Monday, August 12, 2019

Why I Have No National Pride

For better and worse (these days more often than not worse) I'm an American. That's my (only) citizenship. The US passport is the only one I've ever carried. 

Combine that with being a tall, white (relatively heteronormative) male and I certainly have a ton of privileges wherever I decide to live and work.  

That said, I've never felt 100% comfortable identifying solely or primarily as an American and I can't say I have any national pride to speak of. 

When I've talked or written about these sentiments in the past, I've sometimes gotten negative reactions from other Americans who think I harbor hatred or bitterness towards my country of birth.

It's true that there were times in my life, (especially high school) where I did have very poisonous feelings for the US. I've moved on though. Hatred (no matter how warranted it may or may not be) is always a waste of time. 

These days my feelings to the US alternate between ambivalence and a sense of somber duty. I try not to be the ugliest version of my country to the outside world. By sticking to what I think is ethical and by owning and challenging the ugliest parts of America, I hope I present a better face to the world than the one we have now.

Yet I don't take pride in being that American or any other kind of American. I don't feel compelled to have pride towards my nationality. This isn't because America is somehow worse than other places in the world. It's just that on a personal and more rational level I just don't think anyone should have to be proud of the country they were born or raised in.  

I grew up outside the US and I've spent a lot of my adult life living in other countries. Growing up a Third Culture Kid (someone raised outside of the home country/culture of their parents) means that I don't have the same personal attachment to the States as people raised there do. 

Not all American TCKs are like me. Some are quite comfortable living Stateside and are truly at home in America. For me though, growing up in Thailand and living abroad in other places has shown me that it's possible to be at home anywhere in the world. My formative memories from childhood and youth largely come from my time in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai and it's that place I identify most often as my hometown, when I'm asked. 

Growing up outside the US, also showed me from an early age that human beings don't need to have the same nationality, cultural background, race etc. to coexist, get along or even create real and even profoundly deep bonds. 

Nationality for me, is something incidental. I happen to be American but my being American is not something I'm especially attached too nor do I choose to let it define me even though it definitely informs my worldview.

Defining your self-worth by your nationality and more importantly assigning lesser value to other people based on theirs, is flooding our world with toxic nationalism and xenophobia. 

This toxicity was on display most recently in El Paso and I saw it earlier in the year at the terrible mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.  I've seen it on display recently in Korea as a Korean-Japanese trade war continues to escalate. I can see it playing a part in the rhetoric of the Beijing government as it tries to repress the discontent in Hong Kong.

All too often, when national pride is invoked it's in the name of attacking an enemy. Group think sets in and blinds those who think of themselves as patriots. Problems between nations become all but impossible to solve and individual citizens are incapable of seeing any solutions. Your country and your people become the right country and the right people. Those who are not part of your country or your people are in the wrong. The facts no longer matter. You are right by default and they are wrong by default. The hypocrisies, shortcomings and faults of your own nation disappear as soon as you become wedded the idea that the other side is irredeemable because of what they are and you are the righteous because of what you are. 

To me, the saddest part of the value that so many people ascribe to their national identities, is how flimsy and arbitrary the foundations for that value is. None of us chose the countries we were born into. None of us chose which country or culture we were raised in. Yet somehow so many cling to this identity they were born to and allow it to determine their worth and the worth of others in their eyes. They do this, I think, for a pretty simple reason. It's what they know and they assume, without really consciously being aware of it, that how they were raised to see the world is the way the world truly is.

It may ultimately be, impossible, for any of us to truly escape ourselves and see other perspectives 100% clearly. However, by not wedding ourselves to the countries and nations we happen to be a part of I think we can at least begin to see each other more clearly. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Twin House: A Scary Story

When I was a kid, I would spend summers at my grandparents house. I have a lot of good memories from those months. My brother and I would spend practically whole days exploring the woods that were part of the property. They owned a couple miles of woodland around their house, a large Victorian style home that was a little out of place in the rural farming community they were a part of.

When I say rural I mean very rural. There home was several miles away from the nearest neighbor. Because of this, there weren’t many other kids around for us to play with. My brother and I were mostly on our own when we played. We didn’t mind though. In fact, the open woods and the lack of people really allowed our imaginations to run wild.

