Creating Happiness

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Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash

Over the weekend, I had a late birthday party with friends at my house. At first, I felt a little weird about doing this, because it’s the house I’ve been growing up in since I was like, four years old. I still don’t even really consider it my house, even though it’s technically mine, now, and I think that’s a big part of why I felt it would be weird. The house has so much history, and so many design touches to it that don’t really speak to how I would make a house a home, so the idea of having a bunch of friends over in this space as if it were my own just felt strange. Not so strange that I thought about not going through with it, but strange enough to wonder what everyone else was thinking of it.

I easily could have gone out to a restaurant like most other people do, and we could have gone bar-hopping like most twenty-somethings do, but this was my party, dammit. I didn’t want to pile ourselves into loud, public spaces and have conversations we couldn’t even hear. I wanted to cram my friends into the living room and play party games on the Nintendo Switch while eating good food and drinking great booze, so that’s what I decided we’d do. It was just social enough to not exhaust this little introvert.

My other thought while planning this party was that, toward the end of my mom’s battle with breast cancer, this house was filled with terrible memories. We were all pessimistic, sad, and angry most of the time, caretakers were coming in and out of the house constantly, and the house was no longer feeling like home. I think the vibe from those memories still lingers in the house, and it definitely drags down the experience of living in it (trust me, I’m working on moving into a place of my own). Whether or not it was for me, or for the ghost of my mom, I wanted to do something to counteract all of those bad memories. My mom enjoyed entertaining guests, and so do I, so I decided to try and create some happy memories within this space.

And you know what? It turned out great.

I got some pretty delicious chicken, rice, and beans (and a BEAUTIFULLY delicious cake), bought a plethora of alcohol to choose from (even made a spiked peach tea) and had enough games for everyone to consider. Turns out, I actually really like organizing events like these. It was my first time doing a catering order, trying to figure out how much I would need to buy as far as drinks go, and getting the house all set up to have a great night. I had helped my mom with organizing some parties like this before, but this was my first time doing it all. I had a feeling it would all be okay, but it wasn’t until we were all sitting in my living room, laughing while playing some of the best party games (The Jackbox Party Pack 4), that I finally knew that it was all going well. A friend even told me that I throw a great party, so now it’s set in stone and you can’t convince me otherwise.

Overall, the birthday party did what I set out for it to do. It filled the space up with laughter, friendship, and love (that’s so corny, but I’m standing by it), and I think it needed that as some of its final memories. Even though I know I won’t be living here in this house the foreseeable future, I figured this could be one of many parting gifts that I give it before I say farewell. It had so many good, bad, important, silly, sentimental, uplifting, and heartbreaking memories behind it, and I wanted to make sure it at least ended this family’s history with it on a good note. There may still be many more memories to come for it, but at least I could contribute something that shined bright for more than just myself.

Thanks for checking out this overly sentimental and (hopefully) heartwarming post. I’ve grown more sappy and emotional as I’ve aged, so y’all are just gonna have to keep dealing with that. Sorry, not sorry!

Trying to be Productive while Emotionally Exhausted

 

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Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash

So I’m just gonna put it out there; this last week was emotionally exhausting. It went from high highs to low lows, and I kind of wished I could just sleep for a whole day to recover from it. However, this has affected me to the point where the only productivity I’ve really had was doing some streams on Twitch, and writing has kind of fallen off of the grid. From there, I get myself in a cycle of self-sabotaging thoughts, thinking “I need to really get my ass in gear” and I start criticizing myself for small mistakes I make in a day. Those harsh critiques make me feel like I can’t work hard, then the productivity slips, and it all just turns into some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Ugh.

I’m not going to go into detail about what has caused the exhaustion, but the magnitude to which it exhausted me was unexpected. It became a lot to process, and instead of firing words off onto a word document when I decided to get some work done, I sat and processed emotions while staring at a blank screen. Of course, this made me more anxious, and if that anxious energy didn’t serve as a type of writer’s block, I probably wouldn’t be having this problem. (Side note, wouldn’t it be cool if we could somehow turn anxious energy into the motivation we need to get the work done that makes us anxious? In an ideal world, maybe.)

