I Have Read The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown And This Is Not A Book Review

Not everyone knows everything about me so here’s my thing with Savannah Brown:

She’s a poet, she’s on YouTube and I discovered her after the great Sarah Kay kindled my love of poetry with her TedTalk.

Savannah, Sav to her friends I’m sure, was a teenage poetry prodigy. I honestly think she’s the greatest living poet of our time but then I think that isn’t fair to Sarah. They are somehow, despite being radically different, both the best living poet of our time.

Anywho, following Sav on YouTube was great and when she when she was working on a novel I was like great I’ll buy it when it comes out. And I did.

I waited for a rainy day when I had nothing to do and I read it cover to cover.

It was great. the day, I mean – the act of reading it. The book is also great although imperfect and I’m a 34 year old man so it’s just too weird to think about reviewing a Young Adult novel.

Unfortunately I entered a phase in my life where everything makes me sad. Even picking up The Truth About Keeping Secrets off the shelf at Indigo made me sad. I actually still haven’t read Frank Turner’s newest book because I know it will make me sad.

I was listening to Brene Brown (no relation to Savannah) and she used numb as a verb. To numb as an action. Not to feel numb but to do something to put oneself in a absence of feeling.

And it struck me because I do that whereas I never used to. I had no problem being in my feelings. I used to not mind being sad, I always had a use for it. Or at least found it enriched an identity that I liked.

When I first realized that doing something that had nothing to do with depression was a good way to cope with depression it was a revelation. It’s counter-intuitive that the solution to a puzzle is to stop your mind working on it. But that’s what depression is; your mind trying to solve the puzzle of your unhappiness by obsessing over it. Doing something else, arbitrary-seeming shit like working out or watching movies or whatever, help.

At some point though I started needing to do something whenever I felt down, and I needed to be talking about and be seen doing something so people wouldn’t know I’m a loser. That I’ve already lost at life and I’m just hobbling.

Everything became about distraction and just filling time and I realized it was all just to numb. Numb is the best I can feel when even things I like feel bad. When people’s lives have lead them somewhere and there’s a narrative that gives meaning to their life’s events, I’m envious.

Having a life that makes sense makes them seem like a somebody while my life – where events both good and bad are meaningless because they serve no plot or purpose – is the life of a nobody.

I look at the lives of the somebodys and they seem like boats; designed and crafted and sea-worthy. While my life is raft cobbled together from what’s at hand while the water is already rising.

They are living their first-choice life and my first-choice at this point would be not living. It doesn’t matter that things aren’t that bad, it matters that things make no sense. I’m patching up the raft of my self-image with the car-parts of my activities because not being okay seems rude.

And even though I’ve been depressed my whole life I thought I was building with boat-parts. I thought I had a life then it turned out I was merely alive. Now I feel too defeated to even want to kill myself – like it’s too powerful of a choice and it would make me a loser not a tragedy.

Everything in my life is just something to hide behind to the point where even I don’t want to be able to see me.

 

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Posted in Depression & Suicide

On the changing way we talk about anxiety

I’ve noticed a lot of people use the phrase gives me anxiety rather than makes me anxious.

At first glance I found it interesting that people weren’t identifying with the feeling. Saying I am anxious is saying that your self and your anxiety are the same.

I’ve heard it’s bad to identify too strongly with negative feelings (it’s better to think I’m a person who is sad rather than I’m sad because the first way acknowledges all your other personhood and reminds you that you have, and will again, feel differently) so perhaps the trend was good, I figured.

Except looking at it now I think externalizing the anxiety is a way of giving up responsibility. It’s not a matter of how you feel, it’s something that’s given to you. If the anxiety is your feeling then you can influence it, if it’s this powerful outside force then all you can do is avoid it.

Which I suspect is why people use the phrase as an explanation not to do things. Saying I don’t want to and this gives me anxiety mean the same thing but you’d have to own the not-wanting.

And that’s interesting to me because I think anxiety is a feeling of powerlessness and externalizing it would exacerbate that. Knowing that you can influence how you feel and you can control your behaviour is empowering but most people don’t want to be empowered because that comes with responsibility.

I know that’s how I feel.

If my life isn’t perfect tomorrow it’ll be because of some failure of mine today. So I sit here today anxiously thinking about all the things I could and should do to be perfect and then I just give in to the doom.

I really, really beat myself up if I don’t do something that gives me anxiety. Because I know how good it feels when you have, say, five things you could do and you bang out the biggest, hardest one first. Everything flows easy after that, you get like ten things done after that. That’s how I want to feel, that’s what the perfect version of me would do.

But it’s not what I always do, and if I’m imperfect today then I’ll be unhappy tomorrow. And forever. And if I’m going to be unhappy forever then why do anything today?

