Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Virus Life. Let me know if I can help!

If there's one thing coronavirus has taught me, it's how incredibly lucky I am. I have a job. I make ends meet financially and more. I have the best supportive friends. I have parents who offered to drive to New York from Missouri to pick me up. I have healthcare, which it seems so absurd to say in 2020 is a privilege and a luxury. I have mental health concerns, and the quarantine is absolutely
putting those concerns on edge, but remembering how absolutely staggering the amount of fortune I have is humbling in the face of all this. That's not to gloat that I'm doing fine as much as it is to highlight that not everyone is doing so fine. I think that always, but particularly now, those of us who are doing fine have a moral obligation to look after our peers who may not be doing so well. Some of that is on the macro level; donate to food banks. Donate to health organizations. If you have money to
give, it helps. If you don't have money, write or call your congresspeople. Let them know that the response is inadequate and that people across industries and incomes need relief. It also has to be on the micro level. Check in on your friends and coworkers. Send a pizza over to your quarantined friend's house. Check in on the people at risk in your life, not only of the virus, but those at risk of letting the world surrounding the virus consume them.

Social distancing and quarantining are the most solid reminders that we are all in this together that I can think of. We do these things for one another, and others are doing it for us. If one link of the chain fails, it can cause others to fail. We are having the backs of people in different cities, states,
and countries by taking the necessary precautions. It is a global pandemic in the sense that it is a threat to all of us. The rich might be able to pay for prevention and detection, but as we've seen with high profile reports, the virus attacks rich and famous also. The rich might think they're quarantining
for themselves, but frankly, I don't care. They, whether knowingly or not, are distancing or quarantining for all of us. It might be forced, but to me, it's beautiful nonetheless. Only after 9/11 can I remember a time in my life where it felt like people wanted to be here for each other like this. It's the one spark of hope that I have that maybe we can pull together despite the complete sham of a government we have right now.

So, I didn't come here to preach, or to tell you what to do, or to tell people how to handle this crisis. I have suggestions obviously, but you're no less for not taking them. We're all handling it differently in some ways. That said, if you need a friend to call, or a pizza, or a meme sent your way to make you laugh, I'm happy to help. I am incredibly fortunate. Many of us are. If I can ease your burden in one way or another as we all navigate this mess, don't hesitate to reach out. Love and health, ya'll.

-Ryan

Monday, July 22, 2019

Friendship

In probably the least mature thing I’ll say all week, one of the harder parts of growing up has been realizing that not everyone is going to like me or care to be friends with me. Throughout my life, I’ve always had my core of people, but I’ve always been a social butterfly too with lots of friends in different circles. That just becomes increasingly hard to do as we grow up. Everyone only has time for their close-knit crew, and I get that. I feel it too. It’s hard to make time for people who don’t just get you, and I’m not sure why that’s been so hard for me to swallow. No one is slighting me by not wanting to be in touch. No one is obligated to give a shit about me, even if I start giving a shit about them. That’s not to say I feel unloved or unwanted; I have people who fulfill me in both of those capacities, but it’s hard to accept that sometimes, the effort you put into developing friendships isn’t what others can or will give.

I feel like New York might exacerbate that feeling a bit. "The city that never sleeps" is that way because people here are constantly busy. I've found myself struggling with the line of wondering whether people genuinely want to be friends but don't have time, or they don't want to be friends at all. I think part of it goes back to what I said above, and that people simply want to utilize their free time with the people they care about most because they get so little of it. That's hard to a certain degree for me as a newcomer to town. Nobody owes me their time, and the way these things make me feel needs to be a result of my own outlook.

I got really used to being the person who initiated friendly contact when I lived abroad. I was so busy with my life and having no routine and learning things totally foreign to me, that I reached out to friends when it was convenient, and I'm sure I pissed off some friends and lost some. Coming back to the US and not having constant stimulation has been more difficult than I thought it would. I realize how many people I had supporting me along the way who I probably neglected. I think I have exactly two friends who reach out to me semi-regularly, and that's a hard pill to swallow in terms of my hypocrisy. I can't just expect people to reach out to me now that I'm more accessible, and I can't expect my attempts at spending time with folks to necessarily be reciprocated.

