Meaningful Internet Relationships

Good news: I am working on a book to be published!  I am submitting a manuscript on February 2nd, 2016.  The book will contain essays I’ve written here on my blog, as well as essay “vignettes” of specific times in my life.  Last year, I spent a good three months writing a memoir, which I never finished.  But it seems good this way, because I can just use parts of the memoir as, like I said, “vignettes.”

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It’s hard to believe that I have been blogging for a full year now.  My goal, when going into this, was to try and make a difference in the world.  I wrote, because I wanted to be heard by society at large.  I wanted to even become famous, or be a “big deal.”

From then until now, my motivation has changed somewhat.  I realize that there are tons of people like me on the internet, and that there are tons of blogs out there.  Only a few people read my blog.  But from these few people, I have received overwhelming positive responses.  I’ve now learned that it is not about the quantity of people I reach, but the quality of those who I do.

I also think that… the internet is a big ocean, and people get lost in it.  I remember when I came back from college, and had no friends.  I went online to try and find people to fill that void within me.  I made a lot of faux pas, but I also befriended people along the way.  In this process… my communicative skills through writing dramatically improved.  And I learned, that the more eloquent and florid I am through my writing, the kinder I come across to people online.  I’ve realized that spelling and complete sentences, make a person feel like they are actually cared about.

It’s strange.  In this process, I discovered that I am a good writer.  But it’s gotten to the point, that I think I come across better online than I do in person.  In person, perhaps I am intimidating.  I am tall, with glasses and brunette-dyed hair, and I am fairly soft-spoken.  I normally wear a quizzical face as well, as if I am summing up the situation around me.  I rarely find jokes and humor in things, so I don’t smile too often.  I also give off an intense vibe.  When I do speak, I come across as intelligent, which draws good people my way, but rarely are men interested in me romantically.

Online, I feel much more comfortable.  The only things that people can use to assess me and who I am, are as follows:

  1. My photos on Facebook
  2. Whatever writings I compose and put online.  This would include my Facebook statuses, my tweets, and what I write in this blog.  People also have emails that I have sent in their mailboxes as well.
  3. Videos I put on YouTube, a rare occurrence.
  4. My LinkedIn profile, if anyone cares to read this.
  5. Random adolescent photos from my past that crop up on a Google Image search.
  6. Old articles with my name, that crop up on a standard Google search.

When tallying up these elements, I realize that my online persona is much more friendly and inviting.  I put up photos where I am smiling and socializing.  Also, older photos show me to look unhappier and heavier, so my “progress” with mental health wellness is tangibly seen.  My writing is eloquent, and expresses a sense of openness and caring that is not conveyed when people see me in person.  Items 3-6 perhaps influence a bit, but I see them as mostly irrelevant, as they are not readily accessed unless a person specifically makes a stalker-ish effort to learn about me.

This phenomenon of one’s “real-life” persona not matching up with their online persona does not only affect me, I’ve learned.  There is one friend I know in particular, whom I have chatted with on many an occasion online.  We have Skyped as well, and the person seemed friendly enough.  But when seeing one another in the flesh, I realized that he had a completely different aura from what I expected.  There were also behaviors and mannerisms that I had not picked up on through the internet.

I think people talk about this occurrence more than they realize, albeit circuitously.  Those who are older than the current adolescent/young adult generation, lament that the quality of person-to-person contact has degenerated.  Many people prefer texting to talking on the phone these days, and no matter where you go… if there are people, then there are smart phones and thumbs tapping away, with no one looking away from their screens.  If you put earbuds in this equation, the person truly becomes a lonely island.

And there you have it.  People criticize this occurrence because it creates loneliness.

I guess I’m one of the young-minded people, in the sense that I think there are many positives to online communication.  I can meet people from all over the world, and have such be my best friends.  I have a few people in Germany and Tunisia that fit this bill.  And in the States, or even within New York City, I have friends I’ve never met in person.  So many of these people, I feel I know better than my acquaintances in waking life.

What makes it work for me?  Like I said, I make an effort to write with eloquence.  It is akin to writing a letter to someone you care about.  I think… when I write, people can tell I care.  So they respond well.

Also, one awesome thing about the internet, is that you can talk to people at whatever hour you want!  If they’re online, you can send a message.  It’s their prerogative to ignore it if they’re busy or tired.  But that whole social code of “not calling past 9 PM?”  Gone!  I love it!

One of my dreams, is to share my successes with forging meaningful online friendships with the world at large.  I’ve learned, that whenever I meet a new person online, I put them through the “Facebook” ringer.  On Facebook, I socialize with many of my friends in a certain, friendly way.  If this new stranger is unable to socialize with me as I do with my actual friends, then that person is not suitable for me.  Also, I refuse to date someone romantically that I have not known for a while.  Again, the “Facebook” ringer.  If a newbie comments on my postings in a way that causes the rest of my friends to feel uncomfortable, then that person is not for me.

