“To love and to be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.” -David Viscott

“You’ve just gotta love yourself first.”

This was one of those times I wish I had a video-camera quality memory to record the conversation I was having. It was significant, moving. But so was every conversation I had had to this point  with this particular person, each word leaving a footprint on my thawing, but still tundra-like heart, covered in snow and ice.

“Do you think things would have been different if you weren’t leaving,” I asked.

“I think it’s possible,” he said.

I’ve been through the mistake of an all-too-soon long distance relationship. That wound is still a short bit away from healing. The trick is knowing that each party has the courage to do all that is necessary for love to thrive, not just limp along out of a broken neediness and fear of being alone. I know that I would not endure that again.

Silence. But not the uncomfortable kind, the kind that comes from a natural, unspoken understanding. The kind that comes from mutual respect.

I’ve been single for about a year and a half. It’s mostly by choice. Well, more out of necessity really. And the circumstance of living in a town that is rather small. I’ve dated, and it’s been okay, I guess. But sometimes these things hit you over the head like a caveman getting takeout in a shitty, anachronistic B-film from the early 20th century (complete with dinosaurs). You feel transparent, naked. Exposed. And it makes your head hurt and all dizzy-like.

Somehow, I’ve been okay with it, I guess, and hearing out loud one of many things that has gnawed at me over the past year from somebody who, in the big picture of my life, has only known me for an inconsequential period of time, shakes me. The layers of bull I’ve piled up seem pretty pointless, and I finally feel ready to shed them.

The observation, though brings me to my point: you have to love yourself first.

I can list tons of reasons that I am awesome. Okay, that sounds exceedingly arrogant, let me rephrase: there are many things I like about myself. But what I’ve realized is that while, yes, I like many things about myself, I have somehow managed to live almost 25 years and not actually like, no LOVE myself. I don’t mean in some vain inner-goddess worshiping, narcissistic way. That’s not love. That’s insecurity.

I mean in the sleep-so-fast-you-can’t-wait-to-live-your-life-like-it’s-Christmas-morning sort of way. I mean in the get-so-caught-up-in-something-you-love sort of way. I mean in the damn-it-feels-good-to-be-a-gangster-up-at-the-ass-crack-of-dawn-running-jumping-singing-with-the-birds-in-that-princess-costume-from-when-you-were-four sort of way. I can’t recall feeling that way much at all.

If anything, I am exceedingly grateful to have met this person and have been irreversibly blessed by it. My life has been improved permanently by seemingly innocuous interactions. And I hope our paths  cross in the future.

Well, then, what is this? This is the realization that there is a full-tilt star quality fusion reaction starting at my core. (maybe that’s why I’ve been so gassy lately. ahem…) This is the full immersion in truly believing my life is awesome and I have something of value to share with the world. This is the ignition of the internal passion that drives me, not out of anger like I’ve been living, but of joy, contentment and love. This is conviction and drive. This is the thing I fight for, live breathe and die for. THIS IS SPARTA!

And it’s all within me.

I’ve spent far too long putting my happiness in other peoples’ hands.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of love as being much like feeling the sun on your face. You can get along just without experiencing it for a while. But you do need to feel it every once in a while to remember how good it is to simply bask in and share with another. I know I have some overcast and slightly cloudy days ahead and will not feel the sun on the outside sides for a bit longer. But at the very least, I can make sure I feel it on the inside until that time comes so I will know the full pleasure of feeling it on both sides.

“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” -Frederick Buechner

Vulnerable. Raw.

This is how schoolchildren, teachers and parents in a small Connecticut town have felt ever since the devastating Sandy Point school shooting a few months ago.

Media speculation doesn’t help; the televised analyses provide the salt and lemon juice to be rubbed into the seeming death by a million proverbial paper cuts of people directly and indirectly affected by the shooting.

A quick (s)troll through social media sites finds an endless moray of articles calling for more gun control. Now. NRA be damned, we need those weapons off the streets. Our babies, our collective safety, all lay on the line.

On this note, I ask people to not confuse correlation with causation – just because America has the highest numbers of mass shootings by a long shot may not mean that this is an issue determined by our gun control policies, but rather our attitudes towards fear. This is not the discussion that scares me most in the aftermath of these shootings. The discussion that scares me is the one surrounding mental illness and how to deal with it.

An letter entitled “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” bounced around like a pinball played by Tommy amongst my circle of friends on Facebook shortly after the shooting; I can only assume a similar trend follows everyone else around. While seemingly enlightened and well intentioned, this presents a problem: we have people who are either mentally healthy or suppose they are mentally healthy because they have not been told otherwise commenting on –to put it bluntly and rather crassly—what to do with the “crazies.”

