Depression Talk – COVID Edition

I think the hardest part in opening up about depression is that it brings up a lot of shame for me. I’m ashamed that I let it happen again, I know that I’m responsible for it, and I feel like I should have “figured it out” by now. Even more frustrating is the fact that it’s so simple too, all I have to do is just do the things…

My depression can be defined as the gap between who I think I am and who I think I should be. It’s basically that internalized as a feeling. As Tom Bilyeu would put it, it’s “how I feel about myself when I am BY MYSELF.” The answers become pretty obvious once I get clear on the problem, but it hurts to admit I’m the problem so I’m not always eager to clean my mirror.

About one month into the first part of COVID lockdown – in April of 2020 – the thoughts started to creep in. I began disliking myself for my laziness, lack of discipline, and lack of any meaningful progress. I brushed those feelings aside for a long time, drowning them out with dopamine, and becoming a complete dopamine addict in the process.

A few months later, I finally started trying to address the problem. I decided one night that I was getting intoxicated so that I could bare to look at myself honestly and I was going to do something about this growing demon inside of me.

Step 1 was recognizing that I was pregnant with a demon, and step 2 was deciding that I was ready to face him. That brought me to step 3, actually looking at the demon. So out came the mirror. Not an actual mirror, a notebook actually. A mirror for my mind, I suppose.

In that note I learned about how I had become a dopamine addict, because I needed something to look forward to. That’s how I gained a bunch of weight, always looking for the next good bite of food, good show to watch, fun game to play, and so on. It’s then that I decided to define my depression as I did above, and I decided I wanted to work on it from both ends, inside and out. I wanted to work on loving myself as a way to alleviate some of the pressure I put on myself for who I think I should be. But I also wanted to work on progressing towards who I think I should be. That meant I had to define exactly who that is, so I could get an idea of how to get there.

I had run into a wall at that point many, many times in the past. I’ve known I need a new path for years now, but I had always failed to come up with a satisfactory, concrete answer. It was around this time I bought Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring course, in which you basically author your past, present and future. In the Past Authoring part of the course, I had to walk through every significant event in my life, which was surprisingly difficult to do, it took me over a week to get through it. It was crazy to look at everything I’ve been through, all the good times and the bad, and realizing how many memories I have buried just because they were so painful to look at. Part way through the Present Authoring part of the course, I brainstormed one night and finally came up with a decision on a new career path that I was happy with and excited about. That decision has been pretty important for me lately because as I now understand a little better, I need something to look forward to, something to progress towards.

Over the course of multiple nights, I built a holistic plan of attack. I defined some concrete goals and developed some certainty about the direction I am headed. I can’t pretend like I’m crushing it every day now, but it definitely feels better to have some direction and desire.

In order for me to do the things, I first had to define the things…

PS. I have a free copy of the Jordan Peterson Self-Authoring course that came with the purchase of mine, and I will happily gift it to anyone who wants it.

Bowling, Life, and the Consciousness Spectrum

I’m often watching for patterns and spectrums in my general life, but my bowling is subject to the same scrutiny. Usually I’m looking at the common spectrums like speed/rev dominance, loft/early laydown, spin/roll, angular/flat, etc. Most of us have very limited control of where we land on all those spectrums. We generally have a small window of versatility on each, and maybe a big window on one spectrum that we’ve worked on as a tool in our arsenals.

There is a spectrum that I don’t hear many people speak about. In fact, one of the only people I have heard speak of it, is the legendary coach Mark Baker. In his book “The Game Changer”, he discusses the conscious/unconscious spectrum, even though he considers it more of a switch. Baker described the end of the preshot routine as the cue for the mind to switch from conscious to unconscious, where conscious control is abandoned and a subconscious “flow” follows. This idea resonated with me quite heavily, and is 1 of 3 major points I took from his book. It was later reinforced by Tyrel Rose in a bowling clinic I attended at Kennedy Bowl.

