willing to make sacrifices.

It is my experience, instead, that there are plenty of opportunities, every day, to let go of as much as possible that is not made of life-stuff, or sustained by passion.

That means genuine fun stays. Distractions go. Procrastination — goes. What this basically means is that you can stop viewing 85% of what’s on TV and/or your other screens.

 

It was a squeeze to produce The Confession. We did it anyway.
It was a squeeze to produce The Confession. We did it anyway.

 

4. Commit

This is all very difficult, in execution. It can’t be figured out in a day.

In a week, momentum can be built. In a month, progress can be made. And much more can be done in six months than we might think. And across the years? Sometimes it shocks me how different I am, how much I have accomplished, over a year or two.

In the midst of it, we might feel exhausted, afraid, angry and hopeless. But if we stay true, and maintain balance and health, time elides.

Sometimes, now, I forget what day of the week it is, or what point I’m at during the year, in terms of holidays and seasonal social patterns and such. I don’t worry or feel guilt about this. I let my calendar remind me of what’s essential. Otherwise I keep working towards the goal, even if and as it shifts.

 

Wrote the first draft of a book this year -- a few words at a time.
Wrote the first draft of a book this year — a few words at a time.

 

5. See to Your Health(s)

This is the most crucial aspect of negotiating balance. Everyone will have their different needs and thresholds here. My struggles in these terms have been well-documented on this site.

You will get tired, if or when you decide to fit something big into the general madness of everyday life. It is crucial to rest.

Similarly, I find it crucial to respect the quiet nastiness of the everyday fight.

We are bombarded daily by the smiles of pushers.

Buy this. Eat this. Drink this. Give us your money. Your time.

What’s left of us if we constantly listen to this steady stream of broadcast manipulation? None of us are immune. I’m not. We must pick our battles, and set our boundaries. Ultimately, the pushers are as beholden to us as we are ensnared by them.

What’s worked for me, foremost — denying the typical American diet. On most days, I stay away from sugar, carbs that break down into sugar, dairy, and alcohol. I’m not formally exercising right now, mostly because I’m still recovering from the damage I’ve done to my body while producing The Videoblogs (and the related spiritual exhaustion), but I go out of my way to walk as much as possible.

I make plans, more often, with friends, so as to blow off steam. One day a week, I open the gates to sugar and dairy and alcohol (pizza and beer and ice cream).

And I pay attention to my mental and spiritual health. I journal. I meditate. I try to take long breaks from my phone and computers.

 

Take time off -- and away.
Take time off — and away.

 

6. Forgive “Failure”

Also, I fail. I forget. I succumb to fear, or anger, and other emotions Yoda warned us about.

And that’s okay.

It is a very difficult thing, to negotiate balance, in life and art. It’s especially difficult when we’re not wealthy or yet being paid steadily to make the things we love.

But if we love them, and if we love ourselves — even if we have to fake our way in these respects for awhile — we overall find more days of solace and pride, than of hopelessness and depression.

The dark days do come. They’re part of life, and perhaps even essential for the contrast they provide. We are imperfect. We will falter. Part of balance, of negotiation, is make adjustments back towards the center.

 

I keep this one around to remind me not to sweat it.
I keep this one around to remind me not to sweat it.

This is part seventeen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus (Day 2 of 30)

This is part two of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged.

Hashtag NoFilter.
Hashbrown NoFilter.

I had a rough night. It happens, sometimes. It happens when I take risks, or worry about not taking risks. There’s often a fallout, after either of those actions.

Fear kicks back. Or whispers half-truths in my ear, in support of or against whatever decision or indecision is vulnerable to its hooks.

I think, quite often, about identity. Perhaps wrongly, I tie questions of identity to questions of focus — what should I be doing? Am I doing the right thing? What is The Answer? How do I find it?

Where can I find a steady source of peace?

But the irony of it is that I know the answer to this last question. And the whole issue is not — at least entirely — about focus.

Focus is a tricky concept, in an age of ever-present screens, of seemingly eternal streams of knowledge (and anti-knowledge) information, constantly battling for one the last remaining sources of dependable consumer revenue (our attention). Beyond this, I think, it’s only half the answer — that it’s tricky to even think clearly about focus — to questions of personal peace, and of related questions of identity that so many of us appear obsessed by in some way.

What’s been happening to me, sometimes, lately, is that I wake up panicked, in the middle of the night. Literally in the midst of a panic attack.

It’s scary, and always behind it, when it happens, I can hear the rushing tides of thoughts and anxieties that must have been rising to a flood while I slept.

I’ll be honest, I did go to bed last night with some conflict on my mind. But I did get to sleep without much trouble. All the questions of identity and focus, though, that I had been jostled by all day, I think they collapsed into each other and took my subconscious for a ride while my conscious self was recuperating from it all.

And that’s the issue, I think. It isn’t entirely about focus, about what we think about and what we do and why.

All the questioning and the pivoting and the strategizing and the testing in the world isn’t going to bring me, or anyone else, much peace of mind. Focus, action alone — these do not necessarily make for sweet-dreamed nights.

Peace of mind, rather, is just as much about intentionally losing focus. About letting go of it, and waiting, patiently, for god or chance to put us in front of where we’re meant to be, when we’re meant to be there.

No amount of flailing or thinking is going to change that. I know and believe this to be true.

But I am also entrenched in and enmeshed with worlds where it benefits those in power to keep us tired, confused, and dependent and obsessed with everything that has to be done, quickly and efficiently, without end.

For what reason? How important are all these things we fret over? More than that, how important are the current units of measure, as defined by the current elite? Identity isn’t formed by achievement. Achievement is won through struggle, by patience, as a result of choosing to engage with forces and in activities we don’t understand but need to chase.

It’s not measurable. It’s alchemical. Mysterious.

For all my internal flailing, the truth is I know who I am, what I’m meant to be doing right now, and how to do it. Like anyone else, I just get scared. And sometimes I get exhausted, in grappling with that fear.

Sometimes the fear pounces on me, when I’m vulnerable, in the middle of the night.

I can look at this another way, though, can’t I? Maybe that’s the only time all those old fears feel strong enough to gather forces for a chance at winning — temporarily, at least.

Because, fact is, I got through it (with help). I went back to sleep. I got some rest. And I woke to a bleary sight of the sun shining through a clear blue sky. I held that view for a moment, but didn’t focus on it. I didn’t think much about it, or the night before.

I just allowed myself to be here. I got up, made my tea, and here I am now still.

It’s a new day.