The mother in the article has a very legitimate concern: her son threatens physical violence to her and her other children on a regular basis. I applaud her for not turning her child over to the state, to the prison system, or to a private institution, because frankly those are probably worse environments for her son. But she compromises her safety and the safety of her own children in the process. She is forced into a situation where her career is no longer what she dreamt of, but the appropriate measures taken to financially afford the care of her child. This is real life right here.

What is not talked about is what it is like for the son.

But really, who gives a damn. He’s a monster. He pulls knives on his own mother. Who in their right mind would do that? Or even their left mind?

It’s not about the function of the brain at this point. I encourage and personally challenge each and every one of you reading this right now to consider this: this is about the people born into these brains, these systems of electrical systems somehow jury-rigged in a practical joke of evolution, God, or Mother Nature to operate differently. These are the people who have to regularly go through the process of thinking either streamlined fifty steps ahead of average or permanently mired in a Rube-Goldberg contraption, forever delayed to get to the point due to it’s own flawed design, full of redundancies and detours.

This is what we deal with.

Yes, we. I .

I want to humanize this for you. I am fortunate to be a fully functioning human being who happens to also have significant troubles with ADD, Anxiety and Depression. In my definition of significant, I mean it impacts how I live my life; how I study, how I date, how I love, how I (don’t) interact with my parents, how I earn money to live, how I perform mundane household tasks, how I create relationships and how I can empathize with the world around me. And while this is a fairly “common” mental illness, people still do no talk about it.

And I am blessed enough to have the personality, character, passion and drive to be successful BECAUSE of this. Yes, because. Not in spite of. Not with my difficulties. Because.  Unless you’re Harvey Dent, every coin has two different sides, and each of these things come with a blessing. But it’s often at the cost of the way I interact with the people around me, and sometimes the cost is unbearably high.

We can look at abnormal psychology through two different lenses: the one that views it as entirely caused by what we are made of – our genetic code. The other is by proxy from the environment that created it.

At this point, humanity and science can do very little to change genetic makeup of any given individual in a targeted and meaningful way. We like to think we are on the cusp of a breakthrough, but truly we are still flailing about, barely comprehending the basic code that gives us both form and function. And then there are the ethical considerations.

What we can change is our environment.

Let me repeat that: we have the ability as a society to structure the world around us in many varied, beautiful and healthy ways. But we don’t. Not usually.

Here’s why this is important.

People who struggle with a mental illness – and probably many mentally healthy people as well – often cannot control where their mind goes or what their mind shows them. This is life in the constant grip of fear. This is life in the constant mire of uncertainty of what the world around you is doing. This is complete loss of control of self in the absence of healthy structure. This is terrifying. And when the world around you fails to listen to what you – the person inside that brain­ – is saying, you wonder whether you make sense. You get frustrated. And when enough people  in your life ignore what you think are your own attempts at asking for help in the only way you know how, you become willing to do anything to get your point across. You’ll tantrum, yell, scream, hold somebody’s feelings hostage. And to a degree, all people do that. But there are those among us who, through no fault of their own, cannot see where the line in the sand is drawn for most other people as to what may be appropriate. It’s like being blind to social cues, reality and appropriateness. I like to think of it in terms of “In order to make room for more cool things I could do with my brain, God (or, if you prefer, nature) tossed out some of my hardwiring for social niceties.” Maybe it could make sense in computer terms: I got a device with more RAM, but some of the subroutines and updates to the operating system most of the other kids have didn’t come installed and is not necessarily backwards (or forwards) compatible with different versions.

So why is this relevant to the way we structure our environment?

Because society as a whole forms the environment through which people – all people – operate. Our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, families, friends and random aquaintances all shape the seemingly pedestrian experiences of our existence by adding the building blocks to the structure.

You never know how what you say affects those around you, and a seemingly innocent comment can cut deep to the core at somebody who is trying desperately to fit in, and failing at it in the process. What we need, no what you need, is to live fully present in a world created by compassion and courage to see things from somebody else’s viewpoint.

Why do I bother to include you, the reader, in this process? Because you are one tour of duty in Iraq away from coming home fully immersed in a PTSD meltdown. You are one head injury away from slowed cognitive processes or one spinal cord injury away from becoming incapacitated. You are one abusive relationship or sexual assault away from feeling worthless and paranoid. You are one blood clot away from a debilitating stroke and being unable to speak or move part of your body.