I spend a lot of time focusing on the mind, because it is the single greatest factor from shot to shot, and it has the widest window of versatility for all of us. We all fluctuate heavily from conscious to unconscious during the course of a game. Most bowlers who have come close to perfect games can probably relate to the idea that being overly conscious of the potential for 300, almost always thwarts that very potential. For me, once I am standing on the approach all lined up, my greatest shots are executed without any thought whatsoever.

I have been known to occasionally use alcohol to help bring my mind closer to the unconscious flow that I’m seeking, “the zone”. It’s not a strategy I necessarily advise, but I would definitely advise finding your own ways to harness your flow. Flow is a tricky subject because if you’re trying to find flow or talk about your flow then you’re probably not actually in it. Much like Fight Club, the first rule of being in the zone is you don’t think or talk about how you’re in the zone. You know the second rule.

I have a different approach than most to the start of a bowling event. Most people I talk to seem to have a preconceived idea of how they “should” be throwing the ball, at their usual speed and usual rev rate, and so on. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, because ideally you should be able to throw the ball the way you WANT to throw it. However, I don’t find that this strategy is good for creating flow. I prefer to adapt my laneplay around the way I seem to be naturally throwing the ball that day.

Most times, I will wind up throwing the ball pretty close to the way I usually do, if I’m feeling good physically. I try to give my best chance of being able to do it naturally with some stretching and some wrist warmups before I start. But sometimes, circumstances dictate that it’s best not to force myself to throw the ball the way I usually do, because it would be just that: forcing. For example, a few weeks ago I showed up for league on a Sunday morning, and my back was super tight. I had hurt my back a few days prior, and my ball speed was noticeably slower. My wrist was okay, so this put me a little closer to the rev-dominant end of the spectrum than usual. The goal for me that day became to find a way to use my natural slower ball speed (I wound up playing deeper earlier than usual), rather than trying to find a way to unnaturally increase my ball speed.

Another example. One players tour, I started practice and missed my target by 2 boards to the left. Next shot, 2 boards left of target again. And again. By the end of practice I had moved my feet and my eyes right, and found a look that was consistently 2 boards inside of my eyes. I had never accepted this level of inaccuracy prior to this day, but it was so consistent that I just could not fight it without becoming sporadic. I tied for the lead with Mike Rose that day, and went onto finish 2nd, my best players tour finish ever (until my partner and I recently tied that in the 2019 doubles event.)

I notice that it’s a pretty common mistake for people to TRY to make something work, rather than using what they have at their disposal. Just about every league bowler has had the experience of shooting one of their best sets in league one week, only to go lineup in the same place with the same ball next week to shoot 140 game 1. TRYING to make a preconceived idea work rarely leads to getting in the zone, unless the idea is tested against reality and then adjusted accordingly.

So let’s nutshell this a little bit. If you want to find yourself in the zone more often, these are my suggestions:

1. Prepare. Whatever that means to you. To me it means making sure I’m stretched and my wrist is warmed up, so that I have my best chance of throwing good, aggressive shots, effortlessly. It means knowing my thumb holes have the right amount of tape in them. It means removing as many potentially stresses so that I can focus on the lanes.
2. Show up with an open mind. The goal should be to use something you can repeat naturally, not to force yourself to execute some preconceived idea. If you find yourself naturally extra slow or extra fast one day, it might be better to consider how you can USE it, rather than how you can change it.
3. Use your preshot routine to be conscious of all the things you need to be. This is the last of the preparation before your shot. This is like a pilot’s check, take your time. What board to stand on, what target to aim at, what hand position, double check everything is in line. Then you tell your mind to shut up and your body to take over.
4. The more things you can bring into consciousness off the lane, the better chance you stand of being unconsciously clicking on the lane.

Number 4 is the one I need to work on. There are a lot of things I don’t take the time to be aware of. For example, sometimes in tournaments, I don’t pay much attention to the pair that I’m following. And some of those sometimes result in me wasting extra frames figuring out a difference I had the opportunity to bring into consciousness beforehand.

There’s another that maybe I take for granted. It’s probably because I spend so much time doing it, that I forget I’m doing it. Becoming aware of where your awareness is spending most of its time. That should maybe be number 1.

