Biohacking Emotional Work

Day 215 and Leisure

I’ve got a bad relationship with work. Since I was a teenager I’ve been compulsive about the idea of hard work. I don’t know how I got to have a problem with the Protestant Work Ethic but it seems likely I developed it long before I read Max Weber and found it’s comforting rationalizations about work’s inherent morality.

I’m fascinated by things like commodity aesthetics, the history of consumption, and theories of leisure & status. Partially because I got a kick out of supposing I was a better person than those wretched lazy types. I wasn’t so sophisticated to sneer “rentier” class as kid but I was well on my way to veneration of hard work and productive capital. An economics degree finished the job.

This was compounded by growing up in a family that worshipped the culture of Silicon Valley. The innovation of computers and the people that worked all hours to bring their creativity to the world were the most important people on the planet. They hadn’t quite crossed the cultural rubicon of power that the tech industry has now, but the power of making the future was hard work and heady stuff even before it captured the mainstream. I wanted to change the world like the people my father admired

There was a time when computing and automation raised questions of a new era of leisure. If we could move all of the work we’d previously done manually to automated systems perhaps humans could ascend to The Culture of Ian M Bank’s novels. In a distant future of abundance, sentient AIs run industry and production, so humanity can do, well, whatever it likes.

But we haven’t achieved a post scarcity world. If anything accumulating resources and showing you’ve done it by the rules of the meritocracy makes hard work even more crucial. You’ve got to play and win two games. You’ve got to make the money and show you’ve demonstrated the proper status while doing it. It seems like leisure is losing the battle quite soundly.

I’ve been pushing all year to get back to hard work. I’ve worked hard at my health. I’ve committed myself to biohacking. But really what if the obsession with working myself to the bone is killing me? I’ve been completely relaxed as I prepared for a medical procedure this week. I’ve never felt better. Which forced me to ask myself if maybe I better come to live leisure like the way I have loved work. It might be a much better life for me. The future sentient AIs might approve as well.

Biohacking Emotional Work

Day 211 and Laughter

I miss being able to enjoy time out in the world. You know that feeling when you’ve spent the last two hours at your favorite bar with your friends just talking about nothing? The ease that you feel being with your community and enjoying being together? The casual camaraderie and easy laughter that comes from no expectations time together has been lost to many of us. I miss it.

It doesn’t seem like those days are coming back for some of us in the near future. If I give too much thought to the impact of things like the pandemic I think I just spike my cortisol. That’s a stress hormone. The stress of reactivity is killing all of us. Constant panic over floods, heatwaves, outbreaks and all their downstream effects is overwhelming our capacity to live. And yes, granted a more globalized war with a changing climate is capable of killing us. But we don’t have to let futility do us in early. We can find our way into solutions. But only if we stay alive to do it.

I’ve been coping with apocalyptic nihilism by shitposting on Twitter. Yes I realize this is a popular upper class pundit class past time. I’ve got some self awareness. But it’s also the only thing that mimics being out socializing with your friends. And I think that’s worth a lot. Shitposting is good for the soul.

You don’t have to shitpost, but if you cannot find a way to lower your stress response, as we say in crypto, ngmi. Everything may be going to hell but you aren’t there yet. You’ve got a life to live, people to love and who love you, and a chance to be happy.

Fuck cortisol. It’s not good for you. That’s some metabolic poisoning eating away at you and you chose to let it kill you. There is no reason to give yourself unnecessary stress. Some stress is good. It makes you resilient. But stuff you opt into? Fuck that noise it’s only going to make you sick.

And despite whatever family trauma circuit you may be playing out in your head, YOU DO NOT DESERVE THAT SHIT. No I’m seriously disease and suffering aren’t a moral good. Everything might be rough but you need to find a laugh. It might just save your life.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 209 and Synthesis

The only downside of spending a day intaking a significant body of knowledge is that it’s nearly is that it’s nearly impossible to do synthesis on it at the same time. I suppose this holds true for new emotions as well. Synthesis and understanding takes time.

I’ve been on a tear working through how I feel on a number of topics just as I’m trying to ingest a new body of knowledge. I’ve got some inklings of where I will net out on all of it but it’s still a gut feeling. Any capable articulation that will be external to myself will require some synthesis. I can’t tell you what I’m on about as I don’t yet know.

