The Most Fun I Ever Had (Playworks)

•August 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Here’s my experience working with Playworks, a non-profit organization around the United States. Essentially, it hires coaches to manage recess in low-income elementary schools and to teach games to children. After being a behavioral interventionist (working with children with autism) for a little while, I left for medical school interviews, and then when I returned, I chanced upon a listing looking for Playworks coaches. Playworks was looking for a half-year Americorps Flex coach, meaning a coach that would act as a support for other coaches and step in when needed. I knew immediately that I wanted to get involved. The idea of serving in Peace Corps was one of the first things that started helping me get out of my depression, and Americorps was in the same line of thinking. And I absolutely loved working with children. I sent in my application and was called in for an interview.

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Random picture from Playworks website.

The interview consisted of leading a few staff members in a game, and a normal talk portion. Before my interview, I called one of my friends, Robbie, who once spoke to me about having trouble in school. I knew that bullying in elementary school could have an enormous impact on someone’s life. He told me that the most important thing to do in recess is to have adequate adult supervision that will stop bullying. Vigilance – keeping watch for potential harassment – was the reason for why I wanted to be involved with school recess. My actual interview was with another person, Morgan, whom I learned to respect for his dedication to service (he had just come back from Peace Corps).

In Playworks, most coaches are assigned a school, and they stay at the school for the year. As a Flex, I didn’t have any specific school. Instead, I had the opportunity to visit different schools and help the coaches already there. However, because some coaches had left during the winter, I had to step in and be a temporary coach.

The first school I volunteered at was Edenvale in Campbell, CA. I remember going in having no idea what I was supposed to do, but I wasn’t too nervous. My job there was to help assist the school by playing games. When I entered my first classroom (during lunch, as it was raining outside), a boy came up to me and exclaimed, “Thank God you’re here! It’s been sooo boring without Playworks.” About 10 seconds later, I was surrounded by kids wanting to play a game. I told them I didn’t know any games yet, so I asked them to pick a leader. They picked the boy that first came up to me. We then played Silent Ball. Silent ball is a game in which everyone in the classroom sits on his or her desk and a dodgeball is passed around. If someone throws or catches incorrectly, or makes any noise, he or she sits down and waits for the next round. Because it was my first day, I let the kids lead and I watched and learned.

I had lots of good memories at Edenvale. Perhaps it was because it was the first school I went to, and I was ready to make some change. First thing I did was pump up all the balls that had gone flat because there wasn’t a coach on site. Then, when kids kept asking me where the map of the playground was, I took it out as well. Edenvale had a fairly large playground, with a grass field in the back and a giant blacktop. The main games played at the school when I get there were soccer (mostly boys) and basketball (mostly girls – yes, girls, that’s what’s great about Playworks). However, I soon learned that the game many of the kids played before the Playworks coach left was dodgeball, so I set it up. Every recess, a bunch of kids would run of their classroom, scream “DODGEBALLLLL!,” and run over to line up to be split into teams. I tried my best to split them up randomly, but sometimes the kids would just always want to be in a team. Some cultural things about Playworks – instead of saying, “You’re out,” we encourage kids to say, “Good job/game, nice try.” I had to watch over dodgeball very carefully, because people would break rules all the time, such as not getting out when they’re supposed to, or kicking the dodgeballs away from the court. What seemed especially troublesome were some sixth grader boys that were a bit bigger than everyone else. However, I found them to be quite compliant. I could tell that they respected my authority, even if they didn’t always listen. Later on, a sixth grade girl told me that she was very surprised that I could get them to listen, and she told me I was doing a good job. Best feedback ever.

Edenvale seemed to be somewhat of a difficult school, because there was a training day about every week. That meant that the teachers had training, and instead there were substitutes. On these days, the school was chaotic. I was in a classroom starting to play a game with my Junior Coaches when the head recess staff came in and said, “You know where we really need right now? Over here in this kindergarten classroom next door.” I left my Junior Coaches in charge and went over to the other room.

