Inside My Head, Smokescreen’s Gone.

Emotions are a weird thing. It’s simultaneously possible to be fully enjoying yourself and dreading the situation that you’re in. I’ve written about this before, but it happened to me again recently. I was surrounded by people that I know. But, while fully enjoying that, I was also isolated. I’ve been thinking about that since it happened.

As weird as it may sound to some people, very often I’m at my most comfortable when I’m by myself. I’ve been very careful to not say that I’m “alone.” I very rarely feel alone or lonely. Being by myself and being alone are two completely different things, at least as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve found a lot of outlets over the years. I’ve explained this in my entries. For over 25 years, I’ve been on social media sites and have been connecting with people that have similar interests. Those interests range from Professional Wrestling, old TV/movie references, music, and more. I have “real life” friends that I can go to discuss some of my interests, but if I don’t know which of them I can talk to, I have online forums where I can go. Social media can be destructive for some people. But, it’s really been an outlet for me. I really do believe that people that I interact with on those sites are what keep me from being “alone.”

I’m sure that if I gave it a lot of thought, I could pinpoint various situations from my childhood that helped create these feelings. But, I don’t know if I have the ability to do that right now. Detail like that would need a lot of time and effort.

The thing that I need to stress the most to anyone that reads this, and especially to any friend that has seen me recently, it’s very possible that you’ve been with me while I’ve been in one of these moods. I assure you that if I told you that it was good to see you that I meant it. I also assure you that if I said that I was having a good time, I really was. But, I also couldn’t wait to leave. That is more about me than it is about anything or anybody else.

I’ve been telling people lately that “there’s never been a better time to be me.” There isn’t sarcasm in that statement. It’s 100% true. But, it doesn’t mean that anything that anything else in this entry is invalid. It just means that I believe that I have a a pretty good concept of perspective of my current situation. I know where I am and I know where I’ve been. Where I am now is a lot better than where I’ve been.

I don’t know if I would be able to be in such a good place if I didn’t have my means of escape. My escapes are all of what I mentioned earlier, podcasts, movies, tv, concerts, and other events. And yet, sometimes while I’m attending those events, I want them to end so I can leave. And I may be fully enjoying myself while I’m there. I know there’s some mental/emotional contradictions there, but it seems so very normal to me.

If you read this and you start thinking that something’s wrong or that I’m not in a good place, don’t worry. I really am in a good place. But sometimes, I just don’t feel comfortable where I am, even if the most comforting of settings. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, it just means that sometimes I’m very much in my own head. And maybe that’s the best place for me.

Closed Was the Door to My Past Perception.

Sometimes before I write an entry, I’ll go back and read some other ones just in an effort to not repeat too many things. I haven’t done that today and I don’t plan to. I know that I’m going to be repeating some things from older entries, but I think it’s okay in this case. Because, I’m still in a good place and I want to attempt to get into that a bit.

One of the biggest problems with my own mental well being throughout my life has been my lack of ability to believe that things are good for me. Even when I may be at a peak, I’m waiting for the rapid decline to happen. And there were a lot of factors there. It wasn’t just that I was a pessimist, but I had very strong influences in my life that were putting me down, insulting my interests, bad mouthing my beliefs, and in general not being supportive of me. After (many figurative) trials and (too many judgement) errors, it doesn’t seem like many of those negative influences are around me any more.

There wasn’t one specific moment when a light went on or one any specific thing that turned my mindset around, but I think it was more a series of things. Various people, places, and things have helped me a bit there. The simplest way for me to look at thing is that maybe I all of my mental health puzzle pieces were in poured out and I was able to piece them together. The isolation of 2020 and 2021 really did contribute to that, I think. My solitude helped. My ability to appreciate the simple things was heightened.

Back in 2014, I was at a specific concert. At that show, I realized how much that specific band, its fans, and their shows meant to me. I had seen that band many times before then and I’ve seen that band multiple times since then and the members of the band have become friends of mine.

Just a few years ago, a friend of mine was listening to me talk about some of the experiences that I’ve had and she said something about how great my life seems to be. I did what I would normally do at that time. I dismissed the comment. But as time went on and I continued to be amazed by how surreal my life can be at times, I started to believe it. And now, I’m at the point where not only do I believe it, I accept it.