Much is said about the evils of the internet.  While the younger generation enjoys the internet in a meaningful way, they are perhaps not old enough to express their preference intelligently.  (And many say that they will never become intelligent because of the internet, although that is another topic.)

Instead of knocking the ways of younger people, let’s see eye to eye with them, and offer an exchange: we can learn how to utilize the internet more meaningfully, and they can learn about our older ways of person-to-person contact that they have never experienced themselves.  If we want the future to be positive and diplomatic, then we must exercise this tendency in our waking lives TODAY.

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To Spread the Peer Mission Overseas…

Sometimes, I wonder if my fervor for mental health awareness will wane.  That it will become a topic that I am tired of talking about.  Truly… how can I continue talking about this for years on end, in the same way that I did when I started?

I am always in awe of people who endeavor towards a singular goal for so many years.  With tenacity, they utilize the same steadfast approach, slowly swimming higher and higher through the waters of preparation, enjoying no reward or recognition.  And then, if lucky even… one day… poof!  They break through to the surface of the water, finally becoming visible to the drier half of the world.  Only then, is there tangible success.  In my mind, this applies to both those who seek personal success, and also those who want to invoke social change at large.

I suppose I’m in both categories.  I work as a mental health peer specialist, which is fundamentally a philanthropic profession.  I draw on my past experiences to empathise with others in need, and hope to make a change in society as time passes.  And for personal, selfish success… I am starting to envision my writing as something that can reach a lot of people, certainly beyond my immediate waking life.

But even my desire for eliminating social stigma against those with mental illness is a selfish one as well.  First off, I don’t want to be stigmatized myself.  I don’t want to feel obliged to have to “hide” my illness, so as to avoid shameful ridicule.  But we all get this.  This is nothing abnormal.

But there is another selfish motive as well… let me explain.

I am fully committed to the mental health peer profession.  Over the years of my professional life, I hope to climb up some sort of career ladder.  I’d like to have promotions, raises and greater responsibilities.  But as of yet, pee rwork is a new profession, and there is not much of a career ladder.  And another fear of mine is that peers will continually be underpaid for their services.  Granted, only a high school diploma is required, when compared to other professionals with graduate degrees.  But still… is not personal experience with mental illness considered “training,” albeit nontraditional?

I hope this latter attitude will catch on.  We peers fully deserve respect amongst our work colleagues.  I personally like to say that I have a doctorate in insanity, because it started at a young age, and it crippled me until I was about 28 years old.

Even though there is no career ladder for me as of now, I still dream and try to think outside of the box.  I would love to become a consultant, where I travel all over the world to help communities build networks of peer specialists.  Here and there, I have heard that various European countries have taken interest in the peer activity in New York City.  Previously, I attended a peer specialist training school called Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center.  People from the Netherlands have in turn founded a few Howie the Harp schools in their neck of the woods too.

The mission of peers needs to be everywhere.  And I hope to help in this effort someday!  I also just have zeal for other cultures and languages.  For several years, I have working on my German language skills, and now I am at the point where I am conversationally fluent.  It’s a wonderful feeling, speaking to people from another country in their native language.  Because… even though English is a world-language, it shouldn’t replace other peoples’ languages.  This certainly encroaches on other cultures’ ways of living, and at worst can erase cultures.

As a person of words, I truly believe that… language influences how we think, and even how we experience emotions.  For me, German is such a beautiful language, with its complex grammatical rules and colorful, soothing sounds.  It’s a very musical language, and also invites greater pensivity than does English.  Do note that many of the greatest composers were German-speakers: Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms of Germany, and Mozart and Schubert of Austria.  Certainly there were others, but to me the German style of musical phrasing mirrors the language itself.  An interesting notion, certainly.

Also for me, speaking German allows my English-speaking brain muscles to take a break.  English is very cerebral for me, while German is more spontaneous and relaxed.  While in English, there needs to be an answer for everything… German sort of allows for things to remain unspoken and anonymous.  I speak completely from conjecture and opinion here, but these are my heartfelt feelings.

I would love to appropriate these ideas into my peer work, if ever I had the opportunity to travel abroad to spread what we do.  I would love to go to a country, and learn their language as I assist them.  I don’t want to be this in-and-out consultant who pops in, gives the low-down and then leaves, forcing the people to make frantic sense of tons of information, and then build up their system on their own.  No way.  I want to live there, and help them as they create their program.

By learning their language, I would be able to really understand the mentality of the people.  I would see the world the way they would.  I don’t want other countries to try and imitate a program they learn about in English.  This results in deculturalization, and causes other places to become “Americanized.”  I don’t want that.  As beautiful as I find Germany for its culture and people, I always worry when my German friends have enthusiasm for learning about my American ways.

