Remembering Things, Comforting Things, Keeping Secrets, 2020 Surprises

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop, held online.

• Write a list of 10 things that you want to remember during difficult times.

  1. You are loved.
  2. Breathe.
  3. Explore, then cuddle afterwards.
  4. Keep making lists of the things you’re grateful for.
  5. Give yourself a break.
  6. Be patient, it will come.
  7. Keep your head up.
  8. You aren’t alone.
  9. You got this.
  10. It will be ok.

• What items do you find comforting? Why do you think that is? What places do you find comforting?

My bed is comforting. I have outfitted it with sheets and blankets I love, far more pillows than I need, and a mattress so big that it fits me.

My meditation space is comforting. It has books that fill me, incense and candles that smell nice, things to keep my hands busy so I can let go, and pillows to let me rest.

Ferry Bar Park is comforting. I go out there, tilt the chair back in my Element, roll down the windows, and just let the wind and the waves carry me away.

• What secrets are you keeping? Are these secrets affecting your mental health? Why or why?

I hold on to things. Things people say in passing, things people say to me directly, things I hear said about me… I hold on to them forever. And I’ll bring them out and squeeze them as hard as I can, until they dig into me and hurt me again.

I’m getting a lot better at letting it go and not harping on these things, but they hurt. I have a general aura of aloofness and of being happy-go-lucky, but I remember these things and I have a hard time letting them go.

Some things were said to me by family, some were said to me by people I was in relationship with. Some of the things have absolutely zero basis in fact at all, and were said just in an argument or just as a way to hurt me. But I’ll still wonder “what if…”

It is devastating for my mental health. Because it because really difficult to move on and grow. But I’m making progress on it, bit by bit.

• What has surprised you most about 2020? What can you learn from it? What have you learned from it?

I think I was surprised most by how much people were still there to support and be there for me, despite the pandemic, despite how down and out I was for the previous two years. The pandemic didn’t stop people from loving me, and it has encouraged me to keep going.

• What has anxiety taught you about yourself?

Anxiety is not something I felt I had a lot of experience with. I knew people who had anxiety, who were scared of trying new things, who were scare of their shadows, who were just generally scared of life. But I didn’t feel that way, so I figured I didn’t have anxiety. I was fearless, nothing frightened me. I would dive directly into things that I was afraid of.

But when I had kids, I felt such a weight of responsibility constantly that I felt like it would crush me. I had to make enough money to buy enough food. To pay the mortgage. To pay the utility bills. All during a recession.

I felt trapped, and as my marriage failed over and over again, anxiety crept in. It manifested itself not as fear and apprehensiveness, but as anger and rage. My health took a nosedive. I considered dark thoughts that normally I wouldn’t even approach. I had panic attacks, I went to the ER for bizarre things that would happen to my body.

Anxiety taught me that ignoring problems wasn’t any type of solution, and that my mental health was the first thing I needed to take care of, not the last.

Character, Digging Deeper, Comfort Zones, Lies, Living Live to the Fullest, and Closing Gaps

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• Has your character and humanity been forged more by pleasure and success, or by pain and disappointment?

I really do believe that who I am and my base character was forged from the loving environment my parents afforded me. It gave me the space to daydream, to be tender, to be open about some things, and to grow and learn in things I was interested in.

However, I think my humanity was forged from the pain I experienced, the bullying, the tragedies of losing classmates and loved ones around me, of watching things I cared about being destroyed, and from being lonely.

The contrast between those two things helped me understand that the world did not have to be a place of tragedy and that people could do something about it and have influence over it. And it informs much of the way I operate in the world today.

• In my relationships, am I always digging deeper or am I always settling for mediocrity. Give yourself examples of how you do either.

I think I am constantly digging deeper into people I’m interested in, and sometimes I feel like that’s a barrier to dating casually.

