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.

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The Truths: people don’t actually matter that much.

The importance of a proper education:

I grew up with this burning feeling of entitlement that followed me everywhere, like a friend you don’t really want most of the time, but who is always there no matter what. It was an unhealthy relationship; Entitlement made me king, and I did whatever he asked. As a child I was constantly fishing for compliments, and was quick to anger if I wasn’t in the spotlight during every conversation. I couldn’t take critique, nor could I stand rejection. I was endlessly ignorant and hopelessly insecure. This pattern of behavior resulted in my friends and family pushing me away, and ensured that I certainly would not be the center of anyone’s attention. This realization made me feel even more angry and entitled. It was a really crummy cycle that lasted almost twenty one years.

I never worked hard at anything. I have a natural gift for music, and fell in love with the guitar at an early age. I never really practiced on my own (although I loved to tell people I practiced ‘two hours a day’), but I was naturally good enough that most people never caught on. I even managed to secure a position teaching part-time at this musical academy when I was sixteen years old. I played in a few bands and wrote half a dozen songs or so. I never played for the sake of playing. I played solely for the title and the recognition.

I often project myself onto others. As a child, I always gauged how others felt based upon how I would react in that very same situation. My family seems to have quite a knack for that – a huge part in why we all hate each other (as ironic as that is). I think at the heart of that projection is a selfish mass of cells, quickly infecting everything and everyone it meets.

I was always the ‘class clown’; a born vaudevillian. I would do anything for a laugh; anything. As a result of my efforts, I lost a lot of friends, and quickly gained a pretty shitty reputation. By high-school none of my friend’s parents wanted their kids to hang out with me. All of my teachers in high-school hated me, and I spent more time trying to convince other’s of my worth, than I did working to prove it. When someone had a bad opinion of me, I hated them for it; I knew exactly why they were wrong, and just how stupid they were for it.

I hate when people say ‘we live in a time where’… I haven’t done a meta analysis of the macro-level ebb and flow of society, so I am in no way authorized to make any such claims. All I can say is that right now I live in a time where I can interact with hundreds of people on the other side of the earth in the time it takes to pour a cup of juice. If I want, I can sit back and watch hours upon hours of video footage uploaded to an online community by members of almost every race, religion, society and country. I don’t know what anyone else is thinking, or what motivates them internally to choose the paths they chose, or what external factors have forced them down the road less traveled. I don’t even really know my own life, or who I am.

The way we feel things is not a good way to define what those things are.

I do not accept the premise that we are born with an essence, and that life is just this bland journey to figure out precisely who we are. That’s like a really bad Disney movie (probably involving a golden retriever with a predilection for playing ‘sport’). I think that I am constantly changing, and constantly refining myself. A great deal of who I am is both largely unknown to me, and lost in the memories I will never remember. If I had the answers to all those questions (like who I ‘really’ am, and ‘how I became that way’), I don’t think my life would be any easier.

There are only a few things that I know for certain are true. I know that I’m not important – at all. I know that when I die, I will most likely be forgotten. I know that I am infinitely stupid, and I know that I am constrained by my own biology just as much as I am by my culture and my society. I think there is nothing profound which separates myself from the animals, although I understand that people are ‘programmed’ to think in terms almost exclusively of themselves. I think that our need to see ourselves taken after, and wanted, and loved, comes from a place of ego and delusion. I don’t deserve love, or money, or shelter, or any of the things I get. I don’t deserve to be beaten down like an animal, either… but I do not deserve this excess that I have. Even though I have hardships in my life few will ever experience, I know how fortunate and how lucky I am.

I live next-door to a family of self-centered, ignorant character, deluded by the prospect that if their completely bull-shit, arbitrary requirements for ‘living’ were met, they’d strike gold again, and again, and again. What I’m  doing is not the sine qua non of meaning. The moment in which we shed this illusion is the precise moment that our lives actually begin.

Imagine a world without (for the most part) an entitled generation of lazy narcissists who think every step they take is this great terrestrial moon-landing. Imagine making a great cup of coffee only meant that you were left with a great cup of coffee to drink. Imagine a world where reporting what shop a celebrity left was considered creepy, rather than entertainment. Imagine all the shit we could get done if it didn’t take twenty years to realize how insignificant we are? Imagine a world where we have finally accepted that every feeling actually doesn’t need to be shared, and every impulse entertained. We are betrayed by our motivations and emotions all the time.

In conclusion, through much pain and suffering I have learned to question what it means to be happy and content. I have learned that the often black and white ideals I hold as standards for behavior are as much the product of understanding as the big-bang theory is  the result of comedic genius. (Which is a very pretentious way of saying ‘I haven’t got a fucking clue’.) I don’t know every answer, and I only really know a tiny fraction of the questions. But I know that I’m not all that important, and that no one will remember me for ‘who I really am’. That small fact was powerful enough to change my entire view of my life, and of life itself. If you live life with that thought constantly consuming your mind, you will treat people more nicely, have much more realistic expectations, and be much more open to change and hard work. Once you accept that no one is inherently important, you will begin to understand the true meaning of equality.

p.s.: if the world exploded tomorrow and every person was destroyed – along with all the evidence of people altogether – do you really think the people who believe they are so important and powerful will somehow emerge unscathed? As if existence alone etches their very essence into the fabric of our universe? No, the answer is no. They die and are forgotten, just like everyone else. You’re not born more important than anyone else, so grow the fuck up and do something with your life.   