I’m not trying to make a political statement here either, where I downplay the United States as some evil entity.  That is a topic for another article, and one I don’t care to write about in the first place.  Instead, I just want to imparthere, that … the work of peers can help people all over the world.  But it is also important for each country, nay… each community, to appropriate the peer system in a way that is organic and congruent with their own customs, social conventions and values.

Although perhaps seemingly unrelated, I think that the work of Christian evangelists and missionaries is parallel to my vision.   They have a specific mission to promote (the gospel of Jesus Christ), and then they travel to all corners of the world in such effort.  And they are experts at this endeavor!

Observe: they move to a location for an extended period of time, and then preach to all who will listen.  They often learn the language of the people, and then train and ordain various locals to become pastors themselves.  Many of these communities do not have bibles in their native language, so missionaries then endeavor to translate the bible for them.  After years of such endeavoring, the community gets to the point where they have fully absorbed the gospel and teachings of Christ, and is now able to team with the missionary as spiritual equals.  Certainly it must be a fulfilling experience for any missionary to facilitate this process, seeing it unfold over the fullness of time.

What I write here… this is what I gleaned through personal experience, from when I attended an Independent Fundamental Baptist church devoutly for six months, a few years ago.  At the time, it was a thoroughly enriching experience.  But again, another story.

I think the evangelist approach to spreading a message can be appropriated by peers.  As charged it is, the topic of Christianity… it cannot be disputed that it has significantly influenced countless corners of the world.  I am always in favor of looking at the good in every situation, and so I glean my above statements from this positive sentiment.

Perhaps what I write is unpopular.  But it is simply what I observe.  I would rather be true to myself, than write what is popular.

 

We Must Learn Mental Hygiene

The term “mental hygiene” only occurred to me once I became aware of a department of the New York City government, called the “Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.”  (NYC DOHMH)  When I heard about this, I started to contemplate those last two words, and their relation to one another.

In modern society, physical hygiene is commonplace knowledge.  We know to wash our hands after using the bathroom with antibacterial soap.  We know to take showers frequently to keep clean.  We know to keep our homes neat and tidy, and not to leave food around, so as to not attract bugs.  Doctors too, know that they have to sterilize their medical tools, and to throw away used needles and the like to prevent the spread of germs.  We take these precautions, and so now we enjoy healthier lives and longer lifespans.

Unfortunately, there is no concept comparable to mental health at this time.

I do believe we are making strides though.  In the 20th century, Freud and Jung, among others, really broke ground in acknowledging the mind as a force to be reckoned with.  Mental health then became an aspect of the human Gestalt, one that requires the same care and understanding as does the physical body.

But what indeed is mental hygiene?  Perhaps if we understand what it is specifically, maybe we can apply it to our lives.  And if we did such, we could prevent bullying in schools.  Or prevent depression and suicide.  We could even prevent acts of discrimination, and intervene in the attitudes of stigma against the mentally ill.

It sounds impossible and idealistic, what I am suggesting.  But we must have such a goal, if we are to ever reach for it and make it a reality.  So to start in this direction, I’ll consider some ideas as to what mental hygiene is.

I think first of religion.  Writings such as the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, or the Five Pillars of Islam, tell people how to live with an appropriate moral code.  Perhaps “holiness” is an old perspective that approaches the concept of mental hygiene.  Indeed, the decisions that we make, in regards to how we live our lives, are mental processes.

However, I don’t think that many religion leads to mental hygiene.  I perceive religious types to be mentally backed-up, mostly because they are unable to follow certain desires that are not in accordance to their faiths.  Take the subject of gay marriage, for example.  A topic of condemnation, and a source of personal pain and fear for those who are gay and wish to pray it away.  Some religious folks also find fault with others who are not of their faith, and so this attitude can harbor discrimination and prejudice.  When considering these drawbacks, I don’t think we can say that religion and rules lead to mental hygiene.

Breaking away from the restraints of religion could possibly lead us to another idea of what mental hygiene is: personal freedom.  In the USA, this is a popular idea.  We feel that  it is the pinnacle of existence, to say what is on our minds.  Just look at Facebook, that forum for humorous memes, picture-quotes and half-informed blurtings of political opinion.  Is this mental hygiene?  It resembles confusion more than anything.

I also have a personal story to share about my own pursuit of personal freedom.  Looking back, I am of the opinion that personal freedom is not the final frontier of mental hygiene…

In 2008, after returning home from college, despondent and friendless… I suddenly had a desire to revive my German, which I had studied in high school.  Being not so mentally well, I found myself in shady corners of the internet, without even knowing that I was in danger.  I went on shitty German sites where I chatted with horny German men.  I even ended up webcamming with some of these shitheads, hopeful that I could learn a few new words here and there.  But instead of feeling violated, I actually thought this was exciting and liberating, because I was pursuing personal freedom.

