Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Happy Hump Day 8-31-16

When was the last time you put your senses in order?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Back To Nature

I may have been walking with a rather distinct hobble for a few days, but it was entirely worth it. Heather and I went hiking on the Horton Creek Trail for our anniversary, and it felt great to get back among the trees, even for just that day. If you’re familiar with this trail (and if you’re not, and you’re in this area, I would strongly suggest that you correct this oversight), you probably already know that it is officially listed as “easy (moderate toward the end)” on the hiking websites, but I am almost 45-years-old, haven’t been hiking in years, and am woefully out of shape. I thought it became moderate rather earlier than the descriptions promised, and, by the end, my single walking stick could have certainly used a friend. I saw men riding bicycles along the trail. I saw women carrying newborn babies in fancy baby-backpacks. I saw a few silver-haired elderly couples. I came to realize that “woefully out of shape” may not be a large enough description. I think there might be pandas in better physical condition than I am at the moment. Something I should probably address.

None of that should be understood as a complaint of any kind, except perhaps at myself. We had a great time, and have every intention of doing it again. In fact, I had to explain to Heather that every weekend might be pushing things just a bit. I’m not sure I could survive that just now, though going more often will certainly help to address my shortcomings in that department. It would be good for me to get out on the trails frequently, both physically and mentally.

The physical part is obvious, right? Walking is good for you, and hiking is just walking with nature. If you’re doing it right, hiking involves fresh air, adjustable inclines for different levels of resistance, and pushing yourself sometimes past what you might believe you can do. The particular hike that we took is eight miles long, four miles in to get to a scenic spring bubbling out of the side of the mountain, and then four miles back out. As far as I could tell, there is no shortcut. At one point, I did look, but that was just self-doubt and not really need. It clearly wasn’t need, since we did complete the hike. Heather had to wait for me often, but I told her I was “the little engine that could, just slowly.” It was a good thing this little engine quit smoking a few years back, though. I don’t think a smoking engine would have made it, slowly or otherwise.

It was great exercise, and it will be even better to do it more often. You can’t compare walking around the block or on a treadmill to that (though doing both rather more often in between hikes will probably be a good idea for little engines in dire need of a tuneup). Go prepared, wear the right shoes, take plenty of water and some good snacks, bring a walking stick or two, and don’t forget the sunblock. I forgot the sunblock, but I won’t make that mistake twice. We actually took sandwiches as well as some fruit and nuts, but found the fruit and nuts to be better trail food. It’s just easier to chew on an apple while walking along, especially when it’s late into the hike and you’re tired.

Aside from the physical aspect, though, there are mental and emotional elements. I had been told that there were areas like this within a reasonable driving distance from home but, to be honest, I hadn’t really believed it. We took a road trip a few years ago that was a great deal of fun, but was distinctly short on trees, despite the fact that the map contained the word “forest” for part of it. I made the mistake of just assuming this would be like that, that people accustomed to the desert didn’t have the same understanding of (and possibly need of) trees as I had. I knew you could get to trees if you went far enough north, but I thought “far enough” meant “too far” and so never got excited about trying it. Thankfully Heather as smarter than I am about this kind of thing, and at least as stubborn as I am when it’s necessary. I was trying to figure out someplace we could go for our anniversary, and she said, “No, here,” so we went there. Occasionally I do what I’m told. If she’s the one doing the telling, it usually ends up being good for me.

I thought at first that my assumptions were correct. The brown terrain gave way to green, but it was a green that was 100% cactus. I have never seen so many cacti in one place in my life. If you’re not desert-bred, it’s is definitely surreal to see green hills in the distance and then, when you get to them, discover that it is thousands of cacti spread out like a diminutive, prickly forest. It’s an interesting sight to see, and one that is worth experiencing if you never have, but it wasn’t the greenery I was hoping for. I was afraid, though, that it would be the greenery I got.

I was wrong. I was so very wrong. The cacti fell behind us and the trees rose ahead of us. Our cabin was in the woods and an easy walk to a creek. We had dinner on an outdoor patio under the trees. I hadn’t had dinner under the trees in so long, I had forgotten how happy doing so makes me. It was fantastic.

The hike goes in and out of the trees, down into a small canyon and up along the edge of the rim. It winds back and forth along Horton Creek, sometimes crossing the creek, sometimes crossing a wash where the creek used to run, and sometimes along small cliffs overlooking the creek. The sound of running water was never far away, though occasionally that was because it was falling on us. It did rain a little and, from talking to other people we passed along the trail, we learned that we just missed some hail. It was over a hundred degrees back at the house, and we missed a hailstorm by minutes! Imagine that.

I could go on, but I’ll let a few pictures explain instead. It was a revitalizing experience, and it was a lesson learned. I am often resistant to do anything that is not part of my normal routine, but I needed this change. I can’t promise that I won’t be resistant in the future, because I know me better than that, but I’ll definitely be trying to get out to the woods more often now that I’ve been convinced that they really are nearby.

I would strongly suggest that you do the same. Maybe it isn’t woods that you need. Maybe it’s the lake, or the beach, or even the desert. Just get outside and go. Spend some time away from the hustle and bustle, leave the noise behind, and soak up some nature. As John Burroughs said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” We all need that from time to time. We just don’t always remember to get it. Take the time to be soothed. Put your senses in order and be healed. Even if it’s only a day trip and you have to run right back to the work-a-day world, you’ll be glad you did it. Trust me on that.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

TGIF 8-19-16

Good morning. I hope everyone has had a great week and is looking forward to an even better weekend. I know I am, but more on that in a minute. I have a couple small announcements to make, and we’ll probably keep this brief today.