I've always sort of had trouble with reading the social cues of friendship. I want to be friends with everyone. I want to be liked, as I think we all do, and I've always been pretty open. I think I probably catch on way too late when people are giving me cues that they don't want to be friends or give me their time, and I generally worry that I seem desperate when I reach out to people. I feel like it's hard for me to know if someone is the type of friend where I just need to put in the effort and then they'll want to be friends, or if someone doesn't want the effort to be put in at all. I'd be lying if I said it isn't something I've been struggling with.

I feel like an old man when I lament about modern day friendships and relationships, but I also have some serious issues with the unwritten rules, both in my understanding of them and in my acceptance of them. Don't double-text someone, wait a while before responding, etc are modern social rules that don't make sense to me. If I want to say something to someone, I try to say it. I don't really know where the way I interact with people fits, or if I come off as a crazy person because none of the weird intricacies of social media and digital interaction really make sense to me. If you've seen my Facebook profile and its longwinded political rants, you probably know that I just say what's on my mind, often times for worse than for better. I've always sort of treated the digital world like it's real interactions, and it's not.

I think my life up to this point has me struggling to connect with people. I feel like I'm some weird step off from the people I routinely meet. I didn't feel like I was stepping out of normal society to go live abroad, but now that I'm home, it always kind of puzzles me when people talk about my "returning to normal life." Is this my normal that I left behind, and I'm just struggling to accept that? I don't really know. I've found myself trying to grab at the straws of spontaneity to not settle into too much of a routine, and where I loved that life in the past, it feels desperate now. I run this podcast and have on all of these crazy adventurers, and I can't quite reconcile myself and my friendships in the life I'm living now. It all feels very foreign, which compounds the strangeness considering that for the first time in 5 years, I'm living in my home country.

Maybe it's just growing pains, and all of the rest of my friends accepted it after college because they were here facing these challenges head on while I was preoccupied with other things. I feel awkward about friendships, dating, social culture, office culture, and just about everything else. It's a weird lesson in reverse culture shock that I feel like has most starkly mainfested in my friendships since I moved home. I'm not depressed; I know all too acutely what that feels like when I have flareups. I just feel out of place, like somehow the world made moves around me, and I'm stuck in the dust cloud realizing that it might take some time to settle.

I'm not saying I need more friends. I'm not even saying I need more from the friends I have. I just genuinely don't know if the way I connect with people makes any sense, or if I'm misreading the interactions I have with people. I feel like my strongest friendships are solidified. I don't see myself losing the few core people I've got, but I feel like maybe the way I grew up feeling like a social butterfly is something that was maybe never sustainable, and I'm just realizing it late in the game. I remember my mom saying something along the lines of that her fringe friendships faded as she got older and she lost touch with people, and her few close friends are there. Maybe you just learn to pick up with people right where you left off and accept that that's the essence of your friendships from now on as people go on with their daily lives.

Anyway, the random musings of a confused man's mind. I'm happy. I'm healthy. Everything is really good. I just find myself mulling these things over these days. Alas, as always, thanks for reading, and hope everyone's having a good summer.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

I’ve Been A Bad Person

I’m here to tell you that I’ve been a bad person. I’ve done some things, some even many years ago, that I still think of with regret and that give me shame. I’ve hurt people, and sometimes even done so intentionally out of envy, anger, or pain.

But I’m not going to dwell on when I’ve been a bad person, because I’ve also been a good person. There is no such thing as the 100% bad guy or the 100% good guy. I think, philosophically speaking, we’re the sum of our actions or what we do habitually. I’m not habitually bad, and although I’ve done bad things, I try to make habits of doing good things. I think I’m a good person overall. I think Donald Trump is probably a bad person overall. I do however think nuance is important. I think we need to be able to recognize that one action doesn’t define someone (except in the case of rapists and murderers, I’m cool with defining them based on one action).

