It’s okay to stop and ask for direction(s)

In the past, I’ve written about the improv concept of getting yourself in trouble and then making it worse. I should have mentioned that this is fine for improv, but in the real world, not so much. And yet, people manage to do this all the time.

Sometimes, it’s due to psychological conditions. Hoarding is a classic example, and there are even TV shows about it — yeah, way to exploit a serious disorder, y’all. The thing is, hoarding progresses gradually. There are actually five levels to it, and reading that list will make a lot of us feel better about our own housekeeping skills — as in “Phew. I’m sloppy, but not a hoarder.”

The thing is, though, that hoarding, like any mental illness, is treatable, but the hoarder has to seek treatment first.

Here’s the other thing. There are conditions that are not mental illnesses that can still get people in trouble but could be avoided if only they ask for some help.

Basically, anything in your life that feels like it’s gotten out of your control or gone beyond your area of expertise is a good candidate for getting help on, and the condition is called “swamped,” which isn’t an official psychological definition, but definitely a fact of modern life. This is especially true if you’re feeling swamped and don’t know where to begin to take action and fix the problem.

Most of us don’t know how to do that. It’s human nature, although it’s a bigger problem for Americans in general and men in particular, because asking for help can be seen as weak and definitely makes someone feel vulnerable. There’s always the chance of hearing “No,” in which case the floor falls out from beneath us. In other words, a big bar to seeking help when we need it is fear.

Another one is over-confidence and simple blindness to there being an issue until it’s too late.

Imagine that you’re setting out on a road trip to visit good friends who recently moved to another state, and they told you their address, but you forgot to look it up before you started driving. No problem, you can look it up at some point before you get to their state, and anyway the scenery is beautiful, so you’ll just keep driving.

You set out from California, aimed for Minnesota, and you’re doing well up to the point you’re thinking about popping open the GPS somewhere halfway across Colorado, but when you do you find out you have no signal up in the mountains and, later on in Kansas, you find out that you have no data out here at all. “Well, that’s cool,” you think as you pass into Oklahoma. All you have to do is make a big left turn at Iowa, and boom, straight into Minnesota.

But then you notice that you’re driving into Arkansas, then Tennessee, wind up in Georgia, and you’re suddenly seeing road signs indicating “Miami, 250 miles.” You do manage to get data when you hit Miami, only to find out that you’re about 1,760 miles and six states southeast of your original destination with no idea how to get there.

Now, obviously, you’re not going to make that 28 hour California to Minnesota drive in one solid shot. It’s basically a three-day trip if you’re not being touristy (or are being cheap) and a two-day trip if you’re a maniac. Okay, a day and a half-shift if you’re a trucker on speed. Still… you have to eat and pee at some point. And at any one of those points, you could have simply asked someone, “How do I get from here to Minnesota?” (I feel that I’ve mentioned the gopher state enough times now to actually pop in a link and see if their Visitors Bureau will toss me a sponsorship. It can’t hurt to ask. See what I did there?)

By not asking, our hypothetical traveler had a destination in mind but then things literally went south. Oh. Did I mention that this traveler was going to attend their friends’ wedding and would have arrived on time without the wrong turn? Instead, they’ve missed the big event completely.

This is exactly what we do in our real lives when we sense that something is going out of control but then keep on driving, enjoying the scenery, and hoping that it will magically work itself out. But here’s the problem. Just as self-driving cars are not quite a ubiquitous thing, self-driving lives never will be. Get out of the car every now and then and ask for directions.

You need to exit your fear-bubble and ask for help when you need it. That is literally what friends and family are for, especially friends. Hey, they’re that special F-word for you for a reason. It means they want to hang out with you and spend time together and help you when you need it and feel safe being vulnerable enough to ask you when they need help.

Family are the people you have to like because you’re related to them. Friends are the people who like you despite not being related. And, to bring it full circle, when you ask the best of your friends for help, their first response is exactly the same as the best improv teammate.

“Yes! And…?”

Image source Wonder woman0731, used unchanged, under Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0

Sunday Nibble #18: We’re all in this lifeboat together, so row!

The following list showed up on one of my social media sites a couple of days ago, and the thing that most struck me about it was how many of the following I have been experiencing. Okay, actually, it was two things. That, and the fact that the friend who posted it had been experiencing about the same number.

So I shared it to my friends, and lo and behold, everyone who replied admitted to experiencing at least six of the following, it not more.

