The Weight Of Obligations

At the end of a day working as a psychotherapist, I can’t help but wonder if unwanted obligations are not the main cause of so many physical and mental illnesses. On a typical day I will see between six and eight clients, most of whom have lives that are filled with things they have to attend to, but do not really want to do.

In America we tend to see this as the normal way life is. It is as natural as the sun coming up in the morning. We have all these obligations to tend to, things that we do not really want to do, but we do them anyways because in a sense we must.

For most Americans, work tends to be one of the main obligations that people would rather not spend their time tending to if they did not have to. Afterall, the definition of happiness is doing exactly what you want to be doing.

But as Americans we have been taught to remedy the unhappiness of doing what we have to do but do not really want to do by buying things. In fact, the more we are able to buy, the nicer the things we own, the more successful we are seen as being.

But I am not so sure that buying things really brings lasting happiness. Yesterday, I bought a really nice table my wife and I have wanted for some time. A few hours later we were arguing about a problem we have been having with one of our dogs. I couldn’t help but note that the happiness from buying the expensive table did not last long.

I realize that in America we see everyone working hard and then buying their way up the status ladder with the money they have earned. This is just what we do, it is how we have been taught to live and we don’t really question it, except maybe when we are in a hospital bed.

I wish that the things we bought from the money earned doing things we do not really want to be doing but are pretending like we really like doing, brought long-lasting happiness. I really do. But the truth is that this way of achieving happiness is like stacking more stuff in a garage that is already over-filled. You buy a car or a house and a dog or have a few kids and then you just have to spend more of your time doing things that you do not really want to be doing with your limited time.

Now that I own a home and have dogs and some nice things, I have to spend a lot of my time engaged in home care and dog care and organizing and paying for all the things I own. The time I spend doing the things I really want to be doing has grown exponentially shorter. If I complain about this, I feel guilty because I feel like I should be grateful for what I have. I remember having very little and I should be happy that I finally have a nice and comfortable lifestyle. But I sure spent a lot more time doing the things I liked to do when I was poor.

This is what I call a middle-class syndrome. Middle-class because day after day in my work as a psychotherapist I see people dealing with the anxiety, depression, chronic worry and stress that are symptoms of this particular syndrome.

Because happiness is having the ability to do whatever the hell it is you really want to do (and not just on the weekends), I often tell my clients that they must find balance.

Unfortunately, it is the nature of economic life in America that most people will have to work jobs that are not the ideal way that they would like to be spending their time. They will also have to do a lot of things outside their jobs that are not the ideal way they would like to be spending their time. It is just how we have set up economic life in America.

If a person goes an entire day without spending some time doing exactly what they want to be doing, this is a recipe for misery.

Everyday a person needs to try and take the power back by committing themselves to doing exactly what they want to do- even if it is on a lunch break. For me it is reading, writing, making art, meditating and listening to music. If I do not do a few of these things everyday, I will feel despair. If I neglect these things for too many days I will just start to feel like a hopeless robot going through the motions with no real purpose or interest driving my life.

If we want a shot at feeling good we must make the effort to balance out our daily lives by doing things that we want to do (and not just when we get in bed at the end of a day with a book). If this is for too long neglected the anger, stress and depression that we feel will manifest in a physical and/or mental illness.

I am not sure that there are too many people who get to do exactly what they want to do all the time. I am sure that even Donald Trump would rather not put on a suit somedays. Life in the current late-capitalist American economic system that we are living in, means spending a large majority of our time obligated to things that we do not really want to be doing.

Like I said, most see this as normal and do what they must without thinking much about it. This is what the powers system wants, a non-questioning, submissive, automaton.

But we are human beings and I believe that the point of being alive is to be able to enjoy your life as much as possible; to be able to do exactly what you want to do most of the time. I believe that we were designed to live this way and nothing we purchase is worth its exchange. It is just the current system that we are all living within that has messed this up by encouraging us to turn our lives into a never ending series of weighted obligations.

If you really want to do the things that you want to be doing in your everyday life, you are going to have to really try. Because after all, the person easiest to neglect is yourself.

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Buying Toilet Paper

Buying toilet paper is one of the least sexy things I can think of.