First of all, those keeping score at home may remember that tomorrow, August 20, is mine and Heather’s wedding anniversary. Eleven years she’s put up with me and my … eccentric ways, twelve if you count the year before we got married. We’ve done so many ups and downs, it sometimes felt like we should be charging admission, but they’ve been great years. No matter what else was going on, we were always there for each other, and there’s never been any doubt that we will continue to be there for each other.

Happy Anniversary, Heather. I love you, and am looking forward to many more wonderful years ahead.

On that subject, we have decided to do a Cabin in the Woods trip to celebrate this weekend. Hiking, waterfalls, disconnected. It will be wonderfully recharging. It also means that none of the usual weekend activities will be happening, and that impacts you and your Frequently Interrupted activities.

Typically, I use the weekend to put everything together and get the posts ready for the following week. Clearly that won’t be happening this weekend, so we won’t have any of our regular posting next week. I will be doing stuff on our Facebook page, probably mostly like what I do there on the weekends, though maybe a little more of it. I won’t be doing any full length writing, though, and I probably won’t have anything officially posted on the blog. I probably will post some pictures from our hiking trip, so I hope you enjoy that. Things will be back to normal on the following week, and hopefully even better than normal with the recharge.

Thank you for understanding, and thank you for coming along with us on this fantastic journey. I look forward to hearing from you every day, and this is no exception. We’ll be out of the loop for the weekend, but leave your comments and we’ll get back to you on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Turning Down The Volume

The world can be a loud place sometimes. We all know that, and we all respond to that in different ways. Some people thrive and some people cringe, but you need to have a plan, a way to cope, regardless of your particular strengths and weaknesses. There is no volume knob on the universe, and, in my experience, the levels tend to crank at all the wrong moments.

That certainly could be a biased perspective, I don’t deny. I like it quiet, so I’m likely to notice noise more than someone who thrives in it. I don’t thrive. Quite a few loud noises make me cringe. Some even hurt. That will probably surprise some people who are familiar with my taste in music, which is often more than a little on the loud side, but that’s different. I’m not entirely certain I can explain why it’s different, but it is different. I suppose part of it is just the difference between “I like this sound and it gets better with volume” and “I don’t like this sound and it gets worse with volume,” but I don’t think that’s all of it. I know people who are huge fans of particular music, yet still don’t like that music to be too loud.

I suspect a large part of it is rooted in my obsession with music. To me, music has always been as natural as air and water. Music has been a part of my idea of peace and quiet for as long as I’ve had an idea of peace and quiet. When I used to run away to “the woods” to get away from it all, I always had headphones. I know some people don’t work that way, but there was never a contradiction for me. Music that I enjoy helps me to relax, therefore it is part of my peace and quiet. It blends into the natural rhythms of my mind.

If you haven’t tried it, I would suggest doing so. It may not work for you, but it’s worth a shot. One of the easiest ways to cancel out the noise when it gets too loud is to replace it with a more pleasing sound. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost anything. Just try something else. If it does work, you have a convenient way to turn down the volume of the world: just turn up the volume of what you want. Headphones and portable sources of music are both common as dirt these days, so it’s an easy option. I keep headphones stashed all over the place and, if no other option is available, my phone is a portable jukebox.

There are other ways of replacing one sound with another, if music and headphones don’t work for you. When Heather and I recently went to the Japanese Friendship Garden, sitting beside the waterfall and letting that sound drown out all others was one of the most peaceful experiences I can remember. It certainly wasn’t quiet, by any means, and yet the feeling was one of quiet. Does that make sense? There are sounds which are loud without being loud, and there are sounds which are quiet without being quiet. Rivers, waterfalls, and things of that nature often are, to me, the very definition of peaceful quiet even when they objectively are not quiet.

It’s a matter of perspective, but it’s also a matter of who you are and what the sound is. I’m not sure this is a perspective you can choose or learn, but I do think you can learn your own perspective on the matter and choose to use that to your benefit. Maybe for you the right sounds aren’t water and music. I know people who relax to the roar of an engine or the whine of an electric current. Most mechanical sounds won’t do it for me, but I’m hardly the best example of a normal experience. The point is, you may have your own sound that can make the world a little less loud. Play around with the idea, experiment, and see if you can find what works for you. You may have fun just in the search. Weirder things have happened.

Beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, but that beholder has ears too, and they’re just as individually selective. What works for one may not work for another, or may not work on a different day. Until you identify your personal preferences and patterns, it’s going to be hit and miss, and you may even have some misses after you do figure things out. This is not a perfect science, if that wasn’t already obvious. Find what works for you and use it. When it doesn’t work, don’t use it. That’s all you can do most of the time.

