The Problem

Let’s get real for a minute or two. The perennial question of my life – asked not only of me but by me, perhaps in equal amounts – is just what is wrong with me? Really? At no point in my life (outside of hypomania or outright mania, which I’ll get to in a bit) have I ever described myself as happy to anyone I trusted enough to be honest with. And while I’ve had reasons to be down, I’ve also certainly had reasons to be content.

I used to beat myself up about feeling down. Why was I so bothered by my situation? I always had a roof over my head, never came close to being homeless or starving, never suffered physical abuse, was gifted with above average intelligence (seemingly able to become adept at whatever it was I put my mind to), envied in a lot of ways by others… I’d guilt trip myself about these things, thinking about all the people who had it worse and how they still managed to figure it out and pull things together. So I’d try not to think about what was bothering me, and I wouldn’t talk about it with others. I felt like I was squandering all the blessings I’d been given – surely, as I wallowed about in my ennui and self-pity, there were a dozen other poor souls in some third world country somewhere who weren’t even being given nearly the same shot at life that I was and could still muster a better attitude about the whole thing than I did. What’s my problem?

In my youth I thought my problem was my mother. It seemed pretty obvious. She was emotionally abusive, and I’ve vomited enough words about that before. Naturally I thought that if I could just get away from her, then surely everything would work out. At first I just wanted to go live with my dad after the divorce happened, but my mother wouldn’t really allow this so I began to concoct more elaborate schemes to get away. I got accepted to a college while I was still in my junior year of high school, and they were going to take me even without a high school diploma – this plan fell through because my parents never finished filling out their end of the financial aid forms for various reasons. Then I tried to convince my mom that she should let me move in with a friend and his family but she wouldn’t allow this either. Eventually I worked out a deal to stay with another friend in Utah and told my mom I was going down there to go to school (which I wasn’t really) and thus began my adventures in Utah.

I suppose it bears mentioning that, at the time, if Sara had expressed to me that she’d rather not have me go, then I would have stayed. In any case, I envisioned some glorious future where, free of my mother’s negative influence, I’d be able to finally get down to writing my novel and perhaps find someone to date and even settle down with. As time wore on, however, I found this wasn’t the case. Despite having all the time in the world, I never sat down and wrote my novel. I failed spectacularly at any attempt to date. And I became more depressed than I’d ever recalled being. Yet despite all that I was still “doing well,” by other standards – I was racking up promotions and making way more money than I needed, able to afford anything my rather simple tastes could want.

And though I would rarely if ever admit it, there’d been plenty of times in my life where I’d been suicidally depressed. Though, I’d made an agreement with myself that I would never actually kill myself, because I felt it would somehow be like spitting in the faces of all those people born in other parts of the world who would do anything to have the opportunities I had. So instead I thought up this kind of “passive suicide” thing, which more or less amounted to not taking care of myself since I mostly couldn’t find a good reason to be alive anyway. This manifested itself to the extreme extrapolation of being okay with putting myself in a war zone and potentially getting killed and underscored some of my motivation in enlisting (aside from the more positive benefits – you know, training and education and maybe finding a purpose and things like that). I’d reasoned that if I couldn’t find a reason to to live, perhaps I could give my life to others so that they could. Or something.

Then I had the whole request mast bleeding into a manic episode thing. From the point where they told me I was being retired and had no chance in the military until my next episode, I more or less felt dead inside. During my next episode I had some crazed idea that I’d be able to start my own company and that seemed like a purpose, but once reality set in again I had nothing. I slowly started to piece things together after this (and particularly during my relatively minor third episode) and I guess that’s where things get a little complicated.

For a long time I was an agnostic. I even went so far as to call myself an apatheist. I ignored, for the most part, the religious overtones of my first episode and remained an agnostic while I was at the Wounded Warrior Battalion. One week before I had my second episode, I had a chance encounter with a bible study group at a train station while I was looking to get my bus pass figured out, and ended up taking a few business cards from the organizers. My second episode hits – again with religious overtones – but this time I wasn’t treated in the same manner the military doctors had treated me. The military doctors more or less issued me an ultimatum in the ward that said I wouldn’t be getting out of the maximum security area until I no longer had any grandiose thoughts – so I more or less shut myself away in my room for a day and forced myself not to think those thoughts. (I documented this in God Complex.) For my second episode, however, I was in the care of a state facility and they issued no such ultimatum, so I ended up talking a lot more freely about these religious preoccupations.

