Week Two Summary

I don’t want to write this today. Is this becoming a theme?

Last week sucked although, admittedly, the obstacles I faced were probably more psychological than real. This week I have the real ones as I’ve got some sort of cold-like with sore throat, coughing, sneezing – the works. Is every attempt to lose weight going to be like this? Only once last week did I dawn my exercise clothes and walked for over an hour just for exercise. Then everything, including diet, fell apart.

But I have been digging through my old writings again, searching for patterns. Clearly this battle has been going on for a very long time.

I flipped through some old “morning pages” to try and find answers. On March 8, 2009 I wrote: “So I started reading The Writing Diet by Julia Cameron. She’s the one who suggests morning pages.”

And so Morning Pages have been in and out of my life since then. I’m endeavoring to do them now, although I took the weekend off. I took the weekend off of everything it seems.

2009 was a significant year. It was the year I could find no other alternative but to move home with my parents after I’d been hospitalized about two months prior. This was the hospitalization that led to SSI Disability on the recommendation of two different psychiatrists and one psychologist. I felt ashamed then but I wrote it off as temporary. Sure, there was no cure for my mental illness but I could learn to manage it. I could pass as “normal” if I wanted to, or so it seemed.

Continued from that same day, “I’m tired. I never knew living at home without a job could be tiring. There is constantly something that needs to be done, whether it’s building a bookshelf with my dad or helping my mom preserve her scrapbooks….On top of that it’s hard for me to stick with one project because I always feel I should be doing something else. Like this writing. I don’t know yet how useful it will be and I’m already struggling to keep my eyes open.”

Later that year I learned I had a condition called hypothyroidism. Untreated it’d been causing insufferable drowsiness. As it turned out, it was a common side-effect of the lithium I’d been taking but it seemed to all my doctors that taking one more pill for my thyroid each morning was far less risky than trying to come up with psych meds that had fewer side-effects. And the new drug worked. The only downside is that it, too, does not cure. It only manages. So I’m on thyroid medicine for life, too (probably).

March 9, 2009 I wrote “This is the largest I’ve been in my entire life.” Unfortunately, not much has changed. The only thing I’ve learned is not to even bother searching for clothes in a store that doesn’t have a “plus-size” section anymore. Even if I’m only going in to buy a hat or a handbag, I feel like the everyone else in the store is disgusted by me.

March 10, 2009: “I weighed myself this morning and I was one pound more than I was yesterday. This trying-to-lose-weight thing is incredibly frustrating. I think that’s why I’ve given up in the past.”

That’s one reason I don’t weigh myself anymore but last week I had an appointment with the psychiatric nurse practitioner and his nurse weighed me before our session. As I’d been trying to eat well and exercise the past week, the number she told me was not pleasant. But then I asked her if she had my weight from before (last December) and she said yes and told me what it was and I was a full 3 pounds lighter. Success? Not really. There’s about a 10-pound rage I’ve fluctuated between since 2009 and I was still within that range.

I took some time away from morning pages until 2016.

On January 27, 2016 I wrote (regarding weight):

“I want to blame the medicine. Weight gain is almost always a key side-effect of psych meds and I’ve seen some of my fellow SMI folk refuse treatment on that principle alone. There’s this feeling that fat is so repulsive that we’d rather suffer depression, mania, or hallucinations than gain weight. Is that really what society teaches us? Outward beauty is more important than mental health?

“Anyway, I don’t think psych meds are entirely to blame, at least in my case. My clothes started feeling tighter around my 19th birthday. I shed those pounds a couple years later when my best friend turned me into a runner and even after a knee injury took me out of the game, I didn’t gain weight again for a little over a year. That weight gain coincided with working the third shift at a call center. Exercise became difficult and my diet was not so great either. My medicine probably played a part too, at least when I was willing to take it…”

The pages go on to explain all the more recent obstacles I’ve had toward achieving weight loss. Of course many of them are superficial or apply uniquely to my situation.

There are more morning pages to consult, but this is all I have the energy to do for tonight.

I’ll give a report next week, but I have a feeling it won’t be much better.

