Toxic Masculinity and All Its Friends

I am positive that never has anyone taken a look at me and said to themselves “Now that’s a man”. I am 5’8’’ (on a good day) with a thin stature, light features, and a babyface that, without a beard, would cause people to mistaken me for someone just graduating high school. So I’ve never felt masculine, at least in the traditional sense of the word. Even mentally, it was never something I identified with all that much. I have always been a very sensitive and emotional person, and growing up, the way that manifested itself was largely in an identity struggle: trying to figure out who I was and where I fit into the world, and never feeling like I fit in anywhere all that well. Another way that being sensitive and emotional manifested itself was with girls.

In middle school, when boys started talking about girls, I’d sit in quietly on these conversations and feel off-put by them. They would say things that didn’t feel right to me, and I’d wonder if people said the same things about my sister. Even relatively mild conversations about celebrity crushes, I didn’t feel comfortable with. It wasn’t that I didn’t have celebrity crushes; I did, but I felt that I didn’t know any of these celebrities personally or what they were like as people, so what was there to talk about? This led to an aversion for anything beyond platonic relationships with girls, in part due to upbringing, but in large part also due to hearing boys talk about girls they were attracted to in ways that didn’t sit right with me. For teenage me, it seemed that the qualities needed to attract girls were qualities that I didn’t have, and on some level, qualities that I didn’t want either. So I didn’t really try. Even so, I found myself emotionally intimate with a number of my female friends, because I felt like I could open up to them and be vulnerable about whatever it was I was feeling, in ways that I couldn’t with my male friends. On multiple occasions, I remember trying to open up to my best friend, and every single time, he would immediately shut down. I knew we shared some of the same struggles, and he still refused to talk about any of it, even with his best friend.

When I look back on high school, besides the forever-ongoing identity crisis and the fact that I didn’t know how to flirt (not sure I know how to now tbh), what stands out to me is that dichotomy between the type of conversations I was able to have with guys vs. with girls. And 8 years out of high school, I can’t say that things have drastically changed. Even now into adulthood, I can count on one hand the number of men I’ve had intimate conversations with. It isn’t that men don’t have emotional struggles – I’ll catch a flinch or eyes widen when I say something that hits differently, but that’s almost always immediately followed by a response to try to lighten the mood or change the subject – it’s that men aren’t taught how to be vulnerable and express their emotions in a productive way. A lot of men don’t even know how. From childhood, boys are told not to cry, or they’ll be seen as weak. If a guy is sensitive, he’s soft and made fun of, while men are praised for being emotionless and considered tough. Look around, and you’ll notice that these expectations for masculinity are everywhere in society. It’s toxic, and frankly, it’s bullshit. And everyone is worse off for it.

There are all sorts of ways toxic masculinity does harm, but I think the root cause of so much of that harm is a lack of empathy. Because masculinity is everywhere in society, there’s no incentive for men to learn empathy, and once you’re taught to dismiss your own emotions, it’s a simple step to dismiss the emotions of others. On top of that, from a young age, pretty much anything guys do can be written off as “boys will be boys”, so in many cases, there are no consequences for doing something wrong. Left unchecked, it’s how men can go through life never thinking that they’re wrong, or never having to see things from anyone else’s perspective. It’s how men can catcall women. It’s how men can harm others and then feel like the victim when called out for it. It’s how someone like Donald Trump can become the person that he is. It’s how someone like Donald Trump can have so many supporters and become president. 

But even for men who aren’t awful, the expectations of masculinity can make them and the people around them worse off in a lot of ways. We all have demons that we carry. We all have issues that we struggle with. That’s normal; it’s a part of being human. Women are generally better able to deal with these struggles by talking about them with their friends, their family, or a therapist. Men on the other hand simply don’t talk about these things. So what typically ends up happening, if nothing is done about it, is those feelings are suppressed in unhealthy ways, and that pressure builds and builds and builds until it bursts, or men become emotional gold diggers, where they are dependent on a significant other for all their emotional support, since they aren’t willing or able to talk to anyone else about it. Women end up having to carry all the emotional baggage of the men in their life. 

There are subtler ways that masculinity affects men too. One example of that is compliments and attention. Men don’t get complimented; it simply doesn’t happen. Because of that, men have so little external information and feedback to base their self-image on; it’s almost pure chance whether a guy decides that he sees himself as an amazing person, or someone who is useless with nothing to offer. So when a man does get a real sincere compliment, that compliment can literally change how he sees himself as a person. Even seemingly small compliments, the high of that compliment can last forever. In high school, I had a friend who randomly told me that she thought I smelled nice, and for weeks afterward, whenever I felt like crap, I would come back to that compliment and tell myself that at least I smelled nice. In college, I had an acquaintance that I didn’t see all that often, but always enjoyed talking to whenever I did. She once made an offhand comment about how I was one of the easiest people to open up to and feel comfortable around, and to this day, that might be the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me. We live in a society where mens’ worth is so tied up to their accomplishments and what they are able to provide that when someone actually sees us as human and shows us that we matter as a person, it can mean the world.

(Side note: I also believe this is why men so often mistaken a woman being nice or complimenting them as the woman being interested.)

