Altruism

For the majority of my life, I’ve considered myself a pretty selfish person. It’s not something I’m proud of or anything, just something I’ve recognized about myself. As I get older, I identify with that label less and less. I am still definitely more selfish and self-obsessed than a lot of the people I know, but not nearly as much as my past self. I think selfishness is something we all grow out of to some extent as we grow older. Although I’m not really sure why that is.

As far as my own personality goes, I think I’ve changed because the more I’ve experienced in life, the more I’ve learned that it feels good to be “selfless.” I say that almost ironically, because I’m not really sure if there truly are selfless acts in this world. Regardless of what our reasoning might be, we all have our own motives for doing everything that we do. In the end I truly believe that we are all connected anyway. We are all one. So by helping others, we are also helping ourselves. Even if in the moment it looks as though we’ve put ourselves at risk or denied ourselves something for the sake of another, all that truly means is that we value the way it feels to help more than whatever it is we may lose in the process. I just think some people are a little bit more honest and in tune with their intentions than others.

I don’t want this to sound cynical. I’m not trying to argue that no one is motivated by anything other than self interest. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about helping someone else. I think it’s quite beautiful even. It’s just one of the many ways this world provides us with a perfectly symbiotic relationship with all other life. It’s so bizarre to think that what was once a playground taunt “what goes around comes around” has actually been a profound truth all along. I’m not sure how I feel about karma because it is more focused on past lives. However, I do believe that we can feel the direct impacts of our own actions coming back to us in this life.

The real reason I wanted to talk about this idea today is because of the impact it can have on our mental health. It seems like despite the sunny warm weather returning, my mental health hasn’t improved like it usually does around this time of year. I’m not sure whether it’s because of this ongoing pandemic or what I’ve learned about our oceans recently, but something has been weighing on me quite heavily this past year. Yesterday, my best friend since third grade messaged me and expressed that she has been feeling the exact same ways that I have. Her anxiety has been worse than ever, she’s having panic attacks, depressive episodes, fits of rage, etc. While it truly broke my heart to hear how much she’s been struggling, comforting her did help me remember something very important that I’d nearly forgotten.

Sometimes when we are drowning in mental illness and focusing on all of our problems, it becomes hard to think about anything or anyone else. We get sucked into this painful, self-defeating vortex. Although it may seem impossible in these moments, one of the best ways to pull ourselves out is to try to focus on others for awhile. Even though it feels like you have nothing left to give, give anyway. One of my favorite quotes is, “the heart that gives, gathers.” A simple, yet powerful truth. There is nothing more uplifting or fulfilling than being of service to others, especially those you love. It’s nice to feel needed, to feel that you are a valuable part of someone else’s life, to see that you are capable of contributing to the lives of your friends, your family, your community.

When you fixate on something, it often grows and becomes larger and larger the longer you do. The same goes for your problems. A day spent focusing solely on my anxiety level is guaranteed to be a difficult day. As I spent hours on the phone with my friend last night, my own anxiety couldn’t have been further from my mind. I was even grateful for my own experiences with mental illness as it allowed me to better understand my friend’s suffering. I was so happy to be able to be there for her.

We briefly discussed the idea of “burdening” others with your distress or personal issues. Both of us have a tendency to be hesitant to speak up about our problems to those we love. It seems cruel to make them share our pain, even if it would lighten the load for us and provide much needed comfort. Even though I often feel this way, I do believe there is also another way to look at it. Perhaps it is a gift to share our troubles with our loved ones. After all, I didn’t feel burdened by talking to my friend about her struggles yesterday. I felt honored and thankful that she would come to me for help. It made me feel better to help her feel better. It is a beautiful experience of bonding and trust to be vulnerable with someone else.

The next time I am starting to feel overwhelmed by my own inner world, I want to remember what my friend reminded me yesterday by coming to me with her despair. I don’t need to be afraid to also share my difficulties. And even more importantly than that, sometimes the best remedy for those difficulties is shifting my focus to helping someone else instead. To remind myself that there is so much more in this world than my own suffering, that I am capable of more than suffering. I am even capable of easing the suffering of others, and that is something I am truly grateful for.





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What Is Government

Up until I was around 20 years old, maybe even older, I didn’t really know very much about politics. I honestly wish I could go back to those simpler times. It feels like I had a lot less to worry about back then. It’s always easier not to know. My entire family are democrates, so that is about as far as my political awareness went. I was taught vaguely that poor/low-income people were democrates, rich people were republicans. A very simplified explanation of the two parties in America, but I still believe it holds up. At least that’s what you would expect.

As I got older I came to find that there are tons of poor people voting passionately against their own interests. A good portion of the republican base in fact. I was astounded even more when I became a social worker and got to listen to clients who could hardly survive on the small amount of government assistance they received simultaneously complain about “lazy, good-for-nothing” people taking advantage of the system and voting to cut social security benefits. They seemed totally disconnected from the fact that they were the people their beloved Fox News hosts were referring to when they condemn these societal moochers.

I guess they thought it couldn’t have been in reference to them, because they were good people. They hadn’t done anything wrong. They weren’t worthless, scheming, monsters taking advantage of other people. Yet they were still quick to jump on the bandwagon of hate, directing it at some imaginary, caricatures of people that were making it harder for people like them who really do need that help to be taken seriously. It always broke my heart to meet clients that continuously tried to justify their need and convince me that they weren’t just “some drug addict” or something.