 One summer, when I was ten and my brother was around eight we headed off to a portion of the woods that we had always avoided before. For as far back as we could remember, our grandparents had warned us that this particular area of their property was off limits. It was marked by a creek that was almost always dry in the summer and by several piles of rocks that were spaced out every five feet or so. These piles were made of smooth round stones taken from the creek bed.

While it might seem a little strange in hindsight, as kids we didn’t really question these stone piles or why this part of the woods was considered off limits. When we wandered, my brother and I usually stayed pretty close to the house and my grandma or grandpa were almost always somewhere nearby keeping an eye on us.

But that day, our grandparents were working on some home repair projects and were busying supervising the men they had hired to paint their house. This meant my brother and I could slip away.

For the first time we went down into the dry creek bed and climbed up the other side. I remember we paused just at the edge of one of the stone piles. We briefly hesitated at crossing this threshold but we were both too curious to head back.

Since I was the oldest, I went ahead of my little brother keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. Our grandparents had always told us that this part of their property was more wild than the other parts and that was definitely true.

The further and further we went beyond the stones, the more dense the trees and vegetation became. The branches were so thick that only a few slivers of sunlight could get in.

We were both used to the woods though so we didn’t feel scared. That was, until we found the other house.

At first all I could see in the distance was some faded wood paneling, but as we got closer the trees began to get less tight and the full shape of the structure came into view

We came into a clearing and I finally saw the structure in its entirety. The building was a house but not just any house. It was an exact replica of my grandparents house. Same Victorian design, same layout.

This twin house though had clearly been abandoned for years. The windows were broken and the wood was flaking and the structure inside and out was rotting and falling apart. Moss and ivy had also started growing on the outside.

This was not the creepy part of it though. As we took in the site of this large Victorian house sitting abandoned in the middle of the forest my brother said: ‘Dave, there are scratches.’

He pointed and I followed his finger to the outside of the open front door. Sure enough, there were scratches all over the doorway and not just random claw marks but odd pictographs. Eyes and triangles and what looked like stick figures.

We must have looked at these weird carvings for a few minutes before I said: ‘Alright, let’s go in.’

‘No!’ Dave said. ‘I’m staying here!’

Deep down I was as scared as my little brother but I’ve always been a curious type. Sometimes too curious for my own good.

‘Ok, you stay here.’ I said. ‘I’ll be back soon.’

Even though he was scared, my brother nodded and stood where he was. I took several baby steps up the steps that led to the house’s veranda. The boards held my weight alright, so I kept going.

The first thing that struck me as I entered was the layout. Inside, the house was the same as my grandparent’s home. There was an entry room with a staircase leading to the next floor. The kitchen was on my right and the living room on my left.

But that was where the similarities to the other house ended. The paint was faded and chipped and many of the floorboards were rotting and torn up. There was no furniture in either the kitchen or living room and the whole house had a very eerie feeling to it.

After testing the first few steps on the stairway, I decided it was stable enough and slowly made my way up to the second floor. It took a while as I was constantly trying to make sure I didn’t make a wrong step and go flying through the boards.

When I finally reached the upstairs, I felt a sudden chill come through me. There were three rooms; again, just like my grandparent’s house they were laid out in the same way. In their house our bedrooms were all on the second level.

Like the first level though, the second floor of this house seemed completely empty. The room that was in the same place as my grandparent’s bedroom was empty so was the smaller room to the left of the stairs that was the our shared bathroom. Then, there was the third room. In our house, this was where my brother and I slept. And, just like at my grandparents’ place, the third room had a bright sky blue door. It was the exact same color.

I stared in shock at the bright blue door. It was the only door I had seen in the doppelganger house. It was also perfectly clean. The paint was fresh and unchipped.

I might have turned back then but something pushed me to step forward and put my hands on the door and I slowly opened it.

What I found inside is hard to describe to this day. Inside was a bed, a chair an old dollhouse and bookshelves. It was a fully furnished bedroom and it was entirely intact and clean. Like someone had come inside that day and dusted everything off. It looked like someone’s, a child’s bedroom. Unlike every other room in the house it was pristine. It was like I had crossed into a completely different realm.

I stepped inside and took a closer look at everything. There were vintage books and toys. Stuff that looked like it was from the 1930s or 40s.

None of this however was in the room I shared with Dave back at my grandparents house. The room might have had the same antiquated style but our room had two beds and there were no toys. I wanted to explore more but just as I was about to sit down on the bed, I heard a scream. I ran to a window on the second floor and looked down outside to see my brother hiding behind one of the nearby trees.

