Overcast

I’ve been a bit lost in my head lately. More than usual, anyway.

Some days it feels like the whole world is spinning along while I’m stuck in the same place. Did I mention my occasional anxiety attacks? I think I may have said something about that once.

This past week I’ve been struggling a bit about whether to write a post on anxiety or not. Part of me hesitates to do so because I don’t want to be a bummer for people who come across my blog. But another part thinks it’s silly, that I’m just being overdramatic about trivial things and trying to call it anxiety or depression. I’ve always hated it when someone’s response to depression of any sort is to say, “Just cheer up! It’s not so bad!”. And yet, that’s what I feel like saying to myself sometimes. That the dark cloud hovering over my head will vanish if I just wish really really hard.

But it doesn’t quite work out that way. So I lurch along from one day to the next, enjoying the small patches of sunshine that bring a smile to my face as I make my way through the storm.

 

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Thematic Matters

Another day, another assignment. Today, we’re tasked with making sure that our blogs are readable on all platforms. The blog should be mobile-friendly so that people can easily catch up on posts on the go. No problem. I can manage that.

I’m still stuck on trying to find a suitable theme, though. Every time I find a theme that seems just about right, there’s some problem with it that makes it unusable for me. Some themes don’t let me upload my full header image (cropping it really ruins the effect), while some don’t have a good combination of colors to give my blog the right personality. There’s always something. Maybe I’m just picky. A little armchair psychoanalysis can extend this to my life as well, where I am too demanding in the specificity of what I want. But let’s save that for another post. Or not, actually. I don’t want to delve that deeply into my strange mind.

The dummy blog has proven useful in dealing with that frustration, as I don’t have to worry about leaving some bizarre or badly arranged theme for my readers to stumble onto while I try to pick a better one. Hopefully, by the weekend, I’ll have found something I can be happy with.

Introversion

I can be kind of an asshole.

There are no doubt people who would disagree with that assessment and rush to point out my nice qualities. Very kind of them, but I know the score. Sometimes, I’m kind of an asshole. I don’t really mean to be and, once the wave of assholishness passes, I’m mortified by my attitude and behavior. But I’ve got to face facts.

I spend an inordinate amount of time in my own head, lost in my thoughts, planning the rest of the day, dreaming up writing/drawing ideas and grappling with my various anxieties. As such, I tend to set the world aside, the way one might have a movie playing in the background while doing household chores.

This often reduces people to pieces on a board, moving around so that I can make my way across unobstructed. And if one of these pieces should end up in my path, I can rarely see past my own inconvenience. It tends to be about how I’m being delayed in getting somewhere, or how my plans are being held up or derailed. Needless to say, I’m not happy about that, and make my displeasure known. Now, I’m not one to scream and shout or throw tantrums. Instead, I tend to give people the silent treatment. In part, it’s because I know that should I open my mouth, something unpleasant will fly out of it. I’ve got awareness enough, I suppose, to avoid slinging unnecessary barbs.

On reflection, it’s easy to see how I would have handled things differently, more tactfully. There’s a famous saying about hindsight that eludes me now. I always resolve to be better, to show more understanding, more compassion. Yet as soon as something goes wrong and someone ends up inconveniencing me, a black cloud forms around my head again, and I shun the offender until the cloud dissipates.

I’m getting a little better at that. Once upon a time, I might have ignored someone for a day or two for some minor offense; now it’s down to a few hours. There’s also a bit more consideration on my end for the other person’s situation, and how that might have contributed to the problem. I’m trying to step out of my world a bit more, but old habits are hard to break. It’s a process.

Side note: This post is just about 400 words, without having to trim anything. Brevity achieved!

Rat Race

A change of scenery can really change a man.

I remember growing up in Dubai, amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, in step with the crowds that rushed to and fro. It all felt so normal, so expected. That’s what life in a burgeoning metropolis was like. For my young mind, that’s what life was like, in general.

When I moved to the U.S. after high school, my whole worldview was turned around. There was a lot I was already used to. Years of TV and movies had given me a solid enough cultural background that the country didn’t feel foreign to me. I knew a few other international students who were experiencing some degree of culture shock, but I felt quite at home. The one thing that left me reeling was the pace of life. I was at the main campus of Penn State, in a small college town surrounded by trees and greenery, the tallest buildings probably about 10 stories high. This was no concrete jungle; the trees were real.

