Friday, April 25, 2014

The Meek Shall Inherit Anxiety

      It is rare to have a conversation with another person that is wholly honest and self deprecating. All we do is lie to each other and worse, to ourselves. I only want to be unabashed and forthcoming without feeling judged. To do so is to leave myself vulnerable. If you give up too much you leave yourself exposed, more ammunition for anyone to take you down. Baring yourself and standing defenseless in front of the world can be cathartic, but more often than not it is when people begin to throw stones.

      We build barriers to insulate ourselves from each other, creating a representation of what we think best serves our interest. Some people put on a facade to be accepted, and others to disappear. The walls I built were made to show the world that I am angry and unapproachable, but behind the barrier I'm afraid. My fear isn't that I will be rejected or ridiculed, it is the fear of failure that holds me back. There are so many variables in any situation that I become overwhelmed by the avenues of possibility. My fear of doing or saying the wrong thing often leaves me paralyzed. Some would argue that inaction is equivalent to failure, but I don't see it that way. There are decisions that cannot be unmade and so I err on the side of caution.

      To get close to me you have to give part of yourself first. Some collateral, an offering of trust. Once I know that you trust me, I can trust you. I willingly open my chest and let spill even my darkest secrets. It has been a long while since I have let anyone in and my confidence wanes. Something I can't put my finger on looms over head, this dark cloud oppresses me. I recede back into my fortress avoiding all contact with anything new. I feel drained, worn down, and nearly broken. I find it hard to make eye contact again, like a wounded animal cowering in the corner. I am afraid that people will see the weakness in my soul. I can't bear the look when someone recognizes it in me.

      I live each day hoping for some affirmation that it was worth it. Most of the time I come up empty. Ordinary things have deep and significant meaning in my mind. A simple missed phone call is a traumatic blow to a relationship, an offhand comment holds hidden messages. Life becomes a puzzle that only I can see. I read too deeply into everything and I feel like the smallest decision is paramount to my future. Every word is a sword that has the potential to leave a deep wound, every thought a poison pill handled with great care. Choosing to remain silent and hiding behind my defenses has left me anxious and isolated.

      I want to believe that there is a reason for the way our lives play out. I hope that there is purpose, but each day that passes makes me feel like there is nothing. Everything I have ever wanted has been given to me, only to be promptly snatched away. I can only surmise that I am damned to be miserable because for some reason that is the only condition in which I am worthwhile. It is counter-intuitive for me to be most productive when I am at my emotional worst. When I am dragging the bottom, the silt rises. I can see the dark and dangerous thoughts that lurk in the deep recesses of my mind. Happiness is a shroud that blinds me to this side of myself.

      The strange thing is I like both versions of myself equally. When I feel satisfied with my life everything seems lighter, the burden of contemplation becomes insignificant. If I could stay in those moments forever I would. Maybe even die with a smile on my face, content. In the times when the veil is lifted and I am immersed in gut wrenching torment, I feel empowered. I become the hero in my own story and I have discovered my nemesis. What champion is complete without a foe to face? There is a love/hate relationship within my own mind. I become both protagonist and antagonist.

      My emotions manifest into physical forces. I feel things deeply, but I do not show them on the surface. There is only chaotic turmoil inside, yet on the surface the pond is still. Don't mistake the stoic, quiet people for disconnected, emotionless robots because I can assure you that we feel things on a level you can never imagine. We are deep wells. If you are fortunate enough to meet one that lets you peer beneath the surface, realize the amount of trust they have put in you. I think long and hard about every minute detail of every insignificant thing on a scale so enormously large that it becomes difficult just to be alive. Yet somehow I fail to understand my own duality. The world and everything in it is alien to me but so fascinating that I need to explore the most mundane facet of every little thing that makes it function. However, my apprehension keeps me hiding away from it all.