8 warning signs you’re mentally and emotionally exhausted

  1. You’re easily irritated.
  2. You feel completely unmotivated, even to do things you normally enjoy.
  3. You’re experiencing anxiety or panic attacks.
  4. You’re having trouble sleeping. Either it takes you hours to fall asleep or your sleep is broken all through the night.
  5. You have almost no patience and you find yourself being short with colleagues and family.
  6. You’re experiencing indigestion. You have a low-grade stomach-ache all the time or feel like there’s butterflies in your stomach.
  7. You start crying unexpectedly.
  8. You feel detached from reality. You go through your days without really emotionally responding or connecting to anything. You feel empty.

The only ones not affecting me are 3, 5, and 7 — although it seems like experiencing 8 would make 7 and 3 much less likely anyway. I was really surprised, though, at how many people are also experiencing number 6.

I’ve actually been losing weight during the quarantine, and that’s probably because I have next to no appetite. A lot of days, I’ll have maybe a can of tuna. Over the last few, I’ve had a major craving for cottage cheese, and have eaten no more than half a cup a day.

Although I’ve got plenty of meat in my freezer, I suddenly went off it a week or two ago. Again, no desire for it.

But while this list and the responses may make it seem like all of us are having a bad time of it, there is one big silver lining to it.

For all of our differences as individuals, when it comes to being humans, we are all mostly the same.

I could reel off lists of how I and each of my friends who responded are very different from each other in a bunch of ways. We may have common interests, but different tastes. I know that several of them love horror movies, which is a genre I can’t stand. Likewise, I love science fiction, and some of my friends hate it.

I definitely know foodies, who think that things like peach slices on a cheeseburger or prosciutto wrapped watermelon in mole are perfectly acceptable things to eat, while I consider something as mundane as pineapple on pizza to be culinary blasphemy.

I try not to know people who voted for a certain current occupant of the Oval Office, but since I tend to hang around the world of creative, artsy types, this hasn’t been that difficult.

I have friends who are very talented painters but who couldn’t string two coherent sentences together; friends who can dance rings around Baryshnikov but couldn’t balance a checkbook to save their lives; friends with incredible and amazing emotional insight who can counsel anybody through anything, but who barely know how to work a computer; friends who can sew and craft and repurpose when I can barely Scotch tape an envelope shut…

In other words, I know a bunch of people with different tastes, skills, and personalities. So do you. On top of all of the above, you know introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts — and even those designations can change.

I mean, try to get an introverted nerd to have a casual conversation with someone they might find attractive, possible disaster city. Engage them with a fellow nerd or nerds over their favorite fandom, you can’t get them to shut up.

And that example extends, again, over all interests. Put a theatre person with a sports fan? No meaningful conversation. Switch the players around, boom. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now pick any of those two people at random, stick ‘em in a room, and point out that they have had a similar life-impacting experience. Maybe a parent, SO, sibling, or pet recently died. Maybe they both lost their jobs. Maybe they’re experiencing incredible financial insecurity. Or perhaps they were both diagnosed with the same possibly fatal disease.

Result? Instant emotional contact and equality. The jock and the nerd react the same way. The artist and the accountant react the same way. It’s even possible that the liberal and conservative react the same way.

And so we’re back at that opening list. Because here’s what I learned and I want to share. People are kind of like… well, people. On the outside, we are all different and distinguishable by our looks, voices, personalities, tastes, desires, bodies, and… accessories. But take away that outer layer, and voilà — we aren’t so different at all.

It’s like one of those peel-away anatomy books. Once the skin is gone, were just muscle and sinew that all works pretty much the same way, and it’s like that all the way down to the bone. Same organs, same circulatory and nervous systems, and… same psychology.

So the lesson of so many of us suffering so many of the same signs of mental and emotional exhaustion should not be discouragement. Rather, it should be a sign of hope.

Why? Because if we are all going through the same damn thing while we think we are so different, it means that we aren’t all that different at all, and so can grab the oars and row ourselves out of this shitshow together.

If you don’t know my pain and I don’t know yours, then we are islands apart forever. But… if we both know the same pain and come together, then we are partners in the journey out.

And so, in despair, we find hope.

For all of our differences as individuals, when it comes to being humans, we are all mostly the same. Embrace that, and embrace each other from a distance. We will make it through together.

How to have super powers

Welcome to a new year, and one that I’m sure is going to have plenty of 2020 vision jokes made about it, if they already didn’t overload yesterday and the night before. But here’s some 2020 foresight for you, and it’s this. The most important thing you can have in life is friends.

Hell, it’s the most quoted (if somewhat sexist) line from that most ubiquitous of Christmas Films, It’s a Wonderful Life: “No (hu)man is a failure who has friends.”

