Understanding Anxiety: Mental Health Awareness Month 2021

As I write these articles, format is at the forefront of my mind. Setting the right tone can make a huge difference in writing an article. Ideally, the goal with my Mental Health Awareness Month series is to be conversational and discuss what is still largely taboo. This article has been rewritten as my first draft felt bland, unengaging, and didn’t leave the reader with a hopeful message. The fun part of this writing journey I’m on, is ultimately, watching my writing evolve.

For this article, we’re covering anxiety from the heart. I want to ponder the idea of living with anxiety, a relatively new concept for myself. And by living with, I am talking about accepting anxiety as a part of life and not so much a detriment and hinderance. To start the article off, I’m going to jump into an overview of what anxiety has looked like for me.

My Anxiety

Genetics or environment, I do not know. What I do know is I’ve had it since a relatively early age. When I was younger, I would freeze, which covers a biological response I didn’t even know existed until many years later. Fight, flight, or freeze. I always thought it was fight or flight; you’re either working through a problem or you’re running from it. I ran cross country, so I figured I was the latter. It wasn’t until college that I learned about the third, freezing. Simply stopping and not moving forward, which is typically the category I’ve fallen under. If life is not structured, I tend to unravel at the seams. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at managing the lack of structure but it took a Pandemic to make me realize I am not the autonomous working machine I thought myself to be. For every mile I’ve treaded, I have another mile to go.

Freezing

Freezing is a terrible feeling and only one I’ve recently started coming to terms with. The earliest instance of freezing I can remember is walking along the corridors of classrooms, slowing my gait and transitioning myself towards lockers. I later pinpointed this to a form of social anxiety, the cause still unknown. If I was in the middle of the hallway, I did not fare well. I moved forward every time, but my body always signaled to stop. Breath tightens and tunnel vision ensues. It’s a feeling as if you’re going to pass out and alleviating it is tough. I’ve stumbled over words and until college, I typically ended sentences with “nevermind”. This, partly was a lack of confidence and came from my eagerness to participate in conversation without knowing talking points.

Fighting

With anxiety, simple tasks can seem herculean in nature. As I’m getting older, I’m learning not to give so much of a Fuck on how I tackle life. As much as I’ve gotten right, I’ve gotten just as much wrong. Fighting is the catalyst to moving life forward and in the modern sense (and most positive scenario) it is the ability to dig deep into the trenches and keep digging even when the odds are stacked against you. In its most idealized form, it is the ability to prioritize what you want and pave the path forward to get there. Concentrated action and effort are how I’m beginning to overcome my anxiety and stepping away from dwelling on the past and future. But it’s not always about fighting…

Flight

Flight is learning what trenches to dig and what battlefields are best left alone. It’s not easy but understanding why you don’t do something is just as important as finding out what motivates you. Anxiety sprouts from the unknown just as much as it does from the known proving futile. Anxiety is a feeling, a gut response and while it may seem impossible to tackle, I believe it to be possible. Life is not so much about doing away with anxiety as it is learning how to live with it. It’s not something to let fester but it’s also not something to cut out of your life completely. The more anxious I am, the more I need to change.

Lack of Focus: where my anxiety comes from

This is the literal bane of my existence. So prevalent in my life, I’m amazed I ever get anything done. I’ve had to create entire systems to manage my lack of focus and when implemented, they work wonders. I have a weekly planner and can set SMART goals and while not pretty, I begrudgingly accomplish those goals. My biggest issue nowadays, is I don’t know what goal to set. This last year with the Pandemic, I’ve taken the time to start exploring what I might enjoy and slowly, the anxiety has once again become manageable. I’ve done this in the past with varying degrees of success, but clarifying my hobbies as just that has done wonders for my focus. No more I’ll be a programmer or writer but rather I’m a hobby blogger and hobby coder. No pressure, guilt free. Professionally, I have Management and Marketing expertise. In my free time, my two main focuses are writing and coding. That is simpler than “I am literally doing everything”. Because when I sweep too broad, I end up accomplishing nothing. The goal is to live with anxiety, not have it rule my life. The more I see myself in a focused lens, the better I am.