      I wonder about the meaning of life and sometimes, in the pursuit of the answer, I forget to just live. Having spent so many sleepless nights trying to figure out why I am here, I have missed so much of life. My quest for meaning has only served to lessen the weight of my existence. I have come to believe that the answer is: there is no answer. If you want purpose in life you have to create it for yourself. Destiny is the dream of the hopeless. Fate doesn't define you, action does. The day will come when I shed my anxiety and I walk the wire without a safety net. Until that day arrives, I recognize that I am the navigator of my own life. Only I can make myself become the person I want to be.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Death Only Kills the Living

      Jenna had been sick as long as I'd known her. Hiding the truth of what she was going through, she preferred to let everyone believe she was a drug addict than let them know how physically broken she was. When we first starting dating she told me her doctor said she wouldn't live more than five years and that she shouldn't have children because it would most likely kill her. It was obvious there was something seriously wrong with her. I had already spent many nights with her curled up in a ball riding out a wave of pain.
      Things started getting serious between us and she told me to walk away because she didn't want to put me through the tragedy that would inevitably come. I stayed because I loved her the moment I saw her and I knew it was real. She lived longer than the projected five years and she might have lived longer, having twins definitely took its toll on her body. She began to get very sick in 2009. She saw more than twenty different doctors and not one of them ever offered a conclusive diagnosis of her condition. They said things like “It seems like Lupus, but the tests are inconclusive” or “You definitely have some auto-immune disease, but your symptoms don't fit any of them specifically.” In and out of the hospital, no better than she was before, Jenna had lost her faith in medicine. She knew there wasn't a lot of time left and she told me what she wanted to happen after she died. At the time I thought she was just being morbid, but I am glad she did because in the end it was up to me to make the final decision.
      In October of 2012 she finally gave in to her ailments. For about a year before she died she barely ever got out of bed. She slept so much that I wouldn't see her awake for almost a week at a time. She almost never ate, towards the end she had a meal a week. I had to supplement her nutrition with vitamin saturated smoothies that more often than not she vomited up. Her condition got so bad that I could no longer sleep in the bed with her because she would get fevers of 105 degrees and sweat so much that the bed would be soaked, moaning and talking in her sleep. Through all of this she refused to go to the hospital because they always treated her like a junkie trying to get meds. I saw it with my own eyes, the judgment and condescension they treated her with and I could not argue with her fear.
      Eventually I had to quit my job to take care of her, thankfully she was getting disability money or we would have gone totally broke. She was no more than a skeleton anymore and to my everlasting shame I began to resent her. Two kids and a sick woman to take care of and all I could do was think about myself. I didn't think she was going to die, she had endured so much. My life had become only parent and nurse, I was angry with her for being so helpless. That has been the hardest part for me. The thoughts that came into my mind. How it would be easier to leave and take the kids, that I could live a normal life if I didn't have to care for her. Maybe now it is easier to only have the responsibility of having to take care of the kids, but there is a hole in my soul.
      One day in late September of 2012 I came home from picking the kids up from school. I found Jenna in the kitchen crying. I was already in a bad mood having to deal with the kids and their bullshit. I was not in a sympathetic mood. I asked her why she was crying and she told me she had gone to the bathroom and fallen in the hallway. She said her body had stopped responding, she couldn't see or hear or control her body but she was still conscious. I thought she was exaggerating. I told her she probably stood up too fast and blacked out.
      The next day I was in a different room when I heard the most terrible scream I have ever heard. I had my headphones on so loud I couldn't hear myself breathe and her scream sounded as clear as if she was in my head. She told me that she felt trapped in her body with no control and she was terrified. Now I was really worried, I thought she might be having minor strokes. I told her to go to the hospital because she would die if this kept happening. She promised if it happened again she would go. She never got to make that choice. Maybe if I had forced her to go she would still be alive. I will always question myself. Did I do enough to save her? She had been in the hospital so many times before with no resolution I didn't see the point in arguing with her.
