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To Live with High-Functioning Depression

Dysthymia – Dysthymia, also called dysthymic disorder, is a form of depression. It is less severe than major depression, but usually lasts longer. Many people with this type of depression describe having been depressed as long as they can remember, or they feel they are going in and out of depression all the time. (Harvard Health publications)

 

It’s fast-forwarding to the future, to better days, some possible, most of them fantastical, escaping the present, regretting the past, keeping up the façade that you’re a functioning adult who makes the right decisions. Life can be an exhausting performance, but no one tells you that early enough. Oh, they probably tried to in their own imperfect ways, but you didn’t know how to listen or refused to listen, thinking maybe you were unique, maybe life’s claws wouldn’t dig deep into your chest and strip bare your heart and soul. You thought maybe it would only sting you, not incinerate you to ashes.

Once you’re no longer shielded from the walls of college or some full-time graduate school program, you dive into life abruptly, sometimes shockingly, like someone dumping icy, cold water on your head, and you weren’t ready.

I wasn’t ready. I missed the class on how to cope successfully with the ongoing anxieties and despairs of adult life, its constant rejections, and failures. I didn’t learn the tricks of the trade or value the importance of networking and connections, all the necessary information delivered only after you’ve suffered through the beatings of your mistakes.

To choose the life of a creative is to invite great suffering. Every day you ask yourself if it’s worth it. I could’ve chosen something more practical, studied the markets, gone into computer science or any health-related field, and then maybe I wouldn’t be so dead broke. Over-educated with a degree from Tufts and Columbia, I stumbled into one ditch after another, asking why did I chase prestige thinking it mattered when it was useless, in my case anyway. Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. I’ve made so many mistakes while pursuing the great white whale of publishing success.

I shouldn’t complain. Every day these words flash in my head: don’t complain. I’ve lived in five different cities and towns in my twenties: Boston, New York, Seoul, Korea, Toyokawa, Japan, and now Atlanta with eyes set on a livable city or town in California. I’ve met and interacted with people from all over the world, diverse in thought, philosophies, religion, and race. I’ve had unforgettable experiences living in Korea and Japan. I shouldn’t complain. Don’t complain.

But depression doesn’t care about your desires to stay free from pessimistic outlooks, low self-esteem, fatigue and exhaustion, disinterest in social activities and people in general. It doesn’t care how much you repeatedly tell yourself to stay positive, be thankful, consider those more unfortunate than you, suffering from the lack of basic needs you easily take for granted.

Depression doesn’t care about your well-thought out arguments against feeling deprived of joy, happiness, fulfillment, and self-control. You can argue all day and night. Scribble in journals. Pray and cry out to God. Depression doesn’t care.

It claims you, attaching itself to your mind, like a dark blanket wrapped around your head, superglued to your skin. It latches onto its host and grows in a unique way where some are highly-functioning while others are unable to get out of bed. Whichever way it manifests, depression is depression.

And so, I turn to exercise, running. The pain reminds me of my life. The finish line, my goals. Running is never just running. Each time a foot hits the ground, it becomes a metaphor for enduring, fighting, choosing to be defiant to the internal, screaming calls to stop and give up. Each time I finish a run, it reminds me of each time I wake up in the morning, having survived the last day, despite the clamor in my head to give up and die.

My family and friends stop me from taking my life. I don’t want to inflict any pain on others, especially on those who have sacrificed so much for me already, whose love has saved me countless times before. But that doesn’t stop the suicidal thoughts. As I said before, depression doesn’t care, not even how much you love your family and friends. It devastates everything, even love.

But I don’t have to live this way. It doesn’t have to be part of my character or be some twisted aesthetic accentuating my life as a broke, unpublished writer. Romanticizing depression isn’t cute. Major depression is ugly, blood, burns, cuts, sticky, gross intoxication, a haze of impenetrable smoke, destructive, paralyzing, a leviathan swallowing you whole, a killer.

So I make lists. Too many. Crossing off. Not crossing off. Scheduling. Forgetting. Smiling. Recoiling. I have to remind myself to widen my eyes and focus my gaze when my lids droop in disinterest and my mind wanders off into a blank space. Conversations deplete my energy faster than oil guzzling out of a pipe in a disastrous spill.

Sometimes people want too much from you. And sometimes people want nothing from you. I don’t know which is worse. I live in extremes with balance always remaining elusive, like a mirage that disappears each time I approach it.

But, I keep paddling forward, writing stories I believe many people will enjoy reading. I keep moving along. I keep dancing. I keep singing. I keep trying and learning. I keep going. I keep keepin’ on, and that’s all I can do. Keep keepin’ on, hopefully not forgetting the present, clinging closer to loved ones, and staying woke in increasingly dark oppressive times. To make love my religion, kindness my creed, compassion for all (except Nazis) my motto. This is life. This is to live with high-functioning depression in 2017.

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Stay amazing,

Sammy

 

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Patience or Waiting to Live?

“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.”
― Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die

PATIENCE has been on my mind, its feelers rummaging through my brain, reminding me of its scalding presence in my life. I breathe its stinging fumes in the morning as I awaken and condemn the day before it has even started. My eyes open and I ask myself two obligatory questions, my passwords to re-entering the land of the living:

“Are you okay?”

“No.”

“When will you be okay?”

“I don’t know.”

Cranking all the levers in my mind, body, and soul to attempt interactions beyond mere existence, I wonder if I’m waiting for something good to happen before I can be “okay”.

Sometimes reality is like wading through waist deep Jell-O, the icky kind that reminds you of the gooey part of a skateboarder’s scraped knee. Encased in this blob of never-ending red, time becomes a hundred times slower, and each step I take gets me nowhere closer to my destination. I’m tempted to fall back into the Jell-O, allowing the jiggling clumps to fill my lungs and drown me. But my ambition is stronger than my pain and drags my tired feet forward.