And while I’ve set personal deadlines for continuous daily writing I cannot simply apply willpower to everything. In other words, I can force myself to write today it’s not possible to force sense on it. The synthesis hasn’t arrived even if the force of daily habit has.

It’s not that I’m admitting defeat on willpower, I’m sure I’ll be able to push my understanding over time. But expecting it today is probably a lost cause. The spirit may be willing but my wetware is fragile.

Fragility is of course one of my life companions this year. I’ve had to face that life is cheap and it’s simply not possible to worry about everyone. I have to sacrifice some of my own goals in order to keep myself alive. I suppose it’s not always a choice, except in that I’ve chosen to live and not die. That’s a choice.

But how I fortify and defend myself against the realities of biology, cultural frustration and freedom is in the end up to me. The pandemic has brought this home in a particularly acute way. Forced choices on us all, but particularly the vulnerable.

But I suppose I’m done trying to protect myself and gain ground. It’s going to be one or the other. It is time to take some risks even knowing that it will harm me. I’m recalculating what kind of destabilizing my body can take in the face of societal exhaustion. But the emotional synthesis of knowing consequences and having made a choice in freedom isn’t done in a day.

Emotional Work Internet Culture

Day 208 and Boundaries

It’s fairly common to struggle with boundaries. The desire to come through for everyone is strong, but not half so strong as the fear that if you set a firm boundary, then no one will accept you for where you are and what you want. What if love is only ever available on someone else’s term? This is a terrible fear straight from our inner child.

We’ve turned loyalty into a obligation test. But how perverse is that? “If you love them, set it free” is a culturally touchstone for a reason. We want the freedom of choosing our the loyalty that works for us. And we know each demonstration of loyalty means nothing if it wasn’t in consideration of the other person’s boundaries, needs and desires.

I suppose this hit me today because I’ve been astonished to see athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles holding their boundaries firm. They loyalty to sports, their countries and to us as fans only matters if it’s given freely and with joy. They owe us nothing, so when they do perform as their most elite selves, it’s what’s most beautiful and courageous thing. It’s a feat without ego. Those victories come in freedom.

Prioritizing one’s boundaries and well-being doesn’t need any apology or explanations or attempts to change yourself to fit another, if someone requires obligation on their terms it’s natural to feel invaded.

It’s the most loving thing in the world to set out what you actually want and need. It’s always the right thing to do. We don’t own each other. We each get to choose what’s best for us. And that fear we won’t be loved if we stand firm? Let it go. We always feel safest and most cared for when we know what we are offering is genuinely wanted.

Emotional Work

Day 205 and Saying It Outloud

No one would accuse me of being keeping my opinions to myself. I generally say what I mean and mean what I say. I find filtering my thoughts to be exhausting. It’s not that I think manners are not important. I think it can often be a great kindness not to blurt out every thought. Being considerate and not imposing your every thought onto others is part of living in society. But I’m learning that you have to be clear about who you are. Keeping your truth inside will kill your soul.

So it has come as a surprise to me that I am keeping a lot to myself. Mostly emotional and personal things. I still generally go straight to taking a public stand on politics, professional topics and cultural issues. But there are areas where I just don’t have that bravery. Where I haven’t uttered how I really feel to anyone.

I’m working through how to discuss some of these truths out loud. How does it feel to tell friends and family that I just don’t have the same desires, preferences, or mores as they do? Generally I’ve found acceptance. Even some of the more “out there” stuff has been ok. No one has rejected me. If anything people loved me because of it and not in spite of it.

Obviously I’m not in a place where I want to broadcast most of it in public. But I’m slowly realizing that saying things out loud makes me happier. To know my own truth and have it be clear is a great relief. Especially for areas where I feared it might implode my life. Or where it might hurt someone I love.

If you’ve got a truth you are keeping close to your heart consider sharing it with those you’ve already trusted with your heart. If they genuinely love you for you they don’t want you changing yourself to fit some idea of what they want. You may be causing suffering to yourself for nothing. The editing of desires, goals or preferences only limits your life.

Emotional Work

Day 204 and Saying Hard Things

I’ve had to have a number of emotional conversations with people I care about recently. We’ve had miscommunications, failures, admissions, and changes in relationships both personal and professional.