Week One Summary

I can see right away that I’m a terrible at keeping my word. I mean, I’d hoped to be asleep by about 9 PM and it’s not going to happen. Not if I want to write this. Or maybe I’ll just write super fast. Yes, that will happen and there will be no errors for you to point out! (sarcasm intended)

My first week of trying to become a better person was met with fear and anxiety which physically manifested somewhere in my chest. In other circumstances that may have been cause for alarm but not this time. No, this time I fully embraced it because I knew the only way not to feel it would be to revert back to the unproductive me. So this kind of fear is welcome. It makes me feel I’m on the right track, even if last week felt like a small failure.

The good news, I learned that coffee doesn’t have to taste good for me to crave it. So I rinsed off the old French press and brewed a pot first thing in the morning (most days). Monday, of course, I set out on my first intentional exercise in ages (a neighborhood walk) but it turned out to be quite nippy on a March morning before sunrise, even in the Valley of the Sun. So I turned back and traded my shorts for sweatpants. The following day I waited until after sun-up to exercise. This works for now but when the summer heat finally hits, sunrise will be the only time to exercise outdoors without dying of heat stroke. For most of my fit friends around here, the gym becomes a necessary tool for staying in shape. I don’t belong to a gym and trying to join one is a bit complicated for me but I’ll figure something out.

Three days out of the four I’d committed to were days I did some form of exercise (usually walking). The rest of the week I made excuses. Not good excuses, but at least this week I can start over again.

Food? My blender from Wal-Mart was definitely not a waste. I did what my friends told me, experimental variations of different ingredients: peanut butter, frozen fruit, spinach, non-dairy milk, apple slices. It was all lovely! Well, apart from the cleanup. The key is to clean it up before anyone else in my family tries to. I’m still working on that. At least I have a nice, thick re-useable straw. It’s perfect.

I ate normal food too: salads, stir-fry, eggs and meatless sausage for breakfast…

Writing? I started doing morning pages again (as suggested by Julia Cameron). But as far as novel writing goes, I hit a creative block last week. I have so many doubts about my characters! And, to be honest, I’m kind of getting bored. Now I realize that if I quit because of boredom and/or creative blocks, I’ve already proven I don’t have what it takes to be a professional writer. But is that really what I want to be anyway or is that just the only option I feel is available to me? I’ll get back to you on this.

Over the weekend I went to this “Mental Health and the Gospel” conference which was kind of amazing because it actually happened in a church with participants from several Christian churches. But it was also kind of frustrating because the focus was on common mental health issues like depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction.

Don’t get me wrong! I’ve suffered some of these too, but the thing that I long to hear someone talk of more than anything is the psychosis and hyper-religiosity which is perhaps only experienced by a fraction of a percent of church-goers, but I was one of them and I think the pastors who spoke with me could’ve definitely used a little help in dealing with my particular issue. Some didn’t even see my experience as a symptom of mental illness. This didn’t help me when I was still in denial as well.

Now it’s Monday. Time to act like a grown-up and get back on a schedule (one that is sure to be disrupted in the near future but I gotta at least try).

Failure and Secrets

I’m behind on my writing. This was supposed to be done as soon as I returned from L.A. and I did try and scribble a few notes, but there were too many distractions.

Forgive me. That’s always my excuse. It doesn’t matter where I go or what I do. There are always too many distractions. I could be locked in a small room with nothing on the walls and no access to the internet or any other means of communicating with the outside world, just a pile of blank sheets of paper and something to write with. Yet even in the silence my mere thoughts would distract me and I’d invent stories or write lyrics to a song no one else would want to hear or sing. I’d daydream about how my writing would save me from a life of poverty and shame; about book signings and hugs from strangers who somehow felt less alone when they read my words. I’d fantasize about traveling the world on book royalties and reuniting with friends I haven’t seen since my youth. Perhaps the daydream would then turn dark as I’d wonder whether they’d remember me or even want to see me. I’m old and fat now. When they were part of my life I was young, spirited, and fit. I can’t reverse the aging process but maybe I could have a decent figure again.

Let’s talk about failures. So far it seems that all I’ve done is fail.

I’ve failed.
I’ve failed to finish the degree I truly wanted.
I’ve failed to stay in any romantic relationship.
I’ve failed to hang on to any job for more than a year.
I’ve failed to be a faithful friend through thick and thin.
I’ve failed to keep my promises.
I’ve failed to keep my faith.
I’ve failed to love myself.
I’ve failed to become a responsible adult.
I’ve failed to stay safe.
I’ve failed to stay healthy.
I’ve failed to do as the doctors advised.
I’ve failed to manage my mental illness.
I’ve failed to be the change I want to see.
I’ve failed to keep fighting.
I’ve failed to keep hoping.
I’ve failed to keep believing.
I’ve failed.