      Two nights later, I was sleeping on the couch. I woke up to strange sounds coming from the bedroom at one o'clock in the morning as I often did. I saw something that will never leave me. She was bluish white and gasping for breath, eyes wide open but seeing nothing. I held her in my arms and called out her name, shaking her to bring her back to reality. She didn't respond. My heart began to race, fear had taken me over. I slapped her face to make her snap out of it, but her eyes didn't move, fixed in a blank stare. Her breathing slowed, still gasping but fewer and further between. Then she stopped. She didn't take another breath. I tried to feel for a pulse but my heart was beating so hard I couldn't feel anything else. Her doctor had given her a stethoscope, I ran to get it and quickly held it to her chest. There was nothing, not a single sound. Fear consumed me, but I forced myself to focus as I called 9-1-1. Dragging her onto the living room floor I told the dispatcher everything and proceeded to perform CPR.
      Within a few minutes I heard sirens and saw lights outside. I ran downstairs to get them and they continued to work on her. In the back of my mind I knew the odds. She was already blue when I found her and this was minutes later. I knew that night her brain was gone, but I still found myself begging the EMT's not to let her die. I pleaded, “Please, I can't do this alone!”, “Don't let her die.” A few minutes into all of this I heard a small voice behind me. “Daddy? Are your friends showing you how to save someone's life?” My heart froze. My son had heard the commotion and woke up. I told him to go back to bed and I would tell him in the morning.
      He saw it all. The gurney, the air pump, defibrillator. I told him to go in his room and wait. Jenna's heart started beating again and the medics brought her down to the ambulance. They told me what hospital she was going to and that they would call me for more information. I couldn't go with her because I had no one to watch my kids. When I came upstairs I told my son mommy was sick and had to go to the hospital again. I passed out on the living room floor waiting for the call from the hospital.
      Six o'clock in the morning I woke to the phone ringing, it was the hospital. I relayed every single bit of pertinent information I could. I made breakfast, took the kids to school as if everything would be like every other time she went to the hospital. My mother had come to help me, I broke down crying. I told her that I had watched Jenna die, I saw the light fade from her eyes. I knew enough to know that long without breathing would at the very least leave her severely brain damaged. I went to the emergency room. They had dropped her body temperature to try to preserve brain function. She was cold and unconscious.
      I was so angry with her. I begged her to fight, but she couldn't hear me. “Just keep breathing” I said, it became my mantra for ten days. “Fight for us! Don't give up, just keep breathing.” I didn't want it to end like this. I stared at the monitor display, watching her breaths per minute and heart rate. Any slight improvement was a ray of hope. That was the longest week of my life, knowing she would be brain dead, but still hoping for a miracle. I have never believed in anything, but I prayed to any deity that would listen to save her. She was in a coma for more than a week before they had a conclusive brain scan. I remained hopeful until the neurologist said that the scans showed 90% brain death and she would never be the person she was again. His “best case scenario” was that she would be able to see but never recognize us and never be able to speak.
      The decision to end any further life support was on my shoulders. We had discussed this possibility, but I couldn't believe I actually had to act on it. The following day I gave the approval to unhook her. We had all hoped she would pass quickly, but she was still breathing on her own. When I had a moment alone with her I whispered, “It's okay, you fought enough. You can let go now. I will take care of the kids. You don't have to worry about us anymore. Go be free of this.” Jenna was always too tough for her own good and she held on. The whole family sat with her that day waiting, but she did not let go.
      The next day her brother, best friend and I spent most of the day sharing stories, and reading to her. Still she did not relent. A few hours after we went home, when no one was with her, finally she passed away. Just as she had kept her illness from everyone, she chose to walk the last mile alone. She was always so much better than I am, I wish I could have traded places with her. I got to have the best of her even though I couldn't be my best for her. Her light pulled me from the darkness and I will be eternally grateful, without her I would probably have died a long time ago. She still makes me a better man every day for having known her. I can only hope that someone will miss me as much as I miss her when I am gone.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Weight of Being