(Thankfully, I soon found a more reputable website to befriend native Germans: Interpals.)

Given this story, I think that pursuing personal freedom is not the answer to mental hygiene.  Maybe this is because each of is is imperfect, and so we make decisions that are imperfect.  We make mistakes, and mistakes can lead to serious consequences.  The pursuit of an exciting sex life can lead to HIV.  Stridently asserting one’s political convictions can alienate someone if he is surrounded by people who disagree.  And then people often have a sense of entitlement… that attitude of “Me first, fuck the rest.”

What about racism and discrimination?  You could say that this attitude is also rooted in a sense of “freedom” … the freedom to disdain others.  And the need to convert others to your religion?  That could be the freedom to encroach on other people’s freedom.  Is this mentally hygienic, or “clean?”  I think not.

I suggest another definition for “mental hygiene,” not previously considered:

Mental hygiene is self-introspection.

So many of us point fingers at one another.  “My financial problems are due to my wife spending with credit cards” … said by a man who feels entitled to join a country club to check out hot attendants.  “Don’t worry that the kids are making fun of you… they’re just jealous” … said by parents who dress a child badly for school.  (That latter example is from my life!)

And yet, when we point fingers, we don’t look at ourselves.  It amazes me, how people are unable to solve their problems by looking first at themselves.  And it amazes me further, how this is such an easy skill to learn.  At least, it was for me.  I started therapy when I was ten years old.  And in therapy, I learned to look at my own life, and then articulate it to a therapist besides, in order to achieve mental peace of mind.

If everyone knew how to look at themselves first, they would be more in touch with themselves.  People would know who they are, at their core, and then they would be able to live their lives the way that is natural for them.  And also… when one adopts self-introspection as a way of life, that person is able to grow and evolve.  And a person also becomes empowered, and can steer and direct his growth in whatever direction he desires.

When one can take the reigns over her own personal growth, that is truly when personal freedom feels liberating.  And when one has personal freedom, what naturally occurs is a set of rules on how to live life.  We attempt to achieve mental hygiene by approaching it the way we approach physical hygiene, to some extent: by “changing” external appearances.   (This is a broad sort of statement.)  But truly, we must realize that mental hygiene is an inner process.

Admittedly, self-introspection is not the answer to mankind’s problems.  It is also not the final answer to what mental hygiene is.  But I think it is a step in the right direction.  And even if it is not, it is a concept that has not been greatly explored.  We can have many discussions about this idea, and that might lead to greater insight as to what mental hygiene is.

Things Work Themselves Out

Today started off pretty rough.  I did a morning workout, and my mind was marbles.  Just not feeling it today.  And then as the day wore on, I started freaking, freaking, freaking.  One of those anxiety attacks where I think that everything I’ve worked for, all the successes I’ve had recently… it’ll all be taken away from me again.

Why am I so afraid?

 

I had the biggest breakdown of my life 3 years ago.  I descended into a world where I thought I was the Anti-Christ.  The most evil, sinister being ever known to mankind, and beyond even.  I knew that I was responsible for the suffering of everything that has ever lived, and that I belonged in hell.  My mind kept replaying my punishment in hell, as if I was already there.  I was stuck, tumbling over and over and over, unable to control my body.

Now, I have a full-time job, and I am not in danger of losing it.  It’s the best job ever!  Ups and downs, but that’s normal.  But sometimes, I walk around with anxiety in my head.   Right now, I’m freaking out over my sexuality.  OMG, I’m gay.  OMG, I’m trans.  OMG, I’m straight?  Ok maybe I’m bi.  Over and over and over again.

But do I have to have an answer to this question?  Even if I had “an answer,” would I feel better?  Wiser?  Happier?  An answer is just one little word.  And I don’t think one little word can make me feel better.

I recently got a new therapist who is sort of a genius.  Every time I go in, I talk about fear over my sexuality.  He addressed it for about 2 sessions, where he simply said, “You can have thoughts, but you choose to act on them or not.  You’re in control.”

And then last time when I saw him, I brought up the sexuality thing, and then he just totally changed the subject.  Bam!  We didn’t talk about it at all.  We just tackled something else.

You know what?  It felt good to talk about something else!  I got to talk about something else that didn’t feel like sticking needles into my eyes.  I felt less stuck, and more as if I was making progress.

I really think this has helped.  During this week, I’ve actually become less fearful of addressing and accepting my sexuality!  It’s so weird how this happens… instead of trying to solve a problem, I leave it alone and focus on something else, and then the original problem starts to work itself out!

I think this is a big part of unlearning schizophrenia for me.  Meaning, this is a big way for me to unlearn the fears of my past, and forge ahead into new ground.  Confident ground.