a culture crisis

for the depraved

Category: Mental Health

Meaninglessness in Work

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I return to A Culture Crisis, having always known it’s been there, having always felt its presence somewhere in the back of my mind since I’ve been away, because I find myself in a state of quasi-nostalgia with regard to the time in which I was still in school. It has been a little under a year since I graduated from my MA program in English. As I tend to tell people who ask, my MA was the most brutally exhausting and mentally taxing experience of my life. It was, quite possibly, the most difficult thing I have ever had to simultaneously endure and push through.

Now, I have a full time job as a business manager for a local business. I have a staff of roughly 10 people. I am in the process of developing new ideas and creating new projects almost everyday. I can choose my own hours and take vacations whenever I please. I am completely responsible for every decision taken in the workplace. I am in a position of leadership.

Sounds like a perfect fresh-out-of-school job. I should be very grateful that I have this job. Appreciative that I am not struggling in the way that some of my friends are who were not so fortunate as I to have a job lined up out of school. I should be, and yet I’m not.

I’m not satisfied with my work. Yes, there are many perks to this particular job. That’s all very lovely. But I’m not satisfied. I am severely underpaid for the job I do, and it’s not helpful that I perform the tasks of at least three people. Business manager, marketing manager, operations manager… I have no help, no assistance. Just me. Learning too many things everyday in order to keep this business successful in an age where so many small businesses are drowning. I have learned to photoshop, to optimize text/photos for the internet,  social media management, marketing, budgeting, accounting, human resource necessities, and much more, and all entirely on my own.

I don’t know many people who are willing to do that. My staff certainly isn’t. God forbid they do a little research at home about the products they sell. But I continue to do so, to research and learn. Thinking, perhaps, that if I acquire all this knowledge, and put it all to good use, surely I can make something meaningful of this job. Surely I can derive some sense of purpose if I grow the business, take care of its people, guide everyone involved to success. Surely, I tell myself, if I can do all of this, I’ll be happy.

 

It’s not working.

 

Work aside, I’ve had to move back home from having lived on my own for over 5 years in order to save up some money. Public transit doesn’t pass by my area (I’d have to walk 45 minutes to an hour to reach the nearest bus stop). I don’t have a car, and so my mobility is completely contingent upon the schedules of my family members. There are now expectations regarding my behaviour (if my parents have guests over, I must come out of my room and say hello. I should have dinner with my family, not when it suits me, can’t come and go as I please…). My life has changed from having total independence to having virtually none. It sucks.

The thing is, even though my MA was often incredibly overwhelming and drove me half insane, I nonetheless felt that I was really doing something of value. I felt that my work had purpose, and that I had meaning about me. I slaved over my papers and often disregarded sleep and food (which is another problem altogether, but it calls for a separate entry), but in the end of the day, when it was time to turn in my papers, or present my seminars, I felt that what I had created was meaningful, and it gave meaning to both those who engaged in my work, and to myself, who created it. Sometimes I will reread my papers, and I nearly forget that I was capable of that level of thought, or that capacity for clear and engaging writing.

I miss that.

And I think that’s what is missing from work today for lots of people like me. Lots of overqualified, high functioning critical thinkers who are capable of very demanding, challenging, tiresome, and excruciatingly stressful tasks. But, in school, these were tasks that, at the end of it all, yielded a feeling of true purpose in the world. There was no confusion about what you were doing, no question of its value in wider culture. It was something you knew, and something you felt. And you weren’t even paid to do it.

Now, in the workforce, the work can still be demanding, challenging, tiresome, and stressful, and being that we are overqualified, high functioning critical thinkers, we can certainly do the work. But because there is no value in the work, because there is no meaning, any sense of purpose one could possibly feel in that labour is lost.

And when that sense of purpose is lost, it can too often feel as though all is lost. Something very dangerous happens. Hope, positivity, creativity, the very will to keep going, they all seem to disappear, like rings around a drop of water in a sea, moving farther and farther away until you forget what they looked or felt like in the first instance.