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Once You Don’t Quit One Thing, You Have To Wonder Why You Previously Quit Everything Else

I think about this with running a lot, because I’ve run into every injury, delay, and setback a runner can and I never felt like saying fuck it I’m done.

Which, typically, I do with everything.

And there’s two reasons on my mind right now as to why running has been different.

I’m still getting what I came for even when it sucks. Part of running is the suck, the self-pressure, the pride in your stiffness, etc. It’s supposed to be difficult so you can rally and overcome and get better. With everything else in life I have the feeling of why bother overcoming the suck? Because there’s nothing on the other side of the suck in life. Just more life that sucks.

And I didn’t come to running in search of belonging. Truly, with everything else in life that’s what I’ve been looking for. All the good times in bands, all the workplaces I’ve enjoyed, all the bars I’ve regulared, it was filling the need in me for the family I never had. That’s why I was so often heartbroken even when things were objectively normal – bands fight, work sucks – to me though it’s received as living out the horrible, inevitable pattern of my life where I’m rejected and alone forever.

With running however I started it to be alone. To literally run away from my problems and myself and be figuratively on an island for a while. I’d never have thought that the answer to the problem of desperately wanting to belong was to be alone but it turns out you can belong to yourself. And find the strength there you thought you find from someone else.

Even songwriting wasn’t really a for-me thing, it turns out. I thought being a good enough songwriter was my ticket to belonging. And it’s fallen off because it stopped soothing the belonging-wound like everything eventually stops soothing the wound.

In Fitness I found confirmation that while I’m wounded I’m not broken. Going for a run is kind of like the cookie in The Matrix, it won’t fix anything itself but you’ll feel differently by the time you’re done.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, fitness, Songwriting

Kinship

The number of dead friends you have only increases during the course of your life.

You don’t really track the live ones. Friends come go and go by degrees in your life, sometimes quickly and sometimes slow and smooth.

But the dead are always there, unchanging.

I don’t know when I first started saying someone dies every year and keeping myself at a low level of alert for it. But I do know I’ve pointed out that – even thinking about death as much as I do – it’s always a surprise.

And it’s fallowed by the period of kinship, death bringing the living closer together.  We make special effort to help with things mundane and emotional. It’s when people talk about the good to come from this tragedy.

And sadly as you get older the duration of the effect lessens. When Carla died I felt like everyone was quick to seem normal and I couldn’t say anything about it because I was seeming normal too.

But I started feeling a kinship with her. Like there was something her and I share. Our friendship in life was lacking but now there’s something she knew, that I know, that no one else will admit.

A friendship with a dead person can’t slip when you get busy. With a living person talking a few times a year is a pretty clear sign the friendship isn’t too vital, even if it is extremely loving. But a dead friend is always present and can interject into any silence.

Living friends continue their own stories without me as I continue mine without them. The feeling that there’s a story of us goes away.

But the feeling of an us with Carla just deepens. We had more in common than I knew til now and I feel like she’d understand how I feel more than a living person can.

I always have to translate for the living. From the language of despair to something they can understand. Always having to take responsibility for their worry because when you have a history of being suicidal even positively intended posts can set off a flurry of irritating digital concern.

Even now, changing this in drafts all week, I’m struggling to express how I feel because I can’t get passed how everyone else is going to feel when they read it.

Which of course makes you wonder why I’d write it in a blog and not a journal and, for you, I’ll answer that:

Having to hide how sad I am, how the angels of life and death on my shoulder feel reversed – life being scary, harsh, and judgemental while death is accepting and calm – is the problem. Feeling buried under the obligation to keep participating in life all the time, to not let it get worse – not for my sake but for everybody else’s.

I’m reading another alcoholic biography and the author makes the same point about sobriety. Even knowing had bad drinking left her feeling there was some kind of comfort in it, a grand letting go, while sobriety was unrelenting work-as-punishment.

And that’s how I feel maintaining a non-depressed life. It’s unrelenting work that works toward nothing. Whether depressed or alcoholic the relief we think we’d feel doesn’t last. It feels like the relief is back in the disease. And if the work isn’t making us happy then it just becomes about keeping everyone else… what? At bay?

I think about Carla when I run – the most alive thing for me – and I don’t feel like I’m doing it for her or keeping a part her with me. I feel like I’m maintaining a facade with she and I on one side and everybody else on the other.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Resilience Over Endurance

The marathon was, surprisingly to me even as I lived it, not a feat of endurance but of resilience.

As I’ve written and said a bunch of times already I was ready to quit, I did quit. I hurt so much I gave up on the outcome. It’s just that no one was around when I did and I had no choice but walk to the aid station like a kilometer away.