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who’s failed and, if we’re honest, I’m sure most of us have a longer list of failures than we’d care to admit. Therefore, that sense of connection was sure to be found at a museum that celebrated failure like The Museum of Failure, a pop-up show at the A+D Museum in Downtown L.A.

I’d wanted to see this exhibit since I first read about it. Of course, back then it was a world away in Sweden. But when I saw that it was coming to my neighboring state of California, just 400 miles away, I managed to make a short road trip around it.

Last April I’d visited The Museum of Broken Relationships in Hollywood. There, heartache was celebrated and I was moved to see otherwise ordinary objects become meaningful when given a beautiful and sad story. All the while acknowledging the irony of having such a melancholy museum adjacent to the Walk of Fame where so many of the honored celebrities had publicly suffered the pain of broken relationships, perhaps even because of the recognition they’d worked so hard to achieve.

One might call a broken relationship a failure but on the flip side, every failure can be a learning opportunity. We do we so often try and bury our brokenness as if it’s too shameful to bring to light? I’m writing from a Starbucks and I can tell you this, if a barista fails to make a drink correctly, tell them what was wrong and they’ll gladly remake it for you, free of charge. They’ll apologize, of course, because that’s just good etiquette. But then they’ll remake it better than before and they’ll become at their job in the process.

I walked to and from my motel and the Museum of Failure that 26th day of January. It was a 2.8 mile walk each direction (according to Google Maps). The museum didn’t open until 2 PM that day allowing me to leave early with ample time for exploration and photography in between.

Though the museum focused on design failures, the failure to provide help for the ever-growing homeless population almost right outside the door was even more pronounced. I wrote some about it last year when I visited L.A. It’s something I wish I could do something about but there’s no blanket solution and I don’t know where to start so how could I blame anyone else for feeling the same?

I know one thing: money alone will not fix it. So I took photos and talked with a few people. That was all. I may have given $5 to someone, I can’t remember. All I know is, after seeing the way the homeless were living, all my complaining about my cheap motel seemed trivial.

Broken relationships, failures – they all kind of fell under the umbrella of everything that Frank Warren’s Post Secret organization seems to cover. I mean, all of us are weird. All of us hurt. All of us seek comfort, love, and understanding. We all need to be assured that we’re not alone

.

The inside of the above Post Secret book that I bought used. It seems like a story in itself.

So I went to the Post Secret: The Show last night. I went alone. But that’s normal for me at this point in life. I went to L.A. three times in the span of a year and never bothered to invited anyone to join me. I hear people complain about going to the movies alone, but I’ve been going to the movies alone since I was 19 or 20 and now that I’m almost 38, it doesn’t phase me anymore. There is beauty in being alone and I truly enjoy it at times. If I’m in the right mood, I meet some of the most interesting people when I’m alone. Although few of these strangers I have memorable conversations give any false impression that they themselves are “normal.”

So I go to this Post Secret show alone and, on one side, end up sitting by young couples who appear normal and, on the other side, a young, single person who maybe came with the young people on the other side of her. I don’t know; I was too afraid to ask. But all around me I could hear joyful conversations between friends, family, and husbands and wives.

I was fine, at first. But then my secret was read on stage and I lost all semblance to “normal” I may have walked in with. And wow! Frank Warren himself surprised us by taking the stage and leading a Q and A. One of the women who stood a couple times and owned up to her own heart-wrenching secret looked so familiar. We’d met before, I think. But where had we met? I suppose I could’ve asked her later when I saw her again in the lobby, but I didn’t. I was too afraid. The place where I’d hoped to find kindred spirits turned out to be a weird, alternate dimension that I’d stepped into by mistake. Besides, I was convinced that, although I’d not owned up to my secret, everyone could see right through me.

The actor who’d read my secret stood in the lobby. I was a little surprised to see that no one was talking to him in that moment. But a single glance at his face and I became overwhelmed with shame. I couldn’t talk to him let alone approach him. It’d be too humiliating and he’d probably judge me harshly or worse, he’d pity me. Why did I share that secret? There were so many others I could’ve chosen from. Why did I pick that one?

