Archive for the 'Sweet Sanity' Category

Threading the needle of correct thought.

Dear sweet person in my head that I have legitimized through the anonymizing force of the internet:

Getting out of a funk is tough, man.  Real tough. Sometimes, it’s funny how much effort I will put into actually not fixing my state of being, just so I don’t have to come up with novel ways of solving what is by now an extremely intractable problem: anxiety is occasionally running my life.  I’ve been in a state of almost constant analysis (never-mind the fact that I have no qualification to make any judgements on mental disorders) since it really got cranked up, so long ago now.  All my effort has been tied to finding (and neutralizing) some point of contact, some environmental impact, that occurred at some point in my life to cause a fairly easy-going guy like myself to transform so utterly into a mess of nerves, jangles, and jitters – and, yeah, occasionally a full-blown “anxiety attack” (if you want to call it that, which I obviously don’t).

One of the ways I have improved my situation is just by no longer being ashamed of my condition. I also quit bullshitting myself that I really used to be “easy-going” as claimed above.  I’ve always been a worrier, but I had adopted a tendency towards stoicism as a sort of primary operating principle, and when things are going well enough, it’s not that hard to maintain a facade.  Man, I wish I could pin it down, the exact reasons for my little problem, but just because I cannot explain it doesn’t mean I can’t claim it, to turn a phrase in the style of the Very Reverend Jesse Jackson.

I’m not sure that all my analysis has gotten me anywhere fruitful, but what I have noticed is this: I have been wrong about the process of thinking.  I have thought and made various claims for a long time now that human thinking is single threaded: we have one thought at a time, through a field of time, which is linear and sequential.  Now of course time does take a linear path so far as we can perceive, and it does seem evident that one can only have one thought at a time, which occurs through our language as a set of modules that we construct on the fly to build thoughts, words, sentences, concepts, whatever.  All of that does appear true.  But what I have more or less neglected until now is the importance of this other less obvious thread that weaves in and out of the thread of thought, which is like an emotional thread.  I used to think this thread was only functional in that it responds to what happens to a person in life, but now I’m starting to see that, when things are going really wrong for me, it’s because the emotional thread is going off and doing its own thing, out of alignment with what is actually occurring to me.  In a way it’s like a person is two separate beings, one which is responsible for outputting thought, and one that precedes, predicts and responds to thought.  I think in a normally functioning human these two things are supposed to line up just so, but sometimes they don’t, which causes what we call “cognitive dissonance”…..which for people like me causes an intense feeling of SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT HERE.  My anxiety does not always start or stop through the same process: sometimes I wake up with it, sometimes I’ll see a picture or read a sentence that starts it up, sometimes it will happen in traffic or driving at night (all things just seem more dangerous at night, and my confidence in myself seems misplaced), sometimes I’ll walk into one of the many places in this world that doesn’t sit right for me for whatever reason (usually big box stores, large college campus buildings) and that will trigger an immediate sort of sense of HOLY SHIT WHAT THE DEAL YO, GOTTA RUN FAR FAR AWAY RIGHT NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW. And of course sometimes you can’t run away without losing face.  And, historically, losing face is a big deal for me.  I do have some pride, and I do have a vision for the way I expect life to progress. Anxiety opposes all expectation except getting and maintaining safety.

When it gets really bad like that, I usually will have some warning, but sometimes not enough to stop it. And sometimes the things that stop it are entirely mysterious to me, as if that second thread is just easing up through some chemical process, or maybe some awareness that doesn’t escape the subconscious level.

