Life is All the Pain We Endeavor.

We all deal with our own personal issues. Some of us deal with things better than others do. We all deal with our issues in a different way. Any comment that you make to someone may not get the same reaction if you make the same comment to someone else. No two experiences are ever exactly the same, no matter how similar they are. These are things that we all need to realize.

A few years ago, I was with some friends for a small gathering at their place. I don’t remember how we started discussing various mental health topics, but we did. Two of us, in particular, were going back and forth describing various things that have been said, or done, to us. It was almost a game of one-upmanship as we were trying to see who really had it worse. She and I could “go there” in our discussion because (I think it’s safe to say that) we’re comfortable with our individual stories to discuss them in that manner and have a bit of humor about them. However, some of the people in the room with us couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

But, while that one friend and I could do that, I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that not everyone else handles things remotely similarly. I have definitely made comments to people that seemed innocent or humorous enough to me, to others and had incredibly bad reactions. I’ve apologized for such things when necessary. I’m not proud of offending anyone that I consider a friend, but I do look back at those experiences as learning experiences and I’m glad that they happened, for the sake of my own personal growth.

Even though the friend that I talked about earlier and I were able to compare our experiences and pretty much joke about them, that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to compare your situation to others. I know that, by many definitions, a lot of people have had more more difficult lives and experiences than I have. That doesn’t mean that my own personal story is easy. It just makes it different from theirs. And from my own experiences, I would like to think that I’ve gained some perspective on life and from that perspective, I’m able to know (and maybe sometimes believe) how bad I haven’t had it. But, again, that doesn’t mean it’s always been good.

Just telling someone that something that’s been said to you makes you uncomfortable may not be enough though. I can tell you from my own personal experiences that I’ve done that. I’ve told someone that what they’ve said to me was cruel or mean and sometimes it’s been resolved. But, there’s also been times when I’ve been told “you should be glad that I didn’t tell you what I really think” or “that’s just the start of it.” It does wonders for someone’s already frail self-esteem when you’re being belittled and the person doing it is letting you know that they’re holding back on their real opinions. It’s even better when it’s a family member and you’re not in a position to break away from that scenario. It’s also better when that scenario repeats… often.

As I’ve looked back at some of the personal relationships that I’ve had, I do look at a lot of them differently than I did before. I may think about a particular situation where something was said or done and how I may not have realized it at the time, but it was pretty damaging to my ego. It could be something as simple being in a conversation with someone from my past and her asking me a question about someone that we both know. In my reply I said that he was a Professional Wrestler and I started mentioning specific things that I’ve seen him do, only to be told “yeah, I don’t care about wrestling.” To some of you, that comment is not a big deal. But, to others, it’s diminishing someone’s personal interests. Why something as seemingly simple as this matters is that it was part of a repeating behavior of comments and antics that belittled me. I just didn’t do anything about it, because, as I’ve noticed, I’m really too used to it happening to me.

The scenario that I just mentioned really goes back to the stuff that I talked about in my most recent entry. For so much of my life, I’ve always felt that the things that I like weren’t good enough and the fact that people who were close to me (often) let me know about it gave me (a few) complexes about publicly enjoying them. I really hope that I haven’t done anything similar to anyone. I know a lot of people that like many of the same things that I like. But, I don’t say “that’s stupid” when they bring up something that I don’t like. But, I also put serious effort into not making people feel the same pain that I’ve felt.

In the past few years, I’ve heard some stories about former classmates of mine that used to bully me (and others) a bit. I’ve heard about their home life during those days. A common theme there is emotional, mental, and (sometimes) physical abuse from parents and siblings. The kids that were the bullies were often bullied at home. How they dealt with it was to lash out other, seemingly easy, targets. I was often that target. I don’t want my anxiety levels to spike right now, so I’m not going to attempt to remember many specific incidents. But, of course, as I’m writing this, a few more things came to my mind.

One of the things about myself that I’ve never really been able to be completely sure about is if I really do enjoy the solitude that I often have or is it just that I’m comfortable in it. Is my comfort a defense or is it a true comfort? Am I by myself because I truly enjoy it or am I by myself to avoid further anguish? I have a strange dichotomous social life in which I actually do enjoy my friends and doing things, but I also really enjoy being by myself and doing nothing. I ponder reasons for this often and I may try to dig deeper into it in a future entry.

And while on the subject of future entries, I’m going to wrap this one up because I think if I keep going, I’m going to drift even further from the original concept that I have. And while I know that they say that time may heal all wounds, how long do those wounds need to stay open? Sometimes they do close, but something can very easily open them. In my case, I don’t know if I’m looking to heal my wounds or just live with them. I know that my yearning for a change will eventually lead me onward.

The Sharpest Point is Aimed at You.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to get home from school so I could watch weekday afternoon cartoons. GI Joe, Transformers, He-Man and the Master of the Universe, and Voltron were some of the ones that I looked forward to the most. Every day, I would sit in front of the TV in the living room and I would watch those shows. And very often, my mother would tell me how bad the animation was. She would tell me how it wasn’t nearly as good as the cartoons that she watched. This wasn’t a once or twice thing, it was very often.

I would watch Professional Wrestling shows on the weekends. I would read Star Wars and GI Joe comic books too. And since we spent many weekends cleaning out my grandparents’ house in the Bronx, much of my comic book reading was spent in a tree in the backyard there. Because those books were monthly ones, I would read the same issues for weeks at a time. And very often, my mother would tell me how much of a waste of time it was for me to read them.

When I started finding my own musical tastes in my teens, I would do what most teens do and play songs at very loud volumes. At this point, the bands that I was listening to weren’t as far from the mainstream as stuff that I listen to now. And no matter how popular a band was, how many Grammys they may have won, and no matter how much acclaim they may have received, I would be told that they weren’t as good as the bands that my mother listened to.