I wonder how many people like me struggle with beating themselves up over past actions. In some cases, I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong, but I know I’ve hurt people and they’re mad at me, and I go through periods where I agonize over it. In other cases, I’ve apologized several times, but I still can’t shake the shame because I feel like a bad act was an act of character. It takes realizing that these actions are out of character to forgive yourself, and I definitely have trouble doing that sometimes.

I feel like self-help gurus and people who make a living off of pitching quick fixes to issues of self say lines like “you have to forgive yourself,” or “you have to learn to love yourself before you love others.” It makes sense that they employ these lines because they’re true, but they’re not as easy as saying them, snapping your fingers, and then you’ve changed and love yourself and all is forgiven. It takes time, and it takes constantly reminding yourself that you’re worthy of love and of forgiveness. It takes looking at your flaws and constantly trying to hammer them out and improve, even when it’s hard. It takes talking to others who can help, whether that’s a therapist, friend, or family member, and being honest. You have to be honest with yourself and others about who you are in order to confront flaws or shortcomings and to accept past failures.

So, yes, I’ve been a bad person. But I’d be pretty upset if someone ever told me I’m still a bad person. I try hard every day to try to make the right decisions, the just decisions, and to advocate for people who need it. I’m not perfect, and I never will be.

I recently was called out by an Instagram follower for referring to a place as my personal Mecca. This follower was of the Muslim faith and said they found it disrespectful. At first, as I thought about it, I found it overly sensitive. After all, people say God damnit and Jesus Christ, and it seems more colloquial than a true aim at disrespect. But the more I thought about it, I realized my opinion doesn’t matter. Something we like to talk about in higher ed is impact vs. intention. My intention was irrelevant if the impact was negative. I was in the wrong, and I owned up to it. 

This same person later posted on their “finsta” about the interaction with me, posting a screenshot of our interaction and calling out the behavior but somewhat commending me for owning up to it. At first, I was a bit embarrassed and hurt that the screenshot was posted, and I asked them to not use my photo for such things in the future. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that if I want to be honest about my shortcomings and that I genuinely want to improve, maybe it’s a good thing to be publicly called out. I didn’t mean harm, but it showed that even though I hurt someone, I genuinely try to be as good of a person as I can.

I will hurt people in the future, probably both intentionally and unintentionally. I’ll continue to feel pangs of regret over the years and to need to make amends and ask for forgiveness, both of myself and others. However, I’ll be doing my best to avoid doing so, and I’ll be trying to forgive myself and be the best I can be in pursuit of making the sum of my actions positive and my habits true and just.

So, if you’re reading this and you’re beating yourself up, I hope it resonates a bit and you realize that you’re not a bad person. You mean well always, and that’s why your shortcomings haunt you. You’re trying to be good at all times, so when you don’t measure up, it hurts. The more your failures hurt you, it’s probably a good sign that you mean well generally. I like to think I do. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Journey

Hello, dear friends.

I live in New York now. I keep having this little moments where I'm looking at the city from the train or looking out my apartment window and trying to make it seem concrete. I'm committed to New York for a pretty long while (comparatively at least), and that's a very new thing for me. I've been on one-year contracts and one-year leases and one-year visas since 2014 without ever having it set that I'd be in a place more than a year. It's a change of direction I knew I was making but that I wasn't entirely prepared for.

Things are different when you're committed to a place. Going on a date seems like it makes more sense. Committing to a place seems to be the foundation for committing to things in general. I'm volunteering again with GiGi's Playhouse, and I'm thrilled, but it couldn't have happened if I didn't plan on being here a while. I wouldn't want a person with Down syndrome to take a year to get used to me then I randomly bow out. I have to admit, I've become an expert at the one-year and done, and committing to things feels scary and foreign in a lot ways. At the same time, it's a relief also. My brain and heart are still processing the fact that this is home at least for a few years.

