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.

In Your Mind I’m Fed With Distrust.

I’ve spent the majority of 2020 inside. Not just inside my house, but inside my head, as I explained a bit last month. It’s been a weird year for all of us. I don’t need to get into that, and to be honest, I’m trying to save some of it for next month’s 2020 recap entry. But, as I continue to tell people that I’m doing fine, all it takes one is one thing to trigger a feeling, memory, or emotion that makes me question all of it.

A day or so ago, I saw a video online of someone acting out her relationship with her mother. It was a DEEP video. It was my trigger. I went from being content to “having lot of feels,” as the kids say. I am not capable of getting too deep inside my own thoughts enough to convey what exactly that video did to my psyche. Or at least, I’m not able to properly convey it.

As much as I’m capable of saying in this forum, there’s still A LOT that I’m not able to say. Maybe one day I will be able to, but today is not that time.

One of the things that I said immediately after seeing the video was that I was starting to “question everything.” I started to wonder if I’ve been honest with myself over the past few months. I’ve told people that I’m really doing emotionally and mentally well during the Pandemic. I mean, I think I am, but what if I’m not okay and I’ve just convinced myself that I am? Yes, a video about someone’s toxic relationship with her mother made my mind go there. It hit very close to home, literally and figuratively.

I have a lot of defense mechanisms. I make a lot of jokes at my own expense. I’ve told people that since I’m not doing much of any socializing during the Pandemic, my social anxiety levels have never been better. And, there’s definitely a level of truth to that. But, I’m now questioning how true that is and if I’m just making it up to convince myself that it’s true. This goes back to the self doubt that I often talk about in these entries. A LOT of that self doubt comes from things that were said to me by my parents.

I don’t want to use this entry to go down a dark path. I know it could easily go there. I’m NOT in a bad place. Well, I think I’m not. See, it’s happening. I’m not just putting the doubtful lines in here as humorous diversions. It’s really how I think. Am I fine now? Am I not?

My routines keep me sane throughout the days. I need the order. I’ve continued to find comfort in the things that I discussed in last month’s entry. But, am I looking for the comfort there to compensate for other things that are lacking? Isn’t that something that we all do? Am I different? There’s always more questions for me than answers.

Part of the reason that I’ve said that I’m doing well is that I’ve been isolated for so much of my life. So basically, I’ve been practicing for Pandemic Life.
I was not allowed to go out and do things with my friends as much as others were. When I was allowed, I would always have to check in multiple times, or else. Those patterns of behaviors and guidelines definitely set me on the path to social anxieties. I got to the point where I started to not ask to do things because the disappointment of missing out was easier to deal with than the denial of permission.

Like I said last month, I spent days and weeks in my house watching TV. It was there for more. I did that in my bedroom, where I’m typing this now. It’s my sanctuary. It’s where I’m safe. It’s where I was sent as a punishment when I was a child. I’ve become a prisoner in my own Stockholm Syndrome. Yet, I like it here… I think.

The restrictions, guidelines, and mandates that I spoke of earlier didn’t go away as I got to “legal age.” They continued. Even after I was no longer required to check in with anyone, I still feel the anticipation of problems if I don’t do it. And it’s been over a decade since I’ve needed to check. How does this tie-in with me spending time in my room now as an adult during a Pandemic?

I’m sitting here trying to figure that out. I’ve spent some time since the last paragraph ended attempting to put my thoughts together without going back and deleting much of this entry. Some of my friends have recently told me that they’re actually surprised when I say that I’m such an introvert and how uncomfortable I am in social settings. That gets me thinking if I’m really better at being in public than I think I am or I’m just good at faking it.

I really didn’t answer the question there, did I? I know this entry is jumbled. I know there’s somewhat of a vague common theme here, but it’s not going where it could. That’s probably because where it could go is a lot deeper inside of me than I realized it was when I started typing this.

About 20 minutes has passed since I ended the last paragraph. I’ve started browsing some of my older entries. I’ve seen some common themes. I’ve seen some common doubts. I’ve seen some common issues. I’ve seen some common pauses in my ability to express.

I want to believe that I’m doing okay right now. Even though, I’m a firm believer in “it’s okay to not be okay.” So, if I’m okay with not being okay, am I okay? Yeah, I had to ask that. Right now, I’m okay with not knowing the answer to that question or any others that I’ve asked here. And I’ll be okay revisiting these concepts and questions when the time is right. And it’ll only be right when it’s the right time.