It’s become such a cliche to describe some place as a ‘sleepy little town’, yet that’s exactly what State College felt like, compared to Dubai. There were college kids rushing to class of course, and yet it never felt quite so fast-paced. It was all so relaxing. I could walk out of class, take a longer route back to my dorm and really explore the campus. It helped that there were actually places to explore, sights to see. Not just row after row of concrete and glass slabs.

The weather was a refreshing change too. A walk through the campus on July was a completely different experience to the same thing in mid-December. Unlike Dubai, where the landscape remained unchanged throughout the year and the weather varied from sear-your-eyeballs hot to not-sweating-all-the-time hot.

But the most fascinating part to me was that people were actually living. I mean, just existing and basking in the world around them. There wasn’t a rush for the next meeting, a hurry to go places (other than class, but even then, not always) or a constant push to be ahead of the line. I could sit for hours with friends and acquaintances, talking about everything and nothing, just content to pass the time with good company.

The return to Dubai was when culture shock really hit me. The city’s pace had only picked up over the years, and now nobody had time to stop and breathe. Everyone was running everywhere, and I fell into step with them. Commuters fought for space on crowded buses and trains, seeking the Holy Grail of an empty seat. I joined the hunt all too eagerly; the serenity of State College was long forgotten. Now I had to fight for survival just like everyone else in this town, pushing and shoving until I got where I needed to go.

People here don’t make much small talk. They’re concerned with their jobs, where the company is going, whether sales targets will be met, how the economy will impact them. All important and valid concerns, I’m sure, but how about just taking a train ride? Enjoying the sights passing by (even if those sights are primarily skyscrapers)? Talking about yourself or your companion? Is it just all business?

As a result, my conversations here grow few, often just limited to work and work-related matters. I can’t just sit down and talk about life, as I once did. Nobody around me seems to have any hobbies; they work, eat and sleep. It’s a way of life that’s alien to me. Work pays the bills, and I definitely want to do well at my job, but I’m not looking to be the next big CEO or have a literal pool of money like Scrooge McDuck. My hobbies and interests are who I am. Without them, I’d just be a human shell, programmed to display certain emotions on certain occasions.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve taken some time to re-evaluate my life and my priorities. I’m not the type of person who has animated discussions about the real estate market or the rise and fall of currencies. I don’t want to spend my free time talking about work. And I really don’t want to be the guy who cuts other people off to grab that rare empty seat on the train, as if parking my ass on a chair trumps everything else in life.

I’ve learned to slow down again, or at least as much as I can in a place like this. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes, when the world is racing past, it’s tempting to race along with it, to be the fastest rat in the pack. So every once in a while, I have to step aside and remind myself that the only thing I’ll gain from all that running is a shortness of breath. May as well relax and take the scenic route. I’m in no rush.

Changes

Life is a journey that takes some strange turns now and then. I was taking a karate class in my senior year, in a desperate bid to halt the expansion of my waistline and get some college credit out of it. Even though karate was something I’d grown to resent through my childhood, I gave it a begrudging shot.

It was a little intimidating walking into the cavernous gymnasium; I felt like a complete dork, probably because I was one. There were also preconceived notions that martial arts movies had instilled in me. Grueling training with lots of flying kicks, punching of boards, and a hardass instructor with gravelly voice and a permanent scowl. I was quite surprised to instead find a beautiful young woman in a karate uniform and an attendance sheet, greeting each new student with a smile. Maybe I could get on board with this whole martial arts thing.

As expected, I flailed around awkwardly during my first lesson, but it was such a rush! Learning the finer points of each technique and movement appealed to the engineer in me, and gave me a goal to aim for. By the end, I was exhausted, having used muscles that had been lazing around for a long time, but I was eager for the next class.

With the progression of the semester, my interest in karate grew exponentially. At least part of it was thanks to the instructor, who I had a schoolboy crush on. Turns out she was engaged, though, so that wasn’t happening. However, I did strike up a friendship with her (and her future husband, who was also part of the karate club), one that’s been going strong for 10 years now, even though we’re halfway across the world from each other.

