Not That Anyone Cares

I have not posted here since March.

Over two months.

It’s pretty amazing how distracted one can get in life, how one can be pulled away from doing what they love to do. It’s easy to get sucked into life’s drama and forget about your self and the care of your mind.

This was frequently my outlet. I had grandiose thoughts and I proudly posted them here for some tiny audience to read. It was a work of pride. It was my baby of sorts.

But then life happened. And I started writing more personally. And eventually it became too personal. I couldn’t share. I discovered writing by hand was more useful, and more private. When writing on paper with a suitable pen (none of that stick pen nonsense) one cannot outrun his own mind. He has to think only as fast as his hand can write. And for me that is painfully slow.

So my other blog(s) became my outlet for public creativity. Images are far less personal than the written word. Usually. There are definitely some exceptions, but unless I explain them in my critique all you know is it’s a painting or a photo without any real background.

Perhaps one day I’ll be able to share myself again on here. But right now it’s just too much. Even the seemingly random topics that bounce around from time to time in my head all have ties back to my personal life.

So I will hibernate for just a while. And post only elsewhere.

Again and Again

A not so old photo made to look old, like me.

Where have I been? Maybe you’re not really asking. I don’t know how much interest there truly is in this blog, but maybe someone out there misses me and my posts.

Short answer: distracted.

Long answer: Working on my other blog, posting everything I have ever painted/photographed/photo manipulated. And getting way bogged down in the complexities of life.

How am I doing with my New Year’s resolutions? Well… I dunno.

I don’t know if I have recaptured any of my youthful vigor yet. I’m still listening to local music and I even went to a show recently. I left with ringing ears and a headache but dagnabbit I was there!

Hensley

The first month and a half of 2020 was hell. About mid February everything started to look up. Well, most of it anyway. I honestly had no time to think about trying to go back to all of my good character traits from the past. Instead I would like to think I gained new ones.

I have learned to be content, I faced the struggle of January with a stiff neck and a clenched jaw. I worked myself to exhaustion just trying to keep things afloat. Most of that work was met with success, some of it not so much. But I didn’t let the failures knock me down. I just kept swimming.

When things started to get better, I breathed. I slowed down and took stock of the situation and started planning for the future. Bad times could come again, as they have many times in recent years. Perhaps I can be a bit more prepared so I don’t have to work so hard to stay afloat.

All of this was financial stuff mind you. My house is falling apart, my relationship with my wife is rocky, and my mental health is… Well… It’s day by day.

And that’s just how I’m going to face those challenges: day by day.

Trigger Warning

I used to have an issue with the term “triggered”. But more and more I think I understand it.

It’s not usually anger though. It’s usually anxiety. Or depression. Or just a general sadness. Sometimes there are things that just make me physically twitch. 

When I stopped being triggered by the term itself I actually started being able to identify the triggers and manage them. I don’t have to be triggered. I don’t have to react to certain stimuli at all. I can choose to ignore. I can choose to capture my negative thoughts and feelings and correct them. I am not a slave to feelings and negativity. 

Beyond all that, I can create healthy boundaries (another term that used to trigger me) to prevent the triggers from occurring in the first place.

How do you, dear readers, manage the negatives in your life? How do you handle the triggers? I’m still learning and any wisdom is always welcome! 

This was previously published as “Steamed” here: https://www.publish0x.com/driptorch-studio/steamed-xodqgl

Cracked

My life’s been a bit abysmal as of late. Days are hard, circumstances suck. I feel like I am breaking down and losing every fight. I know people want optimistic posts and travel posts and frivolous nonsense. But maybe there is room out here for real posts about trials and struggles. People love a facade, but at the end of the day, many of us are cracked vessels, if not outright shattered.

So please read and know you aren’t alone in your struggle. We all have our challenges and rough seasons. Despite what the internet world would have you believe, there is a lot of darkness out there amongst the bull markets and the glitzy vacations.

We’re all in it together, and we’re all going to make it through. I hope.

New Year, Old Me?

::Insert cliche about how fast the time went::

Despite my recent absence from this page, I’d like to keep the tradition of birthday/New Year’s resolution making. After all, this year was “Stick to the plan” year, so I should stick to my plan of making plans. Or something like that.