Outside I climbed to a higher place, away from it all but still with in view of the theatre.

I wrote some thoughts then left, figuring it was too late to redeem myself. Why do I have such annoying thoughts?

I listened to Gungor’s song Am I on repeat in the car. It’s a song of both introspection and prayer; an intimate conversation with God. From the very first time I heard it, I felt like this song was written just for me.

Then, I pulled into a parking lot and spoke into a camera.

I follow Post Secret on almost all the social media outlets. It’s mostly, but not always, secrets. Sometimes they seem to promote people reaching out to people, especially when there’s a strong movement to prevent suicide.

I used to be suicidal, but I don’t want to kill myself anymore. It’s been many years now since I made any attempts. Thankfully there are no new scars on my wrist or anywhere else on my body since 2008. But the loneliness is still crushing at times. I live with my family for now and I stay alive in large part for and because of them. But sometimes I fear being alone when they’re all gone. I hope I find someone before then to spend the rest of my life with. If not, at the very least maybe I’ll have a friend I can move in with, someone who likes cats. Or I suppose I can move into one of those groovy senior citizen communities where I’ll have my own place, but I can still hang with others like me.

Like Me, Love Me, Whatever

When did I stop caring about “likes” on Facebook?

I suppose it was shortly after the prank.

Allow me to back up a little bit.

You see, just a few months leading up to the prank I’d already begun an informal investigation into my addiction to Facebook “likes” (or “likes” on any of my other social networks for that matter – Twitter, Instagram). I started by asking my friends how they felt when others “liked” their posts. They were about 50/50 in terms of being greatly affected or completely indifferent. But those who could live in a world of social networks, share things, and not feel disheartened when nobody formally “liked” their posts, felt foreign to me and curiosity got the best of me. I actually wanted to be like them. I wanted to be able to share whatever I wanted with whoever I wanted and not care what other people thought. I even went so far as to begin filming a humorous video in which I engaged in a handful of attention-seeking gestures in hopes of understanding what I needed to do to maximize the number of “likes” I received.

During my research, I began to notice something about those who seemed indifferent to social media “likes.” They may have been immune to the emotional pull of Facebook, but the  real root of “like” addictions is our common need for approval.

Think about it. Deep down, don’t we all want approval from someone? I discussed this with a friend who never cared about whether or not anyone “liked” what she posted on Facebook she freely admitted that her own self-esteem was boosted whenever her boss praised her for a job well-done. For the rest of us, maybe we seek the approval of a parent or pastor or spouse or close friend. If that’s the case then really the main difference between FB and RL is the level of superficiality. Why does it matter what someone I barely know thinks? Why does it matter how someone I haven’t seen in 15 years or more reacts to a post? Honestly, if social media didn’t exist, would I even care?

In many ways, social media is like an adolescent popularity contest. It’s refreshing to meet one of those rare souls who manages to be secure in who they are regardless of whether they fit in with the cool cliques or not. It would be fantastic if we could learn to love ourselves or even just to like ourselves like that.

I’ve spent enough years in and out of psychotherapy to know that my own “like” addiction is strongly linked to my life-long struggle with low self-esteem and trying to find my self-worth. Combine that with unstable moods, a stunted development into adulthood, and some kind of personality disorder and you have someone at a very high risk of engaging in an unhealthy relationship with Facebook.

Despite the frustration of often feeling unheard and unwanted on FB, there was one thing I always prided myself on in all my posts and that was my commitment to honesty and vulnerability. So you can imagine the betrayal many of my friends and followers must have felt the day I decided to tell a lie.

True, in my mind it didn’t exactly register as a lie. It was a meant to be an innocent joke, a harmless prank. Lots of people do pranks, right? I mean, once I remember a Facebook friend announced that he was engaged and no seemed angry at him when he later confessed that he made it up. And perhaps it was a the memory of his prank still lodged somewhere in my subconscious that made my own decision to change my relationship status just for fun feel okay.

Admittedly it was an impulsive decision. I’d never had the occasion to change my relationship status before. The last time I was in a serious relationship was a year or so before I had a FB account. Then one day I was hanging out with a good friend, painting the walls at her place, laughing, regressing, and making up silly stories. In one story we imagined a romantic relationship for us and, swept away in the moment, I logged onto Facebook and updated my relationship status to say “in a relationship.” Then I watched wide-eyed as the “likes” and “congratulations” poured in.