There’s a question of what works, then, to head it off at the pass, and that really seems to be the one key thing I’ve got to figure out.  I hoped I could reason my way out of this little maze (never worked before, sure, but it’s just my first line of defense for when I’m still trying to cover everything up and act as if nothing is wrong), but the  reason this doesn’t work is because of that second thread I was just defining a moment ago: you can talk yourself out of the reasons for your negative feeling until you are blue in the face, but if that thread that runs behind the thought doesn’t match up, you’re just whistling out of tune.  So the thing to do would seem to be to somehow grab ahold of that second thread and make it do right, make it respond to the environment – as I believe it’s supposed to – instead of its own whims.  Can you take an SSRI and retrain that thread with therapy?  I’ve had not much luck at all with drugs that aren’t addictive.  Xanax works like a charm but it does run out rather quickly, not to mention that most doctors will not prescribe it for very long: there’s a liability there that I do not fully understand or agree with but have come to accept. And I’ve not done much therapy, but I’m actually getting to where I’ll give it a shot just because, why not? The SSRIs I’ve taken for years have never once led me to conclusively feel that I ended up in a significantly better headspace.  There have been long stretches of feeling really great, which twice coincided with the taking of SSRIs (among other things), but doling out credit for that to a drug has been tough for me to nail down.  Now with the latest evidence showing that SSRIs do not seem to have much advantage versus the placebo effect, it is getting more and more difficult for me to even accept the possibility that a new SSRI is going to do the trick for me, though I do accept the notion that for some few people they are really great.

I wish I was one of those people.  Instead I seem to have a condition shrouded in mystery and misery, not knowing when or how things are going to begin or end. Well poor me, I guess.  Back to the drawing board, and avoiding the depression that will follow along with this latest setback.  So far I’m actually doing well in that regard.  I’m trying to cultivate the resolve that none of this is a very big deal, while at the same time continuing to take steps to seek treatment.  After all, it’s a very fine line indeed between stoicism and neglect.


If I relax, I feel exposed.

Oh yeah.  The demons are back.  Anxiety with just a nice hint of depression coming around the corner.  It’s bad this time, bad in a big way, probably the worst since the first time it all went to shit, which has been 12-13 years behind me now.  I had just gotten us up out of our mess at the crumby apartment, gotten myself back in school, and gotten a home loan.  Think there might be a connection there?  Feelings of disability in coping with my responsibilities?  I feel like that’s a part of it, but just a part.

The feeling is just one of constant discomfiture: I imagine it’s something like an addict feels when he hasn’t had a fix.  A nervous, skin-crawling on-edge sense of preoccupation with a thing which seems initially to have revolved around driving at night, or going to large public places, but which has just now taken over large parts of my life.  At work, and even at home, this feeling is taking up a majority of my waking life.  For how long?  I don’t know, I hope it is short and ugly, like it has been times before, but to be honest, I fear I won’t be that lucky.

I don’t normally like to talk about these episodes, and so I doubt I will much change that habit, but be aware that if I do not write much in the next little while, the reason is that I am trying to get myself well again, and that I hope it will be very soon.

I heard the news today, oh boy.

I made the mistake of watching cable news today.  It’s not something which happens very often, and I plan on keeping it that way, since I don’t have cable.   The topic du jour was the usual:  is this weak-ass healthcare bill a sign of the apocalypse or a sign that the universally limp-wristed and worthless democrats are on their way out the door? And if things do go well for Congress, how will this result completely undermine Barack Obama and hopefully lead to his expulsion from the US and perhaps even the solar system, if the soon-to-be-Republican majority can get the last-minute Low-Regarded President Launched Permanently Into Outer Space Act of 2010 passed before the summer recess?

So from this momentary excursion into TV news, I am almost totally convinced that a national polity based on good faith is no longer feasible in this country. I mean to say: it’s dead. Unfortunately, this means that we should probably all be backing the Village Media (the drive-bys, for all you Dittoheads out there)  as they continue to spout the Common Wisdom of the day, supporting them somewhat like a terrified audience member listening to the string quartet playing on the Titanic as it slowly sinks into the northern Atlantic. I don’t see how it gets better from here, unless the internet evaporates or is blown to hell by some furrin terrist. This nation of thousands of tiny subcultures is simply too striated at this point. Admit it, my fair & liberal friends: 99 percent of you here don’t read RedState or New Majority, even though YOU SHOULD READ IT and you damn well know it. Sure, you might give David Frum a chance when he’s taking down his own party, but that’s it. Now, take that selection bias and multiply it ten times, and that’s the kind of intentional segregation you find on the right. I can tell you from my thousands of hours of experience “behind enemy lines” as a southern US resident that they don’t even give your philosophy the time of day. They wouldn’t even take the trouble to piss on you to put your fire out, as they would say.