Ultimately, it’s on us men to change these expectations around masculinity, and there's no doubt it’s hard. So much of it is subconscious, a result of the expectations and pressures put on us by the society surrounding us. Just being aware of it isn’t enough either. Even though I am very emotional and very comfortable talking about my vulnerabilities, I am not an emotionally expressive person. I learned to internalize my emotions growing up, and as a result, I don’t show them very much. Now in a lot of ways, this is useful, as it’s important to be able to regulate your emotions; I don’t want to be crying at work or in an inappropriate setting. On the other hand, suppressing negative emotions has caused me to not even be able to express positive emotion very well. I’ll feel incredibly happy, and I won’t know how to express that happiness. It sucks, but I’m working on it. And we all have things we need to work on, so let's talk about them. There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive; sensitivity literally means being able to detect subtle changes or signals. There’s nothing wrong with crying; crying is one of the most therapeutic emotional releases there is. There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable and intimate, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Reach out to me; I’m happy to talk. We can skip the small talk and get right to it. If you have a lot of things you’re dealing with, seriously consider talking to a therapist; I can’t recommend it enough. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself, and I promise you won’t regret it. Always happy to offer any guidance I can on how to go about finding a therapist and what going to therapy actually looks like too.

ADDENDUM (7/14/19):

I have been doing some soul-searching recently, and I came across this idea that I found incredibly insightful: we don’t care for someone because we love them; we love them because we care for them.

Tied to that is the concept of being a burden, and not wanting to feel like a burden to others, which is why many of us don’t ask for help or care. It’s something that is always on my mind, and it is why I tend to be guarded about sharing personal details with others unless I get the sense they’re sincerely interested. It’s not because I don’t want to talk about what’s on my mind; I always do actually, but I don’t want to burden or bore anyone with whatever’s going on inside my head. Ironically enough, you will be more loved if you’re more willing to be a burden, because letting someone care for you is how love and relationships deepen.

It seems counterintuitive, but I highly recommend listening to this, from 43:57 to about 45:15. I legit had to rewind and replay it 4 or 5 times because it so completely blew my mind, and it has made me reconsider how I go about things in my own life.


What does anxiety feel like? It feels like your mind is going rogue on you, overriding your body and making you react in ways that you can't control. Your heart speeds up, and your brain conjures up these wild thoughts that evoke all sorts of crazy emotions, and there's nothing you can do about it. It's a lonely, helpless feeling that quickly turns into guilt and shame. You begin to beat yourself up over the absurdity of your thoughts, over your ridiculous reactions that are way over the top and don't make any sense at all. You feel like you're insane, like you've gone mad, like you're a completely broken human being. And worst of all, the last thing you want to do is compound that guilt by reaching out to someone and putting your problems on them, because that isn't fair to anyone, to burden them with your stupid, crazy, nonsensical thoughts and feelings that you have no explanation for whatsoever. So you keep it to yourself and try to deal with it on your own, but you're stuck in a vicious cycle of guilt and shame, because there's simply no reason why you feel the way you feel. It's purely irrational. And for those who haven't experienced that sort of anxiety, it seems totally preposterous... and it is. But knowing that and being aware of it doesn't make the feelings go away; it doesn't stop the racing heart, the panic, the loss of control as you're unable to concentrate on anything or form any sort of coherent thought. It often comes out of nowhere, and it sucks. Anxiety sucks. And while you may never be able to understand what it's like, I hope that you can at least accept it.

In Need of Maintenance

2016 has come and passed, and good riddance. It was far and away the most challenging year of my life, which speaks to my relatively privileged existence, since nothing terribly traumatizing happened to me personally. More than anything, what made it so difficult was having my bubble of naiveté burst. I found myself exposed to this whole other side of life and the world that I didn't really know existed, and frankly, a world that I previously didn't want to know existed, because well... ignorance is bliss. That I believe more than ever.

I found myself on my own for the first time in my life with no going back, and with actual responsibilitieswork responsibilities, home responsibilities, financial responsibilities, social responsibilitiessome which I handled better than others. More significantly, I found myself with a freedom to do whatever I wanted, without having to answer to anyone, and without the financial impediment. Initially, this freedom was liberating, but it quickly became overwhelming, because I didn't know what to do with it, and the things that I was doing, I wasn't enjoying. So me being me, I deliberated, and... I did nothing. And I deliberated some more, and I continued to do nothing. And then I started beating myself up over the fact that I was doing nothing, which only made things worse.

Eventually, I figured that I had to go back to basics and asked myself a simple question: what do I enjoy? Well, I enjoy being active. So, I started weight-lifting again, playing volleyball, hiking, and doing yoga. Being naturally inquisitive, I also love learning. So, I started listening to podcasts and reading more, about sociology, psychology, neuroscience, technology, and history. Things were going well. I was going through this whirlwind of "self-improvement", trying new things that I hadn't tried before. As a part of that, I also wanted to be a more informed citizen and further try to understand the ways of the world and why things are the way they are. Knowing the dynamics of politics and news, I did all I could to thoroughly educate myself properly, reading numerous, in-depth, articles and perspectives from various sources. This was where my naiveté bubble began rupturing, as I became more aware of the many injustices and atrocities that had happened throughout history, in addition to recognizing that many of those injustices were very much alive and still occurring today.