Another thing that has come up is the difficulty of settling into routine. It's not because I don't like routine; it's actually very comforting, and I've always gotten into some semblance of a pattern in my life, but not quite as extreme as it is now. Some days, I start to get anxious that my life is becoming point A to point B. I think the commute and the 9-5 make that an easy feeling, where being a graduate student and being in residence life were different things every day. Sure, I did similar functions throughout my days, but each day was a new class session or a new student issue to deal with, and I didn't take the same train every day into the office. It's more structure than I've had in a long time, and yes, I get that that's part of entering a more advanced role in my field. It's just an adjustment, you know?

I've found that the remedy for the adjustment has been something I've always done but have made an effort to be more aware of recently. I need to pause. I need to reflect on what makes each day different and exciting. I've been trying to step back and force myself to have those daily reminders of the joys that come in the routine and the endless opportunity that is New York. I've started doing things I always wanted to do but really couldn't because of my nomad life, like starting a podcast and a DIY project. I'm going to buy a real smoker for the summer. I'm joining an Italian speaking group. I want to start taking classes when tuition remission kicks in. I feel like my roots are starting to sink in, which for as much as I've loved everywhere I've lived, hasn't felt like a real thing in my adult life until now.

Yesterday, I sat in on a session that talked about belonging and how important that is. I'm starting to feel like I belong in New York, and at NYU, and that I'm valued and loved. I felt those things in England, Italy, and Korea, and definitely in Chicago, but for the first time in a long time, I don't have an end date. I don't have the next step or the next deadline planned. It's odd. I can settle into that belonging a bit more. It's refreshing, but also a bit terrifying.

I've got all these places I call home, and in some ways, I don't know if I'll ever be fully committed to a place forever. Particularly in higher ed, the chance that you move vertically by moving physically is always possible. Bearing all that in mind, I kind of like not having to immediately be thinking about what's next. My concept of time is changing. I'm thinking in weeks to months more than in months to years. I feel far more present in the last few months than I have in parts of my past. I feel like I'm investing in my job in ways I haven't previously because I know that I can see longer projects and initiatives through. I'm talking about future annual iterations of events that I'm part of. I don't think my job is my dream job necessarily, but I enjoy where I'm at. I feel like I'm at the right place at the right time.

I spent a lot of the last year or two doing self-evaluation, which I've spoken about briefly in the blog before, but it involved a lot of looking back at who I've been, taking stock, and trying to improve. I've made that a regular practice, but I don't necessarily think that was possible without thinking about the past first. Everything seems to be very centered on the present right now, and I can really take a step back and take in the spot I'm at. I haven't felt this appreciative of the present, of the journey I'm on, for quite some time.

Also, that's unsettling because life has a funny way of taking your present and smashing it to bits. So, very consciously, I'm taking each day and celebrating it, even if it's tiny victories at work or just sharing a smile with a hurried New Yorker. Things are good, and I'm going to try to hold onto that now and remember it when things aren't as fun.

Final note, if you haven't listened to the podcast, you should. I've knocked out 5 episodes with a 6th coming soon, and I love doing it. I love the stories people have shared and the experience they've related. It's that sort of connection and sharing experiences that I think helps us all to connect a bit more with the folks around us and have some understanding of one another. Search Spotify, iTunes, or SoundCloud for Travel For A Loop.

Have a great week, party people.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

What happens if I die tomorrow?

I make jokes fairly often about being old, sometimes I think to the point of annoying those who hear me say it often (especially if they're older than me!). In some ways, I feel really old. My body hurts more than it used to. A few drinks can give me a headache for 24 hours. I need my sleep to function. It's little things, and 30 is on the horizon, so all of these things make sense, but somehow aging continually catches me off guard. I don't mean in the sense of "adulting," but more like physically maturing. I've been thinking a lot recently about age and about death. I haven't been thinking about it in a morbid way as much as it's been rather existential.

One of the joys of the life I've led is meeting people from all different walks of life, whether it's been traveling, through jobs, or otherwise. Want to know what all of those people had in common? Every single one of them will die. It could be today, tomorrow, or 80 years from now, but it's a guarantee. We're all going to die, and we have to figure out how we're going to deal with that.

