Monday, August 6, 2018

If You Don't Care, then it Doesn't Matter

I've had this observation and this conversation with a few people about how life is so much easier if you could just care about things a little bit less (we use different language but I'll keep this G-rated since I think it's an important thought). The thesis of the conversation is usually that the people who have the easiest lives or the clearest minds are the ones who care the least about the other people around them. If you don't care about the experience of your coworkers or your boss or your clients, if you don't care about your teacher or other students, if you don't care about your neighbours or your family, then you can basically just do what you think is best for you and if other people try to affect you then you just shrug it off.

The thing is that it's hard to maintain this level of indifference. You have to be so far inside your own head that the feelings or experience of other people around you has to leave no impression on you. That's really hard to do. We're wired for at least some level of empathy with the people we're in close contact with. If you're working with someone you rely on them to cover part of the job that needs to be done. It's hard to think "well I don't care about that person's experience at all". Even when you try to work in a way that does what's best for you, you still find yourself impacted at some level by the people around you.

I think the antidote for this sort of thing is to become more empathetic. While the idea of being more distant from people to make life easier is attractive, I think the best way to encourage empathy is by showing empathy. If I ask you how you are doing I think it breaks the self-focused attitude that people end up in.

Sorry, I got sidetracked in the middle of writing this. Here's the thing. Life is much easier when you don't care about other people, but if you find yourself being exhausted by people who don't care the way out is to care more. I believe there's a small minority of people who don't respond to empathy with more empathy. I think that's the only way past this problem.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Sustainable Daily Functioning

Almost every day I'm at work, people ask me what I've been up to. I'm sort of embarrassed when I answer them because my day-to-day life for the last few weeks has been really slow. I go through cycles of what I would call "depressive episodes" and when these episodes hit like one has for the last few weeks, it's pretty hard for me to do much other than the bare essentials. I can get to work, I can do my job, I can come home and make sure there's food, I can clean the toilet, and I can put on a few loads of laundry but I'm not working on a new novel or hitting some sweet gains at the gym. I'm doing what I need to do to get through each day and not adding on a whole lot else.

I haven't really talked to anyone about this lately because my depression is in a state where I know how to manage it. I can hunker down and shed off what's not essential while still meeting my commitments to other people. I'm lucky in that way because some people who experience depression aren't able to do the same thing. I don't believe that my particular way of dealing with it makes me a better person, it's just a part of my experience of depression.

As I have thought about this over the past few weeks it makes me want to say that I think there are two unhealthy thoughts about depression or just mental illness in general that are floating around. The first is that everyone has the same capacity for daily functioning no matter their mental state. That's just not true. If someone tells you that everyone has the capacity for "greatness" (whatever that's supposed to mean....) they're not taking into account the fact that the world today requires an incredible level of attention and forethought and when something like a mental illness is interfering with your energy or your judgement or your social skills then you aren't necessarily able to roll out of bed at 4 AM and go for a five mile run before you start a full day of work and chores while still making time to see friends. Everyone's capacity for doing things is different, especially in the face of mental illness and it's important to remember that when thinking about how people function.

The second unhealthy thought is when people say "I'm not functioning at peak level so leave me alone until I get better". There was a period where I used to think this way about my depressive episodes and I would put off everything in hopes that I would get the usual amount of motivation back and would have the strength to go back to 100% within a few weeks, but the problem is you don't always know if things are going to improve. Sometimes the depressed state or the anxious state or whatever just becomes your new normal state and you can't just wait for things to pass. In those times, it's important to think about how to build a sustainable life for yourself while still recognizing your limitations.

I don't mean that you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with things. I do mean that you need to start thinking about how to use what support systems you have access to in order to get to a place of sustainable living. If you need help getting food ready to eat think about what restaurants are both nutritious and provide good value for your money so that you're not hurting your body or your wallet while eating out. If you need help keeping an orderly house think about getting some roommates and dividing up chores in the house in an equitable way for everyone's abilities. If you have a different level of function than other people, figure out how to build your life in a way that accounts for that instead of just waiting to return to "normal".