Over the course of my training, I learned how misunderstood the martial arts are. We didn’t do any crazy spin kicks, there were no boards to break, and I didn’t have to avenge anyone’s death by fighting ninjas in a ring of fire. Instead, I learned all about making precise, controlled movements to efficiently and effectively use my body as a weapon and a shield. I learned that karate should be a last resort, something to be used when combat was unavoidable; don’t use your fists when words will do. I also became fitter, stronger and more agile by following a regular training schedule. Karate truly is an art, one that challenges both the body and the mind. And it’s one that I found myself completely absorbed in.

After a long series of ups and downs in my personal life, and in my karate life (broken and mended friendships, forged and broken relationships), I finally reached the point where I was ready to take the next step n my training. In November of 2008, almost 4 years after I’d started training karate, I finally attained the rank of black belt. It was a major milestone for me and is, to this day, my proudest achievement. I poured my heart and soul into training for that test, and I’m glad I was able to make my teacher, and myself, proud.

It as the start of what should have been a long journey but, alas, a mere two years after that, I was ripped away from the world that I knew and found myself in a familiar land that now seemed so strange. Having moved back to Dubai from the US, I had to start over in many ways, including with karate. I needed to find a good local club that would help me in continuing to hone my skills.

Moving On

I had to go to my old office a couple of days go to take care of a few final formalities; they’d been kind enough to give me the option of working with them again if, within a month, I changed my mind about the new job.

My old office is a little bit closer to home, so I actually got to sleep in an extra hour and only had a short train ride to get there. But, as I got off the train, I felt ill at ease. This was the exact same routine I’d been following for a year, but doing it again after a month felt kinda depressing. The familiar little office looked the same, but there was something different about it. Its wood paneled floor and glass-walled cabins like an alien landscape and me the explorer who’d landed here by mistake.

I spoke with our HR person and we discussed the few logistical matters that needed to be taken care of to completely end my association with the company. There was, again, a sense of unease and apprehension creeping over me. The same doubt I had before about leaving a boring but safe job for something new resurfaced in my mind. This was it. Once we were done here, I’d be walking out of that door forever, completely absorbed into a new life.

Looking around the office reminded me of lazy afternoons spent with no real work to do, and insane deadlines that more than compensated for those afternoons by pushing everyone to their limits. It wasn’t an atmosphere that suited me well, but it was the only atmosphere I’d known for the past year.

I left the office feeling bummed and depressed and lost in my own head. Time to go to work.

It was about a 40 minute ride to the new office, and over the course of that time, my day got brighter. I was looking forward to getting there in spite of the longer journey, something I never really felt at my old job. It was a place I went because I had to, but now I was actually excited. It made me realize that’s how I’ve felt this whole month. I’ve been excited about work, about new assignments coming my way, about getting my work published on the site.

I got off the train with a spring in my step. It was the start of a new week and a new month, and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me.

Darkest Corners

I was looking through my previous blog drafts and came across this piece, which I had published last year. It’s pretty depressing, maybe overly so, which is why I later took it down. However, after my last post about being on the road to happiness, this serves as an interesting contrast, touching on the same subject and showing how my life and my perspective on it have changed in the past few months.

On a more technical note, I’d like to think my writing’s improved as well. Some of the below post is hard to read for the wrong reasons.

I promise this will be the last post where I depress the hell out of my readers.

***

This is a strange follow-up to the fairly upbeat ’30 Days of Fitness’ posts, but there are certain thoughts that tend to eat away at me from time to time, with increasing regularity nowadays. They needed a place to be unloaded and this seemed like the best dumping ground. It feels somewhat therapeutic to be writing all this down, but it’s only a temporary reprieve. Like weeds, they’ll take root again, infesting the darkest corners of my mind.

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Isolation

 

I look out the window at the sprawling city before me. They say it glitters like jewels in the sun; all I see is a dull, lifeless gray. The streets are overflowing with people running to and fro, from office to office, meeting to meeting. The city is supposedly a melting pot of different cultures, but they all look the same to me: faceless and indistinct.