A few mornings ago at 7:30, my grandfather got a phone call. It was unusual to receive a call so early, so I asked him what it was. His friend from years past had died, and the man's son felt compelled to call my grandpa even though he and his friend hadn't spoken in a few years. My grandpa said something that stuck with me about how the man had lived a good long life, and that part of life is accepting the inevitability of death. I spent a lot of this week mulling over that idea. We all fear death instinctively. People who stare down death, especially in service of others, are people who we consider the bravest of the brave. At the end of the day though, we all have to decide for ourselves how we're going to view death. Are we going to let the fear cripple us or guide our lives?

Reactions to the death of people around me have very much shaped my understanding of my own impending death (hopefully not any time soon, but it's no guarantee, right?). I've lost a good handful of people in my life who I was very close to. Their deaths were difficult, often devastating, but they shaped who I am. It's really interesting for me to reflect on that fact. Someday, when I die, will my death and how I lived my life before it have profoundly impacted someone in the way that those deaths impacted me?

I only realized the impact that many peoples' lives had on me after they died. "You don't know what you've got til it's gone" is a cliche, but I think it holds true in a lot of ways. When Brad Zandstra was here, I rarely thought about the things he did for me and how he affected me. He was just a friend. When he died, I reflected on what he taught me about being a man, about treating other people, about braving tragedy. I know I handled his death much better than I did his son Chris's because Brad talked to me about the pain of Chris's death. I remember so vividly a summer night on Brad's porch, smoking a cigar and him trying to describe the pain of losing his son. Both of us were in tears by the end, but not in sadness as much as it was sharing the experience of the greatness that was his son, but also understanding that he was gone. Every time I smoke a cigar, I think of Brad, and the effect he has had on me in so many ways.

I recently asked friends what the point of living is if we all die. It's a problematic question in a lot of ways, but I think it stirs the sort of thinking that's been going on in with me. What does it all add up to if we all end up in a hole in the ground? I think you can view the question very negatively or rather positively, depending on the sort of person you are. I don't think life has to have meaning. I don't think we all have a purpose. I don't think there is a shared purpose that we all have to get to. For me, I want to leave the world better than I found it and to have that effect on people that Brad had on me, that I made them better. But that's not the meaning of life, it's just a goal that I have for my life. I think we often get caught up in making meaning as humans, but not everything has to have meaning. We're here, and I think that's enough sometimes.

I could walk out on the Manhattan street and die five minutes from now. That's not ideal, and it's not expected, but the possibility is a fact. That can induce one of two things: crippling fear or motivation. I want to remember that the next time I feel like I'm in a rut. Five minutes from now, I could be dead, so what's stopping me from going and doing? What's stopping me from pursuing something? It makes the fear of failure seem so silly. Why are you not trying to live your dreams? Why are you not doing what makes you happy? I'm so happy in my life right now, but if I wasn't, I know this thinking would put me on the move.

We all have to come to terms with death. Hopefully someday decades from now I'll be in a bed surrounded by friends and go in my sleep, then there will be a funeral where they play Vulfpeck and serve pizza and have skeeball and bowling and whisky. And in this dream I'm creating, people will drink a sip of whisky or hear that song and think of a time when we did those things together, and I made them smile. I'm living my life for that moment when I die and someone thinks about what I did for them. I'm living my life so that when they spread my ashes wherever the hell they end up, I've left no stone unturned and tried to help as many people as I could in pursuit of whatever will give their eventual deaths peace.

I think it's only because I've lost people that I don't really fear death. I don't think there's anything after death or any afterlife, and I'm really okay with that because of the profound impact that the people I know who have died have had on my life. We live our lives for the people who keep on living. You don't plant a seed expecting to sit in the shade of an oak tree thirty years from now. You plant it because it enriches a place for people to come when it's grown to its full potential. I think it's why we humans are so keen to build and to create. I might be forgotten 25 years after my death, but it's my hope that something I've done affected someone who in turn affected someone else and so on and so on. In that way, I might be dead, but it certainly wasn't for nothing. The opposite is certainly possible; if you're a shitty person, you could instill bad reverberations through the eons. Abuse your kid, and maybe they abuse their kid, and it gets normalized. I want to normalize good things that can echo in eternity (see what I did there?). I want to die knowing that even if I didn't get my name on a library or cure cancer, I moved atoms and changed trajectories and turned the path that the world was on in a different direction for the better.