It’s an odd dichotomy, this country, because I still think that, although it’s far too late to put the genie back into the bottle (meaning, to go back to a time before the internet and on-demand cable), that doesn’t that I’m totally convinced that the nation is doomed, although I do think that on the whole, a thousand years from now, historians will be looking at the post-Vietnam era as the time when things started to slowly fall apart for the American Experiment (but that is a long-road scenario – I’m not some idiot know-nothing who honestly thinks that America will last forever, though I don’t think it has to end ignominiously, either.) Clearly there is still a dominant cultural influence that, at the moment, still works very much in our favor. The liberals OWN Hollywood, and probably always will. Turn on any show besides COPS or any thing on FoxNews, and you will find at least a lukewarm liberal worldview behind it. So that to me is a little cheering, although what would be even more cheering is to know that there is a place on the internet that EVERYONE could feel comfortable going to in order to discuss, to discover, and to have a break from the normal insular experience of the internet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: going to Balloon Juice is a fucking blast, I love John Cole like a long-lost brother (ok, second cousin) and I sorely wish I still lived in Morgantown just so I could buy him a beer sometime, and all of that friendly partisanship is great and vital to the overall health of “Team D”, as it were, but we’ve got to get out from behind this leftist shield and the right needs to do the same. If we want to preserve the Republic (and I do) we have no choice but to break bread together.

Alright, so bring me some arguments.

PS: I know the Republican Right is an unserious party right now, and I also know that the Left is under the paralyzing influence of corporate power, which all congressional majorities must face in order to do anything in Washington. The question is, how do we engage each other such that some form of reasonable discourse becomes possible again? I thought the Common Wisdom dictated that the Right were due for some “time in the wilderness”, but they apparently took this to mean a twenty-minute play-period outside the schoolyard before going right back to stealing our lunch money.


Fear of a Black Superstore

Yeah, so there’s really no easy way to bring this up.

I’ve finally gotten around the point in this blog where I, reluctantly and with much consternaton against what I consider to be the necessary upkeep of a fragile sense of personal dignity, finally talk about SOMETHING PERSONAL.  And let’s not pussy-foot around the issues, here, because everyone has demons and everyone has their weaknesses.  I have chosen to shine a light on mine: call it a whiff of hopenchange syndrome if you like, though the manly men among me, insomuch as they even bother to read this blog (or anything else at all) would probably beat me about the face and neck for revealing, reveling, and altogether casually admitting beyond all shadow of doubt, that yes indeedy-do, I’ve got some ISSUES that need the light shone upon them.

My principal fears these days do not revolve around my imminent death.  It is not the utter horror of commercialism and crass convenience that afflicts us all on a daily basis, though both of these things (death and Circle K, respectively) do indeed send my liberal self down with the vapors every so often.  No, my greatest viscereal fear is fairly simple but mighty perplexing:

I fear Wal-Mart.

Of course, it’s not quite so simple as that.  I could walk into a Wal-Mart circa 1995 with no problem at all.  I do have a problem, though – and when I say problem, I mean cold-sweat inducing fear – with the superstore as it has evolved since 1995: Super Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, Sam’s Club, even the new Mega Kroger grocery complexes.  You can probably already imagine the type I mean: you come for groceries, you stay to buy a large-screen TV, and get a haircut, and an oil change while you wait for the anonymous pharmacist to ring up your latest Amoxicillin presciption.