‘What the hell happened?!’ I yelled from the window.

‘I I don’t know.’ Dave cried. ‘Just come down and let’s get out of here!’

So we did. We ran from those woods and didn’t stop until we were well back behind the stone piles and the dry creek bed.

We didn’t tell our grandparents about what had happened, and it took a while, almost another two days before Dave told me what had happened to him.

It turned out that while I was in the room, he felt a shiver and he went completely cold. Despite the sun shining and it being a hot summer day, Dave said that he felt as if he was inside a freezer. And as he started to shake from the cold suddenly something picked him up from behind and spun him around in a circle. He said it felt like when our dad would pick us up and spin us around when we were really little. Only, after he was let go there was nothing there.

It was never clear to us what happened because the next year when we returned to our grandparents’ home for our summer visit I went back and the stones and the house were completely gone. No trace of them left.  When I couldn’t find the dilapidated home I asked my grandpa that night about it and he said scolded me pretty harshly. Saying, ‘That part of the woods, is no good. Just trust me and never go back there again.’

I never did and eventually my grandparents sold their property and moved to a new place. Their land was turned into a cattle ranch and the woods cut down. To this day I don’t know what happened to us or why but every time I think back to that blue door, I can’t help but feel cold all over.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What He Found in the Woods: A Scary Story

My uncle spent about thirty years working as a forest ranger in one of the largest national parks in the US. He retired last December. Over the years, he’s told us tons of stories; his weeklong mountain hikes and his crazy encounters with all sorts of wild animals. He’s even helped save people who got lost or who got into accidents of one kind of another.

My point in saying all this is to show he was and is a brave and courageous man. Nothing ever really got to him in the two decades and four years he spent in the wilderness. Nothing, except for the encounter he had in the summer of 2002.

My uncle had just come back to the park after a three-day break and was called into his supervisor’s office almost immediately. The head ranger told him that several small campfires had been spotted in a remote corner of the park for by hikers. The fires had all been spotted far away from the usual trails and campsites.

My uncle has said several times how all kinds of sketchy people use the parks for their illicit activities. The previous month they had found a meth lab around this same area and had gotten some of the people involved arrested. When you have such a large open space and only a few rangers to patrol it’s easy for squatters, illegal hunters, pot farmers and all sorts of people to slip in.

My uncle was assigned to head out to this part of the park and see if he could figure out who was making the fires.

 Normally, he would have been accompanied by at least one other ranger on his trek but because it was peak camping and hiking season all of his colleagues were too busy to go with him. My uncle had been an outdoorsman all his life though, so he wasn’t at all afraid of going solo for a day.

 He got a lift from another ranger who briefed him on where the fires had been spotted and after being dropped off at the head of the trail his colleague drove off and left him alone.

Now, this trail was particularly isolated and very few visitors walked it. The woods were also very overgrown. Bears and other large wild animals inhabited that area too.

My uncle though knew what he was doing and felt confident he’d discover what was up within a few hours. He had handled these sorts of calls before and almost always the fires were caused by a few teens just camping and partying somewhere they weren’t supposed to.

He got to the site of the first fire within a couple hours. What struck my uncle immediately was the odd location. Whoever had been here had made the fire right in the center of the hiking trail. That was strange since most of these fires were lit away from the trail because people didn’t want to be caught.

My uncle took a closer look at the remains of the blaze and started to sort through the ashes. That was when he found the bones. There were dozens of tiny bones belonging to a variety of little woodland creatures. He identified most of them as belonging to squirrels, chipmunks and sparrows with at least a few parts of a rabbit.

While the location of the fire was odd, it wasn’t unheard of for people, usually teenage guys, to come out and hunt small animals illegally. My uncle called into headquarters, told them what he found and moved on down the trail. He kept an eye out for shoe prints or other traces of humans but didn’t see anything,

He went on for another hour before he found a second fire. This one was slightly further away from the trail and from what he could tell was more recent than the first. Once again he found many bones from small animals among the ashes but this time the bones had been arranged into a pentagram with the fire in its center. Additionally, strange pictographs had been drawn in the ashes with what he guessed was a small stuck. He said they looked like caveman drawings or something you’d see in the Native American exhibit of a museum. Some were stick figures of people with large eyes or small animals. There also some stars that looked like pentagrams and a few odd spiral shapes.

