Pressure Test

I can’t remember who it was, but I once heard a comedian tell a joke about relationships that went something like this: “Figuring out who to marry is easy. If you like someone and think you could spend your life with them then just sit down and eat some raw chicken together. Then, lock yourself in a one bathroom apartment together for the next few days. Soon there will be vomiting and explosive diarrhea everywhere. If during that terrible time, you share a single laugh with the other person then you should marry them.”

There is something valuable about pressure testing a relationship before you commit to a life* with someone. Relationships are fucking tough, but they can start our really easy. Hell, years can go by before you realize you are incompatible with someone or that they aren’t on the same path as you. If most of your experiences with a person are rosy and happy and relatively stress-free then you won’t know if you will be able to deal with the tough blows that life can send your way.

I’m not saying you should eat a raw chicken though (besides my vegan ethics, that is gross). You should probably live with someone, be around them when things are bad, and go on adventures together. You should know what the other person acts like when there is no money and no plan and when things are completely out of anyone’s control. Do you still share a laugh? Or is it constant pain? Do you turn to each other and grin because you know that as a team you can fucking conquer anything? Or do you look to the other person and feel like they are making things worse or dragging you down?

Pressure tests aren’t really about surviving a scenario, they are about enjoying it because you are with a compatible person. If pressure testing your relationship means you barely get out intact, maybe there is someone else out there that is more compatible? When I moved in with my ex-fiance (I wish I had a better title for that relationship), it brought to light a ton of things that we didn’t know before living together. Things seemed easy and rosy when we were in a long-distance relationship because every moment we spent together felt special. Living together ended the “honeymoon phase” and we realized that we weren’t compatible… we were sexually incompatible, had different views on relationships, and wanted to live different places and have different lives. All those things seemed easy to overcome when we lived apart, I think we both figured the other person would eventually “come around”, but that wasn’t the case.

Now, if we had stayed together I am sure we would have found a way to be happy(ish). The mind has an amazing way of adapting to a situation and making the most out of it or even enjoying a situation if changing things seems impossible (see: Stockholm Syndrome). Maybe I would have eventually fallen in love with Myrtle Beach, SC and enjoyed whatever shit job I found. Maybe continuing my education would have seen unnecessary and my political activism at the time felt worthless (in some senses it was, but in other’s it really helped me grow). Maybe the idea of complete monogamy with vanilla sex once a week would have eventually been enough to make me happy.

Or maybe not. Maybe I would have stuck it out for a decade or two before ending the relationship with feelings of hatred and resentment towards the person I loved, leaving me with mountains of debt and no real support network.

I’m glad I’ll never know. I’m glad that my relationship went through a pressure test that we failed. It would have been worse if we survived but didn’t end up stronger because of it. Anna and I have had lots of pressure tests. Biking around a country with someone for two years and living in a tent with them brings out stress. Not knowing where you are sleeping each night or how you will find a coffee shop to get work done can cause friction. Being within 15 feet of someone for years at a time eliminates the honeymoon phase pretty quickly. And now we are facing a new pressure test, living in a stable home and dealing with all the issues that come from that. But, despite the pressure, we’ve come out stronger and filled laughter and genuine love for each other.

If a relationship isn’t making you stronger then it might better to end it. If incompatibilities exist (or develop… we are all changing people) that is something to be taken seriously now and not pushed to the side with the hopes they will resolve themselves. It sucks when things end, but it is better to turn around when you see a dead end than to drive over a cliff just because you’ve committed yourself to that road for so long.

*I actually think committing your life to someone is foolish. We all change and grow through our life and it is impossible to commit to loving someone when you don’t know who they will be or who you will be down the road. Anna and I certainly hope that we remain compatible and loving for a long time, maybe even life, but we aren’t committed to making a relationship last until death if we aren’t happy in it. A successful relationship isn’t one where it lasts until someone dies, a successful relationship is one where both parties build each other up and are reasonable enough to end it if that is no longer the case.