Of course it isn’t the fact that being able to do all these things in themselves is what scares me.  No, what irks me is the gargantuan warehouses that these places now require in order to offer such a huge range of service.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Idiocracy by Mike Judge, then you know immediately the sort of vibe I am hinting at:

But even this, as tasteless as it is, is not what makes me cringe.  I am, after all, an American: we make tacky into cool on a daily basis.  This is part of our collective charm, soulless though it might be.

No, the fact of the matter is that I am no longer comfortable in large spaces like Wal-Mart, and you can toss aside any moral objections I might have once had to such places;  I did indeed avoid Wal-Mart like the black plague for many years, but it is only in the last two years or so that I really just can’t even consider walking into such a place for fear of “losing my shit”, to put it as scientifically as possible.

It feels like a kind of agoraphobia, although I know that doesn’t really get at it, since I can enter an open field of any other kind and be completely at ease, even comforted by it.   But it is a KIND of agoraphobia, I suppose, since it is certainly true that when you enter a place the size of four large-scale airplane hangars and one is expected to navigate one’s way to the Electronics section, one is immediately forced to reckon with something MUCH bigger than one’s self.

I simply feel very small in these places, and totally unprepared for the challenge of having to make my way along the mazelike corridors of modern commerce.   I also feel small looking at the sky at night, though, as I’m sure most thinking people do, but I’d much prefer to be stranded on a starship in the middle of the Kuyper Belt than to be caught unawares in a Target, and this strange dichotomy between what SHOULD freak me out and what in fact DOES freak me out is really, well, freaking me out.

I could go on and on about the minor details of the things that have occurred to me when I am in these places: the forced anonymity, the cultural black hole of the shopping experience; I could even expound on the piss-poor lighting, which really turns me off.  But at the end of the day, what drives me away from Superstores is something I just simply cannot explain, though I’d like to get to the bottom of it.

So the question for me is simple: what is it going to take to get me over this naked fear?  I currently have no answer I’m ready to contemplate, though I have an idea.  Like most other things in life, sometimes you just have to suck it up and work through it.  I feel this is basically inevitable: since I work in IT, one day a job is going to come my which requires the leap into one of these places, and I cannot jeopardize my work just to get out of facing what is turning into bigtime baggage.  So to be proactive, I’m going to set a foot into a Wal-Mart this week.  I probably won’t get too far past the food court or the hair cuttery, but nonetheless I’m going to give it a shot.

If it merits a mention, I’ll be sure to explain what happened when the situation demands it.  But it’s not going to be fun, or easy, or even bearable.  What it is, is necessary, and that is all I need to concentrate on in order to begin to get over it.

I realize this is so silly to whoever will read this, but it’s real to me, and it feels like a real burden at this point.  Like I said, everyone has their weaknesses: mine happen to reside in the realm of  the inexplicable and ridiculous.  But as of yet, I’ve not been able to make much headway in facing it down, and I think it’s something I’ve put off way too long.  So wish me luck, would you, and I’ll promise not to tell everyone how scared you are of spiders.  Oops.

A study on summer doldrums, part one of a billion.

Hey there.

I must confess:  I got nothin’.  Musically, and pretty much all around.  I don’t know what’s what.  I’ve got some musical ideas rolling around up in my head and I’ve picked up the guitar here and there.  I’m not dead out of ideas but I’m just not getting a lot of time lately to set them down.  And also, not a lot of money to spend on liquor, which must be said is a pretty good muse for a Nervous Nellie like myself when trying to sing into a microphone that forgives not the slightest mistake.

Another thing is this, and I’m really ticked off about it: when I get stressed out, music just sucks.  Mine, yours… the whole thing is just an exercise in idiocy and I want no part of it.  The merciless part of me takes over and says, “what the fuck can you do with musical talent?”  And this makes me upset even now to think about it.  I mean, in computers, you can do a lot: there are many many fields of study and application to choose from.  In music, you can perform for money, you can compose for money, or you can teach for money.  Teaching is something I may in fact do one day when I have a proper house-like abode in which to host students, but for now it’s not going to work.  Performing is something I may do occasionally for shits and giggles but I don’t want to live the life of a gypsy, as romantic as it seems to some.  To me it seems like a crappy life.  And God knows you can’t make a living selling albums anymore.  So what’s left?  Composition?