Living with Anxiety

A lot of meditation has led to the realization that anxiety is an alarm bell, not a detriment. I’ve focused a lot on instances where I’ve frozen and have been unable to move forward. It’s only now that I’ve begun to explore the possibility that this could be a blessing in disguise. I am fearful of my future and my heart races every time I think of where I’m headed. I see my twenties fading and feel I have accomplished very little. Yet I keep moving forward and what seems awful now, might bear strong fruit down the road. Hope is all we have and this Mental Health Awareness Month I have to remember to breathe.

New Horizon: The Tower

Previous Chapters:

Chapter one

Chapter two

Chapter three


Henry wandered through the forest, the leaves a gentle brown, dry and brittle to the touch. He had ditched his shoes and was now walking among the rocks of the creek. The wind began to pick up, reaching speeds of 128 kilometers per hour. The Earth had become a dangerous place.

Along the creek were remnants of what once was. Henry occasionally come across a cinderblock and rotten wood of houses that escaped the population explosions of the late 2050s. Scientists had expected the population to stabilize after hit 10 billion in 2030 but instead much of the old ways were still being practiced. Animal cloning had become a way to replace the natural and where farms should have been reduced, instead they only grew. Vertical farms were built in the late 2050s but by then it was already too late. What parts of the Amazon hadn’t been swallowed by the Ocean had turned kindling and our once breathable air became a little less breathable. 2040 saw the first carbon recapture unit and while novel at the time, it only encouraged companies to pollute more. Any benefit it might have had was lost to corporate greed.

Henry tripped. Muddy and damp, he picked himself up and looked down. He saw a large vine, no a tree trunk. Moss covered, old. Henry decided to follow. He walked a few steps, bent down and brushed the trunk off. It was black. It wasn’t a trunk, it was a wire. As it turned out, the wire led to an abandoned radio tower some ways off into the forest. Henry thought if he could climb it, he would have a chance to find his bearings. He could here the metal creak in the wind, it was a surprise the tower hadn’t toppled over by now. As he approached the tower he noticed the chipped red paint and heard a faint beeping. Why was the tower on? Wind turbines had all but been destroyed with the Mega Storms that came in the late 2060s and he could see a few busted at the base of the tower, an effort surely made to avoid the burden of high winds. The sun was beginning to set and Henry decided to climb.

At the base of the tower he found the dilapidated ladder that went straight up the some 609 meters it would take to climb. Henry reached for a rung and watched the metal splinter in his hand, the other rung held and he began to climb. Carefully and one rung at a time. The howling grew louder and the tower shook with the force. At times, it felt as though the wind was being sucked right out of him. About 500 meters up, Henry reached a point of the ladder a section had eroded and was missing. Pieces were strewn on a nearby structural beam. Henry swung with all his weight and landed with his upper torso on the beam. The ladder collapsed just as he made it across. “guess no going back now”, Henry thought.

Henry looked around and found some scaffolding. Makeshift and most likely done after shit had hit the fan. Henry went beam from beam, until finally he reached the top. The length of two football fields and he was finally at a small station at the top of the tower. In olden times, these stations would have been separate; a fire watchtower and a radio tower. As resources became scarcer and scarcer and cities larger, it made more sense to combine the two. As night fell, he saw the read blinking light and noticed the solar panels at the top of the structure. All these years and the structure held. Too dark to see, Henry made his way into the cabin and flipped on the lights. A gentle hum and then, light. Henry checked the cupboards and found some tea along with some canned food. “Coq Au Vin” or better known as cock with wine. There might have been a time when people cooked this dish, but in the convenience brought by mass production and globalization why bother? Henry always liked to cook but it was never considered a necessity. He turned on the stove boiled some water and made himself a cup of tea. “Winter’s Nap”, how delicious. He fried the canned chicken and ate a meal, a nice chance to catch his breath before he looked for the main debris field of the New Horizon.