I have been very afraid for some months now that I would become so severely depressed that I would never come out of it. And the anxiety of it all has a way of making things much much worse. Sadly, too many people know this feeling. And I can’t say with certainty that all will be well – after all, I was compelled to write this piece due to these darker feelings. But I do try. I’ve taken up yoga rather seriously to bring back positivity in my life, to bring back focus on something other than work. To bring focus back to me, really. To who I am outside and beyond the superficial aspects of my existence. I hope that its influence will extend beyond the hour of practice. And I’m trying to write again. I’ve mentioned on this blog that I’ve been working on a novel of sorts. I’m trying to remember that, to come back to that side of me. The one who writes, and reads, and thinks.

Anyway, if you’ve stuck with me this long, thank you. I was worried this would turn into some sort of Dear Diary post. I’m not quite sure that it hasn’t, but thank you all the same. And if you ever need to share something, I’m always here, somewhere across the internet.

 

All my best,

 

J

 

As Thoughts Come, Let Them Go

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(Source: http://www.libcom.org)

On this blog, I have a page for “Words.” As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have dedicated this page to those words that I have encountered in my life and that, in some way or another, have impacted the way I understand, approach, or treat my life. These words may be from literature, from film, from the mouths of the rich and famous; or they may be words that have been said to me personally, words that I have said to others, good or bad, positive or negative. What they have in common is that they have been productive in some way. They have come to inform my mind, shape it, or be taken into it.

I have recently taken up yoga, and in several practices I have attended, this statement is often repeated: “as thoughts come, let them go.”

I am a big fan of personal interpretation, of allowing one to form her own decisions about how she understands words, concepts, thoughts, etc. So while I highly encourage you to think about what this statement may mean on your own, what it may mean for you and for others, I would also like to briefly share its impact on my life.

It seems that such a simple statement would equally have a simple impact, and perhaps that is the case. The impact is a simple one. But it is by no means small. For the past five or so years, I have dealt with a strong case of OCD, Purely Obsessional OCD, and several phobias. In the last year, I have worked with a psychologist and learned how to deal with these parts of me, these elements of my life that comprise and inform a lot of what and how I am. I recognized all the positive things that these challenges brought to my life (more on this later), but that they brought me a certain productivity made them no less difficult to deal with.

In the last year, I have worked very hard on acceptance. Acceptance: simple, but by no means small, nor easy to achieve. A big part of acceptance is coming to terms with the fact that you are of a certain disposition at the moment, and while that might be unpleasant for the time being, you actively acknowledge that yes, it is the case that this situation currently sucks, but I accept this suckiness and will see it through. It is a very difficult, very mentally taxing thing to accomplish. That said, once you learn this acceptance, once you allow yourself to give into such a radical relinquishment of control (or attempts at control, I should say), life gets betters. Obsessive thoughts get easier to deal with. They leave quicker. Not because this is some failsafe, or a trick you can use each time such a thought invades your mind. It’s not quite that easy. It is a practiced behaviour and involves something of a rollercoaster of successes and failures before you internalize it. But simply by virtue of practicing this acceptance, those obsessive thoughts show up and dissipate of their own volition. It’s rather lovely, actually.

How does one maintain this state, though, where your thoughts just leave on their own? I used to think my biggest problem was that my brain was always on overdrive and clung on to every thought that showed up in my mind. Perhaps I am still like this. But as thoughts come, you let them go. It’s not even an active behaviour, because I think to actively do something about it forces the thought to stay, or forces you to focus on other things to distract yourself from the thought, but let’s face it, it doesn’t go anywhere that way. But eventually, through acceptance, those thoughts come and go, and you let them. You don’t stop to worry about them, to obsess over them. They come and they go.

Let them.

Written from a Starbucks near you.

Lots of love,

J.

On Anxiety, Coping Mechanisms, and Agency

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(source: http://www.pilotfire.com)

It is, at the moment, 12:01 am. I have been getting through a panic attack for approximately an hour and a half. Needless to say, at least for anyone who has ever had to endure such a thing, that the experience was rather terrible. This onset was especially distressing, though, because it seemed to have originated in the “nothing and nowhere,” to borrow from Heidegger. One moment, I was staring at my bowl of lentils (I made lentils for dinner) and then my heart was suddenly racing, for no apparent reason. I’ve had attacks before, but I don’t remember them being quite this bad. I began to shiver and so I moved onto my couch in the living room, laid on my side, and curled up in a ball. I was mildly convulsing and I began to cry, very fearful tears. I’m not sure what made them fearful, but I just knew that they were. If I’m venturing, I think I was scared about my anxiety (fear in the face of anxiety, or anxious in the face of anxiety, I can’t tell yet, will have to think about this later), about its sudden onset and my inability to tie it to something concrete.