The thing I'm realizing about both "self-improvement" and becoming an informed citizen is that they're never-ending rabbit holes. The accessibility and availability of so much information in today's day and age is both a blessing and a curse. It's absolutely incredible that with a click of a button, one can get information to learn about literally anything. At the same time though, there's such an overwhelming amount of information out there that one can spend every second of every day learning about something, and there will still be a lifetime worth's of information that has yet to be covered. There is literally no end.

With "self-improvement" (there has a better term than that), it feels great when you first get started, because you legitimately feel you're bettering yourself, and objectively, it is great. I made a list of things I wanted to incorporate into my lifeweight-lifting, healthy eating, getting an adequate amount of sleep, yoga, practicing mindfulness, running, reading, writingI'd start with one thing, and once I was able to check that off my list, move on to the next, and slowly, I began incorporating more positive habits into my everyday life. After a personally dark period of rumination and deliberation, I had a 3-4 month period where I was feeling pretty good about myself; I was exercising 4-5 times a week, reading daily, getting plenty of sleep, and I had just started doing yoga as well. Then, work started to get busy. That was ok though, since a large reason why I started incorporating these habits was so I can better manage stress. The problem was, with less free time, rather than focusing on strengthening the habits I had already built, I tried incorporating in more new habits, and the habits I had previously developed suffered as a result. I tried to start running, but my weight-lifting suffered. I tried to read more psychology and self-help books, but I forgot the ideas and concepts that I previously read. Things snowballed from there, and in reality, even though I had probably taken was three steps forward and one step back, what it felt like to me was that I had taken three steps forward and ten steps back. Shit happens, and that's life; it ebbs and flows, but I'm not sure I helped myself by keeping my foot on the gas pedal the entire time.

With trying to be a well-informed citizen, the story is similar. I had always been generally aware of what was going onenough to carry a conversation and avoid embarrassing myself when the topics came upbut now I wanted to really understand the nitty gritty details of what was happening, and more importantly, why they were happening. The why part is the deepest part of the rabbit hole, because there's never a clear straightforward answer in geopolitics as to why things are the way they are; rather, there are infinitely many different factors at play, all of which have varying degrees of influence depending on who you ask. I felt that in order to properly become informed, I had to first thoroughly understand what was happening, then expose myself to different perspectives as to why things were happening and what the implications might be, and finally, with that knowledge and differing perspectives, come to my own conclusions. Needless to say, it is exhausting and almost always very very disheartening, because there's a lot of awful awful things going on. Previously being in a bubble of naiveté and seeing the world as a good place, this is difficult to come to terms with, because it's one thing to cope with anger and despondency, but the helplessness I feel not being able to do anything to right these wrongs is demoralizing. Helplessness is one of the worst feelings there is.

Like many, the moment my bubble of naiveté totally burst was when Trump was elected, and once I got past the initial shock and grief, my first reaction was to do what I had been doing: try to understand what had happened and why, what the implications were, etc. But there was so much happening, and none of it good. I'd save articles to read later, but when I had the time to read them, I didn't have the energy, and when I had the energy, I didn't have the time. I was staying less and less informed, and honestly, I felt better not having to constantly be reminded that we were all screwed and that the world was coming to an end. This past week, I deleted all those saved articles. I've decided to stop hyper-analyzing every story in the news, because as much as I value being an informed citizen, I value my sanity more. And you know what, I don't think knowing every single detail about every single injustice puts me in any better position to help and make a difference. Just being aware of the injustice and empathetic towards those it affects is enough. In fact, I think that knowing the details puts me in a worse position, as I come away feeling cynical and hopeless.

So for 2017, my goal is to perform maintenance. We live in a society that is all about rapid growth and doing more, more, more. For me, I just want to maintain and strengthen the things I currently have, rather than try to continuously add more. I'm going to put down the self-help books for a while and read some stories that I enjoy. Along those same lines, I'm going to pay less attention to the news and focus more on what I can control: what I'm doing to make the world a better place. Knowledge and growth aren't bad of course, and neither is deliberation for that matter, but like all things, moderation is key. When I'm ready for more information and experiences, they'll be there, and I'll pursue them at a slow and steady pace that I'm comfortable with. I'm over the rat race.

The Mess We've Made

Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life. But I'm alive, I made it through, and I'm hoping–praying–the worst is over. Donald Trump is the next president of the United States. Even just writing that feels wrong. I can't believe it. I don't have any thoughts about that at this point, and I don't think I will have any anytime soon, but I want to share the story of the emotional roller coaster that was the night of Election Day and the morning after, for myself more than anything else.


At about 10:30PM on Tuesday night, when the results weren't determined yet, but things weren't looking good, I start to panic a bit, and that's when I figure I should try to head to bed; otherwise, I wouldn't be sleeping at all. I turn off the lights, lay down, and put on my favorite ambient album to try to calm myself down. My heart is racing and my mind is running wild as the reality of what might be happening starts to set in. I lay motionless, the music calming me down just barely, with my mind conjuring up all the possibilities of what could happen. As the album ends and the silence starts to set in, my heart begins beating out of my chest, all while I'm still laying there, motionless. After about two hours, I manage to fall asleep, only to wake up in the middle of the night and cycle through tossing and turning and motionless panic. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much.