Religious pomposity and scientific falsifiability: a brief overview

As an introduction to a series of blogs I am currently writing, I hope to achieve two things here: (1) spell out the problem as I see it, and highlight concepts which will be the topic of a future blog in this blog series – in which the subject will be explained in far greater detail. Most importantly, though, (2) to show how all of these concepts come together in the greater problem which we have all encountered in each of our lives, today. That is, the problem of science vs nonscience, or pseudoscience. The problems associated with religions, and the problems, generally, people seem programmed to have. So all I ask of you is to you bear with me; although I may appear to be fumbling around with some messy, disparately connected stuff, it will only get better! 

Religious pomposity is an arrogance like no other. The long arc of religious influence still controls some of the most important decisions facing our world today – or at least demonstrates tremendous influence. Religion has been around since time immemorial, and as a result, it is ingrained into our lives, and our very way of thinking. You can receive degrees in religion, careers in religious studies or pastorship. Mere affiliation with a particular religion in many areas of the world determines whether you live or you die. Although the religious (specifically Christians) try very hard to demonstrate ways in which religion and science converge towards a shared goal, or are at least not at intellectual war, religion is best contrasted with science. Science in its most basic form is a way of gaining knowledge and information about causality. Religion in its most basic form is an answer to many of the biggest causal questions we humans seek to answer.

As humans, we have an innate predilection to anthropomorphize, and to hierarchically abstract things. As a result of that reflex, science is spoken of as if it were a living, breathing organism; an entity (what will science teach us; science does not have all the answers). Well, it isn’t. It is a method. A method employed by inquisitive and intelligent people who require a way of understanding the world that they live in, and life itself. A thousand years ago this was called ‘philosophy’. In ancient Greece, philosophers saw unlimited intellectual jurisdiction. The impulse which established philosophy, through philosophy,  established religion. At the time, positing a god, or gods, made logical sense. Philosophers sought the truth, and proposed some theories which then caught on. But the tools they used to do this had not yet been refined by time.

Religion is an addictive substance, powerfully coercive and endlessly harmful. For the sake of brevity, let’s just say it stuck. Philosophy, however, continued to expand and grow. Eventually birthing science, and a much more sophisticated tool-set – which itself has continued to grow (and as long as there are rational, intelligent minds at work, will continue to do so). The most important quality of any rational inquiry is conviction and falsifiability; if a new theory grows out of, and overtakes an older one, follow the new theory. Don’t reject it simply because you’ve grown very attached to the older one.

And that’s precisely where we find the conflict between religion and science. Philosophy as a vector for truth, had a major part in the creation of religion. Religion posits an explanation; a qualitative explanation for the major existential and metaphysical questions facing us today. Science has proven many religious claims completely and undeniably false (claims such as the world is only six thousand years old, or that dinosaurs never existed, or that God created two men and women six thousand years ago, or that a man seeking refuge from a world-wide flood  built an ark in the Mediterranean loaded with every animal on earth which wiped out the entire human race, which he repopulated). The truths religions did hold onto were roughly carved, using ancient hardware; science is strip mining. Religion once occupied a continent, now it finds itself adrift, clinging to a life-raft built of denial and tautology.

Remember, science is a discipline defined by the urge to discover and uncover truth. When you discover a theory of everything (TOE), a theory which explains every problem and answers every question, you don’t really need to keep looking (at least for the average person). Religions propose a TOE, and so feel like they have somehow weaned themselves off the vein of truth. As a result, any new fact or novel information which disproves some religious principle is not taken seriously.

There are many subsystems within the genus ‘science’; mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, physiology, psychology etc… So too are there many specialized practical professions which derive meaning from information gained through science; business, economics, education, politics etc… If we want to run with this ‘living entity’ metaphor, than truth is the air science breathes, objectivity the lungs, and experimentation and falsifiability are science’s leukocytes; its immune system.

Much like an athletes talent grows with practice, the scientific method is constantly evolving. We do not define truth as this abstract entity; truth ad infinitum. For scientists, true means that which, as of yet, cannot be proven false. Truth is relentlessly and rigorously put to the test.

Science only exists because we have not yet found every missing piece to every puzzle. If there’s one truth which has stood the test of time, though, it’s this: do not fit facts to suit theories, fit theories to suit facts. Changing facts and picking and choosing truths to suit the respective theory is by definition an unscientific process. On the academic and professional landscape, this is precisely where religion stands alone. Science makes the claim that truth is not totally relative, it is quantitative; that there is some answer out there. And the only way to study that is through a process of falsifiability, experimentation and observation. In science, personal preference and ignorance do not count as valid vectors of intellectual inquiry.

overview_scientific_method2

In the scientific community, an uneducated teenager cannot lecture a biologists on signal transduction with authority. In science, personal preference loses total power in the face of cold-hard fact. That’s because science has something called ‘the scientific method’; a system in which subjectivity loses out to factual objectivity, always. Religion has no such system to speak of. Sure there are catechisms and doctrine; theologians working tirelessly through the hand of god. But the amount of free, unclaimed territory on the religions plane is a vast, ever-expanding veld of personal preference and blissful ignorance. If a scientist wants a theory to be taken seriously, he has to prove its falsifiability.

