Tag Archive: goals

Fall Funk

One of the biggest challenges I face as a man with Bipolar Disorder is that nearly every autumn, I fall into a funk. As the weather gets suddenly colder in the midwest, my mother also battles the same demons, and struggles to get out of bed, sleeping an average of fifteen to seventeen hours a day.

It’s ironic that she and I sleep so much during this time, because there’s even less daylight than usual, but I personally must take even better care of myself during the fall season, lest I start rapidly cycling between mania and despondency. I kind of give myself permission to sleep in on days when nothing is due at school, and I’ve learned to pace myself over time.

Having goals helps immensely. I’m finishing up my final two courses at Northwestern University, getting ready to start my thesis this winter and spring, something that can be done from home, but I’m scared. I’m both scared and excited that I’m drawing near the end of my coursework, getting ready to launch into both the work world and, hopefully, the publishing community. If I didn’t have school to propel me forward, I’d probably watch Judge Judy reruns all day. My father always jokes that when that happens to him, just push him out on the ice floe like the Inuit Eskimos.

The reality is that things are going well, and I’m nervous that the proverbial other shoe is going to drop any day now.

The challenge remains being gentle with myself during challenging times, and keep rising each morning as long as God grants me breath to greet the day.


The Wrong Train

New Year’s has come and gone, and along with it, the requisite resolutions. In the midwest, the season comes at such a strange time–so much time spent in the dark. Even the few daylight hours can prove to be gloomy and depressing and a challenge for those trying to change their behaviors.

My local gym launches a contest in late January to see who can lose the most weight in a 90 day period, and I think it has taken a conscious effort on my part to stay goal focused, goal oriented. I have many ambitions, which include carving out more creative writing time as well as recommitting myself to a Weight Watchers weight loss program. Several years back I lost a grand total of 87 lbs, but lately some of those unwanted pounds have crept back, and I find it much, much harder to recapture that “Honeymoon” feeling when I was super motivated to lose weight in the first place. Over the course of the first three weeks back at Weight Watchers, I actually gained five lbs. I felt that I had gotten on the wrong train, a missed connection, perhaps, or the wrong line altogether. It was as though I were traveling through Europe, and instead of heading for Paris, my train was destined for some unnamed, underdeveloped Eastern European city.

I hadn’t bothered to track my food or eating patterns, one of the cores related to success. Trying to lose weight felt like a punishment rather than a worthy challenge, and I dreaded feeling accountable for my food choices.

Interestingly, launching in the wrong direction affected my creative work as well. I’ve been listening to an audiobook called “Making Ideas Happen,” geared toward increasing creative productivity, and one of the staples of the program is making yourself accountable through clearly defined action steps. Clearly defined goals and action steps has made it possible to achieve success in many arenas, including my original weight loss in addition to quitting drinking and applying for and being accepted into a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program at Northwestern University.

I’m also lucky that I’ve had weight loss success previously so that I know what is possible and doable, but losing weight does indeed demand a mental shift. Not only does “Making Ideas Happen” emphasize the importance of clearly defined action steps, it also purports that community and communal accountability helps creatives achieve their goals. In the arena of losing weight, having a community of people also looking to achieve weight loss success helps motivate me, knowing that each week I am accountable and check in with a core group of people, some of whom I can also call my friends.

Truly, you’ve got to believe it before you can achieve it, but at the same time it’s clear to me that I can start my day over at any time. So if in fact I started off my weight loss journey on the wrong foot, misread the train schedule, I can still be new again, and recommit myself to my goals. This past week I experienced a two pound weight loss. What a relief that was because I believe success builds on success. Now that I’ve got momentum in my favor, it’s much simpler to continue moving forward, embracing opportunities for success, rather than dwelling in negativity. There’s a saying I trust in: the more you focus on the problem, the bigger the problem becomes. The more you focus on the solution, the clearly the solution becomes.

My philosophy is to aim high. You may not hit the bull’s-eye, but you’ll have a better chance of hitting the target. In terms of my religion, I try to be faithful, but as a gay man, it can be a challenge. Today, when it came time for the announcement of what the faithful should pray for, we were instructed to pray for the preservation of family values and the definition of marriage as between a man and woman. For this very reason, I consider myself a freelance Catholic, what some would term “a cafeteria Catholic.” These kinds of prayers and admonitions tend to leave me feeling left out, and I am considered by those in the Church to be saddled with a special burden to bear in reconciling my sexuality with my religion. No wonder Reform Judaism seems especially appealing!

I am a hypocrite in the sense that as I sat through Mass, and said the revised version of the Mass (which if you’re Catholic and haven’t been to Church for a while–Church with a capital “C”–you will notice things have changed, sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically), I kept thinking, “Well at least I know the new liturgy,” unlike my neighbor sitting next to me. I took special pride in speaking out all the new parts, secretly gloating while trying to keep my face pious.