     Everything made sense when I was a child. The rules were laid out for me, all the truths of the world were taught to me, and everything was peaceful. I don't remember the moment it happened, but I know that one day my experience clashed with the gentle tranquility of my perceived world. Something didn't add up. A door had opened and what I could see on the other side grabbed my attention. Answers only yield more questions and my pursuit of truth left me with a loosening grip on reality. Truth is neither good nor evil yet I could feel something stirring inside me, a malevolent force. Some of us are stalked by demons and mine were making themselves known. They don't strike when you are strong because they want an easy fight. When you falter, stumble, and fall they attack.

     About ten years ago I was incredibly depressed, the demons had me firmly in their grasp and they were dragging me down. I didn't want to do anything or go anywhere. Nothing was enjoyable and I couldn't think of anything that would make me feel any better. My darkest days were upon me. I felt downtrodden and miserable as though I was carrying the weight of a world I would never get to enjoy. The toils of life had worn me down and I could not imagine what purpose my continued existence would serve. The pressure of an unseen force was bearing down on me. The murky waters were rising, a flood was imminent. Frantically plugging holes in the dam, I could not stop the inevitable deluge. The intangible force broke through and I was washed away. Not a martyr, not anything. Another soul in the grinder.

     I had given up. Every day I woke up and thought “I can't do this anymore.” The talons of hands I could feel but not see tore at me. In a poorly considered attempt to feel something other than crushing sadness, I began to drink heavily. For a while I felt better. I could enjoy myself, be around other people, smile and laugh. It didn't take long for my weekends of debauchery to lose their luster. Being misguided as I was, I believed that if being drunk made life easier then doing it all the time was the solution. Every day for a few years thereafter, I was a drunken mess. Alcohol was my wolf in sheep's clothing, it's true nature hidden from me. I put my faith in it to save me from sadness, but it only brought me closer to despair. A haze clouded my mind, I couldn't feel anything anymore. I was lost and alone in the world and alcohol was my escape.

     On the outside I was always having a great time, but inside I was dying. I nearly destroyed myself, I hurt other people, and I lost any sense of who I was. Countless nights I found myself sobbing on the floor trying to talk myself out of ending my life, clinging to the hope that I would get through the nightmare my life had become. In that frame of mind dying was not only an option, but a reasonable one. Thankfully I never got to the attempt stage. Being on this path should have been enough to scare me away from the dark abyss I had created in my mind. It didn't.

     Hope eventually runs out. I didn't want to fight for mediocrity anymore. I didn't want to fight at all. All I wanted was a break from the constant flow of devastation and disappointment. The demons had twisted my reality to the point that I was ready to die in my early twenties. I stopped trying to fight depression and began to rationalize that it was who I was meant to be. Alcoholism became my crutch and I never blamed it for the problems in my life even after losing days of memory to black outs. I was on a straight course for death, whether it be at my own hand or not didn't seem to matter. There wasn't much comfort in knowing I was not the only one who felt that way, in fact that idea only made it worse. If I could sacrifice myself to shield others from this malady I would do so without thinking.

     In the end I got lucky and I made it out alive. I learned to fight my demons, however I can not claim to have any answers. For me, I had someone come along to save me. I changed every aspect of my life and took on some real responsibility. Things turned around almost instantly. That is not to say that I never feel the shadows of my past creeping up on me. There are moments, especially during hardships, when I want to surrender. With the right people to stand up and fight by your side it gets easier. You might be as surprised as I was to find out how compassionate people can be. I spent years facing dark times alone because I thought no one would understand. The fact of the matter is that there are people who love you and that is all the reason they need to hold you up. Fighting your demons alone is a choice so don't keep it to yourself, someone will help you through it. The fight goes on and although it may not always seem like it, living is worth the trouble.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stoke the Fire

     I refuse to believe that people are really as dull and stupid as they represent themselves to be. If I spend most of my time examining the world I live in and my place in it, it should stand to reason that other people are as well. Why is it then, that we discuss the most worthless parts of our experience? Small talk tortures me. I intentionally look angry all the time because I want to dissuade people from talking to me about the weather or how their kid did in his soccer game over the weekend. The sad thing is, as I listen to people around me talking, I think they have convinced themselves that the mindless prattling chit chat that they engage in on a daily basis is somehow meaningful. We have the ability to connect on a scale much greater than ever before yet we keep our true selves hidden away as though someone could snatch it away from us.

     We should get something out of connecting with another person. I want to feel like I have grown, or given someone else the opportunity to grow. Having one good conversation where vulnerabilities are shared and a bond is forged is so much better than having a thousand encounters exchanging pleasantries. Fake smiles and mindless banter leave me feeling dirty. I won't participate in this charade anymore. I don't want to meet your public face, I don't want to play a role to occupy your time. Awkward silence is less uncomfortable for me than awful banter. Too often when you first meet someone the first question exchanged is “what do you do?” Does a person's profession define them? We should be asking more relevant questions.

     There is nothing I enjoy more than the rush of meeting someone who challenges me intellectually or spiritually. Even an argument makes me feel alive like nothing else. Conversations where I can reflect on what was discussed for days afterward fuel me, I feel enriched by them. I love the emotions that plague me when someone challenges my conceptions of what really matters and the true meaning of life. Lately it seems that those days of endless debates and heated arguments are long behind me. Has the fire gone from our hearts or did life just get in the way? I can barely recognize humanity anymore. What have we become?

     When I was younger, wide-eyed and full of wonder, I was enamored with life. I want to be able to feel that way again but now I can't help but feel like we are all doomed. Each day is a reflection of the last and I feel hopeless. That spark, the burning passion I had once felt, is reduced to a smoldering ember gasping to hang on to life. I don't see passion in my contemporaries. The blinding obsession with something or someone that yields great stories, art, and music. The suffering and elation it can bring seems like it has gone from the world and everything is awash in a gray, mundane fog. Is it that people are too jaded to care about anything or are they so anesthetized by meds that they forgot how to feel?

