Same Old Song and Dance

“Fate comes a-knocking, doors start locking
Your old time connection, change your direction
Ain’t gonna change it, can’t rearrange it
Can’t stand the pain when it’s all the same to you, my friend”

– Aerosmith, “Same Old Song and Dance

I’ve been having a lot of trouble with my book lately – the words feel wrong, the sentences clunky, the transitions awkward.  You know how it goes: you begin doubting not just all you write but all you’ve ever written, questioning your dedication, your capability, your talent.  The very thought of attempting to write fills you with revulsion, and even when you do manage to bring yourself back to the page the only reward for your persistence is more shit writing.

To make matters worse I haven’t been blogging nearly as much as I used to, or as much as I probably should be.  The result is a mentality of stagnation, one which encourages self-deprecation and hesitates at the thought of trying to break the cycle.  It’s like the only thing worse than doing nothing is doing something wrong.  They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, but trying and failing often feels a lot worse than not trying at all.  If I’m going to fail I’d rather it be because I was lazy or uncommitted, not because I simply couldn’t do it.

It’s like my shortcomings are my own personal safety net.  So long as I limit myself I will always know what I’m capable of, never reach for more.  I’m like the anti-Icarus: so scared of flying too close to the sun that he never flew at all.  This book, this… world I have in my head is incredible and fantastic and powerful and I’m afraid I won’t do it justice, can’t do it justice.  Trying to reconcile what you have pictured in your mind with what you translate onto the page is one of the hardest things about writing, because my words rarely live up to the source material.

I know I can’t let the fear of failure keep me from trying, but sometimes it stops me all the same.  It’s like this cycle I go through every so often: first life gets in the way of my writing, then when I try to get back into things I find myself locking horns with writer’s block, then the writer’s block develops into doubt, before finally transforming into self-loathing.  Of course it never lasts, and sooner or later I’ll have a breakthrough and start writing again – which sounds good, until you realise that this means I’ll never be able to wash my hands of the whole thing.  I’m stuck living through this abusive cycle for the rest of my life.

Oh well.  Here’s to waiting for the next breakthrough, I suppose.

Until then I always have Netflix.

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A Million Different Ways to Say Sorry / End of an Era

“I always thought that I was somewhat different
turns out we are all just one
The evil in your blood is only made of
memories you don’t let go”

– Horse Thief “Evil’s Rising

Hey.

I know it’s been a while since we last spoke, but I think we both needed the space.  The truth is, we’re not good for one another.  You’re too eager to hurt me, and I’m too eager to let you.  I can’t keep living like this – neither of us can.  All this guilt, all this anger and hatred and self-pity and sadness and fear isn’t sustainable.  I don’t deserve to feel this guilty, and you don’t deserve to feel this angry.  We both wanted someone to blame, but it was never me.  I think that’s one of the hardest things about what happened: there was no reason behind it.

We needed a reason.  We needed a punching bag, a scapegoat onto which we could project all our hatred.  Suffering a tragedy of any kind is bad enough as it is, but without something to blame any attempts at venting your frustrations are reduced to shadowboxing.  Without an outlet those negative feelings will fester and rot away at your insides, a volatile mixture of sadness and unspecified anger eager to lash out at the slightest provocation.  Everything and everyone around you is susceptible to blame, collateral damage in the wake of an unaimed weapon.  You find blame everywhere you look because it’s all you ever look for, but these outbursts do nothing to relieve the pressure building up inside you.  You can sense the fragility of your logic, the lack of merit in their guilt.  What you need is someone whose guilt is unfailing, whose fault cannot be disputed simply because there is no alternative, who can always be counted on to fuck things up.  With nowhere to turn outwards, your hatred soon turns inwards.

I became my own scapegoat.  I became my own punching bag, my own reason for everything wrong in my life.  My body had betrayed me, so by some default this made it my fault.  Everything that followed was simply an extension of that original fuck-up, a series of mistakes and shortcomings all stemming from my body’s betrayal.  Each link in this chain reaction only compounded my own self-loathing, a never-ending sequence of reasons for me to hate myself.  I became self-destructive, subconsciously tearing down every opportunity life presented me just so I could continue to justify my own self-hatred.

But anger is draining, and after thirteen years of beating myself up I’m tired.  I’m tired of constantly feeling at odds with myself, tired of needing to be both the culprit and the victim.  I’m tired of forsaking my own right to happiness, tired of playing the tragedy.  What happened will never be okay, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be okay.  It wasn’t my fault – none of it was.  This blog, this testament to my own self-pity and self-hatred cannot be my life.  Like the scar that runs down my back it will always be there to remind me what I suffered through, but I cannot live life looking back.