Then I thought, how strange that all that honesty and vulnerability I’d freely dispensed up until then remained in obscurity without any of the available reactions put to use. Yet a mere change in relationship status and suddenly everyone I know is awake and cheering for me.

I continued my ruse for a few more days. Only a couple of friends persistently tried to call my bluff but I refused to allow anyone but me to blow my cover so I misled these friends as best I could. I even tried to enlist the help of a mutual friend. But it all backfired when I made a fake break-up video that some mistook as a real cry for help (compelling me to remove it immediately and consider a career in acting). After that I reset my relationship status to “single” and tried to derive a deeper meaning from it in a follow-up post.

I tried to make it a kind of teaching moment, lamenting to all who cared about what a sad commentary it seemed that people see the act of being in a relationship as far superior to remaining single.

But my friends politely and lovingly disagreed with me. They believed the “likes” had more to do with Facebook’s algorithms that tend to make changes in relationship status more visible to other newsfeeds than anything else I post. So I can’t take this personally, in other words, but at least some of my friends are willing to engage in meaningful conversation about it with me.

For the next few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about my failed prank. Even though only one person directly expressed their disapproval to me and no one unfriended me, I felt an immense sense of guilt. I mean, honesty is perhaps the most important virtue I look for in a friend and I’ve always tried to model it, almost to a fault. But who would be able to trust me now?

In the midst of my inner-turmoil I realized something. Despite all I’d done, I didn’t actually hate myself. Yes, I’d learned a very important lesson and I desperately wanted to talk it out with this one friend I’d somehow offended, but when they turned down my invitation, I pursued it no further. I figure when they’re ready to talk, they’ll let me know. There’s a good chance this particular conflict isn’t really about me anyway.

So what changed in me? How did I come to love myself after so many years of self-hatred?

I guess part of it was planted in me over the summer when I attended family counseling with just my sister and me. We live in the same house and, for some reason, especially in recent years, almost all my anger and frustration has been directed toward her. But she was never the source of it all and so I had to learn to redirect my anger. I had to learn to treat her with the same respect I do everyone else. And yes, I’m still working on that, but it’s getting better.

At the same time I was receiving one-on-one counseling with a different therapist. She taught me about early childhood trauma and how it still can have a strong grip on us well into adulthood. This led me to identify a trauma trigger that had plagued me for as long as I can remember and, when set-off, had me crying right then and there, no matter where I was. It wasn’t a big deal when I was a kid but as a woman in my late thirties it’d become increasingly embarrassing.

The trigger, for reasons still unknown, turned out to be any situation in which I was caught breaking a rule without realizing it and, as soon as another person made me aware of what I’d done, I’d emotionally become a child again, reacting as though I’d done something terribly wrong and would have to be punished. Suffice it to say, I’ve lived my life as an avid rule-follower to the best of my ability, as a way of (on a subconscious level) avoiding punishment, real or imagined.

So I told my counselor this and, though she didn’t specialize in trauma therapy, she still gave me advice for someone who was dealing with PTSD from any sort of trauma. She told me that whenever I feel the tears and the fear of punishment overtaking me, to tell myself that whatever it was that happened to me in my childhood isn’t happening to me anymore. This is a different time, a different place, with different people. And low and behold, I’ve not had those uncontrollable tears triggered since.

Why would the conquering of such a minor trigger result in a greater self-esteem? Well, remember, those were uncontrollable tears that manifested in the public sphere with not even warning enough for me to run to the nearest ladies room and hide. Of course, the key word here is “control.” To be able to control an emotion that I was unable to control for many years means I might have more control over my life than I previously thought.

For those of you who follow the enneagram, I’m a four and I’ve only just begun to delve into the positive aspects of all that entails. But at least in knowing I’m a four, it’s as though everything about my personality, including my craving for constant validation, actually makes sense. Admittedly I’m no enneagram expert. I’m just putting that out that there in case you happen to be like me. It is a beautiful thing, even for someone like me who longs to be “unique” or “special” to basque in the knowledge that she can be just that and still feel connected to others.

