three years later

Three years ago today, I arrived in Chicago. This whole adventure in big-city living began a year and a half before I arrived here, while I was still a resident of Fargo, North Dakota. In the first year, I found myself being grateful that I was in a city as big and busy and diverse as this one. Since then, it’s been a daily struggle to keep myself sane.

Some cities, I’ve been told, decide whether you’re worthy of living within them by testing your ability to handle it at its most intense. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are all members of this club, as if there are qualifications for being a resident of such a place. After three years, it’s clear to me that I’m not qualified to be a Chicagoan. Try as I may, I would rather be almost anywhere else most of the time. It isn’t that it’s a bad place to live; it just doesn’t fit.

Chicago has some beautiful places, like the Osaka Garden in Jackson Park, and Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. It has some great food, like Frontier Hopleaf, Cafe Spiaggia, and XOCO. There are some great people here, like some of the friends I’ve made along the way. But at the end of the day, those aren’t enough for me to want to stay.

I’ve been told that I move too much and that I need to settle somewhere. That’s the point. I don’t know where I belong yet. I do know that it isn’t here. Three years in, and I feel like a visitor. An outsider. My goal is, within a year, to have picked a new city and either moved there or be in the process.

Advertisements

test for echo

We’re all a little different. Our quirks, passions, ideals, beliefs are all unique to each of us. I’d been hearing stuff like this for years, but until the past few months, I had no idea what it really meant.

I’m something of a sucker for psychology. It was one of my three minors in college, and the human experience has always fascinated me. “What makes us tick?” and “What makes us unique?? have always been questions that lingered in the back of my mind. A few months ago, a friend asked if I had ever taken the Myers-Briggs test (MBTI), a personality test based on Carl Jung’s theories of personality. It had been years since my last attempt, but I told her my last result. Because it had been probably a decade since my last test, I retook it on a whim, and got a different result. Much more different, and much more earth-shattering than the last one.

Jung’s theories test introversion vs. extroversion (which I’ve written about before), as well as how we gather information, make decisions, and how we assess the world around us. My score, INFJ, is the most rare of all the 16 personality types, with only about one percent of the total human population possessing this type. I’d long been told that I was weird, and strange, and goofy, and moody, etc. Until I took the test and got this result, which resonated with me on a level I’d never experienced, I’d just thought that I was, weird, strange, goofy, and moody. But I wasn’t weird, just rare.

With the help and power of social media, I reached out to other people who identified as INFJs, including my very dear friend Amelia, as well as INFJ/Introvert troubadour Jenn Granneman. There was a huge conversation today on Twitter about how those of us who identify with this moniker coped with living in a world that didn’t really seem to fit us. It began as something small but as it always does with people like us, who crave understanding and connection, it spread like wildfire, and continues even as I write this. Most of the participants in this conversation admit to being misunderstood or unaccepted in our youth because, as Introvert hero Susan Cain suggests, our culture requires us to be outgoing and bold in order to succeed. Meanwhile, people like Rosa Parks, Mahatma Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela were quiet revolutionaries and accomplished what they accomplished despite being in the limelight, not because they were in the limelight.

And that’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? Little, unsung victories that remind us of our strength, our power, and our inner light? Most of us will never be famous, and most of us would rather not be in the spotlight anyway. What we’re really looking for is connection. An answer to our test for an echo. A realization that we aren’t alone, and that there are those out there, in the great big noise that is humanity, who get us. We all deny ourselves of our truth in an attempt to fit with people who we want to accept us, all the while, failing to realize that we already fit with people we don’t know and don’t see, until we open our hearts, shout into the void, and listen for the response.

closing the book

Dear Facebook,

It isn’t you. It’s me.

Okay, maybe it’s both of us.

I joined six years ago, give or take a few months, because of a friend’s persistence in getting me to join during my time with Habitat. Since then, I broadcast my life, from leaving Baltimore, to this winter of my discontent in Chicago (with a hard time in California and three years in Fargo in between). We started off well, but things changed. You became a huge glorified yearbook with advertising and politics mixed in, and I became disillusioned, but like a relationship that lasted past its necessary end (something I know a lot about), I stayed.