Last evening I was purchasing things at Trader Joes. I was proud of all of my mindful choices. Lots of organic vegetables and fruit, kombuchas, antibiotic free yogurts, organic almond milk, oatmeal and fresh flowers. At another checkout stand facing me, a very attractive middle aged woman was noticing me and my purchases. I smiled at her and she smiled at me. It was the kind of smile that suggested she might want to have sex with me. And then the checkout guy placed the large bundle of toilet paper down in front of me. I looked at her and she looked away from me.

Why did I feel so ashamed about buying toilet paper? We all do it. We all use it. But I suppose that the appearance of the toilet paper actually put a hole in the make believe bubble we all prefer to live within. Yes, we all privately use toilet paper in the most unflattering of ways, but to be publicly reminded of it creates a kind of humiliation effect.

I tried to tell myself that, yeah I use toilet paper but so what, as I stood there waiting for the checkout guy to put all of my stuff into a paper bag. Other people looked at me as well out of the corners of their eyes. I felt de-sexualized. A bit humiliated, even though I tried to play it off like I did not care. Of course the checkout guy didn’t help me out by quickly sticking the bundle of toilet paper into a paper bag. He just left it right there out in the open like he was trying to shout out, Hey look at this guy! He shits!

The attractive middle aged lady took her paper bag filled with stuff and walked out of the market. I confess to sneaking a glimpse of her behind as she walked out. Man is she attractive, I thought. But when I looked at her behind I could not help but think that she uses toilet paper also. What was the big deal? Why was it such a turn off? A person is only as attractive to another person as illusory bubble that they are able to create around themselves is devoid of any holes. Humans much prefer our fantasies about one another. There is nothing like buying toilet paper at the market to puncture large holes in your bubble.

I took the large bundle of toilet paper and placed it under my arm. I then picked up the paper bag filled with my mindfully chosen goods and walked out of the market. I did not look at anyone because I felt embarrassed by what I was carrying under my arm. When I walked outside I felt a wave of relief come over me. It was dark outside and I was no longer being exposed as the pooper that I am by the violent bright lights in Trader Joes.

I walked to my car, stuck the grocery bag and the bundle of toilet paper into my trunk and shut the trunk as quickly as possible. Phew, I thought to myself as I walked around to my driver’s side door. I noticed the attractive middle aged lady driving by me in her white Mercedes. She smiled at me again. Now feeling less humiliated by the symbol of my more animal bodily functions puncturing holes in my bubble, I felt confident enough to smile and wave goodbye at her.

Maybe I will see her around sometime, I thought. Preferably without toilet paper.

What Happened When I Quit Coffee? (Everything Fell Apart)

I think most people are too afraid to tell you what I am about to report.

I don’t know why I am back here writing another confessional blog post. These blog posts don’t mean anything. They just fill the stomach of this gluttonous beast called The World Wide Web and make a few people a lot of money while us content generators get nothing but mediocrity and marginalization.

But really, I have nothing better to do. I am frustrated and maybe even a bit depressed and writing has always been how I process these feelings. You should see the stuff I don’t publicly share.

Two months ago, I gave up coffee. After three difficult days in bed with flu like feelings, I was free of the drug. I love coffee. My favorite time of the day was waking early, making a cup of coffee and then reading while listening to records. Coffee brought a feeling of euphoria and interest into my mornings. Most of my life I was miserable in mornings, but once I began drinking coffee, mornings became the time of day I looked forward to most.

Then I had to quit drinking coffee. In summary, here is what happened:

I was working a lot and thinking too much. I started a new business while running a full-time private psychotherapy practice. I am not a business person so all of this felt very unnatural to me. Obviously, I got run down. After three years without being sick, I came down with the flu. The flu turned into a bad case of shingles. After four weeks of having shingles, I thankfully healed without taking any medication. I rested a lot. Doctors where stunned I healed so fast without taking medication but I felt the ravages of shingles on my body. I felt weaker than I have ever felt in my life. Vulnerable. I would ride my bike or walk and feel like I could pass out. My anxiety kicked in. I started having anxiety attacks again. I was almost incapacitated. And as a result, I had to quit drinking coffee.

And because of all of this, my favorite time of day became the most miserable time of day for me. Few things are more difficult than being denied the thing you love most. In fact, all the times in the day became miserable. Life became one long unbreakable spell of monotony and banality with a bunch of never-know-when-they-will-happen-anxiety-attacks sprinkled in. I was happy to be free from the terrible wrath of shingles, but life with anxiety and without coffee was (and still is) difficult to adjust to.