But I think this goes back to a post I made before about just allowing myself some time to just relax and recoup before getting back into being productive. I knew I was emotionally exhausted, and I knew working against that probably wouldn’t help me at all, yet I sat in front of my laptop and willed my exhausted mind to try and get something done, when all it wanted was just an hour (or two) to just relax. Most likely with some Sailor Moon (clearly), but at that point, it could have been anything that took me out of my own problems.

It’s not easy to go through a spike in negative motions and expect to make something positive out of it. While it’s not impossible, our brain can really only handle so much. I fully believe good, creative work can come from hardship (though it’s not always required), but I think it can be exceptionally more difficult when there’s still so much to process. It’s like how computers can go slower when you’re making it upload or download videos, or anything that requires the computer to have extra strain. You have to let it do it’s thing before it can process other things more effectively.

Instead of beating myself up about having to process things a specific way, maybe I should just roll with the punches. Give myself that time to make sure I can process other things more efficiently. I realize life doesn’t always the time to rest from emotional exhaustion before cranking out some hard work, but I think if I learn how to make it just a bit easier, I can allow some extra productivity to flow. I get such a rush when I finish a piece of writing, and I know that if I can regularly get more done, I’ll be less hard on myself about the times where I didn’t get anything done. It’s that idea of working with the things going on in your mind, rather than against them, that I feel really helps make getting work done much easier.

We have to process so much in a day, so we can’t possibly expect ourselves to do it all, all of the time. Emotional moments happen without warning, and it’s completely normal for that to throw us off of our groove. It’s also completely normal to want the time to decompress from the strain of those emotions. Rather than being hard on ourselves for taking time from the work we want to accomplish, maybe we should savor that time for rest, so that the work we do afterward can be the quality that we know we can achieve.

Finding Importance in Birthdays

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Photo by Andreas Weiland on Unsplash

This year’s birthday for me has been agonizing, mostly in a “oh god, what do I even do?” kind of way. I’m always that person who forgets that their birthday is coming up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited about it, but it’ll usually be just two weeks before my birthday before I think “oh shoot, my birthday is coming up.” It’s never a calculated effort, but always astonishment at how quickly it comes (go ahead and make your sex jokes).

This year is a little different, though. This year is the first one without my mom, which I think I’m prepared to deal with. I say “think” because you can’t actually know until it happens. She always wanted to do something to make my birthday feel special. She started hospice last year the week before my birthday, and with the chaos of her going in and out the emergency room due to the breast cancer causing intense pain in her gall bladder, my birthday sunk into the background of everyone’s minds. Though that summer was all about making sure she was okay, she made it a point to acknowledge that we hadn’t really talked about what to do for my birthday. We eventually decided to celebrate by having a nice breakfast out with my brother, sister-in-law, and aunt. It was something we kind of just threw together, but something we knew everyone would enjoy. I don’t even want to dive into the rabbit hole of thoughts about how she knew that it would be her last birthday with me, but I know that had to have contributed to why she made sure we celebrated it.

This year, I had to actually push myself to make it important. 

It’s not that I’ve never planned my own birthday event by myself, but this year has felt noticeably different when it came to thinking about it. Aside from the passing of my mom making this birthday one of those “firsts” that you inevitably have to experience after loved ones die, there have been other incidences around this year that have contributed to this birthday feeling like it’s not worth celebrating. I don’t want to go too much into detail about that specifically, but those events have made it feel like I’m just not worth the time or energy. I understand people have their priorities, and I wouldn’t want to make someone feel like they have to move me to the top if that’s just not possible, but it would just be nice to feel important.

