A Principle Bigger Than Us All

I’ve spent the past two years writing on this blog (often not well) hoping to find some answers and hoping that maybe others would find some truth in my truth. I’ve had some pretty crazy experiences lately that have made me realize just how contracted my life has been. In these twenty four years I’ve been given the privilege of seeing and living many different kinds of lives. I’ve been the athlete. I’ve been the jock. I’ve been the ladies man. I’ve been the rock-star. I’ve been the ‘genius’. I’ve been the inspiration. I’ve been the loser. I’ve been friendless. I’ve been despised. I’ve been stupid. I’ve been the cripple and the burden. I’ve lived with hundreds of friends, and an in-tact family, and I’ve lived with zero friends and no family.

There’s this Becket quote that I like: there’s man all over for you, blaming on his shoes the fault of his feet. We always try to look for some meaning in the madness; some purpose. It’s an inherently human thing to do. We all at one point think that there is some great purpose for us;  that we’re some integral part of this grand design. We all hop we’re that special, and that’s one of those hopes that’s truly difficult to break away from, and incredibly hard to lose.

When I think about my purpose, and how ‘important’ I must be, I think about the disabled children abandoned because their parents didn’t want them; something that’s less frequent now, but incredibly common in the past. What about the kids and adults right now starving to death. What about the people slain for no reason but to satiate some sick sadistic warlord or sociopaths desires? When I think about these people I find it very difficult to see the great meaning in their lives. And I find it even more difficult to justify my desire to find one in my own.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me, but like everyone else I have a fairly general idea of the direction I’m headed in. I know that I’m going to have surgery on my spine to treat my Syrinx. I know that I’m going to remain disabled. I know that things are going to remain hard. When I think of my future I am stressed, but it’s not the surgery or the disability that make me feel stressed, it’s the lack of support and connection with others. And it’s the knowledge that the family I do have left aren’t going to make the world a much better place.

Recently my brother moved out, leaving me and my dog alone in this apartment. It’s made me really feel worthless, and really question the belief I used to have that I could find purpose and meaning. It was the hope that my brother would see my world and it would make him a better person that gave me purpose (I know that if I were magically cured right now I would go on to do wonderful things; the stuff that used to stress me out and prevent me from fulfilling my potential (the insecurity, the money-stress) pales in comparison to the stress of not being able to walk, or work, or really live. And so I thought perhaps it was logical to conclude that since he’s healthy, he could take that truth and completely transform his life; he could do the good things he is capable of doing). But now I  don’t know. It’s the actions that people make and the things that people believe and do that determine if the world is just and good. People make the meaning and purpose, not fate, not the ‘gods’, and certainly not ourselves. A person may be able to will themselves to greatness, but how you define greatness and the metrics you use to measure it might reveal that the greatest thing is to be good, not rich, or envied, or feared. Take the Kennedy family. Many revere them, and are inspired by them. But many people don’t know about Rose Kennedy. They had her lobotomized, and then institutionalized for life. She was very rarely visited. She was alone, to suffer and live out her existence; a causality for the greatness of others. And for what? Did the Kennedy’s change the world forever? Or was their greatness just as fleeting as the law student who passes his Bar, or my brother who gets the raise he’s been working towards.

The things we desire so much in this world are fleeting. I wanted nothing more than a nice car and fame when I was a kid. I pictured myself loved and wealthy. I am so far removed from that future I once longed for. If you had told my 14 year old self that in ten years I’d be disabled, in chronic pain, completely abandoned and alone, with too many scars to count, you would have crippled me. But I’m glad in some weird way that this has happened to me. It’s given me the privilege of seeing what it means to truly have a meaningful life. I am able to bear being sick and disabled and having such an uncertain future. I can find the good in those things and they are experiences and lives that I can use to paint a broader narrative with. It’s the lack of social connection. The lack of love and that opportunity to make someone better than yourself that comes with being in a family that makes me feel like nothing matters and I can’t possibly move on.