Merely showing that you can logically falsify your theory is not enough to make waves in the scientific community. Sometimes in order to prove your theory, you must overturn hundreds of years of landmark work done by some of the most brilliant minds in history. You have to completely give yourself to your studies. You become as much a part of your theory as your theory becomes a part of your discipline. And this is ultimately the big problem I have with religion. Every Christian (I’m going to pick on Christians in particular because I was raised and educated in the christian school system) has a set of beliefs which they each hold to be ultimately true – humility is not a strong suit. And each and every christian has a rightful claim to do just that. The other day I was talking with a friend. We came upon the topic of illness. He suffers from bi-polar disorder (type 1), and I have a genetic disease. We were talking about  friendship, and my place in our group of friends. For a while now I have noticed that we have all drifted; or at least that I have drifted from them. They don’t really make an effort to spend time with me, or talk with me. And I’ve noticed how cold and distant they have become; like they don’t really like me that much anymore. I told my friend I think a lot of it has to do with being ill. He says that everyone thinks I’m just too negative, and they just cannot understand why I don’t come out with them as much anymore. I told him about my disease, and he reassured me that I have no reason to be insecure,  that I should have just tell them all. My friends are members of the dutch reformed christian community. A particular virulent strain of Christianity which prides itself in its bigotry, racism, misogyny  homophobia and emphasis on the importance of manual labor. I have two gay brothers, my father is disabled – as am I, to a degree – and I am unable to work at all for the time being. I posed this question to him: I said, imagine if your bi-polar disorder weren’t so well managed, and you were having attacks of mania and depression on a very regular basis. So much so that It affected your ability to work. to have a family and to maintain regular relationships like you used to. Now, do you think that everyone would jump to spend time with you? Or do you think they would slip away and slowly drift? Now imagine watching that happen and then trying to talk to everyone about how sorry your life is, and about how hard your troubles are? It may be important to share these things with your friends, but it may be nearly impossible to do so if your friends drift away before you get the chance’. Now here’s his reply: he told me that the only reason his illness was managed so well was because of God. That he prayed to god and asked forgiveness for his sins and in return god rewarded him with a manageable illness…

I replied with some trite banal stuff about ‘if god were true, don’t you think it would make more sense if some people suffered on earth to gain insight and wisdom for the afterlife’. He responded with some of the most childish, religious bull-shit I have ever heard. Only, to him, that stuff about Jesus dying, that veggie tales level epistemology was the holy grail. I offered my opinion, and he told me flat out ‘No, that’s ur beliefs. I hope one day you can come to believe mine’…

Frustrated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I forgot about this aspect of Christianity. I have been sheltered from this crazy shit for a little over a year. And honestly, if you read back in my blogs, I began questioning the purpose and ethics of militant atheism. I thought ‘why not just let Christians believe what they want; they aren’t hurting anyone’… definitely see the flaw in that thinking now.

My point is this: there seem to be no rules Christians have to follow when it comes to making factual claims. Everything’s up for grabs because they know if they’re questioned, they have the ultimate inductive proposition to back them up: ‘God’s mysterious and he spoke to me’… or something along the lines of that (I was inspired by the holy spirit; we can’t know God’s plan now, but we will one day’).

In the coming blogs I’d like to show precisely what’s wrong with this approach to truth, and this line of thinking. I will explain some of the key concepts in the philosophy of science and how that applies to the thinking, specifically, of my religious friend, and of religion generally. Hopefully by the end of it I will have armed myself, and those of you who choose to read, with both and understanding and a defense against the crazy lunacy that is a radical Christian apologetic and religion in general.

Disability Claims: the mental toll of proving your own failures.

For the past two years I have been unable to hold down full-time – or even part-time – employment due to a progressing, chronic medical condition.

I am disabled. 

Last year I officially switched my major to ‘pre-med’. I was determined that despite my progressing disability, I could still find a productive way to give back to society; nail down a vocation that would both utilize my goals and by stimulating my intellect, help me to constantly form new ones. I was looking for a short-cut around my own physical limitations. I was looking for a way to avoid a particular type of conversation.

Half an hour into the first Chemistry lab of the year I knew something had to change. That night after I returned home from a grueling 15 hour day at school I found myself in an all too familiar situation.

Everything has to change. 

My performance that semester ebbed with every single twist and turn; my body was totally unreliable and equally unpredictable. Biology labs were particularly hard on my neck, which had over the summer become increasingly painful and unstable. Even though I was suffering extreme chronic pain, fatigue, depression and frustration, I ended the semester with a B and two A’s – I had to drop two courses and missed about twenty hours of Lab time.

However, the real tribulation wasn’t the physical pain I felt, and the personal frustration that comes with failing to meet the standards you set for yourself (standards which you use to define your self worth). The problems started piling up when unanswered questions were given answers; my hand was forced.

In a vain attempt to sever the emotional ties, the decathat, I began to shrink away form social interaction, adumbrate of what would become a long period of loneliness, fear, and derision.