Well, even for someone like my uncle with years of experience in the woods this was freaky. He now thought that these people were way more sinister than he had imagined. Worried about proceeding he radioed his superiors and called for help. Though the head ranger admitted that my uncle had found something scary, he said all the other rangers were still too busy and to go on alone.

So my uncle reluctantly kept going, keeping his eyes and ears alert as he moved. He eventually came across some tracks in some mud, human footprints, and followed them away from the trail. The tracks took him to a stream where they stopped. My uncle followed the stream’s path for almost half an hour before he spotted a thin stream of smoke rising on the opposite bank behind some tall grass.

He radioed what he was seeing before crossing the water and wading through a mass of tall grass before arriving at a small clearing. In this tiny pocket of open space between the tall grass and the forest he found the smoldering remains of a fire lying in front of a small hut made from grass.

In my uncle’s own words, he said it looked like something a stone age tribe in the amazon would make for shelter. The hut was on ground level and was made with bound blades of tall grass wound together. Once more, the entrance to the hut was splattered with dark red stains.

After announcing himself several times to make sure the campsite was abandoned, my uncle cautiously peaked inside the hut. As he put his head he was immediately overwhelmed by a rotten smell that forced him to back out and gag. When he was finally to stomach the odor, he tried to look again and this time he was greeted by scene of horor.

Inside the walls of the hut were completely covered with the skulls of small animals. Birds, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits. There were so many covering the walls that my uncle couldn’t see the grass behind them. He said, it was literally as if someone had wallpapered the hut’s interior with skulls.

My uncle covered his nose to keep the smell away and then looked at the ground where there was a flat slab of black rock and a blood-stained knife lying on top of it. All around the rock was dried blood and bits of rotting fly covered gore.

When he saw that, he immediately backed out and made ran back across the stream. He had just arrived at the other bank when he heard a sharp whistle from the direction of the hut. He turned and scanned the grass and the tree-line above it.

He looked at the branches two times before he saw a thin chalky white figure standing in the center of a branch just staring at him. My uncle and this ‘being’, as he described it, looked at each other in silence for several moments. It was hard for him to make out too many details with his naked eye, so he pulled out his binoculars.

He still gets a cold and distant expression on his face when he talks about what he saw. The figure was a woman, something my uncle could tell immediately through the binoculars as she was completely naked from the neck down. Her body was extremely thin, almost emaciated and she was covered in a thick chalky white paint. The truly frightening part of her was above her neck. Her face was hidden behind a mask made entirely of small charcoaled bones. This mask left only her eyes exposed. These eyes were wide with what my uncle described as just manic with wild energy.

My uncle took in this crazy sight for several tense moments before slowly lowering his binoculars and calling out to her. But as soon as he did that, the woman let out a hysterical cackle, took one step back and dropped straight down, feet first from the branch.

Well, my uncle immediately bolted from the scene. He frantically radioed for backup as he ran and eventually made it all the way back to the head of the trail where a group of rangers met.

They went out the next day, following my uncle’s directions and found the fires and the hut again. While some of the other ranger’s had doubted my uncle’s story about the hut and the naked girl with the bone mask, they were all in a state of disbelief when they looked inside and saw the skulls, stone and knife for themselves. After searching the area they found several large traps used for catching squirrels and rabbits as well as a small bb gun which had probably been used on the birds.

My uncle said the police did get involved since there was some concern that the person who had been catching and killing these animals would be a danger to anyone else in the park but despite a very lengthy search and investigation the naked woman with the bone mask was never found.

My uncle thinks that she was someone with deep mental issues, who probably fled deeper into the park and died of starvation or other natural causes. He bases that on how thin she looked meaning that she probably wasn’t getting enough food to sustain her body. He can’t think of any other explanation that’ll make him sleep well at night. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

'Behind The Doors' A Scary Forest Story

I was five years old when my mother passed away in a car accident. My dad never remarried and so he raised me and my older brother alone, with a lot of support from my grandparents.

Because I didn’t really know my mom too well, my dad always told me stories about her so that I’d have some idea of who she was.

He mostly told funny stories about the times they spent together; Their first dates, his awkward proposal using my uncle’s accordion etc. But there was one story he told me, when I was about to graduate from college, that even years later makes me go cold thinking about.