I’m letting you go.  You will always be a part of who I am, but we can’t be at odds with one another anymore.  I am not your scapegoat, and you are not mine.  I refuse to take the blame for all that’s happened, and I refuse to blame you for beating me up about it.  We needed one another, for a time at least, but that time is over.  We know better now.  I forgive you, and I know that in time you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me too.

 

 – A Letter to The Modern Leper

Taking Stock: A Compilation of Photos from Shutterstock and Thoughts by The Modern Leper (Alternatively, “A Collage of Catharsis / Real Words, Fake Smiles”)

 

Why should I feel sorry for others if I’m not even supposed to feel sorry for myself?

I hate my body, but not nearly as much as my body seems to hate me.

It’s easier to believe in a God you can blame then it is to accept an indifferent yet unfailingly cruel universe.

Am I shallow for hating myself so much?

Find happiness in the little things, because the big things will invariably let you down.

Is it a sin to give God the middle finger?

If everyone could just stop pretending everything’s okay maybe we wouldn’t feel so guilty about pointing out when it isn’t.

Sometimes I feel like committing suicide if only to validate my own sadness.

The fact that I still haven’t been able to kill myself has now become a source of self-hatred in itself.

Self-pity is exhausting, but I don’t know how to reconcile with all the bad things in my life without giving off the impression that I’m over them.

You will never be everything you could be, far less anything you should be.

Stepping Through & Looking Back

Stepping Through & Looking Back

“I don’t wish to be excused for this
My disguise and my excuses they have worn so thin
But may I ask, and answer honestly
What would you have done if you were me?”

– Frightened Rabbit, If You Were Me

I grew up an outsider.  Not in anyone else’s eyes, mind you – just my own.  I ostracised myself from society because I believed that I was different, and that being different was bad.  I was never bullied in school, and I was never purposely excluded or made to feel embarrassed, but all the same I never felt like I belonged.

A big part of it was undoubtedly my tumour.  Right from the get-go it steered me towards self-loathing.  When we first discovered it we were forced to move from Trinidad to Canada in order to get the appropriate level of care, and for a long time I blamed myself for the family’s uprooting.  It was a big change, moving from the Caribbean to North America.  There were a lot of stressful moments, and things were far from easy.  I blamed myself when anyone felt homesick, when my siblings had trouble adjusting, when I’d overhear my parents arguing over financial troubles.  That’s a pretty heavy burden for a seven year old kid to hold on his shoulders.

On top of that was school, which only got worse as the effects of my kyphosis, and its hold on my self-confidence, grew.  Whenever I’d look in the mirror I’d see an outsider, so I started to act like one.  I was antisocial, introverted, and weird.  I was the source of my family’s pain, and I was a loser.  Those were the thoughts that ran through my head day in and day out, convincing me of their validity.  Even when people would make an effort to include me, and I’d try and act like one of them, deep down inside some part of me would always know the truth.

Or what I perceived to be the truth.

I convinced myself that I would never be anything more than what my disease defined me as.  I was sure that was all there was to me, and that I would never amount to anything more.  And sure, it’s a great thing to realize that all your fears and worries are just in your head.  But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still there.

It’s one thing to realize that your thoughts can’t be trusted, it’s an entirely different thing to ignore them.  People always tell me that it’s about mental exercise, and that you have to keep the negative thoughts from taking over, but how the fuck do you stop yourself from thinking a thought?  Once you’ve thought it… it’s already there!  You can’t un-think it, you can’t stop yourself from thinking it.  There’s no filter for thoughts like there is for speaking.  Once you’ve had it you’ve had it.

So maybe it was all in my head, but does that diminish its validity?  I don’t know.  Because if I felt that way, then there must be a reason why I felt that way.  You can’t give a seven year old kid a spinal cord tumor and not expect him to come out of it with a few dozen psychoses.  And if feelings of insecurity and instability were the only possible outcome, what’s point in worrying about them?

I can’t just change the way I think and be done with it.  I can’t just erase fourteen years off of my life and pretend it never happened.  I can’t snap my fingers and make all these issues disappear, or suddenly accept that maybe the problem was in me all along and I still have a shot at normality.  I can’t do any of that, and even if I could I wouldn’t know how.

When you’ve spent your entire life trapped in a room by yourself, only to learn one day that the door was open all along, it doesn’t erase all those years spent sitting alone in the dark.  It doesn’t change the things you told yourself in that lonely void, or heal the mental scars of having been shut away for so long.  All it does is expose you to a life you’d forgotten, a foreign and unfamiliar reality which you’ve long since forgotten how to operate in.  And when that happens, when that door finally opens and you walk through, the best thing you can do is take it one step at a time.