Fun fact: because the film didn’t do well on initial release no one followed up when it was time and it fell into public domain. Because of this, TV stations started airing it during the holiday season in the 1970s because they didn’t have to pay to do so, and this is what elevated it to cult status and beloved holiday tradition. Republic Pictures eventually reclaimed the copyright via the short story the film was based on and sold the exclusive rights to NBC. Republic Pictures was once owned by a guy I used to work for whom you might have heard of.

Ironically, the film that won the Best Picture Oscar the year that IAWL came out, The Best Years of Our Lives, is probably one you’ve neither heard of nor seen, but I don’t even have to wonder whether any of my readers have seen Capra’s film. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

To get back to the point, though, the story of this film is actually in keeping with the theme of the movie and this post. You see, It’s a Wonderful Life was basically abandoned by its creators/parents because they saw nothing in it. It wasn’t until it received love and support from unrelated people that it found its place, was able to spread its message, and turned into the moving classic it is today.

And for those of us who don’t have family around, either because we live far from home or we’re an only child or someone with no siblings living nearby but also with no living parents or grandparents, or we happen to have living relatives who are intolerable people for various reasons, the holidays can be difficult unless we have friends, and I’m reminded of that every year because I fall under a few of those conditions there.

My friends are my family, and to me that bond is stronger because it’s not something that was imposed on me by accident of birth. Rather, it was something I chose to make happen. Or they chose. Either way… when we make that connection and decide that somebody is worth spending time with, it is a beautiful thing.

But… here’s the big caveat, and I may be speaking mainly to the menfolk here — especially coming into this new year, we need to be really mindful of our friendships and of maintaining them and emphasizing their importance, and that means talking about them.

Women get it. I see that constantly, and I cannot appreciate that enough. Two gal pals talk, and they go right for the feels, and mention how much they love each other, and listen to each other’s problems and offer advice, and in person they aren’t afraid to show physical affection.

For men… not so much, and that works in all possible combinations. Straight dudes might think that it’s something they don’t do but that gay and bisexual men do easily, but guess what? Nope. We don’t, either. Okay, maybe gay men manage to do it with their gal pals, but with each other? Oh, hell no. Why? Because… well, hey, straight guys, do you do this with female friends without the danger of it becoming awkward and inappropriate?

Thought so… Although for both communities, the only exceptions seem to come either when you’ve been utterly friendzoned or are still good friends with an ex.

Why is this? Probably because men, no matter which way they swing, are predators, in the strictly scientific and biological sense. And, as predators, that means we hunt. And so it’s hardwired into us that we do not approach or appreciate a thing unless we want to fight it, fuck it, or kill it (aka eat it) to quote a very old and crass military saying.

Women tend to be gatherers, and they are the ones who give birth and nurse, whether or not the sperm donor is around, so they’re better at taking things in without killing them or eating them.

But… this is the 21st century, when all of those ancient biological roles should have long since been thrown out the window. The idea of men as hunters and women as gatherers really went out with the first industrial revolution. It’s just that old traditions die hard.

The tradition of men not being emotionally forthcoming, especially with each other, is the next thing that needs to die. Dudes, it is perfectly all right to tell another dude friend that you love him, and the key is to add the words “like a brother” or “platonically,” but never, ever to append to it “no homo.” And this is one of those “make the world a better place” things especially if we can get the message across to all possible iterations of man on man friendships: two straight guys, one straight and one bi, one straight and one gay, two bi guys, one bi and one gay, or two gay guys.

I’ve got plenty of straight male friends of all ages that I am very close to, and the really pleasant surprise was that once I started actually telling them how much I love and appreciate them, guess what happened? They became closer friends, often told me the same about me, and not once did it get weird. It didn’t get weird with my gay or bisexual friends either, and it was something I’d been telling my female friends and they’d been telling me since forever.

As the Greeks knew, there are many flavors of love. Coming into the new year, consider this. Why do you have friends? Because they are people you love, one way or another. Most likely, if they’re just friends, they’re platonic. But so what? That doesn’t make the emotion any less important or real. And, honestly, the love I feel for my closest friends is exactly the same strength and feeling that I’ve had with romantic partners — the sense that all is right in the world, the little butterflies seeing them or thinking about them, the ability to talk about anything endlessly and to completely lose track of time. The only difference is that the sexual attraction with the romantic partners isn’t there, but the emotional attraction absolutely is.

How do you know if you feel this way about a friend? You’d gladly help them move or go keep them company in line at the DMV. Or, the L.A. version: you’d volunteer before being asked to give them a ride to LAX during rush hour on a Friday night before a three-day weekend expecting nothing in return and think nothing of picking them up at five a.m. the following Tuesday.

That right there is the definition of true love

So take the time today to tell at least one friend that you love them, and why, then branch out and do the same with other friends.

Remember: You “love” family because you have to. You love friends because you want to.