Did I stick to my plans?

Nope. Not even close.

Three months into the year the plans got chucked out the window. The only plan after that was to survive.

In some ways I believe I am better off than I was at the start of the year. With such turbulence often comes a new breadth of wisdom. I have learned and grown and adapted myself to chaos in a way that I always struggled to do before.

In many other ways my life is not so good. It’s obvious that my resolutions should be aimed at fixing those specific problems, right ? Unfortunately, most of life is a complicated web of circumstances, so tweaking one or two things isn’t going to change much. If last year was “Stick to the plan” this year can be summed up as:

“Relearn to be me.”

I kinda want to get back to the person I was at 15. Not the immaturity and the youthful ignorance, mind you. I want to rediscover the good qualities of my youth and combine them with the wisdom of my current age.

I was confident back then. I was warm. I had real friends. I genuinely cared about people and I genuinely loved my own talents and gifts. I had a sense of humor and the ability to be genuinely happy and excited about life.

Grow a beard!

Twenty years on I feel like I have lost all of that. My confidence was largely dependent on exercising my talents. But now my talents sit in the corner covered in dust. I am a faded version of my old self.

Stress and exhaustion have left me a bit bitter and grumpy. As a result I seem cold and aloof. I have acquaintances, but no one gets close enough to be a friend. I still care about people, but I’m often overly consumed with my own self loathing to love others properly.

It’s going to be an uphill trek. Circumstances were different then, with age comes responsibility and obligations. And so many struggles. I react quite caustically to hard times. When the going gets tough, I drown. There is hardly ever a time to catch my breath.

I have already started working towards these resolutions. I applied to a new job. Just filling out the resume and creating a cover letter was a confidence booster. I used to hate doing them because I despised tooting my own horn, but this time I actually looked at what I wrote. I haven’t completely relinquished my talents.

Those are real accomplishments and real experiences that I have had. I have used my talents in a variety of ways, and each of them is something to be proud of. And if they help me get this job, that is all the more reason to be positive about them.

I plan to force myself off of social media and get into the real world. Social media is a cold, terrible place to interact with others. Real human interaction is a breeding ground for warmth and real relationship. This is probably the most difficult part of relearning to be myself. The entire culture has shifted in the past 20 years to be dominated by fake screen relationships. It’s almost an act of rebellion to seek real people out and make friends of them. But I need friends. Real ones. That I can drink a beer with. So rebellion it is!

“Lesser” things include working out to improve my health and self-esteem, working on my appearance overall (it’s hard to like yourself if you’re a slob), and liking what I like un-self-consciously.

I used to have my own tastes, even weird ones, and it didn’t matter what others thought. Over time I started to care what others think about my likes and dislikes. This is a tremendously crippling worry. Nearly everyone struggles with peer pressure to some extent. But I feel like I lost my entire self to it.

Too true. Source

This year I intend to embrace my own tastes, even the “weird” ones. This includes embracing my own talents, even if others aren’t as impressed as I’d like them to be.

I also intend to be warmer to people. I’m going to start smiling more and try a little friendliness. This may not be as much of a return to my past as it is just trying to be a better person. I don’t have to be the creepy silent dude or a mumbler. Friendliness is often reciprocated, and if it’s not oh well. At least my smile brightened up my own day.

What are some of your resolutions this year?

Taking Time

“Take time for yourself.” They say.

I’ve never thought that way. Sure, I will sit around and waste time. I will neglect my responsibilities and fixate on some unimportant project. I may even stare at a screen for several hours chasing Wikipedia trails or harvesting endless memes.

But is that time for myself?

That’s just settling. Or being irresponsible. Irresponsible if I’m not doing what I should. Settling if I’m not doing what truly makes me happy.

I don’t enjoy spinning my wheels. There has to be an end product to most of my activities. It could be as simple as a clean room. Yes, I do take joy in cleaning, much of the time. Call me crazy.

But some “activities” have no lasting effect. Some things have to be enjoyed for their own sake. Some things can be undertaken even if the end result isn’t exactly what you hoped for. You still gained experience with whatever it is.