On the way there my only goal was to drink an entire cup of water. Drinking water while running, you see, is basically just throwing it at your face and hoping some goes down. So I limped there and had a full cup of water, no idea in my head of finishing the race.

Since I wasn’t running I knew I could digest a gel pack so I took one of those two and figure an electrolyte drink might help and that was that, I had walked through the aid station.

I tested a jog, still not thinking about finishing the race or not – just thinking can I jog? It was more about testing the injury rather than seeing if I could compete.

And I could jog so I did.

One or two more corners and I was on familiar ground – I knew I was near the finish line and so I knew I was going to finish. And I didn’t really care and I didn’t feel better.

Well, I did feel better because I already felt better than the worst I’d felt that day. I didn’t feel good, I didn’t feel above water.

But I’m surprised how quickly I did. Not proud of the race but focused on next time, certain I will come back stronger. And in that I found my pride, my dignity.

There’s a scene in Chronicles Of Riddick where the gravity in a room is being increased in order to make the titular character bow, and he doesn’t. He endures. He is tested with pain and does not yield, the situation yields before he does. And it’s awesome, it’s why he’s a dope action hero in a dope action movie. I was moved by that scene when I first saw it and I still think about that movie.

I also still think about the movie Cool Hand Luke, which I’m sure fewer of you have seen but it’s a true classic and I’ve watched it dozens of times. In Cool Hand the prison bosses get fed up with the titular character (I just realized that connection between the films, neat) and his rebellious attitude. So they break him. He ends up crying at guard’s feet that he’s got his mind right and he’ll do whatever just stop. Everyone who believed in him turns away in disgust.

After a little rest Luke is working on something and when he’s asked what he’s doing he says he’s breaking out. And the person he’s talking to, the other prisoner who believed in him most, says he knew deep down the guards didn’t break him. To which Luke replies nah, they broke me. He doesn’t lie or rewrite history he fully admits that he broke, he quit, he lost. But when the worst of it was over he found his pride again.

That’s resilience.

Life isn’t about never breaking, life will break all of us – everyone reading this – at some point. We’re not dope action heroes in a dope action movie. Endurance will fail us someday, some pivotal moment.

And in that moment you may give up your pride for a long time, thinking that because you are breakable you must now be broken. That something different has to happen before you’re worth believing in again and until then you’ll keep your head down. Resilience says No. Resilience says there’s no benefit in prolonging your suffering by reliving it, reinforcing it. Your dignity built itself out of the clay of who you are before and it will do it again.

I’m still not happy about that race, but I’m beginning to cherish it. The medal hangs on my wall like a rejection letter from a publisher, waiting to be part of a story of resilience and redemption.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, fitness, Pragmatism

What I Read This Month

Running and Dopamine… sadly not in the same book. Also tedious honour-related violence.

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Getting Past Your Past – Francine Shapiro, PhD

Fuck this book straight up. I actually got it two months ago and was trying to power through it but over and over (and over) it has ‘case studies’ where it introduces a name, says they have a problem, and says they got fixed in a shockingly few number of treatments with EMDR therapy. And that’s it.

As I started skimming over and then skipping these ‘case studies’ I realized I was skipping the whole book. This book is the infomercial not the product.

 

The Molecule Of More – Lieberman & Long

This book was good not great, I cruised through it though so it was enjoyable.

The downside is they want to make points about everything so there’s chapters where they get really speculative about American politics and it’s outside the perview of a book about dopamine.

Other than that though it’s got a lot of good stuff about what motivates us, the history of dopamine’s discovery, and of course sex and drugs.

The biggest thing that rattled my brain was a bit on how dopamine spikes when you plan things and how some people get absolutely hooked on planning things. Me. It’s me you guys.

I write lists, I program workouts, I sequence albums, I plan businesses, I plan and organize and fantasize then I do it all again. I never even thought of it as a dopaminergic behaviour because it’s not really doing anything.

Luckily, at least when it comes to working out, I do also do things. I get a thrill out of buying running books, then enjoyment out of reading them, then a further thrill imagining and planning implementing what I’ve read about, and then I do actually go and train. A lot of people, with the things they say they’re passionate about and want to do don’t get to that last step.

 

Build Your Running Body – Magill, Schwartz, & Breyer

I really liked this book first read, so much so that I read it through again obviously, but liked it less the second time.

I got it because it talked about the energy systems and I’ve been trying to understand that for a while now, being a lapsed evangelist of low-carb.

And the book has a lot of amazing, detailed science about running. What disappointed me first was the section on intervals. Based on your 5k time it’ll give you a time for, say, an 800m interval. And… and what? Is it an aspirational time that you should be working toward or is it just what you probably run, and how many intervals should I do in a session, how many sessions a week, etc?