If my life has some purpose perhaps it’s to share that one small truth: being good (moral and virtuous – loyal, empathetic, temperant, prudent, just) and investing your future in others is the thing we need most in this life, and the thing we cannot live without. We can survive, and often thrive, without painlessness, without mobility, and without health. We cannot survive for very long (and we cannot really, truly thrive) without the meaning and the purpose relationships and connection to and with good people provides. It sucks going through hard things alone. But it sucks infinitely more going through them needlessly. Like Rose Kennedy, I don’t have to go through this stuff. It’s not actually going through it that stings the most (like I said before, humans are incredibly resilient), it’s the reason why I have to go through it that does. And that reason is the reason why people feel like the world is a harsh place filled with meaningless suffering. For me, that reason is that my brothers don’t understand that being good and moral means being there for others. It means just supporting them and loving them; calling them when they’re ill, trying to help them, and trying to learn from them. So that they can feel better, so that I can feel better, yes, but also so that anyone could feel better. It’s the principle that matters, not my particular happiness. It’s that my brothers don’t grasp that principle that makes me feel like my life is pointless and thus that life is pointless (their lives included, especially). I want to be happy, but I want them to want me to be happy more. Not just for me, but because it’s the right thing. I want them to get that one point. That being strong means going through hard things but remaining good. That the glory we can achieve in this life and the purpose we can find in some grand picture of some complex design cannot matter if there are people who are left in our wake starving, dying, and being killed. We can’t prescribe universal rights unless everyone has access to them. The world is harsh and life is often very difficult and unforgiving, but if people are good, and get that one main principle (being moral, and virtuous and supporting and learning from others) than even the most apparently meaningless fate can be transformed into the most meaningful one.

tolstoy“Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”

 My impulse is to say ‘well by asking ‘why should I live’ you are in fact insisting someone provide you an answer, which suggests that the question isn’t why should I live, but rather, how’.

 And that seemed for a long time to be an adequate response, but as I was reading that passage in Tolstoy’s confessions things suddenly became clear to me. You cannot say you really only want to know how to live, because that presupposes some sort of agency. When, was life not really forced on us? Did we have any say in our conception? The question then rightly becomes ‘what’s the point’.  We are forced to live, then forced to die. And inbetween those two harsh sanctions we are charged with finding some meaning.

For some men finding what can be considered happiness and living a happy life is quite enough. For others, life presents a more complex set of problems. Men like Tolstoy struggled with these problems. Problems that can’t be categorized as ‘existential’ or ‘metaphysical’ alone. These are collaborative problems that fundamentally ask the questions we all have, but with a twist. It’s not that their repressed consciousness is trying to find the best way to live life. Tolstoy for example only questioned his ideals when he found himself in the throes of decay. It was only after a lifetime believing in a positive trend of development, when he himself watched his aged body regress, that he saw the relationship of life and death in its most subjective form. We are all part of some greater biomass, some clave to which we owe allegiance. But we are also agents capable of willing ourselves off course. We can think about thinking. On the one hand we have this public ancestry, and on the other this private journey.  And as much as we try to group these aggregates we can’t help feeling dismayed on reflection of the perplexity of the lives we live; the duties we fulfill and the obligations we attach to others. As such it seems quite natural to ask ‘what’s the point’. But that very nature hints at the need for a point, which itself undoes all the great work we’ve done getting ourselves to a point of development in which we could ask that question.

Speculating on the existence of a point isn’t missing the point or somehow defeating it. The begrudging disconcertion a lack of knowledge inspires sets the very course by which successive generations find meaning. And although that’s a type of meaning in itself, its a mental trick of little value to the aching soul of a man convicted by his purposelessness.

Are you afraid of being afraid?

The property which causes that sudden feeling of dread when confronted with a painful or stressful situation is anticipation. We are very symbolic beings. Our neocortex alone dedicates millions upon millions of neurons to the task of recognizing patterns; and almost double that number are redundancy neurons which are tasked with recognizing patterns of patterns. When we experience a stressful or painful event, our minds work to symbolize that event, and encode context specific patterns. Any stimulus involved in that event is further associated into that symbolism. As a result, we don’t just experience one stressful and fearful event. We experience thousands of different versions of that very same event. Over time, we begin to consciously recognize this confluence: dread sets in.