     I thrive on the highs and lows of passion. As much as the lows kill me, I wouldn't trade them for anything because they give value to the soaring exultation the high points bring. Admittedly the lows are usually longer in duration and at points death seems like a better option, but reaching those highs becomes all that matters. Everyone should be passionate about something, be it love or rage, anything to feel some real emotions. When you do, share it with someone. Set passionless hearts ablaze in the fires of inspiration and watch the world burn.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Walking on Eggshells Leaves a Bloody Trail

     When I was a child we were forged in the crucible of playground violence. When you punched someone in the face for being a jerk, assault charges weren't filed against you. We are the last generation to have children's movies with people smoking, drinking, and saying things like “penis breath.” Was our innocence lost? I don't like the way our culture has evolved since I was a kid. It seems today as though every action has a disproportional consequence attached to it. The fear of public shaming has everyone trembling in their boots thanks to social media and the abundance of recording devices. People are afraid to offend anyone because they can be made a public spectacle of with such ease. I miss the days when the assholes of the world wore their distasteful personalities like a badge of honor. You still see them every once in a while but at this rate they will go the way of the dodo.

     There is this pervasive wave of homogenization of behavior and outlook that scares the hell out of me. The most frightening part is that most people don't even question it, they just fall in line. My kids are only seven, but I know I have taught them the most valuable lesson they will ever learn: question everything. Diversity of ideas is paramount to the continued progress of any culture. People are entitled to their opinions and if you are offended by what someone says or how they act it is not your job to bring them down, simply look away. Just because you don't approve of something does not automatically deputize you to the decency police.

     The people who try to make a big deal out of something someone else is doing annoy me more than the person they are trying to shut down. The other day I was on the subway with my kids and a group of men were talking loudly and spewing obscenities. It didn't bother me at all, I have already explained to my children what “bad” words are and the time and place in which they are appropriate. I could tell that it made people around me uncomfortable, but my kids didn't even seem to notice. Sensitivity to words and the fear of hurting someone's feelings have taken away our ability to say what we are thinking. Saying anything that might be slightly offensive can get you crucified. I admire the people who don't care about their public image.

     The internet has allowed us to craft an artificial world, one we can use to customize how the real world perceives us. With social media any individual can create an image for themselves and in a way become their own publicist. Somewhere along the line it was unanimously decided that validation can only come from the approval of others. This showcase we create highlights all of our successes and achievements, bolstering our self worth to a point of an inflated ego. The more adulation we receive, the stronger the belief that we actually are as we have represented ourselves to be. So many people are building themselves an ivory tower, and I can't wait for them all to come crashing down. There is a saying, “you can't polish a turd.” Despite the fact that it has been proven that you can in fact polish a turd, the point is still valid. No matter how you dress it up, a piece of crap is still a piece of crap.

     Now we shelter our kids from the things we don't want to face and in doing so we prevent them from the slow trickle of discovering the horrible truth about life. They discover everything all at once and it is hard to handle. Imagine you woke up one day and everything you ever knew was just the best of what the world had to offer. Once you saw the truth you could unravel. As a parent I feel the instinct to fix every sadness with kind words. Fight the urge. This soft-handed, light stepping new culture has resulted in a generation of overly sensitive kids with a wide range of problems that I am not entirely sure are real things.

     To become a whole person you must experience both good and bad. I am resilient because I felt pain, alienation, and deep suffocating misery and I survived. My range of understanding comes from seeing both sides of the coin. Steel is forged by being beaten relentlessly with a hammer. Why should we think any different of the human spirit? Adversity feeds the desire to be great, pampering feeds nothing but hedonism and hubris. “I deserve to feel good” should not be the first thought that comes to mind when you wake up, it should be reserved for when you have actually done something to feel good about. Feeling accomplished is a privilege, not a right.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