So, I've been thinking a lot about death, but in a good way. Death isn't so scary when you put it in the perspective of your life. It's always going to be hard to lose people who are close to you, but I've found comfort in knowing that they changed me, and that change in me affects those I interact with, and in that, those people live on. I'll never forget them, but even if I'm the last person on earth who remembered them and I die, they still live on in how those they affected affect others.

If I die tomorrow, turn up the music, drink the booze, and dance. I'm working to better the world I'm in, little by little, and if I die tomorrow, I'll have died happy in pursuit of that. So save your tears and smile big.

As always, thanks for reading, and if anyone has lost someone or just generally needs to talk, I'm always willing. Take care.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Hindsight Impostor Stuff

They say hindsight is 20/20, and I sort of think that's a load of shit. Sure, sometimes, looking back on things makes things clearer, but sometimes, it just gives you more questions or muddies things needlessly. So, from now on, I'm going to start saying hindsight is 20/60. In the scheme of things, it's not horrible vision, but it sure as hell ain't perfect, and sometimes you've got to put on some glasses to see clearly.

I tell you all this to tell you that I'm out of the woods, but looking back on the last few months has had me doing a lot of thinking that is really muddying my thoughts. In my last post, I talked about emotions and handling them and how that was certainly part of the problem that caused a bit of a downtrend in my life between Oxford and New York. It was, but it was certainly more complex than that, too. As I find myself in a better place than I was this fall, I find looking back isn't easy because that time really sucked, but looking back is both making things clear and giving me doubts about what exactly went on in my brain at that time.

All of that aside, something I've been seeing as I look to the past is that I certainly deal with a bit of the impostor syndrome. I struggle with feeling a bit like a fraud. I've worked hard, but I've also been given a lot of opportunities I don't always feel deserving of. My brain will make up these thoughts, things like, "Am I capable? Do I deserve any of the goodness I've got? Do people see me for what I really am?" To a certain degree, I think we all deal with internal questions like these, but it's a lot easier to pinpoint them in times of struggle. It's sort of like a weird version of asking the question, "Why me?" Not "why are bad things happening to me," but rather, "Why do all of these good things happen to me?"

In the fall, I was asking myself this a lot. Why was I lucky enough to have had opportunities abroad, to have gotten into my master's program, to have friends and family that cared about me. My brain was shouting, "you're not worthy of all of that." While I have been afforded a lot of opportunities that aren't afforded to everyone, or even to many people, I think I've realized that there's a balance to be struck as I think about it.

Part of the problem in my mind (cue Ale Mariotti clapping at this sentence) is I think grappling with my own privilege. Acknowledging my privilege and trying to use it to the benefit of less privileged communities is a duty, a requirement of privilege in my mind. Privilege doesn't mean I don't deserve good things, happiness, or opportunity; rather, I think it means I need to be aware that I have good things, happiness, and opportunity that isn't afforded to some people. I should be grateful for those things, but also acknowledge that there is work to be done. In the fall, I wasn't seeing the work to be done or my capability as a person of privilege. Instead, I thought, "Why in the holy hell do I have all of these things? Me, this flawed, often really troubled human being! I don't deserve it, and I should feel like shit about it."

It took being out of a darker place to think to myself that maybe feeling like shit about it isn't productive for anyone. That's probably not how things get done, and it's probably not going to benefit less privileged folks for me to turtle-shell up and feel self-loathing. I am capable, and I am a hard worker, and while my life may ultimately be the result of my privilege, there is more to it than that, and I can't discount that. So, in that case, I guess hindsight's vision wasn't all that bad. In a better place, I feel that I have the tools and means to help, to do good things for people who need it, and I'm trying to.

