04: Metamorphosis

It’s close to the end of the April, but going by the weather in northwestern Wisconsin, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone thought it was the middle of March. Hell, I live here and even I am taken aback by how shitty it can be here. Even though this has been matter of course for many years, I still become dumbfounded by the weather here.

When I was young, a large part of me wanted to be somewhere other than Wisconsin. Partly due to the weather here, but more that I always felt out of place in Wisconsin. Everyone I knew that liked the things I liked were almost never in Wisconsin, and on the rare chance I met someone online that was from Wisconsin (maybe like one for every 20-30 people I knew), there still seemed like there was an incredible distance between us.

I also had this impression that there was something special about me. I couldn’t say where it originated from (though I could theorize) I often fantasized about being rich and famous, a genius, a reclusive person everyone loved. This all added towards my feelings that I wasn’t meant to be in Wisconsin.

Maybe that’s why I clung so hard to my online life back then. Maybe it’s why I believed in the internet more than I believed in the life in front of me. It felt so much like a world where things were possible. Afterall, I had friends, girlfriends (one at a time of course), and a reputation (granted I only saw one side of it at the time) While there were of course many painful times, I could never see it as a bad thing.

It was when I became an adult that I started learning the limitations of the internet. When I was finally free to go anywhere and do anything (to an extent), I found that I could do nothing. I was paralyzed with doubt of both myself and the world spread out before me. Everything I ever knew was only in my head. I had no experience or confidence to live up to all the fantasies that I had dreamed about for so long.

There were other factors too, of course, and I spent a lot of my life chasing down the mental threads trying to understand how I came to this point. I could talk more about the bullying I faced or about how my parents raised me. I could talk about all the mistakes and bad decisions I made in this process.

In fact, my blog has in the past been a wealth of lamenting over all those things ad nauseum. Despite my repeated attempts at trying to make it a positive thing to help improve my situation, it never fails to draw out a lot of the negative things. Hell, last month I was complaining about the app dating scene.

Venting can be important, but I often used to get paranoid about what people thought of me when they read. This was only amplified when I saw another friend of mine get a lot of anger when he shared his feelings online. Thus I always tried at first to keep things pointed in a positive or at worst self-deprecating way at first, but then I just ended up being overwhelmed by emotions that would manifest in some other kind of disaster.

In my head, I’ve always had the image of the type of person I’ve wanted to be. I guess you could say it was a mixture of all the things I mentioned above (the fantasies I had about myself mixed with the frustrations that I was never able to make them a reality) In some ways an impossible standard to obtain (I mean we all strive to be something outside of reality) Yet what was keeping me from obtaining at least part of it wasn’t reality, it was myself.

Realizing this, however, is never enough when you’re drowning deep in self-loathing and other negative feelings internally. It can help you keep your head above water and help you obtain some positive experiences to float, but it will never get you to dry land right away. Rather, at best you’re just going to find yourself floating endlessly.

That’s where I’ve been at for my life. I know what’s holding me back, what’s frustrating me, is ultimately me. I thought it and even had it reaffirmed many times through counseling throughout the years. How does one change that though?

Thought is a powerful tool, but thinking by itself is endless and meaningless. Unless one does something, those thoughts will go nowhere. Without action there can’t be new data upon which to create new thoughts, and thus eventually you’ll find yourself in a state where you’re only able to think the same things.

I don’t really have an answer. At least, not a definite good one. Sorry for anyone stumbling across this post hoping for some words of solution. All I can really talk about is in regards to my own experiences and what’s changed for me. Which is what I wanted to talk about for this months post and part of why I did a post about RE4 already (I did some other stuff this month, but I’ll probably talk about them in May’s post instead)

I think the first breakthrough I ever had was when I decided to attend Minnesota State University of Moorhead in 2007. Up until that point, I had attended two fall semesters at UW-Superior, but due to an MMORPG addiction, wasn’t able to properly engage with it (I ended up taking a break for the first spring semester and failed most of my classes for the second fall semester) I decided on this school for reasons that were mostly superficial (I heard they had an anime club and I knew someone online that went there) but the experience pushed me to do a lot of things I was uncomfortable with.