I’d grabbed one of the bibles off the reading shelf and (I don’t remember doing this) called one of the local pastors who had left his sticker on the inside of the bible. For whatever reason, he came down with another person from the church and visited me in the hospital. After I talked with him he pretty much told me I was off my rocker, left me with a bible and said (one way or another) I needed to get my stuff straight by reading that. Which I proceeded to do. It wasn’t the first time in my life I’d seen a bible – our family went to a Baptist church when I was growing up, and I used to win memorization contests and so on – but I hadn’t seriously opened one in a long time.

The more I read, the more things made sense. When I got back home, one of the bible study organizers (who had spent the past 30 years studying pretty much any religion you could think of) helped me through a lot of things as well. And this is where we get to the tricky part – I’m convinced God exists on the basis of what happened to me (which, mind you, I haven’t particularly written about in this post). This is tricky because any skeptic would dismiss my “proof” as being delusions caused by a mental disorder. It also puts me at odds with the vast majority of people I used to associate with.

On the other hand, I’m at odds with most Christians because I don’t really believe a lot of what mainstream Christians do. Moreover, I don’t yet currently believe the Bible is truly infalliable. This is because it is a collection of writings by some thirty or so different authors written over the course of thousands of years (itself now being thousands of years old) subject to all sorts of translation and transcription errors throughout time. I mean one of the most obvious errors with it is that it always says “do not take the name of the LORD in vain” but you won’t ever find “the LORD’s” name in any popular modern translation of the Bible! (Or Jesus’ name, for that matter!) Besides, if scripture truly were perfect, you wouldn’t need a teacher to explain it to you. (Moreover, Yeshua would have never had to come, even in his time, and explain to his disciples why the scripture pointed to him! Even back then, with much closer proximity to the events and in the original language and all that, people didn’t understand scripture.)

What I’m getting at is that I do know and believe that divine intervention has played a role in my life. Many wish for something like this to happen to them. Even still, I’m left wondering – now what? I seem to be stuck in the same rut. I can’t think of anything that truly excites or motivates me. Sure, sometimes an idea comes around (like the one a few weeks ago, now, about being a math teacher) that amounts to being “nifty.” But the enthusiasm is gone as quickly as it comes. There’s always The Problem. What’s wrong with me?

If I had to wager I’d say it’s this. Even if I’ve had other people love me, and show me love, and even if I can point to the best definition of love I can think of, I still can’t say that I know what love is. Moreso, I can’t say I know how to love others or how to love myself. The bible instructs that we are to love others as we love ourselves – but what if you don’t love yourself and don’t know how to? A lot of my relationships with people can be summed up as me trying to diabuse others of the notion that I’m anything other than awful.

And I really hope you don’t get the wrong idea and take this as an opportunity to be the next person to try to do something in that vein. Or that you think I’m fishing for compliments and what not. Because I’m not. And that’s exactly the kind of response that would normally keep me from expressing any of this. But there it is – in more words than I intended and probably a lot less than were sufficient – The Problem.

For maximal shame, today’s retro post is an awful poem I don’t even remember writing (or why I wrote it). Nevertheless, “enjoy.” As for scripture, the beautitudes seem fitting:

[MATTHEW 5:3-10] Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Words Words Words

Sorry about not updating for a bit. Part of the problem is that I’m not sure exactly who my audience is or what exactly they’d like to hear, so, anybody leaving feedback asking to hear about such and such subject or tale or what have you would be greatly appreciated. Here are the various periods of my life which may or may not be interesting to learn about:

  • Childhood to parents divorcing, 1988 til ~2002
  • Divorce to dropping out of high school and moving to Utah ~2002 til 2006 (with the help of a good friend and his brother, until I turned 18 at which point I lived on my own)
  • Living in Utah until I ship to boot camp, and the rationale behind changing from a relatively “liberal,” “anti-war” sort of guy to a Marine, July 2006 to October 2007
  • Boot camp, Marine Combat Training, and MOS (military occupational specialty) school plus my final stateside leave before shipping out for Okinawa, October 2007 to January 2009
  • Okinawa tour, January 2009 – February 14th, 2010
  • February 14th 2010 til approximately June 2011, aka the Wounded Warrior Battalion, early “retirement” and the psych ward hat trick

Note also that my own personal memory is notoriously bad and can sometimes be at odd with the “facts.” Then again, a lot of the “facts” (especially prior to 2002) are hard to discern because everybody in the family has a different take on just what happened, so, who knows. Anything after 2004 is more or less reliable, as I started to better keep track of and document things.