At 6:30AM I finally decide to get out of bed. Petrified of what would be on it, I pick up my phone, and only then does it hit me that this is real: I am in a nightmare I can't wake up from. I start crying. I want nothing more to curl up into a ball and keep crying, but life goes on, and I have work. I go through the motions of getting ready for work, having never been less prepared to take on the world. This was a feeling I had never before felt in my life: I was scared... legitimately scared, and I didn't know what to do about it, I didn't know what to say, and I had no idea what would come next. I was legitimately afraid of what could happen, to me, to my family, to my friends... and to this country that I've called home for all of my life. 

I make my way down to the lobby of my apartment building and am greeted by a woman at the front desk, this incredible African American woman who is one of the most cheery and uplifting people I've ever met. As she asks me how I'm doing in her usual cheery tone, my eyes well up, and she knows. She nods in solidarity, wishes me a wonderful day as she always does, and I head outside. It's a dreary rainy morning, which was fitting. As I walk through the rain, staring at the ground, a few extra raindrops come down from my eyes.

I get into my car, crying again. Sitting at a red light, I cover my face and avoid looking towards the cars next to me. I've never felt comfortable crying in front of people, and I don't for that reason. After a few minutes of trying to compose myself, I call my parents. My voice breaks as I speak to them. Like most, they're shocked, though they don't seem to be nearly as concerned as I am. Talking to them helps. I stop crying, now feeling numb, which is relieving, since the last thing I want is to be crying at work. 

At work, the atmosphere is ominous. I sit down, look at my to-do list, and try to get back to work, hoping to regain some sort of sense of normalcy. It's nearly impossible to focus on much of anything; work doesn't seem all that important. My sister texts me asking when we're going to move, and I don't have any answers. I do my best to comfort her and offer words of encouragement, trying to convince myself of what I'm saying as much as I'm trying to convince her. I have no idea what I'm saying. I reach out to friends, friends reach out to me, and it's clear that I'm not alone. I want nothing more than to talk to people, but I really have nothing to say and don't even feel like I can come up with coherent thoughts at this point. The day rolls on. I waver back and forth between numbness and crying, taking a few trips to the bathroom to compose myself. I forget to eat lunch, not that I have much of an appetite anyway. I reluctantly force feed myself my chicken sandwich and push myself through the day, trying to get all my work done so I can get out of here.

At 3:30PM, I've had enough. I have a headache and need to get out of the office. Earlier in the day, I received an email about a mindfulness session in the afternoon. Let me explain: back in May, I participated in a mindfulness pilot session at work, where on Friday for 3 straight weeks, we would meet for an hour before work and practice mindfulness and meditation. Each time I went to one of those sessions, I always came away feeling so much better. Given the angst of the election, the organizer of the pilot session reached out to us to come in and clear our heads. As much as I wanted to go home at that point, I knew I should probably go.

I'm driving to the location of the mindfulness session, stuck in traffic. I look at the time, realize I'm going to be late, and ponder whether I should just skip and go home, not wanting to add to my anxiety by being that guy that walks in late, but I know that I need this. I finally arrive and walk in about 15 minutes late, where I'm welcomed in. There are four people there, only one of which I've met before. They're going through introductions, and I make it just in time for my turn. I give the standard intro: my name, my job position, and then I start to explain why I'm there. Before I can even get the words out, my eyes well up, and for the first time since I was 13, I find myself crying in front of others–strangers nonetheless. I explain my background, how I am legitimately afraid, and how I don't know what to do or say, and how all I want at this moment is to feel somewhat normal again. It feels oddly comforting to be crying in front of a bunch of strangers, and they console me. It resonates with me this time: I am not alone.


I don't know what I hope people take away from my experience. I'm still grieving, and I guess this is my way of using writing as therapy, as a way for me to distract myself or reflect upon what's happened or something. I don't know much of anything right now. I guess what I hope is that this serves as an assurance that you're not alone–we're not alone. 

I also want to make something clear: although I am Muslim and an Arab-American, I know that I look white, and that makes me one of the "lucky" ones. It's an extremely complex feeling, because while I don't feel white or identify with white people, I can't deny that I benefit from white privilege and that I can never fully understand the depths of the experiences people of color go through. It feels weird, complicated, and uncomfortable. There's this omnipresent guilt I have for being the way I am, guilt that I imagine is similar to survivor's guilt. I don't want or expect any sympathy for this, but I do want to share my perspective and let everyone know that I am fully aware of the position I'm in. It weighs on me heavily, especially now.

I'd also like to offer what might be a potential solution to help reconcile the emotions of everything that is happening: mindfulness and meditation. It's something I've taken an interest in over the past year, and I've found that it does help my mental clarity and sanity; it got me back to a functional state yesterday. We've all been told of how important it is to take care of our bodies, and how we can go about doing that, but we've never been taught how to take care of the most important muscle we have: our mind. That's what mindfulness is. I know, I know, if you're skeptical, it may sound like total crap. That's alright; there have been studies that show those who are skeptical of mindfulness tend to benefit from it the most, and science does support the benefits of mindfulness. Think of it as exercise for your brain: when you first get started, it's hard, you can't really do much, and it kind of sucks. But if you stick with it, it gets easier, and you eventually start to see benefits, even start to enjoy it. The New York Times has a great guide on mindfulness and meditation. Give it a try, you have nothing to lose. 

