My brain’s favorite bad song

Hello hello and happy Thursday!

As you might expect from someone who started an anti-suicide website, I am personally affected by suicidal thoughts. Twenty years ago, five years ago, this week. I don’t have some kind of outsider mental-illness-shaming perspective on suicidal thoughts. I know exactly what they’re like.

You do learn some things when you survive depression and anxiety for this long. Today I want to talk about what I’ve come to think of as my mind storms – or my brain’s favorite shitty song.


If you’re anything like me, you know the words to hundreds, maybe thousands of songs you don’t even like. Sometimes you can’t help but absorb something, just from sheer repeated exposure.

I realized recently that this is what my suicidal thoughts felt like. It felt like a record I don’t like, skipping on the turntable of my mind.

You’re not thinking any new thoughts when that storm sweeps up. You’re thinking the same old ones, in a familiar cascade that repeats and repeats. One sad thought becomes two, and they multiply until every sad thought you’ve ever had is marching through your brain.

Realizing that depression can make you despair about things you’re not even sad about is a helpful step. That cognitive dissonance gave me something to grab onto.

So did noticing the patterns. This thought flowing into that one, like the chords of a song on the radio. The song keeps playing even if you stop paying attention, just like you don’t need to will a sad thought for it to follow the last.

My brain is just playing me a shitty song, I finally thought. This is just a repetition of everything I could be or ever have been sad about. My brain knows the words, and it knows the music, and sometimes it just picks this shitty tune.


So?

So you might not even be sad. Your brain’s shitty song defense mechanism might just have gotten activated.

I don’t want to launch into a list of triggers, because obvious reasons, but here is a helpful resource for identifying and managing your triggers.

In the same way that we are not our illness, we are not our thoughts. If you can stop for even a second and ask yourself where this cascade of thoughts came from, you can start to see that you are not it.

You are not the stream of your consciousness.  And you don’t have to go fishing.

Meditation can help cultivate an understanding of the difference between you and your thoughts. Try to observe your thoughts without engaging them. Don’t talk back. Don’t try to keep them from going down the stream. Observe your thoughts without reacting or judging. (Here is a good resource to help you stop identifying with your thoughts.)

Why is this important? It means that I am not my suicidal ideation; my suicidal ideation is just a pollutant in my stream. That does not that it’s not horrifying and unwelcome and sad, but it means that it is a thing that is happening to or in me, but not me.

I may have to experience it, but I don’t have to attach to it.

I do need to have a wide variety of plans at my disposal, though. The rest of what I have to say is what I find helpful when my brain puts on its favorite shitty song. I hope you find something, lots of things that can work for you. I’m serious, the more and more different plans you have, the better. And you can always add more.


Things to do other than listening to your brain’s favorite shitty song:

  • Listen to actual, non-shitty music. It doesn’t matter if it’s happy or sad so long as it makes you think. Thinking something, pretty much anything other than “I want to die” is the most important step. Listen to something you admire the musicality of, or that has complex, engaging musical structures. Make a playlist and have it handy on your favorite device. 
  • Get your heart rate up. I personally don’t recommend taking a walk or meditating at the worst moments, because I personally find that being too still leaves me vulnerable. The last time I was feeling this low, I found I had to jog pretty fast across the street, and by the time I got across, I didn’t want to die anymore. Even a short burst of activity can provide both endorphins and a much-needed distraction. If anger or nervous tension is part of your sadness, I think a punching bag would also do handily in this situation. They’re readily available at sporting goods stores. (Here’s some tips on exercising with limited mobility.)
  • Memorize some words. I’ve been trying to memorize bible verses, but you do you. Find something that pumps you way the hell up and memorize it word for word. Also recommended: the kind of song lyrics you’d get a tattoo of, getting an actual tattoo of those song lyrics, motivational monologues from your favorite TV show or movie, and any line Cher has ever had in a movie. 
  • Get yourself a physical or digital copy of Hello, Cruel World by Kate Bornstein and keep it handy. I have both and I treasure them.
  • Pet an animal or spend time with a child. Oh, I promise it works.
  • Google what Donald Trump did today. Then get pissed off about it, because pissed off is an emotion so much more active and hopeful than the mean reds. Once you get pissed off, you can also donate time or money, or contact your representatives about issues that matter to you. Use your life to piss off the right people, and you won’t regret it.

<3,
Schlomo

On focus

Hello hello and happy Friday!

Do you still not know what you want to be ‘when you grow up’? Do you ever get the feeling that your focus is being pulled in a thousand directions – possibly by everyone but yourself? Are you worried that recording your new EP might interfere with your latest batch of Kombucha?

I’m not making fun. As usual on this site, I am pretty much describing myself and inferring I’m not the only one.