What prompted this change was frustration. I had been having a horrible time with an on and off toxic online relationship and spent the last year of my grandfather’s life (who lived across the street from me by the way) absorbed in an MMORPG unwilling to even go see him. Something that tormented me relentlessly afterwards.

While it was good overall, I can’t say frustration was the best solution. Even if it pushed me to experience a lot of things that helped me grow, it was also pretty reckless. While I loved the anime club there and even made a couple of friends (loosely) I also ended up in a dorm living with a roommate who would stay up until 3 am and not wake up to his annoying alarm at 7 am. A dorm that also had frequent fire alarms being pulled/fire alarms being set off.

It’s not like I would have known that stuff if I thought about it, but still it was a school 7 hours away from home. It could have been somewhere even farther or I could have done something that wasn’t as forward thinking as going back to school. Frustration can lead you to do some pretty rash stuff, and on several occasions has made me do some things I’ve regretted.

Mostly in my relationships with people, but we wont dwell on that.

Funny enough, but I think the next big decision I made was to go back to school again to finish the mostly complete psychology degree I had at UW-Eau Claire in 2015. While I did a few bold things like attending Anime Expo (Los Angeles) and Otakon (Baltimore) before that point, I feel like I did them while under a state of mental paralysis rather than one where I actually made much progress forward. At least not on the same level as some of the stuff mentioned here.

I had no plans for my degree, but at the time the friends I had made there previously (2008-2015) were already going their separate ways (separate because we’d be all living in different places) Having spent the past couple years just coasting on being with them to living on my own and being in college without them, was an experience that really opened my mind to a lot of things.

Oh and that’s not saying that my college experience in 2008 was any less impactful. The reason I’m not including that was because it was partially off the tail of my Moorhead experience and that well, in a way I did become a little too complacent when I achieved two real good friends. To put it another way, rather than stepping out of my comfort zone, I mostly just sat in the comfort and had them back me up when things got rough.

One of my friends was still around for the summer/fall part of my year back, but I still had to live by myself and go to school own my own, which is why I still qualify it. Not to mention that by spring I was by myself entirely, which meant I had to adapt to a whole new way of life than before.

One of the big things I also did during that period was take driving lessons. Despite being 30 and having had renewed my temporary license for many years, I had made barely any progress towards being able to drive. My first lesson was nerve-wrecking as hell, but I eventually got confident enough that the next year I would take my exam and get my license.

Though I conquered getting a license, it didn’t mean the typical freedom many teens get. While I managed to get a car easily enough (by buying one my aunt didn’t want), I was still fairly uncomfortable with it. I never wanted to go anywhere unless it it was to see my friends, and even then things had to be planned out perfectly for me to push myself over my mental hurdles.

If I could do it over, I’d push myself a bit harder to be with my friends. I wont hide that there’s a part of me that feels I’ve been responsible for letting us grow apart and not taking more initiative to show them that I really do want to spend time with them. However regretting it too deeply only creates negative emotions in myself and leads me astray.

Friends had tried to get me to drive more and even my therapist had encouraged me to take small steps (not just with driving but things in general), but even when you recognize the validity of what they’re saying, when you feel about yourself the way I did, it’s hard to see a point.

It’s a little bit cliche, but imagine me as a caterpillar trying to imagine themselves as a butterfly. We can see by others that it should logically be possible to become a butterfly and even imagine it, but it’s hard as a caterpillar to feel like you will be a butterfly. All you know from experience is the caterpillar. So while you see everyone else making themselves cocoons, it’s hard to do the same because you’re too self aware as a caterpillar.

Anyway, what eventually changed with my driving habits was that my brother ended up getting a job. Due to the fact that he can’t drive and my parents both being busy working adults, I’ve often been given the task of driving him. While it struck me with the same trepidations as the idea of driving for the sake of driving, it having a component of immediate necessity helped to push those trepidations aside.