I’ll be sitting with someone, getting to know them, and my mind will be racing trying to figure out what this person will be like 10-15 years in the future. I try to figure out how they are with kids, how sensitive they are, what they think about feminism, where they fall politically, how they talk to the waiter who’s coming up to us, how they are with money, how the deal with conflict…

And because of the trauma that I’ve been through, I inevitably start to worry about how things would go if our relationship begins to deteriorate. I worry about how we’ll fight. How she’ll try to hurt me if she’s angry. How it will hurt when we’re not talking anymore.

All of these things come crashing into my mind instead of taking things as they are, instead of relaxing and being in the moment, instead of just being.

It’s very hard. But I’m working on it.

• How do I respond to situations that force me to step out of my comfort zone? When was the last time I had to? How did I handle it?

This is interesting, because most of the time I force myself out of my own comfort zone. I enjoy doing that, and pushing myself so that I grow in ways I know I need to work on.

However. When I get pushed out by some other force, I don’t always deal with it well. At my base, I’m stubborn. And because I am already pushing myself, something or someone else pushing me sometimes feels like stretching me beyond my breaking point.

• What is the lie you tell yourself most often? What is reality? Why do you tell yourself this lie?

The lie that I tell myself most often is that things are not as bad as they are.

I choose this lie on purpose.

The reality that things are terrible and that life is hard and that everything is stacked against me succeeding would devastate me. Things ARE terrible. Life IS hard. A lot IS stacked against my success.

But, there are other things in life. There are little things that are beautiful, there is joy, there is love, there are friendships, there is passion. And those things make going through the terrible hard things worthwhile.

There is science that shows that hopeful people actually succeed more. There is something about hope that is infectious, not just for those around you, but for yourself too. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Making room for hope allows you to experience it.

Telling myself the lie that these beautiful things exist even when I don’t see them at the moment allows me to be open to them. So that when they do show up, I can still recognize them, and not still be stumbling around in the dark.

• What activities cause you to feel like you are living life to the fullest? How often do you do them?

I try to exaggerate and magnify all the things about any situation just to help me enjoy wherever I am. Right now, I cannot do my most favourite things. Travelling, being around people, hugs… But I can’t. So I have to make small things bigger.

Right now; it’s the golden hour. A brief 40 minutes where the sun sets and casts everything in gold. It feels wonderful. I’m drinking this amazing draft latte that found that tastes great, and is keeping me awake. I love both Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, and they played back to back. I’m typing on a brand new keyboard that I bought for myself. I have a small heater next to me, and it’s keeping me toasty and warm. God is everywhere, and in all these things.

By noticing all the little things around me that make me happy, it helps me to live every moment with as few complaints and regrets as I can.

Even in annoying situations, like waiting for my number to be called at the DMV, I’ll try to find something to appreciate about it. When I’m standing in line and waiting for my ticket, I’ll notice with every step forward, my situation is just a little bit better. When I finally have my numbered ticket and I’m waiting on those plastic chairs to be called up, I’ll be thankful that I’m sitting and can rest my feet.

I try to be grateful as much as I can.

• What stands between you and complete happiness? What can you do to close the gap?

I think I’m actually pretty happy. There are some circumstantial things that would likely make things better and make me happier, but for now I’m taking pretty good care of myself and my happiness.

Misunderstandings, Letting Go, and 2021 Focus

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What is the one thing that people always misunderstand about you. What is reality?

I really find that depending on where people come into contact with me, they’ll misunderstand different things about me.

If they know me from Twitter, they’ll know me as this militant white guy who cares about dismantling white power structures, Black and Brown movements, criticizing capitalism, fighting homophobia and transphobia, feminism, and resisting fascism.

If they know me from Instagram, they’ll know me as a rather quiet artist and photographer who stands back, observes, and creates.

If they know me from protesting, I find that they don’t see as a creative or a romantic or a sexual person.

If they know me from designing with Zerflin, they don’t see my artwork.

But I find that with the Stronger Than My Struggles group, things are a lot more balanced. I find that my very closest friends are the ones who take the time to learn the different things about me and appreciate and put them all together.