It struck me recently that our generation (millennials, or whatever garbage thing you want to call us) is characterized in large part by Jacks of all trades. Everybody is a slash and/or a multi-hyphenate.

ea32ed6120046c7c159c857bdfa20117

Miranda Sings is a modern quintuple threat.

Performance artists Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings) listing her 5-threat talents is my favorite absurd example, but there’s a real chance that virtually everyone you know has a similar list.

Here’s mine: I’m a Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger (welcome!).

But am I?

Yes and no. And what I’m going to argue for today is the power of no (or no more).

I am or have been all of those things up there, but – well, since I’m talking about myself, I’ll be honest – I only actually do a few of those things well, or with any distinction.

Do you have to be good at something to do it? No. In fact, you shouldn’t be good when you start out.

But unless you are a rara avis indeed, you are not going to become a master of all those domains. And in fact, I would argue, the attempt makes it even less likely that you will succeed.

Why am I not a rich and famous Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger?

Because that’s several lifetimes worth of passions, and I’m not even that passionate about all of them. Some of them are just things I saw other people being successful at, and reasoned I could, too.

My internet history is littered with the abandoned shells of Tumblrs, Twitters, podcasts and other attempts at riding the latest wave. I tried in earnest for a couple of years to take off on YouTube (which for me meant getting more than 300 views on a video lol), and yet, challenge video after challenge video and makeup haul after tutorial, my subscriber account always hovered around ‘meh,’ and I never even had to learn how to draw on my AdSense account.

Surely inadequate equipment and inconsistency played their parts, but I personally believe I failed because I was trying to squat in someone else’ corner of the internet several years too late.

Or put even more simply: I didn’t actually care about what I was talking about. I got the formula backwards: trendy challenge and tag videos were lazy things for existing popular personalities to do on a busy day, not an entrée into internet stardom. These people had been cultivating their audiences since the inception of YouTube, and I thought I could just slide in after the fact and do b.s. on camera for ad money.

I’m saying this because, in the meantime, the things I actually cared about atrophied. While I was busy trying to be YouTube-iest drag star that I could, I went years without publishing a story. Distracted by what was hot – and what seemed to offer easy fame – on the internet, I substituted by own interests for the ad-sponsored center constantly splashing across our vision.

In part we have become multi-hyphenates because good careers in our chosen fields aren’t just falling out of the sky. Millions of people just like me graduated with the old-fashioned degrees we were always told we needed, only to find ourselves in the midst of the 2009 recession, and nearly a decade on, many of us are still in arrested career development. We are adapting to the (frankly shitty – sorry to editorialize haha) gig economy, and using every skill we can think of to help us get the next gig.

But we are also surrounded by a crushing din of oddball success, confronted every day by ads for the latest expensive DIY hobby, and our own friends’ (or, let’s be real, one-time fellow party-goers’) own ventures in Pinning/Etsying/indie touring/TED talking. Everyone on the internet is more interesting and accomplished than you, so the answer must be doing everything they’re doing.

Except that’s ludicrous. Almost everyone who finds real success in their field has done so at the expense of other interests.

I am never going to be a rich and famous Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger, and realizing that means making some serious choices.

I am extremely lucky to already know the thing I love doing the most: writing short stories. Identifying that as the thing I could not live without was the first important step.

So what does that mean? It means I can’t learn every language I want to or master every makeup technique or get on the YouTube home page or hit number one (hundred and eighty-five) on the Billboard indie charts. I can’t make sourdough bread from scratch every day or remodel tiny houses or crowdfund my own charity backpacking trip.

But I can write.

I can’t tell you how to find what that thing is for you, but I can say it’s probably a common element among many of your interests. When I look at all the things between my own slashes, the common element of the majority of them is putting words in order to deliver some kind of message – i.e., writing.

I then further refined this to the kind of writing I value the most. Unfortunately, writing short stories might never pay my bills, but it is what I would do if I had my druthers – and really, no one stands between you and your druthers.

This has been one of my key realizations, and something that’s brought me more peace than a lot of other attempts: you can do what you really want to do, even if no one is paying you.

Don’t know what you should do? Think your passion won’t pay the bills? Following other people’s lucrative passions won’t do you one bit of good. Without whatever drives them to their own unique success, you probably won’t succeed in someone else’s field, and you’ll probably let your own skills and passion go to waste in the meantime.

So here’s the good news:

You can stop doing shit you don’t care about at literally any time.

Oh sure, you still have to pay taxes, and you might have to do your insufferable job until the next one comes along. But there’s a lot more to you than taxes and your shitty job, and any number of other things we do primarily for someone else.

You can quit that religion that makes you feel bad. You can kick the drug habit you and your friends share. You can get off the self-improvement treadmill and stand still long enough to see what really needs attention.