It was bad enough that my friends and family didn’t believe me, and bad enough that society and my school didn’t believe me, but it was being tasked with revisiting my own failures and limitations that made life seem briefly unbearable; I was forced to show people examples of my own short-comings and failures. I had to show them why I was unable to perform at one hundred percent. That process is at the same time the most familiar, and the greatest threat to a disabled persons sense of well-being.

I remember one night in the summer, after getting in a fight with my mom I rode my bike down to a park a few blocks from my house; I needed some fresh air. Along the way I made a de-tour, stopping at a grocery store; I hadn’t any idea what I wanted to buy, I just knew that I had to get something. It was as if I was subconsciously stocking up supplies in preparation for a big storm.

I ended up back at the park a little while later. While I was sitting there, an open knife in my hand, completely determined to end my own life, a man slowly walked by me. This particular park isn’t much of a park, but more like a small open field; there is a play structure and tennis court, but they are tucked away at one end, leaving a vast open veld which makes up most of the ‘park’ itself. I watched as this guy somberly trudged through the grass. I imagined what he was thinking, burdened by his stupor and loll. I pictured where he was going, who he was and where he was from. I wondered if he was a potvaliant character, ready to strike at any moments notice. He looked a little haggard and worn-out; he was dressed a little alternatively, bearing the unmistakable signs of someone who really enjoys ‘metal’ music. I imagined he was poor and unsuccessful. I thought his family probably deserted him because he never amounted to much, and so after a night of binge drinking and regret, he was making his way back to his mold-infested, one-bedroom basement apartment. That the greatest thing he had accomplished in his long, drawn-out life, was probably something most people would be eager to hide; or at least they wouldn’t lead a job interview saying ‘well, I own the entire ‘Between the Buried and Me’ discography, and I’ve been to every Atreyu concert.

Anyways,  to make a long story short, my mom pulled up in our van. I cried and told her about the guy I saw and how afraid I was of becoming someone like him; an unsuccessful loaf who can’t hold a job and lives in poverty.

At that moment in my life I was so enamored by this ‘ideal of success’. An incongruous standard of life, impossibly hard to define. I didn’t know much, but I did know that I didn’t want to be like that man I saw walking through the park. I knew that at all costs, I had to be successful.

As a disabled young adult, I can tell you that the picture the media paints about fairness and equality is an illusion. T.V. shows like Glee and Degrassi portray a utopian world where even though there are obstacles in life, in the end everyone gets what they want. The leading roles are played by stunningly beautiful actors and actresses. These are shows were even the ugly and downtrodden house some ineffable quality of character, or else some hidden yet profound talent or skill.

Our world is nothing if not complicated.

I think most people want to believe that life is governed by some principle of fairness; in the end good triumphs over evil, and the shy guy gets the girl. The only way our world can be fair is if we make it fair; no one is going to do it for us.

We are forgotten. 

This fall I finally made the choice to apply for Disability. Although I knew I would probably only receive  eight hundred and fifty dollars a month, I would have all of my prescription medications paid for (except for a minimal two dollar co-pay, a co-pay most pharmacies wave). This was a big incentive for me since over the summer I had to add three new (and very expensive) medications to my pharmaceutical arsenal. I treated it as ‘supplementary income’; I distanced myself from it.

Again I was faced with the embarrassing and demeaning task of proving that I am an incapable, inferior human; remembering all the while that at the end of the tunnel isn’t actually a bright, white light, but a tribunal that 50% of the time denies new applicants first applications… and their subsequent initial appeal. Not only do I have to prove I am disabled in more ways than one, the more ways which I can prove, the more likely the provincial government will be to approve my claim. In a sense, I am asked to reduce myself to my absolute worst qualities; the worst case scenario becomes the only scenario… depressing?

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really think too much about it at first. I had the end-goal in sight: an income and health coverage – approval. The small stuff that happened to occur in the interim didn’t concern me too greatly. I tend to be phlegmatic.

It seemed that only during the immediate affronts to my worth as a human being was I extremely uncomfortable in my own skin. I tend to quickly forget things that are bothersome or cause great emotional distress; who has the time and the faculties to absorb and evaluate every attack on one’s sense of self-worth?

Only now, after having ‘completed’ my first semester back at school (where I only registered for one course) am I thinking back on the way I was treated with a more analytical eye.

Over the course of the last year I have suffered bouts of extreme elation, and extreme depression. I have fought and lost, and fought and won battles against my own body; my own disease – the former of which being the greater of the two. I have had to mentally digest the reality that I can no longer take my dog for a walk that lasts longer than five minutes, or stand on my feet for longer than ten.

I have had to re-learn how to live. 

Having to define myself by all the negative aspects of being disabled completely unravels all the hard work that has gone into proving to myself that I am not a useless failure; that the meaning and value to life is not found in what a person can do, but who a person is… by what being ‘human’ means, collectively. The only thing worse than having to prove to others that you are disabled, is having to do so for a group of people who don’t know you from Adam. The inculculation eventually wins over.

Picture asking a paralyzed man to fill out this questionaire:

Check Yes or No  for any of the following: 

  1. Can you climb a mountain?
  2. Can you run a marathon?
  3. Can you climb a flight of stairs?
  4. Can you do fifty jumping jacks?
  5. Can you do thirty squats?
  6. Can you win a potato sack race?