We match up this event consciously with representative standards in order to solve the pressing problem stress is meant to create: can we overcome, or do we have to adapt? As a result, if the event (which is now more of a state) in question becomes a stable state of existence, and that state is grossly disproportionate to societal standards, we begin to mourn.

The initial assessment and span of time required to encode and regulate redundancies and consciously digest all the necessary information just simply must be endured. Yes it’s going to suck and it most definately will have a negative impact on your quality of life. All things being equal, I would hope that this wouldn’t happen to anyone. But all things aren’t equal, and so this stuff does happen, and it happens at an alarming rate – for some, at such an alarming rate they cannot find the ability to cope and instead take their lives. You cannot change the fact that it does happen, and you should not change the fact that you become familiar with it. Most people will catastrophize and admit defeat; they believe they are destined for a life of misery and pain. But the only way they can really ‘know’ what misery and pain entail is by matching what they’re experiencing with generic standards. They mourn based upon the difference between the two.

Let’s say it was the norm for a people of a certain society to be blind. In our world, we view blindness as a disability, but in this particular society, it is the norm. If a sighted person became blind in our society, but was informed of another society where it was the norm, is it possible his coping skills would improve? You can obviously make the claim that objectively having sight is better than not having sight, always. Healthy people living in our world with no visual disabilities are absolutely happy and content. Why? Well, because as far as they know, they are at the apex of what we call the ‘generic standards’. Lets imagine some time in the distant future we gain the ability to communicate telepathically, to see and think on a quantum level, and never die. A person living now at the height of his health is relatively satisfied. Lets further suggest even that this person knows he will probably live forever (life extension therapies are available which will ensure his foreseeable lifespan). We can all probably agree this is an ideal scenario and probably accurately guess at this persons sense of well-being. Lets take this person and place them in the future. In the future, remember, people can think telepathically, have incredibly advanced IQ’s, never die, have none of the pratfalls of human biology, and can think at a quantum level. Would that man be happy living there, and then? I doubt it. I think he would be as miserable as the man living in our world without eyesight, or the woman who cannot move anything below the waist.

What I’m playing at is an existential interpretation of illness and disability, rather than a cultural and societal one based upon norms and averages. When we are ill and afraid our minds conjure horribly unbearable emotions and force us into the darkest corners of the most depressing scenarios. The causes of these phenomena are varied and impossibly complex. But for once that complexity does not hint at a mindless fatalism. We think in averages and problem solve with patterns. We are symbolic and allegorical creatures with a knack for intuition and emotional reasoning, but we kind of stink at calculating the cold hard facts. We label realists as unemotional robots (a title I have been affably given, many times…) and praise idealists with their deep insight. The answer isn’t a ‘balance of the two’ – which seems to have become the catch-all category for people who don’t really want to think too hard about the problem. Offering a banal ying-yang response to a complex question fundamentally presupposes that the two poles in question are the only two poles… and further that they are also the correct poles. That’s not always the case, and particularly in this situation it is definitely not the case. In this situation, dealing with fear and with expectations and mourning, the answer comes in the form of a question: why is standard upon which your fears are based the only possibly and necessary situation? Is it really the only possible state of existence? Is it possible things could have evolved differently? Is it possible we could experience pain way differently than we currently do? And death? And why does the thought of death ‘objectively qualify’ feelings of absolute terror – possibly the most aversive feeling in the world. The answer is that it one hundred percent does not. Death is the zenith of symbolic thought. We have absolutely no clue, subjectively, what death entails. And so since we don’t have even a marginally accurate redundancy for death, our patterns will be based solely upon weak metaphor and general symbolism. When we think of death thoughts like darkness and night-time and space, and cold come to mind, accompanied by feelings like ‘where’s mommy’ and ‘someone save me’.