Patience isn’t my friend. We wrestle, argue, and plot to kill each other while the other sleeps. I hate its life lessons because it’s oblivious to the millions of needles stabbing my spine. The pain steals my focus from whatever nugget of supernatural wisdom patience offers its victims. And yet, I endure it, letting it rule my life because without patience, I would be dead.

That’s our pact: I carry you on my back, and you keep me breathing to open my eyes to another day.

Patience isn’t waiting. But I wait anyway, stupidly, like a naïve teenager still checking the chimney for Santa Claus. Waiting is poison, the lesser, weaker form of patience, preying on crushed hearts too jittery and scared to succumb to the deep cuts of patience.

I wait for no one and nothing. I wait for everyone and everything. I wait, contradicting myself over and over, bumping my sound philosophies against my irrational fears. I’m a walking storm, full of tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis on the inside, but a fragile façade of calmness and forced cheeriness on the outside.

I wait, losing time in the present, forgetting to live, experiencing every cell in my body age, die, get replaced, repeat. Clouds race in maddening speed overhead; the sun and moon rise and set, circling like the braying horses on a merry-go-round. Life fast-forwards around me while I’m stuck trudging through nasty, red Jell-O.

Patience isn’t peace, but like patience, peace is a choice. Patience hurts. Peace doesn’t. When I run out of time, peace smothers my irrational fears, barring them from transforming into the debilitating lies posing as truths intent on ripping my sanity to shreds. Patience helps me bear the torture, allowing me to stay conscious for every sadistic twist and stab of the knife.

I hate patience, but without it, I could never be a writer, and writing is the lifeblood of my existence. So patience and I have been intricately linked since I started writing stories at eight. When I sit to work on a novel or a short story, more so a novel, I can’t rely on motivation and discipline alone. Something much more significant, much more profound and powerful, carries me from the first line to the final word, from one round of edits to the final round, from idea to creation. Hope, the child of patience.

Although I work hard to keep it at bay, I love hope. It’s a tiny gem, not worth a prolonged glance, but it has enough strength to pull more than 80,000 words from the stormy mess that’s my mind. I can’t harness the power of hope without accepting the pain of patience. Hope keeps me human while patience wards off the beast. There’s a difference. Trust me. I give up a million times in my head, wishing I could hang up the NO VACANCY sign on my body. Please look elsewhere to affirm your existence. So many things I want to say, but I can’t because I’m a highly functioning human being. It’s naïve, but hope seasons the bland tasks of operating through this life, through adulthood.

The dangerous side of patience is daydreaming, the enticing promises we whisper to ourselves, the melting of reality for the sweet core of fantasy. I live half my life in a daydream, setting my mind free and wild to conjure the most pleasurable experiences and adventures. I dance in my room and the kitchen to music only I can hear, to beats others would find too abrasive or weird. Everybody should dance no matter their ability; sometimes only our bodies can express the feelings overwhelming our hearts.

The fantasy is addictive, like sugar, cocaine. Feels good but will destroy the body and mind in time. Too bad it thrives best in the hardest swells of patience, in the moments when life’s the tightest, most constricting, most painful. Sometimes fantasy’s everything keeping me dancing. But it’s not hope. Fantasy is a big, beautiful diamond, yet useless, empty, a precursor to deep disillusionment, cynicism, and stubborn darkness. I indulge in fantasy while knowing its true face and lies. If I don’t rip my fingers away from its grip, no writing gets done because writing lives in the realm of reality.

I’m a creative so my whole life is patience. I hate it but my hands fit in all its curves and grooves in ways more intimate than an eager lover. I’m not patience’s slave nor its owner; we live organically as two separate entities bound until death—for as long as I plan to be a writer.

What’s your relationship with patience? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comment section below. And don’t forget to share if you liked this post.

Featured image: Aeonium by Russ Mills aka Byroglyphics. Purchase the image here. 

Living in Japan as a Creative

Coming to Japan helped my writing. It helped me understand what I needed to do as a writer in terms of meeting my reader and her needs. Now that I’ve taken what I’ve needed from Japan, I want to leave. Without a doubt, this country is beautiful. The people kind and hospitable. The food delicious. The culture poised and steady. Like a perfect square glass sitting on four pillars. I definitely feel the old meeting the new here, hundreds of years of history meshed with crazy modern beats. As a visitor from the West, I’ve experienced a strange and magnificent world that never ceases to astound me.

But my soul struggles to hold it together now that I’ve passed the sixth month mark of my stay here. Japan is beautiful, that’s true. But depression, sadness, repression, and brokenness choke the air here. Sometimes I feel like I’ve stepped back into 1950s America with the old fashioned uniforms of the train conductors, sea of black suits, and housewives doing laundry every early morning.

The conformity is strong here. Even the hipsters have their own rules. And the rules are hardly broken. Now, I don’t live in Tokyo, but a small town in the Aichi prefecture and that could be why I feel so out of place here. But even when I visit the big cities, I can’t shake off the pain from my shoulders or brush aside the tears soaking my sleeves.

The people here need a hug. Someone to say, “It’s okay, be yourself and release everything you’ve got bottled up inside your chest. ”

Before, I sometimes thought that maybe I was an empath. Coming to Japan has convinced me that I am. The people here want more out of life but they can’t or won’t do anything about it. So shouganai (しょうがない) prevails (the philosophy that a current situation can’t be helped; nothing can be done) and it allows everyone here to get through their dreary work routine until retirement when they can finally enjoy life. It’s what helps them live so long, too. It works for them.

But I find the scheme, the script, all of it, so constricting. Like being in a jail cell. My spirit can’t stand it any longer and I wish more and more to leave as the days go by. Sometimes I don’t feel this way. As I enjoy the peaceful landscapes and the sounds of carefree children playing by the river banks, safe and adventurous, I smile, a wave of bliss washing all over me, and think: Japan is beautiful. But that’s all I think. I can’t seem to find the words to say more, which is disturbing for this writer.