Initially I was worried once it became clear I had to have “that conversation” where unsaid or unspoken truths couldn’t remain that way. I suppose it’s natural to fear sharing hard things with those we love. But avoiding the temptation to “not hurt their feelings” is not right path. It is always more hurtful to obfuscate or be avoidant.

In each of these conversations, I felt utterly unprepared. I cycled through shame, regret, sadness, fear, hurt, embarrassment until I had said my piece. Even if was crying in a few instances, once I got over the fear, the relief washed over me. I felt loving and joyful. Peaceful and lighter in my soul that I had owned the range of feelings & failures with honesty.

We know in our hearts before our minds what needs to be said. If you are struggling with a hard conversation or a relationship that needs truth to be spoken, summon you the courage to do it. Facing our self limiting beliefs and the mental blockers that keep us from having the life we want is always worth it. You can do it.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 201 and Take It Slowly

I woke up today feeling normal. I wasn’t in any pain. I felt rested. The excruciating exhaustion that has gripped me had lifted.

I was a little bit surprised as I’ve been fighting off a setback that has diminished my physical and emotional state. An infection required an anti-viral that just destroyed me for the last week and a half.

The relief I felt at having the energy and desire to do normal tasks was palpable. I started making “to do” lists and plans for how I was going to use the energy during the day. I bounded out the door at 8am to my favorite trail to get in a walk before the summer heat hit. I came back energized and immediately went to workout. And then I realized I was doing it again.

In my relief to have back a functional body I was setting myself up to be exhausted by immediately over doing things. . My enthusiasm to get back to doing “all the things” would again be my undoing. Some residual guilt over needing to get back to people was on my mind and I used this projected shame right back into myself. What a disappointment I was to people and clearly I must set it right immediately that I’d been late by a week. I needed to respond to startups, catch up on my diligence pile, and email back all the folks in my inbox plus I was behind on any number of fund tasks for Chaotic. I justified these obligations as a reason to beat myself.

I have often struggled with the feeling that I need to work as hard and fast as I can when I am physically well. Part of it is my general tendency towards workaholism. But part of it is fear that feeling well is transient and I need to make hay while the sun shines.

I talked myself down from it and kept a steady pace through the day. I didn’t rush. I took breaks. And I didn’t feel guilty or beat myself. Which was quite a relief. It seems I can learn to take things slowly after all.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 198 and Kindness from Strangers

I’ve written about how terribly I’ve felt physically for the past 6 straight days. The last positive day of writing I had was 8 days ago. People have noticed the emotional tone of this struggle.

Generally speaking a day or two of being down doesn’t get noticed on social media, but a continuous streak of being “off” tends to get noticed by your community. Your mutuals know who you are even from afar. Your mutuals see your struggles. Your mutuals may know more about you than you imagine. And I’ve found your mutuals may genuinely care about you.

I’ve never felt less alone than I have the past year under quarantine. Maybe it’s because the network of mutuals that shares their personality and life has spent more time on the give and take of commenting, posting, responding and messaging across social media. When we are forced to contend with our own inner emotional lives we can extend more empathy to others.

So while others may have seen politicization, partisanship and other externalized anger on social media, I’ve found mostly grace and kindness. People who I have never met in the flesh have shared their knowledge, their vulnerability and their network with me. When I have opened myself up I have been met with with compassion and understanding.

If you share a period of struggle and your desire to get out from under it you may not be far from help. The kindness of your community is within reach. Even, perhaps especially, your social media community. If you are hurting share that burden. I have and it is much lighter.

Aesthetics Emotional Work

Day 197 and Status Anxiety

I’m becoming quite bored of feeling like shit as I go on maybe day 8 or 9 of a poor reaction to an anti-viral. It’s not fun when the cure is worse than the disease. I noticed something fascinating as more and more “days off” piled up. I’ve still got a lot of emotional shit when it comes to being sick.

My anxiety over being seen as weak, lazy or lacking in willpower started to compound the more days I’ve needed to recover. What will people think of me that just as I’m making a comeback to full time work that I let myself get waylaid by a virus? Every project and meeting that needed canceling felt like I should accompany it with an apology tour. I felt like I owed everyone my time and energy. I felt ashamed.

The social striving and status chasing that have gripped the aspirational class seems to have its claws firmly in my psyche. At least when it comes to work, I’m convinced I must always be working to be “better.” Where the fuck did this self limiting belief come from?