I joined the ranks of Twitter, and Instagram, and found my people. People who had new things to say, and give, and offer, and show, without expecting much. I’ve made real, honest friends on other platforms. And while, at time of writing this, I have 635 Facebook friends, including family, I really only talk to a couple dozen of them, and I can get a hold of them elsewhere anyway.

I’ve realized how little time I actually spend with you anymore. It’s less than half-an-hour a day, and most of it is reading other people’s posts. I only post a few things now and then, and I’m more tame and low-key than I was once upon an election. You remember those days, don’t you? Of course you do.

So, It’s time for me to say goodbye. I know, you’ll say you’re sorry to see me go and some people will say I’ll be back because like a bad reality TV show, you’re an addiction of sorts. Not likely. Leaving you will give me more time to do what I need to do for myself. You bear too many memories I don’t want anymore, and it’s for the best that we go our separate ways.

A History of Anxiety

I have anxiety.

This does not just mean I’m stressed, or nervous, or worried. It’s a clinical diagnosis known as Anxiety Disorder. It came a year ago after I sought psychological counseling following an unexpectedly stressful change to my life. It does not mean I’m broken. What it does mean is that I’ve kept entirely too much pain, stress, and fear to myself, and it’s led to me being less than great at coping with hard, challenging, and uncomfortable times.

I internalize everything. Mistakes at work, arguments and disagreements, conversations with friends and family, and memories from long ago. On several occasions, words said or things done to me have stayed with me, and they have changed my programming. My brain immediately runs to worst case scenario in any unfavorable or uncomfortable situation.

My self-talk is often dangerous. I wonder if people hate me, if they do things to spite me, if I’m the target of bullying. The latter is somewhat logical, given that I dealt with bullying as a kid. The others are a result of the worst-case-scenario mentality I run to in tough times. I internalize things that go unsaid, and also things said and done that were unnecessary. I embarrass and scare easily, despite all evidence to the contrary. I put on a great show.

I am an introvert. What it means is that some people, known as extroverts, are extremely outgoing and draw energy from social situations, while introverts aren’t necessarily as outgoing in social situations (unless we’re comfortable with the people involved) and we expend energy in social situations and need to retreat into solitude to recharge.

My introversion and my anxiety do not coincide, but my introversion does not help in dealing with my anxiety. As a result, I attempt to connect with and become close with people like me, who understand me, and who care about me. Some of these people are extroverts, but they understand my design and do not push me into discomfort. Sometimes, I get too close, and the cycle begins again.

Some wounds don’t heal quite right. Others don’t heal at all. Every last one of us is damaged, haunted, by something or someone. Sometimes both. There are times when it takes everything we have just to hold it together.

We all carry dead weight. Ghosts of days long done. We want to let go, but we can’t, for reasons we don’t understand. We’re left with a pain that can be sharp and searing or dull and nagging, but it never goes away. Not completely. So we move forward, pulling extra weight that we don’t need.

We pass this pain, this extra weight, to the people we love, not because we think they deserve it, but because we feel like we deserve it, and there’s no clear way to stop the cycle. We become self-destructive, and hurt the people who want to help us.

We’re all fighting a hard battle, but can’t see beyond our own pain. We forget that we aren’t the only ones at war with ourselves. That’s why when somebody offers to help us carry our baggage, instead of ignoring the offer, we should take the help. Nobody has to struggle alone.

And sometimes, the only way to stop the pain is to build a divide, a chasm, between us and the source of the pain.

Some bridges are meant to be burned.

reinvention

Life is evolution. Things happen that cause us to change and become different people. Usually, these changes result in us becoming a better version of a previous self.

Over the past few months, I’ve gone from newly single and excited about the prospects of a new chance at living the life I want to being heavy and restrained by my own mistakes in judgment. My forward progress has become stagnation, and any evolution I experienced in the first few months of solitude has stopped. I allowed myself to fall back into old habits, and I let my solitude become loneliness. I started running again and haven’t done it in over a month. I don’t write anymore, barely cook, and don’t feel the presence of friends that I felt in the first few months. Basically, I’m lost.

I’m considering several changes in my life, from a new job to furthering my education, and even moving to a new city. But the first thing I need to do is go back to the fork in the road where I left my forward trajectory, and recapture the momentum I felt in the winter.