Anyway, today’s got me thinking about contrasts. It always comes as a shock to me when people tell me I’ve been a positive influence on them. Two examples of this really stand out in my mind – the first was when many of the Marines in my company looked up to me as a hero shortly before (and, more surprisingly, even after!) the incident two years ago, and the second was just recently when somebody told me that I had saved their life.

This contrasts quite sharply with the rather horrible, self-absorbed way I’ve more or less taken a crap on a lot of people who’ve had the misfortune of caring about me. Most people I just kept at an arm’s distance, and this “worked” well enough for me and for them. But there were others who got fed up with my games and tried to call me on my BS, which prompted me to vent all over them. The first such person I can remember doing this to was SD, and I was pretty well wrapped up in regret about that for a long time. The situation more or less “resolved” itself (as best it could) around January 2009 when I realized that things were just going to be the way they were.

Then there was KL, who was a more recent victim than SD. For what were probably stupid and selfish reasons, I basically told KL to get bent and swore I would never correspond again. Then, under the influence of the events of February 14th, 2010, I email KL with a very curt apology, which, surprisingly, is accepted. Of course, being that I’d be locked away in a military psych ward for a while, I don’t get back to KL for another month besides. And as you can imagine, talking to somebody while you’re still locked up doesn’t exactly lead to profitable conversation. Not to mention my treatment the first time around wasn’t the best (which those of you who read my “God Complex” write up last year might remember – for those of you who didn’t read it, I may or may not get around to putting it back up)…

So yes, having someone tell me I saved their life contrasts quite sharply with how I’ve treated these other people. Moreover, my outlook on my own behavior contrasts quite sharply these days as well – it wasn’t long ago when I actually prided myself on how much of a douche I had been to these people. This is evidenced by today’s retro post. I think there were other emails where I said even nastier things – and then I’d go around and gloat to certain friends about some of my choicer phrases, leaving them in awe that I’d actually say such things to people.

We’ll close with some scripture that more or less speaks for itself. First, some verses to remind me not to be prideful, as I once was:

[COLOSSIANS 3:12-15] Therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, and forgiving one another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

If you’re like me, you may have problems knowing what love is. (Which gives me an idea for a post for tomorrow if nobody chimes in with feedback!) Thankfully, scripture can clear this up:

[1 CORINTHIANS 13:4-8, 13] Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away…. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Genesis

Back when I was a little more arrogant (or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, proud of my own arrogance) I used to tell people I was writing my own memoirs. This started in my junior year of high school, and I titled the project “In Exile,” (later, “It’s Complicated”) with the first overall part being called “Genesis” and the second (and final) part being called “Exodus.” They didn’t really have much to do with the biblical books of the same name, other than the fact that Genesis dealt with my origins and Exodus was to deal with my (then impending and self-imposed) exile to Salt Lake City, which I presumed would last a lot longer than it actually did. Today’s retro-post is the introductory chapter from that project – written approximately six years ago (though an exact date is unknown).

I haven’t edited it or touched it up any, since who-knows-when the last time I worked on “It’s Complicated” was. A lot has changed in the intervening six years, but winter always seems to prod me towards introspection. And as some of you may know, Valentine’s Day is a very special and personal “holiday” (perhaps anniversary is a better word) for me, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Today has been about new beginnings, and that’s what I’m going to write about.

Lately, I’ve been a bit dissatisfied with the way my life has been shaping up. Around this time last year I was medically retired from the Marine Corps due to an incident that occurred around this time two years ago. My life has never been the same since February 14th, 2009. On that day an event occurred which would strip me completely of my identity – I had so thoroughly invested myself in being a “Marine” that being told I could no longer serve was like being told I no longer had a purpose in life. I had intended to serve until I died in battle or I was forced out (due to age, I mean, not what had happened). I’m making a long story short here, trust me.