Funny yet sadistic.

Our society requires that its disabled continually prove that they are disabled. Our society forces its disabled to literally define themselves in terms of their disability; a definition, mind you, based  completely on stereotypes and stigma, and butressed by  A definition which is in no way exemplary of the many types of disability. But if any able bodied person hears a disabled person leading a conversation by stating what they cant do, they accuse them of ruminating and giving up.

Our western culture has a profound stigma and distrust towards the disabled. This impulse extends to all minority groups: homeless, racial minorities, economic minorities. Some believe it stems from our imperialist and colonialist western culture. Others say that fear drives our judgemental attitude towards the disabled, or the homeless, or the poor; we are so afraid of becoming likewise that we need to distance ourselves. Even if doing so requires profound moral deprivation.

We need to be far-sighted. 

Nietzsche said that our society will crumble around us unless we abandon our traditional approach to morality; a fear based morality will only serve to hold us back. To the able bodied, the rich and the white Protestants, such notions are not only provocative but downright socialist. I’m by no means a communist, a political theorist, an anarchist or a conspiracy theorist. I am a disabled young adult capable of maintaining a cohesive string of thoughts, imbued with a deep sense of responsibility to pursue a solution to the biggest problem facing my sense of self-worth.

That problem is long and complicated and adumbrative; the solution must therefore be even more so. I’m not interested in the social and political implications, or the economic and religious ones either. I don’t care about the reasons or causes of others behavior towards me; no matter how valid. The only thing I care about can be found right here, right now; I’ll let the more qualified, sedulous, and more skilled put all the pieces together.

In essence, I’m a reporter; coming live to you from the front-lines. And although I’ve lost the ‘joie de vivre’, and the aplomb that were once staples of my personal character, what I have to say is no less important: when we demand from our disabled constant reification, we undermine the very core of their sense of self-worth. What we are telling them is that we don’t believe them, that they are a drain, and most importantly, that we are better than them. By using a black-and-white white which pits disabled and abled against one another, our government constantly reinforces an entirely incomplete definition of disability;  presented as the ana of all things ‘medically decrepid’.  It reinforces the idea which lingers in the back of every disabled persons mind; that voice in the back of your head that tells you ‘you’re not good enough’. The irony is that the very system which is supposed to determine whether someone is ‘disabled’ reinforces the very problem that they are supposed to fix. The narrative they paint is at the same time one of extreme inequality and one of extreme immiscibility.

Now, although I admit that I don’t know the solution; I have a few ideas and, more importantly, a few hopes. But they don’t know that there’s a problem. And the most insiduous threat to knowledge is the illusion of knowledge.

Fundamentalism

a fundamental problem

Fundamentalism: Christians who know much less than they think they know.

Today I met with the pastor of the Baptist Church that I attended growing up. I hadn’t seen or heard from him or anyone in that church for the better part of six or seven years. I stopped going to Church in High-school and haven’t been to a Sunday sermon ever since. Our meeting was predicated on a question I posed to him about Baptism; that is, can you be baptized in private (not in-front of an entire congregation as a sort of spectacle).

I didn’t do much research on Baptists, or baptism. The little I do know I gleaned from stories in the bible and my experience growing up in Baptists churches. Apparently Baptists hold the belief that baptism is reserved only for professing believers. I say this because after he dropped me off at home, he told me ‘I don’t think you’re ready for baptism yet’. Although I agreed, in my head I knew I would only ever be ‘ready’ if I conformed to his standard of unequivocal belief in the ‘word of God’; without doubt, and without faith. That is something I cannot, and will not, do.

He picked me up at school and took me out to lunch. The conversation was nice, friendly and cordial at first. I noticed he had a sort of sympathy to him, and I appreciated that. I also noticed a sort of arrogance, or confidence, in him too, though; that was off-putting. Eventually the conversation steered towards more important questions. He asked me (very condescendingly) about Jesus, the point of the cross, what I believe are the most important Christian doctrines and what constitutes a Christian. Eventually we got on the topic of Homosexuality; as you do… My brother is gay. He knew that, but he pressed me for answers. As I began my reply, he immediately cut me off; he laughed and said ‘that’s not a very good argument, but keep going’. I was using the cultural argument (that only now have our cultures diverged from ‘Homosexuality is gross’ to a sort of enlightened egalitarianism (we have choice; you’re born gay (determinism).

I often forget why I was an atheist. Becoming more agnostic in my beliefs these past few months, I’ve become quite embarrassed about my previous behavior. I  really thought religious ideology was an abhorrent infection. I have now adopted a more liberal view; ‘just accept that people have different opinions and leave them to it’. So long as their opinions don’t limit the freedoms and liberties of others, I could care less if I don’t agree with them. The principle of charity governs how I communicate with others; I think that Pride is a mortal ‘sin’, and humility the chief virtue.

