This book is dedicated to everyone who helped make me the person I am today. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
I don’t need to tell you that I’m crazy. You’ve seen how I behave. You’ve read my writings. You’ve been to my arraignments. Well, after you read this, you will have a whole new perspective of me and understand why I am not allowed within a thousand feet of any school or church.
This book isn’t just about me. Oh sure, I could write volumes about the warped, three-pound blob in my skull, but this is a chance for me to help other mentally unbalanced folks, so I will write about a number of psychiatric topics in order to produce the illusion that I give a shit about other people.
The human mind is the most complex thing in the Universe. It can produce art, music, poetry, science, math, language, electronics, flying machines, transit systems, antibiotics, computers, and beer. The unfortunate flip side to this complexity is that it also has the potential to produce anxiety, depression, anger, addiction, frustration, theft, violence, and Breaking Bad.
As a long-time loony I feel that I am somewhat of an expert on psychiatric disorders and existential despair. In this tome I will pour my heart out and thereby give you some insight into a number of mental aberrations so that you might be able to help yourself or loved ones, or at least not run when you see me approaching.
Note that I don’t pretend to have superior knowledge of the human brain. How this mass of mush produces consciousness is beyond me. It’s beyond everyone. No one understands how it works. Scientists and psychiatrists have tried and failed, and the clergy has avoided it altogether by assuming a metaphysical “soul” in an attempt to explain consciousness. Unlike the so-called “experts”, I admit my lack of knowledge about the intricate workings of the human mind. I also don’t charge you money for bad advice; all the bad advice I give you is free.
While most of this book will contain the sort of idiotic ramblings you’ve come to expect from me, the appendices will offer some serious insights into aberrant thought patterns that make us crazy. You can skip right to them and thereby avoid the pain that reading the rest of this book will cause.
THE BRAIN IN A NUTSHELL
After a woman gave birth, her doctor said, “I have something I must tell you about your baby. It’s a hermaphrodite.” The woman asked, “What’s that?” He replied, “It means your baby has both male and female parts.” The woman exclaimed, “Oh my God! You mean it has a penis and a brain?”
The human brain – or any brain – can be thought of as a computer. There are billions of neurons that compose the circuitry, a number of chemicals that supply the electricity, and life experiences that provide the software. A malfunction of even a small part of this system can wreak havoc on it. When a neuron dies, that’s like part of the motherboard being fried. When the chemical balance is off, that’s like a power failure or surge. When a bad life experience happens, that’s like having unwanted ads pop up when visiting a porn site. Not that I’d know.
There is nothing short of surgery that any of us can do about the physical wiring of our brains. That is 100% determined by genetics. It is possible to produce some physical changes by learning new things, as new proteins are produced in dendrites during learning, but the way our brains are hardwired at birth determines much of our personality. There is also not much we can do about the chemical messengers in our brains. Behavior modification can cause mild to moderate changes, but the brain for the most part works on autopilot, so the production and use of neurotransmitters is largely out of our control. Life experiences are out of our control for the first few years of life, and even when we become aware enough to do things on our own, a high percentage of life experiences occur regardless of our own actions. For example, no matter how hard we work, shiftless lowlifes who don’t work will live off our tax dollars. But enough about Congress.
As you can see, we are partly helpless. We make choices, but how much “choice” is there, really? Our genetics, brain chemicals, and life experiences create abilities, preferences, desires, and fears that we did not choose and that persuade us to do what we do. I hate this fact, not only because we are not nearly as free as we’d like to believe, but also because I can’t praise or blame anyone for anything they do. When someone gives me a gift, or cuts me off in traffic, or donates money to charity, or cheats on their taxes, how much choice did they really have in the matter? Remember this the next time I piss you off.
The brain is just like any other organ: it can run well, or it can malfunction. When your heart has problems, there are beta blockers, vasodilators, blood thinners, and ACE inhibitors to help. When your kidneys malfunction, there are diuretics, phosphate binders, antihypertensives, and dialysis. The brain can also act up, so there are medications for it as well (we’ll look at some of these later). Also remember that all the other organs can be replaced: you can get a heart transplant, a kidney transplant, or a liver transplant. You cannot get a brain transplant. Even if it were medically possible, the new brain wouldn’t be you because your consciousness is attached to the brain that’s in your skull right now. This is one reason that I reject religion: if we were really metaphysical souls, then why would our physical brains have so much control over our consciousness and sense of well-being? Our hearts, kidneys, and livers don’t. Even if they do, it’s only because of the chemical effects they have on our brains, so the brain is the ultimate decider of how we feel. And why would it be that of all the matter in the Universe, your (supposed) soul can control only the three-pound jelly ball between your ears? It seems to me that a metaphysical being would be able to control either everything or nothing. But who am I to tell you what’s real? Remember, I’m loony.
Most of us have mental imbalances, which are merely things about ourselves that we don’t like. We might be prone to anxiety, or depression, or anger, or laziness, or overeating, or addiction. These are merely characteristics; we label them “imbalances” only because we don’t like them. We also have things about ourselves that we like. It might be abilities in math, or painting, or writing, or sports. We don’t label them “imbalances” only because we enjoy them. We’ll focus on the things we don’t like because those are the ones we want to change. To get the ball rolling, I’ll not-so-briefly describe my own imbalances so that on the off chance that you have some of them, you can see that you’re not the only one. I’ll try to keep the description of my mental problems short, which is kind of like shortening “psychopath” to “p”.
I have a very sensitive brain. As you probably know, there are different degrees of sensitivity. Some people seem to have no feelings, while others fly off the handle at the slightest thing. Being very sensitive, I pick up on a lot of stimuli that many others don’t. I’m deeply tuned in to the sights, sounds, and smells around me, such as a sunny day, a bird’s song, and a flower’s fragrance. The intensity with which I experience life is a blessing on one hand because it enables me to perceive and enjoy little things, but it’s also a curse because often my overactive nervous system gets overloaded and I enjoy things less. Being attentive to one’s environment is a good survival mechanism – you want to be able to see, hear, or smell a predator before it gets near you – but in peaceful times it keeps one from relaxing and enjoying. Sensitivity is a gift, but I manage to turn it into a disease. No wonder I drink.
Some would call me too sensitive, not because of my sensitivity, but because I am a man. Somehow it’s acceptable for women to be as sensitive as I am, but not for men. “Real” men are content watching football and eating cheeseburgers and ignoring their annoying wives, while “girly” men are driven to create works of art, eat healthfully, and be perceptive to others’ feelings. If a man is sensitive, it’s a character flaw. He is a wimp. Cowardly. Gay. Well, if being in tune with my environment and coaching kids and taking care of my health and writing books and brewing beer and having relationships with women make me gay, then I am the gayest gay who ever gayed.
I used to have a moderate degree of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This condition can take many forms, such as excessive hand-washing, but that has never been a problem for me. In fact, I never wash my hands unless something gets them exceedingly dirty, like explosive diarrhea or shaking hands with a politician. My OCD used to manifest itself in counting things, trying to make things happen a certain way, and repeating things in my head. I also used to have physical compulsions such as touching things, pacing, etc. All these symptoms have vanished ever since I found myself. And beer.