Death is further qualified by the notion that it is inherently bad. But how is it? If it weren’t for death, there would literally be no new life, or any life at all. You are hear reading this only because trillions of ‘things’ died so that you could be here, at this particular moment of terrestrial time. There’s a certain feeling of endowed responsibility and pride in that thought, isn’t there? Further, what is greater in our universe, life or non-life? Non-living things, to be sure. There are more atoms and molecules and mass collections of ‘stuff’ out there than there are complex life forms. There is also more ‘darkness’ than there is ‘light’ – which is another great example of our weak symbolism and metaphor. Darkness is not inherently scary. That being said, place the bravest man in a dark room with loud haunting, staccatto noises and he will surely experience fear.

The point is simple: you qualify your feelings of fear by searching for standards with which to compare your situation to. The problem is in the limited number of standards we can come up with and find, and the definition of standards itself. Human emotion plays us and convinces us that the proof is in the feeling. Next time you’re feeling afraid, think of how that situation may be not a bad situation, or may be a different situation. If you can think of a way in which the painful or stresful situation, in some possible thought experiment, could be good, or at least not as bad, than I assure you your fear will lose a tremendous amount of its potency.

At the end of the day, death is still bad and pain still sucks. We will all face those two things at one point in our lives or another. You do not have to give in to them and they are not the only states of existence out there. You have a choice to change the way you experience them, existentially and phenomenologically  by altering the way you go about thinking about them. Unfortunately society and religion have come together to define what good states of existence are and what negative states of existence are. To Christians, having a healthy body is good, and having an unhealthy one is bad – and usually implies some evil or past transgression. Let me tell you right now that that is fucking bull-shit. It’s a consequence of poor thought and an irrational attachment to cultural tradition. The standards society forces on us can have an unconscious  and profound effect on how you cope with just shitty situations. If you are courageous and strong, and you can bear out the initial stages, you will find a way to adapt. If you think about what I have written for a little bit each time you are faced with a shitty situation, you’ll find yourself adapting to different patterns and experiencing a higher level of peace and satisfaction.

My Life of Fear:

Fear is a big part of my life – more in the vein of competition rather than oppression. I have a lot of fears in my life, and a great portion of my day is spent being afraid of different things. Those moments, however few or fleeting, can be extremely useful if you have the courage to try and really roll up your sleeves and get to the root of the problem.

I have written quite a lot on the topic of fear, and while I feel comfortable with all that I have learned so far, I still yearn for more answers. I don’t think there is one absolute truth out there for anything; I  don’t believe in an absolute ‘hockey standard’, or  a ‘fashion truth’. I don’t believe in any type of ‘abstract’, objective standard of perfection. But I do think that we can find answers to many of the questions which we have. I think that each individual person is walking a completely different path from their fellow man, and as such, they will see ‘truth’ in a different context than everyone else. Our world is proof of this: there are Christians who are absolutely convinced of Christ, and atheists who deny his existence completely (as a spiritual being). I’m not saying I think everything is relative, and I don’t think supporting the idea that individuality extends well beyond our vain, egotistical values commits me to any form of post-modernism. I just sincerely believe that the amount of ‘stuff’ out there (facts, truths, things, events, future events, possible events) is infinitely larger than our minds can grasp. And I find an extreme sense of comfort in knowing that.

The particular question I have been obsessed with lately is this: how can I overcome fear. Overcoming fear doesn’t mean feeling absolutely no fear, but, for me, it means having an overarching understanding of fear, and all of the different ways of understanding fear. I think we can look for truth in many directions, and find incredibly satisfactory answers. But I don’t think those branches all converge onto one fact, or principle, or set of truths. I also think that our species is stupid and limited. We are beautiful and amazing, don’t get me wrong. But now that we don’t fear for our lives on a daily basis, we have food and shelter and disposable income, we have begun to fully grasp just how limited we are, intellectually.