That's what's on my mind these days. I've got two days off to myself now, I've got enough groceries to get through the next few days, and I've got somethings to keep me busy so I'm going to continue with my boring but sustainable life. Stay safe out there everyone.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday July 19th, 2018

There was a moment last week after the movers left when I was sitting out on the back deck with Amanda. I had a beer in hand, Panda was sniffing around in the backyard, and you could see the sun setting in the background. For a moment I just smiled and then I realized I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I was so glad for that moment that we lived here because I couldn't imagine any of those things happening where we had lived before.

We are really lucky to be living where we are. We are lucky to have support in order to be able to get out here and get established. I am lucky to have a job already. We are lucky to have a car. We have been very blessed in many ways to be living where we are right now and to feel the way that we do right now and I'm grateful for all of that. It has led me to think more carefully about privilege in the last two weeks though.

It's not really a stretch to say that things were still a bit unstable when we left Toronto. Things at the store were not perfect and I've heard a few whispers from people that there are still challenges. I also think about the people I left behind and what their daily experience is like. Since I got here I've just been so grateful that I don't have to deal with people trying to steamroll over me constantly and being angry at me for no reason. But there are still millions of people in Toronto who continue to have that as an everyday experience. They didn't move. They still have to deal with all of those things. I think about that a lot lately as I sit in my office and play video games and then go for walks in my quiet neighbourhood, and then meet nice people at my new store.

It's leading me to ask myself what I can do with what I have been given. How can I use the space in the new house and the environment in Halifax to spread the blessings we have been given around? How can I stay away from just being a suburban hermit and try to feed back into the places that I find myself in.

I am still thinking about this. I am slow, I'm still working full time, and there are still a lot of things in boxes to unpack, but eventually I will have a plan of what to do with all this privilege.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday July 16, 2018

We moved. On Wednesday July 27th, I completed my last shift at Yonge and Steeles where I worked for two and a quarter years. That evening a group of movers came and put all of our things in a truck. Later that night we had a few friends over to sit on our floor and say goodbye. Now after two weeks of travelling, unloading, unpacking, and visiting with family while that was going on we are here. We have officially moved to Halifax and will be here for at least two years.

When we said we were moving, I tried to tell people truly how I felt about things. I said I would not miss Toronto, but I would miss the people that I had grown close to in Toronto. That turned out to be accurate, maybe moreso that I realized. I do not miss Toronto at all. I noticed this yesterday when I did the groceries. In Toronto, grocery shopping meant I was going to go into an overstuffed grocery store with a bunch of angry people, nearly get run over by someone's cart, pay way too much for food, and then probably witness someone cussing out the cashier on my way out because everyone is crazy. You think I am exaggerating but I actually chose a grocery store that was farther away because I witnessed less fights there. Yesterday I went to get groceries and even though it was a weekend it felt like a pleasant experience. I got my food, the cashier just looked bored instead of frightened for his life, the prices were a bit more reasonable, and when I left I didn't feel like I immediately needed a nap. I do not miss Toronto. I love the change of pace of things here so far.

I miss the people a lot more than I thought I did. On my last day at church there were a lot more emotions than I was expecting. I was really sad and some people were genuinely sad to see me go as well. That was surprising. I guess I just have a low view of myself at times but I didn't think anyone would miss me but that is definitely not the case and now I miss those people. I also miss the partners at my store. I spent most of my time with those people complaining about work and surviving the chaos together and now I probably won't hear from many of them again and that's sad. I'm going to miss them. They were some good people. I haven't started at a new church or a new store yet so there hasn't been anyone to fill the void yet.

Overall I am happy we are here though. Thus far our home life is much less chaotic and much more manageable. We have a dishwasher and a washing machine in the basement. We have a yard where I can let the dog out. We live on a quiet street in a quiet neighbourhood. The neighbours wave at you when they see you even if they don't know you. I can head down the street to get the mail and see the ocean. It's better here, but there's definitely going to be some adjustments.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

May 22, 2018 - Swearing Again

Two years ago (I actually can't believe that was two years ago) I wrote a piece about swearing and why I think sometimes it's valuable. I think my point at the time was that, if used properly, swearing can help to convey an intensity of emotion or meaning to certain words that are other wise lacking. Some people or topics don't deserve polite language and sometimes dirty words are the only way to apply sufficient dirt to those topics.