I was often told of the faults of all of my friends. Any girl that I was dating wasn’t any good. I wouldn’t want to make plans with anyone because I would hear about how much I was wasting my time with whomever I was attempting to make the plans with. I would find ways to not talk about my plans or just not make them. If I did make plans and no talk about them, I would be accused of “sneaking around” and lying.

While I was in school, my classmates, and even a few teachers (well, one in particular) would make fun of my interests. Star Wars, Professional Wrestling, Heavy Metal Music. Enjoying these things were often easy sources of ridicule by the “popular kids.”

I didn’t have a “safe space” to enjoy myself without judgment. I didn’t have a place to go where I felt comfortable. If was bullied in school (which was frequent), I would go to my house and not want to talk about it. I would go to my bedroom, which was the same room that I was sent to by my parents as a punishment. You know, the old “go to your room” thing. So, I’m my bedroom, the punishment room, and I’m watching inferior cartoons or listening to inferior music.

It’s very easy to feel like you’re “less than” when you’re constantly told that you are, and especially when it’s in various aspects of your life.

Cartoons, Wrestling, Comic Books, and Music have all been very important to me at one point or another in my life. And at various points in my life, I’ve been mocked for liking the things that I like. It’s not easy to dismiss the mocking or the taunts when they’re consistent. It’s not easy to dismiss them when they’re coming from parents, teachers, or other authority like figures. In reality, it’s a lot easier to have their words become permanently part of your thoughts, to the point where they’re subconscious thoughts.

Over the past few years as much of the stuff that I liked in the 1980s has become popular again, I would get excited when I found out something like that a DVD box set of the old Voltron cartoon was being released. I would make sure to buy it for myself, but there was always a voice in my head telling me that it wasn’t any good and that I was wasting my time and money with it.

I think part of what made me think about some of this recently is the COVID-19 Pandemic. In a previous entry, I talked about how I spent much of 2020 in my old comfort zone. But, my comfort zone also includes a lot of baggage. And there’s definitely a lot of baggage.

I’m sure that some people wonder how and why a 45 year old is worried about what people said to him 35 years and longer ago, but it’s because it’s all engrained in my psyche and my personality. I’m often afraid to like what I like. I know that the stigma attached to many of my interests has dissipated in recent years, and I have found people to share my interests with, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy for me.

I really do have a difficult time enjoying things to the fullest due what I’ve discussed here. It’s almost as if a ceiling was placed on my enjoyment levels. I don’t know if I’m capable of breaking through that ceiling and enjoying anything at 100%. There’s always something telling me that I’m doing is wrong, even if it’s not. That voice is always there. And, it’s not just one voice. It’s many.

To be completely honest, I’m not very comfortable talking about some of the stuff that I’ve said in this entry, but I’m going to publish it anyway. I think that I NEED to. I’ve always felt that if I put some of my stories out into the world, it’s very helpful to me. “Hiding behind a computer” and a screen name is good for me. It allows me to maintain my Mask of Sanity a bit. My anxiety levels have risen a little bit since I’ve started this paragraph. This is usually the part where I would scrap this entry and start a new one. But, the voices that are telling me not to publish this one are not going to win this battle. I’m scratching the surface of some stuff here and I think it’s time for me to dig a little deeper as I search for the elusive cure to my own concerns and worries.

Fallen Blind to the Cruel Hysteria That’s Constantly Challenging.

As I always state in my late June entries, my birthday is in early July. Because of that, I really do see my calendar years as distinct halves. And I will always start to look back at what’s happened over the past six months and, in this year’s case, look at the 44 years of my life that I’ve completed.

Unfortunately, a lot of these almost-birthday entries seem to take a darker tone. They’ll even cause some people to be concerned about my mental state. I do appreciate that concern, especially if what they’ve read is as dark as some of my previous entries. As someone that has rarely ever exceeded expectations or risen above average, it’s easy to feel less than. It’s easy for me to visualize all of the things that I haven’t accomplished instead of the things that I have. That is what probably happens right about this time, every year.

A few of my friends have pointed out how far I’ve come from where I’ve been. And, while I do appreciate those comments, and recognize my own growth (to some degree), it’s still very easy to look around and see how so many people my age (and younger) have seemingly accomplished more than me. I actually cannot stress enough how easy it is for me to see that.

Here is where I’m tying to remain positive. Or at the very least, not get negative. I DO HAVE enough perspective to know I AM MUCH BETTER OFF than I have been before. Yes, I have faced some adversity this year. I’ve had my health scare that I spoke about. I’m making a little bit less money than I was before. I’ve had my share of expenses recently (naturally). But, the very simple fact that I’m okay and not worrying about these things like I would have in the past IS a GOOD thing. That type of perspective keeps me relatively sane.

I’ll admit that the not going negative has been difficult for me recently. I could sense the darker thoughts creeping into my mind over the past few weeks. I had a concept of some things that I wanted to accomplish before my birthday. I did not meet those goals. There were some other things that I won’t be able to accomplish that are slightly beyond my control that also started me down the darker path.

But, as I’ve said, I have perspective. While I haven’t achieved the goals, I’m working towards them. I know that. I would like to tell you for sure that I’ll succeed, but I’m not sure. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep on keeping on.

However, it’s not just the short term goals that have me questioning things though, it’s the bigger picture things too. Should I have more to show myself at this age? Am I behind the curve? Am I where I’m supposed to be? The thing is, I don’t have any answers to any of these questions. Sometimes, I don’t even know if I’m asking myself the right questions. Notice how this is going. This is me telling myself that things are going okay while reminding myself of the bad things, even if I’m not sure what the bad things are.

If I focus on anything in particular in the next year of my life, it may be what I just talked about. I need to not dwell on what I don’t have. I need to not dwell on what I’ve lost. I need to not dwell on what I can’t have. I need to focus on the good things. I know it’s easier said than done, but as I said many times over the past year, I really did enjoy my time during the Pandemic. I’ve found ways to make the best of my days.