It’s weird how our brains work. We see patterns and we see redundancies for patterns, and our brains work tirelessly behind the scenes interpreting and sifting through these patterns. As a result, answers often come from places we would never even think to look. This is called the Butterfly Effect.  I bring this up because this very phenomenon happened to me recently, and it dramatically changed (and improved) my understanding of fear.

I was reading the famed ‘Ender’s Game’ series (I’m currently reading ‘speaker for the dead’), and although almost everything in those books has had a tremendous impact on my perspective, there was one part in particular that really connected with me. Ender was talking to an artificial intelligence and they got on the topic of emotions. The AI said that emotions were something she did not understand, as they are a direct product of our evolution – that’s why we share these emotions with animals. She said that she had been created, and so as a result she finds it very difficult to ‘feel’ the way that humans do. And that’s what got me.

When I stripped everything down, ultimately my fear was rooted in this feeling of mourning that things just hadn’t turned out ‘right’. I thought that there was some ultimate objective standard, and that fear itself derives objective existence from the concept of ‘well-being’. That insofar as life is better than death, death is a bad thing, and should, ought, to be feared. But why is that true? Why are the metaphorical, dark images which come to my mind when I’m afraid ‘bad’? Why is darkness ‘bad’? Why is ’empty space’, scary? The fact of the matter is, they aren’t. I find a crisp, clear summer day on a tropical island beautiful. But, perhaps to another creature, or even to another person, darkness is beautiful, and emptiness is beautiful.

Sure death sucks, and I can accept the fact that I will probably never rationally welcome death with open arms, but that fact does not commit me to the position that says fear has inherent existence and should rightly be feared.  Fear does not exist, it just exists in us. It is incredibly complex, and if I try to surmise exactly what fear is in one, succinct sentence, I will fail. But fear is not real. It is a product of our evoultionary history, consciousness, our minds. Fear is as much a part of us as our arm, or leg. Evolution created fear, not the other way around.

I was thinking about this the other day: what would really happen if I gave up fear altogether. What if I were a soldier in battle, and as the enemy charged I threw caution to the wind and met them in pace and in spirit. And do you know what my very next thought was? I shit you not, “what if I just died directly after that. What if after throwing caution to the wind and meeting my enemy in battle I am instantly killed? What if my death is that unceremonious?”. What the fuck kind of disillusioned thinking is that? I decide to give up fear, but then the very next scene, the scene enshrined by both logic and reason, is a scene born of fear. What are the chances that I would just instantly die, unceremoniously directly after I give up my fear? Is that really an even balance of all the options?

See, that’s what fear does. Fear makes you think like there’s no other way out. It makes you see one single story, and then live by that story. Maybe in our evolutionary past this was adaptive (maybe that’s not even relevant), but now it’s not. Fear goes by another name: Barabbas. Fear can go fuck itself. We don’t need to let fear control us. You will not find that control in any religion, you will only shift the control from fear to God. The whole point of this rambling essay is to communicate that you can in fact let go of fear. You have to make that decision. It’s not going to be easy. You may feel slightly informed and maybe partially inspired after reading this, but your journey is far from over.

A few parting tips:
  • Turn everything into a challenge. Life will be much less threatening if you realize you’re a competitor. 
  • Accept your inevitable death. You’ll never truly get a grip on fear if you constantly entertain the delusion that you’re immortal.
  • Shed your fucking ego: chances are, you will not be remembered long after your death. Find how empowering that is. Empowering in the sense that at the moment you realize how insignificant you truly are, you will finally see how much work you have to do to get where you thought you were going.
  • Stop being so entitled: like I said, you’re going to be forgotten when you die. That means that no one will remember except for your family. This is why Eric Harris did what he did; he wanted a shot at immortality. Don’t do that. Instead, do everything you can to be remembered once you die – for positive reasons. At the very least, after your gone people will have a whole lot of respect for you. And there are few more comforting thoughts than that.
  • Work hard: work when no ones looking. If you work for recognition only, than you really didn’t grasp the last four points at all.
  • Be nice and kind to others. Fear leads people to do horrible things, and transforms people into horrible little mirages. If your afraid, run in the opposite direction. Be as nice and kind as you can, and I guarantee you, your fear lose that intensity.