One great advantage of getting over my OCD is that I can now walk on sidewalk cracks. Remember that old poem? “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” I’m sure that this superstition was invented by someone with OCD. An OCD brain wants to do “neat” things like step on smooth pavement, not a crack. The idea of a broken mirror bringing seven years of bad luck also had to have OCD roots. Some superstitions are just downright stupid. For example, the one about a black cat crossing your path bringing bad luck. To disprove it I once deliberately crossed a black cat’s path. It was satisfying to debunk this old superstition, and I felt great until I stepped in dogshit.
Another one of my traits is overthinking. This is evidenced by the series of dreadful works I’ve produced. Thought is great if you’re creating things, but if you can’t stop thinking, you can’t enjoy simple pleasures such as a beautiful day, a great song, or whatever. If you think about a flower it ceases to be beautiful. When you think about something you define it in some intellectual framework. This prevents true experience. Meanwhile here I am thinking about stuff while telling everyone not to think. It’s hypocritical. I think.
Shameless plug: My thinking enables me to do division in my head down to several decimal places, even when I’m drunk. Here is a video.
Mankind has tried many ways to reduce thinking and hence achieve peace. For example, religion. As much as I hate religion, one of the good things about it is that it can help us quiet our minds and not be overly self-aware. In fact, the only difference between most religions is their method of achieving this. Eastern religions such as Buddhism tell us to practice “effortless doing” or meditation. Judaism tells us to focus on God. Christianity tells us to focus on Christ. Islam tells us to focus on suicide bombing.
Like millions of folks, I suffer from anxiety. This is common because it stems from the primal emotion of fear. Fear keeps us alive. It is only fear of something dangerous that keeps us away from it. Without fear we would walk right up to a lion or the edge of a cliff and possibly get killed. Nowadays we get anxious about non-life-threatening things such as social status and money. I can’t stand this about me. I hate me almost as much as you do.
I’ll give you an example of my social anxiety. I’m at a party talking to Person A, when Person B comes over to say hi. Now I have two choices: ignore Person B in order to remain focused on Person A, or turn my attention away from Person A in order to greet Person B. Either way I have dissed someone. No matter whom I diss, my brain regrets the choice, causing me to replay it over and over for the following week because my overthinking kicks in. Thus I turn what should be a nice, relaxing time into stress and remorse. This is why you never catch me not drinking at social events.
Sometimes I actually dread upcoming parties because I’m afraid of the type of situation I just described. You see how I sabotage my life? I have great health and money and friends and hobbies and freedom and safety and love, and yet I allow myself to become unhappy about trivial things. For example, when I buy a woman a birthday gift, I dread her opening it because I fear that she’s not going to like the power drill’s color.
I’ve been diagnosed as bipolar, which involves alternating episodes of depression and mania (bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression). Mania occurs when the brain is overactive. It produces euphoria and helps one achieve a lot (for example, brewing beer or writing terrible books). Depression occurs when the brain hits a lull and feels unmotivated. It might cause one to regret the past, dread the future, or feel as though life is pointless. This could be caused by the lack of a certain chemical. Like perhaps beer.
I took bipolar medication for a while. It didn’t help much so I stopped taking it and didn’t tell my shrink. They say you shouldn’t go off meds unless a doctor okays it, but you’ll be glad to know that nothing bad happened, unless you consider molesting nuns to be bad. The medication did help me stop biting my nails while I was taking it. I’ve bitten my nails my entire life, which is why I had to abandon my career as a proctologist.
I probably have attention-deficit disorder (ADD). At least every woman I’ve ever dated thinks so. Often I don’t listen to them, and even when I do, I forget what they tell me. They attribute it to ADD. I attribute it to not giving a shit what they’re talking about. I’ve talked to other men and they are exactly the same way. So ladies, if you want us men to listen to and remember what you say, please try to talk about something interesting.
Disturbed sleep is very common among the mentally eccentric. Often I’m up at 3 or 4 a.m. and try unsuccessfully to fall back asleep. Fortunately I have a job where I can go in very early. What’s going to happen when I retire? What the hell will I do with myself? I hope you come and visit me in prison.
I have often been called immature. Well, let’s see: I keep my sense of humor, I socialize with friends a lot, I help people in need, I exercise, and I have fun hobbies. People who call me immature tend to be closed-minded conformists who criticize anyone that behaves differently from the way they do. So it is they, not I, who are immature. The big doodyheads.
|Psychiatrist:||“How have you been feeling lately?”|
|Patient:||“Irritable. Especially these past two hours in your waiting room.”|
Brain cells (neurons) send impulses to each other not by touching each other, but by sending chemical messages. There is a small gap, called a synapse, between one neuron and another. The plasma membrane of the signal-passing (presynaptic) neuron comes into close apposition with the membrane of the target (postsynaptic) cell. Both cells contain extensive arrays of molecular machinery that link the two membranes together and carry out the signaling process. There are many different neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, melatonin, histamine, vasopressin, endorphin, secretin, nitric oxide, and dozens of others. Each chemical is responsible for certain things such as satiety, arousal, reward, learning, cognition, nausea, memory, sleep, mood, and temperature. We produce a certain amount of each chemical, and each chemical is used by certain parts of the brain. Once a neurotransmitter is used by a target cell, it must be removed in order to prevent further excitatory or inhibitory signal transduction. Removal is accomplished by being broken down, taken up, recycled, or eliminated from the body.
If a certain neurotransmitter is not both produced and removed in just the right amounts, the effects can range from mild discomfort or agitation to major physical illness or depression. Is it any wonder that so many of us are screwed up?
The quest to alter our state of mind is as old as Man himself. For more than 10,000 years members of our species have consumed psychoactive substances, performed rituals, and done dangerous things in order to produce euphoria: marijuana, religion, bungee jumping, alcohol, caffeine, numerology, cocaine, meditation, heroin, sports, nicotine, philosophy, LSD, peyote, and many more. The fact that so many of us want to alter our consciousness shows that we’re about as balanced as the national budget.
Enter modern pharmaceuticals. Great strides have been made in understanding brain chemicals and developing drugs to modify their action for our benefit. Remember, a Prozac a day keeps the demons at bay. (I made that up. Really. Google it.)
Modern Man has pushed the envelope by developing complex chemicals that either alter our mental state directly or enhance the action of psychoactive chemicals that our bodies already produce. These psychiatric medications can be divided into 6 groups:
Many people resort to these expensive prescription medications because natural drugs such as marijuana are illegal. You know why? Because natural drugs are so easy to produce that large corporations cannot get patents on them. Don’t for a second believe that the medical establishment has only your best interests in mind. Doctors, CEOs, and politicians manipulate the system in order to maximize the dollars that flow their way, even if it means depriving you of all-natural, relaxing medications such as marijuana. The government even tried to take alcohol away from us about a hundred years ago, but so much alcohol got produced illegally that it was obvious that the government couldn’t stop it, so they made it legal in order to tax it. Why don’t they do that with marijuana? Instead of spending billions of dollars fighting it, how about creating revenue by legalizing and taxing it? I saw a great campaign slogan for it: “Marijuana. Because the waste is a terrible thing to mi– Dude! I totally fucked that up!”