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Worry

I meditated today for the first time in over a week. My practice was thrown off by the trip to St. Louis and returning to Myrtle Beach has been stressful because we are in the middle of trying to move to Wilmington. I wish I would have stuck with my practice in St. Louis but, unfortunately, I found myself caught up in the day-to-day and am always kind of embarrassed that someone is going to catch me meditating. I don’t know why there is a bit of shame or discomfort about it… I should probably work on that.

Anyway, today was likely the most difficult 10-minute meditation I’ve ever had. I couldn’t get my mind to calm down at all and I felt like I was dragging through the whole thing. I beat myself up and judged myself a little bit, but eventually I just let the wild mind happen and made the best of it. My mind mostly wandered from worry to worry in my life, but upon examination I realized that my worrying was mostly a waste of time. Almost everything was beyond my control, or the things that I had control over I was already doing the best I could.

This election season is the most batshit terrifying of my life. Both primary candidates are unacceptable by most of the electorate and one only seems appealing because of how awful the other one is. There are all types of things to worry about how the President and government will run next year… but that’s the thing, we shouldn’t worry about that at all. It is 100% out of any of our hands. Our votes don’t really matter (particularly outside of a dozen or so “battleground” states), and even if our vote does matter all we can do is go to the voting booth in November and vote. We shouldn’t waste any real mental energy on it at all. Getting angry or afraid of the future only damages our own happiness.

I’ve also been stressing about finding a suitable house in Wilmington. I thought we found one but someone swooped in and turned in their application before us. I was angry at myself for not acting more quickly, except I shouldn’t be angry at myself. The past is the past, it is unchanging, it is a waste of my life to concern myself with it beyond using it as a lesson to change my behavior in the future. And I’m doing just that. I’m doing all I can to make sure we are in a position to apply quickly when a suitable house comes up. It is probably worth thinking about this process occasionally to make sure I am truly doing all I can, but when I am convinced that I’m doing all I can I should stop worrying.

Similarly, I have some interpersonal stress going on that involves some other people… but I can’t control other people. I can express how I feel and hope they change their behavior, or I can alter my behavior to “punish” them or try and hold them accountable, but if those actions actually make my life worse then I should just let it go. I only get to control my body and my mind, but those are the most important things. 99% of my life experience comes directly from my body and my mind, the rest is just noise. That is where I should focus…

  • If I feel like my body is unhealthy I can cut out unhealthy food and habits, eat better, and exercise
  • If I need more money I can sell things I own, cut out unnecessary bills, or try to work more
  • If my mind feels unstimulated I can start reading more or watch a documentary
  • If I’m unable to focus I can change my environment to make it more suitable for creation
  • If I am having trouble sleeping I can cut off the computer 2 hours before bed and get into better sleep habits
  • If my mind is a wild beast that can’t be tamed I can meditate or barf my thoughts into a blog post

Nearly every aspect of my life is within my control. And the things that are outside of my control I shouldn’t worry about because they are outside of my control. By focusing on them, stressing about them, letting them create anxiety, fear, or anger I let them creep into other parts of my life and give them control. I forfeit my relationships, happiness, and health when I worry about things that I can’t change.

So, I will strive to do better. I will work on me and not concern myself with the rest. My happiness belongs to me.

Stress and Sin

I’ve been really stressed out for the last couple of days. There isn’t any solo cause of the stress, but it is there. Usually I can recognize the stress and find some ethical ways to reduce it. My “go to” techniques are meditation, music, going for a walk, exercising, masturbating, napping, or drinking a beer. Those techniques didn’t really work for me yesterday and I ended up turning to sin.

Now, I don’t really define sin in a theological way. For me, sinning is when I violate my own ethics. It is when I consume dairy, spend money on unnecessary things, or consume a bunch of food. Turning to food is super common for me to deal with heavy stress, especially fatty food. I’m not sure if there is something about violating my own ethics that feels good or if there is something in food (or the act of spending money) that releases stress, but it does.