There are times, however, when the only solution for noise is silence. Real, dictionary-definition silence. This isn’t always easy to come by, but you can usually grab a little of it here and there. Go into an empty room and close the door. Depending on where you are, that may not be silent, but it should at least muffle. Count to ten in your head, forward and backward, forward and backward. Let the pattern in your mind drown out the sounds in your ear. Stare at a spot just in front of your noise and let your mind wander. We’re getting into forms of meditation here, but it works. You might be amazed at how much you can turn down the volume all on your own just by thinking - or perhaps more accurately, not thinking - about it. With practice and determination, you really can learn to make things more quiet, even if you don’t accomplish actual silence. If you can make things better, you can learn to make that work.

It’s a loud world, and we all need peace and quiet sometimes. That can be difficult to come by, but there are tricks. There are things you can learn. They won’t always be easy, and they won’t always be available, but better is better, so take it when you can. As with so many things, learning to work with better instead of expecting perfect can make all the difference. Sometimes it’s just going to be loud. Make peace with that, and you’ll be a step closer to having peace and quiet more often.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Happy Humpday 8-17-16

Everything springs from yourself.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Some Easy Remedies

We put a lot of work into being who we are. Sometimes it seems that we put too much work, or that we put that work into something other than being who we are. We’re often either building a better me, or building a better mask so it looks like a better me and, at the end of the day, we’re tired, frustrated, grumpy, and not actually much better, it turns out. Oh yeah, and broke. Quite a few of those self-improvement techniques are expensive, so now we’re stressed out about money on top of it all. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Many of the best self-help practices are easy, convenient, and cheap. Free, even. Before you rage quit or empty the bank account, try a few of these.

Smile. I cannot stress enough how much of a miracle worker a simple smile can be. It costs nothing, requires no preparation, and isn’t any more difficult than most of those other facial expressions you’re carrying around. It’s not a cure-all, certainly, but it can’t hurt and you can easily put it away again if it gets in the way. Even better, smiles are contagious. Walk around smiling at people some day, see how many smiles you get back. Some of them may be confused smiles, but they’ll still be smiles. Smiling feels good, and most people are just looking for an excuse.

It’s also a great psychological tool. Much of our attitude is self-inflicted. If you tell yourself you are sad, you’re more likely to be sad. If you tell yourself you are happy, you’re more likely to be happy. It’s not a one-for-one proposition, but it’s always a good idea to move the odds in your favor when possible. Give yourself a smile, and your emotions may just go looking for a reason to keep it.

Sing a song. William James, 19th Century philosopher and psychologist sometimes referred to as the Father of American Psychology, said, “I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.” Again with the self-inflicted attitude. The mind wants to be up. It wants to be moving forward and being positive. Give it the option, and your mind will usually at least try to latch onto something good. Music has long been understood to have a deep psychological connection to human emotion. Use that connection and sing yourself to a better state of being.

This even works if you can’t sing, or can’t sing at the moment. Whistle, snap, sing in your head. The specific action doesn’t matter as much as the idea behind the action. Make music the way you can make it, at the volume (or absence of volume) that is appropriate for the moment, and you’ll probably see a difference. If you can sing out loud, it can be cathartic. If you can sing out loud in a group, even better. Group activities that promote positive attitude tend to have an amplifying effect as the people in the group trade encouragement back and forth.

Which leads us to spending time with people who make you happy. Hang out with friends, visit family, go to a game or a concert. Participate in group activities that will lead to you feeling good about you, and try to steer clear of group activities that only make you feel worse. As I said before, when you put a group of people together, they often set up an echo effect where happy people make each other more happy, angry people make each other more angry, and so on and so forth.

This one can be more difficult. Maybe friends and family are too far away. Maybe they’re the ones who are giving you a headache. Maybe you can’t afford those concert tickets, or it’s not the right season for your preferred group activity. Mix and match how you can, but the options aren’t always going to be perfect. If the friends you want to be with aren’t available, maybe you can make some new friends through an activity you enjoy. If the activity you prefer isn’t available, maybe you can find a new hobby through the friends you love. Maybe you take a good option because you don’t have a great one at the moment. Maybe you can’t use this option right now, but you can plan for it next week, or next month. Keep an open mind and be ready for possibilities you hadn’t considered. You never know. Just pay attention and be ready to adjust as needed.

It is also a good idea to spend some time with people who just understand. They may not always be the people who make you happy, or activities that are the most fun, but sometimes you do have to take a down moment now in order to have more or better up moments later. If you are truly struggling, support groups can help.

You have to be careful of the echo effect but, if properly guided or structured, even groups of depressed people can lead to happy outcomes. Other people working through something similar to your struggle might know a trick you haven’t learned, or you might be able to teach something new to someone in need. Trading help can be almost as encouraging as trading smiles and, though the progress might be slower, the ultimate outcome can be even better if multiple people achieve together.

In the end, though, the person you need to be the most comfortable with is you. Grab a book or a puzzle, maybe sit down with your favorite TV show, and just enjoy your own company for a bit. Take a break. Unless you’re in the middle of a life or death situation, there are few issues that cannot allow for some time to disconnect. Even many time-sensitive issues can accommodate at least a little down time. It might be just five minutes but, if it allows you to catch your breath and come back ready to go, it will have been worth it.

All things in moderation though. If you never get up off the couch, it’s going to be difficult to get anything else accomplished in life. The proper balance between going out and staying in can be difficult to find and is different for everyone, but finding your balance can make a world of difference in your outlook. Also, once you are truly comfortable with you, you will often find that you are more comfortable in other situations at well. You can be your biggest roadblock and the best bridge all in one. It’s largely up to you.