When he told me this story we were alone on the porch of a cabin we had rented for a few days. It was kind of a last family trip before I went off to UCLA for my Masters. My dad had been drinking a little more than he usually did and I think that’s why he finally felt comfortable telling me this unusually creepy story from the early days of his relationship with my mom.


The story goes like this:

In 1977 he and my mom met as sophomores in college at a dorm party. To celebrate their one year anniversary, they decided to take a trip to a nearby national park and go hiking for Memorial Day weekend. Their classes ended on that Friday so they actually had four full days to trek before they needed to go back to school. 


They drove off to the park, left my dad’s pickup truck in the lot and started their trek in the middle of Friday afternoon. The first day was spent hiking through some gorgeous wilderness and taking in the beauty of the nature.

They set up camp on the edge of a small lake and watched some deer by the shore before enjoying a few drinks around the campfire. My dad said that this was the day he knew that he loved my mom and when he began to seriously think that she might be the one.

The smile on his face when he talked about that first day was, well something that makes me smile now.

The next day they started up early, before sunrise. The next stop on their trek was a small mountain that was pretty much at the center of the park. Their plan was to camp at the base and then hike up to a lookout point about halfway up the slope on the third day.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way. The map my dad had of the park’s various trails was actually a few years old. What he didn’t realize was that the Park had altered its trails around the mountain the previous year and so my parents quickly got confused.


Eventually after a lot of debating they decided to pick a smaller trail that split off from one of the main ones. Based on the map, it seemed to match with a lesser traveled trail that my dad thought would lead to their campsite.


As you might have guessed, that didn’t happen. While they did get within sight of the mountain, the trail they took them deep into the forest. Eventually it just disappeared altogether. They could have turned around but by the time it became obvious that they weren’t where they needed to be, the sun was already starting to set. So my mom and dad decided to just keep moving towards the mountain until they found a place to sleep for the night.


Since there wasn’t really a trail to follow anymore, they had to make their way through some dense vegetation and clusters of trees.


Just when they were beginning to think that they might have to hike at night, my mom spotted tall grass in the distance.


They stomped their way through the brush and emerged into a field. My dad said that as he stepped from the trees into the field he immediately felt uncomfortable. There was something about the field that he did not like at all.

My mom, it turned out felt even worse. She was so uncomfortable that she began to rub her shoulders. That was her tell, my dad told me, for when she was nervous.

She wanted to go back into the forest. My dad did too. But by that time the sun was almost down and there was a good chance that had they kept going through the woods they would get way more turned around then they already were.

In the end they both agreed that it made the most sense to just bed down for the night and get a fresh start in the morning.

That said, the feeling on uneasiness around the field just persisted even after they set up their tent on the edge of the field and built a fire.


Unlike the first night where my dad and mom and spent hours talking and joking around the campfire, they were both strangely quiet. It was something that my dad said they both felt but couldn’t quite explain. They ate in silence and as the night went on, there was this feeling that something dreadful was waiting to happen.


My dad says he has no idea why they both felt so uneasy as nothing up to that point had really happened. The clearing was small and pretty normal looking. The only thing obviously out of place was the quiet and the stillness. No breeze, no animal sounds and no movement in the air.

And then they put out the fire. My dad had just finished pouring some water on it when they heard it. It was a woman singing.

The voice was soft at first but within a couple minutes it had grown much louder.


The song, my dad said was unlike anything he has ever heard before or sense. He said it echoed all around them rising and falling. The strangest part was, he said, was that just like the field the song was not eerie or creepy. It was incredibly beautiful. So much so that to this day he has not heard a song that really equaled it.

My parents sat in the dark listening to the woman singing for a while. They tried to guess where it was coming from but it sounded as if it was all around them.


My dad was so entranced he started to move into the field but my mom grabbed him and told him to come into the tent and just wait it out. He said that her touched snapped him out of whatever trance the music had put him in.


I asked why they didn’t just pull out their flashlights and look for the mysterious singer but my dad said the song literally had affected to them so much that they just couldn’t think clearly at all.


They laid down in the tent together for some time, listening to the singing until eventually both he and mom finally passed out from exhaustion.


My dad woke up a few hours later. He doesn’t remember having a nightmare but he said that when he sat up in the tent, his shirt was soaked with sweat. He was breathing hard and my mom was up too. The first thing they noticed was that the singing had stopped. Second, the song had been replaced by the sound of something making their way through the woods behind them. They listened in silence as whatever was coming got louder the closer it came to them.