I’ll explain SSRIs and SNRIs in a little detail because they are so widely used. As a message travels down a nerve, it causes the end of the cell to release serotonin and/or norepinephrine into the synapse. When enough serotonin or norepinephrine reaches the second nerve cell, it activates receptors on the cell and the message continues on its way. The first cell then quickly absorbs any serotonin or norepinephrine that remains in the synapse. This is called reuptake. When the levels of serotonin or norepinephrine become unbalanced, the result can be anxiety or depression. SSRIs help to block the reuptake of serotonin, and SNRIs block the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine, so more remains in the synapses. This gives the serotonin and/or norepinephrine a better chance of activating the receptors on the next nerve cell. Thus, these medications improve mood. Of course, so does booze. Especially when you use it to wash down the pills.
By the way, even though alcohol makes us feel good, there are still idiots who condemn it. A bunch of people will be drinking, giggling, and feeling great, and some teetotaler will say, “You know, alcohol is a depressant.” I tell them, “No, you’re a depressant.”
Almost all psychotropic medications have undesirable side effects. They can make you nauseated, constipated, or dizzy. They can give you headaches. They can cause insomnia or dry mouth. They can make your orgasms less pleasurable. They can even worsen anxiety – a problem that these drugs are supposed to control! With all the billions of dollars that pharmaceutical companies have spent on research, this is the best they can do?
I’ve tried several SSRIs and SNRIs, none of which worked. Luvox, Wellbutrin, and Lexapro did nothing. Prozac made me crazy. Cymbalta made me constipated. Paxil took the pleasure out of my orgasms. I told my then-wife that I wasn’t enjoying sex. She said, “Join the club.”
Benzodiazepines relax me better than any SSRI or SNRI. So does alcohol. The fact that both benzodiazepines and alcohol boost the effects of GABA could indicate that many anxiety problems are GABA-related. Unfortunately benzodiazepines and alcohol put me to sleep. I’ll be at a party happily drinking beer, and before I know it I’ve dozed off. But at least I entertain people because they get to laugh at me, draw on me, go through my pockets, etc.
When I think about it, it is no surprise that I experimented with drugs in college. So did a lot of my classmates. In fact, to some people, the word “college” means “place to do drugs”. A certain percentage of students get high or take mushrooms or LSD or meth or ecstasy, and a lot of them drink. Others abstain from everything. I believe that this vast difference in drug experimentation is due to the vast difference in brains. Looking back on my college years, it is quite clear that most of the people I knew who took drugs did so because they were trying to self-medicate. Anxious people needed alcohol and marijuana. Depressed people needed cocaine. My dates needed roofies.
This makes me wonder: is our search for meaning, fulfillment, a mate, etc just our way of satisfying a chemical imbalance? Can pills be substitutes for these things? As it is, people who get hooked on drugs often neglect their loved ones and don’t accomplish anything. Is it because they feel no need for those things now that they’ve got a drug to keep their brains satisfied? Now, I’m not suggesting that we all just take pills and do nothing with our lives, unless we’re employed at the Motor Vehicle Administration. But is it the case that we must pursue money, sex, status, and meaning? That’s so stressful. Maybe we’d all be better off if we just took psychiatric drugs or smoked pot. I look back on all the stressful dates and job interviews I had, the decades sitting in cubicles, the worrying about money, the sports injuries, my divorce, and the suffering through obligations. Then I think of all the times I got high in college. There’s no comparison. Maybe I’ve been living my life wrong. Maybe I should spend the rest of my life as a homeless drug addict.
Maybe I should shut up.
|Patient:||“Doctor, I keep thinking that I’m a pair of curtains.”|
|Psychiatrist:||“For Heaven’s sake, pull yourself together.”|
Life experiences have a big impact on our mental state. They can be acute (abuse, death of a loved one, illness, divorce) or everyday (people we associate with, house/neighborhood we live in, work environment, pollution, noise, time constraints). They affect but do not completely determine our state of mind. For example, studies show that lottery winners are no happier one year after winning than they were before they won. Even more surprising is that people who become paraplegics are just as happy one year later as they were before they got injured. Sure, there might be a few months of elation or misery, but we eventually return to a basal level of happiness that’s determined not merely by our circumstances but also by our own brain chemistry and thought processes. Thus happiness is internally generated. Especially when the alcohol takes effect.
But what if we got everything we wanted? Would we ever feel unhappy? Our brains and thoughts might cause us to worry or feel depressed over financial, relationship, and/or health problems; but if we had all the money, love, sex, and physical health we wanted, would we ever worry? Unfortunately it’s a moot point because we do suffer financial loss, we do get mistreated by relationship partners, we don’t always get sex when we’re horny, and we and our loved ones do become sick or injured. We live in a world where criminals get away with theft and rape and torture and murder, while innocent people suffer as victims of these crimes, not to mention starvation and disease, through no fault of their own. Even in our relatively safe environment we have to work and pay bills and drive our kids to soccer and deal with annoying people and assholes. You know, every time I read about someone who shoots a bunch of people and then himself, I wonder why it took him so long.
Life experiences provide the input via which we learn and make choices. We all have different combinations of experiences, so we have different sets of beliefs. Many folks believe that their view is the one and only correct one, and that anyone who disagrees is “wrong”. Each person has an idea of how things “should” be, but others disagree, so there is conflict. The only way to resolve this is for everyone to admit that their beliefs are only as good as their input. For example, I don’t follow any religion because my input has convinced me that religious teachings are wrong, but other people have had different input that has convinced them that their particular religious beliefs are correct. Therefore I respect those beliefs no matter how ridiculous and laughable they are.
I’m suspicious of people who claim that they don’t swear. With all the shit that goes on in life, anyone who hasn’t needed to cuss his or her lungs out now and then simply hasn’t been paying attention.
Our mental state is not necessarily nothing more than the product of genetics and environment. We might be able to control our thoughts so that our sense of well-being is not merely a reaction to circumstances. This is the element of free will. There are some who contend that there is no such thing as free will, that our thoughts and emotions are completely determined by how we’re created and what happens to us. Such a fatalistic view takes the fun out of life because it’s based on the premise that we are nothing but bits of flotsam in the ocean of life. Specks of dust in the wind of life. Dog poops on the lawn of life. Nevertheless, I will discuss the concept of controlling our thoughts via free will, whether or not it exists.
More than half the misery on this planet is caused not by war and disease and poverty, but by our own worries, regrets, and negative reactions to situations. The misery we bring upon ourselves is often worse than what life situations cause. For example, when someone cuts us off in traffic, we might have to slow down a bit. That will cause a delay of maybe one second in getting to our destination. But if we react with anger, we will cause ourselves to be unhappy for the next several minutes or perhaps hours. Instead, we can simply choose to not react, to realize the insignificance of being cut off, and to appreciate how good our life is. Of course, this is easier said than done. Our natural reaction is to run the asshole off the road. But that option will cause us to be arrested and incarcerated. I’m not going through that again.
We can be happy in most circumstances by developing a “psychological immune system”. We can choose whether and how to react. Normally we react to our circumstances, which makes us vulnerable to negative events. By developing an attitude in which we refuse to poison ourselves with anger and frustration, we can remain content even when we fail to get what we want. So what if we don’t get that promotion, or our spouse belittles us, or we gain 300 pounds? Don’t worry because it just doesn’t matter!
Obviously I haven’t thought this through. Let me try again. I’m not saying that we should simply do nothing and delude ourselves that whatever happens is okay, like the folks at the Post Office do. We should have goals, because the things we want don’t just come to us. But if we fail, we don’t have to bemoan our failure; we can choose to put it out of our mind and instead focus on and appreciate what we have (“Well, I might be a loser, but at least I have cable!”)