This has become a whole lot of words that may or may not make sense, so I'm going to wrap this up. Again, I really don't know much of anything right now, and that includes what to say. I do consider myself an optimist, a pragmatic idealist, and the optimist in me looks for silver linings, such as how in times of tragedy, people come together, like this. The pragmatic idealist in me says that we need continue to come together, take some time to reflect on what we want this world to be, and then be an example of that. For me, that means to be a little kinder to others, listening to what they have to say, even if I may disagree; that means individualizing people rather than painting people with broad generalizations, and recognizing every single person is a three-dimensional being with feelings, problems, hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities. That means doing everything I can to spread love and express empathy. I'm still scared. But that's all I know. 

Please reach out if you would like to talk, because heaven knows that I do too. Lastly, please be safe out there.

Regarding Racism and Police Brutality

Over and over and over and over again, we see African Americans murderously slain by cops, and yet still, there are some who refuse to admit there is a problem. In spite of statistics that black youths are 18x more likely to be tried as adults than non-blacks for the same crime, in spite of conclusive video evidence, some continue to deny that there's a problem. We hear irrelevant and ad hominem arguments about their criminal records, or their alleged attempts to resist arrest, as if either of those justifies their murder, or as if any of that even matters. Philando Castile complied with police officers, did exactly what we are told to do in notifying the officer that he had a concealed carry permit, did not have any sort of criminal record, and he still suffered the same fate as Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott... the list goes on and on. The reality is that none of that matters; they were all killed because they were black, and they were all killed by people' whose jobs were to protect and serve us–to protect and serve them. If that doesn't signify a problem, then I don't know what does.

For those who still refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem, my question for you is: why? Why does it bother you when others speak out about the injustices they face? Your lives are not affected or made any more difficult by others seeking equality and justice. Why does it bother you when others seek what is rightfully promised to them in the U.S. Constitution: that all men are created equal? "Black Lives Matter" does not mean that only black lives matter; it means that black lives matter too. And for the "All Lives Matter" crowd: in order for all lives to matter, black lives have to matter. Black lives are a part of all lives, so if you truly believe that all lives matter, then you should be equally as outraged at Alton Sterling or Philando Castile's lives being taken as anyone else.

Unfortunately, we've already witnessed the terrible effects marginalization can have in the awful Dallas massacres. It's also a tragic display of why police officers should be the ones to speak out and lead the movement against bad cops who commit these heinous murders (not to mention the double standard that exists where Muslims must speak out against ISIS, but cops can continuously stay silent when their fellow cops go rogue). Marginalization breeds violence and retaliation, and everyone is put in danger, but especially police officers. Not only does it put their profession in a terrible light, but it puts them, the well-meaning heroic cops, in danger of retaliation by vigilantes who feel that if the system won't give them justice, they will seek it themselves. Violence towards any innocent life is never the answer.

The goal is not to trade places, but to save lives. The whole "if you're not with me, you're against me" mindset is toxic and must change, because it only further divides by pinning people against one another. We all seem to want the same thing and yet the only way we know how to get it is by taking it away from someone else. It isn't necessary to take someone down in order bring yourself up; in fact, we are all better off when we come together and support one another.

Are we seeking power for power’s sake? Or are we seeking to make the world and our nation better places to live. If we seek the latter, violence can never provide the answer. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder the hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


If you look up the word "bliss", it's defined as "supreme happiness; utter joy or contentment". That's a technically accurate definition, sure, but I don't think it comes close to encapsulating the magnitude of the word. Another definition is "heaven; paradise", which provides better imagery of its meaning, but there's still room for interpretation. This is my interpretation.

Now that I live in Washington D.C., I spend a decent amount of time driving back and forth between D.C. and New Jersey. During those long drives, listening to podcasts has become one of my favorite things to do; dare I say, it brings me bliss (sorry, I had to). During my last drive, one of the podcasts I listened to talked about... you guessed it, bliss, and what it is. It gave auditory examples of bliss and asked people the moments they felt bliss. As usual, it got me thinking. What is bliss? I mean, I know what it is, and I think most people have an innate understanding of what bliss is, but I wanted to bring it out and talk about it, because the more I thought about it, the more I realized how incredible of a thing it really is.

To me, bliss is momentary euphoria. It's that revelatory moment of suspension when time stops and you're engulfed in the present moment, overwhelmed and elated by beauty and joy. It's that moment when you find out you got your dream job; it's that moment when your crush tells you they feel the same way you do; it's that moment when your team hits a walk-off home run or buzzer-beating shot to win the game; I haven't experienced it yet, but I imagine it's that moment when you hold your newborn child for the first time. (It's also that moment when you finally get to pee after holding it in for what feels like a lifetime during a long car ride). I can go on. 