He started a fire in the hearth, and settled into the bed. The sheets, still soft, reminded him of simpler times. Life was never really all that simple when he was born, but he always loved the process of settling down after a long day and feeling safe in his bed. As Henry looked up, he noticed the four skylight panels. These could be tinted off and on but Henry decided to leave them as they were as the fire crackled in the background. The sky was a gentle blue, speckled by red fireballs as the New Horizon continued to rain down upon the land. Henry gently closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.


Another Chapter written! I’m having a blast writing this series! It’s great to finally be on schedule with my blog and producing content on a semi regular basis. How far I’ll go, I don’t know, but the story arch is starting to develop and I just hope I can stick the landing for my first go around. So stay tuned and get ready for chapter five as I begin to draft out the concepts for what’ll happen next! As always, thanks for reading!

January 2021 Status Update: 2020, How’d I do?

This last year has been a crazy year. I’ve had to make major life decisions that have affected my trajectory for the near future. No easy calls but hopefully decisions that lead to a better tomorrow.

A New Year, an improved me

Since I can remember, I have always tried to draft resolutions for the new year. In High School, they were typically one goal and it wasn’t until college that I started adding multiple. Years of failed attempts left me upset, until I took the SMART method from my studies and applied it to my resolutions. Even then, this was far from perfect. In 2019, I went a step further and implemented what I called a “tangible” goal to help measure my success. SMART covers the how, but it doesn’t necessarily cover the why. This year, I want to take time to look back on my 2019 goals that I carried over to 2020. And more than simply focus on what I didn’t do, I want to take the time to focus on my successes.

Language

German and French were the two languages I wanted to add to my language toolbelt. My main motivation is I’d like to spend more time in both countries and not feel like a tourist. Since I’ve already lived in Germany, my main focus for the last couple years was German. In that time, I’ve watched my first German TV show and as of late December, have completely finished the German language tree on Duolingo. That doesn’t mean I’m done with German but it does mean that I now have a foundational base and can begin moving on towards quantifying my language expertise. As a chronic dabbler, I have a bad habit of simply dipping my toes in the water without ever getting wet, so this is beyond exciting. So my Language goal for German? Has been met!

Because I’ve finished German on Duolingo, this shifts my priority to French. French I find extremely difficult to pick up. I’ve been learning it sporadically over the last couple years and while I have some idea of the language, it is elementary at best. Over the next year, it is my hope to build a base much as I did for my German. Luckily, I enjoy learning languages, so it’ll be fun to see how far I go.

For 2021, my stretch language goals are to learn Latin and eventually Japanese. Japanese is completely unnecessary, but it’d be fun to know the basics should I ever travel there. Since for the most part I spend 10 to 15 minutes everyday on Duolingo, I’m not too worried about meeting these goals to some extent.

My overall tangible goal for the year is to take an aptitude test to know where I stand.

Coding

Perhaps the most exciting development, I have wanted to code for the longest time dating back to when I did Lego robotics as a Cub Scout. A missed Summer camp, dropping out of Computer Science II in High School, and a couple decades have finally brought me the furthest I’ve ever been. Online coursework through Codecademy and I finally have a base. Python, SQL, and JavaScript are the 3 languages I’ve started with and I’m actually having fun. For 125 days I learned Python and I hope to get back on the horse after taking a couple months to relax. If I can get 8 months of coding in, then the year subscription will have been worth it. With that said, coding has been a resounding success in my book!

Three coding specific goals for this year: finish my Computer Science coursework and get a certificate, then finish my course in SQL and “How to build a video game with JavaScript”. I had two main childhood dreams: catch all the Pok√©mon (which I did this year) and make a video game. So all in all, not too shabby for the year.

Painting Drawing Art

I did not get into painting this year! The plan was to originally sign up for art classes and then bam, the plague rolled into town. That said, I did adjust the goal to broaden the scope. The only reason I want to paint is because I’ve heard it is very therapeutic. I’ve since adjusting my goal to include penciling and doodling. To that extent, I’ve succeeded as I bought markers and spend about 5 minutes from time to time drawing lines and circles on a paper. It’s fun, easy, and relaxing.