I should’ve probably visited this country instead of moving here to teach ESL, which will be my last year of doing so. I’m done supporting myself and my dream to become a published writer through teaching English. Five years is enough.

I can’t regret coming to Japan. My brain says I do, but my heart doesn’t because deep down I am grateful. In some ways, I had to come here to make my dream of visiting the country come true and to fully understand who I am as a person. Some of what I’ve discovered isn’t pretty at all. Some parts are more encouraging though.

At this moment, I really don’t feel anything. Japan’s shouganai attitude is rubbing off on me, but I don’t want it to. Screw shouganai. I don’t want to be resigned to my fate even though doing so would ensure I’d live a longer life. I’ve spent too much time already fighting against fate, conventions, restrictions, and so on to shrug my shoulders and let life happen. I make life happen. That’s how I’ve decided to live even if doing so is hard as hell.

I’m reminded of the lyrics to a DJ Okawari song featuring Brittany Campbell called Brown Eyes:

“Save me from this place. I’m so empty like my heart has been erased.”

Although the song is about a broken heart and betrayal, these lines resonate the most with me about my current situation in Japan.

Hear the full song here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOIaEbm4vgs

Have you ever lived somewhere and felt something was wrong despite all the beauty surrounding you? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Stay amazing,

Samantha

 

From College to Today: How I Fought and Won against Self-Doubt, Disappointment, and Negativity. Part I

Life stopped holding my hand when I turned twelve. I developed antagonistic feelings toward life and decided it was an enemy I needed to conquer. I moved from a predominately Black and Hispanic urban Catholic school to a predominately white public school in a suburb of Boston. I started the eighth grade in this new middle school with great excitement and anticipation, but my excitement turned to dust in my mouth after the first several weeks.

I felt isolated, different, and incredibly unhappy. I missed my old friends and making new friends was harder than I thought. Sometimes, I locked myself in a bathroom stall to cry or find some escape from my present reality. I despised my situation and cursed life for it, unable to find the kernels of joys placed all around me. I saw only demons dancing in hell, pointing at my sadness and laughing at my supposed helplessness.

The years moved along and I went to the high school of that same town. High school was only slightly better and I longed to reach the end. I graduated sixth in my class of about 200 students with honors and scholarships. Tufts University was my destination.

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College was hell. And this surprised me because I had hoped it would be worlds better than high school. I couldn’t believe it turned out to be worse than my childhood nightmares.

I blamed myself because I was painfully shy and more self-isolating than I was in high school. I suffered from a bad form of introversion. The result? I experienced the minimum of college life and my social circle never reached beyond 3 members. And forget romantic interests. A unicorn had a higher chance of existence than my love life. I didn’t think I was desirable in any way so I never took a chance to step out or reach out.

However, I was supremely thankful to the handful of people who chose to hang out and talk with me, especially since I was convinced that I wasn’t as interesting or captivating as my fellow classmates. I made little impact at Tufts and it took a lot of work to scrape off that big piece of profound regret from my mind.

Writing was my savior during that time. I majored in English. And then majored in Biology because my parents and I already decided that I would become a doctor when I was in middle school. When you’re the child of Haitian parents, you have three career paths to choose from: doctor, nurse, or lawyer.

The sciences at Tufts kicked my ass and dragged me down into the worst depression of my life. I would fail again and again in my exams. Insecurities chained my every limb, self-hatred multiplied, and negativity was my home and prison. I saw no way out, so I contemplated suicide often, especially during my third year. It was on my mind every day. But my faith in God stopped me from going through with it. I found solace in the Bible and in the love I felt from Jesus. I never sought a therapist, which was one of my biggest mistakes. I probably would have been able to unpack a whole lot of stuff weighing me down.

College graduation came and it was the happiest day of my life because I was finally leaving hell. I had mustered enough courage to tell my parents that I no longer desired to be a doctor and that I wanted to study about education. Best part: I had been accepted to a Masters Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College. I was going to live in New York freaking City. I floated higher than I ever thought possible and let a roaring loud wave of relief, excitement, and happiness wash over me.

My two years living in New York would be the best two years of my life.

teachers college
Teachers College, Columbia University

***

 

In college I walked in a haze of negativity and self-doubt obscuring my vision and crippling my hopes for a future. I longed to hang out with friends on weekends, laugh for no reason, and work hard on a dream motivated by passion. I desired these things because somewhere deep inside I knew that life couldn’t only be the flames and the aches. Although small and fragile, there was some awareness that I wasn’t meant to live this cramped, self-hating existence I was living. I was meant for something more fulfilling, rich, and beautiful. And that small hope pushed me to apply to graduate school in NYC, a city that stole my imagination and heart after a three-day visit with my family. I wanted to live in New York and it came true.

My face once I opened up my letter of acceptance to Columbia University

I didn’t know it back then, but I was slowly releasing myself from the throes of negative thinking before moving to New York for school. I was fed up with feeling down, fed up with feeling like I had zero control of my life and where I wanted it to go. Suddenly, it really didn’t matter so much what people thought of me or whether this or that person could perform this task better than I could. I had a desire to truly focus on me without taking the outside world into consideration.

It took going beyond the superficial desires manufactured by my upbringing and society to better understand and be in touch with who I really was and what I could do. I was approaching the edge of this new and liberating mindset, but doubt and negativity kept pulling me back. It would take some great friends to give me the shove I needed into a pool of healing and self-love.

Freedom begins in the mind

When I first stepped out of the moving van to head up to my room, I instantly felt the rhythm of the city humming beneath the soles of my feet and tingling my skin and senses. The beat matched the excitement of my heartbeat and never stopped drumming until I left two years later. The air had something contagious in it: possibility, hope, uniqueness, coolness, and discovery among many things. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the potential for what things in my life could be. It was a great feeling. Like I said before, I was riding on an amazing high. But I would soon find out that the best thing about living in the city was the people.