It has been a little over 4 years since I returned to the city. At one time, it used to be home; I basked in its familiarity. Today, I find myself as a tourist in a foreign metropolis, walking past uninviting towers of glass and concrete. This is not the same place that I grew up in and, at the same time, I’m not the same person that grew up here.

It is a city that’s designed for a certain type of person. To use the popular cliche, it is the city that never sleeps. Everyone spends every hour of every day working to earn even more money, hoping to climb up the corporate ladder and sit comfortably on top of it. The boundaries between professional and personal lives are ever shifting, the concept of free time laughable. This city is designed for a certain type of person. That person isn’t me. I don’t think it ever was.

Now I find myself lost in the midst of a desert, desperately seeking an oasis of humanity. Making friends was never easy for me, and I find friendship to be an especially rare commodity here. In the sort of ironic twist that life loves to toss around, the friends who are dearest to me live half a world away, and with each passing year, I fear the distance between us is becoming intraversable.

More and more often, I find myself thinking back to happier times, times spent with friends in a place where I actually seemed to matter, where I felt like I belonged. And then, through a combination of bad luck and bad decisions, I found myself booted out from there and thrown back into this cesspool. At least I had my family around as some sort of consolation. But even that wasn’t meant to last.

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Grief
 

My mother died of cancer last year. It came out of nowhere, and as we were still trying to process the situation, it was over. My prior experience with death involved my grandfather, who died when I was too young to really grasp the concept, and my grandmother, who I had been so far removed from at that point that news of her passing brought no major outpouring of emotion with it. So this was, in essence, the first time I’d lost someone I truly cared about, and in such a horrible and unexpected way.

The days after my mother’s death were like a haze. My father, brother and I went about our lives, trying to find some semblance of normalcy. I had fully expected that a death in the family would render me catatonic, so I managed to surprise myself by continuing on with life. But there was a nagging feeling that things were wrong, a feeling that I pushed into the depths of my mind.

Now, over a year later, everything still feels weird. I had though that on my mother’s anniversary, all wounds would be healed, all memories of her death would be wiped clean, almost as if by magic.And yet, the pain still lingers. Many nights I will close my eyes and see myself again at her hospital bed, watching the life slowly drain out of her. In my dreams, my mother still lives, but so does her cancer. It’s as if the healthy, happy person I knew never even existed.

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Anxiety

After a fairly lengthy period of unemployment, I finally managed to get a job earlier this year. It was, I hoped, a new beginning. A way to finally get my life back on track. And so it was, for a time. A new routine led me to adopt a new, healthier lifestyle and got me thinking about my financial security. However, that security has been compromised somewhat by a few financial troubles plaguing my family, and I find myself wondering if I can actually save for some sort of retirement.

My job is the kind of relaxed affair that’s hard to find in a fast-paced city like this, and I’m certainly grateful to have any kind of employment at all, but I do find myself on the quest for something more challenging. But then another thought occurs to me: what if this is all I have? What if no other place will hire an engineer who hasn’t done any real engineering in years, a short-lived salesman who doesn’t like selling, and a writer who’s barely got any experience in the field? Five or ten years from now, will I still find myself stuck behind this desk? Or will I be on a constant hunt for gainful employment?

I follow the same routine every day: wake up, go to work, have lunch, continue work, come home, unwind, go to bed and repeat. Without any friends around, things get predictable fast. My brother is busy with his own life, and as much as I love my dad, surely he can’t be my only companion? I want to settle into a routine that makes me happy, a routine that I share with a certain someone, but the search for that someone seems to grow more difficult with time. And if I am losing my mind, as I so often believe I am, then I have to ask myself what sensible girl would want to spend her life with someone so mentally and emotionally broken.

Uncertainty has always found a way to re-route my fortunes, through financial struggles, unemployment and even death. It’s hard to look at the future and see any brightness. The future is full of uncertainty, and I’ve already had enough of that. So I go one day at a time, trying to make it through uneventful and bland work days, absorbing myself in my hobbies, escaping the mundanity of my existence in the colorful worlds created by books and video games, sticking to my schedules, and going to bed each night with the hope that tomorrow I’ll wake up in a happier and more fulfilled life.