TLDR: You can fake it, but that doesn’t mean you’ll make it. You can’t cultivate every skill and interest, and you’ll get in your own way trying. Your time is your own, and it is finite, at least in the observable world. And you can save a lot of it by checking in with yourself to see what you actually value.

Peace be with you,

Schlomo Steel, founder and editor, I Won’t Commit

YouTube and chill

Happy Friday!

Most every Friday I like to unwind after work with a nice playlist of what I missed this week on YouTube.

This Friday, I’ve crafted just for you a playlist of something the most interesting, ill-advised and/or hilarious things I’ve seen on the Tube lately. Videos range from astrophysics to a DIY Simpsons makeup gun.

Hope you enjoy!

New music Monday

Hello hello and happy Monday!

I’m getting back to work after a week vacation, and I thought I’d share my new chill/relaxation track “Grey” to help us all get in the swing of a new week 😂.

Mostly over the course of my break from work I worked on queueing up new fiction posts on my personal website, schlomosteel.com. Head over today for my new story “Like Tar,” and subscribe to keep up with the approx. 20 stories I’ll be releasing over the rest of the year.

Happy Monday!

Bedrock

Hello hello and happy Tuesday!

I was thinking earlier today about something I had learned about mountains recently. All over the world, there seems to be an upper height limit on mountains that doesn’t seem to apply to the Himalayas, which are home to ten of the world’s fourteen 8000+-ft peaks.

Scientists aren’t quite sure why mountains here and the nearby Karakoram range are able to be taller than other mountains around the world, but it is theorized that the bedrock they are on is just unusually strong, enabling it to support larger mountains than other ground across the world can.

Do you ever find yourself looking around at other people and wondering why they can hack it so easily? How they seem to slice through life like butter, all the while with grace and charm? Do you ever just a little bit hate their faces?

Why can other people be Everest when you feel like a hillock most days? Shouldn’t you be able to bear the weight? We might all be mountains, but that doesn’t mean we have equal support structures.

Comparing ourself to others is one of the worst and unfortunately most natural things we can do. You can’t possibly know everything that brought a person to where they are, anymore than you can really understand how they feel about it. You can’t really know another person’s resources or challenges, what they’ve faced and what help they’ve had.

Consider comparing your life to the life of someone with a great deal of unfair advantage. Or indeed, consider comparing yourself to someone who never seems to complain no matter what befalls them. Do you feel sad? Helpless? Do you feel bereft of an explanation you deserve?

Instead of wondering why we can’t or don’t have the things that other people have, we should consider how they came by them. Instead of envying, we can query. How did you come by this?

If there are things we can take from this, then we should. But what we might ultimately take away is that that person’s fundamentally different life has made them a fundamentally different person, and wondering why we’re not that person is just stopping us from being ourselves.

Consider one more mountain: Olympus Mons on Mars is the biggest mountain among the planets and other rounded bodies of our solar system, clocking in at a height of 13.6 mi or 72,000 ft (!), two and half times the height of Everest, and with a base that would cover most of the country of France.

Despite its staggering dimensions, it would be possible to traverse and summit Olympus Mons and barely notice because its grade is so slight. Sure, eventually you’ll be nearly 14 miles above the surrounding surface, but you’d never have to climb a vertical rock face or…well, really do anything other than walk normally. Even a small child (in a spacesuit) could climb the tallest mountain in the solar system with ease, while experienced climbers still face harrowing difficulty on much smaller mountains back on Earth.

Both Mt. Wycheproof (486 ft) and Mt. Everest have gone through what they’ve gone through to become the mountains they’ve become, and neither could be the other. Don’t hate others for what they have, and don’t hate yourself for what you don’t. Invisible forces will continue to shape us all, but the one thing you can’t be is someone else.

Commit to yourself

Hello hello and happy Monday!

I appreciate the irony of the title of this piece given the name of this website, but here goes anyway.

I’ve talked here about the forgiveness and patience we need to have for ourselves when our efforts at self-improvement don’t go according to what are normally completely unrealistic schedules.

The flip side of this I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while (and for which I now forgive myself for the delay on haha) is that real change takes commitment. It means finding things that still seem meaningful to you even after they let you down the first time, or the first time you fail to follow through.

Things they don’t tell you or don’t tell you enough in self-improvement: you are going to fail. Your new outlook on the world is going to go out the window the first and third and fiftieth times you face an old trigger. You will wonder what the point of any of this is.

I think it’s safe to say that Buddhist monks are just about the non plus ultra of self-improvement, at least in the contemporary West. But we’re not looking for the years of commitment. We’re looking for the easily translatable technique that will distill a religious tradition and a lifetime of devotion into a TED talk, scrolling past which on Facebook is supposed to change our lives forever.

