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.

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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

Cool thing spotlight: Kurzgesagt

Hello hello and happy Friday!

Today I wanted to share some videos from one of my favorite uplifting/mind-blowing timesucks, the excellent YouTube channel Kurzgesagt, offering a slightly off-kilter but very informative look at the universe.

I was particularly inspired by their newest video, offering a look at their philosophy of ‘optimistic nihilism.’ (It’s more uplifting than it sounds haha.)

Hope you’re having a great week!

Dump Trump’s trans ban

Hello hello,

Sorry to subscribers for double-posting today, but I could not have foreseen something as colossally fucked-up as Donald Trump taking to Twitter to ban trans people from the US military this morning.

If you are as angry as I am, please consider making a donation of your time or money to The National Center for Transgender Equality.

Thank you, and on behalf of queer people and our allies everywhere:

FUCK. DONALD. TRUMP.

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.

Anxiety, and why I quit social media

Hello hello and happy Friday,

As part of my healing processes as a growing up human, I’ve become more attentive over time to when I need to cut things out of my life. The latest for me is social media.

Four days after I quit social media I went a whole day without having an anxiety attack for the first time in maybe 6 months. The transformation wasn’t instantaneous, but the results have been tremendous.

But let’s jump back. Hi, I’m Schlomo, and I was a compulsive social media user.

I can flat out say that I had a social media problem. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at and thinking about social media, allowing it to interrupt and permeate every aspect of my life.

Even worse, since becoming involved in the online self-help community a couple of years ago, I have taken truly ridiculous strides to appear more knowledgable, centered and spiritual than I ever really was. I have ascribed to the fake it ’til you make it school of social media attention-grabbing, using at best insignificant parts of my identity as hashtags to increase awareness of the important issue of pictures of me being totally fucking zen.

For me, as a person with anxiety and who has experienced some setbacks in life, being on Facebook felt like being in a glaringly white room filled with people I kind of used to know in college who were all doing much better in life than me, which meant my life was basically shit.

It’s not pretty but it’s real, and that’s why I’m writing it. I didn’t start I Won’t Commit to have another polite self-help blog. I started it because I’m mentally ill and my life is hard but sometimes writing it down makes things a little bit easier for me, and sometimes it even makes things easier for others.

The expectation of having always read that thing and taken that picture and having had my hot take while also repackaging my nostalgic memories as free ads for consumer goods was way too fucking much for my anxious mind to handle.

Not to mention:

Do you know how many amazing ideas everyone has wasted as throwaway statuses on Facebook? Don’t fucking spread amazing ideas around on the internet and write ‘lol’ at the end and never think about it again! If you come up with the best zombie movie plot ever, write it! If you come up with a way to better distribute aid resources, don’t just write ‘somebody oughtta’ on Facebook. YOU BEAUTIFUL HUMAN CREATURE, YOU ARE THE ONE WHO OUGHT TO.

I read House of Leaves in like 4 days because I don’t check Facebook once every 35 seconds anymore.

Don’t believe me? I checked Facebook so compulsively that Facebook started generating its own notifications about how people were responding to my posts. ‘Hey Schlomo, wanna see how you can get more likes?’ I mean, sweet fuck.

Facebook was very clearly trying to get me to position myself as some kind of professional who needed their analytics, which is nuts because I am an archetypal ‘just some guy’ with 200 acquaintances, and that’s when I finally noticed that Facebook and me had a bad, bad thing going on.

Trying to be Captain Social Media, His Enlightedness was like a neurotoxin, and living for an audience of really well and truly random people was holding back my real development as a person. Getting off social media has allowed me to reevaluate and listen for the voices in my life that really matter.

I want to make art, and I don’t want to care if you like or share it on social media. I want to go on my daily walk and not think about where’s the best lighting for my selfie. I want to say I go on a daily walk without positioning it to you as some kind of meaning of life thing that you’ve just got to try, but probably wouldn’t get anyway.

I’m just going on a fucking walk, you know? And you don’t need to know about it!

Anyway. I can’t tell you what’s what in your life, but I very seriously doubt the answer to the big questions in your life has anything to do with filters, brand deals, or subscriber counts. Shucks, I’m not even telling you to quit social media, but please remember your soul is not sponsored by Casper.

I feel significantly calmer day to day without worrying about what’s going on on Facebook. I work in the news~ish, so I’m always up to speed anyway, and my friends who count can get at me other ways.

Facebook and Instagram was almost like a double life for me, and I don’t have to live it anymore. Those resources have been rechanneled into my artistic and spiritual growth, and I am seeing the payoff.

There’s a lot of growth going on in my life right now, and I can’t attribute it all to kicking social media. But I can say that the peace I got from quitting social media has meant that voice inside doesn’t have to shout as much!

How long do you think you could go without social media? Does social media play a role in your anxiety? Let us know in the comments!

 

New music Wednesday

 

Hello hello and happy Wednesday!

There’s been quite a few additions to my playlist of original ‘chill’ music over on Soundcloud:

I like to pop it on at work to help me maintain. What helps you keep your chill? Let us know in the comments!