The common thread in a majority of moments of bliss is that in most cases, it's fleeting. The uncontrollable joy and excitement lasts a few seconds, and the prevailing happiness carries over into the next few minutes, maybe hours, and in special cases, into the next few days, but eventually, you begin to come back to reality, wherever reality is for you. That may sound like a bad thing, but I think that temporariness is what makes those moments so special. Moments of overwhelming bliss are a culmination of all the angst, hardship, and struggle it took to reach that pinnacle, and were that feeling of bliss an everyday occurrence, there wouldn't be the motivation to go after those moments.

Up to this point, what I've described are those short-lived, overwhelming moments of bliss. I believe there is a deeper form of bliss, one that is longer-lasting. In my case, I've come to realize that I am happiest when time is of no concern. One of my favorite things in the world is a quality conversation, and when I find myself in a really great conversation, I can converse forever; time, or anything else in that moment, doesn't matter. Sports, particularly basketball, can provide me with a similar feeling. When I'm on the court, nothing else is on my mind other than basketball, and I could play forever if my body would let me. Like momentary bliss, time disappears, and there's a familiar euphoric feeling, but there's something else too; there's this epiphanic sense where you see everything with perfect clarity. You aren't perfect, and the world certainly isn't either, but you feel completely at peace knowing the world has so much to offer, and that you have so much to give back. It's a sense of connection, a wholeness; it feels as if everything is a piece of everyone. Most importantly, it feels sustainable, even if only little pieces of it. It's that "aha" moment when, although the clarity may not be ever-lasting, there's something that clicks that tells you: things can be better. It may all sound ridiculous, but it's real; I've felt it. It doesn't happen often, but each time it does, I come away a little more hopeful, and I'd like to think as a little bit better of a person. Those moments are what I'm after. That's my bliss.

What's yours?

The Reward for Change

Change is good. I think most people would agree. It may not always be easy, and there may be growing pains along the way, but typically, there are more positives than negatives that come from change. 

So without qualifying change as "good" or "bad", I think it's fair to say that change in general is seen as good, and it is often commended. Going through change is hard; I can attest to that myself. I'm currently going through three pretty major changes simultaneously, and it's been quite an experience. First, after going to school since the age of five, I've started my career and am now working. Second, for the first time in my life, I'm living on my own. Lastly, and the change that's been by far the most difficult, I've moved to a new place where I basically don't know anyone, and I have to start from scratch to build up friends and a community around me. It's a fresh start, in every sense of the term, and while I'm learning a ton, it's been immensely hard. It would have been a whole lot easier to stay close to my friends and family, and if I'm being completely honest, I probably would have been happier over these last six months if I had stayed close to home. Yet when I tell people all of that, they commend me for it. Why? I'm commended for moving away from the people I love and the people I enjoy spending time with most to a place where I spend more time alone and time with people I don't know very well in places that make me feel anxious and uncomfortable. When it's framed in that way, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I do think there's value in this change; it's why I made the decision to go through with it in the first place.

In my case, a big part of the reason for going through this change was for personal growth; I felt like this experience was something I had to go through, even if a part of me didn't want to. I want to prove to myself that I can do this, and the hope is that going through this experience will allow me to grow as an individual and provide me with knowledge and insight that can help me in the future. I don't think I'm unique in that mindset; I think most peoples' reasons for change is to prove something to themselves and come out on the other side a better person, and that's certainly commendable. Change offers the allure of the unknown, and the possibilities are endless in the unknown. But keep this in mind: familiarity is a dangerous thing because it often irrationally feeds human beings' instinctual nature of both inhibiting change and seeking change. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. 

A closing thought, and the one that inspired the title: positive changes are always celebrated and met with congratulatory attention, as they very well should be, but why don't positive practices ever receive any attention? Everyone congratulates the overweight person who manages to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle or the smoker who's finally able to quit, but nobody ever says anything to the person who has always been able to maintain a healthy weight or the person who never started smoking in the first place. It applies in the opposite as well. Those who are reactive receive attention, and those who are proactive get ignored. Why is that? I don't have an answer, but it's a thought I wanted to float out there.

Emotions and Me

My emotions and I have a very complex relationship. Over time, we've come to understand each other and develop a deep appreciation for one another. Through long and raging struggles, we've learned to compromise for one another as well, for the betterment of our relationship. We still struggle at times, and it's a constant work in progress, but I'd say things are pretty good.

You see, my emotions are incredibly powerful; at times, too powerful for me to even handle, and they tend to be triggered rather easily. What's especially fun is that they always seem to choose to unleash their strength at the most inopportune times, which causes me to feel completely overwhelmed at times when that's the last thing I need. Fortunately, I've been in these situations enough times to finally figure out how to best alleviate them. 

Rather than to try to fight my emotions and only compound the situation, I've found it's best to acknowledge and accept them, then let them come and go, just like the wind. My emotions have taught me that it's ok to feel, and doing so allows us to be at peace with each other. It allows me to keep myself in check and keep them from affecting anyone else around me. That's not to say I'm ashamed of my emotions–quite the opposite–but to be honest, I'm simply not comfortable showing my emotions in front of others. Like I said, it's a constant work in progress, but believe me when I tell you my emotions are there and continually in full force.