Even when I “fail”, I feel happy as the result of the effort I expend in pursuit of a worthwhile goal. Whether I actually attain the goal isn’t relevant. Happiness is more in the process than in the product. I never used to think this way. I wouldn’t be satisfied until I reached a goal. As I’ve gotten older the attainment of goals has lost importance, probably because I haven’t attained any since 1987.
When something bad happens, it is usually bad only for a short period. We make ourselves unhappy via our reaction, then over the course of weeks, months, or years we get over it. “Time heals all wounds.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t react negatively in the first place? Wouldn’t life be so much better if you could remain unaffected while your house burns down? I can. Now, if it were my house burning down, that would be different.
Most people believe that happiness comes only from getting what they want. Not so. Getting what we want gives us temporary satisfaction, but if we live via desire, we will soon desire something else, and we won’t be happy until we get it, even though we got many things that we wanted in the past. It is this perpetual wanting that makes us feel miserable and empty. When we don’t desire anything, we are always full because what we have equals what we want. When we desire something, we open a hole that can be filled only by the object of our desire. As long as it remains unfilled, we will feel empty. So the next time you find yourself desiring something that isn’t easy to get, ask yourself how important it is. Will your life suck if you don’t get it? Can you let go of this particular desire? In Buddhism, the cessation of desire brings a state of bliss called nirvana. It can be attained via years of meditation. It can also be attained by smoking large amounts of weed.
Isn’t cessation of desire a cop-out for losers who can’t attain goals? I mean, if you don’t desire anything, then why live? Why get a college degree or exercise or have relationships? Why be thin and wealthy and popular when it is just as good to be fat and poor and alone? Why be a respected member of society when it’s just as good to be me? I think the idea isn’t to do nothing with your life, but to act without placing a lot of importance on things. Make efforts to get things you want, but don’t turn want into desperate yearning, and don’t torture yourself with disappointment and frustration if you can’t get something. Life can be fun even if you don’t accomplish anything. Look at the Kardashians.
The cycle of want is a symptom of being spoiled. It’s easy to see how children become spoiled brats, but we don’t notice how spoiled we adults become by living easy lives. We get food from the fridge, information from the Web, and all manner of goods from stores almost as soon as we want them. This causes us to become demanding and impatient. When we finally have to wait for something, we make ourselves miserable. For example, if the guy in front of us at the stoplight hesitates for two seconds, we honk at him. I sometimes wish that I had grown up poor because I was spoiled with food and clothing and indoor plumbing.
Many poor people are content with what little they have. I tried being poor. Well, not by choice. You see, I married someone who took every penny I had (and everything I would earn for a year after she left). Did losing all that money make me happier? After all, happiness doesn’t come from material things, and losing things can supposedly make you happier. Well, fuck that. I was miserable.
Sometimes we think that we need something that we really don’t. For example, others’ approval. We might dress or act a certain way in order to gain the approval of people we hardly know, worry that they won’t approve of us, and feel frustrated or disappointed when they don’t. Well, do we really need to please everyone? We only have time for relationships with a limited number of people. Once we have a good number of friends and family, do we really need to make everyone we meet like us? Why put this unnecessary pressure on ourselves? Isn’t it more important to relax and be yourself than it is to please judgmental people? Do you really want to associate with people who would not like you if they knew what you were really like? How could you possibly connect emotionally with people like that? This is why I always act the way I want to. It’s also why no one likes me.
Many of us at some point question why we go on living. After all, no matter how much we accomplish, no matter how much money or sex or health or social status we get, we are going to wither and die. All we do by not slitting our wrists is prolong the inevitable. But it seems that people think this way only when they fail to get what they want. Unfulfilled desire causes them to become angry, frustrated, or depressed. If this describes you, then stop and reassess. Are the things you want really necessary in order to have a good life? Can you be happy with your current situation? I bet you can; you just choose not to. Well, choose to be happy! I remember in college when I was feeling blue because I wasn’t getting dates with the girls I wanted. Then I heard Stephen Stills sing, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.” I took his advice: I became much less selective, and for the rest of my college years I had a very active dating life that resulted in lots of sex, three urinary tract infections, and two illegitimate children.
Why are so many people unhappy much of the time? Because they have been learning to be unhappy. They tell themselves: “I have to be/do/get X, or else I cannot be happy.” This causes the constant feeling that they aren’t getting what they want from life, and this can cause depression. I believe that most of the need for antidepressants comes from people’s learned unhappiness, not from an underlying medical condition. Negative thinking causes unpleasant brain activity, and if the thinking is not changed, pharmaceuticals might help, but then again, they might not. Many studies have shown that antidepressants work no better than placebos. Since placebos work by causing one to believe that he is being chemically helped, this illustrates how changing one’s thoughts is more effective than chemicals. Unless you count beer.
If we cannot control our thoughts, then we can at least choose to not react to them. For example, many of us have uncontrollable worrisome thoughts about losing money or becoming ill or other people not liking us or failing to accomplish something or a loved one dying. These thoughts seem to appear of their own accord, without any effort on our part and against our will. Now, perhaps we need to imagine possible future calamities so we can take precautions to prevent them. But do we have to torture ourselves with worry? Sure, we should buy insurance, exercise, use good social skills, and get vaccinations, but can’t we just matter-of-factly do what needs to be done? The thoughts might be necessary, but the emotional reaction isn’t. Worry never, ever helps. First of all, 99% of the things we worry about never happen. Second, even when they do happen, we suffer a lot more from self-inflicted mental torture than from the events themselves. Third, if we’ve already taken precautions, then worry won’t lessen the likelihood of a calamity happening. And finally, there are some things that we can’t take precautions against (such as death of a loved one), so again, worrying won’t lessen their likelihood. Instead of suffering from your thoughts, step back and watch them without having any emotional reaction. Pretend you’re watching a documentary about a neurotic little troll. When worrisome thoughts happen, narrate what’s going on: “Now the troll is imagining that he’s going to run out of money and become miserable. Now he’s imagining that people don’t like him. Now he’s imagining that someone is narrating his thoughts.”
If we accept the Universe as it is, we will be happy because what we want and what we get will be about the same. Sure, there will be some things that we want and don’t get, but since we can control only our actions and not necessarily outcomes, we can choose to enjoy the process of working toward goals and not fret over whether those goals are reached. For example, I try to write enjoyable books. What I actually produce are a bunch of odious, mind-numbing shit piles like the one you’re reading, but that doesn’t bother me because I enjoy the writing process and I still get to call myself an author.
Although I’ve already described some mental problems, I’ll elaborate here so I can produce a book that’s longer than a Twitter post.
About 18% of American adults have anxiety disorders. There are many types, from existential anxiety (spiritual emptiness, thoughts of death, the “dizziness of freedom”) to performance anxiety to social anxiety. It can be learned via life events and thought patterns, for example, being pressured to perform. However, there is a genetic component. For example, OCD, which is one form that anxiety takes, seems to be largely caused by a mutation in the human serotonin transporter gene, hSERT. Even animals can have OCD. One time I was at someone’s pool. They had a border collie who loved to stand in a particular spot, jump in the water, retrieve a ball, climb out, and return to the same exact spot to repeat the process. The animal would not do anything else all day. I was glad he was there, because I got to blame him when I took a dump in the pool.