New York would have been nothing without the incredible bunch of individuals I met from different walks of life. For some strange reason, the shyness that held me hostage in college dissipated in the city. I was outgoing, confident, and supremely cheerful, and it attracted so many cool people my way. Something about being outside of my comfort zone energized me in a way I never thought possible. I wanted to forge new friendships and connections so I dove right in without an ounce of fear. Doing so allowed me to meet one special friend who helped me confront my negativity straight on and embark on a new path: affirmative thinking.

 

My Stop!
My Stop!

***

I jumped into life in New York with my eyes closed and my faith and confidence level high. I relished the beauty of the present and looked forward to the promise of the future. Every day was new and guaranteed surprises and laughter.

I exuded a great beam of light wherever I went. My friends would sometimes comment on how my eyes shone bright or how I gave off a glow. The joy swelling in my chest simply overflowed.

My love for my new friends and desire to meet new people knew no boundaries. I sought them and made plans, something I hardly ever did back in Boston. I went out with friends for dinners, movies, Broadway shows, rooftop parties, social justice events, intimate gatherings, and seminars with keynote speakers. I experienced fun study sessions that lasted until 4 in the morning, bonding with my study buddies. I wanted people to be joyful and safe around me. My bubble was a no-judgment zone full acceptance and love.

And yet, despite all this positive energy, negativity held on to a portion of my mind, opening it up to fears of rejection and emotional pain. I knew I suffered from depression but dragged my feet on seeing a therapist. As a Haitian American, it wasn’t part of my culture growing up to seek mental health services. Praying was our therapy.

But sometimes prayer honestly isn’t enough and one needs physical medical attention or assistance.

My depression wasn’t crippling enough to stop me from attending classes and functioning in day-to-day activities. Therefore, I didn’t think it was necessary to seek help. I thought I could handle the pain myself and overcome the pressure behind my eyes, the creeping thoughts of loneliness, and occasional aches from unexplained sadness. I couldn’t visualize speaking to a person about my problems so I would write down my thoughts in a journal instead.

It helped to be surrounded by a group of caring, wonderful people. Most of the time I wasn’t even aware of my negativity, only when I was alone. And then one day I had an interesting exchange of text messages with a very good friend, someone I would eventually fall in love with. She was a Buddhist and exposed me to Buddhist philosophy and teachings. I’ll never forget an analogy of life she gave me.

vis www.vizant.com
via http://www.vizant.com

She told me to imagine my mind as a tall building. If I wanted to turn all the lights in each floor, it would take a lot of time and effort. But if I brought out the sun, then the whole building would be illuminated all at once. She told me to bring out the sun. Back then I wasn’t exactly sure how to do that, but her words comforted me and helped pull me further out of my quicksand of negativity. She led me to become more aware of my thoughts and feelings, and to catch negativity at its root.

Little did she know, she was  shifting my life towards a new, liberating direction. I would take this new perspective with me to my next destination after New York.

My graduation from Columbia was bittersweet. I knew I would miss my friends, the City, the great food, and the simple joy of walking down Riverside and Central Park. But I had to move on.

I made the wild decision of leaving the U.S. and spending a year in another country with a completely different culture.

I was going to Seoul, South Korea.

Oh Korea!
Oh Korea!

To be continued…

Stay amazing,

Sammy

If you enjoyed reading this article, please spread the love and share it! Thanks in advance!

Feature image:  @AntsMagazine

On Being “Normal”

Millions of people live scripted lives, carrying out roles of normal functioning individuals socialized to suppress whatever makes them unique or stand out too much. Some people enjoy this performance and are quite content with being a star in this movie, taking directions from their family, friends, employers, the media, culture, and society in general.

Many carry out these performances to preserve their lives and social presentation, along with preventing what could be deadly repercussions for any form of deviance.

Many adhere to their culture’s definition of normal because it confers benefits in terms of seemingly pleasant social interactions, employment, and approval.
For others, being told to put on this veil of normalcy for the sake of social preservation is pure torture. It makes us sick inside to have to follow a plan or script set out for us. We walk through our days feeling incomplete and trapped in what we consider lies that people have created for us, lies that we have created for ourselves.

Many of us knew from an early age that we were different and understood that it wasn’t always a good thing in society’s eyes.

In fact, children recognize and understand social norms as early as 2 or 3 years old*. In an experiment with puppets conducted by Marco Schmidt and Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, along with Hannes Rokoczy of the University of Göttingen, 2 and 3-year-olds objected when puppets performed actions different from what they had seen adults doing. Furthermore, these norms are not necessarily taught. Children usually learn norms by observing and following adults who expect life to be performed in a specific way.

Therefore, some of us have learned to hide or suppress our uniqueness in fear of coming across as a deviant who will eventually become rejected.

But for most of us, hiding what makes us different is close to impossible; as a result, we risk experiencing familial and social rejection. We get plastered with labels, used mostly in a derogatory manner, that forcibly categorize our uniqueness or eccentricities.

In other words, we’re punished for making others feel uncomfortable and confused by our behavior or identity, which may or may not have been self-assigned.

For all our trumpeting of individualism here in the United States, our society still punishes and marginalizes those who stand outside of what’s considered “normal”: white, straight, cis-gendered (gender matches sex assigned at birth), able-bodied, pro-authoritarian, pro-patriarchal ideals, pro-capitalism, pro-assimilation, pro-assigned gender roles, pro-groupthink, pro-consumerism, and pro-white supremacy.

People falling outside of this range are often encouraged to change their ways to be accepted by the majority who are given the title “normal”. These calls for assimilation are bullshit. The truth is that we “abnormal” ones will never be truly accepted or understood by those considered “normal” or adhere to being “normal”.

Depriving ourselves of our uniqueness or identity to become something we are not brings more harm than good. This forced erasure censors our creativity and voices, and stilts our ability to confront our present realities and usher change into our world.

