Updated: Mar 11, 2019
Over the past few weeks I’ve ran 3 out of 4 initial blog posts to explain the Brave New Love mission of sharing stories and creating space to live authentically through discussion of life, wellness, and faith.
We’ve covered the concept of ‘Creating Space’ because I know that might be a foreign term to some. I announced that I am starting massage school in the ’Wellness’ post and shared why I was excited to transition back into the health and wellness industry. Finally, last week I discussed my thoughts on how faith, and I don’t believe the term is tied to any specific religion - just a belief that we are all connected in some way.
My hope is that these posts have been somewhat entertaining, potentially thought provoking, and beneficial in some way while still doing the job of explaining why I have started this blog. But if they have fallen short on that final part, and you still have some questions as to what this blog is all about, fear not because this post is going to fix that (hopefully)!
The final topic is Life, and I’m going to explain it in 3000 words or less…KIDDING! Nope - I don’t know the meaning of life and by no way can explain all of it’s wonders, but I do know a little bit about the life that I have experienced. That is the kind of life we will be discussing regularly on the blog - personalized experiences of every day life whether that be small things like what happened at the grocery store this week, or bigger things like joining a christian church as a gay man.
I think that the best way to convey a point of view and emotional connection to an idea is through story telling. I personally think the ‘story telling’ concept is getting a little overplayed these days so I’m not running a ‘story telling’ blog here, but that doesn’t change the fact that stories are impactful. They communicate emotion through situational awareness and experience.
I’d like to tell you why I believe that stories about life work.
My first job out of college was with a nonprofit called Texas 4000. It was a nonprofit dedicated to raising money in the fight against cancer by putting on the world’s longest annual charity bike ride from Austin, TX to Anchorage, AK. I served as the nonprofit’s first Program Director, and second employee with my job being to run the program. This consisted of advising and helping the student organization that the nonprofit worked with at the University of Texas at Austin.
My functions as far as my work with the students could be boiled down to creating, developing, and motivating a team of young leaders to plan and execute the summer ride from Texas to Alaska. We went about doing this by having weekly Monday evening meetings where the the students covered various aspects about physical training, fundraising or logistical aspects of planning the summer ride.
These meetings were social in some aspects, but were admittedly extremely dense in terms of information that was being covered. It was also not a secret that being a rider on the team was a huge commitment in addition to school and work. As a result, it was important that the students WANTED to be at these meetings. One way the organization accomplished that was through the concept of the “Why I’m Here” speech.
This would be a designated time at each of the team’s Monday night meetings that would be set aside for a member of the team to share why they chose to ride their bike from Texas to Alaska. They were real, honest moments where individuals were encouraged to share their struggles and inspirations for riding in a real and authentic way.
I by no means started this tradition - it started the year in between when I rode and when I came on as a staff member - and I’m pretty sure some people call it the Why I Ride speech so it’s one of those traditions passed down that changes now and then. But I can say that I did believe that the Why I’m Here speeches was by far and away one of the most powerful aspects of the organization. There was talk every now and then on trying to get rid of them as they could go on longer than necessary in some situations, but they were always kept in some way due to their ability to encourage bravery, acceptance and purpose for a group of individuals for their 18 month experience in the program. They were my favorite aspect of the organization, and I’m only realizing that more as I get further on the other side of having worked there.
I like to think of the act of discussing and sharing stories of life as a version of the Why I’m Here. In a lot of ways, they serve similar purposes in that they create a space for and encourage sharing your authentic self which in turn improves the community (or team) as a whole.
In relation to me - discussion of life on the blog will be real and (hopefully) honest aspects of my every day life. That will probably include topics on being gay, working as a massage therapist in the wellness industry, my mental health process, and my spirituality depending on the direction the wind is blowing that given week.
With this being the first post on general ‘life,’ I figure it would be a good place to talk through my catalyst for starting this blog:
About July of last year things (and by ‘things’ I mean ‘the shit’) hit the fan.
On the surface, everything looked pretty great. I had a well paying job, I had been dating my new boyfriend for a little over three months and things were going better each week, and for all all intents and purposes looked like I was starting my 30s the right way. The problem was that I was very unhappy but couldn’t really understand why.
From my vantage point, I had seemingly crossed off all the check boxes needed to achieve ‘happiness’ as I had defined them. As someone who came out of the closet a little later (23) and gradually due to my conservative and religious upbringing, I felt like I could consider myself officially ‘out and proud’ (can I get my “Out and Proud” business card from whomever organizes the ‘gay agenda’ at some point?!) as a gay man. I had a boyfriend who said that he loved me and was proud to be with me - big win when you don’t think very highly of yourself. Finally, I had achieved my goal for the amount of money I would like to make annually between my main job and moonlighting with a local events company here in Austin. I had graduated from living paycheck to paycheck in 2016, paid off credit cards, and was also enjoying the fact that I had started saving for my retirement.
The issue was that I was incredibly unhappy. My stress and anxiety levels were high - I now believe they were higher than I had ever experienced up to that point in my life - I was usually exhausted, and I didn’t feel particularly confident or capable in myself or my abilities in any aspect of my life. I didn’t understand how that could be possible when I had checked off all the boxes...
My breaking point came when I was taking a three day weekend to attend a wedding between two friends in Colorado that July. I had done the usual cram 5 (or 6?) days of work into four and was getting my 'Out of Office' up at about 10pm (or 11pm?) on Thursday night. I then started to pack and get ready for bed so that I could make my 6:30am flight out the next Friday morning.