Whether in bowling or just life in general, recognizing how you direct your awareness and correlating it with the results you’re getting, seems essential. When the results aren’t what you want, take a step back so you can see the whole spectrum, and consider your position carefully. Maybe you need a small change of position within your window of versatility. But it is possible that sometimes you need to look out a different window entirely.

Merry Christmas

This time of year generally brings me to a lot of self-reflection. Self-reflection often makes me look at patterns in my life, and it typically forces me to see the conscious and unconscious choices I make to create those patterns. It always leads me to face the way I’ve allowed myself to be programmed. It never actually feels good, because it’s a place of hatred towards myself, based on the gap between who I think I am and who I think I “should be.” It’s an old mechanism for me, one that reigned supreme in my life when my logical self was the one who wore the pants in this relationship with myself.

I would like to bow my head to all of you who are willing to face yourselves these holidays. This can be a challenging time of year, and most of us are our own greatest challenges. Teach that honest humility to those around you, and be there with them to face and deliver truth no matter how much it hurts.

Where life is easy there may be joy, but where life is difficult there may be growth. Blessings.

Meditation: Misconceptions & Breakthroughs

I had an “ah-ha!” moment the other day, after reading a book about “the now.” I’ve been trying hard to reshape my perspective on meditation and thoughts, and I suddenly realized I’ve had it all wrong.

I knew meditation was crucial to my life, what I didn’t know was that I’ve already been meditating much more than I realized. The word “meditation” had come to be conceptualized as sitting in silence, focusing on breath, no thoughts, no words. And that was my only definition.

I’ve come to see it differently now, thanks to Eckhart Tolle and Cory Allen. Meditation’s definition to me, although still changing, is currently better defined as something more akin to “noticing” or “deliberate noticing.”

The real “ah-ha” moment happened in reflecting on how I often need to “notice” an emotion, before I can think about changing it. It’s a skill I began developing to get my way out of depression, and that I still use every day when I notice unwanted thoughts/feelings. That “meditation” is brief, but it is deliberate direction of my thoughts and emotions, rather than an unconscious spiral into something useless or negative.

It’s something we all do, we have to keep ourselves in check. I like the example Cory Allen gives in his book “Now Is the Way”. He says we all experience times when something stresses us out, and at some later point we recognize the ongoing stress, and eventually that our breathing has shallowed and tightened. Almost instinctively at this point, we take a deep breath and calm ourselves down, with some unconscious understanding that the stress is not useful to us at the moment. Seeing this noticing-of-stress as meditation is the game changer for me right now.

Now I understand I’ve been meditating a lot. And in that new confidence I decided to re-examine my past for other examples of meditation, of which I found plenty. Bowling has long been my form of “sitting in silence” in the sense that once I’m on the approach, thoughts are not allowed. My approach is a short but repeated meditation. Not to mention that I often have to catch my anger after I leave a stone pin, to redirect my attention to the fact that I threw a great shot, and to focus on the next shot.

Movies have also been a great source of lengthy meditation for me. Especially when I was younger, I would come out of a movie feeling like a changed person because I was so absorbed in the movie and the character empathy. Very little thought happens for me when I’m properly absorbed into a movie. Video games were quite similar, with the added function of being a test of focus. Of course these are not the same as sitting in silence focusing on your body, but they still are a strengthening of focus.

With some new wind in my meditation sails, I now think much less about how I suck at meditation, and I also have much less hatred towards my addiction to thinking. I find that I ask myself more often now “are these thoughts useful?” which gives me the criteria by which I can accept or deny my thoughts.

Things keep getting better, and I find myself enjoying food and music much more. I realize that instead of tasting the food or feeling the music, I’ve gotten lost in thought. The length of time before that “deliberate noticing” is getting shorter and shorter, and rare are the times that I miss an entire meal or song now.

I feel I have missed a lot of my life, spent too much time in my head. Now I see at least some of that time in my head was not useless, and I have momentum in experiencing my life more fully.

I’m rather excited about this journey, and happy to share it with you. I hope there’s something here for you too. Much love.