Before this entry gets me too distracted and goes into a long winded repetitive direction, let me do my best to wrap it up. I think the bottom line is that while I’m not where I think I should be, I’m where I am. And for the most part, I like it. I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve become. It’s the perspective that keeps me grounded. And even the darkest parts of my mind are aware of that.

I’m Learning the Highs and the Lows of the Panic Inside.

It never ceases to amaze me how much can change in such a short period of time. Since my last entry, just one month ago, there’s been changes in my life. Some good, some not so good. But, let’s start where I left off last in my previous entry.

Last month, I spoke about some health concerns that I had. I went through a series of tests and it turns out that nothing appears to be wrong with my heart. For very obvious reasons, I’m very happy about that. And as I stated last month, I’m beyond grateful for the job that I have that provides me with the health insurance that allows me to have various tests done without having any financial concerns.

In addition to having my heart looked at, I had also made an appointment for a LASIK consultation and it was determined that my eyes were healthy enough to be a candidate for the procedure. And just about one week ago, I went though it. I now have perfect 20/20 distance vision. After wearing glasses for close to 35 years of my life, I no longer need them to see things in the distance. The day after my procedure, I drove myself back to the eye doctor for a follow up. Something as simple as being able to read the street signs clearly was absolutely amazing to me. It’s one of those things that I didn’t think would be mind-blowing to me, but it was.

My eye doctor did let me know before the procedure that I would need reading glasses afterwards. My doctor told me that the need for reading glasses would be probably necessary for me even I had good vision before LASIK. That’s due to my age. What happened from the LASIK is that my vision is more or less reversed. I can see completely clearly in the distance, but things close up are blurry without the reading glasses, or “cheaters” as I’ve learned that many people call them. I was also told that this is common with the procedure and a few friends that I know that have had it done have described similar things. I was a bit concerned about not being able to see close up things, since it was pretty new to me, but I was also told that it would get better, and I’ve already noticed a bit of improvement there.

Obviously, LASIK isn’t free. The good news is that I can (and did) finance it. I have two years to pay it off, or else they’ll take my eyes from me. Just kidding. If I don’t pay it off, there’s a lot of interest that I need to pay. My job is the reason that I was able to afford the procedure. It’s also the reason that I was able to afford some repair work to my car last week. It’s also the reason that I’ve been able to afford all of what I’ve bought for myself over the past year. Now, I fully understand that I didn’t do much during the Pandemic, which is why my bank account was as high as it’s been, but my job has been very good to me.

However, getting back to my financial situation, and as much good as I’ve had, I was given a “good news, bad news” scenario with my job last week. I have various responsibilities there. And with some of those various responsibilities and titles came some extra pay. One of those particular responsibilities has seen a very significant decrease in the workload, and it was decided that a decrease in pay would happen. As much as that stinks, they’re absolutely right about it and I didn’t put up any argument whatsoever. That was the “bad news” portion of the scenario. The “good news” is that another position/title had recently become available and it was offered to me. The financial compensation for that job is not nearly as much as I’m losing from the other one, but it’s something and I appreciate it being offered to me.

Part of what makes me so appreciative of my current workplace is not just the initial opportunity that was offered to me about three years ago, but every single other opportunity that has been offered to me since I’ve been there. I know that some of them may have been offered to me just because of relationships that I’ve formed over the years, but there’s also some that have been offered to me because the people currently in charge know that I’m capable of doing them. Being paid for them is a good thing. And having worked at other places that added more and more responsibilities to me without extra pay makes me appreciate all that this job does for me.

Due to a the financial disaster that I created for myself in my younger days, I learned to survive on very little available income. Over the past year, I really enjoyed the financial freedom that I had. Now, I have a few more expenses that I need to take care of with slightly less income than I had been used to having. It’ll take a little bit of slightly stricter budgeting and slightly less spending. But, I have complete confidence in my ability to make it work.

Also, over the past month, I’ve started being social again. I’ve seen a few friends for their respective birthdays. I’ve been to a Yankees games. I’ve been inside a bar for more than just take-out. It felt “normal.” I was very worried about how difficult it might be for me to “re-integrate” myself into society, but it’s been okay. Having received my COVID-19 vaccination, I feel that it’s safe for me to do things. But, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be willing to jump into just anything yet.

The past year has taught me (and a lot of us) to make a lot of adjustments to our lives. Some good, some bad. Some inventive, some creative. New routines and patterns have been created. The past week, due to my eyes and my salary have made more adjustments necessary for me. As things aren’t as good as I thought, hoped, had become used to, I’m very calm. There is actually no panic, at least not yet. I have the confidence to make things work for myself. I know that not all of the obstacles in my life are roadblocks. Those obstacles just make me need to take a few detours. It’s something that I’m very much used to, and something that, for once in my life, I’m okay with all of it.

That Joy You Need, Restricted By One Thought.

As I was laying on an MRI table this afternoon, there was a lot going through my mind. And it wasn’t just the radioactive chemicals that had just been injected into my system. I had a lot of time to think while needing to be still for between 10 to 15 minutes. And the fact that I was on that table on the date that I was on it, made those thoughts a little more impactful.

Today happens to be the anniversary of the date that I lost my mother. I’m not going to discuss that too much here since I have before, and you can read that by clicking here. But, as I was on that table today, I was very much aware that the majority of doctors that I had spoken to over the past few weeks had told me that there probably isn’t anything to worry about, but we should check stuff out anyway. The reason that I brought my mother into this entry isn’t just due to the date, but because she refused to see doctors and who knows how things may have been different if she had seen any.