The substitute teacher definitely needed some help. She kept ringing her bell to signal the kids to calm down. There were kids hitting each other, shouting, and running around, and the others lost amidst the chaos. In order to calm them down, I explained to them a game called Bob the Bunny. For Bob the Bunny, everyone sits down in a circle and chants “Bob the Bunny!” as a ball is passed behind people’s backs. Someone in the middle closes their eyes, and when the chant stops, they open their eyes and tries to guess who has the “bunny” behind their back. Soon, instead of chaotic shouting, I got the class to chant together. They were still making a lot of noise, but at least there was some order amidst the chaos. The best memory I had of this experience was there was one kid, who looked a little bigger than the rest. He didn’t talk at all. He just stared at me with eyes of wonder like I was Superman or something.

I stayed at Edenvale for two weeks, and then a permanent Playworks coach came in, so I moved on to my next destination: McCollam Elementary in San Jose. Here’s where I met my first challenge. The principal was glad to see me, and on my first day he told me he had an idea. He wanted the teachers from each grade to get together to have a meeting, and in the meantime, I would be working with an entire class all at once for about an hour. My first day there, I had a hundred fourth graders in a line waiting for me to entertain them. As the teachers walked by, one of them said, “Good luck.” I tried all sorts of games. What I found was really interesting to the kids were competitive games like relay races. They would cheer each other on. I also tried games that encouraged kids to give high fives to each other, but what just happened was kids started to get hurt because there were so many of them. In the end, I ran out of ideas and the kids were getting super tired, so I ended up just letting them do whatever they wanted to for the last 20 minutes. The principal came out and thanked me. “No problem, I tried my best,” I replied.

One of my memories at McCollam involved a kid being pushed down during basketball. He fell and didn’t get up. I walked over, but I didn’t do anything. The custodian ran over, exclaimed, “Do something, man! Didn’t you see him get pushed over?” and helped the kid up. Normally, I would have waited a bit to see if the kid can get up by himself, but I respected the custodian for helping him get up. After that experience, I always tried to help anyone who fell down without a moment’s hesitation.

After McCollam, I went to Blackford in Campbell. This is where I first came up with a few fun games that I enjoyed playing with the kids. A part of Playworks is class game times, in which we bring a class out to play games. The set of games I played with all of the Blackford students was first the Pirate Cheer, then Zombie Tag, and then Steal-the-bacon Soccer-style. The way I played zombie tag was like sharks and minnows. There would be a few “survivors,” who would try to get past a line of zombies. Zombies can only do a zombie walk. Any survivors who make it to the other side can cure a zombie and make them a survivor. The game continues until everyone’s a survivor or zombie. I really enjoyed this game because the teacher would be able to play as well. But perhaps the game most kids (especially boys) had fun with was steal-the-bacon soccer. It was great to see boys and girls, perhaps trying out soccer for the first time of their lives, being cheered on by their class.

Finally, I come to Monta Loma, where I stayed for the rest of my time as an Americorps member. Monta Loma is a great school, with a lot of racial diversity. The best part about Monta Loma was that it was a very fun school, thanks only in part to Playworks. There was a culture of accepting play and integrating it into education. The coach that was there before me was fairly organized, and I wasn’t, so I had to make a few changes. It took me a couple weeks to get adjusted, but once everything got going, it was a really enjoyable experience. I made sure fighting got resolved, helped introduce new games, and pretty much continued the culture of play that already existed at the school (the school had had Playworks for many years).

I’ve always been good at coming up with games. I have two younger siblings and my fondest memories are of us playing random games. I can tell when people are having fun, and I enjoy seeing people happy. To be completely honest, that’s pretty much the reason I live.

One game I am proud about is a game called You’re My Friend Tag. I got this idea while shadowing someone else. How it works is you have 5-6 kids are it, and they need to tag everyone else. However, if you’re running away, you can say, “<name of tagger>, you’re my friend!” and they can’t tag you for five seconds. My goal of the game is, of course, to make people friendlier with each other. A good memory I have is there was a girl that didn’t look very happy, but by playing the game, and having people tell her she was their friend, she seemed to really cheer up, and she asked to be “it” multiple times. To me, this is why play is so important.