Short Story: Depression to Now

– completely lonely, even at parties/with friends
– see no future fitting in, or ever being happy
– prefer being dead, but can’t imagine crushing parents (100% tears every time)
– suicide ruled out, take hard look at self
– put thoughts/feelings on paper, create separation, create perspective
– see failed “I’ll be happy when” pattern
– realize addiction to sadness, to pity, recognize patterns
– give up purity, use alcohol/marijuana to creative more perspective
– recognize everyone has shit, prespective on own shit is key
– recognize I can interrupt shitty feelings with a thought
– begin continuously asking self if thoughts/feelings useful at the moment
– first major step in meditation, unknown at the time
– in so doing, steer my thoughts useful, feelings less anxious
– slowly, continuously, re-shaping useless feelings/thoughts, choose happy
– encounter apparent constant resistance from Universe/God, essentially temptation
– believe Universe testing me, only justification for shit I muster
– dance with other beautifully controversial beliefs, develop own religion
– decidedly hammer in practical beauties like: music, food, skies, water
– work in factories for a while, spend much time solo
– deepen thought addiction unconsciously, lose ability to have good conversation
– begin working customer service, have to redevelop attention outside mind
– remember my hatred for stupidity and rudeness quite quickly
– recognize hatred = my own arogance that others should be like me
– hate myself for flaws again, wind up in similar pattern
– recognize my hatred = between who I am/should be
– look at beliefs of who I should be
– put thoughts/feelings on paper, create separation, create perspective
– recognize I’ve been meditating all along, had wrong concept
– understand music, food, bowling, movies, conversations are my meditation
– read meditation books, begin to recognize now is everything
– everything I ever experience will be in the now
– put to screen, separate self, share, perspective, love, peace.

Crawl Baby Crawl!

I’ve been striving for change lately, and sometimes I forget how challenging real change really is. It’s not that I’m not happy (I’ve actually gotten pretty good with the skill of gratitude), I’m just not feeling “fulfilled”. There’s an underlying hum of dissatisfaction within myself, like an air conditioner humming in the background that’s constantly just slightly annoying, more so when it’s quiet and lonely.

My real change has always come from me taking a good, deep look at myself, and asking some serious questions. Basically, I find myself trying to break into my subconscious to understand why I do the things I do, feel the things I feel and think the thoughts I do. The challenge is that down there, there’s an understanding that everything is my fault. That can be hard to swallow at times, and overwhelming in the face of how much work there appears to be.

Over the years, I’ve built this air conditioner in ways that served my needs at the time, and the times have certainly changed. It used to be that the hum would drown out the world for me, because all I wanted to do was escape. That hum was always there for me when the world left me feeling lonely. That hum was my mind, my best friend. Every moment of every day, I had it with me.

I’ve come to understand that I over-relied on the tools I built into my A.C. The tool of escaping reality by communicating with my mind has certainly been abused to the point of being a habit I don’t even recognize. It’s the constant hum that I simply don’t hear, until it stops.

I never really knew that life without mind was possible. My mind has been running so hard for so long that I didn’t know it was possible to not think. It’s hard to say I’ve even lived, given the few moments that I experience without mind, without self.

I’ve been gaining glimpses of moments where the hum stops, and there is peace for a second. I feel these are necessary glimpses, to help me get a taste of what living really is.

I know that meditation is a path I must walk, and thus I present to you: my crawl. Much love to you and your crawl.

You Won’t Get My Condolences

There are a number of things I do differently than most, one of which is I’m not a big condolences guy. It’s not that I have anything against people sincerely feeling for someone’s loss, it’s just that I’m weird…

One of the most hard-rooted values I have is treating others how I want to be treated. When I have lost someone, people’s condolences don’t make me feel better. In fact, they’re more likely to make me think about it as a loss, and feel sad. I know their intentions are good, so I will surely appreciate it. But…

I feel like me giving you my condolences is like me announcing my presence within your loss. It’s like I want you to know that I acknowledge your loss, and I too have felt pain. But in announcing that, I would be causing you to think about your loss. I’m not a big fan of dwelling on losses in a sad, condolence-kinda way, so I try not to initiate those thoughts in others.