You don’t have to make a major production out of taking care of yourself, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Some of the best options cost nothing and are easy to do. The important thing is that you do take care of yourself. In the fast paced and often costly lives we find ourselves living these days, having more low-cost, low-hassle options can only be a good thing. Try these, and think about others that might work for you. Building a better you can be the best way to contribute to building a better world, and maybe all you need to get started is a smile.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Friday, August 12, 2016

TGIF 8-12-16

Be the change. Have a great day.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Other Side

There are certain assumptions that we often make when it comes to people with depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues. One of the most common assumptions is that these people were abused, with the abuse coming from a parent or other close family member usually following right on the heels of that one. While both of these are true often enough for there to be a basis for assumption, they are not universal, and we do need to be careful to not treat them as universal. There are a variety of potential causes for emotional disorders, including the purely physiological, and while you may assume correctly many times, you may also cause irreparable harm on those times when you are wrong. Don’t guess. If you are trying to help someone, just ask. If the person you are trying to help isn’t ready to answer that question then the person you are trying to help isn’t ready to be helped in that way. You can’t force these things, and attempting to do so usually only makes matters worse.

I mention all of this because it occurs to me that I have been discussing my own emotional issues for over a year now and might have inadvertently given some people the wrong idea. My family was not perfect. I don’t doubt that there were things that could have been better, but I have never met a family where that was not true, and I have met lots of families. My family was not perfect, but they were pretty spectacular, in my not-so-humble opinion. I haven’t met one yet that I would trade for. I don’t think I could meet one that I would trade for. We made mistakes, but we used them, we learned from them, and we grew. That’s about as close as you get to perfection in this human world. Keep trying, keep growing, and keep learning. If you’re doing that, you’re already ahead of the curve. Don’t worry about perfection. Just keep going.

Let me address that specifically to the parents, the relatives, and the loved ones: Keep going. I spend most of my time here talking to and about people like me - people with issues, people who are grieving, the damaged, the freaks, and the outcasts - but you, who might be reading these words but don’t meet those descriptions, you matter too. You matter more than you might realize, and many of you do more good than you realize too. I won’t say that we couldn’t make it without you - one of my biggest points here is that we can make it far more often and under far more circumstances than we think - but you sure do improve the odds. A good support network is critical and, if you are being a good support network, you are doing good work even though it may not always seem like it.

We are not always easy to deal with. I get that. Believe me, I get it. We’re sensitive, difficult, tiring, frustrating, and sometimes just downright angering. You won’t catch me denying any of those things, so thank you. If you are being supportive toward someone who needs support, you are a hero. Perfection is not required, and all sincere applicants are accepted. Don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t seem like you’re getting through. Notice that I said “when” there and not “if”. If you are supporting one of my people, there are going to be times when you feel like you’re running your head into a wall. Fair warning. It’s going to happen, but please keep going. We can do this without you, but not nearly as many of us will get through that way, or get through as well. If I can speak for the outcasts again, we appreciate you, even when we don’t know how to say it.

Parents, having a child who is going through hell is not inherently a reflection on you. I know it seems that way sometimes, and society sure does act like it’s that way most of the time, but it’s not necessarily true. It can be true. If you’re abusive or not supportive when it’s needed, that’s on you. Just remember, you’re not perfect and you don’t have to be. Do your best, and you can’t do any more. Sometimes you can’t do enough. I’m sorry, no parent wants to hear that, but it’s true. Sometimes the only thing you can do is to be ready. Be ready when they open up, be ready when they let you in, and be ready when they fall. They probably will. They might fall hard. Again, I’m sorry. I know that isn’t what you want to hear, but sometimes the worst is beyond your control. It’s not fair but, if you’re a parent, you probably already know that life is not fair. Part of our job, one of the hardest parts, is helping our children learn how to come to terms with that fact. Don’t forget it yourself. Do your best, and let that be enough when it has to be enough.

Parents and children may live in the same home, but that doesn’t always mean that they occupy the same planet. It’s a big world, and sometimes it’s just too big. We hide things because we’re used to hiding things. For some kids, hiding things can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, or at least lunch money and no lunch money, and that sets a pretty solid precedent. Once you get used to doing that much hiding, it’s pretty easy to stop making distinctions between people you hide things from and people you don’t. It’s just easier to hide things from everyone, and people who are going through that kind of stuff need easier. They don’t get very much of it, and will tend to snatch at it when it’s available.

There sometimes seems to be this vast ocean between the ones in need and the ones who can help. Those of you who are on the other side, trying to help and trying to show that the distance really isn’t so great after all, thank you. Please keep going. You’re doing good work. Don’t let the world beat you down by telling you that you’re not doing enough. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t think you’re helping. If you’re sincere, if you’re making the honest effort and adjusting based on real observable needs (as opposed to just doing things your way even if that doesn’t help - that’s not the same thing), you’re almost certainly helping. If you don’t think so, try to imagine how much worse it might be otherwise.