Who cares if I needed a week off to cope with health care needs when I’ve been on medical leave for nearly two years? What is another week. Why am I so anxious to show that I’m capable of going back to work? Who the fuck cares! It’s not as if I’m dependent on a salary to survive. I’m not chasing a resume or CV polish on LinkedIn. I can just not work.

Technically I’ve already made it out of the status social climbing games. I’ve got money. I’ve got traditional credentials. I have a well compensated skill set that is easily hired out for income without sacrificing much of my time. I should not be experiencing any class anxiety at all. I should happily go into the leisure class and not concern myself that my workaholism isn’t possible for health reasons. And yet I’m absolutely panicked that I’ll be see as lazy and unreliable every time I have a minor setback.

It’s abundantly clear that aspirational class signals, especially around meritocracy and knowledge work, are as bogus as Edwardian England’s aristocracy. Class division can be upended if you just stop giving a fuck. But I’m experiencing exactly this anxiety noted in The Hedgehog Review.

The aspirationals’ endless pursuit of better can produce psychic restlessness and doubts beneath the façade of confidence and accomplishment.

I’ve always thought of my habits as being high status. I read science fiction, make a hobby of macroeconomics, and pursue healthy biohacking experiments. Of course, that I think of these things as having status is precisely what makes me signaling it low status. The perception of me caring so fucking much is proof that I don’t think my status in life is secure. I’m no better than the middle class strivers in Downtown Abbey who miss manner cues. How embarrassing!

But if I can admit that I’m anxious about my place in the world maybe it’s a sign I’m not so beholden to class systems after all. I’ve just now admitted that I’m afraid of how I will be perceived if my climb back to health isn’t perfectly stage managed. I hope that is the first step in letting it go. Fixating on fear and anxiety isn’t great for physical health. So I’m putting it out there that I’m afraid of how I’ll be seen by others. And I’m letting it go.

Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 196 and Exhaustion

I’m terrified of being tired. It’s the first sign of illness and a trigger of a cascade of traumas for me after fighting for two years to recover my health. The fear I feel when my energy flags is more than mere phobia. It’s the kind of gripping all consuming fear that stops all other emotions from surfacing. It’s a fear that stops joy and anger. It stops my my breathe and chokes out my chest if I pay it too much mind.

I’m already shedding unbidden tears probing a little at the edge of this fear. The fear that exhaustion will never lift sits in my body, scaring me into believing I’ll be trapped forever.

I’m more afraid of fatigue than I am of pain. Pain is complete and totalitarian yes. It limits your world sometimes in the extreme. But pain is not an enemy that cannot be overcome. When pain spikes or throbs I’m equipped with tools to combat it. It’s not that pain isn’t terrifying and all consuming. I’ve written about the challenges of chronic pain. How it robs you of your right mind. But it isn’t an enemy that extracts complete victory either.

I feel I can fight back. Light pain can be tossed out of my consciousness with mindfulness exercises. Even a slight self inflicted pinch can deflect pain. If it’s unbearable there are pharmaceuticals on hand. It’s not that I don’t find pain to be consuming, I do and it is, it’s that it doesn’t feel impossible to conquer. I have tools with varying degrees of efficacy that let me retain my agency with pain.

With exhaustion I have nothing. I fear exhaustion is an enemy I cannot best. There are no tricks for my mind that give me a boost of energy or remove the obstacle of feeling leaden. The tiredness is too complete to be overcome by mantras. There are no drugs for exhaustion. Stimulants can drag me out of bed but the crash afterwards makes it clear the effect was extracted under duress.

A doctor doesn’t mind giving opioids for a patient with spinal swelling but telling them you are tired doesn’t do much. What could they even give you? Caffeine? Aderall? Of course you are tired they say, your body is fighting inflammation. In this moment, I’m overcoming an infection and a poor reaction to anti-virals. An inability to crawl out of bed is a given. Nothing can be done. I just need to ride this out and hopefully it will lift.

But I’m afraid of the tiredness that has taken hold of me this past week. The fear that all of the work and money I’ve put into recovering my help might have been for nothing lingers. I logically know, and doctors confirm, that I’m simply fighting an infection and we had a slight complication with the medication. They say I’ll be feeling well a few days. They asked me to stay in bed for a few days. But I cannot shake the fear that it it’s permanent. The fear that I’ve lost all my progress is real. I just hope I can convince myself that feelings are not facts.