What has been reminding me of all of this lately, is the controversy over the unemployment income many Americans have been relying on since this pandemic began over a year ago. Everyone is able to see the absurdity of going out to find work, when you would receive more money by staying on unemployment instead. It is the perception of this absurdity that varies. Conservatives cry: You can’t give everyone so much money or else they’ll never go back to work! While liberals and progressives insist: If these people were paid a living wage to begin with, this wouldn’t be a problem. We must raise the minimum wage so that these people have an incentive to return to work.

Obviously I agree with the latter. The government didn’t just arbitrarily decide on an amount to pay, they based it roughly on how much these people would need to survive. If working full-time isn’t allowing you to earn that measly amount, clearly THAT is the problem. Not that the government is giving you enough to live on. This seems so simple to me, but I know that nearly half of the country would disagree. These types of disheartening conflicts are the reason that after passionately throwing myself into politics for a few years, I’ve begun trying to ignore it all together again. It is just to painful. It seems so hopeless. I’m tired of fighting.

One of the main things I don’t understand though, is what other people think the government’s purpose is. I’m starting to think my idea of it has been misguided and idealistic. It seems like throughout school I was taught that the government, at least in America, was established “for the people, by the people.” I was under the impression that it’s only purpose was to organize our collective resources as a nation so that we could best serve the entire population. In my mind, government was just a way to work together as a society so that we could accomplish things we wouldn’t be able to as individual citizens. Not only that, I thought it’s purpose was to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable among us, to help people. Not only for moral reasons, but to the ultimate benefit of the whole. Having a system to take care of the less fortunate gives those people the opportunity to some day give back to society again. At the very least it would deter them from criminal activity, because they wouldn’t need to engage in that to survive.

I hear all the time that “it’s not the government’s job to support you.” But isn’t it though? Isn’t that why we have a government in the first place? To take care of our citizens? I’m often tempted to ask these people what they think the government’s job is, if not to protect us and support us. I’m trying to stay curious and not let the unsettling mindsets of so many people get to me too much. It’s just not worth the grief it causes me. And I’ve accepted that fighting about it won’t make a difference. All I can do is watch is stunned silence, or turn away.

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Community & Isolation

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment. It feels like a huge portion of the human race has been suffering from a less intense version of this type of isolation for over a year now. Even introverts like me have started to feel the effects of spending days upon days alone and cut off from social settings. People’s mental health started to deteriorate after only a few months of lockdown. And that is in our own homes, with access to the internet, television, books, often our pets, roommates, and/or family. Imagine being locked away in just one small room with nothing and no one. With no idea when or if you will ever be allowed to leave or even how much time has passed.

The strange consequences of prolonged separation from others is a humbling testament to how much we really need one another. For me this is quite frustrating and difficult to wrap my head around. How can I simultaneously have social anxiety and need to interact with others regularly to be mentally healthy? Before the lockdowns a year ago, I would have thought I would be my happiest alone in a hut in the woods. But now I see that what we want and what is good for us are often two very different things. I guess we never really stop being children in some ways. Needing someone else to look out for our best interests. I suppose that’s just another benefit of the communal life humans once had that we’ve now strayed from.

Most children would prefer not to go to school, even me, someone who’s always loved learning. I can remember dreading every moment of it. Even signing myself out early a lot of days once I was 18. But looking back, I would love to go to school again. I didn’t realize what a blessing it was to be put in a fishbowl everyday with dozens of other people my age. I didn’t know how difficult life would be once that was no longer a normal part of it. Now I am so grateful for all of those years where I got to spend everyday with my friends, growing and learning and playing together.

Some people are really good at managing themselves. People that create and run their own small businesses or are otherwise self-employed for example. I realized a few years ago that even though I’ve always wanted to break away from normal 9-5 work, there is really no way I would be able to make it on my own without having structure of some kind forced upon me. Given the opportunity, I will always procrastinate and get lazy. It’s quite bizarre given that I’m so rigid about other things in my life.

I’ve always hated the pressure of having someone else to answer to whether it was my parents, my teachers, my peers, or my boss. I thought without this constant stress I would find freedom. However, I’m starting to learn to be grateful for that stress. It seems that without it I fall to ruin. I become utterly lost. Yet even though I’ve realized this strange paradox, it doesn’t make it any easier to help myself.

I often mull over the idea of joining a book club or even starting my own group of some kind. Perhaps a hiking group or a vegan support group. But the eventuality of being held to account by these people, being expected to follow through with plans, etc. is overwhelming. It feels easier and less stressful to just forget about it all together. How frustrating it is to know choosing the path of least resistance is likely not the path to happiness. Even though I don’t necessarily like it, we humans need one another. We need each other for support and love, but also to hold one another accountable so that we may all continue to grow and blossom into the very best versions of ourselves.

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Support One Another

I just wanted to take a moment to share the recent work of one of my dear vegan friend, The Benevolent Wench. After years of anticipation, she has finally started filming videos for her YouTube channel. I hope that you will all go check her out. Like and share her videos and help to give another vegan voice the audience it so desperately needs.

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