This past year I wrote a book, a memoir. I’ve not yet found a publisher nor have I actively sought one out, but it still feels like an immense achievement and it has sewn in me the desire to write more, take more photographs, and create more videos. I’ve never won the masses over by doing any of these things, but for once I’m okay with that. It’s enough now just to know that my work is out there. Anyone can find it if they want to.

Anyway, here’s to 2018! May it be the best year yet!

Where’s the Value in Me?

It suddenly dawned on me the other day when I was talking with the makeup artist and salesman at Nordstrom. He told me that I needed to take better care of my skin or else no amount of makeup of any kind would look good on me.

But, I argued, it’s all too time-consuming and besides, I have a difficult time starting any new habit, especially if such a change would make me healthier or more attractive.

Well, he said, I think that’s really more of a self-esteem issue than anything else.

That was it. I was dumbstruck and the uninvited tears resurfaced. It wasn’t really a dramatic moment, of course. My voice remained calm and my breathing steady. In fact, I could easily dismiss such tears as allergies even though I knew full well that wasn’t true. No, what he said had actually triggered an involuntary emotional reaction. I could feel it in my chest and in my spine.

I smiled and requested a tissue, apologizing profusely. I’m sorry for this pitiful display of weakness I can’t seem to control. I’m sorry you had to witness it. I’m sorry it exists. I’m sorry I exist.

Then I blamed it on the bipolar disorder, although I knew that was kind of a lie. But it just felt easier to be dishonest at the moment than to take a stranger into the labyrinth of all my abnormal psychologies. He played along and started telling me about someone else he knew with bipolar disorder and my tears let up.

If a mental health professional were to sit down with me and ask me right now if I have suicidal thoughts, I would have to say no simply because I don’t have any sort of plan. I’ve not been collecting sharp objects or hoarding medication. I’m not romanticizing about death in my private fantasies or anything. No, I can assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt that if death takes me before I grow old, it won’t be by my own hand.

Then she’d breathe a sigh of relief and write somewhere in her notes like: this patient is not suicidal. She can keep her shoe laces, her drawstrings, and all the under wires in her bras. She is free to go where she pleases, no need to be monitored 24/7.

But she wouldn’t be completely right. I don’t meant to say I’m in immanent danger. But I’ve also not fully bought into the idea of growing old, especially when I perceive that phase of life as being incredibly lonely. I mean I’m 37 years old, my peers all seem to have spouses or kids or nieces or nephews or some combination thereof. They don’t seem afraid of entering their senior years completely alone because they have a plan for coping with old age. They seem confident in knowing their life will always be of value to someone. But I’m not confident, at least not for me. Furthermore I’m the youngest of my own family making the odds favorable that I’ll be the last in my family to go so what’s the point in prolonging such misery?

My diagnosis of bipolar disorder many years ago seemed to solidify this morbid take on life. After grieving my old life and spending most of that grief in denial, depression, and anger, I finally decided to take care of my chemical imbalance. I also spent years in and out of therapy because, let’s face it, I suck at dying and I figured if didn’t learn how to at least “pass for normal”, I’d lose the few friends I had (who were the people I longed to spend most my time with) and never make new friends.

It was hard but I did what I could and it kind of worked except for that nagging feeling I carried with me that I’d never be good enough. You see, back then I was woefully behind all of my peers in this race called life and, since then, I’ve felt that it’s too late to catch up. I’ve fallen too far, perpetually left in the dust.

On the other hand, it’s not like I perceive anyone else to be as doomed as I am. Even those who have greater struggles than me I tend to hold in greater esteem than I hold myself and I know I’m a hypocrite for thinking it. But give me every intellectual argument in the world for esteeming myself and believe me, I’ve heard it before. Telling me again and again that I’m valuable and loved will never be enough because internally I will be telling myself this: You’re only saying this because you’re my friend (family member, mentor, pastor, counselor, etc.) and you have to say this. You don’t really mean it. I’ll say thank you because that’s what you want me to say but I never have and never will believe you if you so say anything kind about me.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately why I can’t follow my doctor’s orders when it comes to taking care of my diet. I’ve been wondering why I can’t stick to a regular exercise routine or remember to follow the dentist’s instructions each night and wear my night guard. But now I think I know . The reason I can’t get on board (and stay on board) with any new habit that’s good for me physically is because I just don’t see the point anymore. I’ve almost stopped believing I have the ability to impress anyone let alone me. Yet I still write. I still photograph. I still hope in a way, but it’s not enough.