The reason that I was having tests done today is that I didn’t feel right for a few weeks. I never had any pain, but I had enough discomfort to know that something wasn’t right. I also had a slight shortness of breath at times, but this was a shortness of breath that felt different than if I had been exercising. As I said, things just didn’t feel right. So, out of an abundance of caution, I called my doctor. After the initial exam, it was suggested that I go to an emergency room “at some point soon.” After going to the emergency room the next day and having all of my tests there come back good, it was suggested that I see a cardiologist “at some point soon.” The cardiologist examined me and said “I don’t think we’re going find anything wrong,” but let’s schedule some tests just to be sure.

I took a lot of comfort in the lack of urgency from any of the doctors that I talked to. But, I know that heart issues do run in my family. My dad’s had some issues, and his dad did as well. I’ve already said that my mother did not go to doctors. So, I’m going to learn from the examples of both of my parents and get myself checked out.

When I started this process a little over a week ago, I told someone that I don’t know if I would have done any of this if I didn’t have the great health insurance that I have thanks to my job. I would probably have genuinely been afraid that whatever tests were done (and whatever the aftermath would be) would have been too expensive for me to deal with. The fact that anyone has those thoughts is awful. Nobody should have to put off getting themselves checked by doctors due to financial concerns. But, it’s a reality for a lot of people. The amount of money that my emergency room visit a few weeks ago costs is an amount that I would not have been able to pay just two or three years ago. But, luckily for me, I don’t have to pay anything more than my co-pay.

I’ve noticed how much less stressed that I am over the past two years than I was before. The fact that I have a job that pays me more than I’ve been paid before and that I have great health insurance is part of that. This may sound like an exaggeration, but for a little while, I was working basically so I could afford to get back to work. I would be able to go out and do things every once in a while, but almost every time had me spending my last dollars to do so. I’m in a much more comfortable financial position right now and it’s definitely helped my mental state. Money may not buy happiness, but having enough money to not worry about if I’ll be able to put enough gas in my car to get to work (and not needing to look at your bank account numbers to confirm it) is quite a relief.

I know that some of you have never had the concerns about money and health that I’m talking about in this entry, and I’m slightly envious of that. But, those concerns are quite real, and not just for me. There’s way too many people on the planet that will die because they don’t see doctors. The fact that some people can’t afford to see doctors should enrage you. Being able to afford health care should not be a bigger concern than the reason that someone is seeking that care. You can’t say that people have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” if the “life” part isn’t taken care of.

Getting back to my exam from earlier today. Again, there doesn’t seem to be any concern from doctors that I’ve spoken to. But, the way I’m looking at it now is that maybe today I found out what’s not wrong. I may need to see more doctors if my discomfort continues. Well, to be more accurate, if it returns. Ironically, since I’ve started seeking help with this, my symptoms haven’t really shown up. Naturally, why would they? But, I’m in a position to be able to get myself checked out and not worry about it. I’m lucky.

Today’s date reminds me of loss. The past year has shown me a lot as well. As we’ve been locked down with not much to do because of a Pandemic, I’ve really learned to appreciate things a bit more. Now, we’re starting to get back to “normal.” I am fully vaccinated. I have begun re-integrating myself into society and I’m grateful that I’m able to do that. I try my best not to take anything for granted. I’m in a good place right now. I’m able to enjoy myself. I’ve learned that I don’t NEED to go out to concerts or sporting events to have fun. I don’t NEED to be in an in-person gathering of friends to enjoy their company. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do all of those things again.

As I look past, I appreciate history. As I look forward, I appreciate opportunity. As I look at today, I just appreciate things in ways that I never have before. It’s a good thing. I hope it lasts.

I Raise a Sunken Smile.

I’m still in a bit of the malaise that I talked about during last month’s post. But, I’m taking steps to improve my situation. I don’t usually start off a post by immediately continuing the theme from the previous month. Who am I kidding? Almost all of my posts from this time last year were about how I’ve done very little because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. And that’s going to be my topic this month, but a little bit different from my previous posts.

We’ve all be dealing with this Pandemic for over an entire year now. Some of deal with it by being socially distant. Some of us deal with it by wearing masks. Some of us deal with it by staying away from people as much as possible. That’s basically been my year. It’s been easy and difficult at the same time. But, I’m dealing with it. I’m doing this for the well being of every single person that I care about. Some people very important to me recently let their guard down ever so slightly and ended up with positive COVID cases in their household. It’s that easy for this to keep going.

But, here he are. One year in. It’s been a long and winding road. We’re not at the “light at the end of the tunnel” yet, but I believe that we’re in the tunnel. I have received both my two COVID vaccination shots and in just a few more days, I should be fully “good to go.” However, since we’re not 100% certain if I may still be able to transmit COVID from one person to another, I will still be doing my part to stop the spread. I won’t be as social as I was before. But, then again, I wasn’t very social before.

As much as I have enjoyed my solitude over the past year, and honestly, I have made the best of it, I want this to be over. I want the option of doing things and not having to worry about COVID. I very much used to wearing a mask for much of my day, but I look forward to the time when I don’t have to. And before any of you start with the “You don’t have to now” crap, let me make this very clear. Yes, I have to. I have to because it’s the right thing to do for myself and for you.

I will be returning to the gym in a few weeks. I look forward to being to use treadmills and ellipticals. I look forward being to able to do some things that I haven’t done in over a full year. I know that I’ll be required to wear a mask while at the gym, but I’m okay with that.

There’s other things that I hope to be able get to do over the next few months. Maybe I’ll able to get them done. But, more than anything else, I just want things to be better. I want them to be better for me and I want them to be better for you. Me wearing a mask, getting a vaccination, and staying socially distant is me making an effort to make things better for you.

But, as far as making things better for me. I have a vision of how I want things to be for myself. The key word there is vision. I’m not going to say more about that right now. Some people may know what I’m talking about, but I won’t discuss specifics yet.