Depression is a feeling of despair or hopelessness. In some cases people are bedridden or even hospitalized because depression has sapped their will to do anything. Like anxiety, depression can be learned via life events and thoughts (tragedies, learned helplessness), but genetics is a factor. Low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine are often implicated, as are overactivity and loss of neurons in certain areas of the brain. So why bother trying to be happy? Give up.
I wonder whether depression is more common among intelligent people. They often overthink things, and they are smart enough to see the ugly truth about how screwed up the world is rather than believe sugar-coated lies. Both factors prevent enjoyment. Meanwhile morons spend blissfully oblivious lives shopping at Walmart, eating Big Macs, and pumping out litters of fat, ugly, stupid kids. We might resent or ridicule them, but they are often happier than we are. Which just goes to show that life isn’t fair.
Existential depression seems linked to intelligence because it arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence such as death, freedom, and meaninglessness. Substantial thought and reflection are necessary to even consider these notions instead of simply focusing on day-to-day activities that “normal” people are content to occupy their brains with. We deep, thoughtful people often feel isolated because most people can think only about superficial things such as shopping, fashion, television, conformity, and the local sports team, and are incapable of understanding any religion that goes beyond a simple scheme of doctrines and punishments. Thoughtful people like to find their own truth and make up their own minds. However, sometimes making choices among the possibilities appears merely arbitrary because we see no “ultimately right” choice. When no one thing seems better than the rest, we see no meaning in making a choice, so life itself seems meaningless. Perhaps this is why so many people like to be told what to do – it relieves them of the existential burden of thinking, making choices, and realizing that their existence is fucking pointless.
Some disorders can be detected in infants, and this clearly shows that they are genetic, because the behavior could not have been learned. Most babies shown a series of different items will immediately focus on a new item. Some, however, will keep focusing on the same one no matter how many new ones are introduced. This tendency to keep focusing on the same thing is a form of OCD. When I was in school my OCD caused me to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else, and I couldn’t stop until she filed harassment charges.
Mental problems are not binary; they occur by degrees. Just as there are degrees of “tall” and “short”, there are also degrees of OCD, anxiety, etc. This is why there are so many degrees of “jerkitude”. For example, a mildly afflicted person might be a jerk and a moderately afflicted person might be an asshole, while I am a dickhead. At least that’s what all my past girlfriends called me.
Stress exacerbates disorders. The brain wants to achieve homeostasis, and when agitated it will revert to old familiar patterns, which in the case of weirdos like me is obsession. I was once in a bad marriage and I had a lot of obsessive thoughts. Most of them revolved around murder and suicide. And if you’re married you can’t tell me that you’ve never had those thoughts. Your spouse has pissed you off, causing the feelings of love to evaporate and be replaced with anger, frustration, disgust, regret, etc. And guess what. He or she has had the same feelings towards you. I have never been able to reconcile the fact that the only creatures that are intelligent enough to meet our social needs also push our hot buttons. It friggin’ sucks, and the only thing that has kept me from committing suicide is beer.
Have you ever wished that you were a celebrity? Many unknown people have at one time or another wished that they were Albert Einstein, Howard Stern, Michael Jackson, Donald Trump, Michelangelo, or Howard Hughes. Well, I’ve got news for you: everyone on that list has or had OCD. This illustrates an important point: prominent people tend to have psychological problems. Why? Because psychological problems push us to be creative, different, and accomplished. This is why celebrities are notorious for being some of the biggest whack jobs on the planet. “Normal” people are content and comfortable, so they see little need to excel at anything; while sick people are pushed to become great artists, scientists, etc. As for Donald Trump, well, not every afflicted person is particularly bright.
“Normal” doesn’t necessarily mean good or happy. “Normal” is defined simply as “typical”. “Normal” people dress a certain way, exchange idle pleasantries, and tell little white lies in order to be accepted. So if you’re a boring, shallow, dishonest mainstreamer, you’re considered “normal”. People such as I, who dress comfortably rather than conventionally, tell the truth, and eschew shallow topics such as fashion and sports, are called “abnormal”, “weird”, “crazy”. Most people watch inane TV shows and call themselves normal; whereas I have sex with one goat and they call me crazy.
While some disorders make us unhappy (anxiety, depression, addiction), others might not. I’m going to play devil’s advocate and look at famous villains. As we all know, many world leaders both past and present are/were nutbags: Kim Jong-il, Muammar Khadafy, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin. There have also been many pathological criminals in our own country: Al Capone, John Gotti, Bernie Madoff, Michael Milken, Kenneth Lay. But are/were they unhappy (at least before they got caught)? All of them led active, prosperous lives. They got most, if not all, of what they wanted: money, power, sex, mansions, fine cars, great food. They didn’t sit around bemoaning their lot in life or run to psychiatrists for meds to help them cope. They went out and got what they wanted. Sure, they hurt a lot of people along the way, but were they unhappy about it? Sometimes I envy them. I work hard and treat people nicely, and what do I get? I’ve been ripped off in shady investment schemes. I’ve lent large sums of money to people who never paid me back. I got cleaned out by my ex-wife. Asshole motorists cut me off. The government takes a third of my income. Maybe I’ve been wasting my life being good. What’s to stop me from cashing out my bank account and living a life of crime with my gun and a car full of clothing and beer? Maybe that would make me happier. Nah, because if I did that, I’d have to live in hiding, and then I wouldn’t be able to drink with my friends. So the next time you share a beer with me, you can feel good knowing that you’re keeping me from going on a murderous rampage.
|Patient:||“I have come here vith vut I vould call it a problem, and I vas hoping maybe you could help.”|
|Psychiatrist:||“Yes, I hope so.”|
|Patient:||“Oy, vut a problem I got! I got such shpilkis I vanna tell you. Every night I vake up ...”|
|Psychiatrist:||“Yes, well, what is your problem?”|
|Patient:||“I'm not Jewish.”|
You can self-diagnose by taking one of those Internet quizzes. I took one and here are my answers:
|Have you been experiencing persistent thoughts, images, or impulses that seem inappropriate?||Not unless you consider sexual fantasies about llamas to be inappropriate.|
|When work is left undone at your job, does it bother you?||No – I am a federal employee.|
|Have you been having perverted thoughts that are upsetting to you?||No – they don’t upset me.|
|Do you count things that don’t need to be counted?||No, and that sentence was a waste of 39 letters, a question mark, and an apostrophe.|
|Do you excessively horde things?||Does beer count?|
|Do you find it necessary to repeat things?||No. No. No. No. No.|
|Do you have trouble paying attention?||Huh?|
Once you’ve determined how screwed up you are, you can start the healing process. One method is to repeat daily affirmations. I use the following ones; feel free to use them yourself:
Okay, let’s get serious. Your negative feelings do not indicate that you are defective; they indicate that you have had aberrant genes and/or traumatic experiences that caused those feelings and you simply haven’t developed skills in handling them. Almost everything we do is a learned skill, even basic things like walking, language, sex, and getting dressed. Many of us simply haven’t learned how to notice when negative feelings are happening and deal with them when they do. So don’t feel inadequate or ashamed. You are a good person who had bad things happen to you.
So, how do we get rid of our negative feelings? One thing that can help is to open up the dungeon of our past and let the demons out. We can think about and feel past traumas. It will hurt, possibly so much that we’ll cry, but this is a cathartic and often necessary process in purging our demons and then healing. We might realize that our anxiety, oversensitivity, and trying to impress were just defense mechanisms that we created in order to stop ourselves from being hurt again. We can see that we have self-worth regardless of anyone else’s opinion. As our demons evaporate, so will our feelings of low self-worth and our defense mechanisms.