Initially, I thought I’d return home and study philosophy – an old love of mine – and go into teaching. Somehow I convinced myself this wasn’t “realistic enough” and therefore I ended up getting a technology internship at a local non-profit that dealt with museums. I enjoyed this and was even offered a paid position there. However, the position wasn’t to last very long and so I thought the natural thing to do would be to try to make a career of the thing and go get a proper degree in the field.

I chose ITT Tech mostly because it was convenient and because I needed to start school straight away, in order to use my GI Bill benefits and continue to make enough money to pay the bills. (For those that don’t know, the new and improved Post 9/11 GI Bill includes a stipend that varies depending on where your school is located, meaning that in addition to having tuition more or less paid for, service members also receive a monthly income. Going to school was to be my new “job,” since I wasn’t particularly enthralled with studying for an IT degree.)

Today I made the 2 hour public transportation trek up to school only to find out that class was literally about 9th grade mathematical concepts. Problems like solve for X given the equation 3X – 5 = 10. (Not a joke.) Followed up with systems of equations (two variables, two equations, solve for X and Y). Now, I understand some people might need this kind of thing as remedial math, but this has been the tune of the course for the past 8 weeks. We started out doing basic fractions (addition and subtraction in week 1, multiplication and division in week 2). My other classes aren’t much better. The place is basically a degree mill; a series of hoops to jump through so at the end you can get a stupid certificate that says to someone in HR that you’re worth looking at (without which your resume would be junked by the auto-filtering programs and what not).

Outside of class, my roommate (whom I met at church) has been getting back into creative real estate. I’m not at liberty to talk too much about what he’s up to (trade secrets yadda yadda), he offered to teach me what he knows and work together on some deals. It can be pretty lucrative and he’s good at what he does but I feel as though it just isn’t for me. (I wasn’t interested in doing it for merely money’s sake, mind you – the idea was we were going to take the majority of the profits and use them for various ministries. One idea we’ve talked about is taking portable drills over to Africa and teaching people how to drill wells, irrigate land and grow food for themselves – and of course giving them the tools to do so.)

So anyway, one might say that “it suddenly occurred to me” that I didn’t have to sit around and be a victim of circumstance and relegate myself to a life of monotony. I might have to put up with ITT Tech for another quarter or two, but the idea came to me that I could study mathematics on my own in the interim and then make the switch to a proper college or university in the fall, with the intention of studying math/physics and becoming a math/physics teacher at middle school or high school.

Now, why do I go about using funny phrasing like “one might say it suddenly occurred to me” and the like? Well, it is my personal belief that all good things (which include good ideas) come from YHWH, who has gotten quite a bad rap as the guy known as “the LORD” thanks to a (series of) bad translation(s) of the bible. “The LORD’s” name is a very interesting subject and I highly recommend you read (one of several of) Pastor Ahyh’s writings as an introduction to the matter. The TL;DR (shame on you) of it is that the phrase “the LORD” is a really ugly substitution of the tetragrammaton (YHWH), which happened because of a misunderstanding about blaspheming the name and Jewish scribes using “Adonai” (which translates roughly to “lord”) rather than YHWH when copying manuscripts.

Because I had been so down on myself lately, I’d also been slacking on reading my scriptures, so I decided that I wanted to start reading at a pace that would put me through the whole Bible in a year. Simple math showed that I would only have to read 3.25 chapters a day to accomplish this, which was actually a lot less than I thought it would be – so this came as a great encouragement. (To this day, I still haven’t read the whole thing – I’ve read all the books of the Torah, and parts of the rest of the Old Testament, as well as all of the New Testament.) So after buying some note taking implements for my soon-to-be-embarked upon mathematics adventure, I decided to start at the beginning (Genesis 1:1) while getting a hair cut.

Which brings me to a gimmick – so to speak – for this blog. I’ll be sharing a bit of scripture each day from my reading and talking about it. I ended up reading 10 chapters of Genesis but there’s a lot to talk about even in just the first chapter. Today I want to talk about a narrative that has a bad reputation – the Fall of Man. From the New King James version:

[Gen 1:31] Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
[Gen 2:15-19] Then the LORD YHWH God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” And the LORD YHWH God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
[Gen 3:1-5] Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD YHWH God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

[Note, for a much more expert analysis of these passages, refer once again to Pastor Ahyh’s site.] It’s likely that most of my readership is at least familiar with this story – regardless of your religious inclinations, if you grew up in or around America you were probably exposed to the Bible’s creation story at one point or another. But there’s a reason I keyed in on these specific passages – there’s subtleties that the common understanding of this story seem to miss.