   We spend so much time worrying about what other people think of us that we forget to consider what we think of ourselves. Self-worth is tied up in so many facets of life that it can easily get muddled and lost. I've never had a high level of self-worth because I allowed myself to believe that how people saw me mattered and that the mistakes of my past had to be weighed in my judgment. As they say we are our own harshest critic. I know I have beaten myself up more than anyone else ever has and the gap between my own criticism and anything that has come from the outside is vast. I have been called crazy and a freak mostly because my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs are generally of the not-widely-accepted variety. Because I refused to change, I was only accepted by small groups of people.
    Recently I found redemption. Not in the eyes of others but in my own mind. I think this is where the essence of redemption truly lies. After all, how could you be honest to anyone else if you lie to yourself? I'm not talking about making amends, there is a huge difference between redemption and absolution. For a while I thought they were one in the same, but I realize that absolution is much easier than redemption. Being forgiven only demands that you ask for forgiveness. In truth, you don't even have to mean it, just go through the motions and you may be forgiven. Ask yourself, for whom are you seeking forgiveness? Is it to make things right with someone you have wronged, or is it to assuage your own guilt?
    Redemption has a higher price. It's personal, something that cannot be achieved without being honest with yourself. I decided to stop deceiving myself and drop all the half truths and interpretations of events from my memory. I would only accept the truth and I would only give the truth. I found out that contrary to my belief, people respond well to blunt honesty. Maybe it is because it is so rare, or because the shock of truth is powerful enough to strip the inhibitions of others. Your redemption can be on a small scale, something as simple as committing to change, but that small thing needs to be done for yourself. Otherwise your efforts are simply pandering to the perception of others. Everything we were exposed to growing up made us believe we're better than we are, as though the world owes us respect for nothing. We believed that we were all destined for greatness and then we became adults and we saw the ugly truth. We've been lying to ourselves our entire lives.
    When I was a teenager I thought the world would be handed to me. Even after dropping out of college in my first year, I expected everything for nothing in return. I felt animosity towards the world for leaving me behind. My delusion was of my own design and I could not see through it. I blamed everyone but myself, I made excuses for my lack of success, and I made myself believe that it was only temporary. That one day my luck would turn around. Nothing ever changed unless for the worse. Slowly I began to realize that it was my fault. I wasn't left behind, I failed to keep up.
    Mine is a generation of apathy and selfishness. Now is the time for redemption. Reevaluate everything you have ever thought or learned, understanding that “why?” isn't an unreasonable question to ask. Start with you and push others to do the same. Change starts with the individual. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Without personal meaning our words and actions ring hollow. Define yourself by what you see within you, not by how you think others should see you. Like looking through a dirty window, your view of the world is obscured and the reflection of yourself is distorted.
    Reckless and unduly proud, we have become a culture of self-indulgent egomaniacs that believe a pill can cure anything that ails us and we have no one to blame but ourselves. We keep letting people make excuses for each other and we hide behind them because it's easier than trying to fix the real problem. My hope is that we will stop telling our kids that they are special. That we will no longer reward mediocrity. I want to give the next generation a true sense of accomplishment by making them actually earn it. These things are not something that can be learned from books, it takes experience. We need to show them, to lead by example.
    People can do amazing things when they believe in themselves. I was always a pessimist and kept my eyes closed to possibility. For me it took a few life changing blows to my ego before I opened my eyes and saw the truth: the world is full of opportunity but it isn't going to come to you. When you want something, go for it and never give up. Progress is a byproduct of change, be the catalyst.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Ebb and Flow of Happiness