This year, I want to focus on penciling as that’s the easiest as far as getting started. The plan is to take all my old homework notebooks that I just have sitting around and convert them into my personal art sketchbooks. I’ve subscribed to Skillshare, so a class is literally a click away. I remember being quite good at drawing as a child, so I’d ideally like to recapture some of that childhood spark.

2021, one new goal

Yes, 2020 had other goals that I never met, like camping and running a half marathon (albeit the half marathon can be forgiven) as well as cooking. Looking back, this were just taking a shot in the dark. If I exercise, I exercise but forcing myself to run was too much to ask. Gone are my cross country days and while I eventually want to tackle the half marathon beast, it’ll come when everything else falls into place. Camping is great in theory but in practice it was too difficult to get out given my anxiety. I thought camping would help with my anxiety, but it is clear now that I have to work on my anxiety first before camping can become remotely possible. Cooking is another marathon situation. I have no urgency to cook and while ideally I’ll get into it as a hobby sooner or later, having it as a resolution adds more stress than joy. If I cook a meal every once in a blue moon, I am ok with that. That aside, my new goal for 2021 is…

Music!

I am a nut for all things that can improve cognitive function. My two goals are to learn piano and eventually the violin. My brother bought an electric keyboard a while back and never played. Growing up we had a grand piano that I would play around with until one day we didn’t. So now, I’m going to right a childhood wrong and learn to play without an instructor because online tutorials are actually quite good! Violin I will most likely need someone to teach me but piano has thousands of tutorials and offers the least resistance to learning. It’ll be tough but if it can make me smarter, then it’s worth it.

My tangible for the year is to take a month course and do exactly what the teacher says. I want to simply have fun and find the joy in playing an instrument, which I’m sure I can do.

Epilogue

A new year, fewer goals. 4 in total. gone are the days of exercise resolutions and resolutions I don’t need. This year is a focus on what I enjoy and developing skills that I can carry out of my twenties. It’s a year of change and solidifying who I am and where I want to go. I am ready to move past 2020 and into a new year, so here’s to hoping 2021 is better!

The nightmares we believe

When we are children, we are afraid of the dark. We seek a candle to light us to bed. And still we dream of monsters. The battle between light and dark is constant. For without light, life cannot exist. The darkness twists and distorts, creating illusions and playing tricks on the mind. People spend most of their lives running and they forget the very reason they start running in the first place. It is only when the path forward is blocked that they have time to stop and catch their breath. And what do they see when they turn around? The creeping darkness.

So what is the darkness and what makes it so terrifying? Therein lies the  problem. The darkness is many things at once; regret, sorrow, guilt, anger, jealousy, rage. It is every secret kept, every opportunity not taken, and the time that you can’t get back. It is death incarnate, always chasing and never slowing, only wearing. And at the same time… It is nothing at all. We shine a light through the darkness and see nothing. No monsters and what we thought would be there, isn’t.

And yet we are afraid. It is only when we see the sun peak over rolling hills do we realize that forever long the night seems, the sun always rises.

Personally, I find comfort in the darkness; its shadow like a blanket. Perhaps not so much the darkness but rather the light that shines through. Some nights you may get a rolling breeze, and the soft glow of moonlight, which can be both mesmerizing and somewhat unsettling. The breeze can easily turn into a howling and the light can slowly recede, leaving only darkness. And yet, when we open our eyes, we realize morning has already come.


The Don’t let Mike Starve fund

This post, fun fact, has been sitting in my drafts since July of 2017. It felt incomplete and I had always meant to add more. So come today, I reread the post and have found it to be one of my better pieces and what was missing, was found. The only change I have made since then and now is the final line, "And yet, when we open our eyes, we realize morning has already come." I hope you enjoy this piece and am glad I finally get to share it with the world.

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