Grumpy “Parrot”, Oil pastels on Paper, 2019

Though I have been fairly absent from this site I assure you that I have been productive. Mainly I have been keeping up with my other page, posting every single painting I have ever done. Doing that with a commentary on each one is no small feat.

I’ve also been writing in my “journal” more. Writing by hand tends to slow one down and force him to focus and think about each word (not to mention spelling without a crutch). Most of that will never see the light of day on here. No one may ever read it, it may never help me be productive on this page, but at least it helped me through the difficulties of life for a time.

There is a certain temptation to air all my dirty laundry here. This could easily become just a public diary to gripe about my struggles. But personal matters are often best kept personal, especially when they involve others. So I have tended to stay away from here, just so I don’t fall prey to that temptation.

Honestly, “time for myself” is often just as simple as sitting down and writing out a train of thought that’s been bugging me. Clearing my head and organizing thoughts on a page is frequently all I need to do to relieve the stress of my day.

But sometimes it’s not.

And I have no idea what to do instead.

Kinda done with it all right now…

Is It Wrong To Want Things?

Sometimes you just have to scrap an entire blog. My original title for this was “Happiness As a Goal”. But I’ve renamed it and rewritten it. And then rewrote it again. And then renamed it again.

So here it is, after a ton of editing:

I have struggled with the concept of wants and needs for a while. God gives us everything we need, so everything we don’t have we don’t need, right? And if God doesn’t give it to us and we don’t need it, it’s sinful to want it, right?

For a long time I felt that contentment meant being completely satisfied with what you have. This means that any desire for something one doesn’t have is discontentment and therefore sinful.

This was my train of thought: It is a sin to be discontent, to be content means you don’t want anything, you are satisfied with what you have. Therefore to want is to be discontent, therefore to want is to sin. Furthermore, God gives us everything we need, if we don’t have it we don’t need it. If we don’t need it we just want it, and wanting anything is a sin.

From the last three paragraphs you can see why my life has become kind of messy. I have shoved down a lot of desires and drives mistaking them for sin. This has made me a bit of a limp noodle. If wants and desires are inherently sinful what’s the point of trying? After all, you’re going to get what you need.

But then I realized that the Bible clearly talks about wants.

“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:2b-3

James does not condemn his audience for asking for things.

In 1 John we read this:
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

One only asks for things if one wants something. Since asking is not condemned, wanting is not condemned. I was wrong to think merely having wants was sinful. God clearly wants us to want things that are in accordance with His will and to ask Him for them. Asking is encouraged, and we are to do it with confidence.

Ultimately I don’t have to feel shame or guilt for wanting things (or experiences, or good feelings). But I do have to ask the question “is this in accordance with God’s will?”

Probably the easiest way to determine this is to ask the questions “Do I want this purely for selfish gain? Does my desire ultimately serve others and/or bring glory to God?” If the answer to the first is no and the answer to the second is yes then I am free to ask and to pursue what I want.

This whole train of thought has further implications, obviously. This is me after all. I can’t keep anything too simple. Keep checking back and I will try to further expound on these thoughts in other posts as I get to them.

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Killing Ourselves

“Except for rare, cult-related occasions, suicide is something done in private, outside of community, outside of immediate counsel… aside from rare situations, suicide is something that causes the actor to feel shame, regret, and sometimes anger, and to express hopelessness or helplessness.”

About a week ago, a pastor known for speaking about mental health issues committed suicide the very day he led a funeral for another suicide victim.

Of course my Facebook lit up with all sorts of polls and opinions about this topic. The quote above struck me pretty hard.

He went on to say:

“The body of Christ has to redefine what it means to live in community. My personal opinion is that community needs to be invasive. We don’t meet in homes anymore. Most protestant denominations don’t follow the example of post-reformation parish priests who spent all their daylight hours visiting everyone. The task could take weeks, and when everyone had been visited, he started over. Instead, we have church life and home life playing “hide and go seek” until someone gets volunteered for home group host…. we now face mental illnesses that could not have thrived 100 years ago, perhaps even 50 years ago. That calls for a newer, more intense level of care from the entire church community, and it calls for more genuine and invasive fellowship that cuts shame, regret, and anger off at the ankles.”