To be sure, my struggle with how I see myself predates any mental illness diagnosis, but it had a fighting chance when I was in college, at least in the three years leading up to my first hospitalization. In my late teens and early twenties, I began opening my mind more and allowing myself to change. I even went in search of change (as many young people do) by going out-of-state to school and, ultimately, across the ocean. With each new city, state, or country I stepped into, I knew I had another chance to be a new and improved version of me. But the illness reset much of that progress and it became harder to move forward when so few of my peers stood with me anymore.

I guess the question, then, is, how do I fix this? After all the emotional damage, how do I truly learn to love myself?

Pretending to be a Street Photographer in 2016

I’m sad to say that too many of what might have been great photos came out blurred, like these. If I were to do them over again, I’d ask my subjects to wait a moment while I made some adjustments. But I was nervous and didn’t want to make them wait.

Despite my shortcomings as a photographer, I still want my pictures to have meaning and purpose. I want them to be beautiful. I don’t know why, I just do. But I don’t know if they’re beautiful to anyone but me. I just love how the camera take me out of myself.

For me, the best pictures are of people. When I take pictures of people, it’s like I’m an anthropologist studying my own culture and its subcultures. I want to understand this world around me where I’ve always felt foreign, even in my own home.

I love it most when people aren’t posing or pretending – just being.

Then I return home and study the RAW files. I look at their expressions, their body language, and imagine what it is to be them.

I imagine their stories. They have amazing stories!

ASU Tempe Campus where I was taking a class back in January and happened upon a preacher holding up a hateful sign while a couple of students who seemed to be protesting him held up their own signs promoting peace and unity. It was a sad spectacle but at the same time I wondered what would drive a man to go out there and hold up a sign such as this while still professing to believe in a God of love.
This was the first guy in line for the VNSA Annual Book Sale in February. It says the line starts at midnight, but he had a tent so I’m quite sure he was there earlier than that.
Some young teachers keep entertained while they wait for the doors to the open at the VNSA Annual Book Sale. They must have arrived between 4 AM and 5 AM. I was there just before 3. Doors opened at 8. To me this is the only event worth waiting in line for.

 

Walking the paved trail at Multnomah Falls in Oregon on the last weekend of February.
A book-lover browses books at the Powell’s on Hawthorne bookstore in Portland, OR.
I hope this couple found love and joy in Portland, OR.
Photographers resting at the old bunkers around Fort Stevens State Park, Astoria, OR.
Young people flock to Roosevelt Row for another First Friday Art Walk.
Directions from the man in stilts at the Arizona Renaissance Fair.
Street musicians perform at the First Friday Art Walk in Phoenix.
Springtime at the World Bazaar at 19th St. and Camelback in Phoenix.
Fan art at Phoenix Comicon.
Cosplayers and other Phoenix Comicon attendees taking a break. Most of my pictures from Comicon didn’t turn out super great this year, so I tried to make some of them look like comics themselves.
This was a craft fair for Arizona crafters and merchants organized at the Mesa Convention Center by Arizona Made (I think that was the name of it)
Some of my family members are enjoying a coffee break in the corner there at Joseph-Beth Booksellers back in June of 2016.
A protest against police brutality in Flagstaff, AZ on a Sunday in August of 2016.
A protest marches through Heritage Square in Flagstaff when an audience has gathered to watch a string quartet on a Sunday afternoon in August, 2016.
An abandoned guitar in an alley way in Flagstaff, taken in August 2016
Tourists gaze down at Horeshoe bend in Arizona, August 2016.
Tourists – some of the most fascinating people for people-watching at Horseshoe Bend, AZ in August 2016.
Tourists heading back to their cars at Horseshoe Bend.
Some of the “free hugs” guys on Roosevelt Row at the November First Friday Artwalk in Phoenix.
A First Friday concert on Roosevelt Row, Phoenix, AZ.
On election night in Tucson, this guy saw me with my camera and asked (jokingly) if I wanted to take his picture. So I did, or at least tried to (I think he thought I wouldn’t take him up on it),
Young voters gather at a local bar near the university in Tucson while votes are counted, anxiously awaiting to find out who the next president would be.
Protestors against the Dakota Access Pipeline (among other things) descend upon Phoenix First Friday in December.
More protestors in Phoenix against the Dakota Access Pipeline in December 2016. Their fight would be one a day or two later.
Comedians warm up at the fire before the free comedy show behind Lawn Gnome Publishing in Phoenix.