Between Paranoia and Perception

Between Paranoia and Perception

Say what you wanna say, any time of day, 
but don’t justify my truths and I,
It’s time for me to change, time for hope 
to bleed, time for love to sacrifice

– Stabilo, Beautiful Madness

A big part of anxiety – a big part of my anxiety, at least – is distrusting other people.  I have trouble believing people’s motivations and intentions are good and true, I have trouble taking the things they say at face value.  When people are nice to me I assume it’s either because they pity me or because they want something.  Probably not the best mentality to have in life, but there you go.

I’m sure part of this inherent distrust for others is a result of the fact that I have trouble trusting even myself: once I realised what I was capable of, it was only a matter of time before I came to the conclusion that everyone else was also capable of such thoughts, acts, feelings.  I know all the dark little motivations people have because I have them myself.  There’s also the matter of my low self-esteem to consider.  When you don’t even like yourself it’s hard to imagine anyone else liking you.  Compliments, companionship, acts of kindness are all met with bitter suspicion – not only do they fall on deaf ears, but they leave me wondering if it isn’t all some malicious joke.

The worst part of all this isn’t even my uncanny ability to rationalise these things – it’s the fact that half the time I don’t even have to try.  Admittedly that’s sort of the point of rationalising: when you’re really good at it you hardly know you’re doing it at all.  But I’d be naive to suggest that that’s all it ever is: my mind, grasping for straws and looking for shadows where they don’t exist.  As much as I’m loathe to admit it, as terrifying as it is to fathom, sometimes the paranoia is nothing more than perception.

No one is perfect.  Most of us try to at least achieve some semblance of goodwill, but at our core we are chaotic beings, prone to contradictions and faults.  Most of us have a decent enough grasp on our actions, but few can claim dominion over our thoughts, over the whispers and the intentions behind our deeds.  What’s worse is it’s rarely even that simple: sometimes we do what we think is right, even if we don’t feel like doing it.  We want to befriend the loner, not because we actually want to be his friend, but because it’s “the right thing to do”.  Our intentions are good, even if they’re not true.

Trying to puzzle out everyone’s intentions will drive you mad.  It’s an exercise in futility because no matter what you’ll never actually know if you’re right or not.  You could go on guessing and calculating till the end of your days, but sooner or later you’re going to have to accept that you’ll never know.  Even confronting them on the issue is ineffective, because unless they openly confess to having ulterior motives (which, let’s be honest, would probably never happen) no amount of reassurances on their part will quell your paranoia.

You can’t go through life living like that, always second-guessing other people’s words and actions.  In the end all you can do is focus on yourself.  Unless given an express reason not to, you need to learn to trust people.  You need to learn to judge them on their actions, and not on any imagined intentions.  It can be hard, exposing yourself to the possibility of betrayal and pain, breaking down your walls and showing them your vulnerability.  But the only thing worse than being betrayed by a handful of people is living under the assumption that you’re being betrayed by all.

As the old saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice and you’ve shattered what little faith in humanity I had left, leaving me to roam the Earth in a permanent state of paranoia, incapable of ever trusting another human being again.”

All the Way Up

All the Way Up

When you go up a bit, you gain.  When you go down a bit, you feel disappointed, gloomy, lost.  You can go all the way down to death, yet somehow there seems to be a difficulty in getting all the way up.

– Alan Watts

Life doesn’t end when you’re happy.  It’s not some game where the goal is to reach happiness, and when you do it ends.  I keep expecting this moment at which I realise “okay, yeah, I’m better now.  I’m happy.”  But that’s not how it works.  It’s just… life.  It’s existence.  You exist, and you continue to exist until you don’t.  It’s as simple as that.  No matter how bad or how good things get, there will always be a tomorrow, until there isn’t.

There are ups and downs, there are points where you’re not sure which you are and you’re left scrabbling in the dirt trying to find something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t need to exist.  One of the greatest struggles in life is not feeling sad, it’s not knowing whether or not you’re happy.  In today’s society happiness is synonymous with not only well-being but success.  “If you’re not happy, you’re not doing it right”.  The pressure of being able to answer “are you happy?” with a resounding “yes!” is quite possibly the source of more unhappiness than any other non-material reason.

People think that if you’re not resolutely, definitively happy, you’re doing something wrong.  They get so hung up on trying to achieve said happiness that they completely miss the point.  The beauty of happiness lies in its impermanence, and in the fact that it cannot be bought.  Searching for happiness is a paradox in that it defeats the very concept of the emotion.  You cannot find happiness: happiness finds you.

“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you.  But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

– Henry Thoreau

Happiness is not a thing in itself: it is a reaction to things.  And sure, you can try to surround yourself with the right stimuli, but it goes a lot further than that.  A big part of what makes happiness so appealing is the pleasant surprise it offers us, in that we never really know when it will strike.  Because while it’s true that certain stimuli can encourage happiness, it’s not because there is intrinsic happiness to be found within them.  The pleasure we find in certain actions, experiences, and objects is within us – and yet remains inexplicably (and often frustratingly) outside of our own control.