I lost my mom, and thus, a person in my life who did her damn best to make special days of mine the most special. I realize I can’t always depend on others to be responsible for that, but it was nice to know there was at least one person who would go through all of the motions to make sure we celebrated it the way I wanted to. Maybe this is why I still value birthdays, so much, no matter whose it is. I think this is why I knew, even if I didn’t feel that I knew at first, that I should still celebrate it on my own terms.

I’m hoping what I decided to do distracts me from all of the depressing background noise around my 26th birthday. Even my therapist strongly suggested that I plan something, and made sure I left her office last week committing to making those plans over the weekend. I don’t know that I needed her to say that in order for me to actually plan something, but I do think it allowed me to give it the importance it needed by just sitting down and figuring it out (and even messaging a friend to bounce around some ideas). Once I got past the agony of not knowing what to do, I was finally excited about what was to come, and I’m glad I finally got to that point. Board games, food, and alcoholic beverages with friends sounds like the kind of cozy, but thrilling vibes I’ll need for this birthday. Thank goodness for all of the forces in my life that inspired these plans.

I want this birthday to feel important, because birthdays are important. You lived for another year! You were healthy enough to get another year experiencing life, and that’s a damn good gift. Not everyone gets to experience as many birthdays as they’d like. Some know when it will be their last, and some pass, not knowing that their last one was the grand finale. My mom spent her final birthday feeling depressed about not being able to walk anymore, and wishing her life would just end. I didn’t blame her, but it wasn’t the “happy birthday” that we all wished upon her. None of us knew that all of her happy birthdays had been spent, but that didn’t mean we’d just let it come and go without trying to make it brighter. I didn’t know how much that would pull me into feeling that my own birthday could feel just as meaningless, but I’m actively subverting this by making all of them count.

Make your birthdays happy while you can. Give them the life they deserve. No matter how many you have left, they’re always important enough to celebrate.

Sleeping With No Pants

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So you probably read the title and thought that this isn’t worth mentioning, whether it’s because it’s not enough, or because it’s too much. Either way, this is out there, now, which means that I said it despite the fact these opinions could have held me back, so that’s pretty cool. It’s like my confidence is growing, or something?

Speaking of confidence, that’s what the “sleeping with no pants” thing is improving!

You probably saw that I put out an article on Medium about my struggle with body image, and how someone’s comment about overweight bodies triggered some deep-seeded feelings I still have about my body. That’s a journey of mine that may ever end, and every day, I’m trying to find ways to subvert the views I have of my own body. It’s not easy, because more days than not, it seems like every gay on my Twitter feed is liking pictures of guys made entirely of abdominal muscles, while I continue to sit here with flab on belly. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with admiring abs or having a flabby belly, it’s just that I still feel like I need six-pack abs in order to gain some sort of attention. Consciously, I don’t care. Internally, I’m rife with anxiety.

Normally, when I’m around the house for extended periods of time, you’ll find me in a t-shirt and gym shorts. I’ve never lived alone until this last year, so wearing clothes around the house was necessary to not cause any discomfort with family or roommates. Now that I have the freedom to walk around the house in whatever the heck I feel like, the only judgment I could possibly receive being from a cat, I still dress the way I would if people were around. It’s like I have this idea that I need to hide my body, even from myself. I felt uneasy walking around the house without a shirt and some sort of pair of shorts/pants on, as if the extra exposure meant criticism about my body was heading my way. But…from who? My cat doesn’t give me a judgmental look for having no pants on around the house. Well, that I’ve seen, at least.

And it’s not like I’ve never been naked in front of someone else, or at least without pants. I’ve been with plenty of guys who have seen me with nothing on, and a few guys in particular who wanted to just be in each other’s company without pants on. It never felt weird to me then, and I keep wondering if maybe it was because there was an inherent interest in seeing my body simply for the sake of it? It also wasn’t my idea, though. I wouldn’t have suggested that we took our pants off just to sit there and watch Deadpool, but if I didn’t do it after they suggested it, I think I would have felt uncomfortable about not giving some sort of reciprocation. Sure, I appreciate that a guy I had feelings for gave me the space to do something that made me feel a bit more vulnerable (even though he may not have realized it), but I wonder if I only did it because I felt the situation called for it, more-so than me feeling like I genuinely wanted to.