 

Short Observations from a Wildlife Preserve

This isn’t meant to be a masterpiece.
It’s just a wee bit of free-writing I did on Thanksgiving while enjoying some solo time. I wanted to remember what I saw as I sat there and, although most people had come for the wildlife, I liked watching the people and recording what I saw as though I were an alien from another planet. The descriptions are vague but I’ve never been big on descriptions to begin with. Feel free to fill in the blanks with your own imagination.
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I found a (relatively) quiet place to write. I’m facing a pond in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary and once in a while another human being will walk by. But mostly it’s just the birds and me.img_1456

Of the few glimpses of humanity I’ve caught while sitting here (so far), there was a family with small children. Then I saw a woman leaving alone with a camera at her side that had a long, telephoto lens. Next I saw a man entering the preserve alone, but no visible camera.

Who’s coming now?

There’s a young couple, newlyweds perhaps. And then an aunt and her nephew (I assume). At first I thought they were mother and son but then I heard the young man say “my mother” as though he were talking to this other woman about his mother. So I’m guessing she’s his aunt.

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An elderly couple just passed by. It’s funny, I’m quite sure these benches were designed for bird watching yet here I am recording far more people sightings than wildlife sightings.

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Twins! I just saw a young couple with twin daughters! They stopped to take a family selfie and then walked on. As I watch them walk away, I think maybe the girls aren’t twins after all. One is shorter than the other. It’s possible I was thrown off by their matching dresses.img_1393

A rabbit hopped right past me! Then it paused for a long moment so I reached for my iPod to take a snapshot of it but as soon as I made a move, it startled and vanished into the bushes. I can still kind of see its cotton tail, but I’m not equipped to photograph it from a distance and maybe it’s better this way. It’s hard to experience the tranquility here when you’re constantly trying to snap a picture. Although I’ll probably come back one of these days with my own high quality camera and telephoto lens. It is a beautiful place.

It’s not quite a wilderness here. I can still hear the sound of traffic neaby.

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Wait. Do I detect French-speakers approaching? Perhaps not. Whatever it was they were speaking from a distance they’d already switched to English as they came closer to me. It still sounded like English with a French accent, though, so I took a risk.

“Français?” I shouted.

I guess that wasn’t the best way to ask if they spoke French. The guy looked at me weird so I switched to English. “Oh, I just wanted to know if you speak French.”

“Oh, no,” he said as he and his family moved on.

What’s wrong with me? Is the radar that I used to have finely tuned to zoom in on the sound of a native French speaker now broken? I could’ve sworn I heard them speak French to their kids when they were further away, or at least the woman spoke it. Now I’m not sure. The embarrassment of it all has confused me.

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Oh, but I would be so happy to speak French on a day like today! Francophones everywhere have to be able to sense that about me.

Pitié pour moi, les Français en Amérique! Je n’habites pas dans le pays de mon cœur!

Ok, now I hear an Asian language of some sort spoken by two young guys who just walked by. I don’t presume to know much about the multitudes of languages and cultures in Asia. A lifetime is not enough to learn all there is of that gigantic continent.

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Look! A father taking his teenage daughter on a photography adventure. I imagine it’s for a high school photography class. She’s holding a partially opened tripod and her dad’s asking her if she wants to shoot toward the setting sun or away from it. The rest of the family has come along as well, but they’re not interfering with the young photographer’s work.

I’ve seen no less than five people toting DSLR cameras today with high quality, long-range lenses. Traditional photography is certainly not dead. Top notch cameras seem to be a popular accessory here on the wildlife preserve.

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A man in an electric wheelchair just rolled by. At first I thought he was alone but then I looked up again and saw that he did have a companion with him. Both were yielding their cameras with fancy, long-range lenses.

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Now they’re all gone and it’s my turn to walk again. The only camera I have with me today is the one on my iPod. But I can’t be a photographer everyday. It’s easy to see why photographers love this place, though. It’s teaming with wildlife and all the creatures are easily accessible. You don’t have to search for them. All you need do is sit quietly for a while and they will come to you. The same is true when people watching, I suppose.

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