Trying to have a positive outlook on life, refusing to dwell on the negative, surrounding yourself with the right stimuli – these are all reasonably effective ways to increase your happiness, but only so long as you accept that no matter what you do it will never last forever.  If you allow your life to be controlled by an endless pursuit of contentment the strain of such an impossible goal will nullify any successes you have.

Life is not a path towards pure, lasting happiness.  It’s just life.  The majority of our time on this Earth isn’t spent oscillating between varying degrees of emotion- it’s spent simply existing.  Happiness is just an occasional (and often brief) respite from the otherwise uncategorised day-to-day living.

The pressure to be happy, fully-functioning members of society is nothing more than a pipe dream: an unachievable goal meant to keep people on their feet.  It’s a false promise of gold at the end of a rainbow of lifelong servitude and struggle.  We’re raised to believe that if you work hard, pay your dues and act the way you’re supposed to act then eventually you’ll achieve a state of comfortable happiness.  Without this goal in mind people would have one less reason to slip into society’s mould of the perfect citizen, the perfect person.

The truth is this: there are no perfect people.  No one is happy all the time, and no one should expect or be expected to feel that way.  You can’t go through life constantly trying to put a gauge on your happiness, constantly asking yourself “Am I happy?  Am I happy?” because chances are you’re not- and that’s okay.  A big part of life is simply living, whether you feel happy or not, whether you feel any definitive emotion or not.  You could be the happiest in your life right now and you’d still wake up tomorrow, almost assuredly back at square one.  Life doesn’t end when you’re happy.

So don’t stress yourself out trying to determine if you’re happy, or figuring out why you’re not.  Take each moment in stride, appreciate it for what it is.  Find solace in knowing that times of struggle won’t last, and learn to appreciate happiness while you have it for the very same reason: it will not last, so enjoy it while you have it.

Meaningless Everything

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet

The world does not work in positives and negatives.  Nothing can be said to have any intrinsic value of “good” or “bad”.  Our society and the people within it dictate norms and designate alignments of actions, objects and occurrences, generally based upon whether or not the thing in question serves to benefit our goals at any given point.  To extend said alignments beyond that is to delude oneself into believing in some higher cosmic power dictating the rights and wrongs of the universe.

It can be difficult to accept that a school bus full of children crashing into a lake is not inherently bad, but such things – and worse – happen every day and the universe is none the worse.  As the age-old saying states, “life goes on”.  Nothing we do and nothing that happens to us will ever “matter” outside the scope of our own self-interest.  A school bus of children crashing into a lake is only “bad” insofar as society views it as such.  Compassion for our fellow homo sapiens sapiens is an evolutionary trait developed to ensure and further our survival as a species, nothing more.

The same goes for emotions.  Certain triggers will illicit emotional responses to either encourage or discourage behaviours in life, a system that once again arose to help ensure our survival but which now struggles to keep up with humanity’s rapid production of newer and trickier triggers.  Happiness is no more the mascot for “good” than sadness or anger are for “bad”.  Indeed one can be said to be healthier than the others, but this only goes so far before we run into the same problem: health is not synonymous with “good” either.  Health and happiness are certainly ideals in this society, and in this sense and this sense alone they are synonymous with “good”, but make no mistake: to confuse the ideals of human civilisation with those of some higher universal power is to damn yourself.

When we begin weighing our experiences on this earth against some existential concept of “good” and “bad”, of “right” and “wrong”, our primitive consciousness is overwhelmed with feelings of failure.  Happiness, sadness, anger, ecstasy, guilt, love, insecurity, these are all entirely natural feelings.  Sure, some may make you feel better than others, but that does not make them inherently “good” anymore than it makes the others “bad”.  They are simply two sides of the same coin, tumbling down the stream of consciousness that is life.  They are a natural part of existence, and to harp over them, to consider some a failure and others a success, is to not only deny yourself all that existence has to offer, but to deny what it is to be human.

Things only “matter” in the sense that they matter to us.  Our feelings are what set the parameters for our existence; we assign and prescribe definitions such as good and bad to occurrences that are, in every sense of the word, inconsequential.  In this way we are the masters of our own lives.  We give this world meaning, give ourselves purpose.  We are the ones who will live and die for the sake of an idea, the ones who mourn the dead and celebrate the living.  And when you’re feeling down on your luck and the walls are closing in, when all you seem to do is screw things up, know this: there is no wrong way to live, anymore than there is a right one.  Sadness, happiness, love, hatred, these are all masks worn by the one true state of being: existence.  No matter what you are, no matter how you feel, it all boils down to existence.

You exist.  Anything beyond that is over-complicated bullshit imposed upon us by society and our own egos.  You exist.  Do with that what you will.