A few times over the past year I’ve mentioned part of what ruined my motivation to get myself into better shape was that there were no 5ks for me to run. I had planned to run at least 8 of them in 2020 and they were all canceled. Well, now it’s just about the time of year when I would be getting myself ready for my racing season to begin, except there’s still no races. But, I’m hoping to get out there and train as if there are races in my calendar. I need to do that. I need to get myself in shape again. I know that I will face some mental blocks along the way with this, but I’m going to do my best to get past those and just keep going forward. Hopefully, I’ll be going forward quick enough that I’ll be completing 3.1 miles in 30 minutes or less. We’ll see how that plays out.

I’ve never liked the word “normal.” I’ve gone into that before. What’s “normal” for me may not be “normal” for you. But, I want to be able to return to the sense of “normalcy” that I had before the COVID Pandemic. As much as I have enjoyed my #PandemicLife “normal,” I don’t think it’s fulfilling enough for me. And now that a decent amount of people in my social circle are vaccinated, or will be soon, I think returning to the old “normal” may be something that could be possible soon.

We’re not there yet. But, we’re closer than we were. Progress is good. Let’s keep moving forward and let’s bring as many of us with us as we possibly can.

The Pale Reflection Tells All, Predominations Sustain.

It’s now been officially over one year since I’ve attended a concert. It’s also been over one full year since I’ve attended any event that I needed a ticket for. I believe that this is the first time that I’ve been able to say that in twenty years. For someone that attends as many concerts as I (normally) do and as someone that grew to rely on concerts for various reasons, you would think that I would be very upset about this. But, I’m really not.

There is no doubt that I think it would be great to be able to see some of my favorite bands in person again. It would be great to see the friends that I see at shows. It would be great to be able to get the emotional release that I get from some of those shows. But, I also know that it’s for the best that none of that has been possible for the past year.

I had planned to attend a concert in Philadelphia in March of last year. A day before the band canceled the show, I canceled my hotel reservation. COVID-19 had started to spread in that area and I decided to err on the side of caution. Some people thought that I was being overly cautious, but I have no regrets. We didn’t know what we were dealing with then, and I didn’t want to take the chance.

Here we are a year later and my (in person) socializing has been barely existent for almost twelve full months. And, I’ve had no major depressive episodes during that year. How did I avoid depression? How did the loneliness and isolation not get to me? I think the lack of rejection played a big part in it. I couldn’t be turned down. I couldn’t have plans backfire. None of that was possible over the past year.

To clarify something from the last paragraph, I never truly felt lonely over the past year. In fact, I rarely feel lonely. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But, it’s something that may be explored in a future entry. In fact, I’m already thinking about it more than anything else in this post. Why don’t I get lonely? See… I’m thinking about it too much already. Okay… moving on…

I am fully aware that a lot of what I’ve written about in the past year has been somewhat repetitious, but I haven’t had much to write about due to a lack of new experiences inspiring me.

A few paragraphs ago, I said that I’ve had no major depressive episodes recently and I haven’t. But, I am dealing with an incredible malaise right now. My motivation is shot. I’m lacking the energy to do much of anything, even with the little bit of anything that I’m doing. I’ve actually been going to sleep earlier recently. I thought that maybe that would help, but it hasn’t. Ironically, at the time that I’m writing this portion of this entry, I’m going on less sleep than I’ve had in days and I’m more full of energy than I’ve been for a few days.

For various reasons, this post has taken a few days to write. The malaise is an issue and so is time restraints. I’ve actually been busy. Yes, as much as I don’t want to do much, I always manage to make sure that I get my legitimate obligations done. I think that’s why I literally plan out so much of days sometimes. I don’t do stuff if I don’t have to.

It’s very possible that absolutely every single thing that I’ve mentioned in this entry is tied together. It’s been one full year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been one full year of not being able to do the things that I used to do, or in my case, the option of doing them. The majority of my days have almost literally been nothing but, waking up, going to work, going back to the house. For a little while, I was working from my house, and while that’s convenient, it’s also not. That’s another topic that I may explore in the near future.

One of these days, I may need to go back and look at all of the topics that I’ve said that I may need to explore and actually write about them. I also may need to go back and re-read entries because I do feel that I’m repeating too much, especially over the past year. For example, if I had read last month’s entry before starting this one, I would have realized that I’m basically ending it the same way, but talking about exploring topics that I’ve brought up. And of course, I did mention something about Easter Eggs in that post. But, that’s all that I’ll say about that (for now).

There’s potential for me to be able to have a different story in my next entry. There’s things in the works that could possibly alleviate some of my personal concerns. It would be nice if those were able to come to fruition. I don’t feel like I have much to say right now. But, maybe not having much to talk about is a good thing. It’s really just a matter of perspective.

Stand Fast, Faithful One. See the Moon and Not the Sun.

As I’ve approached my self-imposed deadline for this blog entry, I’ve had a very difficult time coming up with anything at all to say. I had toyed with the concept of writing a follow up to the entry that I wrote about nothing a while back. Because, I really felt that I had nothing to say, but I don’t know if that’s really true.

I use this space to unpack my baggage. I use this space as my outlet to discuss various things, usually relating to my own mental health. And I’ve said many times that when I’m in a good place mentally, I don’t have much to say here. And that’s where I am now.

While there isn’t much going on with me personally, there’s so much going on in the world around me. There’s been so much within the first month of 2021. The various stuff in Washington, DC. There’s been the storming of the Capitol, to the swearing in of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. There’s the ongoing Pandemic. There’s all of the stuff going on with the stock market. There’s just so much happening in the world, even as the world has slowed down with the Pandemic.

I often see people talking about the younger generations being “soft.” People say that too much offends the younger people. They say that they’re not “manly enough” and other garbage like that. I’m not going to get into that here, but that topic, and some personal stories of my own about being bullied have given me stuff to think about and I’ll probably be writing something about that in the near future.

A few weeks ago, I was discussing my old blog entries on MySpace. Maybe I didn’t take them as seriously as I do the entries here, but I threw in “Easter eggs” in all of those entries. I had fun writing them and inserting various reoccurring themes into them just to see if anyone would notice. Granted, the majority of the things that I referenced were for my own amusement, but isn’t that the fun of it?