Another memory is of the kindergarten classes. They are the cutest and, unexpectedly, well-behaved kids in the school, which I attribute to good teachers. Usually, kindergarteners are the hardest to control. I loved going over to kindergarten because as soon as I walk into their area, a bunch of them would ask me to play different games. One of my favorite ones was vampire tag (which they taught me), which was basically tag except you turn into a vampire. I played all sorts of games with them, but the thing I enjoyed the most was leading the kindergarteners in cheers. When their break ends, they all line up, and sometimes it is hard for them to re-focus to get ready to go back to class. When this happens, I taught them several cheers (pirate cheer, marshmallow cheer, banana cheer), and it’s incredible how many of their eyes light up and instantly focus once something fun happens. Near the end of my time there, a bunch of them were let outside of their area to play soccer, and it was hard for them to go back inside once time was up. A man jogging around joked with me, telling me it was probably easier to herd a bunch of cats. Probably.

One thing I learned from working in the schools was that nutrition in the majority of children’s diets are awful. As I went around the lunch benches, a lot of kids had nothing more than Oreo’s and other snack foods. No vegetables, no fruits, no protein, just something to fill their stomach. As a result, I feel that there would be a lot of biological and psychological issues that could arise. If there is anything that I feel would improve the lives of children, I would say it is having a more nutritious diet.

I like to tell people that I am a kid. I am a kid because playing like one was one of the few things that helped me dig myself out of the hole I was in. I’m proud of being a kid, and being young at heart, and I am not embarrassed, because I know that playing is essential to living. I see myself as matured into immaturity, the same way someone might find meaning in growing a garden or in painting. To me, games are my canvas and it is how I paint my identity and my future.

Playworks was the first sort of job that I truly felt like it was something I wanted to do. And I think I was very good at some aspects of it. I was very good at connecting with the kids, earning their trust, and helping people have fun. I was also not bad at dealing with difficult behaviors. Of course, there were areas that I am not so good at, such as professionalism. But I have never been a big fan of professionalism (sigh, here comes medical school!). Most importantly, Playworks left me with a lot of self-confidence and the ability to identify how I can contribute to the people around me. I realized what makes up effective communication, which is really easy to tell when you’re facing fifty students waiting for you to tell them what to do. And I felt extremely glad that I am alive in a time when people purposely worked to create a culture of play not just in kids, but also in adults.

Today, I am in Saint Louis, Missouri, a city with a lot of disparities. I am planning on bringing Playworks, or something similar, to the city, to be able to continue something I truly loved to do. Without a doubt, this was probably the most fun thing I have ever done, and it has drastically changed my life for the better. Thank you Playworks.

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You are a Lifeline, and Why I’m Not Afraid

•July 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Now, if anyone reads these posts, remember that I write these posts so that I can remember them in the future. They are sort of a therapeutic exercise.

About a week ago, I received a call from a lady. She told me she was the probation officer for a friend of mine. She was checking up on how he was doing, and I eventually told her that I was moving away soon. When she heard that, she fell silent and then said, “I’m sorry to hear that. You are his lifeline.”

Last week, I met with this friend a last time before I leave, and said goodbye to his parents. His mother said nothing except give me a look of sincerity. She shook my hand, and I went on my way.

The next day, I visited another friend of mine, whose son I had played with. When he asked me what kind of medicine I was thinking about doing, I told him the three types I am interested in: child psychiatry, neurosurgery, and correctional medicine. He asked me what correctional medicine was. I told him it was to work as a doctor in prisons and jails. He questioned me, “You actually want to work in those places?” Yes, I replied. Why not? It’s the same as any other place, except those people really need it.

A year previous, I was taking a course in Chinese in China, and the assignment was to interview someone in the community in Chinese. Naturally, I decided to go to a psychiatric hospital. My Chinese professor and I went to a psychiatric hospital one day, and was given a tour by one of the psychiatrists there. In one of the wings of the hospital, there was a window through which we could see a lot of the patients meandering about. The psychiatrist opened the window and the patients started walking towards us. I wanted to talk to them. My professor backed away. Later, she told me she was scared at the time. I didn’t understand why.

During my time as an ABA behavioral interventionist, I was one of the few therapists in the area that was trained in crisis intervention. This training was given to people that were working with kids with aggression. I had one client (though I prefer to call them friends) that would have sporadic violent outbursts if his emotions were not under control. His previous therapist quit because he had been hurt while working with him. My first week working with him, he expressed aggression towards me once, causing a bruise on my neck because he had me strangled. I ignored it, and it never happened again. Another friend I had would harm himself whenever he was frustrated. That was the hardest challenge for me yet. My coworker would always be surprised to see me working with my friends. She would ask me, “How do you not get scared? Every time I see him I get freaked out.”