Alright, so what’s the angle?  I so far have composed a handful of nice folksy tunes, some weirdo fake-psychedelic stuff, and some flaky techno that I’m too embarrassed about to even put on this here blog (and you all know my standards are, like, not incredibly stringent, ahem).  & What do people make money composing for nowadays, anyway?  Movies and video games, I guess, along with the occasional notable Volkswagen commercial. Well, I’m all for that, sign me up…..except I don’t know a soul in ANY creative field.  I’m just your standard lower middle-class peon from Augusta, GA, one with maybe the slightest amount of brain-power which so far has been of little use or note even to myself, as I’ve let go of my world-class ego a long time ago.  I guess I just need to reach out somehow, meet some folks in the business, even if only online.   I thought having a blog with a musical dimension would do that trick for me, but as it turns out, as usual I’m late to the party.  To be honest, I just don’t really even know how to promote a blog anyway, and don’t feel right plugging it in other people’s blogs, because it just seems like a semi-evil thing to do.

Melancholy.  Ennui.  Woe!  Dark and troubling, these storms of the soul!  Egads, this is pathetic.  Like all my incredibly positive and uplifting songs say, of course I’m going to end up so happy, famous, & remarkably financially comfortable – although I’d sooner give away my income than have anyone be able to accuse me of being rich.  But that’ll be okay because after all, I could have been rich, if only I wasn’t so awesome.

This has been another episode of Jason’s Emotional Seesaw; do tune in again, as next time I plan on flipping you off and then telling you I love you.

Shaddup and gimme some music.

Well, I hear you.  But I have no music.  I’m dry.  DRY!

As a dead fish in the desert.  As a drunk in solitary.  As a dryness metaphor when I’m all out of metaphors for dryness.

So, why does that happen?  Wish I knew.  Just does, and you gotta go with it.  Actually you can muscle out of it if you really want to, but well, we’re talking about me here.  Not much musclin’ goin’ on ’round these parts.

I got sick a week or so ago, that’s part of it.   Man it was bad too, I was basically laid out for two and a half days, with the usual stomach problem. Getting a bit needlessly paranoid concerned about the possbility of Crohn’s or some other chronic thing, but for now it’s gone again, so that’s good.  Still no music though.

I know what it is.  I need to get back to studying my computery stuff.  It’s probably that guilt thing again. Yep.

So, uh.  Just wait.  The next post will be filled with melody; I’ll probably have a rock opera ready about writer’s block or somethin’.  I promise it won’t be tacky or anything.  So until then.

The vilest things are those most often done through weakness rather than treachery.

I’m not sure who said that, and I think it’s more of a paraphrasing than a real quote, but a truer statement never been uttered as far as I am concerned.

Nothing worth hearing tonight in the realm of my musical burgeoning.  I did do some vocals tonight, but found it a stale experience and not one which bore much useful fruit.  Too much on my mind maybe. (Yeah, it’s going to be one of THOSE posts.)

My fear – and it is a real fear – is that it’s too late to be the person I was before.  Before, what?  Before kids, before wife, before breaking down, before losing whatever it was that used to make me tick?  Yes.  Because I can’t pretend that this renewal of interest in music is a return to the golden days.  My god, I’ve not bamboozled myself into thinking that just because I can keep it together long enough to put together a simple folk song, that suddenly means I’ve gained everything I ever lost in these long past ten years.  And I don’t want to cram ten years into some silly box and label it a nightmare without end, because that would just be a stunt at best, and a complete lie at worst: there are things to live for outside of my own wants, and life since having a wife and children to love have taught me that.  It’s just that the niceties do not negate the drawbacks of the total experience of life, and even as I have managed to rouse my own creativity from a fairly deep sleep, I still have this unmistakable feeling that the puzzles that I’ve discovered about myself are still waiting to be solved, and that is disappointing.