After I got in the cycle of these thoughts, I thought about how this was such a simple way to feel more comfortable in my own body. Maybe it wasn’t my choice to take my pants off just to go to bed, but…what if it was? What if I gave myself the space to experience my body differently? What if I was the one who decided to see the way my legs look first thing in the morning? What if I work toward the confidence to maybe include taking my shirt off, too?

What if I did something that made me develop a relationship with my body that only I got to define?

Maybe you’re looking at this as something that’s not all that full of impact. “All you did is take your pants off and go to bed. Big whoop.” I know, I know. There are people who post pictures in their underwear to their millions of followers, while I’m merely making a section of my body more aware to myself. But you know what my therapist once told me? “If it was easy, you’d be doing it.” She didn’t tell me this about taking my clothes off, but she still said this golden piece of advice about mental obstacles, so you better believe it’s applicable!

It’s not easy for me to simply show off my body. It’s even harder to show it off and feel proud of it. I see people flaunt their bodies, and though I will say “I don’t think I could ever do that,” I say it with a tinge of guilt because I want to be able to do that. I want to be able to be proud of something that I have felt is ugly for a very long time.

If going to bed without pants on is a good first step to this, then dammit, I’m allowed to be proud about that.

Belongingness

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Photo by ichsan on Unsplash

I know I’ve mentioned before that I started going to therapy, and I meant to give further updates about that, but I forgot. I apologize. Not that I have any promises or anything, but it was an agreement I made with myself, so if anything, I only let myself down. I’ve had a lot to worry about, but regardless, it’s something I should have followed through with. Maybe I needed to process how it would become a regular part of my life before I could compartmentalize it into some words. Anyway, enough rambling.

My therapist, during our first meeting, summed up a lot of what I talked about as needing to find a sense of belonging. I was shocked at how simply she could link together all of my problems with a common thread, but that’s her job. I can’t imagine I’m the first person she’s made that conclusion for, and I doubt I’ll be the last. But ever since then, it’s been something I’ve thought about every day. “Where do I belong?” This has been such a good question to ask myself, because I often tried to find how I could fit in with the people I feel I should belong to, rather than let myself drift to where I feel a natural sense of belonging.

Of course, now this means I’m in some sort of…identity crisis? Nah, that seems too dramatic. More-so…a re-discovery of my place? Sure, that sounds more like it. It’s not an easy process, let me just tell you that. It took quite a few weeks for it to really set in that I just don’t belong in certain people’s lives, right now. A few weeks is how long I’ve been actively thinking about it, though, so maybe the process overall has been even longer. Maybe I’ll feel belongingness with them in the future, but at this stage in my life, I have other places where I feel needed, validated, and supported. I don’t need to waste my energy on trying to wiggle my way into places where I don’t feel welcoming arms.

After this realization, things have been getting easier, overall. Like, even things that you don’t think it would affect. I’ve been able to feel more productive, my mood has been consistently better, and even the way I interact with others has been much more positive. It hasn’t all just snapped into place, of course. I’m not quite where I’d like to be, but at least I can actually feel that I’m getting closer to that stage. For the longest while, I felt like I was standing in a hole with no resources to get out. Now, I at least feel like I can see the scenery above it.

I wanted to talk about this because we all have a natural desire to find where we belong. I think we can let ourselves get tired out to the point where it hurts, even drains us of the motivation we need to fulfill other aspects of our life, when we try to fit into places that don’t welcome us. Sometimes, you find yourself not belonging to the places where you think you would, and that can hurt, but there’s always somewhere else that will let you in, someone else who will give you the support that you need. Sometimes, though it’s not easy to do, you have to break free of hoping you’ll get support from people you usually expect it from, and drift toward the ones who give it to you without question.