Within about the minute the heavy footsteps and cracking of branches was joined by a very faint yellow light that started to get brighter.

As soon as the light appeared my dad, who was frozen before by the song, grabbed his large survival knife and decided he was going to investigate whatever it was that was coming.


He told my mom to stay put, unzipped the tent and peaked his head outside. He saw him almost immediately. A few feet away standing between two trees was a thin middle-aged man holding a lantern. My father called out to him and asked him who he was, but the man didn’t say anything and just kept coming at an extremely slow pace.


My dad climbed out with his flashlight in one hand and his knife in the other. He shouted at the man that he had a weapon and he better stay back and explain himself. But again he just continued. That was when my dad noticed something about the man’s face. He said, this man’s eyes were extremely wide. It was like he was looking straight into something terrifying and couldn’t keep his eyes off it. Not only that but, he wasn’t blinking at all and his mouth was hung open. It was like his facial expression was frozen but he kept walking; holding the lantern in front of him.


Seeing the man’s expression completely through my dad off and he said he just watched him in silence. He reached the left side of my mom and dad’s tent and without speaking, blinking, or closing his mouth. The frozen man walked straight passed my dad without looking at him and continued into the field. My dad looked into the grass to see if there was anything there but as far as he could tell, there wasn’t.


He watched the man enter the grass and kept a close eye on him until he entered the center of the field and for whatever reason blew out his lantern. My dad turned on his flashlight and scanned the field trying to locate him but the man was gone. He had vanished.

Completely freaked out, my dad stood guard the tent for the rest of the night occasionally shining his flashlight around to check for the man. When dawn came, he told my mom to pack up the tent so they could hike their way back to the main trail and get the hell out of the park. While she scrambled to put everything away he decided to walk into the field and see what he could find.


The grass was thick and so he had to wade through it before he reached the center. He didn’t find anything strange at first but then he felt something hard beneath his feet. He pulled several clumps of grass out and found an old plank of wood with scorch marks around it’s edges. At that point he looked closer at the ground and realized there were a ton of burned pieces of wood hidden beneath the grass. He also found roofing tiles and a few odd pieces of destroyed furniture. And then, he found it.


Almost exactly where he thought he had seen the man disappear my dad found a pair of chained cellar doors that in his words looked as if they were covered in scratch marks. Like a cat had been clawing at the outside. The doors led straight into the ground and in a tiny of the field that for some inexplicable reason had only short grass around it.


My dad’s concluded that the cellar had been just outside of the house that had apparently burned down in the center of this field.


The lock that kept the chains together was massive and was still intact despite being very rusted.


As he studied the doors from a safe distance my mom came to join him and asked what he was looking at. When she saw the doors my mom clutched my dad’s arm. They stood staring for a few moments before they heard a light series of knocks coming from behind the doors.


My mom and dad were frozen in place until there was another series of knocks followed by a woman’s menacing laugh.


Well, that was it, they immediately bolted back to their stuff and high tailed it out of there. My dad said they practically sprinted the whole way back to the main trail. They constantly looked behind them to make sure they weren’t being followed.


In time they found their way to a ranger’s station and reported the strange incident. The rangers they spoke too seemed to believe them and said they would investigate the area but as far as my dad knew they never found anything.


For years after my dad said that my mom had recurring dreams about the field and the chained door. He said sometimes, especially in the first few months after they got back to school, these dreams would keep her up all night. She told him that the dreams were pretty much all the same. She would follow the man with the lantern into the field where he would lead her to the open cellar doors and usher her down them. She would stand at the entrance look down and see the outline of a thin woman with raggedy hair just staring at her.


My dad never had those dreams but he said that trip also kept him up sometimes and he wonders to this day just what exactly was behind those doors in the woods.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Yes, You Need Other People

This is something that I didn't grasp for a long time.

           These past few years, as I've worked through and come to some sort of decorum with issues related to low self-love and self-worth,  I've accepted that surviving and thriving in this world requires having others in my life. The love of other people, the support of other people, the sense of belonging to other people in a variety of capacities: these are all essential to our well being as humans.
           Despite having confidants, friends and family to support me many times I failed to understand that it was ok to rely on others when there were hard times that overwhelmed me.