I have countless other examples of something strange about me, and that is that I am attracted to behavioral issues or aggression. Every time someone mentions someone they know that everyone dislikes because they have strange behaviors, I am fascinated and I want to meet them. And I have often wondered why. For one, I know it is not because I am just braver than other people. I shy away from the silliest horror movies, and run away from politics faster than a millennial from a church.

I am not afraid of these people because I connect with them. Human behavior, in my opinion, is not that complicated. When people perceive the world differently from the norm, they will make strange decisions, and will act different from other people. Sometimes, I feel the same way. I don’t feel like a “normal” person. I feel different. And so I like people that are different.

I work well with people that have emotional problems because I understand and I give them time to recover. When the youth tried to strangle me, I knew that it was because he was extremely frustrated. I harbor no resentment, and no fear, for the symptoms of suffering that another has. When I didn’t react to what he did, and instead simply removed myself from his reach and gave him time to calm down, he learned to trust me. He learned that I would not hurt him if he hurt me, and that’s what he needed. I was his lifeline. And for the rest of the time I worked with him, his outbursts became so rare that his family stopped recording them.

The first time I met with the youth involved with the criminal justice system, he showed me a knife. I said, “That’s a pretty cool knife.” Because I knew nothing about knives. But I knew that he was testing me, to see how I would react to him having something he shouldn’t have in his possession. I didn’t care. I’m sure I carry lots of stuff other people wouldn’t want me to carry. After going to fun events and trusting him after half a year, he started seeing me as his friend. He began to trust me. He started making statements about “people like us” because I told him I had mental problems just like he did, and he could see it in me. He didn’t see me as a random person that wanted to change him, but instead as a person that he could relate to. In other words, a friend. I was honest with him, and in turn, he became honest with me. And what I saw was not the kid who was expelled from school and had a history of violent outbursts, but instead a kid who loved his family more than anything in the world and simply tried to have a good day once in a while. Because hell knows, those days can be rare.

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My mother told me once, “Your problem isn’t that you don’t trust other people. You trust people too much.” I agree, except for the “too much” part. I trust people. I trust people because there is something deep in my heart that tells me that all people are good. To me, there is no such thing as good or evil. There is only love, and the absence of it.

When I was eight years old, my older brother passed away. When deep and tragic things happen to you when you’re a kid, sometimes you don’t really realize it at the time because you don’t really know what’s going on. Now, fifteen years later, I sometimes wonder if that incident is the reason I have a deep love for children. I remember sitting on the sofa, and my mother looked at me straight in the face, crying, and told me my brother wasn’t coming home from the hospital. I think in that moment, I saw the world through her eyes, and I became a mother.

The Pollyanna Hypothesis

•July 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

As we grow up, we learn a lot of things, mostly from institutions in society. We learn things from school, from our families and friends, and from entertainment. During this time, there is a veil known as the Pollyanna principle that covers our eyes. Pollyanna was a novel published in 1913 about a girl who learned to have an irrepressible optimism in face of the harshest situations, allowing her to stay positive no matter what. This principle applies to most people in society, working as a veil or protective barrier to prevent people from seeing or thinking about the problems in society. For example, when you are in school, all of the special ed students either have their separate classroom or go to a different school altogether. This is because teachers, parents, and students don’t want to be mixed with the kids with problems. If the kids with problems mixed with the other kids, the other kids would learn bad behaviors from the bad kids. This is the Pollyanna veil and maintains order in society.

The Pollyanna veil is a form of indoctrination — a form of brainwashing. In essence, it is a form of learning. By removing the bad apples from the good bucket, the good kids never realize that there are any bad kids about. We grow up learning to believe in ourselves, and that we can do anything. We grow up believing that Hitler was evil, and that America was the hero. The veil is controlled by the constructs in society we place ourselves in — our friends and family, our schools, our churches, our Facebook groups. But let me tell you this. There is no such thing as good and evil.

There are people who see past this veil, and they are the ones we need to be careful about. They are the health care workers who see people suffer. They are the children who grew up being bullied. They are the family members who experienced domestic abuse. They are the veterans who saw their own lives dehumanized. They were people who grew up in systematic depression. They are the people of faith who sought to change the world, only to realize that the world is a corridor of immense darkness for which eternity is the only salvation.