I’ve often said that “it’s good to know people.” Well, that’s true. Knowing the right people can be beneficial. But, more importantly knowing good people can increase the quality of your life. And right now the people I know are good people and they’re the right people for me.

Just about two months ago, I happened to be briefly seen on television. The circumstances behind that go in hand with what I said about knowing good people and the right people. A lot of people contacted me after that moment. The one comment that stood out to me the most was how incredibly happy I looked and how it was obvious that I was enjoying it just based on my big smile. Once again, I believed the comment. And I accept it.

None of what I’ve brought up here is to brag about people that I know. I’m bringing it up to emphasize that the good/right people that I know are positive influences in my life that provide me with positive experiences. For far too long, I had too many toxic people in my life. Way too many people that would make it impossible for me to experience such a smile that I mentioned a few minutes ago. I would also cling to that toxicity. I felt that it was where I needed to be in life and my where I was supposed to be.

To be honest. I still don’t where my life is “supposed to be.” By most conventional standards, I’m not where I’m “supposed to be” at this stage of my life. But right now, I’m where I need to be. And I really think that knowing the right people, who are good people, has helped me realize all of that. I know where I’ve been. I’m not focused on where I “should be.” I’m where I am, and for once, I’m not questioning if it’s good or not.

Refill the Porous Shell With Words That Mean So Many Things.

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?” 2021 was a year. It happened. For the most part, I enjoyed it. There’s truly very little about the year that personally went too badly for me. Not all of it was perfect, but it didn’t suck.

I did have some health concerns earlier in the year, but after a few visits to some doctors, those concerns were alleviated. My gratitude for my health insurance has never been higher. I don’t know if I would have even asked any doctors about any issues if I thought things wouldn’t be covered by my insurance. And to be perfectly honest, I would not have been able to afford any of the tests that were done if I didn’t have my coverage. The first day alone would have financially broken me.

I managed to avoid COVID-19 for the entire year. Unfortunately, I know too many people that weren’t able to avoid it. I didn’t lose anyone to it, but I know some people that were pretty sick from it. I really hope to not have much to say about COVID-19 in my 2022 year-end blog entry.

At the end of last year, I spoke about how I didn’t run any 5k races in 2020 (for somewhat obvious reasons). I had hoped to get back on track (literally) in 2021, but that didn’t happen. Some races did happen in my area. But, I didn’t participate in any. I certainly wasn’t in good enough shape to compete in them. And while I’ve often said that finishing a race, regardless of my time, is an accomplishment to be proud of, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have any finishes that wouldn’t upset me if I had competed. Which brings me to my next area of opportunity for 2022.

I’m ending 2021 at basically the same weight that I started it, which is heavier than I should be. I did get back to the gym a little bit during the year and I did workout a little bit, but I didn’t do enough. I know that. I am going to refocus my efforts to getting myself back into somewhat good shape in 2022 and hopefully, I’ll lose the weight that I wasn’t able to lose during 2021 (and 2020). I’m basically going to start at the beginning again of a workout program and go from there. I’m not able to start off where I was. I need to get myself back to that point and then beyond it.

And speaking of workouts, each and every year that I write this year-end entry, I lament my inability to have ever done a Black Crow pose during a DDP Yoga session. This year, I can proudly report that I did one well enough that I think I would be given credit for doing it successfully. Granted, it was only once, but I can no longer say that I’ve never done it.

Another goal that I miss every year is my goal of reading 12 books during the year. I got through 7 in 2021. I started 8. I’ll finish that 8th in a few days. I will try for 12 (or more) again in 2022. I really do enjoy reading, but I don’t seem to find the time to commit to it, which gets more and more difficult every year as I get more and more responsibilities and other things happening.

If there’s anything that is drastically different for me at the end of 2021 is that I now have 20/15 distance vision. I had LASIK done during the year and I no longer need glasses to see things far away. It’s made my driving, watching a baseball game in person, and attending movies experiences a bit different and better. I do need reading glasses now, which I’m wearing as I’m typing this. The LASIK basically reversed my vision. I no longer need help seeing things in the distance. But now, I can’t see things that are directly in front of me. That’s ironic, because some people have been accusing me of that for years.