So much of what I read, what I learned from media and the individualistic culture that dominates our world was that you could never rely on others. You always had to stand alone. You always had to be able to cope with what life gave you. You could never share dark times with others or expect others to help you. Perhaps the message I heard the most though was you had to be enough for you. Your own sense of self worth was what would carry you through.

These days, I tend to see this as misguided if not flat out wrong. None of us by ourselves are enough to sustain us through life. I mean that materially and emotionally.

Humans are highly social creatures. We are not solitary creatures like tigers and sharks. As Yuval Harari writes in Sapiens:

'A colt can trot, shortly after birth; a kitten leaves its mother to forage on its own when it is just a few weeks old. Human babies are helpless, dependent for many years on their elders for sustenance, protection and education.'

The term 'sink or swim' is applied to people striking out on their own to make it in life. Yet if our species was really geared towards that kind of existence, we would give our children up to nature like sharks do. We wouldn't bothered to raise our kids at all we'd leave them to forage on their own and they would thrive.

As we all know though, leave a human newborn alone by itself in the wild and it's almost certain to die.

We need our parents and are families to look after us. Sometimes that sustenance protection and education from our caregivers can go (to one extent to another) our whole lives.

But it's not just our parents or family we're dependent on. Most of you reading this have a smart phone, a device you probably had no part in manufacturing. You also didn't create it nor did you come with the idea for it the first place.

At a more basic level most of you reading this rely on a system of food distribution network to keep yourselves fed. You rely on electricity companies to keep your home powered and on government pipes to get clean water.

Sure there are some survivalists and hermits that go the extra step of withdrawing into the wilderness. But if humans beings were wired for that kind of existence there wouldn't be over seven billion of us and we wouldn't be living in towns or cities. In fact we probably wouldn't have the kinds of technology and innovations that allow us to live and thrive.

Humanity's strength has always been our capacity to cooperate with one another. We have built societies where we can work together and come up with solutions that are for the common good of our communities. Any time we've thrived its been because we were lifting others up.

It's ironic that we live in an age where so many (especially in the first world) are dependent on others materially yet expect our emotional and psychological needs to be met entirely by ourselves.

Again if that was the case we wouldn't socialize or bond nearly as much as we do. 

We wouldn't even need to confide in any friend or loved one about personal doubts and insecurities because...those insecurities just wouldn't be there.

 We wouldn't have the rich body of art and literature that comes from the disappointments, heartaches and tragedies that come when we fail at love, friendship or other relationships.

We wouldn't have record numbers of young people struggling with mental illnesses. We wouldn't have so many people in our rich first world societies struggling with a sense of loneliness and a lack of belonging.

Whether we really want to admit it or not (and mostly we don't) we are emotionally vulnerable at many, many points in our lives. Yes, we can learn to improve our sense of self-worth and self-love. I definitely have. But this doesn't mean that we can expect ourselves and others of ever reaching a point where we can be 100% secure 100% of the time.

Sometimes were all as weak as infants and the strong fronts, the ones we put up to others to make ourselves seem so inhuman, stop us from having the breakdowns we need in order to put ourselves back together in a better way. 

And as we put ourselves back together, often we'll need someone or many someones to help us know where to fit those pieces in. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

You Don't Have to Be Flawless to Be Loved

Love yourself. Before you can love another person you have to love yourself first. I’m sure most of us have heard one or both of these two bits of advice at some point.

Maybe we even gave it to someone else who was struggling.


Since I’m a person who’s usually very open about my personal struggles (depression, loneliness, dating, relationships etc.) I’ve heard the philosophy of self-love first, expressed to me many, many times. Friends, relatives and an ex-lover have all advised me to improve my self-love and self-confidence.


This is not, on the whole, bad advice. In fact it’s very truthful. Yes, a person needs to have a certain amount of self-assurance, confidence and love for themselves in order to be a good friend, coworker lover and human being. I certainly needed to improve my self-love. I still do. But in trying to understand how to better love myself I got a lot of things wrong as I think many others do too.


I’ve grown more certain of my own strength and value as a person. As that’s happened I’ve also come to realize that sometimes the ideas people have of what it really means to love themselves, can be pretty skewed and even counterproductive.


I think this is especially true when it comes to the idea of being able to love oneself before loving another person.


For a long time, I tried to achieve self-love by telling myself that I needed to eliminate all negative thoughts or forces in my life. Yet time and time again, life, depression and anxiety pushed negativity into me and I found myself despairing.