People who see past this veil are usually people who experienced a lot of pain… they are broken people. There are people of all colors, sizes, and personalities, that see past this veil. White, black, gay, transparent, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Some seem like nice people. Some seem like mean people. Some seem crazy. Most don’t. Any way, as they grew up, they learned to be optimistic, and they tried to be. But chip by chip, drop by drop, the foundations of their society began to melt away. This could happen at any time. Some people never create a Pollyanna veil at all. Some people only hit the veil when they are on their deathbed, and everything starts to hit them all at once.

Have you ever looked for a weirdly shaped fruit and picked it specially? Have you ever held the hand of another and felt your own life energy dwindle away as goes the pulse of theirs? Have you ever bowed to the ground and prayed for mercy from an invisible God? If so, you may no longer be hidden behind the Pollyanna veil.

Now let me tell you this. People who see past this veil have a mental disorder. They are crazy because they know too much about this world. They know so much about this world that they begin to forget the beauty this world holds. And that is a mistake.

The ones who walk away from Omelas need to come back. They need to come back because they have so much potential for the world, so much potential to change the society in which they live. They have this potential because they have an extreme capacity to feel the world around them, and simply because they care. Many of them leave because they don’t want to hurt the people around them. Many of them leave because they are just too tired from fighting the pain. But they can’t leave. We can’t let them leave as a society.

If you currently live supported by the optimism of the Pollyanna veil, please stay there. You need to stay there because it is an awful place in the dark side. But if you are a hero, and you want to see beyond the veil, and return to make a change, please discover the world in all its glory. Go and talk to the homeless men and women on the street, and ask them what it is they truly want. Go and talk to the lonely boy walking back and forth behind the portables where no one else can see him. Go to reddit.com/r/depression, or volunteer for a suicide hotline, and hear the crying voices. Go and see the world for what it truly is, in your eyes, and not in the eyes of another. Stop reading your books, but instead, start to talk to the authors.

The most important thing is, though, don’t become angry. Don’t become angry at the world, because that’s not right… because there is no honor in anger. Don’t become sad, because there is no glory in being forsaken. Don’t make the mistakes I made.

Go home, look yourself in the mirror, and look at your own eyes. Because in those eyes, you will see the world looking back at you. Look in yourself, and think about your own mistakes. Think about your friends and family, your schools, your job, church, your Facebook group. And start to make change. Start to fix the problems that you see in yourself, and work to always remain faithful in humanity and in the world around you.

And once you love yourself, start to save others. Make sure people don’t fall through the cracks. Be forceful and take action. There is no time to wait. You remember what lies beyond the Pollyanna veil. Carry the strength you gained from what you learned from society, and apply it. And one tip: no one wants to die.

Now, you might ask me, how can I save someone?

The Pollyanna veil needs to be reforged. It can be reforged through society, through friends, family, school, churches, and Facebook groups. It is reforged through structure. You have to begin to recreate rules and consequences, to slowly teach someone to trust humanity again, and to help them see the beauty in their world more clearly. You have to brainwash them to help them reintegrate into the real world.

For starters, I have something very simple, and that is called Play. Grab their hand, look them in the eyes, and tell them that you are going to play with them. And then play with them. And I can promise you in those few moments you are beginning to stitch a beautiful brand new veil for them. If they don’t want to play, that’s okay. Take a step back, and ask them what it is that they need, and give them time. It might be a few minutes, or it might be a few years. No matter what happens, love them with all your heart. That is the heart connection. And it takes someone who can see past the veil, to be able to forge a new veil for a lost soul.

A Story of Love, Backwards

•July 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This post is the second collection of memories in the series Dead Man’s Tales. Dead Man’s Tales is a recollection of memories that make me who I am today, made from people who today are my teachers. The series is titled Dead Man’s Tales because I had these experiences at a time when I was suffering greatly. This one is about a woman I met in Durham, North Carolina.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. -Lao Tzu

I was looking for volunteering opportunities. I had the good fortune to get in touch with a Ms. Kaplan, a social worker who worked at the Morehead Hills Residence. I told her I was looking to help. She sent this reply:

Hi Frank!
I received a phone call from a resident this morning. Her name is Grisel, and she could really use some help washing her laundry. She would provide you with soap and quarters, and then you would carry her clothing up to the second floor where you’d help Grisel wash and dry the clothing. She is also hopeful that you might help her vacuum and clean her bathroom too, if possible.
Will you let me know if this works for you? If so, which date and what time can you come by? Hope you’re doing well, and I look forward to your response!!