Take for instance the first passage – at the end of creation, YHWH surveyed His work and saw that everything was good. Indeed, the scripture says, it was very good. It is important to note that at this point in the narrative of creation, nothing which existed was evil. YHWH knew what evil was, but He had not created anything evil. Keep this in mind.

The second passage contains two things of note. The first is the commandment not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good or evil. Common understanding sees this as a sort of obedience test from God to man; I tend to agree with Pastor Ahyh’s interpretation that it is rather God acting as a parent and trying to prevent a child from doing something harmful (for example – “you may drink from all of these bottles, except for the one with the skull and the cross bones, for the day you drink from the bottle with the skull and cross bones on it you will surely be poisoned.” No parent is saying this as an obedience test, but rather out of concern for the health and safety of the child who doesn’t know any better.) As for the second interesting bit of this passage, my pastor, Pastor Rob Glickman, humorously pointed out in a teaching the first thing that YHWH looked upon which was not good was man – he (Rob) stressed that it was man that was not good, not woman. While this got a chuckle, he clarified that the passage didn’t mean that man was flawed per se (as that would be taking it out of context) but rather YHWH saw that it wasn’t good that man should be alone; all the beasts of the land and fish of the sea and birds of the air weren’t good enough to rectify this problem, only another human would do.

The final passage I’ve pulled out highlights how and why Eve was tempted to eat of the tree – the serpent implied that Eve would “become like God” if she ate of the tree. This is highly relevant to what happened to me two years ago and thus why I’ve taken note of it here. The rest of the story, which I didn’t quote, outlines God “punishing” Adam and Eve for “disobeying” Him. But go check out that link to Pastor Ahyh’s write up and recall the first passage… A bad TL;DR goes something along the lines of: Adam and Eve did not know evil until they ate of the tree; indeed, evil could not exist until they ate of the tree. This of course brings up all sorts of fun questions like “what is evil” and so on and so forth but that’s for another time, because I’m still not done talking about my day yet. Sheesh!

So as I said, I was reading through Genesis as I was getting a hair cut. I go to a place called the Associated Barber College, where you get your hair cut by (apparently) students who receive pointers from instructors (or maybe more senior students? I’m not entirely sure). Anyway, it’s cheap and they pay close attention to detail so I like going there. Midway through my cut my barber starts having a conversation with his supervisor about “being close to the edge” (or something of the sort) due to some drama at the shop. Awkwardly and unexpectedly the supervisor (who must’ve noticed I was reading the Bible) asked if I would pray for the barber (not on the spot or anything) which prompted the barber to say he didn’t need or want prayer. Moreover he claimed he was “all alone” in this world and that “no invisible being” had ever “helped him out” and everything he had ever gotten in his life he had gotten by himself.

Now we come full circle – this was exactly the same mindset I had 6 years ago when I was writing “It’s Complicated.” I don’t like to witness to people (as it is called) because I don’t consider myself a particularly strong Christian (for lack of a better term) yet, and while I think salvation is important and I pray that everyone I care about is saved, I’m not going around making a show of it in the streets. However, God put on my heart to talk to this man, so I waited until after he was done with my haircut to try and brooch the topic. I did a lot more listening than talking as he was very animated and passionate about his views (the same as I was six years ago with many of the same conclusions and problems – he described himself as an agnostic).

Eventually I was able to tell him just a little bit about myself – how I considered myself a self-made man, since I had sorta run away from home when I was 17 and then enlisted in the Marine Corps and did really well for myself yadda yadda. It wasn’t until two years ago, and the events that led me to being diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 disorder, that I began to see things differently. I didn’t get to finish telling him my story, but as it turned out he too had been diagnosed as bipolar. I left him my phone number and told him perhaps we should have lunch or something some time.

So there you have it. A whole lot of words. If you’re going to be following this thing, expect more of the same.