Seeking joy and meaning in a joyless mind and meaningless existence

Friday, January 12, 2024

Longing for Belonging

Waiting all day by the telephone
Wondering if you're gonna call
I'll go out to my friend's party
Wondering if I belong
Well do I, boy?
Belong, belong, belong, belong
Do I belong, belong, belong, belong?
{The Hidden Cameras, "Do I Belong?"}

Loneliness, isolation and a profound sense of not belonging are dominant themes running through my life. I have difficulties with social interaction that can make interpersonal relationships particularly challenging, and my severe neurotic symptoms tend to make me want to disconnect from others to reduce the mental and emotional stimuli I have to navigate and process. Conversely, at the same time I long for company and connection. I think this is a systemic problem in our society, exacerbated by social media (which I don't touch), but of course, I can only speak to my experiences.

There are two other gay men in my department. One of them is a good work-only friend where we chat a lot on our in-office days, and we exchange a lot of NSFW text messages after hours. It's nice to have someone I can share tacky, adolescent humor and my lustful thoughts over hot guys I see during my day with, but he has never shown any interest in spending time outside of work. I know the other one well enough to exchange brief pleasantries, but we've only had a few extended conversations. Every week on our team day in the office, the two of them go out for a friends lunch of sassy gay talk together. As the third gay guy who's really friendly with one and friendly enough with the other, I feel hurt that I'm excluded from their lunches, even as I acknowledge how irrational and unfair that is. I wouldn't invite everyone in the office I have a friendly relationship with if I were to go to lunch with a co-worker, and it's egocentric to think they have any reason to consider me. And yet, I'm resentful all the same, mostly borne of my desire to connect and spend time with others.

A Yokel in Athens

The sounds of the May term, the scents of the Cambridge year in flower, floated in through the window and said to Maurice, “You are unworthy of us.” He knew that he was three parts dead, an alien, a yokel in Athens. He had no business here, nor with such a friend.
{E.M. Forster, Maurice}

My hurt feelings at being excluded from the weekly lunch excursions (no matter that it's a case of "benign indifference") reminds me of what happened to me at the Memphis Pride event last June. My company sponsored a booth, and I volunteered for one of the shifts there and to walk in the parade. I started talking to a guy who works in an entirely different part of the company. I was attracted to him, though quickly found out he had a serious partner, but we got on really well in a friendly way. Throughout the day, we continued to talk. I expected him to make polite chit chat and then drift away, which is the norm for me for such interactions, but he made a point to walk with me and continue spending time together. We eventually connected with his partner who was at Pride with a different company, and they continued to want to keep me around. I can't tell you the last time someone I didn't already know well made a point to include me and act as if they wanted me there.

We all got on very well, and I was so pleased with how the day was turning out. They were both very social people and seemed to go out and do things all the time. I started to hope that I could be part of their friend group. Maybe I could get invited out and actually start doing things, more than the once every two or three month I see the straight couple who are my only real friends in town. During the course of the day, they also met and befriended a young hetero couple. The two couples dizzyingly became fast friends. They almost immediately started making plans for a post-Pride event that evening and brunch the next day. In my rapidly devolving status as fifth wheel, I was conspicuously excluded from all of these future activities. As noted above, I understand that no one is obligated to spend time with me, but the way they planned things right in my face while leaving me out just gutted me. Was I not even worthy of common courtesy to not blatantly arrange activities that leaves out someone in the group right in front of them? My hopes for finally finding a friend group were abruptly dashed, and I left Pride feeling absolutely terrible about my self-worth and despairing at ever finding the kind of social interaction I crave.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Dispirited and Dyspeptic

    Since Wednesday of this week, I've been feeling a little discouraged along with spikes in my depression and anxiety. Gray winter mornings and coming back to work after an extended weekend probably contributed a lot to my mood, but in spite of the gains I've made, I look at the state of my body, disheartened by how far I still have to go to even get to "average." I made the mistake of weighing myself Wednesday morning and had gone back to a couple of pounds over 250. I'm trying to convince myself that all the walking I did the previous four days had added some muscle.

    Even if I do get my body somewhat in shape, I'm still worried over loose skin and the inevitable losing battle with aging, sagging and vanishing hair. I haven't been able to generate the same excitement over the carrot of my trip to Atlanta in April lately and have grave concerns about being ready – that is, being in the physical and financial state I want to be in – in time. I wish I had better coping strategies for keeping my dips into depression and anxiety from spiraling into despair and panic. I've abandoned most of my maladaptive copium – which is a good thing, but I don't really have healthy methods to fall back on. The past several days have seen me backslide in my binge eating habits (resulting in morning stomach aches), which only comes back full circle to self-esteem and body image issues. And no matter what, time continues grinding on. Suddenly it's a bright, new year. Then you're immediately back to inexorably ticking the days off. Still, it also shows that moving forward is the only option, so one should embrace it by centering on the present with as hopeful of an eye on the future as one can manage.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Goal Actually Achieved

    I've managed something I haven't managed in a long time: I actually achieved one of my goals. I wanted to get myself under 250 pounds before the new year started, and I was able to get that done. So far I've lost about 25 pounds and 13 inches on my waist. I've been amazingly consistent with my diet and exercise, sustaining them for far longer than I have in years. Yesterday was a holiday, and I've taken today off as a vacation day. During the long four day weekend, I've managed to walk a total of 35 miles in addition to keeping up with my strength training while even adding some new muscle groups. (I was trying for 50 miles, but I decided I shouldn't push my old ass too much.) I've been using my planned trip to Atlanta in April as a north star to keep myself motivated, and I've set a new goal of being under 220 pounds – a weight I haven't achieved since I became obese – by the time my trip comes around.

    Of course, the way I'm wired, all joys are tainted. I can never escape the entropic nature of existence. Age will eventually rob me of the physical gains I may make now. Even if I get into shape, I'll never be young and fit, a key component of the hopeful fantasies that sustained me throughout my life. (And at the same time, robbed me of my present, substituting delusion for reality.) It's too late for my fantasy of attracting a young and fit partner to come true since I have no desire to date someone who isn't age appropriate for me, so I have to reconcile the death of that dream that has been so central to my identity, self-conception and self-worth since I was an adolescent – not an easy ask. Still, as Albert Camus wrote, "The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart." So I set my sights on pursuing that Sisyphian happiness.

He told me, "I see you rise
"But it always falls
"I see you come, I see you go"
He said, "All things pass into the night"
And I say, "Oh no sir, I must say you're wrong
"I must disagree. Oh no sir, I must say you're wrong
Won't you listen to me?"
{Q Lazzarus, "Goodbye Horses"}

Family Issues

   Recent issues that came up over the weekend in my complicated family dynamic were also making it difficult for me to stay positive towards healthy change. I was sorely tempted to drink Saturday night, or at least fall off the vaping wagon. I ended up limiting myself to eating pizza and a box of cereal as the lesser of evils. I know everyone's family situation is complicated; all family dynamics are messed up in some way. But I'm not exactly emotionally resilient, and I often feel caught in the middle and helpless when family issues arise because you can't control other people's feelings or reactions. Things fortunately seem to have settled down now, and hopefully they'll remain so.

But business is business and business runs in the family
We tend to bruise easily, mad in the blood
I'm telling you 'cause I just want you to know me
Know me and my family, we're wonderful folks
But don't get too close to me
{Amanda Palmer, "Runs in the Family"}