A Big Fat Lie

Functionally, a lie has no inherent power; as if the mere utterance of a falsehood were capable of shaking the very foundations upon which we build our lives. No, quite the opposite. A lie has power only insofar as we engage it; we play into the lie, become a part of it.

The same is true of the many qualia of existence. Take fear, for example. What is fear? Does it exists in-and-of itself, inherently? No. Surely, though, there do exist object complements related to the active presence of metaphorically ‘fear-filled’ things. The words we use to describe things are only semantic place-holders. They are visual and auditory representations of phenomena in this world, used to aid understanding and communication. Is it not probable, or at least possible, that the object and subject complements we have adopted to modify written and spoken language has embellished the true nature of these fear-causing things; of fear itself?

‘Tanner was punched’ by itself, is not too frightening. It doesn’t teem with the qualities of a sadistic machination, or of unbridled passion. Tanner could have been punched in the leg, or in the arm. He could have been punched by his girlfriend, in a playful manner. ‘Tanner was punched hard’ is slightly more disconcerting. You get my point.

The descriptive, oftentimes florid language used to recount events does not necessarily match up 1:1 with actual phenomenological entities and states of existence in reality. A ‘hard’ punch is easily distinguishable from a soft playful one, existentially. But is that fact a fact of necessity? That is, is that just the way our universe is? Is it possible things could have come about in another way? Or even just a slightly different way; change in degree, not type. If that is the case, than our understanding of the various phenomena in our lives as intractable truths is more a matter of opinion than of universal objectiveness.

Fear is, in many ways, a lie. A lie is not some completely foreign concept or idea; it’s just an inaccuracy. Either representing something which could be, but isn’t, and representing an impossibility of some sort. Fear quite often is like the first lie; informing us of something which could happen, but doesn’t. We are the active party there. Fear can often become so distorted that it represents an impossibility.

What I’m getting at can be summed up in a quick procession of statements concerning the nature of… well, reality (at least a small branch of reality). Firstly, fear does not exist inherently. If one day all the consequences of feeling fear were ablated, fear would disappear. Secondly, and proceeding from, fear (much like a lie) only gains power if we engage it. Much like we cannot remove all the liars and all of the lies in our lives, we cannot remove all the fear, and all the fear-causing-stimuli. All we can do is refrain from engaging them, thereby taking away their power. We will hear a liar, and hear the lies (and it will be a test of our wisdom to determine when a lie is being told), but we do not have to become part of the lie. Likewise, we will feel fear, and observe and understand fear (and it will be a test of our wisdom to determine when we should listen to fear, and when we should tune fear out), but we do not have to become a part of the fear.

Life at present seems to be a war fought between people and fear. All the psychological and emotional maladies which plague our conscious minds in some way stem from fear. And they all stem from the ultimate fear: the fear of death. We can learn to live happy lives coping with that fear; however, it’s my hope this modality is on its way out. I share the  same conviction as many great thinkers (Ray Kurzweil, Dawkins, Feynman, Goertzel, Krauss etc…) that one day in the not too distant future (maybe only a century or two from now), humans will be rid of this conventional model of existence. Instead, we will trade this mortal life in for an immortal form of existence. A life where the words ‘human’ and ‘computer’ are functionally indistinguishable. Where by reverse engineering and wide-spread cross-disciplinary collaboration we are able to overcome our limitations. We will seem to be, in many, many ways, like gods; but to an earthworm, doesn’t a chimpanzee seem a god? When we merge with machine, will we finally understand the difference between ‘feeling’ a punch to the arm, experiencing it, and simply thinking about the sentence ‘a punch to the arm’, and  imagining it? Is fear just one big lie?