The last time I was in therapy, I used a metaphor about feeling like I’m on a stranded island during my times of needing support. I, of course, am on this island, and the people who can give support are on a bigger, more fortified mainland. There are people in my life who expect me to row over to the mainland to get support when, during those times that I need it, my boat has a giant hole in it, my oar has snapped in half, and the idea of swimming in across a great divide just sounds like more effort than its worth. Yet, they still expect me to find my way over, if I want help. Sometimes they ask to meet halfway, but that’s easy for them to say when they have a yacht, and I’m the one who has to swim. Sometimes I just need someone to close that entire gap, and after some hard soul searching, I’m starting to see who’s more than happy to use their fuel to deliver support to my stranded island.

Find people in your life who would sail across that gap to comfort you. Find people who won’t make you swim several miles just so they can feel supported. Don’t necessarily deprive yourself of those who won’t, but don’t waste your energy hoping that they’ll change. You have things in your life that you need to accomplish, so figure out which areas in your life give you the same energy that you put in, make those circles your home, and thrive.

A Geek in the Community

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Photo by Geeky Shots on Unsplash

I chose a username about 4 years ago, with the intention of making my presence based on me being just one voice in a community of diverse individuals. “AGeekintheCommunity” was supposed to be a way for me to assert that my voice was only one voice among the community (at that point, it was for LGBT+ topics), but it had a double meaning in the sense that I felt like I was a geek that traversed through many different communities. I wanted to try to portray that my voice is distinct, but not the only voice who has an opinion on the topic.

Though I consider myself a “geek,” which in my realm, means being incredibly passionate about a certain something (usually TV shows, movies, books, etc.), it was starting to feel strange trying to brand myself completely off of that. At first, it was easy to embrace that I would be a geek in any community I moved through (which, well, is still a little true), but it hasn’t been until lately that it feels like it shrunk me. It reduced me to being “just another face in the crowd,” as people say.

I know I’m just another geek in the community, but I don’t want to feel that.

Due to a lot of discouraging experiences, I’ve felt like nothing special for most of my life, and I don’t want those insecurities to start bleeding into how I present myself online, or the quality of work I put into my creative projects. I’ve known that I have a lot of talent to offer, but I have rarely felt that I do, and I know I need to break out of that cycle if I want to believe in my talents. Can a simple username change across all of my platforms be enough to make me feel the uniqueness that will inspire good work? I don’t know, but it can’t hurt to try.

Originally, the name change across all my social media was due to the trend of writers/authors using their real names as usernames, as well as the domain names for their websites as a means of making it easy for people to find their work. I was scared to do it at first, because it would mean going from a catchy username to just, you know, my name. I had been thinking about it months before changing, but always talked myself out of it, or listened more to the people discouraging me from doing it. The thought started nagging at me even harder lately, and I figured that it was just time for me to do it. It’s “Now or Never,” you know, like the Blair St. Clair song (she’s a drag queen, in case you didn’t know). I’m pulling myself together, and all that jazz.

I still love AGeekintheCommunity, but he’s not who I need. He got me started, but it’s my turn to lead myself into something amazing.

It was originally supposed to just be a thing I did for a more solid web presence, but I found something deeper in the username change. Maybe the hinderance that AGeekintheCommunity gave me was so subconscious, it wasn’t until I went through with the whole process that I see where it could have been holding me back. “JeffBrutlag” might be less catchy, but it’s me. It’s the identity I’ve lived with, and am learning to love. There is complexity, experience, and talent behind that identity that I know will do amazing work. I can put in the effort to make my identity pop; AGeekintheCommunity will always just be “a geek in the community,” no matter how good he is.

So look out for me on the world wide web, friends! Jeff Brutlag is ready to kick some metaphorical teeth in. He’s still a big geek, though, so don’t be too intimidated.

(The only place you may still see the username “AGeekintheCommunity” is Facebook, because apparently “Jeff” isn’t a word that’s “allowed on Facebook.” Their platform can go down in history as the first hater of my name change. That’s like, kind of cool, I guess?)