Another topic that I will likely get into more detail about soon is how I’m surviving without concerts. I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions that going to concerts is like therapy for me. Different bands mean different things to me. How I experience, feel, and take in one band is completely different than another. It’s been almost a full year since I’ve been to a live show. How has that impacted me? Something that I’ve relied on so much in life hasn’t been an option for me. This topic will be explored soon.

I’ve started to realize that this entry is turning into a behind the scenes concept for this blog. I’ve discussed how I used to write entries and things that I may write in the future.

I think I may write about teachers that were positive influences on me. There’s definitely a few that did things to encourage me. In most cases, I didn’t realize it at the time. But, I think that what they did was subtle enough and when I did realize what they did for me, in most cases, many years later, I really did appreciate it. Yeah, that’ll probably be a topic here.

At the risk of sounding more pessimistic than I’ve been here recently, I don’t see the current situation with the Pandemic changing that much in the near future. That means that what I’ve been doing for most of the past year is going to continue, and it could mean that my lack of current things to talk about will also continue. I guess you could say that it’s a good thing (for me). Because, if I don’t have anything new to talk about here, that means, in theory, that I’m doing well. But, regardless of that, I want this forum to challenge me. I don’t want the challenge to be just having an entry once per month, I want the challenge to be writing something good once per month.

As I’ve been working on this entry, ideas have come to me for future entries. I’m going to do my best to plan some and put some effort into them. This one has been a total spontaneous one, after a few drafts were started, and will likely never be published. Maybe I’ll even get some of them out before each month ends. That may be too much to ask, but you never know.

This entry actually does remind me of my old MySpace entries. There’s no cohesive theme in it. And while those entries are no longer available online, I do have them all saved. I may look at them. It’s interesting to see what I wrote about before and to see how much I expressed. Will I see anger? Will I see sadness? Will I see total joy? Probably not the joy. As for the Easter Eggs in those entries, I’ll be amused by them still, since I know the jokes. Don’t look for an Easter Egg in this entry. Even if I did put one here, you wouldn’t know it yet.

So now that I’ve torn down the fourth wall in a non-TV setting, I’m going to wrap this up. I’m impressed that I was able to drag this out as long as I was. I’ll be back here soon enough. I’ll probably discuss one of the topics that I talked about earlier. And since I’m (sort of) committing to one of them now, I’ll actually put some time and effort into it.

I Become the One You Haven’t Seen For Years.

I always write an entry at the end of each year where I look back and ask myself the same question that I asked myself one year earlier. “Am I better off than I was one year ago?” 2020 has been a weird year. It’s been like nothing that we’ve ever experienced and I hope that none of us have to experience anything like it again. The COVID-19 Pandemic that hit us this year changed so much about how we go about our daily lives. I will usually look at my year-end entry from the year before to make comparisons. I want to remind myself of where I mentally was when I wrote whatever I wrote in the previous year. I want to know what I thought I may struggle with. I want to know what my goals were. I want to be able to accurately gauge my personal progress. But, in a year when I wasn’t able to do much, there’s a few things that I can’t compare. I also can’t get upset about it.

Because of the Pandemic, my social life pretty much came to a screeching halt in March. There were no concerts, no sporting events, no BBQs, and no parties. I have barely seen anybody on a social level, in any capacity since this started. I attended a concert (Mr. Bungle) on February 11th and I saw a comedy show (Daniel Sloss) a few days later. Since then, I haven’t done anything in any type of group setting. This is completely not like any year that I’ve had in recent memory. Concerts are what I do. I usually attend many shows in any given year, and I had some plans for a few in 2020. I had some road trips planned. None of that happened.

I was hoping to compete in more 5K races than I had done in previous years. I was looking to add one or two that I had never done before, but again, the Pandemic happened. I figured that training for the races would allow me to drop the extra weight that my doctor had recommended that I lose when I saw her in January. However, when the races started getting canceled, I pretty much stopped training and I ended up gaining weight. I am glad to say that I’m basically back to where I started and I’m making sure to do my DDP Yoga workouts daily. I’ve recently started doing some more intense and longer ones. And just like every single year-end entry that I’ve ever written since I’ve started doing DDP Yoga, I still end the year not being able to do the Black Crow pose. However, the last time that it came up during a session, I was closer than I’ve ever been before. Maybe it’ll finally happen in 2021.

I spend A LOT of time in my entries and social media talking about Mental Health. I know that 2020 has been very difficult for a lot of people. I ALMOST feel bad saying this, but my mental health is great. Social anxiety is a big thing for me. I’m not comfortable in group settings. Regardless of how often you may see at a party or with a few people, I can assure you that it’s not easy for me to be there. However, that really hasn’t been an issue for me for much of the year. All joking aside, I feel great. My social anxieties are more calm than I can think of at any point since I’ve become aware of them. However, I do fear that my re-integration to society could be difficult for me when things calm down and we can get back to “normal.” But, I’ll slowly cross that bridge when we get to it.

Another bright side to doing practically nothing in 2020 is that my bank account is doing better than ever. I am an “essential” employee. I didn’t lose a cent of pay during the year. I understand that not everyone that I know can say the same. I am beyond grateful that I have a job that made sure the employees are taken care of during this unprecedented time. There’s been so many points in my life where I was so worried about money. I would have to cancel plans with friends because I couldn’t afford to keep them. That isn’t a problem now. It hasn’t been for a while. It’s an amazing difference. There’s been a few times during the year where I had to replace something that broke or pay for something that would previously have financially ruined me. It’s not a concern for me right now. I have the financial “safety net” that I’ve never had before. I’m actually almost confused by the level of comfort that I have here. But, I’m not going to let it be a bad thing.