We have a saying that goes, “Do not confuse my bad days with weakness. Those are actually the days I am fighting the hardest.” By the same token, I would add do not confuse my bad days with someone else’s weakness. Just because I am having a hard time doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t doing everything possible to help. It just really is sometimes that hard. Don’t make assumptions, either way. If we all work together, we can all make things better. Do your best, and keep going.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Happy Humpday 8-10-16

Do not separate the human from the natural. Being human is natural. What you do with it is what matters.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

For The Outcasts

I’ve never been very good at blending in. In fact, I tend to stick out like a sore thumb almost no matter what I do. Even in basic training for the Army, wearing the same clothes as everyone else with the same no-hair as everyone else and doing my best imitation of a round peg in a round hole on the round surface of a round container, I managed to walk around in my own spotlight and draw (usually unwanted) attention. I went in with the intention of being wallpaper - not even standing out as much as a wall flower! - and ended up being known by Drill Sergeants from surrounding companies who had nothing to do with us. It’s a talent. I’m not always certain it’s a gift, but it’s definitely special.

I’m mostly good with it now. There was a time when I would have traded anything to be normal, or to at least be able to appear as normal, but that time is a distant memory and, to be perfectly honest, not even a fond memory. I mean, obviously the various extra curricular activities that led to me wishing to be normal weren’t fun, but even the memory of wanting to be normal doesn’t ring happy bells for me anymore. I like who I am. There are parts that could be easier, sure, but they are pieces of a whole that I think has worked out fairly well. Normal is boring, and boring is one of the few things in life that really scares me. Most of the truly dumb decisions I have made in my life can be traced back to being bored. On the plus side, I don’t get bored easily. On the down side, we have most of my High School career. Trust me on this one.

There’s a secret I want to tell you. Speaking for the outcasts and to those on the inside looking out, there is something that we wish you knew. Or maybe you know but don’t fully understand. Communication problems between the inside and the out are pretty common, so it’s hard to say for sure. This is important, though, so let’s give it a try.

The secret is this: I am who I am. I’m not different because it bothers you. I’m not trying to be a thorn in your side or a rock in your shoe. I’m also not different because of what you can see. It is so much deeper than that. This is me. This is who I am.

I usually make it a point to not speak for anyone else, but I feel pretty comfortable about this one. We’re all different in different ways, but I think most of us agree on this one. I’d go so far as to say it’s a pretty common pet peeve. “Why don’t you just get a haircut?” “Why don’t you just wear normal clothes?” “Why don’t you do this or do that?” “Why don’t you hold your breath until the world changes?” That last one? That, or something very much like that, is what we hear when you’re asking those other questions.

It’s not what you think it is, not for most of us anyway. You see the oddball with the funny hair, unusual fashion, and Oh! Look at all those marks or scars! You see all of that surface stuff and think that makes a person different. Then, and this is distressingly common, you mockingly point out how all of those different people are being different in the same way, as though this were something that no one else noticed and no one else has commented on, over and over again. You think you’re being clever, I know, but it’s more like when someone makes fun of my name. I heard them all before I was 10, and we had run out of variations before I was 12. It’s not clever. It’s very old, and very worn, and misses the entire point but about a billion miles.

All of that stuff you see on the surface is not what makes a person different. It’s a result, a side effect, maybe even a symptom of being different, but it isn’t the difference. If we set aside the surface differences, do everything by the rules, the way it’s expected to be done, we’d still be different. I know that doesn’t seem to make sense. From the inside looking out, it seems easy. It’s not easy. I promise you, there’s nothing easy about it. A square peg cannot become round by a simple change in paint. You have to knock bits off and sand them down. You have to physically remove the differences. That may be fine for a wooden peg, but people don’t respond well to bits getting removed. It’s painful, and often unhealthy. It can even be a sort of death. The person who comes out the other side is not the same one who had all of the original bits. Maybe sometimes you need to be a new person, but sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you just need to learn how to be the person you already are.

Sometimes we do the surface differences because that is easier than the alternative. It’s the magician’s assistant. If you’re looking at the purple hair, you’re not looking at what’s behind the purple hair. In my experience, you’re going to notice that I’m different, so I’ll make my life easier by giving you something obvious to latch onto. You’re going to insult me, so insult my piercings instead of my thoughts. It’s a distraction and, as a distraction, it works marvelously.

It’s not that simple, not really and not all the way down, but that is absolutely part of it. Most of us have defense mechanisms, and sometimes being different is the best defense against being different. It’s all in how you look at it.

None of this takes away from personal taste. I like my tattoos and piercings and hair (back when I had hair, anyway). I like my music and my fashion, and, if I’m being entirely honest, I even enjoy the funny looks I get from certain types of people. I enjoy being me. Some of that is a learned behavior, but some of it is just taste. Think about your favorite color. Now decide to change your favorite color. It’s not so simple, is it?

I am who I am, and I have spent a lot of years learning who that is, and learning how to be comfortable with that person, even to like him. I’ve also put enough effort into this self-discovery to know that mine has not been a unique path. We who are different aren’t always so different after all. It can be a painful road, but you don’t learn strength from an easy life. I’ve learned quite a bit of strength. I don’t ask permission to be who I am, but I’m also not being different just to spite people. In the end, I just want to be the best me I can be. Strip away the differences and isn’t that what we all want?