Empty Wells

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I’m just going to blurt out a bunch of stuff that I’m thinking because I’ve been super unproductive and I need to at least write SOMETHING this week that makes me feel like I haven’t been incredibly lazy (when it comes to writing, at least. I know I’ve been working hard in other realms of my life.) I’ve been waking up about two hours later than I normally have been, and I feel like that’s been spiraling into how I run the rest of my days, and I’ve honestly been hating it. I used to be great at just getting myself out of bed, but lately, I’ve been like “eh, let’s close our eyes for another 5 minutes,” which then somehow turns into another hour and a half. I can’t say I’m proud of this, but I try to give myself the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that my body needs that extra sleep. For what reason? I don’t know, but listening to your body is important. However, I now feel like my body is taking advantage of me.

I have writing projects I know I need to get done, but like most of the writing projects I’ve been working on, there’s a fair amount of emotion that goes behind it, and those emotions haven’t been easy to confront. I keep thinking “is it too soon to write about this?” But those thoughts are so often combatted with “if I don’t write about it now, then the feelings just won’t be the same.” Which, I guess both are true, but all in all, I feel like this is all just a subconscious excuse to stall. Why am I stalling? What is there to wait for? I’m not getting to success any faster by staring at a mostly blank word document and hoping I can get words to appear. I have to put the work in, and I have to do whatever it takes to just get that work done.

But…of course, there’s another side to that. These last few weeks, I haven’t been in the mental headspace of allowing myself some relaxation. About a month ago, I was doing well at telling myself “okay, just ONE episode of Jessica Jones, and then you have to get to work,” and that was keeping me on a pretty good track. Lately, every moment of my day has been filled with me thinking “okay, you have to do this right after you’re done Twitch streaming, today,” and subsequently, trying to fill every moment of my day with trying to stay productive. It’s kind of been driving me crazy. Sometimes I feel like my mind is just trying to tell me to stop, relax, and give myself a damn break before getting into the work I need to do. Maybe I need to listen to that.

But it’s hard, because I also feel like I haven’t been productive, despite organizing and running a month-long charity campaign on my Twitch channel for The Trevor Project (which is still happening), which alone has been enough work to be considered a job. When I’m not working on that, I’m sitting in front of my computer, trying to be productive by sheer willpower (with little to no results), so lately, there hasn’t really been a moment where I’m just…relaxing, simply for the sake of it. I’ve valued balance for so much of my life, and now, I’m trying to sweep that under the rug. Maybe that’s been a detriment, a product of the environment I was raised around that doesn’t agree with my brand of adulthood. I was taught that being busy means being productive, and that relaxation was a privilege granted when you’ve been busy enough to earn it. While I believe in staying busy to be productive, I also heavily value my time where all I’m doing is something that requires little to no productive effort. Though, whatever the reason is, I know me best, and losing touch of that has started to make me slip into a version of myself that’s hindering progress.

I don’t like being my own worst enemy, but as a content creator, that can just be part of the job description. For so long, I’ve fought between “I just want to relax for a bit” and “I’m not being productive enough,” and I’m realizing I need to finesse that combination in order to create some progress. I sometimes punish myself for taking breaks when I know I have a lot to do, and for sleeping in when I wanted to be up earlier, but maybe that’s part of what’s hindering, well, everything. I put this pressure on myself to hopefully avoid the pressure someone else may put on me, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve been going about it the wrong way. Willing myself to squeeze words onto a word document, when all my body wants is just forty-five minutes to escape reality, might be what’s drying the well of productivity to the point of cracking. A moment to just breathe might be what I need in order to re-fill it.

I guess this is when someone would say “treat yo self.” Make sure you’re treating yourself for the hard work that you do, because you deserve little rewards throughout your week. Keep yourself motivated, and know when the well is empty. Find healthy ways to fill that well. Kick ass. Repeat.