Soon after, I arrived. I think the first time I went, I went by foot. The place was only a couple miles away from Duke West Campus, perhaps less. When I got to the front door, there were two people sitting on a bench. One of them stuck his hand out and greeted me, “How ya doin’?” I replied, “Pretty good.”

The first time I met Grissel, I had come into her room to assist with housecleaning. As soon as I entered the room, I was entranced by the smells. Though clearly filled with smoke, the room had the fragrance of homeliness and warmth. It was the smell of motherhood, almost of love. Plants lined the walls, and there laid a multitude of unfinished art projects on the tables. Unfinished clocks, unfinished vases, unfinished journals, filled with immense beauty but partial, forgotten and hopeless. The light was a dim red, not the garish light that I was accustomed to seeing. I was in an entirely different world.

When I told Grissel, who was white-haired, friendly-looking, but remarkably lonely, I was there to help with housecleaning, she could not help but smile. “You are so funny,” she chuckled, “You are not macho like the men in Mexico. I have never seen a man do housework. I want to see what you can do.” As I found out, I couldn’t do anything. I did not know how to sweep the floors of the home, nor to arrange the plants. I apologized, “I’m sorry; perhaps you can teach me?” Grissel laughed, and shook her head, “No, you have done well! Sit down, you are very amusing.”

Instead of helping her clean, I simply stayed to hear her stories. I found out that she had suffered from recurrent major depressive disorder her entire life, starting from when she was a little girl, when she was seven years old. She told me that when she was a little girl she would have headaches all the time, and she would have to take aspirin. She told me that she was a trouble-maker when she was younger, and that her father was a millionaire. And she told me much more painful things she experienced that I will not share today. Despite a lifetime’s worth of fighting against her illness (she even has a blackbelt in Taekwondo!) through therapy and psychiatry, she continued to suffer from depression. Eventually, she attempted deep brain stimulation, but the only result she had from that was a loss of memory.

During this time, my depression was getting worse and worse. Whenever I could not think of anything else to help me, I would call her. I would tell her that I would visit, and she would always be happy to know that I was coming. She was lonely, I knew, and so was I. We were both lonely, because the world we lived in was backwards, or we were the ones walking backwards.

I want to say that she is the biggest reason I became to learn to accept my mental condition. To know that someone had lived their entire life fighting an illness of their mind gave me the courage to fight against my own. And knowing that the illness stayed with her despite all her attempts to fight it was a harsh reminder that there is so much needing to be fixed in this world.

I am always in awe of how much she fought her illness, and not only did she fight for herself, but she fought for others. She once worked as a Spanish-English translator in a psychiatric hospital, near the US-Mexico border, where there were many Mexicans. Something interesting she told me was that in the United States, people with schizophrenia often hear voices that tell them to kill someone. However, Mexican men with schizophrenia instead will hear voices that tell them to fuck someone. For example, she once met a man that looked at her and said, “You are the Virgin Mary. The angels told me to fuck you.” Grissel was never afraid of anyone in the psychiatric hospital. She told me that she would see all sorts of people there. There were women who came in because they had killed their newborn babies. Grissel said she felt bad for them, because she understood how guilty those mothers with post-partum depression would feel after they realized what they had done.

Sometimes, I would go with her outside, perhaps to help her wash her clothes, or to take out the trash. Physically, she could do all of these on her own. But she couldn’t do them by herself. She told me, “Unless if there is someone with me, I have no motivation to take out the trash, or to wash the clothes! That is why I am glad you are here.” Sometimes, she would have no energy to do anything, whether I was there or not. At these times, she would lay on her bed and smoke, and I would sit to the side and watch The Godfather with her until she fell asleep.

Perhaps the last time I saw her in person, I told her a bit of my story. I told her the things I was afraid of, and the reasons I suffered. She told me, “Let’s go outside.” We stepped out of the smoke-filled room and into bright sunshine. We sat on a bench just outside the residence. A man walked past, smiled at us, and greeted us. We greeted him back. She told me to be brave. To believe in myself. At the time, I didn’t know how. And today, I am still learning to.