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Friday, August 5, 2016

TGIF 8-5-16

You might be wondering what just happened this past week and, to be honest, I wouldn’t really blame you. We kind of took a left turn into unusual posting territory, didn’t we? This is not a new format; just something I wanted to play with. I like to mix things up from time to time to keep from going stale. I’ve done musical-themed posts, and I will do plenty more, but I think this is the first time we had an entire week of musical-themed posts where the posts, themselves, were more inspired by the music than about the music. I realize that the music, in this case, will not be to everyone’s taste, but I hope that hasn’t interfered with your enjoyment otherwise. As I said, the posts were inspired by, not fully about, the music so, if you skipped because of a difference in musical tastes, go back and give them another look. Let me know what you think.

In this specific case, the bands that were featured are three of my favorites, and I just happened to have gotten tickets to see them in October, so this was also me celebrating, and maybe psyching myself up a bit. It’s been years since I’ve been to a concert of this sort, and I don’t deny that the crowds make me nervous. Plus, I’m just a bit older than I was then, so that can make a difference. I do expect to have fun, though. I’m not worried about that. Once the music starts rolling, pretty much everything else goes away. The concert is in October, so I’ll give you an update then.

As for the rest of the updates, there’s not much to go into. Things are running smoothly over here, for the most part. All of the usual ups and down that go with a normal life, of course, but nothing that really warrants reporting on. The day job is hectic, but that’s normal. The family are doing great (though two of them are probably less happy about school getting ready to start up again). The foster situation is going so well that caseworkers actually cancel our meetings because, “Sorry, I had an emergency, and you’re such an easy case I wasn’t worried about it.” Sounds odd, but that’s a good thing. I promise.

Don’t forget that we have several methods for you to help with sharing Frequently Interrupted. The main body of writing will always be on the blog, and we have both our Facebook page and Twitter (@MyInterruption) for previewing that writing, as well as for regular communication. I strongly encourage you to follow one or both of those so that you don’t miss anything, and please encourage your friends to follow as well. These are the places where we can talk with each other, share ideas, and grow a community. I would very much like to see our community grow, and your help is invaluable for that.

If following the motivational messages in picture form is more your style, we have Pinterest and Instagram (@MyInterruption) for that. We’re kind of split between the two. Almost everything that goes on the blog in image form ends up on Pinterest. Most of the self-contained images and the ones that are the right shape go on Instagram (which seems to have odd shape restrictions). Most of the images that we share on Facebook but not the blog also usually end up on Instagram, but you can also see more of my own personal image collection on Pinterest, if that interests you. I do believe in plenty of options.

If you would be interested in helping with financial support, and I would be most grateful if you are, we have a Patreon account and a CafePress store. I don’t have any goodies on the Patreon site because, as a writer with just about zero artistic ability, I’m not really sure what kind of goodies I could offer, but we do have t-shirts, mugs, and other odds and sundries with the Frequently Interrupted logo in the store. I hope to have more offerings available in the store in the near future, but that’s a matter of time and interest. Namely, if there’s something you’re interested in, let me know so I have a better idea of what to get to first. As always, all support is appreciated but it will never be required.

Finally, the Frequently Interrupted team is participating in an Out of the Darkness walk in December to help raise awareness and support for suicide prevention. Obviously this is a big deal to me, and I would appreciate all of the help and support we can get. You can help by spreading the word, first and foremost. Tell everyone this is happening, and tell everyone they can help. Then you can either join our walking team and work to raise funds and awareness yourself, or you can donate through one of the walkers on our team. Click for more information, and thank you for your support.

I seem to say that last phrase fairly often, but I mean it in all sincerity. None of this would work without you. Even the writing therapy aspect of it is more beneficial because I have people with whom to share that therapy. Thank you, and thank you for helping us grow. I’ll close by repeating the challenge once more. If I have been of any help to you, please take your favorite Frequently Interrupted entry and share it with your friends. Encourage them to join us, and help spread the word. Thank you.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Jekyll And Hyde

I have never made any bones about the fact that the positive, uplifting face that I present in these pages does not always come first nature to me. It’s something I have had to learn, and something I still struggle with on a daily basis. It’s a conscious decision, not a default state, and it’s a decision that I have to make again and again, quite often. You know how they say “one day at a time”? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s more like one hour at a time. Sometimes I can lose count inside of a single hour. I want to be a positive, uplifting person, but it’s not easy.

It might be closer to the truth to say that my default state is angry. I know for a fact this was true at one time, right up on the surface and all the way through. I would like to think that it isn’t as true today, but I’m not really certain of that. The demonstration of anger is certainly no longer my default state, I am far less likely to act in anger today than at any previous time in my life, but the anger itself? Just feeling angry? Like it or not, I think that’s still a pretty constant companion. These days I have learned to channel the anger into more productive activities, or to quiet it down more efficiently and less destructively than I did in the past, and I do think that deserves credit. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being or getting angry. What you do with that anger, though, can make all the difference in the world.

I think that’s one of the reasons I really enjoy the music from Five Finger Death Punch. Even the name is angry, but it’s a channeled anger, and they channel it, I think, into some very positive directions. Sometimes they channel it into a bit of spiteful fun, but I can understand that too. We all need outlets, and sometimes a little spiteful fun, if you don’t let it get out of hand, can be the outlet you need. If you don’t let it get out of hand. That’s important to remember.