I go to a ‘Christian’ University. I switched from a pre-med major (due to illness) to a Clinical Psychology and Philosophy major (with a minor in biology). I get good grades and quite enjoy and value studying – truth is very important to me. I get more excited about a brand new book than a video game, or a new movie. The reason I’m telling you this is because the way I was spoken to took into question my general knowledge, and the corresponding passion I have for the acquisition of knowledge. I have studied the most complicated and the most simple philosophical arguments; those related to Christianity, and those not. I still have a lot to learn, but to be sure, I am not an ‘uneducated amateur’ – as his attitude suggested. Ultimately, the whole conversation between myself and this pastor was pointless. But I didn’t write this long, drawn-out essay to tell you about the ‘nature of boredom’. I want to talk about fundamentalism.

In once sentence, a fundamentalist is someone who thinks they have battled truth, and won… only they don’t know why they’ve won, and they didn’t actually do any fighting. Christian Fundamentalists believe in a strict, literal interpretation of the scriptures. Pastor Bill told me he thinks the earth is only six thousand years old… how am I supposed to put forth an argument for homosexuality to a christian who denies all fact and pigeonholes his reason for the sake of tradition and a book. There’s just no way. He reads Corinthians, where it says homosexuality is sexual immorality, and forms weak inductive arguments (but believes they’re deductive) which he applies with perceived precision to all.

The reason I chose to be an atheist, and not just remain an indifferent agnostic (indifferent in the sense that I wasn’t going to tread on the liberties of others because I believe a particular worldview dangerous), was because of Christian Fundamentalists like this man. There is no reasoning; no arguing with them. If you believe the entire bible is literally true, down to every word and every proposition, there’s no way any evidence to the contrary is going to change your mind. And that, my friends, that is dangerous. And the abolition of which is worth fighting for.

In a few of my posts I’ve talked about the need to let people explore truth for themselves. I’d like to think I still hold that view, but I’d like to add a little modifier to it. I think everyone should have the right to explore truth, but only if their exploration doesn’t impede the liberties and freedoms of another human being, in their quest for truth.

And to all the fundamentalists out there: you ruin it for the rest of us!

Below is a link to an article about liberty and conscience. Rather than attempting to sum them up myself, I have linked the relevant site below. If you choose, enjoy! 

[http://www.reformedonline.com/view/reformedonline/Christian%20Liberty.htm]

Aside

The Paradox of Suffering

God's mother "suffering".

God’s mother “suffering”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There exists an inherent paradox in our understanding of the nature of suffering, the effects of suffering, and the significance of suffering. I shall try to identify the paradoxes, in order, and offer insight into the nature of this phenomenon – that is, why there continues to be logical inconsistencies.

On the first part, of the nature of suffering itself, we can say very little, objectively – because suffering is so tailored in such intricate ways to the individual suffering; however, there are certain qualities we can attribute with suffering, generally. What I can do to remedy this problem is explain the nature of my suffering, offer specific examples of its effects, and state the significance and the paradoxes found there within.

On the whole, suffering is to be viewed as a negative thing. Negative because it subtracts certain qualities from the person suffering – as compared with either ‘other people’, or at the very least, ‘how they were before their afflictions’ (although, to be sure, so long as we are alive, we are suffering – to some degree or another). Much like the dynamic between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, we cannot view suffering as a state that exists independently of other states – that is, the state of ‘well-being’. You will not find a worldview that interprets it otherwise; Darwinist belief is grounded on the notion that life came into existence and evolved into the many complex forms it now takes because the ‘better’, or ‘healthier’, or ‘more genetically enhanced’, traits were selected for. Maybe they could make an argument for physical pain as a spandral, but even then it would be a weak argument, and one that still elevates suffering from the state of existing in-and-of-itself, to existing as a consequence of another state. So we can all agree that, much like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, suffering exists only because ‘well-being’ exists (well-being as the maximal potential of human health – we all have intuitions about this). So we see that suffering is in fact a ‘bad’ state of affairs – not a bad ‘ideal’.

In my case, I have lost the freedom of unbounded (relatively) choice. I want nothing more than to pursue my studies with my utmost attention, but a gulf exists between what my mind wants, and what my body can offer. And so I am limited in this respect. When it comes to work and my career, I don’t have a great many choices – in fact, I have had to change my vocational goals, and so too my focus at University because of my ever-changing illness. I cannot choose where I walk to, or how long I can stand up for, or sit at a computer. These things are chosen for me. And so we can see that suffering limits freedom.

So far I have briefly covered the physical limitations suffering imposes on myself, now I’d like to look at the mental effects of suffering. By way of limiting my choices, suffering impacts my sense of well-being – that is, my psychological interpretation of how things are going, generally. This can take many forms: depression, anhedonia, anger and even under certain conditions, forms of psychosis. I won’t get into the ‘how’ of all this, for I would surely to a sub-optimal job, but I think I can briefly concern myself with the why – with some confidence.