She left me with one of her journals, in which she had written a book, or a log of memories, about “a man who walked backwards.” Her journal was a collection of memories in her life, filled with humor and wit. Her journal was in Spanish, but I tried to read what I could. Because of my sickness, I never had a chance to read it completely, and I can’t remember where I placed the journal. I think it is still in my possession, but I will have to find it.

In Grissel I saw something deeply sorrowful, and that was loneliness. I believe that she once loved someone so greatly, that she poured everything into him. She told me that even today, she continues to dream about him. This man, whom she met as a teenager and was married to, passed away from cancer shortly after their marriage. She then married again, but to someone whom I don’t believe she ever truly loved, and had a couple children, whom she loves dearly. I once asked her, “What do you live for?” To which she replied, “I live for my children.” I asked her, “Do you want to be with your daughter?” She said, “Of course. There is nothing more that I wish for.”

Grissel was always afraid of one thing. And that was that I would forget her. Or, in my opinion, that people would forget her. Every time I called her, she would be surprised that I still remembered her. “Oh… I thought you had forgotten me,” she would sigh. I think it is because she has been forgotten by so many people. I told her I would never forget her. And by writing this post, I am keeping my promise.

Below, I will leave a message she left for me, when I asked her to write something.

vida

My life

If for love I suffered, if to live I died.
For this I love, just to know that I have lived.

——

And as always, I will end with a conversation I had with Jonathan Hong–my guardian angel, if you wish, Donald. The conversation is less so about Grissel but a window into my mind at the time–a soliloquy, perhaps.
March 15, 2015, 4:00 pm
i will not let my honor and morality down because of pain
the greatest pain is death and so in death lies the greatest redemption
and my brother has already been sacrificed to take that pain from me
so that i may take the pain from others
when i leave from duke
i will try to love people again
so that my heart can be healed
i will work slowly through the pain to rediscover myself and what i was meant to accomplish through my life
i still have low energy and low motivation and constant anxiety and pain but i am not afraid
i am the son of a hardworking father and a loving mother, together i was made to offer love to this world through hard work
if a part of me sins then i must cut it off
the emptiness that lies where the parts of me once were will be my new body
where Frank truly lies
grief and depression are natural like life and death
heartbrokenness is experienced by many
but peace will flow through me like a river when i love myself
and remember that am the embodiment of something special
I am the embodiment of something special
hatred and jealousy are natural, they are the source of pain and darkness
but darkness is the greatest source of light
because darkness knows where light is dim and gives it fire
emerson is correct
self-reliance is the key to happiness
but happiness is not the key to loving oneself
the happy person is in love superficially with himself
self-reliance does not confer love
people cannot rely on themselves to love themself
they can be happy
surely
for i was once happy
but all i cared about was myself
i did not truly understand grief
like a sick man who does not know that he is sick
but now i can say i know what it feels like to be broken, spiritless, and forsaken
i do not choose to revel in self-pity, it is not why i cry every day
i cry because peace is a river and it will flow through me
i have been thinking about life and what it means for a long time, more than most people
i made mistakes like others
but i take what i see and i bring it into myself
every since i was a little kid i wanted to be a philosopher
i believe i know of this world and i wish to know more
one time i spoke to evan he said i sounded like a prophet
that the things i said he had heard in christian music
i dont think i am a prophet
i think it is simply because i am a logical person perceiving my own world
and that i have a penchant for believing in some of the most powerful things in this world
love, music, art
faith
i used to believe in discipline and hard work
then i realized you don’t truly have discipline and hard work unless if you have learned of these first four things
or at least the first and last
love and faith
you work for love and faith
you discpline yourself for love and faith
that’s true discpline
i know this because it is hard
it is easy to be busy
it is hard to love others and it is most difficult to love yourself
i know deep inside me i have powers not many others have
i am not a genius but i have learned things that i should not have learned
my parents are not necessarily the type of people you learn forgiveness and love from
my brother saved me from the fear of death
and without the fear of death there is no fear of any loss
his death showed me the power of grief and guilt
and you? you have showed me unconditional love
the power of forgiveness
something i lacked
all these years
you showed me
without that i could not love anyone
my grief has taught me important things
that i never truly cared about medicine
i cared about people
i cared about equality
i cared about love
medicine does not give people love
it gives people health
but when people no longer have health the only thing they can rely on is love
when grissel‘s father was about to die the only thing he could do was call everyone he knew begging for the pain to cease
no hard work, no awards, accolades can save you from death
what he sought was love