Jekyll and Hyde

You might ask what we have to be angry about, and I might ask if you’ve been outside lately. Turned on the news? Looked at Facebook? If you can do anything of these things - and many, many more - and not feel even a little bit angry, you and I are not made of the same stuff. I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing. Just a thing. I used to be a news junkie, but I’ve stopped watching the news because it was doing bad things to my blood pressure. If I hear of a story and believe that it warrants attention, I will research it into the ground, but part of my self-improvement process was deciding that my inner peace was more important to me than being on the cutting edge of current events. If I need to know, I’ll know, with cross-checked references and an indexed bibliography, but I don’t need to know everything. The world will get by just fine if I let go a bit and just breathe. This also better lets me concentrate on things that are truly important to me.

My Nemesis

That’s another of the things I like about 5FDP: we share some of the same priorities, and some of the same directions for channeling our anger. This is a band who have made a career out of standing up for, not just being who you are (that’s Rock and Roll 101), but letting the guy next to you be who he is too. They speak out against trash-talking that girl over there because she looks different. Metal music has a reputation for being all about the tough guy, but there’s an underside as well, a darker side that needs to be addressed. Many fans of metal have embraced this music form because they have reason to be angry, and no other safe outlets for expressing that anger. There has often been a perception that there may be a link between heavy metal music and suicide rates, with some people trying to blame one for the other (there has never been a reputable study supporting this causal link and, in fact, the more reputable studies expressly state that such a causal link would be difficult to establish, as best). There may be a connection, but I would suggest, as someone with inside knowledge, that it is more likely two activities running side by side rather than one leading to the other. Those who feel alienated and disenfranchised from “normal society” gravitate to a form of music that celebrates being different and standing apart from that society. From an anecdotal perspective, I’ve personally known many people who have identified the camaraderie of metal fans and the feeling that “someone gets me” which they find in metal music to be cathartic, even, in some cases, life saving. I know that cranking up the dial and rattling the walls has gotten me through more than a few bad times. Make of that what you will.

Coming Down

I can’t talk about 5FDP without talking about their song “Wrong Side of Heaven”. It’s a song and video that deserves its own special mention, specifically, and by name. According to a 2012 report from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, it was estimated that 22 U.S. veterans took their own lives every day. More recent estimates have brought that number down to 19 or 20, which is good, it’s moving in the right direction, but it’s still horrible for being far too high. Too many veterans get lost when they get back. They don’t get the support they deserve and are owed, with results that shouldn’t surprise anyone, yet we seem surprised every time it’s brought up. As a reason for being angry, I’d say that ranks right up there, but it’s a heartbroken anger, an anger blinded by tears because we should be better. We can’t put people in harm’s way and then abandon them, but we do, and that’s wrong.

Wrong Side of Heaven

We have reasons to be angry, and there are good ways that we can channel that anger, but we have to remember, ultimately, that anger is destructive. It’s not a friend. It’s fire. We can use it, we even need it sometimes to really push things forward, but it will get away if it can and, if it does, it will destroy everything in its path. If we let anger make our decisions, we tend to make very bad decisions. Bad for the world, bad for the people around us, but equally bad for the angry individual. We forget that sometimes. We feel the heat of what we believe to be righteous indignation and don’t realize it’s an inferno until we’re crispy. Sometimes you have to let the anger go. That’s what I’ve been working on learning for most of my adult life. Being angry was better than being suicidal, and probably saved my life, but being at peace is even better still. Be careful when fighting monsters. That’s very important to remember.

I Apologize

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I'll Follow You

“The first step is the one you believe in, and the second one might be profound.” If you happen to be someone who follows my personal Facebook feed, you’ve probably seen this quote a few times recently. It’s one of my favorite lines from a modern song. It’s a nearly perfect summation of how you become a better person. Start with what you know and then grow. You don’t have to begin with the unknown but, if you just keep going, you’ll get there, and the things you may find once you do … Well, as the song says, they might be profound. Keep your eyes and mind open, and learn.

Amusingly, to me at least, that quote isn’t even the point of the song. It’s practically an afterthought. The song, “I’ll Follow You” from the band Shinedown, is a love song in the “no matter what, I’ll be there with you” vein. It’s one I dedicate to Heather nearly every time I hear it, so it’s doubly a favorite. I like it when a song can engage you on multiple levels, and this one definitely does.

I'll Follow You

That’s life, isn’t it? Nothing is only one thing, and there is almost always more than one reason why you like something, or why you don’t like something, for that matter. Sometimes there are reasons to like something and reasons to dislike something, all rolled together, and you have to figure out which way the balance leans. Do the good points outweigh the bad, or is it the other way around? Life is a complicated bit of navigation that doesn’t always make sense, but we do our best to make sense out of it. It’s not always an easy task. Who am I kidding? It’s rarely an easy task, and some people find it more difficult than others, but we do what we can and hope for the best. With a bit of luck, we have some good people to help us make sense out of it all, and with even more luck we have some fun along the way.

Her Name is Alice

That fun isn’t always easy to find, though, and some people go out of their way to make things even more difficult. Life is full of bullies. Oddly, they often seem to be the ones who can’t quite grasp the fact that life is complicated. They think things are simple and, rather than learn and grow, they try to force things to be simple, to fit into preconceived boxes. If you step out of one of those boxes, BLAM! School books are all over the floor, blood is flying from a shattered nose, and someone who was having trouble with self esteem already is humiliated in front of the entire class. Believe it or not, that is one of the better case scenarios. There are worse. There are some that are way worse.