While my emotions can be an inconvenience, they're my favorite thing about me. I love feeling emotions. I'm quite empathetic, and often times I find myself feeling just as much emotions, if not more, than the person I'm empathizing with, regardless of who it may be. Although there's a burden that comes with that, I like it, and my biggest fear is being desensitized to those intense emotions or losing the capacity to feel them. I am terrified of one day seeing or experiencing something amazingly powerful and feeling nothing. I've always said that I'd rather feel extreme emotional pain than nothing at all, because I believe there's solace in those emotional moments. For me, emotions are what keep me feeling human, and without them, I wouldn't know who I was.

They aren't always right; they'll have their tantrums, and sometimes they need to be told to shut it. But like you and me, emotions need to be occasionally reminded that they're important too, and that they matter. Revel in them every once in a while; allow them to make you feel vulnerable. It's during those times when I feel more human than ever.

What's the Point of Words?

"Ever feel like you want to say something—anything—but at the same time, not just anything? You want to say something that will inspire, stimulate, be empathized with… just something that will evoke some kind of emotion from others, but you have no idea how to put what you want to say into some form of coherent words. You sit there feeling something, not entirely sure what it is you’re feeling, but it’s something incredibly powerful, and it’s something you want to try to capture with words to share with others, but when you go to try to put words together, there’s… nothing. No matter what words you come up with, it seems like those words don’t properly convey what you’re feeling, to the point where every word seems to be an understatement because of how overused words are. It’s like when you tell someone 'I love you' and that person just laughs it off, because its meaning has been deteriorated by the overuse of the phrase, but what you really mean and the message that you’re really trying to get across is 'I LOVE you'. Words just don’t seem to be enough… and I guess that’s where actions come in: to serve as an opportunity to show exactly what meaning there is in one’s words. But if that’s the case, then what’s the point of words at all?"

I wrote that about two months prior to my 18th birthday. Four years later, it still holds true, and it remains to this day one of my proudest pieces of writing. For once, I was able to properly articulate how I felt with words; ironically, it was about not being to properly articulate how I feel with words.

Rereading my little soliloquy, I found myself thinking about the question I posed: what is the point of words? It's a question that even today, I'm not really sure how to answer. I mean, I know that words have a purpose, and I know that words can have an impact. That I know for a fact. I've felt it. But I think it's far too simplistic to describe it as just "words" that have an impact. As 17-year-old me said, almost every word's meaning kind of feels empty because of how overused words are. Sometimes it even feels like I'm using an entirely different dictionary than everyone else. The same words will have one meaning to me and seemingly an entirely different meaning to everyone else, and it gets really confusing. But I digress. 

I find that words on their own don't have much meaning. Let's look at a sentence: "I am very sad". Does it make you feel anything? Let's look at another sentence that says the same thing with a stronger word: "I am morose" (yes, I did recently watch Dead Poet's Society). With the stronger word, do you feel anything? Does either sentence really mean anything to you at all? Words exclusively on their own can only do so much. With spoken words, the solution is easy: what brings words to life and gives them meaning is the body language, tone, and emotion in one's voice. None of that is as transparent when writing. Writing is rudimentary compared to spoken words, yet it can have equally as powerful (or more) of an impact than spoken words. How is that? How can anyone do that?

I don't know that I'm qualified to make this kind of statement, but what I've found is that a quality writer is able to make the meaning of the whole greater than the sum of its parts; they're able to overcome the deficiencies of words and transcend beyond to create something truly meaningful and emotional. That's what I strive to be able to do. 

I sat alone in my room with a single dimmed light, listening to the deafening silence as it consumed my mind. A part of me wanted to pick myself up and go somewhere–anywhere–where my thoughts weren't my only companion, but the other part of me was glued to my seat unable to move, staring aimlessly at the wooden desk in front of me. All I saw on that wooden desk was an outline of my shadow, hollow and empty, and without much content. 

It's a work in progress, but that was my attempt to convey "I am very sad" in a more meaningful way.

So what's the point of words? Words are puzzle pieces; on their own, they may not be worth much of anything, but if you carefully put them together in such a way, you can create a masterful work of art. The point of words is to create those works of art, and more importantly, share them with others so they do the same. And that is my answer. The point of words is to inspire, and that is why I write.

Judging Culture

I love people. Everyday, I realize more and more how much there is for me to learn from others. One of my favorite things to do is converse about ideas & thoughts, and I've often said that the most you can realistically ask for from anyone is for a quality conversation. At the same time, people cause me anxiety.

So how is it that I enjoy people so much, yet... the anxiety? Well, it's a simple distinction, albeit a subtle one: conversing I love, and I could do (almost) all day; it's socializing that takes a huge mental toll on me. I'm awful at small talk, and it's something I have to work at. Unfortunately, you can't just go up to someone and ask them about the meaning of life, so small talk and socializing are necessary evils, but there's only so much socializing I can do before I withdraw. My mind becomes scrambled, and I can't really even think anymore; at that point, all I want to do is go home and try to make sense of everything. This is common of introverts, and I know I'm not alone in feeling that way.