But, until then, I’m going to retreat back to me mental and emotional safe space and continue with my current routines. Because, until I doubt them enough, it’s still comfortable there. And that’s where I need to be right now.

Inside My Head, Electric Insomnia.

I live inside my head. There’s a decent amount of real estate there. There’s also a lot of roads inside there. Some of those roads go to very dark places. Some of those roads go to places that I’ve been to before. Some of those roads go to places that I’ve never been to. Some of those roads take me to places that I’ll never go to. But, all of those roads take me to where I am now. But, where am I?

2020 has been a weird year. As the world has mostly been shut down due to a pandemic, the overwhelming majority of things that I’ve done for my sanity aren’t available to me anymore. I can’t attend concerts or sporting events. Going to a bar with friends isn’t a viable options. So many of my routines, habits, and hobbies have been placed on hold. You would think that I would be absolutely miserable because of that. But, I’m not.

I would tell you that I’m in a good place mentally and emotionally, but to be honest, I don’t know if I ever truly am. I’ve often spoken about how I always question why things aren’t going wrong when I’m enjoying myself for an extended period of time. And I almost took that road yesterday, but, the road took a slight detour.

Instead of going to one of those dark places in my head, my mind took me on the road to the summer of 1990. When the majority of my classmates were outside during the day and playing with their friends, I was most likely asleep during the day. I didn’t see anyone. I slept all day and stayed in my room and watched TV and listened to the radio all night. No, this isn’t a dark place for me, it was a comfortable place. And, I think that’s where I am now.

In 1990, I really didn’t have many friends. I was getting ready to start high school. The concept of “fresh start” didn’t seem that appealing to me. I saw high school as the chance to have double the amount of classmates that didn’t like me. Yes, that part IS as bad as it sounds.

The TV shows that I was watching during that summer were Doctor Who episodes on PBS, Professional Wrestling, stand up comedy specials, and late night talk shows such as the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Late Night with David Letterman, Later with Bob Costas, and the Joe Franklin Show. Later was one of the first true sit down, one on one, interview shows that I enjoyed watching. The Joe Franklin show was on a local channel and at one point in his career, he would interview A-List celebrities. I don’t think he was getting those when I was watching. I also spent a lot of time watching reruns of sitcoms and listening to sports talk radio.

It’s now 2020. When I’m not at work, I’m at my house, in my room. I watch Doctor Who box sets, Professional Wrestling, stand up comedy specials, game shows from the 1970s and 1980s, and reruns of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I listen to podcasts that discuss things such as Later with Bob Costas and the Joe Franklin Show. To be clear, they aren’t just discussing things that are similar, they’re actually discussing those shows.

I do some other things besides that, but for the most part, I barely leave that one room, just like 30 years ago, and basically every day in between.

In 2020, I truly have more friends that I could ever imagine having. But, I don’t see them in person. It’s not necessarily safe to do that right now. I’m not upset about it. And I due to my mind going on a long road trip of pondering yesterday, I think I know why I’m okay with being where I am now.

The 1990 scenario that I described probably did a lot to enhance my social anxieties. I say enhance them and not cause them because I was always a bit shy. Being social is very difficult for me sometimes. I’ve described that in detail in some other entries. But, here we are in 2020 and being social isn’t an option. It’s actually kind of a freeing feeling. I’m capable of being me and doing what I want to do without worrying about anything else. It’s easy for me, and I feel safe here.

Of course, immediately after finishing that last paragraph, my mind went down another long road of thought. Is “easy” good for me? Am I comfortable being where I am? Is comfortable good? Should I question this a lot less? Should I just be glad that I’m doing well? What if I’m not really doing well? What if I’m doing well where I am now and don’t want to leave?

So yeah…
That’s how my mind works.
It sounds like a fun place to be, right?

Fun or not, good or bad, happy or sad, it’s where I am right now. It’s where my mind has taken me. It’s where 2020 has taken my mind. I want to make it as clear as I possibly can. Regardless of all of the places that my mind can go, I have not had one single major depressive episode during the year. I haven’t even come close. Maybe, sitting around and watching retro TV and movies is healthy for me. I mean, I know that I enjoy it…
well, at least I think that I do.

See, it happened again. Instant doubt.

The truth is, that regardless of all of the things that I’ve said in this post, I’m not in a dark place. Yes, sometimes my mind heads in that direction, but the comforting thoughts of binge watching an old TV series is a detour that my mind enjoys going on. And if there’s enjoyment, with no pressure and no anxiety, I should probably do my best not to take that road or let it take up too much space in my head.