Where the hindsight gets muddy is when I try to figure out what got me into the bad headspace in the first place. I know that depression in my life is real, and the chemical imbalances of the body might be a part of it. The changing of the seasons might be a part of it. Those aren't the things I think of when I think of that time though. It's still fresh in my mind; I would say I started feeling better in late November. Perhaps not so coincidentally, that was when I got a job. That was also when I traveled abroad to England and Rome. So, what does that say about me? I started thinking to myself, is my happiness dependent on my function? Is that a problem? Do I have to be on the move with travel to be happy? I started questioning what I need and what it takes for me to be happy, and I don't really have any concrete answers.

In my adult life, I've felt like I know myself pretty well. This past fall was a shock to that system, a shock to a perhaps naive and arrogant belief that I had myself figured out. I felt I had a grasp on what brought me down and what brought me back up. The darkness of the fall came without warning, and it pretty much lifted without warning. My life was in limbo in a lot of ways, and there was a lot of transition going on, and I think I'm trying to find more of an explanation for those feelings of emptiness that there might actually be. We all go through tough times, and maybe I don't need an explanation. Maybe it was just one of those times in my life that was a downturn that happens to all of us.

Somehow, that hasn't been good enough for me. In my better spirits, I've been searching for answers as to why the spirits were worse off in the first place. I think I'll probably just have to accept that it was a perfect storm of sorts. There isn't one reason. It wasn't one fix. Things went sour together, and things got better together, and maybe that's life sometimes.

Writing helps me work through those thoughts sometimes. I don't know if I'd have been able to articulate that last paragraph when I opened this page and started writing, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess. As always, thanks for reading. I'm happy and healthy, and I'm enjoying New York and all of the prospects that the new year has to offer. Thanks for putting up with me, y'all!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Emotions

It's been a while since I've done any writing, and I wish I could say it was because I've been really busy, but that's only partially true. I last wrote when I left Oxford, and a ton has happened since then. I've been thinking a lot about my time between Oxford and New York and how I approached it and how I processed it. It's a shame to come back to the topic of emotion that I wrote about a few months ago, but I feel the need to examine it again after how I handled this fall.

When I left Oxford, I was excited to be heading back to the States. The anticipation of something new, despite not knowing exactly what that new thing would be, was enough to have me in high spirits. I went to Chicago and then back to St. Louis, and I was really happy to see friends and family.

Things stuck that way for a week or two. I was eagerly sending away job applications and catching up with people who are close to me, and I was hopeful for the future. As time went on though, several things changed. One, the weather started to change, and seasonal affective stuff really has affected me in the past. In Oxford, I definitely felt less of it because it was a new, exciting environment, and I was constantly being social and keeping busy. At home, I was spending the majority of my days at home sending a few job applications then being bored for the rest of the day. I did okay with this for a while, but as time went on, my hopeful demeanor towards being home started to fade. I was getting lots of denials from jobs or just not hearing back, and I was spending a lot of time alone. By the time I got the New York job, I was absolutely miserable. I was depressed in a way I hadn't been in years, and I felt very dark and lonely. I didn't feel like any of my friendships were in good places (which wasn't necessarily true, you just convince yourself of these things), and I didn't feel worthy of any of the jobs I was applying for. I started to take it out on my mom, and I started to feel resentment towards my friends. At a time when I should've been looking to those important people for support, my defense mechanisms were telling me to grit my teeth and be strong, to handle it on my own and try to put on a happy face. This led me to a bit of a revelation, something I probably knew inherently but had never really acknowledged in full:

I really struggle with communicating my emotions.

I think it’s hard for everyone, and I think often it’s very hard for men in particular. I think despite our best efforts as a society to be aware, we continually ask men to be emotionally dull for the sake of masculinity. Whether it’s making jokes when we see a man crying or the tired tropes of “toughen up, grit your teeth and get through it,” I find that there’s often mixed messages for how men are supposed to handle their emotions, and that can be really hard to navigate.