Much like the Black Crow Pose not being achieved in 2020, I also didn’t achieve my goal of reading 12 books in the year. Both of these things seem to be common issues in my year-end entry. But, as I said earlier, I got close to the Black Crow. But, I didn’t read nearly as much as I would liked. I spent more time watching old TV and movies than reading. I will try to make the 12 books (or more) goal happen in 2021.

I noticed that one of the things that I wrote in my 2019 end of year entry was that I had a hard time writing entries in 2019 because I had a good year and I felt that I didn’t have much to talk about. I had the same problem in 2020. And as weird as 2020 was, I don’t have much to complain about. I do know a few people that got sick with COVID, but I didn’t lose anyone to it. I’m lucky there. Too many people can’t say the same thing.

My New Year’s Resolution is ALWAYS the same. It’s always “I want to make it better.” I want my 2021 to be better than my 2020. But, in addition to my own personal efforts to improve things for myself in 2021, it’s my wish that everyone else does their part to get through the Pandemic, so we can put in behind us. I really do hope that the entry that I write on this day in 2021 will have a little bit more to talk about. But, as I wrap this up, I’m very glad that I have enough perspective to know just how good I have it right now. By no means is this how I thought my year would be, but I also cannot complain about it. I’m healthy. My friends are healthy. I may not see my friends in person, but I have plenty of ways to communicate with them, and I do. 2020 was weird for me, but it wasn’t bad for me.

But, to answer the question that I asked at the beginning of this entry, “am I better off than I was one year ago?” Honestly, yes. I really think that I am. I hope that I’m able to say the same thing again next year.

2020 Album of the Year

1- Paradise Lost – Obsidian
2- Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo
3- Katatonia – City Burials
4- The Pineapple Thief – Versions of the Truth
5- The Amity Affliction – Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them
6- Scott H. Biram – Fever Dreams
7- Dark Tranquillity – Moment
8- Human Impact – Human Impact
9- Body Count – Carnivore
10- Gangstagrass – No Time for Enemies

For all that was wrong with 2020, and there’s a lot, it was a really good year for new music. Six of the ten bands that are in my Annual Top 10 list are appearing for the first time. I actually gave some consideration to doing a Top 15 for the second time, and I easily could have, but I kept it to a Top 10.

From the moment that I heard the first notes of the first song on Paradise Lost’s Obsidian, I knew it was a special album. That song, “Darker Thoughts” starts off slow with clean vocals and then, at the right time, breaks into a rage with growling vocals. It perfectly set the tone for another great album from a great band with a great legacy. This is actually their second consecutive Album of the Year in my rankings, with this following their 2017 album, Medusa. I joked after that album that they should retire because their sound have gone full circle, and after 30 years and 15 albums, how could they keep going as strong. But, they did.

Not only does “Darker Thoughts” set the tone for their 16th studio album, but it kind of set the tone for 2020 as a whole. In addition to that great song, I also recommend “Fall from Grace,” “the Devil Embraced,” “Ravenghast,” and especially “Forsaken.”

Mr. Bungle broke up in 2000. They reunited in 2020 and released a new album, but in reality that album is their (previously unreleased) 1986 demo tape. I don’t know what type of impact it would have had if it were released in 1986, but in 2020, the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, is one of the best records to be (officially) released during the year. I saw Mr. Bungle play this album in its entirety in February. That was actually the last concert that I was able to attend before the pandemic put a stop to that. I knew basically none of the songs that were played that night, but it was still very memorable. The album was released on October 30th and the band did a live streaming concert on Halloween, where they played it again. It’s just a really good 1980s style thrash album released in 2020. In fact, this entire story is a very 2020 thing, and also a very (Mr. Bungle front man) Mike Patton thing to do.

Tracks that I think stand out a bit on the Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo include “Anarchy Up Your Anus,” “Hypocrites / Habla Español O Muere,” “Eracist,” and “Methematics.” In fact, “Methematics” sounded somewhat familiar, because it’s obvious that Mr. Bungle used parts of this unreleased song and used it in their 1991 self-titled (official) first release in the song “Love is a Fist.”

Before Paradise Lost in 2017 and 2020, Katatonia was the only band that got the top spot in my Top 10 list (2009’s Night is the New Day and 2012’s Dead End Kings). Their 2020 release, City Burials is really a great album, and could easily have given Katatonia their third Album of the Year, if it wasn’t for the two albums that I’ve already spoken about. Like Paradise Lost’s Obsidian, this album starts off with a great song, “Heart Sets to Divide,” that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Other good songs that I like include “Lacquer,” “the Winter of our Passing,” and “Flicker.” I also want to state that “Behind the Blood” is a great song that includes one of the best lines that I’ve head in a long time, “You’re a torch to the temple of depression.” Seriously, that’s a powerful line.

I’ve been aware of Bruce Soord’s The Pineapple Thief since he and Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse collaborated on 2013’s album of the year, Wisdom of Crowds. I’ve heard some stuff from The Pineapple Thief over the past few years, but not much of it really did much for me. That changed with Versions of the Truth. The first track that I heard was the title track from the album and it peaked my interest enough to listen to more, and I’m glad that I did. I think the album is a great combination of what I like from bands like Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, and Anathema. It’s a good album that did not bore me at any point while I was listening to it.

Other tracks that I think stand out a bit include “Demons,” “Too Many Voices” and “Our Mire.”

While six of the ten bands to have albums on this year’s list have never appeared on it before, The Amity Affliction is the only one that I didn’t know of until 2020. I heard their song “Soak Me in Bleach” while I was driving and I really liked it, so I looked into them and saw that they had just released an album, Everyone Loves You… Once You Leave Them. I got a copy of the album and enjoyed it quite a bit. I don’t generally listen to things in the Metalcore genre unless the albums really stand out. This one did.

The first three tracks of the album “Coffin,” “All My Friends Are Dead,” and (the already mentioned) “Soak Me in Bleach” start the album really well. “All I Do is Sink” and “Born to Lose” are also good songs to check out.