Bully

We do what we can, as we always do. Sometimes all you can do is know your own mind and find your own peace. For me, much of that peace has always been found in music. I think in music, I dream of music, I have a constant soundtrack running around in my head and usually skipping out through my teeth. I whistle constantly, snatches of music that come and go, sometimes without even registering their conscious presence. I latch onto songs that speak to me, that express what I’m feeling or have felt, or that offer hope and encouragement. When I was picking up those books scattered across the school hallway, it was usually easy to tell mine from anyone else’s that might be there. Mine were the ones covered in band names and song lyrics. Find peace where you can until you learn to make it, right?

State of My Head

One secret to finding the light at the end of that awkward tunnel is to not take yourself too seriously. There will always be someone who is looking to take the wind out of your sales. You can stress out over it or you can laugh at it. There is a distinct shortage of other options. Personally, I did enough stressing about it when I was younger so, these days, I prefer to laugh whenever possible. If that means laughing at myself, so be it. I’m a funny guy. Maybe not always quite as funny as I think, and sometimes not in the way I intend to be, but funny is funny. If you haven’t tried it, you should. You’ll find that not taking yourself too seriously is a great way to disarm the bullies. They can’t poke a target that isn’t there.

Asking For It

Life is a series of curveballs. Just when you get used to responding one way, things will come at you from a different angle and you’ll have to come up with something different. Relax and take it as it comes. Start with what you know, and grow. That second step, the step into the unknown, can be terrifying, but it can also be amazing. Let yourself be amazed, and don’t worry about the rest so much. It is what it is, but you can be more. You can be profound.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Life Is Beautiful

I don’t spend much time here talking about substance abuse, but it is certainly a subject that fits our themes. It’s just not a subject I have much first hand experience with, and I try to keep most of my discussions here confined to first hand experience. In most cases it’s easier to present a complete picture that way, but it’s not the only way to present a compelling case. I know lots of second and third hand accounts, and can speak fluently from the point of view of the family and friends. I’ve never been an addict, but I’ve known many, and I’ve compared notes. There is a surprising amount of overlap.

I should clarify, when I say I’ve never been an addict, I’m speaking specifically of those substances one usually talks about when discussing substance abuse. Alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, things of that sort. I think we’ve all been addicted in one way or another, at one time or another, and there are certainly different ways that addiction can hurt. I smoked cigarettes, as much as two packs a day at times, for something like thirty years, and only quit recently. I consume more coffee than probably any other single substance, and I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon. I’ve definitely had psychological addictions that we’ve spoken of elsewhere. We all have our hangups, but there is a special category of substance abuse and addiction that is generally understood whenever the subject is mentioned.

The underlying causes of addiction are often the same kinds of demons that can lead to cutting, scarring, suicidal ideation, and the various destructive behaviors we do discuss here on a regular basis. Issues of depression, anxiety, self esteem, and mental health in general can present in a number of ways, and the same thoughts to push some people toward headphones and razorblades push other people toward drugs and alcohol. We share a common enemy, and that enemy is often far too personal. Anything that helps one group can probably help - or at least inspire - the other group, and we should each support and celebrate each other on the road to recovery and well-being.

One of my hobbies in 2008 was being a DJ in the popular virtual social platform Second Life, and one of the most popular songs in the rock clubs of SL that year was the song “Life is Beautiful” by Sixx A.M. Almost every DJ had it in regular rotation, and there was a reason for that. It’s a very catchy song with an infectious beat, dark undertones, and a surprisingly positive overall message. The title, while partially ironic, was also meant to be quite literal.

Life is Beautiful

If you don’t know the history, Sixx A.M. is the band formed by former Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx (Sixx) in conjunction with guitarist DJ Ashba (A) and singer James Michael (M), and their first album, The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack (2007) was, as the name implies, written and recorded to be the soundtrack of Sixx’s autobiography The Heroin Diaries. Life is Beautiful was the first single from that album, and the entire theme of both album and soundtrack manages to be summed up in that one song, and the idea it expressed that hitting rock bottom can sometimes be the best thing that ever happens to a person. When the world is yanked out from under you, and you finally come face to face with your demons, the only way to go is up. To live you have to climb, and to climb from that place, you have to realize that the climb is worth it. Life is worth it. Life is beautiful.

Are You With Me Now

Addiction can drag you down and tear your life apart, and recovery is hard. You’re going to go back and forth, and you’re going to have setbacks. That’s one of the hardest things to wrap your head around. Accidents can happen, but they aren’t the end of the world, and they don’t have to mean that you’re not recovering. You’re human, and that means you’re going to make mistakes. Learn from it and do better. That’s the trick.

Accidents Can Happen

I think one of my favorite things about Sixx A.M. is how they have taken the starting point of Sixx’s addiction and struggle and turned it into something redeeming. This is a band that looks very grimy subjects dead in the face, and and then says, “Stand up! We’re better than this.” They’ve taken the life story of one of the 80’s poster boys for Rock and Roll decadence, and made something incredibly uplifting. That matters even more than you might think to some of us.

Rise

In the end, we all have a life to live, and that includes obstacles to overcome. No matter what you’re going through, remember that the fight is worth it, recovery is possible, and life is beautiful. Sometimes we have to find the bright spots but, if we look, they’re there. We can all make a difference, and we can all be stars.

Stars

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Monday, August 1, 2016