I think that all this stemmed from when I was just on Facebook and Twitter. My Facebook was full of my family, the people from my community, and my former church. My politics had definitely shifted while I was in college, my faith grew deeper when I joined my new church, and my outlook on relationships and love expanded during and after my divorce. Twitter felt like more of a blank slate where I could be the person I was becoming.

My platform grew unexpectedly as I got more involved in the #FreddieGray and #BlackLivesMatter protests, and I felt this obligation to use the space to uplift other people and the people around me who didn’t get as much attention, but also to talk in a certain way. To perpetually be “on” about all these major protest issues. These protest issues and things we must fight against ARE important, but I’m also a whole person. I purposefully also make sure that I’m talking about other things that matter to me, from art, to writing, to design, to relationships, to religion.

The other part of it is that in previous relationships and friendships, I have been told that I was “too much”. And so I would diminish certain parts of myself just to be palatable. I’ve made significant gains on that, and it’s still a process.

I am working on being all of me, everywhere.

• Are you holding onto something that you need to let go of before the new year? What can you do to help yourself let go?

I’m not letting go of anything! I really feel like 2020 took so much from me, that I had to create and imagine things for myself to replace what was taken.

For example, 2020 was supposed to be the year that I began exploring the Caribbean. But the pandemic had other ideas.

At first I was really depressed about not being able to do all the things I planned, but then I shifted. I made it my mission to explore as many beaches in Maryland as I could, and built in meditation and workout routines that worked for me.

I’m not letting go of those things, they were really good for me.

• What’s the most important thing you have to get done or focus on in January?

Peace.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Passions, Careers, Underestimation, and Shame.

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• What are my top 5 strengths? What are my top 5 weaknesses? How do I limit myself?

I’m very good at making new friends. I’m talented at inventing creative solutions. I can make a design client out of anyone. I am compassionate and will think of things on multiple dimensions and how they affect different people. I am very calm and strong in high-stress chaotic situations.

I’m pretty bad at time management. I definitely take on way more than I can handle. I am forever wondering if people actually like me, or if they are just keeping me around the usefulness of my strengths. I tend to get obsessed over small details, falling down rabbit holes of research and studying things, rather than pausing and getting the necessities done. I can become completely involved in my projects and forget to take care of myself.

I tend to limit myself in leadership roles, because I believe there are better-qualified people, and find myself more comfortable working in the background.

• What am I passionate about? Does my current career allow me to feed that passion? How can I incorporate my passion into my daily life?

I’m definitely passionate about drawing and art. While I’m not a place where that can support myself solely through artwork, I run my business so that it is a patron of my artistic endeavors.

A lot of businesses give gigantic corporate sponsorships. M&T Bank Stadium, the Royal Farms Arena, for examples. They use the events that are hosted there as advertising for their business.

I do that on a much smaller scale with my design agency. My business is able to sponsor my artwork along with my Patreon supporters and helps me get the more expensive things that I need to make my art, as well as promote it.

Because I’m investing back into myself, my artwork has slowly become more and more profitable. While that is not the goal of creating art (I would make it whether I made money or not), I find that I am much freer at making art when I have less stress around paying bills.

Hopefully I’ll eventually be able to do it full time.

• Do you ever underestimate yourself? If so, name a time where you underestimated yourself and why you did it? How did the situation turn out?

I used to underestimate myself a lot. I did not have confidence in my abilities or myself, to the point where I felt like it became a core part of who I was. My whole elementary and high school experience felt like a continuous set of missed opportunities and shyness.

When I went to college, I realized I could reinvent myself, because nobody knew who I was. So I did. I focused on not letting things bother me, and letting stress and troubles roll off my back. And it worked. I was happier, freer. I developed an aloofness that gave me peace, allowed me to make friends easily, and helped me to let go of the baggage that I held on to from my youth.