You should know however, that I do feel for you, just silently over here. I don’t want to stir your thoughts or emotions, but if they’re already stirring, I would be happy to try and help. In trying to help though, I can be like a little kid trying to help their parents even though there are things I’m simply not equipped to handle. I’d just be happy to help. I can only promise you my best effort, and I’m sorry if I mow your lawn with a toy lawnmower.

Should you happen to be someone who brings up their loss to me, you may stun me with a lack of words. I feel the best thing I could probably say to you might be something like “do you want to talk about it?” But most likely I will give you some kind of obvious observation (especially if I’m working) like “that sucks”, or if I’m not in a rush you might get an “are you okay?”

I feel like when I say something like this, it could be taken the wrong way. I’m not really trying to tell anyone to stop doing what they’re doing. Like I said, I appreciate things for the good intentions behind them. What I am trying to say is I am different, and this is why.

It’s all love anyway. Peace!

My Relationship with Alcohol

The first time I drank alcohol, I was 18 years old. There’s a decent chance I had a sip of my uncle’s beer when I was 2 or 3, but it must have been some really strong beer because I don’t remember it.

I had vowed to myself to stay pure when I was 7. No pills, no alcohol, no drugs. But years later, in the middle of my depression, I was observing others enjoy themselves when they drank. I was already prepared to die, and even though I wasn’t planning on it, I figured “what do I have to lose if I drink?”

Ever since I was about 6 years old, I’ve always struggled to sleep. My mind would run wild with fantasies and questions and philosophies and never let me sleep. It was a serious problem for me. I averaged about 4 hours/night throughout my school years, trying to make up for it on weekends. To make matters worse, after countless nights awake in bed, I eventually said to myself “well if I’m going to be awake all night, I might as well enjoy it.” So then I’d get up and play video games and push until I was so tired I’d have to fall asleep. Obviously not the best approach, but I couldn’t manually shut my brain off any other way.

Then came alcohol. If I had enough shots of vodka, I could fall asleep no problem. For a full year, I was essentially a semi-alcoholic, taking 4 shots every night to help me fall asleep. I didn’t like that I relied on it, so after a year I decided to look at other options. I discovered marijuana, switched to that for a while, and then eventually settled on a blend of the two.

Truly not proud of any of this. My 7-year-old self would be thoroughly disappointed in me. I was so strong for so long… and I just cracked. The reality was, I was addicted to thinking, and I was trying to do something about it. Substances were an attempt at shutting down my primary addiction: thinking.

Alcohol became a friend for a second reason too. It didn’t only help me sleep, but it helped me be less shy too. Alcohol dissolves a lot of things, and vocal filters are no exception.

My biggest fear with alcohol was losing control of my very logical perspective that I held tightly as some kinda badge of intelligence. When my tight self-control met with the dissolving effects of alcohol, an interesting relationship ensued.

It became a bit of a dance, a game if you will. How much alcohol could I consume while still making conscious, intelligent choices? The true tests began with getting drunk while trying to perform. Whether it was a video game or bowling, I saw it as a challenge to perform while intoxicated. I would try to focus through the effects of alcohol, fighting through to perform well.

Eventually, I had converted alcohol into a tool for focus. That probably sounds a little hard to believe, but at the time of this writing, only 9 of my 26 perfect games were sober. That alone isn’t conclusive evidence, there are certainly other variables, but I’ve run other experiments on myself as well.

The sweet spot for me has always seemed to be around the 4oz mark (depending on other variables like speed of consumption, what’s I’ve eaten, and how much I’ve slept.) 4oz is usually a strong enough buzz that I feel the slight difficulty in keeping control of my focus, and I’m still aware enough that it pushes me to be like “Hey! Don’t be losing control now, buckle down and focus here!”

I would describe it as an angry focus. It becomes especially angry focus after a mistake. The elevated anger towards the mistake drives me to focus harder, to ensure the mistake/anger doesn’t happen again. Of course, too much alcohol and this goes out of whack for me. The anger/focus ratios start to fall apart.