We have to care about our mental health more than whatever it is that we’re worried about. Is money or social status more important than our sanity and happiness? If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the stress of worrying is worse than the thing being worried about. Furthermore, worrying is useless unless you are able to change the situation by your own action. For example, worrying about what an asshole your boss is cannot possibly have any beneficial effect unless your worrying causes you to beat him senseless with a tire iron.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a process wherein you examine the erroneous beliefs you carry (e.g., “I must be liked by everyone”) and the negative feelings they cause (anxiety, depression, etc), and replace those untruths with truths (e.g., “if someone doesn’t appreciate me, then they are judgmental and critical and therefore do not deserve any place in my life”). This results in a more positive outlook and better feelings. CBT is different from affirmations, which are sometimes lies that people tell themselves over and over in order to fool themselves into believing them. The purpose of CBT is to look at things realistically and find the truths that you have missed because you were so busy wallowing in negativity.
When you think or act in a way that your particular mental condition urges, you feed the addiction, and it will continue to rule you as long as you do its bidding. You must start denying the urge. This means merely dropping it, not fighting it. You see, fighting thoughts simply makes them stronger because you give them your full attention. For example, if you try your hardest to not think of pink elephants, you will think of pink elephants. However, if you ignore thoughts, they wither and die. So when an unwanted thought or desire surfaces, do nothing. I do this at my job all the time: when thoughts of work arise, I do nothing.
Aberrant thoughts (“I am worthless”, “he’s a jerk”), feelings (fear, dread, anger), and compulsions (nail biting, throat clearing, change jingling) are just established patterns that need to be broken. It’s difficult at first to ignore them, like withdrawing from a drug. Your brain wants to do something, you don’t let it, and as a result you feel uncomfortable, empty, and unfulfilled. Eventually as you get used to not feeding the addiction, the unpleasantness will diminish because the compulsive need will diminish.
We might not realize that our mental addictions are indeed addictions because there is no physical evidence. For example, with smoking there are cigarette butts, coughing, and a stench on our clothing. Our aberrant thoughts leave no such red flags; they just repeat themselves, and we become accustomed to them and accept them as “normal”. Take religion (please!). People feel the need to repeat the same old rituals, whether it’s praying, bowing, kneeling, counting beads, reciting a paragraph, etc. These are inane activities that have no effect on the world around them: they neither change the course of human events nor please any deity. All that these rituals do is feed the addictions of the people performing them. I have better ways to spend my weekends. While millions of people are sitting in church or synagogue or mosque, I’m making beer. Now, you tell me who is doing more good for humanity.
Know that whatever your problems are, you are not alone. There is not a problem you can have that someone else hasn’t had. At one point you might think, “Nobody else on the planet has these weird thought and behavior patterns.” Yes they do. Never underestimate the magnitude of human weirdness. Every living human has their own aberrations. This is what makes us creative and interesting. Think about it: who are the most memorable people? Entertainers. Politicians. Mass murderers. Humorists. The people who make life the most interesting are also the most deranged. Look at Vincent Van Gogh, Robin Williams, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway. They were great at what they did and entertained millions. They were also messed up, so much that they committed suicide. If only Kanye West would do the same.
We have the power to change our thoughts and therefore our sense of well-being, kind of like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. At the end of the movie, Glinda (the Witch of the North) tells Dorothy that the only thing she had to do all along was click her heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home.” If I were Dorothy I’d be angry as hell. I’d say, “Why didn’t you tell me in the first place? All this time I’ve been walking on a yellow road with three idiots, dealing with midgets and talking trees and a green witch and flying monkeys, and I could have avoided all that just by clicking my heels and saying the first line of a haiku? Thanks a lot, Bitch of the North!”
When your efforts to break your old mental habits fail, that’s when it might be time to seek help from...
THE MENTAL HEALTH FIELD
Three patients at a mental hospital are applying for release. The panel of doctors decides to test the patients’ readiness to re-enter society by throwing a ball into the pool, which is now empty, and telling each patient that if he can retrieve the ball, he will be released. The first patient dives off the diving board and breaks his arm. The second patient jumps from the edge of the pool and breaks his leg. The third patient just stands there. One of the doctors congratulates him and says, “Well done. You can go free. Tell us, why didn’t you jump?” The patient replies, “I can’t swim.”
I’m tired of the term “mental health professional”. Let me tell you something about the mental health field: it’s populated by the same mix of both competent and incompetent people that you find in virtually all other fields. Psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, etc are just normal people who go into their profession in order to make money so that they can pay their bills. And some of them suck at it.
Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental health. And you know how many bad doctors there are. I’ve been to several psychiatrists during my life, and they couldn’t even agree on what my ailment was: all but one of them diagnosed me as “depressed”, and the other diagnosed me as “bipolar”. They all prescribed chemicals, not one of which helped me. These charlatans did absolutely nothing in terms of determining whether my problems were learned rather than chemical, probably because there’s a lot more money in prescribing pills than in teaching people how to become self-sufficient. After all, self-sufficient people don’t keep coming back for $150 visits. Plus, multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies pay nice kickbacks.
If psychiatrists ran diagnostic (X-ray, blood) tests in order to determine which medication will work best for your particular problem, I’d have more respect for them, but you know which method most of them use? Trial-and-error. Every one of the psychiatrists I saw would prescribe a drug, and when I told them it didn’t work, they would prescribe another. They didn’t use any scientific knowledge or logic or reason. They simply chose another drug from the list of available ones. Imagine if your primary care physician were to do that with pain meds. If you were in pain and he kept prescribing the wrong drug for months on end, you’d be pissed. But psychiatrists are excused when they fail us time after time. They are frauds who do nothing but pick a medication out of their ass, and when that one doesn’t work, they prescribe another. A fucking janitor could do that.
Oh, and before you start thinking that psychiatrists are necessary because they’ve studied drug interactions and will make sure to not prescribe anything that will react badly with your other meds, I’ve got news for you: that’s what pharmacists do. When you drop off a prescription, the pharmacist doesn’t merely pour pills into a bottle – he/she looks at your medication history and will alert you if the new medication shouldn’t have been prescribed. So even Safeway and Giant are better than psychiatrists.
And here’s something else that makes psychiatrists obsolete: your primary care physician is licensed to prescribe psychiatric medication. In fact, my primary care physician told me that literally half of what she does is write psychiatric prescriptions. The other half consists of playing Sudoku while patients wait to see her.
The medications that psychiatrists prescribe aren’t even effective. As I mentioned in chapter 5, studies have shown that antidepressants work no better than placebos. Now, I know that many people who take antidepressants claim that they feel “better”, but have they participated in double-blind, placebo-controlled studies? No. The belief that they are taking a wonder drug gives them hope and enables them to fabricate a sense of “improvement”. And of course they or their loved ones will flatly deny this because they have no idea what’s going on. I know I’m not going to convince you or anybody else that antidepressants are a scam, but maybe the National Institutes of Health will. They have a paper on their website that will tell you everything I just told you.
Psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medication, so they at least put some honest effort into helping you heal yourself. Many psychiatrists, on the other hand, have no interest in understanding your problems. All they want to do is write a prescription, collect their fee, and get you the hell out of their office. This is why a typical psychiatric visit lasts 15-30 minutes, while psychologists see you for 45-60 minutes. If you have a mental problem you should start with a psychologist in order to see whether it can be solved by retraining your thoughts. If that doesn’t work then perhaps you should see a psychiatrist for some chemical help (perhaps an anxiolytic), but even then, medication should be used only temporarily in order to help you through difficult times. The only cure is therapy, which will help you stop the negative thoughts that cause your problem and enable you to live without mental health workers and meds. Good luck finding a psychiatrist who will make an effort to wean you off the drugs and office visits that finance his boat.
So make no mistake: your psychiatrist, unless he/she is a particularly good one, is nothing more than a highly paid ticket vendor. He/she enables you to legally purchase psychiatric medication, but don’t expect him/her to give you any insight into the workings of your mind. Hell, I do that at least as well as he/she does, and I’m a nut.
Many parents’ disciplinary methods hurt their children. If a child misbehaves, he does not need for the people he looks up to and loves to criticize him and tell him he’s bad; he needs them to nurture and guide him. But many parents pass on the hurt that they endured in their childhoods by lashing out at their own children. Most of them don’t mean to do it; they just can’t help it. It takes great strength to absorb hurt and not pass it on.
Bullying at school can exacerbate the problem. Getting picked on both at home and in school leaves a child with no safe haven other than when he/she is alone, and can cause negative thought patterns such as deep-seated fears, anger, and low self-esteem. If we simply accept these negative thoughts as part of who we are and never question them, they can become insidious demons that we never get rid of and that poison us throughout our lives. Kind of like the GOP.
Children are very vulnerable to programming because they have not yet developed their own beliefs or a strong sense of self, so if anyone – especially their parents – tells them something at this critical stage, they have no shield with which to block it, and it becomes incorporated into their basic assumptions. Thus they can be duped into believing just about anything, whether it’s that a particular religious or political system is the one and only correct one, or that people of one particular color are better than everyone else. When a child has parents who repeatedly criticize him or schoolmates who repeatedly ridicule him, he might be literally brainwashed into believing that he has no self-worth. The negative messages of emotional child abuse cause painful self-awareness and a negative sense of self.
A lot of us carry this low self-esteem into adulthood. It becomes an unconscious assumption about ourselves, and can cause many reactions such as anxiety, depression, fear of intimacy, bullying, victimhood, addiction, hypersensitivity, intrusive thoughts, angry outbursts, compensatory overachievement, inappropriate sexual behavior, self-mutilation, insecurity, criticism, dominance, pompousness, clinging to a group or belief, and constant need for approval. These reactions appear “immature” because when a stimulus that reminds one of past trauma triggers a response, the victim goes back to that time of life, which is often childhood. No matter how old one gets, if the issues remain unresolved then the person will always have “immature” parts of his psyche. Worse, he might start writing stupid books.
We are dreaming. Each of us uses our sensory input to create our own fantasy world. Think about it: if we truly perceived reality as it is, then we would all have the same views. But we don’t, do we? We have different beliefs about religion, politics, and raising children. We have different preferences in music, food, television, and humor. We are all biased according to our previous experiences, genetics, needs, and current situations. Each of us then builds our own mental constructs, which result in enormous differences in perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs.
Mental constructs that pertain to ourselves are known as the ego. We each develop an ego at some point in our childhood and build on it for many years. Suffering seems to catalyze it. The feelings of fear, powerlessness, and worthlessness that we have as the result of criticism, ridicule, abandonment, and rejection often cause us to create mental constructs in order to alleviate these painful feelings and protect ourselves from future hurt. It is our way of fabricating a (false) sense of courage, strength, and value. It is more than just a way of thinking – it is an identity. Not a true identity of course; it’s a false identity used as a shield.
The ego can take many forms, such as belief (religious, political), affiliation (gender, race, nationality, culture, sports team), ownership (money, possessions), accomplishment (athletics, career, morality), and superiority (bragging, criticism, winning). People use these things in order to create a false identity because they are either afraid of their true identity, or they are simply not aware of it. The former results from being repeatedly scolded or ridiculed, which can make us fear our true self because we believe the negative things that others tell us. The latter results from being repeatedly reminded that we must do or believe certain things in accordance with rules that other people made, which can make us lose sight of our true self. Either way our reaction is to assume an outer identity based on our affiliations/beliefs/possessions/accomplishments. Since we perceive these not as mere things but as part of ourself, we feel threatened when anyone questions or steals them, or by the mere possibility of that happening. The fear manifests as anxiety, frustration, depression, resentment, hatred, and/or violence. On the next page we’ll look in detail at some of the forms that the ego takes.
Sometimes we feel “empty”. This is caused by living via the empty shell of ego. We create ideas such as title, belief, nationality, and social status, while neglecting our true selves, so we perceive no substance, hence we are left with emptiness. We cannot fill it with a special relationship, wealth, fame, or accomplishment, because they are just part of the shell that causes emptiness in the first place.
The ego causes the extremely common disease of incessant thought. We torture ourselves with constant want, worry, regret, and fear, because we believe that we must do, be, or obtain something in order to have peace. This illusion ensures an unsatisfying life because even when one desire is fulfilled, another takes its place, so that we are never fulfilled for long. If we could just empty our minds, peace would come. We get glimpses of the bliss of no-thought upon awakening from sleep or while engrossed in a captivating activity, but the thought gremlins soon return, crowding and poisoning our minds, telling us that we must attain something: an accomplishment, an experience, a possession, or others’ approval. Thus our minds fool us into believing that fulfillment exists only in the future. When we get to that future, fulfillment still eludes us because our minds again lie to us, saying that we must attain something else in order to be fulfilled in some other imagined future. We fall for it over and over and over, constantly pursuing accomplishments, experiences, possessions, and social status, gaining the world while losing our soul.
The mental constructs of the ego make us feel emotional pain when anything happens that violates those constructs. For example, if we have a rigid idea that no motorist should ever cut another motorist off, then we will feel anger or some other painful emotion whenever we get cut off. If we either let go of that construct or at least not put so much importance on it, we will avoid the emotional pain that it causes.
The human ego is the most destructive force on the planet. It is at the heart of all conflict. It causes selfishness, judgment, anger, and fear, which often lead to theft and violence.
Are you ready to start reducing your ego and the pain it causes? Well, the first step is to realize that you have an ego and that you are not it. If you had been born in another place or time, or to different parents, then you most likely would have had different teachings, beliefs, skin color, gender, career, and/or nationality. Therefore you are not those externals but the perceiver within.
Since you are not your externals, don’t focus on them. That way when something threatens any of your externals, there will be little or no pain because you will not feel threatened. For example, if you’re Swahili and someone makes fun of Swahilis, you’ll see that you have not been personally attacked because criticism of that external is not a criticism of the real you, nor can it diminish you. You’ll also see that their opinion is nothing more than their ego trying to feel superior by making the ridiculous proposition that everyone of a particular nationality is bad.
Keep in mind that any pain your ego causes in reaction to a situation is almost always greater than the pain caused by the situation itself. Don’t blame others for your pain, because that pain was already inside you; they simply triggered it. Look inside, locate and acknowledge your wounded parts, bring them into the light, note that they might have been caused by certain people or situations in your distant past through no fault of your own (perhaps you were overly criticized by your parents or bullied at school), and realize that you are a good soul rather than the worthless person they made you out to be.