I think it’s safe to conclude that our sense of well being, the mental aspect, comes to us by way of an interpretation of our physical condition, and how that relates to certain norms and ideals we hold (again, because sadness is a ‘bad’ state, it certainly cannot exist independently of itself, but rather as a watered down form of another state– in this case, ‘happiness’). Most of us would agree that being homeless is not to be preferred to having a home. Or being poor to being wealthy – although again, we can discover that positive states (that is, states which add something – in this case to a ‘good’ state) can be negative as well (the ultra-wealthy man who only focuses his attention on earning money). By adding too much in one direction, you take away from it in the other. So we can also conclude that being ‘happy’ is to be preferred to being ‘sad’. This is in part due to our inborn intuitions about the nature of ‘good and bad’, but also due to our subjective experience of the thing itself. Being sad hurts. Not only does it hurt, but it’s dysfunctional. When you’re sad your body rebels against you – to adjust to this stress your vascular system sends out an abundance of plasma and leukocytes to healthy tissue because it perceives injury. When you’re sad, your body thinks your physically hurt. Suffering takes a mental toll on the person who suffers. To be sure, suffering makes me sad as well. When I would rather study (because studying is the activity I most enjoy) than have to stay in bed due to pain, or work-out but find that I cannot, I am saddened. I am not saddened arbitrarily. If it was a cultural norm to stay in bed all day and not work-out, I don’t think I would be any less sad, and instead feel like I somehow ‘fit-in’ (nor would my body rebel against me any less). This way of thinking (the evaluation of bad states of affairs as watered down good states of affairs) can apply to all the other mental states suffering induces, and so I won’t go into describing anger, or anhedonia, or boredom – surely I would simply repeat myself three more times.

So we can understand that suffering is a bad and negative thing, and that the effects of suffering are both bad and negative affairs. But what is the significance of suffering? Why is it so bad and so negative? Suffering is not the way things are supposed to be; it’s a dysfunctional state, grossly out of proportion with what was intended. It’s significant not because the ratio of dysfunctional implications is greater than non-dysfunctional and functional implications, but rather because it is negative always. There are no states of suffering that are good in an of themselves, or even ‘indifferent’ to (that is, ‘even’) suffering and functioning – they are always bad. An argument could be made that when suffering is made null and void, the weight of it is lost, the gravitas. For instance, when a depressed man takes an anti-depressant, or when I take pain-medication to control my pain. But even our weakest intuitions can smell somethings wrong with that objection, without even looking to closely at it. In the first case, anti-depressants have effects that go beyond curing the depression – and so have the potential to actually add to the suffering (as do opiods – no treatment is perfect). As well, depression is a mental state, and for the most part mental states arise secondarily to physical states. If a man came into the doctor all bruised around his stomach, and the doctor gave him some cream, we would call that doctor a fool – and would be reprimanded quite swiftly as this poor soul is surely to die of internal bleeding. So depression in that sense can be seen as a sort of symptom of a greater underlying pathology. When you treat it, you’re only masking the underlying problem. Dysfunction breeds dysfunction because a dysfunctional system will always create dysfunction in all the things they encounter. If the blades in my lawn mower are all dulled and bent out of shape, it doesn’t matter how many different lawns I cut, each time the lawn will come out looking quite shabby. The same is true of suffering.

So, there are things we can do to alleviate our suffering. But basically, our suffering remains, and will have an impact on everything that we do. There may be things we can do much more easily, and even things we can do completely unaffected by our suffering. There will be spots on the lawn that come out looking great – maybe the angle of a particular spot matches the angle of my bent blade. Even so, because of those few good spots, we wouldn’t go on to call the state of the lawnmower good, or functional. Suffering is still bad, even if we can overcome it.

There a few major paradoxes (will there be suffering in heaven? Suffering in some respect yeilds very positive results, is it still bad? Why do I want to continue suffering instead of not suffering?) , or inconsistencies in regards to suffering that I want to spell out, hash out, and discard. The first paradox is quite simple, but it depends on the second: can we suffer in heaven. The second: since suffering leads to learning, and learning is vital, and suffering is apparently bad, how can it be that it is good? Thirdly: those who would rather continue suffering than be offered a cure.

I’ll deal with the second, first (as the first and third depend on it). ‘Since suffering leads to learning, and since the lessons taught are exclusive to those who suffer, and since suffering is bad and learning is good, isn’t learning while suffering bad? Or is it good? Can it be both’?

This is the question that I struggle with the most – I find myself consumed by it in thought, often. I should rephrase that, though. I don’t mind the fact that I struggle with that question; actually, I quite enjoy those types of puzzling things. But since it’s hard and it’s difficult and confusing and that opens up many different hard and difficult corresponding things, isn’t it bad? Isn’t the ‘struggle’ aspect negative? A materialist won’t have a very difficult task ahead of him if we asked him this question. A christian, however, does. Firstly, Christianity, like any theistic belief, is centered around a god. Christians believe that the Christian God has three essential qualities: omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. The principle of Imago Dei can help shed light on this problem. God has unlimited power, knows everything, and is everywhere at once (operates outside space and time – in the conventional sense). [good question would be to find out if angels still learn]. Christianity dictates that human beings will live forever (physical death, not spiritual death). Not much is known about ‘the afterlife’. Some contend that after death we abruptly ascend into heaven to spend an eternity in bliss and happiness, never having to worry or struggle again. Others, like Bishop N.T. Wright, think that after death we go to a sort of place-holding stage. There, with Christ, we wait in peace until the ‘new earth’ is restored (I’m inclined towards this view). The big question concerning all of this is: what sort of existence will we have? This question promotes a slue of metaphysical and existential inquiries to the front of our mind. Questions like: will there be pain? Will there be learning? Will we still grow? Will there be sex? Will we have bodies? Will we need to eat? Will we itch? Will be become sore and crampy? Will we become angry or upset or lonely? Prudent to this essay is the question of ‘will there be learning’.