Yesterday I walked into Big Lots, looking for a cassette player, with the intention of using it to digitize some old jam sessions from the late 90’s.  Let me tell you what it’s like sometimes for me to walk into a large crowded store: the front automatic door squalls itself open, I breathe in the climate controlled air for the first time, and immediately my skin goes clammy.  I start walking forward rather aimlessly, because even at the best of times I barely know how to navigate these vast warehouses of stored goods.  As I proceed forward, I lay my eyes on the back wall of the store, and I say, “let’s head there”, and then as I put feet forward one by one, the back wall starts to seem to get farther off.  A kind of hopelessness takes over.  I keep walking, but slower now, almost cautious as if avoiding some sort of trap that now lurks beyond me.  It is a trap.  Usually (this is not a universal outcome by any means) I make it to my destination and manage to find what I’m looking for, but it’s like I’m a wanted man until I get outside again and back to wherever or whatever it is that makes me feel free again.

What am I afraid of when this happens?  It appears to be a fear reaction of some kind.  Fight or flight, or die on site.  I’ve had more than one person who know me well explain it to me that this is some kind of social anxiety, or agoraphobia, or insert-yer-dimestore-word here.  I don’t think it’s so much a fear as it is some kind of horrible recognition of how random life is, of how sterile our public engagements are and always have been, an immense and deep dissatisfaction with the ways in which post-modern society manifests itself through the banality of shopping, of dealing with corporatocracies or bureaucracies of any kind.  We may call walking into a Super Wal-Mart shopping, but have you ever really noticed just how freaking indelibly monstrous these places are?  From the moment one walks in, one’s attention is held hostage by a billion different things: trailer park dude trying on mesh trucker’s hats, some lady at the deli aisle screaming about needing more chicken wings, the staggering millions of items stacked in various dark geometries as you walk forward through the teeming throng to your doom destination of your item.  Am I being perhaps a bit precious in  my description here?  The next time you walk into a Target, think about it a second.  I doubt you’ll end up wanting to turn and run screaming from the store, arms akimbo and ready to blaze over anyone in your path in your panicked flight from our of the hellish maw which Target has so suddenly become……but you’ll at least say to yourself, “yeah, I can see what he’s getting at.”  And that, chap, is good enough for me.

So, perhaps agoraphobia plays a part in my life, or perhaps it’s just a strange kind of existentialist angst, some primitive part of me that remembers the smaller tribe and longs to return to it.  I know without a doubt that ever since I had my time in the ward, there are just some things that are hard for me to accomplish without a lot of hand-wringing.  My own pet theory is this: whatever I managed to retain in those two years of struggling to regain my sanity, I didn’t get back the part of me that is happy with all things as they are, and sometimes it seems a shame, because prior to a certain time, I think I was one of those rare and lucky people who thought, “I can deal with anything.”  As it turns out, I guess I can, but sometimes it seems a raw deal.  Religion is nice for things like this, I’m told, but I know myself too well: why walk with a crutch when you can crawl on your own? That’s a sort of obtuse way of saying that even though I know people find comfort in religion, I can’t seem to make it click, and don’t know too much of what I would be clicking with in the first place.

Anyway, I got my tape player okay.  I spent probably half and hour in Big Lots before I satisfied myself that there were no such strange and eldritch devices located therein, and ended up finding one in less than a minute at the Fred’s across the way, which I don’t think I need to tell you is a hell of a store.

As my man Ben Franklin said, ‘Fatigue is the best pillow’, and I think it’s time I gave mine a shot, so goodnight all.

July 2018
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Currently Reading:

Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame - Charles Bukowski

Currently Listening:

Mr. Bungle - California

Why, yes, I am cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce.

You lika de juice????