Ego reduction is a gradual process. Your ego is a learned behavior that you have exercised for decades, and it will take months or years to create a new learned behavior to usurp it. You might feel spiritual and peaceful and genderless and colorless while you’re alone or meditating, but find that your ego kicks in when someone makes fun of you, criticizes you, or cuts you off in traffic. Be patient.
Note that ego reduction is not a process of fighting it, struggling to “beat” an adversary. It is quite the opposite: dropping the ego entirely. Fighting the ego will cause it to fight back, so you will end up expending twice as much energy as the ego usually saps from you. Isn’t that stupid? When your ego starts to rear its ugly head, just relax. Do nothing. Don’t explode just because a painful button has been pushed. Avoid that argument. Walk away from that person criticizing you. Let that motorist get ahead of you. This might seem like weakness, but actually it is strength. When you let your ego dictate your feelings and behavior, that is weakness. When you let a critic cause you to feel defensive and argue, that is weakness. When you let an impatient motorist cause you to feel angry and get into a race with him, that is weakness. But when you remain unfazed by a situation and do not let it elicit a reaction from you, that is strength. Show how much more powerful you are than the situation. This is more easily said than done, but if you practice, you will keep improving. Your pain buttons will become less painful and you will have less interest in poisoning yourself with fear, anger, and resentment.
You will fail frequently. Don’t let that make you give up. You couldn’t ride a bicycle the first time you got on it, could you? But you tried and tried, and eventually you became good it. Well, you will become good at reducing your ego.
As you become more aware of your true self, you will become more aware of others’ egos. When someone reacts with pain or anger at something, such as criticism or having their beliefs disputed or being cut off in traffic, you will see their ego in action and remember all the pain that your ego has caused you. You will see that they could avoid the pain that they are currently inflicting on themselves if only they would drop their ego. You might want to educate them, but they might not be ready for education at this point. You can try pointing out how their ego is causing their problem, but you might get rebuked rather than thanked.
As your pain and ego shrink, and you find your true self, you will find more and more inner peace. All those years of fear, agitation, worry, and anger were self-inflicted, and now you are no longer inflicting so much pain on yourself. You will find that you feel not only more peaceful, but also more free: you will no longer tether yourself to certain beliefs or affiliation with a particular group or the need to have everyone like you. You will live spontaneously, seeing each situation with fresh eyes, feeling and acting as you see fit rather than according to preconceived notions or others’ opinions.
It cannot be stressed enough that peace can be found only within, by shedding your ego and becoming aware of your true self. Peace cannot be "earned” by achieving worldly feats such as dominating or persuading others, obtaining wealth or status, or keeping up with the latest fashion, for even if we satisfy those desires, other desires will soon replace them and we will once again feel dissatisfied as we ride the hamster wheel of desire and pursuit, struggle and disappointment. Is it any wonder that our worldly struggle causes us to feel stressed, anxious, and irritated?
We probably can’t shed our ego completely, but that’s okay. We just need to manage it. Even though we are not our externals such as nationality and occupation, those things are part of our earthly situation, so mental constructs about them are necessary in order to give definition to our lives: “I live here.” “These are my loved ones.” “I perform this function in society.” We just need to refrain from overdeveloping those mental constructs into “My nation/family/career is better than yours.”
Certain buzzwords are often used to describe the release of our illusions. Awareness. Oneness. Enlightenment. Don’t let these mystical-sounding words fool you. All we’re talking about is a straightforward process of looking beyond our ignorant conditioning, challenging long-held beliefs, and perceiving what really is. This is the way to peace and well-being. It is not a revelation to be waited for, a light bulb that turns on in an “Aha!” moment. We do not “attain” it via activities such as reading texts and listening to spiritual leaders. It is always right here, in the present moment, if we will only stop seeking, stop thinking, stop trying to “get” somewhere. Well-being can be experienced only by not trying to get anywhere; by simply being, right here, right now.
THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
The dark night of the soul occurs when our ego starts to lose its control over us. It is trying to hide us from the light (which is why it is called the dark night of the soul). We feel as though we are stuck in the dark with no hope of seeing the light again. There might be many dark nights of the soul – it depends on how long it takes to get to a point where one’s ego no longer runs the show.
The dark night is not an illness. It is exactly the opposite: part of the recovery process after being ill for so long. It is a rite of passage, a spiritual detox. The true self is emerging.
Our usual ego-caused pain is now increased because as we break away, we are losing the “safety” that the ego used to provide. We are torn in two directions. This is a painful but necessary larval stage in our spiritual development. Keep going and don’t look back. This pain will eventually subside. It is better to go through temporary acute pain than it is to spend the rest of our lives with constant, low-level pain.
As the true self emerges, we might feel less interested in some worldly things because we realize how they pale in comparison to the importance of spiritual growth. For example, instead of meeting folks for happy hour, we might prefer to read a good book, or write down our thoughts, or meditate, or take a long walk, or simply nap. It might even take considerable effort just to get out of the house because deep down we know that we would just be heading out to waste even more time and energy on things that don’t fulfill us. Additionally, we might not want to discuss this with loved ones because we feel that they would not understand due to the fact that they are still caught up in their egos and have not reached our level of spiritual realization. We might thus feel lonely. The road to spiritual wellness is one that is often traveled alone.
The pain, plus the loss of interest in certain worldly things, can feel like depression. Often people don’t realize what’s happening, so they run to mental health professionals for counseling and medication. This can be counterproductive if it keeps them going down the same road of egoic pursuit.
Because the ego is so afraid of losing control, it will fight us every step of the way. Let us see it for what it is – a painful, silly, heavy piece of luggage that we have saddled ourselves with – and then drop it so it doesn’t continue to burden us. Let us not continue to be its slave. Stop carrying it around and feeding it with mental energy. Stop giving it time and attention. When it wells up, choose to ignore it. Refuse to go through the mental gymnastics it wants us to. Stop riding the rollercoaster. Eventually we will live in peace.
What can we say about the author that he hasn’t already revealed? He’s a neurotic, anxiety-ridden, depressive worry wart who has no purpose other than to serve as an example of how not to be. To make matters worse, he’s about to retire and become a burden on society. Like he isn’t already.
To be fair, Ben’s genes and life experiences have not been kind to him. His hyperactive brain and all the rejection, ridicule, and abuse he’s suffered have forced him to be the way he is. Oh sure, he is physically and intellectually healthy, but emotionally he’s about as stable as plutonium. Ecstasy users routinely tell him to calm down.
Don’t be concerned for your safety though. Ben will never do you any harm, as long as you don’t let him into your home. Also when you’re near him never wear yellow or utter the word “uvula”. Don’t ask.
We know that you found this book disturbing. So did we. But we published it anyway because, well, look at all the other piles of his nauseating offal we’ve already published. What harm could one more do?
If you have a shred of decency you will not lend this book to anyone. You don’t want to upset innocent people, do you? And anyway, lending this book would reveal the fact that you’re friends with Ben, and you can’t let that happen. Not if you plan to run for public office anyway.
So do with this book what you have done with all of Ben’s other books: ignore it. One day you might remember him as that weird guy who you found entertaining but wouldn’t allow near your children. You might even be inclined to visit him at Spring Grove Mental Hospital. Remember not to wear yellow.