Financially, whether I’m better off than I was one year ago is debatable. My bank account is about 1/3 of what it was at the end of 2020. However, I didn’t do much in 2020. I didn’t go on many long drives. I didn’t go to many concerts or events. I also didn’t start financing my LASIK surgery or my new laptop in 2020. In 2021, I did attend concerts and sporting events. I did go on a few long drives. I did start the aforementioned financings. I also had the pay for one of my job responsibilities get reduced due to the significant decrease in time needed to dedicate to the position. However, I also do make more now in my base salary than I did one year ago. So, there’s no complaining about my finances for 2021.

In some ways, I really feel that I became more comfortable with myself during the year. I’ve really started to appreciate a lot of things that I didn’t before. In many cases, those things are simple things that I like. And it really is simple. It bring me joy, I appreciate it. Those things are as simple as my social networking routines, my TV watching habits, or even the podcasts that I listen to. But, I also really do appreciate the relationships that I have. I’ve made a few new friends during the year, and I’m grateful for that.

In an early 2021 blog entry, I mentioned that there may be an “Easter Egg” hidden throughout all of my 2021 entries. I was able to pull that off. I’m not going to reveal what that is yet. There was one very specific thing that all of the entries has in common. I will offer the old-school Marvel Comics No-Prize to whoever figures it out.

My New Year’s Resolution is ALWAYS the same. It’s always “I want to make it better.” I want my 2022 to be better than my 2021. It’s simple, it’s to the point, it’s achievable. But, I think it’ll require a bit more effort than I put forth in 2021. I hope to be able to things during the year. I hope that the Pandemic ends. I want to not have to worry about that any more.

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.

A Kind of Anguish I Don’t Need…

As sarcastic and cynical as I can be, I really do take mental health seriously. It’s taken me a long time to understand it. It wouldn’t be accurate of me to say “fully understand it” because I don’t fully understand it, and I also know that I may never fully understand it. And while not understanding something can sometimes, or let’s face it, often cause me significant anxiety, in this case, I’m okay with not fully understanding things.

Just like it’s taken me a long time to understand things about my mental health, it’s also taken me just as long to arrive at a place where I’m content. This is where I would usually start to doubt all of what I’m saying here and question if me being content is really me being complacent, but at this very moment, I think it’s truly content. I truly do enjoy a lot of things in ways that I haven’t always been able to. I know that what I’m writing today may be repeating a lot of what I’ve said in other entries, but it’s stuff that needs to be repeated and it’s stuff that needs to be said within the context of this entry.

For much of my life, my interests were things that were mocked, belittled, insulted, and trashed by many. Classmates, co-workers, family members. People from all of those groups would find ways to pick apart things that I like. It caused me to be ashamed to like what I liked. It caused me to not want to talk about the things that I liked. It caused me to be afraid to discuss the things that I liked. And if you think that doesn’t plunge someone into the depths of depression, you’re quite wrong.

I’m so lucky now that I have outlets for myself. I’ve found friends that understand and share my interests. I belong to groups on various Social Media platforms that help me cultivate and enjoy my interests. It’s taken me a long time to find all of this and to be comfortable, but it happened.

I like older TV shows. I like old Hollywood stories. I like the larger than life personalities of TV commentators from the 1970s and 1980s. I like Professional Wrestling. I like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek, and other science fiction franchises. I like pretty specific musical acts that are usually not within the mainstream view. I have positive outlets to discuss all of my interests now. I certainly did not have that when I was younger.

Now I know what while I’m in such a good place at the moment, it could change at any time. My depression could be triggered very easily. I’m aware of that. Just look at my entries from month to month. My opinion of myself varies quite a bit from month to month. Hell, it sometimes varies week to week, day to day, minute to minute. But, right now, at this very moment, I like where I am. I’m not looking for my usual doubts to surface.

Ironically, one of the things that inspired this particular entry is a video that I just saw. This video had a few Professional Wrestlers sharing some of their own stories of their battles with Mental Health. I was so proud of them for sharing their stories. It’s so important for everyone to be able to find a way to properly, and positively express themselves. This is how I choose to express myself. It works for me.

I try my best to use Social Media in a positive way. I’ll use Twitter to express a random thought that popped into my head. I’ll vent a little bit on there. I’ll use other forums to attempt to spark a conversation about something of interest to me. Recently, I watched a pretty funny movie from the 1970s for the first time. I posted about it in a group and I just sat back and watched all of the replies. Something as simple as that is so good for someone like me. A simple validation like that can go A LONG way.