For those of us who have no choice but to play the game of appearing normal, we feel smothered, chained, and sometimes even alone in our performances as the people we interact with contradict or vehemently oppose ideas or identities that we support or identify with on a personal, social, or political level.

We are not allowed to express ourselves openly due to our fears of social isolation, financial vulnerability, or even violence. For those of us whose situations are less extreme, but no less poignant, we may admonish ourselves for not being braver or stronger enough in taking advantage of our more open-minded environments.

Such self-criticism can reinforce negative thinking that makes us less vocal and active in issues or projects needing our participation and strengths. We may erroneously believe that our silence in regards to our identities or ideals delegitimizes us from taking a stand in issues of gross injustices. We may wrongly believe we cannot participate in resistances to restore human dignity to marginalized and oppressed groups.

We find ourselves living two lives: the one on the outside and the one on the inside. If we’re lucky to find understanding souls, for a time, we may be able to align our outside lives to match our lives on the inside.

Bravery can manifest itself in multiple ways instead of being confined to the Western mainstream idea of being loud and open for everyone to see, admire, reject, or criticize. Small, accumulating acts of courage in customized personal resistances are valuable. Each person’s familial, religious, cultural, or spiritual experience does not necessarily mirror the mainstream images widely portrayed and distributed.

Even in spaces where outsiders, rejects, and the marginalized come together, it’s important not to enforce and applaud only one brand of bravery or resistance. We should encourage a multiplicity of differences, and seek to understand each unique life that comes in our presence without rushing to shut a person down or force them to change.

Life grows through difference. Change grows through difference. A better and more open world grows through difference.

I’ve been brave enough to upset both allies and opponents, becoming more of who I need to be at the present moment and not following anyone’s vision of how I should be. Choosing this way is far from easy and is sometimes fraught with frustration, confusion, loneliness, impatience, failure, self-doubt, depression, pain, and discouragement. It’s a difficult journey, but a necessary one to take to peel away the layers of false identities created by others while growing.

It’s one of the few ways to reach the true core of our true selves and figure out where we need to take ourselves next. Of course the core of our inmost identities will contain influences of our upbringing and our environments growing up, but somehow or another we’ve developed our own ideas of what matters most to us that differs drastically from anyone else’s; it’s something akin to a fingerprint.

We won’t reach these oftentimes buried ideas or identities without doing the hard work required to survive being thrown out into the wolves called the real world and society.

We can shield ourselves from this hard work or ignore it completely by following the scripts handed to us. That way we avoid the painful processes of undergoing the fiery baptism of confronting our childhood demons, figuring out our true core values, understanding our fiercest passions, wandering in the deserts and wastelands of confusion and instability, and developing the strategy to achieve our dreams.

In eschewing this difficult path, we accrue financial rewards and stability quickly, prestige, honor, and other accolades from our satisfied loved ones and society.

But the human soul is hardly ever satisfied. Sooner or later, it demands far greater things from us than wealth, prestige, and praise. It tortures us for living lives that go against its true essence, something different for each person, but with overlapping similarities. Our minds persistently present us with questions about the why of everything going on all around us. Meaning and purpose knock relentlessly on our doors despite our desires to ignore or dismiss them.

We can’t hide forever unless we are content with leading empty lives all the way to the grave. Some accept doing it and some have done it happily. But for the passionate dreamer, this life is impossible. This may be both the curse and blessing of the passionate dreamer.

It’s okay for supporters and loved ones to imagine highly successful lives for us or to envision futures in which we make significant impacts on the world. It’s not okay when they want us to follow a particular path or box us in how we should go about accomplishing these amazing feats.

We all deserve the respect of forging our own lives without our loved ones or allies shaming us for doing things outside of what they think is best. We get enough grief from our opponents and society without having to deal with the psychological drama of navigating spaces where we expect to receive love and support.
If we choose to be different in the countless multiples way there are to be different, we need to remember to be patient with ourselves. We will stumble and make mistakes.

Our decisions won’t always be the best, and we’ll sometimes follow advice that hurts more than helps. We may also ignore advice that might have helped more than hurt. Our eyesight might be poor so we may miss great opportunities or fail to see the failure waiting at the end of ventures we’ve decided to pursue.

We may have days when we feel hopeless and directionless, looking up at ceilings with no answers or guidance. Days we feel broken, useless, or frauds. We may find ourselves questioning every act we make and cursing the universe or God for our rotten luck. We may find ourselves waiting for something beautiful to happen instead of realizing that we ourselves are responsible for making something beautiful happen.

We may find ourselves with little to no patience and may consider following the script handed to us. After all, it’s so easy and promises the stability lacking in our lives. We may walk through our lives unsure and hurt by all of these feelings, feelings for which there might be no escape from. We might even feel that being stuck in limbo is our fate.

But it is not our fate. Our lives our made richer for being passionate dreamers. We may not see it now or even believe or accept it. But we are made stronger, bolder, and more open minded, maybe even more lovable and accepting of difference.

We may not see it now, but on the other side awaits the rewards of our labor of passion. If we are more introspective and matured, we already experience and see the rewards of our passion. We understand and accept the beauty of our differences and the difficult process of becoming our higher selves.

Although our loved ones, opponents, and society are blind to it, we have put on glasses giving us a clear vision of what awaits. Sometimes our minds are already there, waiting for our physical bodies to catch up and experience the beauty and magic of living our ideal lives.

We envision new worlds, unaware of how our decisions influence and impact the people around us, bring us all closer together as a family of sorts, hoping to create a better reality for both present and future lives. The world needs passionate dreamers, those who are different, weird, quirky, eccentric, marginalized, oppressed, or othered in any way by the dominant culture.

We should let ourselves be ourselves in whatever ways we know we can or are willing to be. We have to be for the sake of a more open world where more and more people can live lives fulfilling their deepest dreams and passions. A world where more people can reach self-determination and fulfillment, reaching further into the depths of their souls to uncover meaning.

