Tag Archive: mental health


It might seem like the title of this post is irresponsible, as though I’m saying that being prone to addiction is in some way a desirable character trait. In a way, I’m not not saying that; when you think about it, nearly every “negative” character trait has the capacity to act as both a strength and a weakness.

For example, knowing that you’re obsessed with the opinions of others and accepting it about yourself can help you push yourself towards greater levels of achievement than you would have if you tried to “not care what other people think” and instead act purely for your own fulfillment. It is all about finding the positive in yourself and, for lack of a better word, capitalizing on it, rather than trying to force yourself to change into what you think society expects of you.

Knowing that you’re good at one thing and not so good at something else and accepting it is the best way to improve, both at what you’re good at and what you suck at. If I have addictive tendencies and I know it, I’m in a much better position to reap the positive components of it and deal with the negative components constructively. When its dangers creep into my life, I recognize them and alter my behavior, not necessarily with perfect results but at least with results.

If I were to try to deny it, however, and try to just blend in and be “normal,” my behavior would continue to repeat itself, over and over. My life would stagnate and I would not know why, moving from one instance of overdoing it to the next with no real progress. The reason would be very simple: I’m denying the existence of certain parts of myself because society tells me that they are bad. As a result, they are not being managed.

For me, being an addictive person means being attracted to extremes. When I like something, I can’t get enough of it. When I’m engaged in a project that I’m passionate about, I’ll often work on it manically to the exclusion of everything else, including my own health and relationships.  

On a certain level, this might seem like the “lucky” side of being addiction-prone. I get things done. I have a relatively high output of high-quality, impassioned work and projects.

On another level, though, it is not very cool. Often, my interest runs thin before the project is finished, usually because another project, another idea, has supplanted it in my active attention. This leads to numerous unfinished projects that I am, in fact, very passionate about, which introduces a high level of stress originating from myself into my life. I’m still learning to finish one thing before I move onto another, and how to maintain a long-term project even if I start to lose some interest in it.

Before I was a functioning, fully employed adult, it was easier to finish things. The bulk of my short fiction, both of my completed novels, and a completed album were the result of this time of my life. I had more free time and less of an understanding of the crushing reality of workaday life. This was also the time I started to recognize myself as having an addictive personality.

My first addiction was to tobacco. Nothing remarkable about that, except perhaps when you consider that I’d suffered from severe asthma all my life. My parents had always gone to great lengths to keep our cigarette-smoking relatives’ second-hand smoke away from me. I’d used asthma innumerable times in school to get out of gym class or various other responsibilities. And here I was at 18, smoking Winstons like Humphrey Bogart.

In a way, you could say that I was lucky to have asthma, because without its increasingly debilitating effects, I might never have stopped smoking. From what I understand, some people outgrow their asthma. Teddy Roosevelt is one such person, reputedly. I might have outgrown mine too if I had never smoked. Probably not, but I’ll never know now.

My second real addiction was to marijuana. I’ve documented that experience thoroughly on this blog. Realizing early that I might be developing an addiction to it helped me avoid trying other, more dangerously addictive drugs like cocaine. That was very lucky too, from a certain point of view.

My third intense addiction was to alcohol. That was very short-lived and might challenge the definition of “addiction,” somewhat, being the symptom of a very specific period of heartbreak. During this time, I did nothing but drink alcohol and eat candy, at least that’s what certain friends have said. They would ask me what I’m doing later that night, and my answer would be, “I’m going to drink.”

Now, I drink less than once a month. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep that one in check without having to totally abstain. With help, I started healing from the main occurrences in my life that drove me to it. As I started getting into physical fitness, I also was able to recall the negative health effects of alcohol and how it tends to tire me out, which I don’t like. Sometimes, I still rely on it somewhat as a social lubricant. Someday, if I choose to work at it enough, maybe I won’t have to.

My third addiction was to working out at the gym, which supplanted alcohol at the tail-end of that deeply heartbroken period. Five to six days per week of intense exercise translated into overtraining, insomnia, and hundreds of dollars spent on supplements like creatine pills and human growth hormone boosters. I later realized these products had begun to serve the purpose that psychotropic drugs once served, a mentality of “hey, let’s see what this does to my body.” God knows what crap I was swallowing in those unregulated pills and powders.

And now onto the next addiction. I view pornography as a potentially addictive drug. If you cannot live without it, you are addicted to it. That doesn’t make it or you bad, but that’s the situation. I couldn’t seem to live without it. Exactly as was the case with marijuana, I was incapable of using it “only once in awhile,” “in moderation,” or “whenever.” So I stopped using it. I haven’t consumed any of it in over five months and I foresee continuing this way indefinitely. Maybe I’ll write a separate blog post about that sometime.