I’ve been trying to express my emotions more eloquently and to bottle them up less. When I was home, I argued with my mom a lot, generally for no reason. I found small steps of simply trying to communicate what was on my mind would stop me from getting worked up enough to have an argument. I find with friends, communicating problems I’m having can really help me work through them. I remember in the last few months saying to a friend that I was really struggling, and their acknowledgment alone at my voicing it made a marked improvement. The sayings about not bottling up do seem to hold true.

Expressing emotions still does get mixed bag reactions though. I had a friend basically invalidate my feelings recently when I brought up a dilemma by saying, “well, you’re a white man, so you’ll be fine.” While I feel I have a pretty good grasp on privilege, I was really hurt by what was said. Ironically, I haven’t communicated that to them. It’s a struggle to want to put my emotions forth out of fear for how they’ll be received, and I think that’s a struggle for a lot of men. Will I be viewed as less of a man? Will I seem not strong? Sometimes real thoughts, but often just so engrained in us that it’s a subconscious process that keeps me from wanting to speak up about my feelings.

This isn’t to say that emotions aren’t hard for women, too. They most certainly are. I think dealing with emotional expectations and the constraints of stereotypes are equally hard for women, if not worse. Women are expected the carry the emotional weight of everything; men are expected to be unfeeling potatoes that watch football on Sundays and grunt responses like a tired bear. A woman not crying at a funeral is remarkable to some in the same way a man crying would be notable to them. There’s these crazy stereotypes, often gender based but in other facets as well, that emotions belong to certain people and not all. Women have to deal with men saying they're crazy if they're too emotional, and that they're not feminine if they're not emotional enough. I imagine that's a tough tight rope to walk.

My point is, while gender isn't the sole determinant of emotional skill by any means, I do think growing up and identifying as male tends to lead to stunted emotional growth in a lot of men. I feel a lot of feelings, people! I shouldn't want to hide those. Every movie I've ever teared up in has been a rush to avoid anyone seeing, and come on, are you even human if you don't cry during Coco? When I hold in feelings of any kind, I find myself getting angry more easily, being annoyed by little nothings, and sort of just being a grouch.

As I came to the end of my time of unemployment, things really came to a head. I had very promising job prospects in Chicago, St. Louis, and New York, and I had no confidence that any would work out, despite what I was saying when people asked. I didn't feel welcome with friends in Chicago for varying reasons, and I wanted so badly to get out of St. Louis, back to New York, and away from what I was feeling. New York was my top option from the beginning, but I really started to worry where my headspace would be if I didn't get the job. I was exhausted, and I really had no reason to be. I hadn't been unemployed all that long, and I hadn't been working all that hard in the mean time. I was just exhausted from my own stubbornness. I wasn't talking with anyone about what I was feeling. I know depression is something I'll always deal with to varying degrees, but I also know that this particular episode was very self-inflicted.

When I got the job in New York, things certainly weren't better overnight, but I had the stimulation of getting ready for something new, and I recharged with a trip to England and Italy for my graduation ceremony. I came out realizing that talking to friends in Oxford about my experience at home was what was helpful. I felt better because I communicated what was on my mind. The job wasn't the catalyst for feeling better at all.

So, as we approach the new year, I don't have any crazy resolutions besides needing to get back in the gym in my new home. Honestly, I just want to try to improve my emotional intelligence. I always thought I was in touch with my feelings and pretty aware of what was going on in my head, but the last few months were a real wakeup call. I need to be more willing to communicate, to be vulnerable, and to ask for help when I need it. In a lot of ways, I've known in various ways that we hold the keys to our own happiness. I've lived my life knowing that for the last few years, trying to make the most of my time with travel and exciting times, and I've been really fortunate. That said, helping yourself be happy is easy when life is exciting. It was in the difficult moments of the past few months that I realized it's not always that easy.

So, to add a PSA to the end of this, let your friends know if you're struggling. That's why they're your friends. On the other side, I am really grateful to the friends who saw I wasn't at 100% and asked and cared. So, if you're in a good place, see if your friends are too. It can't hurt to ask. As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for being a part of my continued happiness. You all are!

-Ryan