I’ve been through hell and back in the past two years (the past six months especially). When I was sick, but not too sick, I was in a place where I desperately wanted answers. I desperately wanted to be healthy, free, and ignorant and was plagued with the unanswerable question ‘why me’. One night I was talking with a friend who shares my disease. We were sharing anecdotes and comforting one another. She signed off that night by saying ‘yeah, this all sucks. But it’s made me who I am and I wouldn’t change anything about myself’. Immediately this overwhelming sense of distrust welled up inside of me ; my B.S. Radar was blinking wildly. I was sure she wasn’t being entirely truthful, and rather was simply reciting cliches and taking a socially approved standpoint in regards to her ‘honor and strength’. I thought ‘why in the world would anyone want to be in pain, severely limited, dysfunctional, and live in a wheelchair’? I just couldn’t make sense of it. For a long time I felt this way. I have come to learn precisely what she meant. She doesn’t mean that her disability is good in and of itself (we’ve already established such a thing is impossible – and thus this is a commonly perceived, but ultimately incorrect, paradox), but rather she has concentrated the goodness of her disability (and all the things that it brings), and that this process has made her a much better person than she was when she began this journey. An odd phenomenon arises in the disabled: there’s this feeling of gratitude for their illness. Some might call that a coping mechanism, or a defense mechanism (or any such pathology), but I’m not overly concerned with the how. For me, my disability has taught me how to deal with suffering – how to overcome it, how to find the goodness in it, how to turn it into a lesson and apply that lesson elsewhere. Whenever something bad comes my way, because I have dealt with so much trauma, and have overcome that trauma (mentally), this sense of excitement and happiness begins. I’m excited because I know that something great will come if only I keep my head down and push through, and I’m happy because I know this; I’m happy that these negative, stressful situations don’t incite overwhelming feelings of anxiousness, fear, and doubt. And so in my mind, if I went back and changed any of the one things that happened to me, or any of the one characteristics of my disease that make me unique, I believe I wouldn’t be where I am today (which is a really good place). I understand the value of life. I never say ‘why me’. Instead I say thank-you. I have the opportunity to experience this odd phenomenon, I’m still living and breathing – my mantra is ‘things could be worse, but there not’. This makes me very happy. This is where the paradox crops up. I’ve grown so attached to this method of learning, I’ve found it so very efficient and helpful, that the prospect of parting ways with my disease isn’t very inviting. I have also worked very, very hard to accomplish what I have. I’ve come to understand the true value of learning – this very much excites me. So the idea of just one day ‘knowing it all’ or at least ‘knowing exceptionally more’ in an instant, feels like cheating. I won’t deal with the second half, but the first half I can answer with some confidence. Heaven is a place where dysfunction does not exist. That means that there won’t be stressful obstacles and dysfunctional events that present themselves in my new life. My disability is sort of an instructional manual on how to deal with those events. Although it’s entirely possible that I can retain my struggles in the afterlife (although I think not), I really won’t need them. Learning here, on earth, is very hard; it’s full of dysfunction (another essay wouldn’t even cover this topic). Learning in the after-life, so I believe, won’t be. Although we won’t every obtain omniscience, many contend that we will still learn.

Thus, since disease and disability, once tackled mentally, provide information on how to deal with the negatives of life, and since heaven is free from the dysfunction of normal life, disease and disability won’t be necessary – although they will be commended. Pain, for example (a form of suffering), is just a state of health that is dysfunctional. If I find good parts in pain, it is because pain refers to health. Pain is not good in and of itself. And so those who suffer that claim to have found great truths, and those, like myself, who are excited by new pathologies for the challenge, to test what kind of stuff were made of, have found the goodness that these states of suffering refer to.

Suffering is a very complex topic; one full of emotion and contraversy. Although I don’t claim to understand all the aspects (in fact, I think I’m only ‘familiar’ with a few), I have been fortunate enough to have had a first hand experience with many different forms of suffering. Although suffering has shaped my life, and made me a better person. I wouldnt’ wish it on anyone. And although I consider myself quite an accomplished man (emotions, ‘goodness’, virtue, morality) in respects to how I was before, I know plenty of healthy people who are just as ‘good’ as me, and many more who are better. Suffering is not the only conduit towards becoming a better person, but it’s a testament to the strength and importance of people. I’ve made the best of a very bad situation, and although in my eyes I’ve come out ahead of my healthy coutnerparts, I know that I haven’t. That fact doesn’t scare me, or detract from the weight of what I’ve said here. Conversely, it reinforces it. If there’s one thing to take from all this it’s the cliché: never give up. I have lived in the lowest depths of depression, I’ve contemplated suicide more times than I can count, but I’ve come out of that – I’ve gone far beyond anywhere I would have imagined myself. I’ve learned how to deal with any struggle. I’m happy, because of and in-spite of my disease, and the suffering in life. These realizations and fine-tuned faculties aren’t innate facets that set me apart from the crowd. Anyone can accomplish these feats. It just takes time. And that’s why, in-spite of all the reasons I may want to say ‘why me’, I say ‘thank-you’.

Pain:

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.