To be honest, I have a feeling many, many people don’t use porn “once in awhile.” I bet a lot of people use it everyday. I bet a lot of people can’t get aroused without it. And I bet, if you were to take it away from them (not that I’m condoning taking it away), it would result in other problematic behaviors, possibly ones entailing greater levels of harm to themselves and others. Or it would just lead to intense anxiety and depression.

The thing is, if you are unable to recognize your own addictive tendencies, things like porn, working out, alcohol, and marijuana can have very negative effects on your feelings of self-worth, your health, your relationships, your ambitions, your feelings of having control over your own life. Problematic, dangerous behaviors “keep coming up” and limiting your progress. Just admit you have no control over them, find other ways to deal with the stressors of your life, and abstain from them forever. Simple.

Obviously I’m kidding in that last sentence. As I said, I didn’t have to give up alcohol forever, and clearly I didn’t give up exercise since I work in the fitness industry. What I did have to do, though, was understand and accept what I am capable of controlling and what I’m incapable of controlling. That takes humility, a type that sets me free and lets me move forward in life, whereas pride in such circumstances would do nothing but restrict me to repeating the same stupid behaviors over and over again and living a pretty unbalanced life. Oddly enough, introducing an element of extremism—complete abstinence—can bring more balance to someone’s life than trying in vain to remain “moderate.”

So is this what makes me lucky as an addictive person? The “character” that develops in the face of adversity? Well, it is not really adversity because I choose to engage in these behaviors. Nor do I fetishize adversity as being necessary for character development. The shittiness of the world makes it necessary to be able to deal with shittiness, and the best way to know how to deal with shittiness is to be faced with it yourself. But if the world was a better place, if people’s lives were universally more comfortable and safer and they had a greater sense of self-worth and more opportunity to express that sense, there would be absolutely no value to complicating their lives for its own sake.

Is it that I am able to dedicate myself to projects and push through where others might give up? As I mentioned, I love all of the work and writing that I do, but it would be nice to be able to work on projects regularly, a little bit at a time, instead of seemingly needing to steep myself in them for days at a time. 

It would also be nice to feel like I’m choosing what to put my time and effort into. Addiction does not equate to passion, unfortunately. For me, it pertains to a certain baseline level of fear and the urge to circumvent that fear. Whatever I’m addicted to is acting as an escape, as a frenzied, dashed-off expression of hilarious terror, rather than as balanced, chosen piece of meticulous work. My best work is often done when I’m not feeling addicted or obsessed, when my life is balanced which happens so very rarely. This is because I’m calmer than those other times; I’m giving my mind a chance to really focus on what I’m doing. I’m not driven by fear of dying before I get everything onto the page. I’m driven by love of what I’m doing.

Sometimes addiction can feel that way too. Sometimes it is that way. Doing what you love is a double-edged sword because you know that what you are doing will end someday, so it is possible to do it both out of love and out of fear. Love is crazy like that.

But in general, no. I wish my life could be more rational, compartmentalized, and prioritized, and not seem to require such a massive effort of oversight and self-management, even though I know my extreme, unconventional way of thinking helps give me the potential to do great things.

No, what makes me lucky is that I’ve been given things that I’m passionate about that make my life worth living, and that I’ve received the help and support and love and education from various sources that I needed. If I didn’t have my passions, like writing and music, I might not have found a reason to stop smoking weed. If I wasn’t loved, I probably wouldn’t have stopped drinking. If I wasn’t made aware of the tendency of American society to encourage excesses and self-destructive behaviors, I might not have taken the steps necessary to avoid falling prey to the same fate as innumerable young people who, being unstimulated by society, “buy in” to various misguided ideas about youth and “rebelliousness” that lead them to self-destruct and deprive themselves of any greater dreams and goals in life, such as working to change the society that failed them.

I’m not lucky because of my addictive personality, nor entirely in spite of it. Rather, I’m lucky because, with help, I figured out a way to have it start complementing who I am. Personal growth is not about fighting yourself. It’s about accepting yourself for who you are so that you don’t have to be frightened of yourself and use your addictions or vices as an escape. It’s about making yourself complementary to who you are and to your reality so that you can grow beyond yourself, and make your reality grow beyond itself. It’s about believing that you’re okay the way you are, while simultaneously trying to do better. And once you can do that, you’ll do the greatest things of your life.