You are fragile. And so are we.

People of all races, ethnic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, income levels, political beliefs and religions are and can be affected. Instead of defining the sum total of a person’s existence by a few electrical misfires or chemical imbalances in their brains, or by damaging programming from a childhood riddled with abuse, I challenge each and every one of you reading this to respond differently to all people around you and to change the stigma surrounding those who are quite literally “wired” differently.

Chances are, it terrifies those of us living with these differences as much as it terrifies you.

I leave you with this inspiring TED talk from Elyn Saks:

Note: This is one in a series of TED talks about mental illness entitled “All kinds of minds.”

If you feel moved to action, check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness‘ “Stigma Busters” program.

For more information on mental illness and domestic violence, click here or here.

“Since when has being cheap counted as “empowerment”?…Hey, I’m all for getting in touch with the “inner goddess” by pole dancing you’re way to “new you”, but you can’t get lobster thermidore out of a can of tuna. Get a life.” — from Heartless Bitches International

A few months ago, a male friend of mine received some up-close and personal, x-rated pictures from a female acquaintance via text.

Background: said male friend is someone who I would label as a “nice guy” you could take home to your parents, is pursuing a wholesome career, has certain admirable character traits, the like. Female acquaintance of his apparently was involved in youth church activities at the same church growing up, had gone her separate way for many years and, recently been on one date with him.

I, being the curious person that I am, inquired as to the reason for the pictures. He said she was “just interested.”

(cue music: “sounds of crickets chirping”)

Well, dang! Hold onto your hats because in this day and age, the standard protocol is STILL for ladies to flash their mamaries and genatalia to potential partners! Let me go grab my cavewoman outfit…

If I really believed that being easy was the most effective way to let a guy worth being with know I was “interested,” I would have done it a long time ago. Ladies, we aren’t livestock for sale. We do not live in third-world countries where our worth is determined by how many offspring we can produce as property for husbands. And quite frankly, you are allowed to use your brains for more than coordinating outfits and reading fashion, home making or child rearing magazines. (These things are great, but really, there is more out there.)

The human body is a glorious, glorious thing to behold. Artists, doctors, and lay persons alike can appreciate it’s various functions and forms. It is a machine truly deserving of respect and reverence.

Respect.

That doesn’t mean merely admiring the body.

Respect means realizing there’s a person attached to it, with hopes, fears, brains and beleifs. And to merely favor the body of ones self or another and what it can do for you as the worth of a human being shows a decrepit poverty of spirit, a lack of substance that can wholly be called shallow.

This means respecting physical limitations and disability. This means respecting the mind of that person and listening to them. This means respecting people of the opposite sex as members of the same species. This means respecting and loving yourself first so that you can say, gently “no thanks, that behavior is not for me because it dosn’t get me what I really want.”

Ladies: I am tired of hearing “I just want one man to show me they aren’t all alike.” It’s a thought I have entertained many times, and there’s some validity to it. We want a man to rise to the challenge of a real, loving and intimate relationship. But listen, waiting hopelessly and helplessly for a guy to come and “rescue” you completely relieves you from any responsibility for your own happiness. It doesn’t mean you have to be a bitch, it just means you have to believe you are a worthwhile person and have standards.

And, the kicker is, the more we keep giving random guys dirty texts, meaningless hookups, blow jobs and one-night stands to be liked instead of just being comfortable with ourselves and our friends, the more we are creating the expectation from them that “hey this is really all girls want and need. The one’s who aren’t this way are just too emotional and needy.” We are contaminating the pool of eligible partners, whittling away at the available number of men for ALL OF US  and creating an unrealistic expectation for men.

Guys: Being “nice” doesn’t cut it. Sorry. We’re not going to let you get away with anything you want just because you aren’t abusive, or a jerk, or a mysoginist, because you have a stable job and don’t live with your mommy anymore. We want somebody who is assertive, has their own life and personality, doesn’t need us to to complete them, but enjoys our company and us as who we are, not their ideal hussy or trophy wife. While we enjoy getting dressed up and “lookin’ fine next to yo hot body,” we are more likely to hang out in sweatpants than lingerie, eat ice cream out of the carton, and want to snuggle on a regular basis than maintain a flawless appearance 24/7.

Please, separate your self-worth and ability to love yourself from your ability to get laid.

Of course, I have just idealized the heterosexual experience, because, quite frankly that is what I know. However, I would imagine some of the same things apply universally.