Once I started becoming comfortable enough driving him to work, I started to offer to take him other places. From getting groceries it evolved into taking several trips to places both pretty familiar (Eau Claire) and places not so (Duluth, Ashland) Now I’m at the point where driving my car has become pretty second nature. Granted I don’t think I’m ever going to attempt anything like Chicago ever

This newfound confidence in driving has helped me a lot to see myself as a butterfly and be able to make more steps to bring myself closer. Though driving isn’t the only thing to happen that has helped cause this change. Playing Resident Evil 4 has too.

Okay, you’re probably thinking “What the fuck?” right? Well, okay it’s not exactly Resident Evil 4, but rather it’s something I came to discover while playing it.

Normally I’ll play a game once through. If it’s a game I really like I might play it until I get all the achievements, but that’s a rare thing. In RE4 remakes case, for the first time ever I kept replaying and imposing further challenges.

That might just sound like an attestment to how good the game is, but one of the things you should know about me is that by nature I’m not someone who challenges himself very often. Hell, in a lot of cases if I can find an easy way through a game, I tend to take them (mostly preferring for a passive experience) I tend to just want to finish the game regardless of how much I might be enjoying it.

One part of the reason for this is I’ve never been able to handle frustration well. Well okay you can count me going to Moorhead as one time my actions sort of worked out. But typically frustration causes me to get over emotional in various ways.

I’ve been no stranger to banging my controller when I’ve failed to play well in a video game. Never on the scale of breaking them (as I grew up in a rather poorish middle income family where breaking things meant you probably weren’t getting a replacement anytime soon) though I imagine I’ve come close.

When I was young too, in non videogame matters, I used to get violent. I remember hitting both my cousin and younger brother a couple times because I couldn’t handle the irritation they caused me. While I never did any major damage (thank god), I still feel horrible for how shitty I was to them in those early years.

Rather than learning not to deal with things, I guess you could say I learned to avoid it. If I knew something was likely to irritate or frustrate me, I made it a point to stay away from it. That way I wouldn’t hurt anyone and I wouldn’t feel bad about it. It worked quite well except that eventually the scope of my avoidance eventually would grow too large.

Back to RE4 though. When I decided to do a no save professional run, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but wow the amount of bullshit I had to contend with was unreal. At first the bullshit made me want to smack my controller or give up, but then an amazing thing happened during the failures of one of my attempts. I obtained inner-peace.

How it happened is something I can explain, but I make no guarantees about how coherent or applicable it will be to anyone else.

I thought about what I was putting myself through this frustration for. For that matter, why was it frustrating? Sure I died, but what did I really lose? Time? Does getting frustrated over lost time ever do anything other than make me feel worse?

The reason I was challenging myself was because this was a fun game that I enjoyed (something you don’t realize is easy to forget, but it is) I was doing it for my benefit. Not to be the best or to brag, but simply because I wanted to do it. All getting frustrated when I failed would do was get in my way. It would just be me getting in my own way.

Thus something in me just decided “Let it go and be free from it” and for the first time I felt myself being able to truly let something go. And damn did it feel amazing. It felt like I’d made a complete metamorphosis from what I was before. I feel like I’ve finally started to be the kind of person I’ve wanted to be for so long.

It’s the kind of stuff you hear and probably tell yourself a million times, but like I said before, when you’re already drowning or too engrossed with yourself as a caterpillar, it can be impossible to accept something like “You can control how you deal with emotions” The very thought only becomes possible when you’ve created the foundation that thought can stand on.

That’s all I have to say on that for now. When I thought about writing this, I wasn’t quite sure how it would come out, and even now I’m not quite sure how it came out. If you happen to be reading it, don’t be shy about sharing if you’d like.

I’ve got quite a bit coming up at the end of this month and the next. A bachelor party and a wedding of a good friend plus my 38 birthday (woohoo.. o_o) Plus potentially some other cool things to talk about.

Until then, stay frosty