Passion is beautiful. Passion is ugly. Passion is freedom. Passion is pain. Passion is peace. Passion is war. Passion is life. Passion is difference.

We cannot relinquish what makes us different because our difference is our strength as humans.

*Nair, Drishya (2012) “Children Understand Social Norms Very Early” Current Directions in Psychological Science. August 2012.

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Be sure to look out for my e-book, The Passionate Dreamer’s Notebook: For Those Who Refuse to Quit, coming out soon!

Hello Failure, Good-bye Failure

My relationship with failure used to be toxic, but now we’ve reached a consensus on how often it should disrupt my life, along as to what degree it can mute my other emotions, putting fear and negativity front and center.

Confused? Let me give you a better idea.

Failure knocks on our doors, and it’s up to us to decide how we will respond to it. Some like to invite failure in and let it sit down for a while, engaging it in pleasant, but distant conversation.

Maybe we shed some tears while failure watches with stoic disinterest. It drops words of negativity here and there, hoping to stab us somehow. However, if were fully aware, we’ve known failure long enough to know these discouraging words are worthless lies.

After a while, we send failure on its way, but not without accepting its small gift of lessons and instructions. Our dreams are waiting outside for us to welcome them back inside to receive the love and nurture they need to grow and thrive.

Some of us, however, invite failure inside our homes and let it take over. There is no conversation, just disorder as failure eats all our food, lounges on our couches, and yells at us about how we’re losers and big disappointments.

We accept these lies and this pleases failure. It invites its lesser friends, negativity and discouragement. Soon more mentally disparaging guests move in and they push us back and forth among them.

The whole situation’s abusive. During this soul-crushing time, our dreams wait outside for failure and its friends to leave. Our dreams are hungry; some have been scared away while a few can’t take it anymore and die right outside our front steps.

Depending on our choices or capabilities, we try coaxing our dreams to come into our chaotic households. Sometimes we have to drag them inside because we’re stubborn and don’t want to lose them. So our dreams shuffle awkwardly through the trash and mess that failure and its gang keeps creating.

Our dreams eye failure with disdain and failure responds in kind, letting them know they have no future. Their contentious relationship makes us want to shoot them both between the eyes.

Some of us make make do with the situation, and our dreams squeezes by, but growth is stunted. We ask ourselves repeatedly why our progress is so abysmally slow.

Sometime or other we realize we need to kick failure out of our homes. We’ve cried enough. Have been abused enough. Been hurt enough. We’ve had enough of zombie walking through life and missing out on its best parts or initiating its greatest moments.

Life is everywhere, all around us, and observes our actions toward failure. Seeing our incompetence with dealing with failure, it gives failure more power over us. Failure and its emotionally-damaging companions become harder to kick out.

Some of us might misdirect our anger toward failure and channel it over to life instead. We blame life for failure’s arrival and abuse. We build more and more of this negative anger, and it comes barreling through our door. Before we know it, a twister of negative feelings rages right inside our living rooms.

We feel powerless and stuck and call on life to do something, but we’re still too angry. Life’s response? It gives anger more power, leaving us feeling more despondent than ever.

We ask ourselves whether this will be our fate forever.

At some point, some of us will realize we have several choices to make:

1. We let this twister continue ravaging our house while we continue our day-to-day activities. Those of us in this category have long allowed our dreams to hide permanently or even die. We’re resigned to our fate. And some of us are all right with that and live the best we can. That’s just life.

2. We force our dreams to grow in this chaotic house. But we might come to resent our dreams. Everything’s a struggle. Pleasure and self-fulfillment are nowhere to be found. We make minimal progress, but regress soon quickly afterwards. Some of us will conclude that we might as well settle for decision number one.

3. We confront failure and its gang head on. We’re armed and ready because failure and its allies are clever and formidable foes. And let’s not forget the twister of anger throwing everything all around and clouding our vision, making us nearly blind.

At this point, it feels like everything is against us: life, failure, ourselves, and our army of negative emotions. We have already incurred injuries and we are in desperate need of healing. Some of us are bleeding to death, holding on to life by the thinnest thread.

So how does this battle play out? Who are our allies? Do we get a useful wizard in the mix to help support our campaign against failure? Pressure mounts and we might feel incapable of engaging failure. It’s way too strong.

Some of us might soon discover by way of a friend from the outside or some other medium that we have a secret weapon. It’s a power so great and astounding that if used properly could dismiss failure and its armies without much bloodshed on our part.

What is this great source of power and how can it be used to push back against failure? It’s usually at our lowest that we come within reach of this secret weapon, which isn’t a big secret at all.

This great power is our mind.

Our minds are not visitors or objects in our houses. Our minds are the houses. Imagine a battlefield with two opposing armies. If the commander of one army could control the whole environment and make the earth swallow its enemies, victory would be quick and swift.

We possess this incredible advantage against failure and its armies. We control the environment. We control the house and can stir it awake to become a breathing, living being that snuffs out stubborn and persistent failure.

The promises held in controlling our house swell like a balloon waiting to burst. We simply need the resolve to take a pin and pop it. But how do we go about doing this?

Controlling the mind isn’t some difficult task requiring hours of concentration or training. All we have to do is find a quiet place where we can be alone and undisturbed and challenge ourselves to engage with our minds.

Thoughts will run one after the other, sometimes tripping all over each other. We may feel restless and feel like we’re wasting our time. We know better, however, and resist the urge to get up and do something we deem more valuable. We won’t be able to control the mind until we fully engage it.

We search through all the chaos up there to find the control center, to find its seat, to find our deepest selves. If we scoff at the idea of finding our deepest selves, then the trial ends. We might find no peace for the failure ruling over our lives. But if we to push aside all doubts, cynicism, and the disruptions of logical thinking, we will begin to hear our minds speaking to ourselves.

“What are you looking for?” the mind asks.

“I need peace. I want my failures to stop controlling my emotions, feelings and actions. I want to stop feeling so angry.”

“Why are you angry?”