In many ways Catholicism is more than a religion. It is almost an ethnicity, something so indoctrinated in your soul as to become a very part of your Being, much like Judaism is both a religion and an ethnicity. It would be hard for me to leave my religion behind for this very reason. It’s a part of who I am, for better or worse.

Speaking of shooting for the stars, and aiming high, I strive to be the best person I can, yet one particular moral failing haunts me. I fear the future, in particular I fear poverty. My very own financial cliff. At one time I was on disability, Medicare, and Social Security, and lived in what could be politely termed a hovel with a man who has both cerebral palsy as well as a mental illness. I hid my impoverishment from friends, didn’t dare date, and grew ashamed of my life circumstances.

Later, my mother’s cousin moved to the area and helped me rebuild my life. I have even gone back to school, grad school at Northwestern for a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing, but somehow, in some ways, have continued to resent my past. I still take Eric, the man I lived with, out to see movies, but sometimes his behavior embarrasses me, especially when he starts talking to himself, often quite vocally (it’s a part of his mental illness). I even, at times, grow embarrassed by my mother’s cousin’s condition. She’s practically incapacitated, and can no longer walk on her own. I take her to church, out to eat, and to movies in her wheelchair, and I love her greatly, yet at times I find myself praying selfishly, “Please let her live until I graduate,” since I could not afford school on my own. Fear of financial insecurity and impoverishment rules my very being.

I pray in the year to come for greater faith, to accept whatever comes my way. This is not an easy prayer, even for someone who went to a small, liberal arts Catholic school as an undergrad. To whom much is given, much is required (this is not something which I naturally consider). I also pray not to resent those around me or the services I perform for them. For the last six years, I have changed my cousin’s bandages, and I hope to be more like Jesus in washing others’ feet, without expecting accolades for my service. I also pray not to be embarrassed by my circumstances, by the fragility of the life I have constructed. Anne Lamott has written a new book: “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.” She comes from a place of gratitude, but doesn’t whitewash her struggles, most especially her struggle to be grateful.

Please, Lord, make me more grateful this coming year, and maybe just a little neater and organized, and maybe more creative as well, but if you can only make me grateful for my blessings, so be it.

Quote of the day

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”–George Bernard Shaw

There’s an adage floating around:  you can never be too thin, too rich, or too beautiful.  There may indeed be some truth to it, but it doesn’t seem to accurately reflect the world around us.  What about the idea that you can never be too interesting, too witty, too focused on your goals?

Augusten Burroughs new book, “This Is How, Help for the Self,” debates the issue of what it means to be thin.  In his chapter titled, “How To Be Thin,” he states, “For some, the desire to be thin actually is a desire for a more slender body. . .For other people, getting thin is less a desire than a way of life. . .Where the number on the scale each morning is more accurate at predicting whether it will be a good day or a bad one than any horoscope could ever be. . .For these people, thin isn’t really about being slender.”

These people have unrealistic goals and never really achieve what they aim to do, and so are constantly dissatisfied with who they are.  Be where you’re at; focus on the moment at hand, seems good advice.  Begin to like yourself for your sparkling personality whether you’re five or one hundred lbs overweight.  We’ve all seen people poolside who parade in front of everyone else showing us that sheer confidence is attractive.  Confidence draws people in, and makes them want to get to know you.

It’s also good to be centered, balanced, and have realistic goals.  I myself originally wanted to be a dancer, then shifted to wanting to be an actor.  The problem laid in the fact that I couldn’t act.  Now, I’m much more centered in my desire to be a writer.  As Virginia Woolf famously said, “So long as you write what you want to write, that is all that matters.  And whether what you write lasts for hours or for ages, nobody knows.”

I have made a goal for myself that when I come to the end of my life, I will be able to say:  I wrote my truth.  Indeed, I intend to fictionalize my life, picking small, interesting bits and details much like a magpie drawn to shiny bits of ribbon.

Augusten Burroughs was originally named Chris Robison, but changed his moniker in an effort to free himself from his past, and create a new future of his own design.  I have adopted my middle name, Anson, as my last name, to honor my Irish heritage as well as to lay claim to my life and experiences.  I too want to fashion my own life in a way of my own choosing.  As part of this, I quit drinking because I realized it was destroying my creativity.  Ernest Hemingway may have been able to write through the haze of alcohol, but then again, he despaired and killed himself, something I most definitely not want for myself.  To me, taking charge of my life is similar in many ways to a Tom Tom or Garmin GPS leading me on my way.  And when things don’t always work out the way I intend, there is always that feature of GPS:  recalculating.  I make myself accountable and responsible for my own trajectory.  And while I’m at it, let me encourage you to forge ahead and plan your own path.