Ocular Migraines

In the past I have had the odd encounter with premonitory ‘aura‘ before a long, agonizing migraine. First of all, let’s get something straight, the term ‘migraine’ gets thrown around a lot in society; It’s become this bastardized, catch-all category encompassing the mild temporal discomfort that comes from listenting to a long, drawn-out argument to the full-blown, hysterically pain-full migraine. Any person who actually suffers from a real, full-fledged migraine disorder will tell you that even the word migraine itself carries such foreboding that it’s use is severely limited in every day speak. Migraines themselves last anywhere from 2-72 hours. They are felt uni-laterally (one ‘side’ of the head) as a sort of dread ‘pulse’. There are many accompanying antecedent and peripheral symptoms I won’t get into great detail describing here (I think I may have actually written another blog on this… if I find it, I will link it here).

As the title suggets, I’d like to talk about ocular migraines. First, I’d like to share a few personal anecdotes on the topic of ‘weird eye vison-ey stuff’.

This year has been a great year for me, relatively speaking. Although looking from the outside in, you’d think such a statement indicative of severe cognitive decline, from the inside looking out I can tell you that the positive definitely outweighs the negative – especially when matched up against the previous year.

I have gotten my pain under control… relatively. I am back in school and, I’d like to think, I’m doing fairly well. I have a new focus and determination about me that I can only say has come about directly from the varied aversive experiences I’ve had, and had to endure getting to where I am today… cleansed by fire and all that. As a result of all this, though, I have fallen into some less than ideal patterns. One, which bears direct relavence to this blog, is staring at a computer screen in a poorly lit room for hours on end… a sure-fire way to induce an ocular migraine in the ‘ocular-migraine-prone’.

To make a long-story short, I have experienced three mind-bogglingly, eye-crushingly confusing events in a matter of just two months; two of them resulted in almost full blindness… I literally couldn’t do anything but lie down on my back, close my eyes and wait for it to run its course.

From what I can remember, it started in one eye, than progressively took over both eyes… at least I think. After a drawn out night staring for hours on end at my computer screen, I would start to see sort of peripheral flashes of light just outside my field of vision. The flashing, lightning zig-zags eventually took over until my entire field of vision was affected; however, quite anti-climatically, within thirty minutes everything was ‘back to normal’.

The term ‘Ocular Migraine‘ can refer to one of two conditions. migraine with ocular aura, and ‘retinal migraines’. As you may have already guessed, migraines with ocular aura is the more benign of the two. The easiest way to differentiate between the two similar pathologies is to remember that retinal migraines effect only one eye, whereas migraines with accompanying ocular ‘aura’ can affect two.

The link provided below gives a concise and accurate account of all things ‘ocular migraine’. My own personal experience with visual ‘aura’ and retinal migraines has provided a subjectively truthful yet somewhat adulterate representation of this odd medical phenomenon. If any of you find yourself pulling the proverbial short stick, have no fear, you probably won’t permanently lose vision in your eye(s).

Here is a useful link http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/guide/ocular-migraine-basics …


Petal for life

Petal for life (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

I used to find myself confused when I thought of all the suffering in this world. I thought there must be some sort of line, some place where a person can’t take anymore; almost like a requirement. Like ‘Oh, you have 35 degrees of suffering. Oh, well, would you like to die now?’

I used to fantasize about death; think that respite from life some sort of retreat at a great resort, offering pain-free-days lounging out in the sun, enjoying… well, certainly not living.

And there’s the paradox; the inconsistency. It’s apparent in the logic employed by all who share the goal of euthanasia, or suicide, or even murder (but for consistence’s sake, we’ll not go there). Some can argue and say that under certain conditions life isn’t worth living – that it’s better, more peaceful to die (I believe ‘humane’ is the word tossed around a lot). I’d like to contend that they are certainly wrong. So long as you are still living, you have a duty; you are required to live out the rest of your days with honor, thumos and fidelity. And although I believe in an afterlife, I certainly do not believe in throwing that truth in someone’s face; let alone shoving it down their throats and forcing them to swallow.

Life is a gift; it is not a right. It’s a gift that many, many have taken from them (children, victims, the sick and elderly). So how can one somehow discover that the option of ‘taking one’s own life’ is somehow on the table, when in-front of them they also have the option of not dying open?