“Because I failed even when I worked so hard.”

“Why are you angry?”

We pause in confusion. “I already told you. I failed something very important to me.”

“Why are you angry?” the mind asks again.

We think before we answer this time and go deeper. “I wanted this very badly. Too badly. I tied achievement to my worth as a person. I believed if people saw this achievement, they would respect me more. I would earn more prestige and receive accolades from the most important people in my life.

I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong and shove my victory in their faces. I wanted to show that I was right and knew what I was doing. The shame and embarrassment I feel from my failure is stopping me from trying again. I don’t want to experience these feelings again.

I don’t want to keep trying again because it drains too much energy out of me. It’s too hard and tiring. I’m so tired. Failure exhausts me. I don’t have enough confidence in my abilities, skills, talents, or myself. Sometimes, I don’t even feel like I deserve success.

I compare myself to others too much and feel contempt toward their success, which seems to come by so much easier for them. I feel crippled by my insecurities and blame others for my failures so I take my anger out on them, snapping at them and being short-tempered.

I don’t want to go to anywhere where people know me too well. I hate when they ask me questions about what I’m doing with my life. I hate that I don’t have anything solid to show them, only my aspirations and plans, things people don’t truly value.

Our society values results, not so much the process. Results. I’m so impatient for the results. I want them now. I feel defeated so I just want to do something easy, mediocre, but socially acceptable instead of pursuing my most difficult dreams.

But deep inside, it makes me feels unfulfilled to let go of my dreams and watch them die. It’s a pain deep in my soul. Sometimes I wish someone or something could save me from this pain. I wish I could be free to try again without fear or restrictions and make my dreams come true.”

“Then be free,” the mind says.

“It’s not that easy,” we protest and start listing all the things standing in our way.

Our mind ignores this list and says, “See our dreams realized. See our obstacles gone. Feel the emotions of our achievement. Feel our negative emotions and thoughts diminish. See how we help and inspire others. See the places we go. Feel our strength over failure, disappointment and rejection. See and feel. We are there. We have made it. Do you believe this? Do you believe you are free?”

We either believe we are free or we are not.

“Are you free from your insecurities? Your looping negative thoughts? What you believe people think of you? Your self-sabotaging thoughts and habits? Are you free from your twisted notions of how much you are worth?

From your family’s definition of who you are? From society’s definition of who you are? Are you free from the hurt and pain you suffered in your childhood? Your teen years? From the way you were treated, mistreated, or regarded?

You are already worthy. You are already powerful. You are already important. Do you believe this? Are you free?” the mind asks again.

“Am I free?” we ask ourselves honestly. “No, some of these things still have a hold on me, still bind me. I am not completely free. I am not free.”

“Good to know. Now that I know you are not free, we will work together to set you free so that we may be free together. When we are free together, we will always keep moving and never stay stuck.”

Our honesty has given our minds the signal to begin purging failure and its companions out of our house. It can be a long process, but with patience and persistence, we help our mind by engaging with it regularly.

These ongoing appointments give our mind more of the valuable information and transparency it needs to get the job done. During this time, we might witness our most ugly sides or our greatest fears.

Although they’re large and unmanageable at first, our mind weakens their hold on us, compressing them into small tiny blocks. We can push them aside to make room for more positive and self-affirming emotions and feelings.

The negative or traumatic experiences that have helped form us as individuals don’t disappear. However, with our help, our minds compress them into small manageable units as well.

Finally, our dreams have the ideal environment to receive the necessary support and nurture from our minds.

Our process, our everyday living, is no longer something we shun or try to escape by way of the past, future, or other outlets.

We come to enjoy the process and derive peace and happiness from it. We live fully in the present, and our dreams thanks us for it.

When failure comes knocking again, we don’t ignore it because its lessons and instructions are too important. We let it in, understand it, and send it on its way. Our houses have finally become pleasant places to live.

The present has finally become a pleasant place to live.

The Things She Carried; The Things She Conquered

A woman stands in front of a black and brown house with large second story windows. The edges of the house turn black from rot and crumble into the ground, becoming like the fine grains of sand falling in an hourglass.

Shoulders shaking, the woman slaps a hand over her mouth and sobs at the destruction unfolding before her. She wants to go inside and save all the things she’s worked so hard for—all the things that showcase her prestige and worth as a human being.

She takes a step toward the crumbling house, and it roars back at her with the bellow of deep thunder. The hair on her skin bristles from the goose bumps coating her arms, and the woman shuffles back. She gapes at the house now halfway destroyed.

I have to go inside, she thinks. I need to save my things. I can’t lose them. I can’t lose anything more at this point. I’ve worked too hard. Nobody knows it except me.

She ignores the house’s growls and swings open the front door, forcing her trembling body to go inside the blackness ahead. The woman stretches her arms forward in the dark, fingers groping the walls for a light switch. She curses her bad luck, wishing she had a flashlight or even a match to give her light and help her find and save her things.

The house creaks in protest, sounding like scraps of metal in a blender. The woman has no bearing in the darkness all around her. The whole house shakes, and she loses her balance and falls to her knees. The sound of a child weeping stops her breath, and she looks up, eyes scanning the dark. She knows that cry. It’s hers. It’s her cry when she was a child. But what is it doing here? It’s not supposed to be in this house.

The house creaks louder than before. The woman plugs her ears with her fingers. A gust of wind hits her face, and she cowers into the ground, head tucked between her knees. Tears form tracks over her cheeks. She wants to get out where it’s safe, but her she can’t move a muscle.

What if she ends up here all alone forever, trapped in this dying house?