Scott H. Biram’s Fever Dreams was released on the day after Thanksgiving. It was basically a surprise. There was no advanced notice. No singles were released. And while, I’ve been listening to Biram for 15 years, and basically knew what I could expect from one of his albums, I still didn’t know what to expect. What I got was one of the most polished, yet still raw sounding, albums that I’ve heard from him. The title track is one his more heartfelt songs in his library and the song “Can’t Stay Long” sounds like it would fit on the Smokey and the Bandit soundtrack, which (to be clear) is complimentary. This is another really good album from “the Dirty Old One Man Band.”

Other great songs from the album include “Single Again” which I would put up against any popular country song and “Drunk Like Me” which has the trademark Biram sound that made me a fan from the start.

Very few bands that I listen to are as consistent as Dark Tranquillity. They put out quality album after quality album, and Moment is another example of that. Like Mr. Bungle, Dark Tranquillity had a streaming concert where they played their new album in its entirety on the day after it was released. I made it a point to listen to the album one time before seeing the show. The songs that I liked upon the first listen were great during their live performance. The song “Identical to None” IMMEDIATELY stood out to me and quickly became one of my favorite songs from Dark Tranquillity’s entire 30 year career.

“The Dark Unbroken,” “Empires Lost to Time,” and “Phantom Days” are some of my other favorite songs from Moment.

Human Impact is considered to be an “American Noise Rock supergroup.” I don’t quite know what “American Noise Rock” is, but I know that I like Human Impact’s self-titled debut album. They are on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records label and I’m pretty sure that I discovered them through a YouTube suggestion. The video that I saw on YouTube was for their song “Cause.” I really liked that song and searched for more. I liked that and got a copy of their album. Just like Amity Affliction, I was thrilled to find another new good band that I liked to listen to.

If you’re inclined to listen to songs from this album to check them out, in addition to “Cause,” I like “E605,” “Respirator,” and “Protestor.”

If you’re surprised to see Body Count in my Top 10 Albums of the Year list, so am I. I’ve listened to them on and off since their 1990 debut. Over the past few years, I’ve really liked some of their newer songs, but I didn’t go out of my way to get any of their albums. Then I heard the title track from their 2020 album, Carnivore. I liked the song. I also noticed that they were going to be playing in my area not long after that. In order to get myself up to speed on their newer stuff, I bought a few albums, including Carnivore. Unfortunately, the pandemic happened and the show was canceled. But, that didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the album. It’s a really good, aggressive, hardcore style album.

My favorite tracks from Carnivore include the already mentioned title track, “Another Level,” “Thee Critical Beatdown,” and the updated version of “Colors.”

A found out about Gangstagrass just a few years ago. They’re a bluegrass/hip hop band. Yeah, you read that correctly. I saw them in concert shortly after first discovering them and I had a great time. I got a bunch of their albums and became familiar with some of their back catalog. 2020’s No Time for Enemies is their 6th studio album and the first one that they’ve released since I’ve known of them. It’s the 10th Best Album of 2020, as far as I’m concerned. I’m also pretty sure that some of their other releases could have made my lists if I had known about them earlier.

Some of the songs that I like the most from No Time for Enemies include “Freedom,” “Do Better,” and especially “Nickel and Dime Blues.”

As I stated at the beginning of this post, there were a lot of good albums in 2020. Here is a listing of other albums that came out during the year (in alphabetical order by artist):

– The Allman Betts Band – Bless Your Heart. This is a good album, but it just missed the list.
– Blackfield – For the Music. Blackfield without Steven Wilson as a main song writer is just boring.
– Corey Taylor – CMFT. This record has some good stuff on it, but it’s a bit disjointed with different styles of songs on it.
– Dion – Blues with Friends. In my opinion, this is the best album that Dion has put out since 1989’s Yo Frankie.
– Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters. A good album with some good songs.
– Hatebreed – Weight of the False Self. This was a Hatebreed album. I got what I expected.
– Heaven Shall Burn –Of Truth and Sacrifice. This was a double album that had a few good songs, but of the 19 tracks on the album, the good ones were lost in the shuffle.
– Lamb of God – Lamb of God. There’s some good stuff on here and in a year that was stacked with GREAT albums, it may have made the Top 10.
– Lonesome Wyatt and the Holy Spooks – Dream Curse. Lonesome Wyatt puts out good stuff, but I think he’s better when he’s with Those Poor Bastards.
– Mina Caputo – The Mones. There are some wonderfully poetic songs on here.
– Mushroomhead – A Wonderful Life. This is first Mushroomhead album without their founder Jeffrey Nothing, who left in 2018. His replacement sounds a lot like him, but it’s not the same.
– Spy Machines – Spy Machines. This is a jam group consisting of Clutch’s JP Gaster and some people that Clutch has toured with. It’s a fun album, but I don’t see myself listening to it often.
– Tetema – necroscape. This is one of those “I don’t know what I’m listening to” Mike Patton projects.
– Trivium – What the Dead Men Say. See Lamb of God.
– White Stones – Kuarahy. White Stones was founded by Opeth’s bass player, Martin Mendez. Their debut album sounds like Opeth demo tapes and songs that didn’t make the cut with Opeth.
– William Elliot Whitmore – I’m With You. A solid folk/blues album.

I’ve enjoyed listening to all of these albums this year, and all of them did get a full listen.
I know that (2009 Album of the Year winner) Moonspell and Steven Wilson (2007 winner, as part of Porcupine Tree) have new albums coming out in 2021. I’m not sure about other acts. I know some bands are holding off on releasing new material until that they can properly tour for it. I’m hoping to have a list half as good as this one when I start compiling my 2021 Top 10 about a year from now.

A note about eligibility for my 2020 Album of the Year:
– the album must have had a United States release date in 2020.
– the album must be new material (for the band or artist).
– live albums are only eligible if they’re new material.