As we’re now closing in on two years since the COVID-19 Pandemic started and we had to deal with lockdowns and more isolation than some people were used to, I’ve been able to put a lot of things into perspective with it. My Mental Health issues are well known to my friends. I DO talk about them. I NEED to talk about them. And many of them reached out to me just to check on me when this was all starting last year. My appreciation for that is something that I can’t really put into words beyond saying that I can’t put it into words. But, when I told my friends that I was THRIVING during the Pandemic, I wasn’t joking.

I’ve talked about my social anxieties many times in these entries. Because there was not much available to do, my social anxieties were basically gone. I’m well aware that they weren’t destroyed and will return, but they were gone for a long time. I was very calm during the worst of the Pandemic time. I was able to work on me. I was able to find new appreciation for the simple things that I enjoy and that’s really when I figured out how good I have it, as long as I don’t let the negative voices get to me. And in this case, I’m talking about outside voices and not the voices in my head that cause me so much doubt. Although, the voices in my head are usually just repeating things that other people have said and I’ve come to believe/doubt about myself. I’ll probably write about that at some point (again).

Over the past few months, I’ve been social again. I’ve attended baseball games, concerts, Professional Wrestling shows. I’ve gone to see a few movies in theaters. I’ve watched A LOT of movies at my house. I’ve listened to podcasts. I’ve listened to a lot of albums. I’ve read some books. I’ve been going to the gym regularly. I’m doing things that I enjoy.

I know that my overall good mood can change instantly. This isn’t my doubt talking here. It’s just the reality of how things are. But, I also know that there’s a lot of things that I can do to get back to where I am right now. I have outlets. I have people that I can turn to. I have places that I can go (physical and virtual). And, you have those outlets too. There’s always some person that can help if you ask. There’s not shame in asking. You don’t need to specially say “I need help.” Sometimes just saying “I’m not doing well” or “I’m a bad place” can spark the conversation that you need to start the process.

I’ve written blog entries about my anxieties that cause my anxieties to spike as I’m writing them. This one is one that is actually making me smile as I’m writing it. It’s because of all that’s good right now, and also because I know that if I had written the one that I was planning to write, my anxieties would be through the roof. Maybe I’ll get around to that one at some point.

I know this entry is getting to be a bit long, so I’m going to wrap it up. I’m not finishing this one just because it’s getting too long, but I think it’s almost too much of recap of events and I always save that for my December entries. I need to save some material for that. And when I write that one, I really do hope that my mood is just as good as it is now. If I may indulge my cynicism and my doubts for just a moment, there’s still a long time between now and the end of next month. A LOT can happen between now and then.

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.

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.

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.

The Scars that Bind Us.

Since I’ve started (somewhat) regularly writing entries here, I’ve often talked about how music has gotten me through so much of my troubles. I’ve spoken about the friendships that I’ve forged through concerts and message boards related to bands. This entry is going to be another one of those, and while it may repeat things that I’ve said before, it may also go a little deeper.

I’ve had a concept for this entry in my head for a long time. I pretty much knew that I would be writing it for this month’s entry. But, between the time the concept originally popped into my mind and now, a pandemic hit. I thought about putting this concept on hold and writing something else, but then I realized that what I’m going to say may be even more important now. So, please bear with me as I attempt to flesh out this idea.

Of all of the bands that I listen to that have lyrics that have impacted me the most, Katatonia and Life of Agony are at the top of the list. Their lyrics generally deal with depression, anxiety, despair, desperation, and other topics in the misery range. I’ve been listening them both since the 1990s. Their shows aren’t just concerts for me, they’re experiences.

What is the difference between just a concert and an “experience?” Well, the best way that I can sum it up is this. In 2016, I attended various days of a local music festival. Clutch played there on Friday, Life of Agony played there on Sunday. I ended up going to Radio City Music Hall on the Saturday in between to see Opeth, it was a long weekend. But anyway…
The person I was with at that festival on Friday and Sunday made a comment to me after Life of Agony’s performance. She asked me “What was that?” I didn’t quite understand her question, so I asked her to clarify. She said “I saw you watch Clutch on Friday and I saw you just now with Life of Agony, and you were totally different.” I told her that I go to see Clutch to have a good time. I go to see Life of Agony to “let it all out.” I don’t know if she understood the difference that much, but once I said that, a lot more things made sense to me about those experiences. Clutch shows have more of a “good times” and “party” vibe to them. Life of Agony, Katatonia, Paradise Lost, and other other bands’ shows are emotional experiences for me.