In another piece I discussed finally being struck one day by the fact that it even took the Buddha 7 years of doing literally nothing else to reach enlightenment, and that’s how I finally understood I needed to forgive myself for not being instantly transformed by whatever meditation technique I had read about that day.

But also…think of what 7 years of anything could get you. 7 years of playing an instrument or speaking a language or not constantly eroding your own self-esteem by judging yourself for your lack of growth.

You can make a different kind of commitment when you understand that you don’t have a performance review tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Despite all the Instagram tags we follow, it’s not now or never, and you are not doomed if you’re not crushing it.

The things we believe have to be big enough to let us down, and we have to be big enough to be let down by them. Most of all we have to be big enough to be let down by ourselves. I’m not here to tell anyone what to believe, but if your belief system isn’t big or bold enough to account for a bad day or even a bad five minutes, you’ve trapped yourself inside a new anxiety. You cannot be so good at meditation that your life will actually become perfect. Here, let me say that again:

You cannot be so good at meditation that your life will actually become perfect.

Most people for most of their lives will experience challenges and they will also have reactions to those challenges. Finding it inside to try again is how you stop the cure from being worse than the symptom.

Don’t buy into ideas that say they’ll cure your anxiety or depression today, tomorrow or next week. They will use your guilt and sadness about them not working against you.

Instead, do those things that slowly, day by day, erode the rock of what is hurting you. And then do more of them. Make good habits, including the habit of seeing tomorrow as another day not to have bad habits. Anxiety is a habit that becomes a disease. Disrupt the habit. 

You have probably spent most of your life up until now building the habits that make up your anxiety, depression or other illness, so you have no reason to expect an instant turnabout. Your old school friend is wrong, and so is that guru: you can’t just stop being anxious or depressed. But you can make every second a chance to change course.

TLDR: Long-term commitment to yourself is worth it. Identify the things that make you feel better without also asking you to feel bad about yourself and then make habits of them. Everything else is clutter that isn’t really contributing to your growth.

On hate

Happy Tuesday!

I haven’t had much time to write lately, but I wanted to leave you today with a thought I’ve been chewing on lately:

My ability to hate myself is intimately tied with my ability to hate others. Whichever one I’m working on at the moment, I find that levels of the other unexpectedly decrease, too. And that, conversely, whichever one is weighing me down can lead into worsening the other.

TLDR: breaking down hate is a multiplicative process that starts with you.

Cool Tool Spotlight: How Big Is Space?

Hello hello and happy Friday!

I wanted to close out the week by putting the spotlight on another of my favorite tools from our Someplace Awesome menu – a guided tour of space called How Big Is Space?

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 1.24.51 PM.png

This cool offering from the BBC lets users scroll a spaceship through the universe, keeping track of your trajectory at warp 1 and pointing out milestones in distance traveled. It’s just the bee’s knees! The space bee’s knees!

We hope you’ll head on over to the homepage and check out this and other cool sites from our Someplace Awesome tab, designed to be a one click shop to somewhere that helps you remember how great things are. If you have any suggestions for links, drop them in the comments, or you can head on over to the Contact/Submit page, where you can submit any content or ideas for future posts on I Won’t Commit.

Hope you have a great day!

Cool Tool Spotlight: Bubole

Hello hello and happy Wednesday!

This week we’re sharing some of the awesome destinations from the “Someplace Awesome” menu, featured on the homepage. Our hope is that every click in this menu takes you somewhere that makes you remember how great the world is, and today’s site is one of my favorites.

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 1.05.22 PM

Bubole is a unique Polish site (also available in English) enabling users to create wonderful little monsters (the titular Bubole) and even have a little fun squishing bugs. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Bubole are the T for me, and very relaxing!

We hope you’ll head on over to the homepage and check out the Someplace Awesome menu. And if you have any links you’d like to add, let us know in the comments or head on over to the Contact/Submit page, where you can also submit content or ideas for future posts on I Won’t Commit.

Have a great day!

Cool Tool Spotlight: A Soft Murmur

Happy Monday!

I thought it would be nice to do a series of posts highlighting the cool relaxation and diversion tools included in our “Someplace Awesome” menu (featured on the homepage), designed to be a clickable portal to, well, someplace awesome.

Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 12.49.39 PM.png

A Soft Murmur offers a unique sliding-bar customizable ambient noise experience. As I write this, I’m listening to a firm but gentle combo of rain, thunder, fire, and a singing bowl, and it is pretty tight!

We hope you’ll head on over to the homepage and check out A Soft Murmur and the other awesome destinations in the Someplace Awesome menu.

By the by, if you have pages you’d like to suggest for the menu, let us know in the comments or on the Contact/Submit page, where you can also submit other content for possible inclusion in future posts on I Won’t Commit.

Hope you have an amazing Monday!