And, I must acknowledge one caveat. SEX IS IMPORTANT! It’s right at the base of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy! We obsess about it for a reason. Its worth exploring with a respectful and compatible partner. Humans are downright carnal, and we have to accept it. We also have to respect it’s incredible power over our lives and obsessions.

Remember: you are worth more than the functionality of your genitalia.

This post could just as easily been opened with the following amusing, but less effective and more offensive excerpt from another blog, and so I will leave you with it: “The first idiotic quick fix of the summer that springs to mind is ABC’s “How to Get the Guy” (10 p.m. Mondays) — a show that would more accurately be called “How to Get A Guy, Any Guy” or better yet, “How to Cast a Great, Big, Wide Net Like the Soulless, Whoring Sea Donkey That You Are.”” — Heather Havrilesky


“To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.” -Bernadette Devlin

Lately, I’ve been noticing how all the things in my life that make me unhappy can be boiled down into a simple category: what I lack. Relationships. Health. Character traits. Posessions. Achievements. Habits. The voids in my life are catching up with me.

And the simple truth of the matter is wallowing in these voids, these “nothings” does absolutely, well, nothing for me.

Zip. Zilch. Zero.

Nothing.

It’s amazing how much the baggage of so much nothing weighs, and once you notice you’re carrying it around everywhere, you realize how much space it takes up in every aspect of your life. In fact, it gets in the way. It’s the elephant in the room, and in my case there’s a whole herd of pachyderms.

I’ve recently started playing video games again after my friend and roommate introduced me to Skyrim. Yes the one with the dragons. Part of what attracted me to giving this storytelling medium a second chance for myself personally is that this game pretty much lets you do what you want, at your own pace, when you want to. You create your own character from the beginning. You select which skills you want to learn. You collect things. You explore. You sell the things you collect on you explorations to make money and buy other cool things. And indeed, all these things are necessary to continue in the game, but you craft your experience quite uniquely. It’s non-linear, organic feeling keeps you engaged. The game physics are believable (unlike Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Volleyball) and the limitations of the character, reasonable in a world where magic is real.

But if this entry is anything, it is not a review.

My point in bringing this up is, of course, illustrative. You can only carry so much “stuff” on your travels. The types or armor and weaponry you select define your skill sets and carrying capacity. They also force you to approach confrontational situations or puzzles in certain ways.

In order to collect some really cool items, sometimes you have to let go of other somewhat cool items that you can sell for cash. In order to carry more things, maybe you choose less armor and use archery or magical skills instead. Maybe you carry a shield, and maybe you decide to unleash your fury with dual wielding attacks. Maybe you enlist the help of a CGI friend so they can share the burden of fighting and carry your stuff. But whatever you choose, you can find a way to be successful provided you understand the benefits and drawbacks of why you’re doing what you’re doing in the manner that you’re doing it.

Same thing applies in the real world.

In order to collect cool experiences, you must decide to free up time, and maybe enjoy fewer material possessions. Or, if you are a fan of the creature comforts, maybe you instead decide to work a lot. Whatever you value.

This can be applied in less literal situations as well. Maybe in order to get the relationships you want, you have to give up bad habits that keep you back. Maybe in order to get the job you want you have to give up the one you have, or give up time to learn new skills. Dropping that baggage and kicking those dang elephants out may be the best thing after all. There’s more room for more interesting things that way.

Ok, so now I’m ready for newer, bigger and better things. Allons-y! Away with the baggage! But wait just a moment…

Here come’s the hard part: all your baggage is there because it’s useful. It’s helped you through situations before, protected you, comforted you and benefited you in one way or another. And you’ve made a place for it to stay. You have a system! You know which piece stacks on top of which other piece for maximum baggage toting efficiency!

All of a sudden you are confronted with a new situation in which you can collect a new COOLER item, achievement, or experience, or being with somebody who may actually be GREAT for you. Except, there’s a teensy little catch: you have to remove one or more pieces of that baggage to make it work, rendering your system useless. Completely and utterly useless. This can be and usually is frustrating. It requires figuring out, patience, time, and negotiating. New systems are made. Maybe new baggage will be acquired. More may be lost.

Perhaps efficient baggage management isn’t such a desirable skill after all. Perhaps the “letting go,” the scary, uncomfortable bits, are the times of greatest authenticity and growth possible in a lifetime. The mess is real. And these messy times hurt. I simply hope I leave this life, many years from now, with a net loss of baggage instead of a net gain. Maybe it gets shuffled around a lot, but I think it’s for the best.