This has been a problem for me lately. In my previous encounters with anxiety, they were very targeted. I used to deal with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Purely Obsessional OCD, and certain targeted phobias (mainly needles and stings). I’ve gone through bouts of existential angst before. It wasn’t pleasant but it had never been this bad before. And the thing is, I don’t even know that this was necessarily existential. I wasn’t anxious in the face of my own life, my own singularity, my own finitude. None of that. It was just this moment where I transitioned from a state of near-perfect calm (or unawareness, perhaps), immersed in my episode of Friends, to a state of severe and alarmingly quick heart palpitations. And lots of confusion. I didn’t know what to do. I tried deep, calming breaths to control my heart rate. I tried detoxifying yogic breathing techniques. My body wasn’t receptive to these strategies, though. So I didn’t know what to do for a while. It was the strangest thing, but I suddenly craved physical contact, physical shelter. I just wanted to be hugged, held tightly, perhaps. I’m sure there is some reason for that, one that makes perfect sense. But because I don’t know what that reason is, it just felt strange. Really strange, actually, and I can’t quite get over why that is. In any case, I called my sister and we spoke for about an hour and a half (which is why I began writing at 12:01 am).

But I wish I could put into words the way in which the internal tremors became me; I was anxiety itself, and we were indistinguishable. My body had difficulty taking in air, my heartbeat maintained its frighteningly rapid pace, and my mind… well, my mind was blank. I don’t know of a better way to describe it. It’s not that I couldn’t think anything; I knew that I was anxious, I knew that I was confused, I was talking to my sister and maintained something of a conversation. It’s just that when I thought about the anxiety itself, about what had triggered its onset, about my very encounter with it, I kept drawing a blank. Not a wall that I couldn’t get over, not a door I couldn’t get through – there was no secret something towards which I was anxious but simply couldn’t figure out. My mind was blank, my anxiety was blank, I was blank. My sister kept asking me questions and I kept answering “I don’t know,” because I didn’t… there was nothing to know in the first instance. Which is, perhaps, why this experience was so terrifying, why it lasted so long.

In the end, I allowed this anxiety to run its course. I chose to acknowledge the radical discomfort it aroused in me and accept that I would feel this way until the moment passed. This was my strategy for dealing with my various forms of OCD and phobias. This particular encounter was troubling, though, because I couldn’t even think of a coping mechanism to have to struggle against relying on. When I was dealing with OCD, I struggled against checking and willed myself to allow the anxiety to remain and run its course. But with this particular encounter, I had no choice but was forced to remain anxious. I could not actively choose to remain anxious over relying on some coping mechanism. It felt as though this anxiety was imposed upon me (as most anxieties are) but the difference was that I had no say in the matter.

I recognize the extent to which this is a perverse and problematic feeling. I am basically saying that I didn’t even have the choice to worsen the problem by relying on a coping mechanism. But that isn’t what’s troubling me. The fact is that I was stripped of agency in the matter, and that distresses me to no end. Precisely because this anxiety took the form of blankness, I wasn’t afforded an opportunity to struggle over the decision to allow my anxiety to run its course in the first instance.

I will have to think more about this. In any case, it’s past my bed time. Thank you for reading. If you’ve had such experiences, please share.

All best,

J.

On Being Busy, and the Maintenance of Sanity

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(source: For a Little Mystery)

I have been thinking lately that busy days do not merely constitute the continual performance of some action or other with little to no physical rest in between. Of course we are busy on days where we get up quite early in the morning, prepare something or other for dinner prior to heading out the door for work, and then, while at work, exhausting ourselves physically and mentally. And then of course, we leave work to pick up the kids (I have no children, but parents do this, don’t they?) and drive them to soccer practice – or something like that – and then when that’s over, we head home to finish whatever it was we prepped for dinner that morning. And then, since many of us bring work home, we do that for some time, and, well, you know the rest of the story. Voila, the busy day, par excellence.