We all have intuitions about this sort of situation. When a wealthy westerner (or anybody, really) smashes up his car because he wants a new one, or tears his clothes, or throws away perfect food, I think there’s this universal feeling of injustice. Why? Well, because there are people out there who don’t have the luxury of such choices. People all over the world are starving, naked and without transportation. Throwing away perfectly fine clothes, or food, or cars is not only irresponsible, but unethical. And most if not all people share this sentiment – all you have to do is watch the Kony2012 video on YouTube to see what I’m saying.

So how does this pertain to life? Well, we live in an age of forgotten mortality. With the advent of modern medicine and the drastic decrease in infant mortality rates and general increases trending towards an average 82 years of life for most healthy people, we have forgotten that one day were going to die. Humans are rife with such proclivities: the proclivity to forget, to ignore, to exercise indifference, to focus attention (and conversely, un-focus attention). We are so busy that we forget how precious life is. Why is ‘depression’ a household illness? Everyone I know has either had depression, or has a family member who has depression. Most of those people have been suicidal, many have attempted, and an unlucky number have succeeded.

We’ve grown weak. We’ve forgotten what its like on the Savannah  We’ve forgotten that were going to die, and we ignore the fact that a little over 150,000 people die a day. Many of those deaths are accidents, some are suicides, some are murders and some, unfortunately are innocent children.

So I’m going back to the ‘greedy westerner’ example for insight: why do we think it’s right to throw away our lives when so many have had theirs taken from them? How is that just? How is that ethical?

It’s not; it’s downright selfish. Not only is it selfish, but its cowardly.

[Now, I think I should take a moment to explain that statement. I’m not a black and white thinker, but my spectrum of understanding on this matter leans more to one side than the other. I’m not a post-modernist, so I don’t think we should just sit back and let everyone do what they want no matter what. So I do have empathy, more than you could know, and more than I’m probably displaying right now. Because guess what, I’ve been there. I’ve been there, and I’ve been back. IT wasn’t until the prospect of death was made real, and was taken from me, that I began to realize how foolish and ignorant I was, wanting to die, to kill myself. Every day I fear that it will be my last. I live in agonizing, horrendous pain. My life is severely limited. Yet I still push on. I’ve learnt so much. And If I’m given another 10-20 years, I’ll be the happiest person on this planet.]

In the end, what I’m really what I’m advocating for is time; if you have time, Just weather the storm. Just wait it out. Things will get better.

There’s a trick I’ve learned that really helps in those moments when you just feel like you can’t take anymore: look back at the situation, step away from it, with another lens. ‘How much stronger am I for holding on and fighting, and pushing forward? How much more will I inspire others who are going through similar things?’ By fighting through, and doing so with a brave face, were making their life easier. We’re providing for them what many so desperately wanted (a quick fix when we’re at our lowest and feel like we can’t keep pushing on).

My conclusion is simple: life is ALWAYS worth living. Because so long as you are still living, you’re luckier than the 55 million who die every year. We have a duty first and foremost to ourselves. Things pass, and everything changes. You’ll learn to appreciate your illness, you’re pain – it’s the best instructor I could ever ask for; I’ve learned more about myself, and life, and living in the past six months than most do in a lifetime. That’s real power. You can find the power you feel you’ve lost by just embracing the pain, talking and sharing your problems, and having a little patience.

I’m not confused about the suffering in this world. Yes it sucks; it’s hard and lonely. But suffering alive is so much better than the ‘peace’ of death.

Life is complicated. The answers to these questions are complicated. The fact that I’ve just scratched the surface indicates how truly complicated this is. But complicated is good. Complicated means there are a plethora of choices to choose from. Complicated means that there isn’t one, but a multitude of answers buried somewhere out there waiting to be unearthed.

And at the end of the day, if you can’t live your life for yourself; you can’t find some reason to keep living for yourself: live for others. Modify Pascal’s wager here. It will be worth it, I promise.