This comment got me thinking about the time I admitted having suicidal thoughts to my pastor. There wasn’t a lot of investigation into why I had these thoughts. It was just “you know you shouldn’t.” While it felt good to have someone to tell, and it slightly lessened the feelings, the thoughts never fully went away. The underlying problems were not taken care of.

There was no invasive fellowship. There were no investigations into underlying sin issues or other triggers in my life. Just an attitude of “let’s pray about it. Keep in touch.”

Community is something that I strongly long for. I believe part of the reason it is so hard to consider my home of twelve years to be “home” is that it has been difficult to find real community. Sure, it’s fairly easy to find acquaintances in such a large city. But real friends? People who will be that invasive into your life?

Pastors don’t make circuits anymore. Neither do elders or deacons for that matter. How many lay people do you have in your home any given week or month? Who do you know well enough to share your deepest darkest fears and shames?

That is the troubling thing. Suicide occurs alone, in the dark. It is an act of shame. And rightfully so, it is a tremendous act of selfishness. The times when I felt most alone in this world (and when I was behaving the most selfishly otherwise) were the times the temptation was strongest.

But reaching out is hard. Largely because it seems that no one wants to hear about your struggles. But also because it is shameful to be attacked by such temptations. Many Christians who have never experienced mental illness will just chalk it up to “not enough faith”. Or they will be like Job’s friend and assume your struggles are because of some unrepented sin in your life.

That is why we need people who know us. Really know us. People who aren’t afraid to point out sin but are also slow to blame every trouble of life on it. We need friends who will hear the good and the bad and offer love and care in both.

We are supposed to bear one another’s burdens. We are supposed to confess our sins to one another. How can we accomplish that without community? How can we accomplish that without seeing each other more than once a week, and in a more intimate environment than a large gathering?

I have yet to figure out this community thing, but at least I know what’s lacking now.

Diversions

Ooo, shiny!

We live in an insatiablely intolerable world at times. Life is a messy, dirty, steaming pile of excrement some days. There is no escaping the to-do lists and the schedules and the ever growing piles of bills. It almost makes me jealous of the people of old who lived short miserable lives. At least they were short…

I’ve never been able to drown out my worries with diversions. I hear of people escaping their troubles and woes with movies, music, video games, or even alcohol. Perhaps I’m just not a focused enough person to forget my cares and immerse myself in numbness or fantasy? I can only be so distracted before my mind wanders back to the struggle of the day.

Painting, writing, playing Pokémon GO with my kids and wife. I enjoy these. But none provide any forgetfulness. Stress is always right there making it hard to find forgiveness for not accomplishing everything on that to-do list. “Why are you taking a break when you should be doing this?!”

Will it ever change? Maybe. Maybe one day my cares will be few enough to drown out with frivolity, at least for fleeting moments. Until then I’ll just continue distracting myself half-heartedly.

This Is The End

This is the end.

The end of what?

Not the end of me, nor of this blog. You can’t get rid of me that easily.

No, this is the end of the summer. And the end of a long, hot, dark season of my life.

I had high hopes for this summer. But they were dashed by some not-so-fortunate circumstances. I had plans. But none of them happened.

I learned a lot though: Regret is a terrible response to disappointment. God always provides, though not always how we want or with what we want. Anxiety is physically draining, but you don’t have to let your mind get caught up in what your body’s doing.

We’ve had a rocky couple of months, almost a year’s worth. We almost lost our house. We thought we would. We had our water cut off once (though that was just missing the payment because we were distracted by other bills, we actually had the money) and almost lost it one more time. We spent a week internet-less, much to the kid’s chagrin. We had to reinstate our car insurance twice because it was canceled. We got phone calls threatening to re-possess our trailer (good luck with that). Food got short once or twice. Cars broke down. Jobs were had, jobs were postponed. Church got over-crowded and we had to find a new one (still figuring that one out). The house is in disarray. Projects have been put on hold.

I spent my summer mowing lawns, weeding gardens, and moving boxes and furniture. And a load of driving here there and everywhere.

But now we have two stable jobs. The bills are getting caught up. Routine has come back.

And looking at that list I can’t help but feel it’s all first world problems.

But problems nonetheless. Especially for an anxious brain like mine.

It’s the end, and I couldn’t be more glad.