I’m not proud of it, I want to improve my actions and not backslide into getting pleasure from other’s unnecessary harm or wasting my money on  “things”. I am happy that it has been a LONG time since I got this stressed out and sinned, and maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Any ethical practice (veganism, Christianity, etc) is the pursuit of perfection, but acknowledging that perfection is impossible. I guess all I can do is move forward today and do my best.

Time for Some Holiday Sin

The holiday season is upon us. I spent the last couple of days driving up from Dallas to St. Louis to spend time with my partner’s family, and the next week or so is going to be filled with a whirlwind of family, food, and travel. To be honest, I was kind of stressing out about all this. I felt like I had finally settled into a healthy routine of exercise 4-5 times a week, eating right, working on learning German, reading regularly, and taking a couple of courses on Coursera. Now, all of that is disrupted and it really frustrated me. Luckily, I had kind of a drunk epiphany last night and my attitude changed.

Instead of worrying about how behind I’m getting or how that cookie is going to effect my waistline, I’ve decided to view this time as a reward. I deserve to be gluttonous and lazy and slack off for a few days. I’m going to spend some time enjoying all the sinning that is excused in the name of holiday cheer. If I find myself with some spare time I will work on Coursera and reading, but that is unlikely. Instead I can play Hearthstone, take naps, and try to sneak in some banging even though the family is around.

I think a big part of this drunk epiphany has come from my meditation practice, which I’ve really started to make an important part of my day. Mindfulness has made examining my thoughts without judgement almost second nature. When I was feeling stressed or bummed I was able to take a step back, look at why I was feeling that way, and analyze if there was anything I could do to change the circumstances. I couldn’t really change the travel and such, but I could change the way I viewed their impact on my life. Instead of a disrupting obligation they became a welcome reward for being awesome. So, now I’m looking forward to a week without work, chores, or concern over my fitness. That stuff will all be waiting for me in January.

On Suicide

A facebook friend of mine posted the following status:

“I am committed to talking to my friends, even my Facebook friends, if they are contemplating dying. I am not committed to doing that for strangers.”

I’m not going to assume what he meant by that exactly but it did get me thinking again about my personal brush with suicide a few years ago.

I was living in DC and incredibly depressed, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I had a lot of people in my life but few that I could call friends, it seems hard to make real friends in a city like DC where even the libertarians are so entrenched in political activities that they can’t relate to people on a personal level very easily. I had friends from back home but “home” was the west coast and I was not making enough money to visit as often as I liked. I also had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but was surrounded by people who seemed to have it all figured out.

So, one evening I found myself in my bedroom a little drunk and watching something shitty on Netflix. A depressive cloud started to come over me and I felt the reoccurring feeling of my PTSD (this was before I discovered the healing power of MDMA)… I started weeping in my bed as images of friends I lost and regrets over surviving took over my mind. This had happened to me before but I had always had a trusted friend or a girlfriend who would hold me, comfort me, and help me in these times. I look back now and realize that there were many people who would have helped me if I asked but my depressive state left me unable to recognize that.

With no friends that I felt I could turn to I posted something on Tumblr about my current state. Within a few quick seconds I received a supportive message from a complete stranger. Her and I talked back and forth for about an hour online until I drifted off to sleep. Later I found out her name is Molly and she is a libertarian. We have actually become Facebook friends as well now, though we have not yet crossed paths in real life. I truly thank her for helping save my life. There is no way to know what would have happened without her but the kindness she showed me (a stranger) helped get me safely through the night.

My bike trip reinforced the kindness of strangers and that kindness can be found anywhere. Not only do I think we should be nice to strangers but it may just save a life to go out of your way and show love and support to one. So I guess what I’m saying is that if I am aware that a stranger is contemplating dying I am committed to doing what I can to help.