But is it? This example of busyness must sound exceptionally familiar, resembling each of our lives in some form or other, relatable in some capacity. People know this type of “busy.” And it is certainly a type of busy. But lately, I have been thinking about different orders of busyness, different kinds, different levels…

I suppose, then, my point is that “busy” is not necessarily, nor exclusively, a physical state. Perhaps this is self-evident, but lately I have learned never to assume the self-evidence of even the most simple of claims.

(I teach a literature course to science students, and while I thoroughly respect the sciences and the value of such knowledge, other kinds of knowledge, knowledge that I understand as sheer common sense, is taken as the most revolutionary and radical kind of thinking… It’s a little sad actually. This is, of course, not the case with all science students. Don’t worry, I’m not homogenizing you all. But at least in the demographic consisting of the students in my class, very few of them understood concepts such as ideology and gender, nor issues like colonialism or even contemporary American politics. Writing and critical thought proved to be an “unfair” expectation of them, as one student shared with me, and that is just sad. A few of them threw around sexist remarks without even knowing they were sexist. “Obviously only women wear makeup, and if you wear makeup you’re either a woman or want to be one.” Well, no. “Obviously only females who can be compared to men are those that can be viewed as equals and in the same category.” Not sure exactly what that means, but once again, no. One student didn’t even know the word “patriarchy.” All to say, critical thought is required in all disciplines and I have learned not to assume that everything is self-evident. In fact, I had to break down, piece by piece, to one student the reasons why one’s enjoyment of makeup does not categorically mean that this person wants to be a woman. That, my friends, was a frustrating day. In any case, I digress…)

I am currently in the middle of my essay-writing period, and despite the fact that I have an incredible amount of work to do (I can’t even over exaggerate how much work I have) I have been ignoring it. I am currently ignoring it in order to write this entry (thank you blog for helping me procrastinate!). In fact, I’ve been filling my days with watching endless hours of Mad Men, and apparently I can’t tire of Don Draper’s attitude nor of Sally’s exceptional charm.

Seriously, look how cute they are:

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(source)

But in any case… I have been doing nothing for about 6 or 7 days now, performing no action other than eating and Netflixing (and showering too, I’m not that quite that lazy), and yet, I feel as though I am busy. Very, very busy.

There is this constant worry to get things done, and to be fair, perhaps I am busy insofar as I have very much to do and the workload is only getting heavier the more that I delay, but that isn’t really my point. It is not so much that I am busy, but rather that I feel busy, as though I were doing something, many things actually, but really I’m merely planted in front of my computer.

Lately, I have been experiencing a kind of worry – a constant worry, actually – and I think that this feeling, this generalized anxiety, perhaps, is that busyness. My mind is always working, whether I am physically performing actions or not. It is on overdrive, overworking itself, refusing to rest, running on and on with a will of its own, irrespective on how much I want to simply relax. It strikes me, then, that I continue to delay, to relax by way of doing nothing (you know, just Mad Men-ing), in order to alleviate that sense of busyness, and I don’t think that I realized that until just now. Literally, just prior to typing it out…

But I don’t know that it’s gone anywhere. Nor do I know if it’s gotten worse. I can’t quite tell right now. But I think that writing this out has been helpful, if for nothing other than allowing me a space in which to sort out what it is that I’m thinking about. But now the trick is getting work done… I think I’m just going to have to force myself to get down to it (though I’ve tried that, but this is where I’ve ended up). Though, it is not the end that matters, but rather the process that led up to that end.

This past year, I’ve been working towards achieving a certain state of mindfulness and mental awareness, and I think I’ve done well in that respect. I keep reminding myself that it is crucially important to actively maintain my health. That is to say that if I am to be healthy, I must be the one to ensure that I am so. That’s not to say that this is something I must do alone. That’s rather silly, actually, and not always possibe. Nor is it the case that, if I happen to have difficulty with it, it necessarily means that I have failed. No. But it is something that I need to take part in, or else it cannot be achieved. I have to help myself be healthy. I’ve done this before, but then again, I’ve never felt this generalized sense of anxiety before, so I am not quite sure how I am going to approach this. But the important thing is that I will approach it.