I Can’t Say That I am Free As Long As They Return.

Enjoyment. Happiness. Satisfaction. Contentment.
Based on what I’ve said in many of my recent entries, I should be experiencing many of those feelings. I’ve talked about how well things are going for me. I’ve mentioned that I’m in a good place. I have significantly less concerns about my life than I’m used to having. Yet, I’m not feeling those things. Instead, I’m dealing with doubt, fear, anxiety, and maybe complacency.

In another entry from a while ago, I talked about living in a “world of ‘can’t.'” That means that I’ve always been told about what I can’t do. I’ve always had a voice in my head telling me what I can’t do. Very often, the voices telling me that were my parents, teachers, and other authority figures in my life. And I’m not talking about them advising not to play in traffic or something like that. I’m talking about convincing me that things that I wanted to do were not worth the time or that I couldn’t accomplish them. But, now, at 44 years old, the voice in my head telling me that I can’t do things is my own.

How do I convince that voice that it’s wrong? How do I change how my mind is programmed and move from “can’t” to “can” and then to “done?” There’s been so many times in my life when I’ve felt that it’s just easier to NOT do something than to try it and not succeed. Sometimes I’ll plan something and the anxiety of whatever it is gets me very worked up. Then I’ll cancel that plan and I won’t feel dread or sorrow that it’s not happening, I’ll feel relieved that my anxiety is gone.

In January of this year, I had my annual physical. It was suggested by my doctor that I lose weight. Even before that appointment, I had hoped to lose 30 pounds. I had planned to use the various 5k races that I usually run throughout the year as my motivation. I was going to train as much as possible. I was going to eat better. I was going to do as much as I possibly could to get as close to the shape that I was in 5 years ago when I was setting records for myself in almost every race that I ran. My personal record is from that year and I’ve only come close to it one time since.

In addition to the races that I usually sign up for, I had planned to do one or two more than usual. Then COVID-19 happened. All of the races were canceled. Gyms closed. My motivation went with it. My weight went up. I don’t question why I gained more weight. I may joke about it, but I know exactly why. My efforts to lose the weight haven’t worked. Although, to be completely honest, my efforts have been pretty minimal. I know that I have the tools to do it. I know what I have to do. I just haven’t been able to do it. I’ve attempted to do longer in-house workout routines, but I’m more likely to stop doing them halfway through than I am to complete them. I’ll plan a 2 mile run around my town, but after struggling to get the first half mile done, I’ll gladly quit when I get to one mile. Why am I doing that? Am I more satisfied by not struggling to complete a goal than I am to go through with the struggle? It’s the voice in my head that tells me that I can’t do it.

To be fair, over the past few weeks, I have made significant changes to my food consumption. I am making an effort there. And, I’m doing well with it. I’ve lost (at least) 5 pounds. And while I’ve done well here, I KNOW how easy it is for me to have one doubt planted in my mind (by my own history) and immediately start buying potato chips and other unhealthy snacks again.

I’ve told people that I lack the energy and stamina to do a full workout. I’ve also said that if I did more full workouts, I would probably have more energy and stamina. I don’t sleep well. A lack of sleep can lead to weight gain (at least according to some article that I recently saw). If I slept better, would I have the energy to get more done? If I got more done, would I have more energy? Is it bad that I had planned to do some exercise 30 minutes ago, but starting typing this instead?

There’s other things in my life that I need to work on besides just my weight. But, just like everything that I’ve said in this entry, there’s so much doubt in my mind about my ability to get them done. Even if I start them, I don’t know if I can finish them. My life has so many unfinished projects. Well, now I know a topic for another entry, but I digress.

2020 has halted much of the world. I’ve settled into a lot of routines that are enjoyable, but are they all good for me? The majority of them have me sitting around. Most of them include watching TV or listening to an album. There’s nothing wrong with doing those things, but I think that I need to maybe make them more or a reward for myself than the actual goal.

If I know that I have do these other things, why don’t I just do them? That’s a great question that I think some of you are probably asking. I ask myself that too. Just getting up and doing something isn’t as easy as it sounds like it is or should be. I don’t think I’m in the midst of a depressive episode that is keeping me from doing things. I don’t know why the voice in my head keeps telling me that I can’t. I need to free myself from the voice that tells me no, or at least shut it up for a while. Until I do that, I don’t know how much I can change.