However, though I was more relaxed, I still didn’t value myself highly. I attributed my new friendships and connections to that relaxed happiness and to my loyalty to people. The people I was around followed a flavour of religion that emphasized an extreme version of humility that essentially made you avoid any and all compliments or praise, and I subscribed to that.

It wasn’t until I began therapy that I even realized I had a chronic habit of underestimating my value all the time. Slowly working through that and realizing my own self-worth has led me to value myself much more.

• Is there anything in your life that you are ashamed of? What steps can you take to put that shame behind you?

Over apologizing is the main way that my shame manifested, and at some point, someone pointed out to me that over apologizing for things was the way mistreatment and abuse showed symptoms. There isn’t much I’m ashamed of anymore. I don’t find shame to be useful anymore. So every time I catch myself apologizing for things that aren’t my fault, or that I have no control over, or for things that have nothing to do with me, I recognize that as shame, and let it go.

Peaceful Purpose, Comparisons, and Monopoly

Questions from Melony Hill’s Writing for My Sanity Therapeutic Writing Workshop (@STMSBmore), held online.

• Do you feel like you know your purpose in life? If so, what is it? If not, is there anything holding you back from discovering your purpose?

I feel like I am ultimately here to bring peace. To make spaces for it, to magnify it, to grow it Peace is what I seek, what I thrive in, where I feel most at home.

However, I recognize that peace is not accessible for everyone, and I don’t think that this is right. I believe everyone should have the right to access peace, and that oppression needs to be removed in order for that to happen.

This sometimes means that systems and norms and traditions have to be disrupted and changed and abolished for that to happen.

• Are there areas of your life that you notice you compare yourself to others? Why do you feel you do this if so? How does the comparison make you feel?

I find it very hard to not compare myself to others, constantly, about everything.

Learning “mindfulness”, the art of being in the present moment, has helped, because most of the time I am not around people to compare myself to. But sometimes it still creeps in.

I think I use comparison to try to understand the world and what is happening to me. Sometimes life just doesn’t really make sense, so I try to compare myself to others just to get my bearings. I think this kind of comparison was built into my upbringing too. My parents, my teachers, everyone around me would constantly compare me to other people who were doing things better or worse than I was, and so now it feels habitual.

I don’t like the comparison at all. It makes me feel inadequate a lot of the time, and makes me second guess my actions rather than letting me be sure of myself.

I feel like my default is to be sure of myself, but the comparison gets in the way of that.

• How is your relationship with money? How were you taught about finances and budgeting? What would your life look like if your relationship with money were different?

I actually think my relationship with money is pretty good. I save a lot, and once I have a set of rules to follow about setting aside money for certain things, I do pretty good with.

I think the frustrating thing for me is that I do not always know the wisest decisions to make with money. For example, I was given the advice of buying property right as I got married, so I bought the house I currently live in. That turned out to be just a couple of months before the economic recession, and the house has been underwater ever since.

I have learned recently that it would have been better for me to let go of the house right away, but because I didn’t know that, I held onto it.

A lot of my knowledge of money came from my Mom, who is a shrewd business person. She thrives on finding good yard sale and thrift store deals, and prides herself in making a dollar stretch. We played Monopoly endlessly when I was kid, which taught me a lot about managing money and resources… but also was extremely traumatic to lose over and over.

We were very poor, though I did not know this until I got to high school. That comparison came into play, where I would see other kids wearing Nike and Adidas and FUBU, which made my homemade clothes my mom had stitched together feel insignificant and comical.

My Father’s approach to Monopoly was very different from my Mother’s. He freely gave to all of us on the board. He would give breaks on rent, and was generous with his resources. If someone needed something, he would just give it to them, or trade it for next to nothing. He almost never won because of it, but it showed me that there was another, kinder way to handle money as well. A way that could help everyone.

Though I still struggle with money just because I don’t have very much of it, I still manage what little I have well. The biggest thing I could learn is how to plan things better so that the money I do have will work better for me.