The introversion-extroversion dichotomy has always fascinated me, because as a strong introvert, I find myself in the minority, and I feel it often times and struggle with it (for the record, I am an INFJ, which of course happens to be the rarest of all personality types...). I've also found that introversion seems to be very misunderstood. Yes, I enjoy being alone, but that doesn't mean that I don't like people and their company. Along the same lines, just because I may not say much doesn't mean I'm not enjoying myself or that something is wrong; in fact, if you get me going about something I'm passionate about, I won't shut up for days. But I'm not trying to give a lesson about introversion; there's plenty of resources out there for that (this is a great starting point). What I am trying to do is explain the internal struggles that I face being wired differently and feeling like an outcast in not only a predominantly extroverted society, but one that promotes extroversion as a key to success.

I think I've finally figured out why I constantly feel frustrated: the world is not an accepting place. We're taught to put so much value into first impressions, and it feels like every second of every day, we judge–and we're being judged–on the most insignificant, meaningless things. I'm tired of having to explain my every single move to everyone... I'm tired of the incredulous "why?" I receive when I say I don't want to go out to some place where I won't be able to hear myself think, or somewhere where the only place I can be alone is in the bathroom. That's not fun for me, and I wish I could explain why in a way that people would understand, but I don't know how. And it sucks. It sucks feeling like the boring guy that nobody wants to hang out with. It sucks having to incessantly socialize in order to spend time with people. It sucks that I can't show any signs of unhappiness or discontent; otherwise, I'm being a buzzkill.
Maybe it's all in my head... or maybe it's not. Either way, I don't really think it matters, because the burden is there. Whether it's real or not, I feel it. And it's the reason why alone time is so important to me, because it allows me to let my guard down without fear of judgement. I want to look sad without anyone asking what's wrong or ruining anyone else's mood. I want to let out all the built-up emotions without scaring anyone off or looking like a complete lunatic. There's comfort in being able to do all of that, and doing that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with me; it just means I'm human. Unfortunately, in order to be a successful functioning part of society, I can't do any of that in the presence of others, nor do I feel comfortable doing so. How backwards is that... in order to be accepted by society, I basically can't show that I'm human. It's mind-boggling.

I don't really know the point I'm trying to make here. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I know what it's like to feel like every move you make is being analyzed and the worry that can cause; it's why I never try to judge people, because you never know what they're going through. It's ok not to be ok, and it's ok to feel sad when everyone around you is happy (and vice versa). It's ok to be emotional. Your emotions are valid; don't discredit them, and especially don't ever allow anyone else to discredit them. Every single person is fighting their own battles, and I can guarantee you that if we as individuals discussed more openly those battles, we'd quickly realize that we're all fighting on the same battlefield. Great, now I'm getting all preachy, and it's 3:04 AM... ok please, let's stop judging, start accepting, and start talking more about things that matter, because human connection is one of the greatest and most fulfilling feelings there is, and we need more of it–or at least I do.

Thanks for reading, it truly means a ton.

The Power and Therapy in Writing

I've always enjoyed writing, going back to when I was young. I remember my dad would bring home notebooks from his business trips, and I'd take those notebooks and fill them up with all sorts of stories. As I got older, while I still enjoyed writing, I found that it didn't come to me nearly as easily. I struggled with words, and writing began to frustrate me. I wanted to be a good writer so badly, but what kind of writer struggles with words? I'd try to follow different writing structures; I'd try to articulate myself by using big words in hopes that I'd be able to properly convey my thoughts, but it was all to no avail, and writing only continued to frustrate me. It had become a chore, and so, I stopped writing, at least for leisure, resigning to the fact that I'd never be happy with my writing; words and I simply didn't jive.

About ten months ago, at the start of my internship, I received a little black notebook, not too different from the ones my dad used to bring home. That evening, I met Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York, who was an idol to me. I was overcome with so many emotions that I hadn't felt in so long, and I wanted to document those emotions. And so, I took out that little black notebook, and I wrote. It probably wasn't very good, but I wrote... and continued to write afterwards, documenting how I felt whenever I was in the mood. Since then, I've filled up that little black notebook, and I'm currently working on my second notebook. I'm sure there's a lot of really bad writing in there, but there are also a few gems in there too. The thing is, I'm proud of every single word written in there, because it's honest and it's me.

I've come to realize the difference between my writing before and my writing now. In my quest to be a decent writer, I lost the true purpose of writing. I wanted to be a decent writer so badly that I stopped writing for myself and started writing for others; I stopped being honest in my writing and started writing what I thought others would like. Combine that with my struggle with words, it's very easy to see why I got so frustrated. I still struggle with words, but I'm getting there.

I think I've discovered the power and therapy in writing. So, I'm going to write, and I'm going to write honestly. Most of it probably won't be very good, but it'll be honest, and that's enough for me. Feel free to follow along if you're so inclined. Every once in a while, I'll come up with a gem, and my hope is that that gem will help and inspire others in some way. If I'm able to help just one person, then it's more than worth it for me to share my writing and expose just how bad of a writer I really am. 

If you've made it this far, thank you for giving my words your attention for this long, as it means more to me than you can ever know. I can't say how often I'll be writing, but I can say that I'll promise to do my best to make it worth the read.

Thank you again, and until next time...