Thanks for listening.

J.

For Not Nearly Enough People Have Heard This

This is the clip that I listen to most often, perhaps, of all the clips I have listened to (ever). I must account for a significant amount of those views. If you haven’t heard of him, Alan Watts is a philosopher well-known for introducing Eastern philosophy to Western culture.

RE: the above video

There was a time when I tried ever so actively to practice such “nothingness.” A nothingness that is “really like the nothingness of space which contains the whole universe.” I think it worked for a little while, and I was quite content. Happy, even. That is not to say that I am no longer content nor happy, but only that life got busy, and I forgot. I forgot these words and how much value they held for me. It took so long for me to understand “nothingness,” to know it in its positive capacity, but as it turns out, it seems that this is all I ever want for my mind these days (that is, when I have time to think about it).

In the end, I chose to post this today because not enough people have heard Alan Watts speak these words. Whether you agree, disagree, or otherwise remain neutral is not the point. These words are not a means to an end. Rather, they are an end in themselves. That is to say, the questions that arise from listening to Watts speak on “nothingness,” the thoughts produced by one’s engagement with these claims is that which ultimately matters. Whether this turns out to be a philosophy you ascribe to is really a matter of your own concern, but know that there is value in the mere development of your views, a value that, in fact, extends beyond even your own self, and I think that is a good thing.

Also, his voice is lovely and melodic, lulling even. Enjoy the clip if only for that, and for the perfect pairing of voice to audio. Near perfect acoustics.

Watch This

 

 

I won’t say much, because he says it all, but watch this. Watch this, and learn something.

Mirror Talk & Sanity

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I often talk to myself. Do you? Yes, you reading this – do you talk to yourself? You probably do. Actually, most people do. But do you talk to yourself the way I talk to myself? I imagine myself in conversation with another person, talk out both parts, I get heated, yell, give attitude, cry at myself in the mirror because this is how immersed I get. You are probably not like me. I like to think that most people aren’t. My therapist often asks me if I think I am the only one. The only one who talks to herself, the only one who deals with anxiety, the only one who imagines terrible things happening around her, the only one who thinks about thinking… I always answer no. Of course I am not the only one. However, I still don’t think that many people are like me. Already, very few people think about thinking – there are really not that many philosophers out there in the world when you compare them to the amount of non-philosophers out there. But even of these people, of those I have common interests or habits or feelings with, we really are not so similar. Everyone is weird, I think. I would love to find myself one non-weird person, whatever that might mean. And even then, I think it would be more weird for someone to be utterly non-weird at all, even when no one is looking. But as weird as you are, and of all the quirky things you do, you probably don’t yell and cry at yourself in the mirror while acting as though you are speaking with someone else. No, that probably isn’t you.

But it’s me, and I have accepted that. I like that about myself. I can keep myself company. I actually smirked out loud as I wrote this. Because it’s ridiculous to think I can keep myself company while pretending I am in the presence of someone else even though I am by myself. But it’s true, and that’s me.

I’m not “crazy,” I don’t see things (or at least if I do, I know they aren’t actually there), I am perfectly functional. I have an extremely vivid imagination. I hate that I have to justify it, but if you don’t explain it and convince others of your rationality, it’s like it doesn’t count. What you think, what you feel, what you know doesn’t count. It’s the dystopian fear that “they” will lock you up and shut you out and drive you mad all for normalcy’s sake. Fuck normalcy. No one is normal and we need to stop pretending like we are. It’s as though being yourself is not enough anymore. Actually, being yourself was never enough. It wasn’t even allowed. What a horrible thing for the world. When the only people who dare to be themselves are the “crazy” people, whether they are good or bad, right or wrong, terrorists or saints, they dare and we don’t. Norms govern us, institutionalize us, iron out the wrinkles and force in the edges that fight to come out, they breed us to perfection so that we buy into them and propagate them and force them upon others and mock and ridicule and ostracize and alienate anyone who dares to be otherwise, who dares to be more.

So today, I will openly state that I cry at myself in the mirror and I still declare myself sane, for the most part anyway. What about you?