Two weeks ago (I actually can't believe that was two weeks ago) I read about an internal memo at the Globe and Mail which was meant to address style issues around cursing and swearing in articles. A line in the memo said how including swear words in the quote of an article actually says very little about a person that we do not already know. The point here was that swearing isn't a unique trait, and everyone does it.

I think this is probably true. Not necessarily that everyone swears, but a lot more people swear than you might guess at first. Swearing is a kind of activity which you engage in with people that you trust. If you and I are close enough that I don't feel you will misinterpret my cursing, then I feel comfortable cursing around you and it can become a mark of trust or friendship.

It's not the swearing itself that builds the friendship though. It's the idea that swearing around someone is considered "impolite" and by swearing around someone you recognize that there's enough trust between the two of you that politeness doesn't matter as much anymore. You can swear because they won't be confused or made uncomfortable by it. Your swearing isn't special. It's only special because only a few people hear it.

This is like the first dungeon of friendship though. Swearing represents a fairly shallow level of trust between friends. It may indicated that a friendship is becoming closer, but it takes longer to see what other things are. Lots of people swear around co-workers. Fewer people cry around coworkers. There are deeper ways to indicate friendship than swearing, but it's a start.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March 25th, 2018

I remember the wait for Halo 2 to come out. I spent about two months waiting for that game to arrive and it felt like an eternity. I was 14, the game was the most anticipated thing I had seen up until that point and I wanted it really bad. Those two months felt like two years to me, and when the game finally came out I couldn't believe it.

I worked as a dishwasher for six months and that felt like such an eternity. By the time I quit six months later I couldn't believe I had lasted even that long. The job was terrible and I dreaded coming into work but I made money and I learned things. Those six months felt like two years though. I felt like things lasted forever.

This past summer I waited two months for Destiny 2 to come out. Nothing else was going on and while it felt like a long time to wait (especially the last two weeks), it wasn't that long. There was other stuff going on. Now that its release has come and gone, I'm a bit sad because I wish that feeling of it releasing had felt longer to me. It didn't take long to get here and now its over.

I have been working for Starbucks for almost three years (it's two years and seven months after this month). It feels like I just started yesterday. The time has just blown by and I can't believe it.

The older I get, the more my frustrations around memory and waiting have switched. When I was young, time never seemed to pass fast enough. Now that I have become older, time passes me by so quickly with each passing day. I enjoy the benefits of not having to wait for everything, but it makes it all the more important that I take each day for what it is.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

January 3rd, 2018: Positive

For a long time I've felt like I'm in survival mode and everything is constantly going wrong. Work always felt like too much for me. There were too many other things going on for me to manage the rest of my life. It was like juggling a few too many plates and I was always making excuses about how I wasn't able to complete things because there was too much going on in my life and because nothing was working. I think I would have described myself as a negative person with this kind of mindset.

Recently (within the last month) I have felt differently. Instead of feeling like everything is constantly falling apart, I now feel like things are pretty good. My life is stable and I'm happy with how things are going right now. I can't say I've felt this okay about how are things are going in recent memory and so I'm having to adapt to how this feels. I'm not constantly telling myself how things are terrible and making excuses for why I can't keep in touch with people and keep the house in the order and keep up with the things I want to. Instead I'm exploring how to take advantage of this period of time and being grateful for such a time.

This whole experience is teaching me that I don't really know how to be okay with how things are going. I'm so used to complaining that being thankful does not come naturally at all. But I'm trying to practice how to be grateful, and hopefully something good comes out of it.

Monday, January 1, 2018

January 1st 2018:

Last year I set a bunch of goals for myself like I do almost every year. As is probably the case with many people, I stopped tracking them aggressively about two months in because of a combination of being sick and becoming overwhelmed with the stress of two jobs. However, I came back to them at other points in the year and it has led me to think about them differently this year.