I told myself it was my fault, I didn’t love myself enough. If I only loved myself enough than I wouldn’t feel these dark emotions. If I only loved myself enough like everyone else around me than I wouldn’t have any of the struggles with self-hate I have.


‘Love yourself! Why can’t you love yourself!?’ I remember repeating this line in my head over and over again during my really dark depressive episodes. How could I possibly love myself if I couldn’t be 100% strong 100% of the time? Why couldn’t I achieve this level of perfect never ending self-esteem and love that people told me was out there if I only wanted it hard enough?


It was only after some CBT therapy, discovering the wonderful School of Life and some unusually frank and honest discussions with people I know that I realized my approach to self-love was all wrong. 


Self-love I came to realize, was not becoming a ‘perfect’ human being that never took a wrong step, experienced sadness, depression, self-loathing, anxiety or doubt. It wasn’t about being a person that never asked for help that never admitted their dark times.

 Self-love was about accepting your darkness as well as your light and realizing that despite your profound flaws you were still worthy of love and respect.


I didn’t have to be a demi-god with no weaknesses in order to love myself or for others to love me.


I didn’t have to be perfect and neither did anybody else. Many times the people I looked up to and thought could never experience the kind of doubt, loneliness and insecurity I did turned out to be struggling with that every day.


I was flawed and imperfect creature. I could and would fail. I could and would have days that would make me question my worth and my existence. This was all true and it was also true that I was still a worthy human being.

This is also true of every other human being on the planet and this has given me a lot of reassurance as I’ve begun exploring dating and relationships after a long hiatus.


I don’t have to be flawless and totally void of insecurity to be worthy of love and neither does anyone else. Everyone I know and you know is deeply, profoundly damaged in one way or another and that’s nothing we need to hide.



Saturday, September 2, 2017

When I Wish I Was Somebody Else



‘I wish I had your personality.’ This was the first time (at least that I can recall) saying that out loud. It was a thought that I had many times throughout my life in relation to myself and others.


My highly extroverted friend, who was sitting across from me in the Japanese restaurant, raised his eyes: ‘Don’t man. There’s nothing wrong with your personality.’

We talked a while after that. We caught up, discussed my recent breakup a little more and then went back to our homes. That part of our meal stuck with me though. It mirrored the internal debate I’ve had with myself off and on for most of my life.

Like many people, my confidence and self-assuredness has grown as I’ve gotten older. I’ve gotten better at managing my bouts of self-hatred, depression and checking my emotions in tough situations. I’ve come to better accept my sensitivity and my introversion for the gifts they provide as well as the handicaps.

Still, despite all the progress I’ve made, I’m not immune from deep self-doubt and insecurity. Nor will I ever be. I still struggle to accept myself. Yet I also have a hard time accepting the fact that the people I know (friends, colleagues and loved ones) are also battling their own inner demons. I struggle to see them as fallible people who can be just as unsure of themselves and their place in the world as I am. 


This is especially hard for me to accept when it comes to extroverts, people who I have envied and idolized in the past.


For a long time, I saw my introversion as something that made me inferior to the social colossi that I befriended or ran with. Sure, I had my own petty prejudices where extroverts were concerned. 


They were shallow, they were either afraid of or lacked they ability to have deeper emotions or thoughts, they never took the time to really know people etc.

Deep down though, in my awkward adolescent and college years, I felt deeply inferior to my extroverted friends. A large part of this was the (American) society I was exposed to for a good portion of my life. To quote Emma Watson: ‘If you’re anything other than an extrovert you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you.’

That was my belief for a very long time. It was one I still haven’t completely shed. Many a time I’ve thought: ‘If I was a social butterfly my life would be better.’

In short, the grass often seemed greener in extrovert land. No one who lived there dealt with or could have possibility dealt with the problems and insecurities I did. 


Of course, that’s not true. The open conversations I’ve had with those people I unfairly held up on a pedestal made that very clear. Hearing my extroverted friends’ stories, realizing the social butterflies could struggle with social anxiety and self-loathing, realizing that they could be just as unsure of their own abilities, discovering that sometimes those bright (and genuine) veneers I so admired covered deep wounds and insecurities that were just as real as mine, humbled me.

Who I am is not inherently worse than those who have mastered strengths that I find more difficult to learn. That’s something that I and everyone else should take time to appreciate.