    I won't pretend to be someone who knows what I am talking about, I simply know what I feel. This is only meant to be cathartic for me and I invite you along for the ride. My intention is full disclosure, a guided tour through a mind full of confusion and uncertainty. A long time ago I realized that the path to enlightenment did not begin with knowledge, but with understanding. The Latin phrase “temet nosce”, meaning “know thyself” became my personal mantra. I'm sure the scholars have plenty to say about it, but for me it meant: to fully understand anything you must first understand yourself.
    When I think back to my youth, especially high school, I cringe. I can't say it was especially terrible for me because I floated by somewhere in the middle. I wasn't bullied much. If people noticed me at all, they just thought I was strange, maybe a little crazy. Strange as I was, I did manage to make some friends. At the time I believed that no one wanted anything to do with me, but I realized later it was my odd behavior that kept people away. Hardly ever speaking, I was a very private person. I liked to observe from afar and take mental notes of people's interactions. Slang and popular fashion trends were completely alien to me.
    I have never been comfortable around other people. Protecting myself like a turtle, retreating at the first sign of threat, I never felt whole because I didn't let anyone see me. I felt completely insane compared to the “normal” but I think we all do. I see now that it's not me, everyone is different. Normal is an illusion, the generally accepted behaviors that all people ascribe to are insane. No one is normal. Looking back I can't understand why anyone would want to feel any other way. The people that don't feel alienated are the strange ones.
    Happiness eluded me for years. I found it a few times but that slippery bastard always made it's escape. All I ever wanted was for someone to love me. Occasionally I had it, but inevitably my awkwardness became too much for anyone to bear and I found myself alone time and again. Continuing throughout my teens and early twenties, the tides of happiness graced my shores only to recede slowly eroding my faith away. Eventually it broke me. I found myself in darkness, drowning every night in self destruction. I turned my back on happiness finding a niche at the bar with my two best friends, alcohol and cigarettes. It didn't take long for the tides of happiness to turn to the tsunami of misery. So much of who I was washed away in the relentless wave. I had given up not only on trying to find happiness, but on life. By some miracle someone came along and pulled me out.
    She loved me as broken as I was, maybe because she was broken too. She became my best friend. We did everything together. We had kids, I found a decent job and things were good for a while. The shores of happiness were mine to stroll once again. They say fate is cruel, I don't have a case to argue. Our happiness was short lived when she became ill. Our story didn't have a fairy tale ending. She passed away last year. Our family broken, the dark shadow of misery looming again overhead. As sad as it made me, this time I didn't let it overwhelm me.
    For most people happiness is cyclical, it comes and goes seemingly as it pleases. Whatever it is that makes us happy is usually something beyond our control, like someone else willingly loving us. Somehow we have been conditioned to believe that we are incomplete if we are alone. I used to believe that myself. Maybe its was the stories with the beautiful princess and the handsome prince we all are familiar with from our childhood. They are mostly the same, boy and girl meet, fall in love, most of the time the only adversity their relationship faces is something unrealistic or intangible like magic or a purely evil entity, and they live “happily ever after”. We let ourselves be brainwashed into thinking this was what to expect from life. As adults we don't remember the emotional roller coaster we experienced hearing these stories as kids, but somewhere deep in our mind it lingers. It's the thing that makes us sabotage our own relationships. Nothing is ever good enough because it doesn't live up to the fantasy of perfect happiness forever. Ideally we all want that happy ending, but almost no one ever gets it.
    There are no princesses locked in towers guarded by dragons, there's no handsome prince scouring the world looking for you. Even if there were, do you really think that they would love you unconditionally forever? Of course not. Unless you are a Haitian witchdoctor or a lobotomist, you are going to have trouble finding someone to be complacent all the time. All of this aside, stop looking for your happiness in someone else as if they are holding some part of you that was removed at birth and you need them to feel happy. The secret to true happiness is in understanding who you are. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Learn who you are and why you do the things you do.
    Anything motivated by an outside source is a threat to your happiness. If you dress a certain way because you are worried about how other people perceive you, stop it. If you talk a certain way because you want to fit into a social group, stop it. If your goals are set to please or impress others, stop pursuing them. Get to the root of what you want and how you feel about things. Make changes to be the person you want to be.
    I have embraced that which makes me different. There is no longer any fear of being judged or ridiculed. No matter how alone you may feel someone like you is close at hand. The biggest obstacle is taking off our armor and allowing ourselves to be exposed and vulnerable. When you do, and you let the world see the tumult in you, others will begin to strip their armor and let you see them. If we all let go of our defenses the world would be a better place. Be vulnerable, lower your guard. Do something you normally wouldn't do. Free yourself from the shackles you have let social pressure place on you. Most of us think we are less than we are. Feeling like you are inadequate can be the thing that holds you back. The words of others can only hurt you if you let them. I believe everyone has greatness in themselves. All it takes is finding it and letting it grow.
    These are new revelations for me. I have always believed that happiness was achieving the things that I was told I should want. A family, an education, and a good job. I always hated school and dropped out of my first year of college. There has never been a job that I was happy with for more than a few months, I always felt I could do better. My family suffered a great loss. By the standards I grew up on, I was a complete failure. I believed I could never be happy. Our unhappiness comes from our unrealistic expectations and distorted perceptions. As an adult its time to clean out the cobwebs of childhood fantasies and see the world as it is.
    The happiest people I know are the ones who love themselves and see anything outside of themselves as a bonus. If I said I was happy I would be lying, but you can be sure I am on the right path.