The wind whistles harder and the woman grips her shoulders, holding on to herself to keep from being blown away. In the wind, she hears voices, all of them familiar, most of them hers:

“You’re ugly.”
“You’re fat.”
“Your body is gross.”
“You haven’t accomplished anything of value yet.”
“Why is your skin dark?”
“What’s wrong with your hair?”
“You didn’t earn this. It’s not yours. It was given to you.”
“Why can’t you be smarter? More capable? Look at her. Why can’t you be like her? Be like her.”
“Stop dreaming. You’re an adult now.”
“You’ll be poor for the rest of your life.”
“Why are you such a disappointment?”
“You are a disappointment.”
“Why are you so stupid?”
“They’re all better than you are.”
“I didn’t work this hard so you could just repeat this suffering again.”
“Stop trying so hard.”
“You should just give up.”
“You should just kill yourself.”
“Nothing matters anymore.”
“It’s not worth it.”
“Why do you lie so much?”
“Why do I lie so much?
“You failed.”
“I failed.”
“I’ve failed.”
“I’m failing.”
“Why am I always failing?”

The woman sinks her head further into her stomach, hoping to make the voices disappear, but they saturate the air, getting louder and louder. The woman ransacks her mind for answers, looking for anything to help her get out of her crumbling house, but her search yields nothing.

Why am I trying so hard? I should just give up. I’m so tired. I’m so tired, she repeats.

I’m so tired.

She hears the crying child again faintly beneath the cacophony of adult voices.

The cries of her child-self tighten her chest with more pain than all the voices barraging her.

“I’m sorry,” the woman says out loud. “I’m sorry you thought were never good enough. I’m sorry you thought you were ugly, fat and stupid.”

The house buckles and invisible beams crash loudly all around her. The wind wails as it unleashes its most powerful gust, dialing up the volume of the adult voices.

“I can’t hear you,” her child-self says.

The woman raises her voice. “I’m sorry you had to lie so much to escape feeling unworthy. I’m sorry you tied your worth to what you accomplished, what schools you went to, what things you owned, and what places you’ve been to! I’m sorry you didn’t believe in yourself. I’m sorry you hated yourself. I’m sorry you failed to trust in the power and beauty within you. I’m sorry you couldn’t see any of those good things in you. I’m sorry you let people decide for you. Decide who you were and what you were supposed to be.

I’m sorry you couldn’t be honest with who you really were. That you pretended to be happy and didn’t get help. I’m sorry that you were afraid and alone. That you didn’t feel loved or wanted. That you thought something was wrong with you. I’m sorry you wasted your years thinking about the past and the future. I’m sorry you lost time pleasing other people. I’m sorry you wanted to kill yourself. That you suffered so much pain to even want to do that. I’m sorry you couldn’t see that you were in charge of your own self worth.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the nights you cried. For the days you walked with your heart in pieces, your mind heavy with worry. I’m sorry about the people who couldn’t see your pain. I’m sorry you felt so unworthy to talk to someone because you feared of becoming a burden. I’m sorry you gave up the interests and dreams you loved become someone told you they were worthless.

I’m sorry that you had to mourn for the deaths of your dreams, some at infancy. I’m sorry for the callous people, the shallow ones, the racist ones, the sexist ones, the homophobic ones—all those people who brought you down because of their own insecurities and because of society. I’m sorry for the people who hurt you. I’m sorry for the friends and family you lost. Some to death, others to distance, a few to time, several because of your pain.

I’m sorry. Sorry that you felt trapped, stuck, and incapable of moving forward. I’m sorry you had to shut down and withdraw. Sorry you couldn’t hear the music or appreciate beauty because of your pain. I’m sorry you couldn’t find the time to sit down and breathe. I’m sorry for the times you needed a hug and no one was there. The times you needed a touch of assurance, a word of encouragement, and a voice of understanding, but found none.

I’m sorry. Sorry for the times you failed and felt incompetent. I’m sorry you thought had to give up so quickly. Sorry you gave up so quickly. I’m sorry you lost your way and couldn’t find it back. I’m sorry you thought you could never find it back. I’m sorry for the shame and guilt you were made to feel because of who you were, because of your body, because of your desires. I’m sorry you didn’t love yourself, your body, and your spirit.”

The house ceased to shake and the wind stopped howling. The woman uncurled her head from her stomach and pushed her palms against the ground to stand up straight, her shoulders squared and her chin high. Hands dangling by her side, her child-self appeared across from her. A small flame of light appeared above them.

“I’m so sorry,” the woman continues, her voice calm and clear. “But I want you to know one thing. I love you. I love you more than you can ever know. I won’t let anyone hurt you anymore. I won’t let anyone make you feel inferior. I won’t let anyone steal your hopes and dreams. I will always be here to defend you. I will always be here to hold you and give you strength. I will always be here to fight for your cause.

I know I can’t remove all the hurt, pain, and suffering you’ve already been through, but I want you to know I can help you from now on, giving you my guidance and strength. I will help you experience the rest of your days with beauty, dignity, and most of all, love. You don’t have to be afraid anymore because I am here, always by your side.”

The woman reaches her hands out, and her child-like self runs to her arm. The woman hugs her in a tight hold.

Her child-self asks, “What about the things you were looking for?”

“I can’t remember what I was looking for. I found you and that’s all that matters.”

The flame above them bursts into a huge conflagration, lightening up the dark space and consuming the house from the inside out. The fire leaves the woman and her child-self untouched. The house destroyed,the woman now stands alone in the middle of a field with her arms wrapped around herself. She searches left and right for her child-self but the little girl is nowhere in sight.

She sits down on the grass with her legs crossed and stares ahead at the field stretching for eternity. There is no sky, only pure white above her and the green of the swaying grass blades.

The woman closes her eyes. I need to build a new house.

~~~

The woman stands at the window of her kitchen’s apartment and follows the drops of rain trickling down the pane. A mug of black tea is nestled between her hands, sending much needed warmth to her cold hands. A smile tugs at the corners of her lips.

Today is a perfect day to write, she thinks. So she leaves the window and brings her coffee mug to her desk. She sits down and lifts open the lid of her laptop. Her fingers tap the keyboards without pressing down. She thinks for a minute.

The words come and the woman writes.