One of my breakthrough bowling seasons in my Sunday morning classic league was when I developed a drinking ritual. For 8 weeks in a row, I showed up with a bottle of vodka, a shot glass, and a chaser drink. I’d pound 4 shots of vodka in the parking lot before going in, get hit with the buzz pretty quick, and had 8 amazing weeks in a row. The 9th week I pushed too hard and when I bowled bad, I felt like a real jerk for having gotten away with it for that long. I wasn’t supposed to turn to alcohol to help me bowl better, just like I wasn’t supposed to turn to it to help me sleep. I was quite ashamed of myself.

The interesting thing is that at that point in my life, I was still using alcohol wisely most of the time. It was reasonably controlled, it was being used as a tool, and I had many amazing moments in multiple areas of my life. From bowling, to more filter-less conversations that I would never have had otherwise, I can’t deny that alcohol did bring some good into my life. It also taught me a lot about myself.

But it hasn’t all been pretty. This is by no means meant to be a glorification of alcohol nor a recommendation to rely on it. I’ve had many awful experiences with alcohol too, don’t be fooled. It’s these awful experiences that have had me concerned over the past few years. For a long time I never got blackout drunk, until it finally happened once on vacation many years ago. I said a bunch of things I don’t remember, things so bad I couldn’t ever imagine myself saying them. My friend filled in the blanks, and it was clear to both of us I had been a complete asshole to people I loved. This was not okay.

These blackout drunks started out as a once a year kinda thing. They weren’t always vocally destructive, sometimes they were simply loss of memory and falling asleep fully clothed somewhere. Then it got to 3 in a year, then more. I managed to turn the upspike around, and although less frequent, they started becoming more dangerous.

I spent some time looking at why this is happening, and the answer is pretty clear. I’ve gotten so good at pushing my conscious focus through the intoxication that it takes more alcohol to shut down my brain. The problem is that it takes a blackout-drunk amount of alcohol to actually work. My brain has essentially made itself immune to the thought-shutting-down effects of alcohol. And as it turns out, that’s WHY I drink in the first place.

So I find myself here again, looking for a new solution to my thought addiction. The only solution I can think of at the moment is to make good use of my addiction. I’ve essentially said to myself “If I’m going to think, I might as well share it.”

Evolution of the Enemy Within

I may be a little odd, but I’m surely also very awed. I’m awed by how little people speak about the enemy within. It’s not possible that I’m the only one who fights him, so allow me to speak a little bit about this enemy…

For me, he first took the form of self-consciousness, then he grew into feelings of inadequacy, and he eventually grew into full-blown suicidal depression. Luckily for me, I was able to separate myself from his spell, and eventually realize my role in his growth. It took some time to break him down to pieces, years actually, but I definitely did slay that beast.

At first, I had to slay him daily. He would ressurect in my mind every day, and the more I would look at him, the bigger he got. Luckily, I’d eventually step back and realize that my gaze was what made him grow. It became a game in a sense. Dragon shows up, grows with energy from my attention, I recognize it, I look to the flowers instead, the dragon shrinks to slayable size, and then I slay him. Then repeat, daily. Maybe even hourly, or minutely at times.

Since those days, the resurrections are less frequent, but much more clever. He seems to be catching me these days in a more minuscule form. It’s like he’s evolved into an earwig, and is playing a stealthier game.

Part of me feels that the more I evolve, the more he evolves. Strategies that worked in the past, he’s outsmarted at this point. Simply turning my gaze away from the demons to what I appreciate, isn’t going to work against an earwig who’s building an army. They’re not as obvious and shrinkable as dragons, so they’re slipping by unnoticed, and that’s exactly his play.

It feels like it’s time to step up my game, because I’m being outplayed. It’s as if my dragon of depression has evolved into an earwig of dissatisfaction.

I don’t have it all figured out yet, but maybe that’s my play. I’m already anticipating the evolution to cute and cuddly kittens.

I hope you feel this, and that you forgive my future self for slaying cuddly kittens. Whether dragon, earwig, or kitten, I’m here to war with the enemy within until the end.

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