I’m repurposing this blog. I usually use it to talk about current events and politics, and the occasional life event. From now on, it will be documentation of my forward movement, and it will hold true to its name. I will follow no roads but my own.

the great divide

I was going to write something touchy-feely about what happened yesterday in Boston, and I don’t need to explain what happened at this point; the media has flooded our consciousness with new and old information, video of the explosion, and photos of the scene and the aftermath. There have been stories of incredible acts of kindness and generosity following the attacks, and stories of people returning from Boston, happy to be alive.

This isn’t going to be one of those posts.

The Onion, classically known as a satirical publication that sometimes acts as the newspaper version of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, published a story today that said a lot of what I’ve been thinking for years.

There are a lot of great people on this planet. Some of them are reading this. We pay a price for living on this beautiful planet with so many kind people. Sometimes, that price, as Patton Oswalt so elequently said yesterday on Facebook, is dealing with people with bad wiring. It seems we’re increasingly dealing with this.

Our era of history seems to be defined by incredible violence and crippling ignorance, when we have the resources and manpower to battle both of these plagues. And yet, here we are, staring into a chasm that keeps us from being closer to our potential. There are literally millions of people on this planet who wish others ill or dead, both in the US and elsewhere (and some of them are also reading this), simply because they’re different. Because “they” aren’t “us.” It is, and for centuries, has been, “Us Vs. Them.” And it doesn’t need to be.

We have the power, the talent, the manpower, the ability to change this. But we haven’t. So many of us cry out for unity, peace, harmony, conversation, understanding, etc. I’m one of them. But our cries fall on deaf ears because it’s “hippie talk.” We become complacent and say, “Things will change,” and “One day it’ll be better.” Look around. We exist in a reality where we are more divided than ever, and it shows. Politics, religion, nationalism all act as glaring examples.

I’ve given a name to our part of history, and it’s partially my perception of what’s happening around us, and partially a continued cry for unity:

The Great Divide.

Boston native Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “All violence, all that is dreary and repels, is not power, but the absence of power.” We have the power to put a stop to all of it. Step away from preconception, from crowdsourced opinion, from media-induced delusion, and religion-directed obsession, and think for yourself. Become that which you desire in the world, and it will become reality. But only if you make it happen.

The alternative is, the void becomes greater. We become so divided, so far apart from each other, that we begin to misunderstand even our closest friends, and the random violence happening around us escalates. We’re better than that. We’re stronger than the divisions between us. There’s always been more that unites us than that which separates us, except what we’ve learned to believe and what we’re told to believe.

a matter of trust

A Chinese proverb says, “Only he that has traveled the road knows where the holes are deep.” My road has been proof of that. I’ve fallen into some pretty deep, dark holes along the way, and they’ve left me scarred, cynical, and frustrated. I’ve always had trouble putting things in my rearview. I hold onto days gone by for too long, no matter how bad they may have been, because I constantly ask “What if?” and it’s come to hold me back. I’d begun to doubt my own ability to make decisions and trust my own judgment in choosing who I wanted to join me as I traveled through life.

Trust is hard to earn and disappears in seconds. We all know this. I allowed a series of events in the past decade to damage my any ability to trust anyone, and even myself, and it’s damaged and even destroyed relationships and kept me from moving forward. But that’s over. The last few years have introduced me to some of the kindest and most decent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and until recently, I didn’t understand the gravity of their presence in my life.

I have no reason to remain skeptical and suspicious of people. If anything, I’ve learned who I can and cannot trust, or at least how to spot a trustworthy person. Most people mean us no harm. We’re all fighting a battle, and most of us fight fair. Some don’t, but they aren’t hard to spot. They’re the people who stand to gain from hurting those in the way, and find no reason to consider how their actions affect others.

There’s a fine line between “healthy skepticism” and self-centered distrust. I’d become a person who lived by “people are stupid” and “I hate people,” and neither of those are true. If anything, most people are smart but generally unaware of what the rest of us endure. It lies within our power to educate the people we encounter every day on how and why we struggle, and what we can do to lighten the load.

The past few months have been hard. Most of you know why. I’ve been forced to face, accept, and break the chains I allowed cold hearts to place on me. They’ll face the consequences in due time; it’s no longer necessary to bear that burden for them. It’s okay to trust everyone. Just don’t trust the darkness within.