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There is an epidemic of mental illness splashed across my generation like a heart-shaped bloodstain. Why is that? Is it that doctors are too prescription-happy and get kickbacks from drug companies? Is it that all humans are, in some way or another, intrinsically damaged simply by existence? Is it that young people are insecure and simply grasp at any convenient sign of their own identity, and any pill to go with it, anything to make them feel more entitled to the benefits of being “normal”?

We like to forget that society produces the mentally ill people upon whom it imposes the many designations of mental illness it also produced. It created these designations to seemingly address the problem of mental illness. But before mental illness was categorized, it certainly existed, and now that it is categorized with as much gradient variation as geology, meteorology or any other science, it still exists. It even thrives, such that every deviation from the norm—overt anxiety, overt sensitivity, overt awareness, overt fear, overt particularity—can now be categorized, diagnosed, catalogued, and panoptically scrutinized by a chorus of licensed professionals.

Notice my use of the word “overt.” If these traits are not overt, if they are kept inside, they are not visible to other people and hence the need to categorize them diminishes until such times when the subject commits murder or pedophilia, to the extreme surprise of his or her familiars to whom he or she was “such a nice quiet person. I never would have thought…Sometimes you just never know.”

How could you “know,” how could you “have a thought” about something you ignore? Of course we are told to ignore the hateful and embrace the lovely, and of course we are taught to espouse it as well.  Even while we over-diagnose, over-medicate, over-scrutinize, we ignore and remain silent on the hateful aforementioned truth: that society creates its many segments, including the murderers, rapists, and corrupt politicians, because it thrives as it is through them. We are not taught to understand why a person commits murder or other crimes, except that they are aberrations, anomalies, and outliers, statistically insignificant, not signifying any greater message besides humanity’s ineluctable “dark side.”

Society puts dark ideas into our heads, ideas like “what is different is bad, what is the same is good,” or, “to dominate is to be right,” or “life sucks, get over it.” In the manicheistic pursuit of happiness, positivity, and self-interest, most of us tuck these lessons away to fall back on in the event of indecision. When we are not sure what to do with our lives, we can always rely on imitating the herd, the will to dominate (or, more likely, to be dominated, assuming its inherent virtue), and excusing the inequities and failures of life to steer us in the right and safe direction. This is what is considered “good mental health.”

But for the mentally ill, there are two other reactions to these adages. The first is total commitment i.e. taking it too far. These are murderers, rapists, pedophiles, the senselessly violent, hurting the innocent or defenseless, attacking minorities, preying on those they perceive as weak or different, and resolving any moral qualms with some variation of “life sucks, they’ll get over it. Life has winners and life has losers.”

The second reaction is emotional resistance. This puts the young woman or man in a state of anxiety while taking a test comprised of arbitrary criteria, depression when life appears worthless, anger upon learning about the state of the world, and (antisocial) alienation while struggling in that harsh “real world.” Pundits would have us perceive ourselves as “soft” and “weak.” “Sometimes life is sad, get over it.” “Sometimes life is anxious, get over it.” “Angry? You should be grateful!” “If you act like a weirdo, you get what you deserve.” Notice the similarity to the refrains of the killers.

For the emotionally resistant, the body is willing, though only under duress, and the mind is not. The mind is unwilling to accept the terms of engagement that have been thrust upon it, coercively, not as a request but as a requirement, if she should hope to succeed, to live safely and well, and to remain safe from the social stigmas of “failure,” having “never quite made it,” “never quite fitting in,” being “uncooperative,” “immature,” “ungrateful,” “underachieving,” having had “all the chances in the world to get ahead and missing or messing up all of them.”

Perhaps there is some compassion, some understanding that one aspect or another of society failed, not the emotionally resistant individual. This sense of shame and of self-disgust, of non-acceptance of the self, is laid at her feet for her to voluntarily take unto herself—as though she was being told to climb into her own grave—in the form of social stigma and mediocrity, to exculpate the society as the ultimate robber of this person’s “success” (a hopelessly twisted and obscure concept) to whom it never gave a chance, and place the blame right where it belongs: on the shoulders of the prisoner who hates her prison, her prison-guards, her prison-owners, no matter how beautiful a cell is promised or delivered, no matter how wonderful a meal is reserved for those who really “work hard” at deserving it, at fitting in.

She remains diagnosed as “her own worst enemy,” unsafe alone, unsafe with others, generally too sick to be around. Keep her alone, and silenced, and unloved, because her anger, her revulsion, her rejection of what is baldly wrong and unjust, of what completely fails to live up to the potential she sees in her daydreams—where hope is unneeded and fears are acted upon, where nature thrives and justice prevails, where the eye looks where it will and not where it is directed, where people are free—might rub off onto you.

And then you would be to blame.