Going back a few years earlier, at another Life of Agony show, I had a moment that I can only really describe as an epiphany for me. This particular show took just a little more than a month after the death of Robin Williams. The reason that’s significant and sticks out in my mind is because of two people that were with me at the show. The day after his death, I wrote a blog entry. At the time, it may have been the most emotional entry that I had ever done. It was raw and unlike most of my entries, published without much editing.
Just minutes after hitting “post” on that entry, I received a text from a friend. She told me that she had just read the entry and started telling me about some of her own issues with depression and self harm. She asked me if she could reach out to me when things got bad. Minutes after that, someone else sent me a message letting me know about her own issues with depression and also asked if she could reach out to me. Of course, I told both of them yes.
How do these two people and Robin Williams tie in to a random Life of Agony show? Well, it’s simple. There was a moment when I was watching the concert when I was standing between the two of them at a bar in the venue. I was the only person that realized how strange that was, because up until a few minutes before that, those two had never met. I did not tell them about how they both texted me within minutes of each other, but I did enjoy hearing them both praise me for being a good friend.

During that show, Life of Agony played one of the songs that is usually in their set list, “Weeds.” For some reason, that song never really did much for me, until that day and that moment. The first line of the song is “If tomorrow never shows, I want you all to know that I loved you all, you’re beautiful and I had myself a ball.” Because of where I was mentally and emotionally at that point, as I sang along with that line, I got choked up.
The band ended the show with what was their (and still should be) traditional closing song, “Underground.” That song is about members of society being cast out, and coming together to positively express their emotions. I remember looking at the crowd during that song and realizing that the people in the crowd are MY people. There’s a good chance that I didn’t personally know 98% of the people in the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were all there for the same thing.

The people at that show, the fans of the band, we come from different backgrounds. We’ve had different life experiences. We have differing views on life. But for the 90 or so minutes that Life of Agony was on stage, NONE OF THAT mattered. And at that particular show, at that particular moment, it started to sink in.

As the Coronavirus pandemic spread through the world, concerts and other events started to get postponed or canceled one by one. There were two Life of Agony shows that I was planning to attend that have been postponed. Of course, that bothered me, since it’s an outlet for me and because I’ve made some great friends from their shows, and at this point, those friends include band members and their families as well as the crew members of the band. But, as the virus spread, I was glad to see the shows not happen. I would rather not see the shows now and have everybody be healthy than have them happen and not ever be able to see some of those people again.

Katatonia, who I once drove from New Jersey to Cleveland to see, and then from Cleveland to Montreal to see, did an online concert a few weeks ago. I knew I would enjoy that show, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. I watched it from the comfort of my bedroom. I had the lights out in the room and the concert was being streamed on my TV. From the very first note, I got chills and tears were flowing as I was happily singing along to some of the most depressing songs that I’ve ever heard. I was also texting a few people that were also watching the show and having similar experiences. And the friends that I was talking to during that time live in various parts of the country. But, that wonderfully miserable band brought us together. Some of us even joked that it was “our first Katatonia show together” since we’ve never actually attended any of their shows together.

Now, how does all of this tie together? That’s simple. Sometimes, none of our differences matter. When we’re at those shows, we’re with friends. Some of those friends are more like family to us than our actual relatives. We’re all hurting. We’re all there with our own demons and issues. We’re there to forget that for a little while. We’re there to let our aggression out. We’re there to hear every voice scream. We’re there for the words and music. We’re there to see beyond our darkness. We’re there for the message in the music. We’re there because the scars that bind us brought us there.

It’s very possible that we won’t see any shows in person for a while. But, as I said before, I’m okay with that if it means we’re all healthy. If I go to a show and someone that I expect to be there is missing, I want to know that they’re not there just because they couldn’t get to the show. I don’t want their absence to be because they’re not with us anymore.

At some point, concerts will resume. I will see you again. This will all end, we will overcome and we will be able to scream those words, together. And for that brief time, just like the words of the Allman Brothers Band, we can “leave our blues at home.”