The next morning comes, and I wake up at about 6:45am. Fuck. I hadn’t plugged my phone in to charge which lead it to dying and I was not using a physical alarm at that time.
I quickly got out the door and made arrangements to get on another flight. It shouldn’t have been too big of a deal other than the additional charges that I had to pay, but it was a huge deal to me. I had never missed a flight before, but I was not in the mood to cut myself any slack:
“You fucking worthless piece of shit.
You can’t even make a flight on time.
Why is someone like you with your background trying to make a flight at all? You aren’t cut out to live this type of lifestyle.
You aren’t smart enough - You’re trash - You’re poor - and everyone can tell.”
I have had mental low points throughout my life like anyone else, and I have come to find out that the last couple years up to that point had been just a slow decline in mental health overall, but in that moment on that trip, I felt like it was one of my lowest. I honestly don’t feel comfortable sharing all the thoughts about my abilities and worth that went through my head at this point, but they weren’t good. In short, I overall didn’t feel like I was worthy of anything at all and would most likely need to end things with my boyfriend so that I could continue to focus on making money to be less poor.
I think this is what people mean when they say things like "She snapped." :)
Luckily - I did some research to find a mental health professional. I searched a couple of website aggregators for a gay psychiatrist (I wanted medication as an option if needed, because I felt like I was so fucked up) in Austin that took my insurance, and came up with a big 0. I did however find a straight white heterosexual psychiatrist named Dr. Schwartz who accepted my insurance and made an appointment for the following week.
Over the course of many months, my work with Dr. Schwartz was very illuminating. He diagnosed me with ADHD on my first visit and that has proven to be true and pretty self evident overtime. I have learned and finally started to acknowledge through his help that my experience as a gay man is more similar to that of gay man in the 70s or 80s than it is for many of my contemporaries mainly because of my upbringing and where I am from. He began referring to me as a relic from time past and treated me as such. I was very resistant at first, but have now adopted his terminology of referring to growing up gay in a small conservative and religious town in Texas as trauma. His overall diagnosis was that in addition to ADHD, I currently had chronic anxiety, severe depression, and PTSD from growing up gay and in the closet.
I’ve now been actively working on my mental health for about 8 months now. That work has included sessions with Dr. Schwartz, sessions my talk therapist who is a gay man, medical leave from my previous job, and a lot of personal work. It has been what has allowed me to stop and assess what would truly make me happy if I was operating with the assumption that I am enough/worthy and money and status were not factored in which is what brought me to the point where I decided to transition to a career back in wellness with my start being massage school.
I have had progress and setbacks with my work and will most likely be sharing some of those experiences on this blog over time. What I have found is that I tend to really want it to all be over and ‘fixed.’ I would love to flip a switch to just be happy and no longer have to struggle with anxiety, depression, self worth issues, or PTSD. I have caught myself many times thinking, “well I should be able to kick this in a couple weeks then I’ll write a book about it and live happily ever after!” Delusional ;)
The fact of the matter is that the things I am working on are ongoing and can present themselves in a variety of ways: panic attacks (I’ve found that rubbing my knuckles across my sternum helps with these), lack of energy, sadness, extreme happiness, lack of interest, and can be triggered by the most random things or nothing at all. I've learned that this stuff has to be taken one day at a time.
BraveNewLove is my ongoing commitment to the goal of living authentically which will in turn help with my overall mental health.
In addition to helping with my own work, I truly want this this blog to encourage other folks to live more authentically, and I believe that sharing stories about one’s own life experience can help with that authenticity journey. With that in mind, and in the spirit of the “Why I’m Here” from Texas 4000, I am hoping to open this blog up on occasion to guests who are interested in sharing about their own life experiences. My hope would be that through this open discussion with folks of different backgrounds and worldviews we might be able to become more of our authentic selves.
If you haven't already put it together, BraveNewLove is inspired by the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and while there are many messages and takeaways from that book, the one I am focusing on is the commitment to your authentic self. The book is the story of a dystopian civilization where suffering and pain have been eradicated at the price of personal autonomy, and the message is that pain is necessary life to have meaning. There are many examples of the world brainwashing citizens to remain obedient and complacent so that they are not able to achieve meaningful happiness or free will.
One of my favorite quotes from the book:
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
To me, the two takeaways from these themes of the book are 1) we must not give weight to societal pressures or attempts to stifle or extinguish the authentic person we are and 2) it is important to lean into and be open and honest about our pain and struggles in order to truly experience a balanced authentic life of true happiness. Basically the dulling of the bad also dulls the good. Brave New Love is the very brave and absolutely new commitment to pursue and love our authentic selves including the shame and the unhappiness as well so that we can experience true happiness.
While BraveNewLove is first and foremost a self love concept - a reminder that you are worthy and deserving of self love - it also has a secondary, and equally important, meaning of the BraveNewLove that we can all commit to when interacting with others.
In order for folks to share their authentic stories of their lives, we need to commit to allowing space for them to come as they are. I believe that it is easier and more assuring for people to do that when they know that they are being looked at as a peer, equal, or someone worthy of love. This is why the secondary concept of the BraveNewLove we have for each other is so important. I am very excited to see what is shared and what can be accomplished when folks commit to creating space for each other to live authentically!
If you’d potentially be interested in sharing a story of your authentic life on BraveNewLove email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is still a working idea, but am excited to see where it goes.