This morning, once again, I woke up in a bad mood. Toward the end of the work week (Thursday), this is how I usually feel in the mornings. I am done with dealing with people. I have had enough of the whole racquet that goes into making a living. I am burned out on playing the game. I’ve had enough and don’t want to play anymore.

As I sat on my couch with a cup of hot water in my hand, this feeling of dread and hopelessness flooded my insides. I thought about the day ahead and dreaded having to go through it all again. Normally coffee would come to my rescue when I found myself in this predicament. Coffee would add a feeling (the high) of euphoria, excitement, energy and interest into the darkened penetralias of my soul. It would give me that push I needed to roll that Sisyphean boulder up the hill yet again. But now without coffee, I just didn’t want to do it. The climb felt too hard. I felt too uninterested and worn out. The hot water in my coffee cup wasn’t cutting it. Everything felt mundane and banal. Life a continual repetition of the same fucking things. Without any coffee to push me through these feelings, I fell into despair.

In that moment everything felt dull, monotonous and uninspired. My marriage. My work. My hobbies. My sex life. My intellectual life. All of it dull and monotonous. I didn’t want to do anything but sit there on the couch and not move. Watering my garden, meditating, reading a book- all of it, dull.

Is there anyone who experiences deep passion and interest in the things that make up their life moment after moment, day after day? Are there people who are almost always passionate and engaged in their lives? Does this really exist in reality or is it an unreal standard that has been created to keep us all trying to achieve it? I have a feeling it is just a myth, but still it bothers me when my life feels so monotonous, banal, passionless and without any genuine interest. Something in me feels like life should not feel like this but maybe this is how life just is. Maybe the American power structure that we all live under is what creates this kind of mundane, banal, monotonous, ordinary, law abiding life we all exist within. We are all continually trying to escape from how shitty it feels and this is the very thing that keeps the gears of power and capitalism churning.

We use booze, coffee, computers, sex, smartphones, TV, food- anything we can get our hands on to help us climb out from the reality of our existence within this system. We are continually trying to change the channel to a better station (I know I am). The coffee and booze (our most popular and most destigmatized drugs) help us to become more interested in things which would normally feel very dull and mundane. These drugs help us to feel passion again, in a life which has become passionless. We need our drugs, our drama and our smartphones to bring some stimulation into our lives or else things feel dull all the time. I mean common, the moment things feel dull or drama free, the most common thing for people to do is reach for their phones.

Familiarity breeds contempt. No matter how wonderful your life is. No matter how great of a job you have. No matter how cool your partner is. If you see it or them in the same way every single day, you will start to hate it or them. Oh, but you should be grateful for the things you have. What bullshit. This sentiment just causes people to feel worse about themselves. I should feel grateful when I am miserable is like asking someone to feel grateful when they are stuck cleaning someone else’s filthy house. Possibly, the reason you are miserable, is because of the routine, the repetition, the lack of real interest, the mundane nature of capital driven life within the system we all live in. Just going through the motions day after day. The struggle to survive. Doesn’t matter how many wonderful things you have around you- if you are around them every day you will feel contempt towards it. This is why we love our phones so much. Every time we pick them up there is something new and different waiting for us. Why do you think social media is so deeply addicting? There is always something new going on.

In a sense, coffee would provide me with a new feeling every morning. It would help interrupt the feelings of banality, monotony, dullness, lack of interest, which are all a result of the system in which I live. Everyone is trying to out run these feelings all the time. What a recipe for disaster. Coffee would provide me with a feeling of happiness, stimulation, engagement and hope. Trust me, we live in a culture where almost every business, idea, building, book, movie, album and on and on was created because of coffee. America is a culture built on coffee. You are probably needing coffee just to read this right now. Without coffee most of this shit would have never been done because things would just feel too isolated and dull.

And this brings me back to where I was this morning. Not wanting to do a fucking thing. Just mired in the misery that has become our dull, collective lives. Not wanting to play the game anymore. Sick of the routine and without coffee to push me forward into enthusiastic willingness. I was expressing all of this to my wife who was sitting the chair next to me (lucky her), drinking her morning cup of coffee. She listened and added a few thoughts of her own. Her perspective was frustrating me. She couldn’t possibly understand as she drank her morning coffee. So, I sat up and asked her if I could have some of her coffee. Enough was enough. I drank half her cup and now here I am anxious, a bit more excited, slightly interested and as a result, writing this.