This book is great at the science of running if you’re curious but I don’t think it’s a good go-to for becoming a runner. If you are a runner though, already have training routines, and want to know the how and why of what’s working then this is a great book.

 

Why Honour Matters – Tamler Sommers

In the introduction Tamler asks the reader to set aside the knee-jerk reaction to look for exceptions to his examples before he’s even done explaining them.

And I would have been guilty of that and completely hated this book if he hadn’t.

However it doesn’t excuse a lot of excusing going on in this book.

It’s a defense of honour culture, like the honour-killing type of honour culture. He glosses around sexism, rampant in honour cultures, by saying it’s not inherent in honour cultures and that’s that. And he deals with the amount of violence, and truly senseless violence, by repeating that honour cultures aren’t perfect but hey, nothing is.

Really, he acknowledges being an honour tourist and it shows. But, huge but, the book does make some good points to think about in one’s personal life and good suggestions and examples for particularly the justice system.

This is one of those books I don’t know if I recommend but I’d love it if someone else read it so we could talk it out.

 

Running Up That Hill – Vassos Alexander

I grabbed this automatically because he ran The Spartathlon.

And at one point I regretted it because the book itself isn’t great, the writing lacks heart and connection. It felt like a shadow of Jog On and Running Outside The Comfort Zone which really did make me feel for the authors and want them to be happy and successful. Running Up That Hill feels like reading someone’s homework. But, not huge but still a but, it is a good read overall and the people he talks to are amazing. He talks to or about the greats like Jurek and Karnazes and introduces us to some other freaks like a chap who ran a marathon everyday for 401 days, a chap named Ben Smith. Not to be confused with the Crossfit champion Ben Smith, or local drunk and friend of the blog Ben Smith.

Anywhoozle, Vassos himself has some good running stories and he’s freak runner with no problem 40 miles on a whim.

His Spartathlon goes a bit like Karnazes’ though, he melts down. Everyone melts down.

 

Running Your First Ultra – Krissy Moehl

This book I recommend. I know Ultras are intimidating and only for psychos but this book is simple, honest, and approachable. You could use it’s advice for running anything really, except maybe Olympic sprints.

What I really like is that the training calendar is legible on the first try. Running Body, 4 Hour Body, Your Best Triathlon, and most training calendars I’ve seen have dozens of nonsense acronyms and asterisks and require flipping back through the book a dozen times.

Krissy’s weekly plans can fit on one of my beloved index cards. And there’s a focus on easy miles which is where I want to put more focus. I did all the complex intervals for cardio and thought I was training smarter but it’s getting on your feet and running miles that don’t tax your cardio that strengthens your connective tissue enough to cover anything marathon or longer.

 

The Etymologicon – Mark Forsyth

A tongue twister title and a goddamn delight of book. Just a lovely trip through the history words and underneath is a subtle history of cultures and ideas.

When I was reading it I realized I’d never be able to post a good example because they’re all good, every little chapter is a thrilling conversation where someone says did you know where the term bluetooth comes from? And you’re off and running.

He even knocks down some etymological myths that annoyed me for years, like the word fuck being an acronym. Even just the history of the dictionary is lurid and bizarre.

Most of all though it eases the feeling everyone over 17 has that the language is being destroyed by idiots. It’s been totally insane and fluid since day one and always will be, words come and go and change for no good reason. It’s exciting to realize it’s such a living thing.

 

Posted in books

Why I disagree with you about self-checkouts

On Facebook (where all the good ideas go to blossom don’t you know) you’ll see memes about how self-checkouts at supermarkets are bad. They kill jobs and make you a sucker doing free labour.

Let’s jump right to Star Trek – automation is supposed to free up our time for higher order things like space exploration and the trombone.

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By ‘protecting’ jobs and hating automation you’re protecting the capitalist system that says human life must be valued by it’s paycheck.

We need to find a way forward, not fight to stay where we are.

I notice you don’t mind that you’re shoes aren’t handmade by a cobbler down the street anymore, where’s your faux nobility on that? Shoes are made on an assembly line so we can get them on our feet and go out and do stuff better, faster, sooner.

And implying that you’re a sucker for doing your own labour is anti the working class nobility you’re trying to project. Do you do your own laundry or do you have a maid? Do you scan your own grocery or are you so bourgeoisie that you have to pay someone to slide the ingredients of your food from one side a rotating belt to the other? While thinking you’re doing them a favor and ‘protecting’ their livelihood?

The serfs don’t need your pity, they need their own time and their own lives. Every oppressor justifies themselves by saying that the oppressed needs them, needs the system to keep them safe from themselves.

 

Posted in Pragmatism