Usually I think of goals as a kind of pass/fail thing. You set a goal for the year and then if you don't complete it you failed and you try to set better goals the next year. This is slightly demoralizing but it makes each year a kind of checklist. The problem with this approach is that it doesn't allow for iteration or improvement. If I put that I want to go to the gym more on my list every year but never complete it, this checklist method means that I never bother to solve why I can't complete that goal. I just don't complete it and I put it on the list again next year.

But this year when I revisited my goals part way through the year, I revised them to make them more realistic or more helpful. As I got into the weeds of the year I just realized some of the goals I had set for myself weren't very realistic or weren't set up in a way that was sustainable. When I gave myself permission to view them as ongoing goals, they became a lot less demoralizing and lot more encouraging. It was no longer about pass/fail but instead was about building sustainable practices for better living that could be improved on over time. Though I only completed a few of my goals, my life looks a bit different now than it did at the beginning of the year simply because I tried to change my habits and improve my practices.

As I sit down to make my goals again this year, I'll look at them in the same way. Each goal is not something to check off, but a problem to think about and work through how to solve within the context of my own life.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

December 27th 2017: Problems

"You can't underestimate how much of an effect scarcity would have had on the people hearing these stories for the first time"

This was a line one of my profs said in seminary and it has stuck with me to this day. We were having a discussion about one of the stories in the gospel of John and as we discussed it, my professor raised the point that these people were living in what he called a starvation economy where every day the need to get enough to food to survive into the next day was an ever present concern for a lot of the people listening. You have to read the Bible with a sense of what a person with a constantly grumbling stomach might think as they go through these stories.

I still think about that a lot because when I read the Bible, I read it with my own selfish perspective. Whenever you read anything you're always thinking "what does this have to say to me" and the Bible is no different. As I'm reading, I'm thinking about all of the problems and concerns that I'm having and I want to know how what I am reading speaks to those problems. Sometimes it doesn't have anything to say about them and then I get to thinking that the Bible doesn't have anything to say to me.

In these times I have to remind myself that the things I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about are often very abstract and they're things I think about only because I am so far removed from that starvation economy that I have time to think about things like sexuality in a really abstract way because I'm not thinking about where to get food from. That doesn't mean that the things I'm thinking about aren't important. The Bible has things to say about this stuff and they're human issues that require thought and consideration. But I always have to slow myself down a little and remind myself that the world is an interesting place right now and the problems that we're wrestling with are problems only because we have solved so many others.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

December 23rd 2017: Oscillations

In the last week or so I've been dragging myself out of bed pretty late in the day. Pretty late for me is like 8 AM, but that makes me feel like much of the day has already gone by. For most people that doesn't mean anything, but I pay close attention to things like this because I'm trying to understand myself.

For most of my adult life I have gone through annual oscillations of energy. In the summer I am productive and active and as winter sets in I slow down until I get a little burst of energy around January only to be torn down by February and then reemerge when the weather improves. I thought I was like a sunlight thing or a school thing. More recently I am thinking it may be something wrong with my mind or my brain somewhere because the oscillations have gotten shorter and I've started to pay greater attention to them. Sometimes I have a ton of energy and I get lots of things done and I'm not sleepy. Some weeks I just stare at my computer screen and don't want to do much of anything. I notice a difference now between the two states because I don't beat up on myself like I once did. I used to say "I'm so lazy", but now I see that I'm not always like that. Sometimes I'm really good and completing goals and getting things done. Sometimes I don't touch videogames for weeks because I'm more interested in other stuff. Other weeks all I do on my days off is play Destiny for eight hours and then go to bed and sleep in a lot the next day.

As I've paid more attention to my behaviour and my energy level I don't think I've come to any universal conclusion. I think everyone's reasons for their behaviour is different. Some people are legitimately lazy. Some people just lack proper motivation. Everyone is different. What I do think I've learned though is that if you tell yourself "I shouldn't be this way" it makes it harder to catch what is going on in your mind. Yes maybe I shouldn't want to play so many videogames, but if I let that play out then what happens? Do things change over time? Do I lose interest? Are my motivations revealed after some time? Paying attention to what you're doing can be helpful. That's all for now. Merry Christmas.