Bravery Comes from the Heart

•June 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This post will be part of a series called Dead Man’s Tales. These are collections of fragmented memories of people I met, and relationships I forged, during a time when I was suffering greatly. These stories have no beginning, and no end. They make no sense. There is no artistry, no poetry to these stories. They are simply memories, and I am writing them down because they made it past years of suppressing memories. They are the stories that make up my life. The first story is called, “Bravery Comes from the Heart.”

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. -Aeschylus

——

During the freshman year of college, I joined Neurocare, a group of students at Duke University that aspired to fuse together neuroscience with service. One of Neurocare’s projects was the Neurobuddies program, which set up partnerships between students and patients. I had the fortune to be partnered with Thessie Mitchell.

Now let me tell you about Thessie. Here is my first email correspondence with him:

11/30/12 <cc.frankee@gmail.com> to <tlmitchell50@gmail.com>:

Dear Thessie,

I’m Frank Lee, and I’m excited to work with you in the near future! I’m an undergraduate freshman at Duke University, and I hope to become a behavioral neurologist someday. I’m open to whatever you need help with (as I understand, you need some sort of computer troubleshooting help?)–just let me know when and where and I’ll hop on over.

If you can give me some dates in the near future at which you will be free, I can drop by and just chat or get straight to work.

Wish you well,

Frank Lee

Here was his response:

12/4/12 <tlmitchell50@gmail.com> to <cc.frankee@gmail.com>

Hi Frank,

It will be a pleasure working with you in the future. I will find enough stuff to keep us busy. I will work my schedule around yours to make it worke to maximum. Stop by any time after 10 am mon threw sun for a visit , good luck on your final exams

A few weeks later, I finally had the opportunity to visit Mr. Mitchell. He lived in the Duke University Health Post-Acute Center on Erwin Road, which was but a ten minute bike ride from Duke West Campus.

When I arrived, I asked to see Thessie Mitchell. They asked me to sign in as a guest, and told me that he was in the dining room. I went into the room and looked around, looking for someone I thought might be Mr. Mitchell. For a brief moment, I looked lost. A nurse noticed me and asked me who I was looking for. I told her. And she motioned me to Thessie.

thessie

Mr. Mitchell is a large black man. He sat in his wheelchair with his eyes closed, asleep. I walked closer to him, uncertain of whether I should wake him or not. The nurse, again, noticed, and said loudly, “Thessie! Your friend is here!”

At once, Mr. Mitchell opened his eyes. He looked straight at me and smiled. And started grunting. He was talking to me, but it was not very clear. I could barely make out what he was saying. I stepped a little closer, still hesitant, but wanting to be able to understand him. It sounded like someone talking through a long, thin hose. Slowly, after he said the same phrase about twenty times, I began to figure out what he was saying: “Get… the… nurse…”

Needless to say, I got the nurse. The nurse came over, manipulated a valve on Mr. Mitchell’s neck, and then left.

When Thessie next spoke, his speech came out clear as day. “Sorry about that,” he explained to me. “You see this valve on my neck? It helps me breath.” He then took a look around the dining room at the other resting residents, then said, “Let’s go my room. Push me there. Room 124.”

For the next couple of hours or so, I learned a lot about Mr. Mitchell. I learned that he was once a police officer that worked with Duke Security. He fondly told me that when Frank Sinatra visited the school many years ago, he was the one tasked to escort him. Unfortunately, after decades of dedicated service, he was met with an unfortunate car accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down, making him quadriplegic. In the past five years, he had been on the verge of death countless times, battling time and time again with pneumonia.

I will tell you why I found Mr. Mitchell so fascinating.

He smiled every time I came to see him. He was truly happy for me to be there. In Mr. Mitchell I saw hope, and I saw motivation to live. From the words that he spoke to the actions that he did, he conveyed a feeling that he was happy to be alive.

Imagine a man who had been through such an injury that he literally had no body left to control. He could no longer feel physical touch, not the touch of a loved one’s skin on his own. He could no longer move his hands to scratch an itch, nor to move his legs if he ever got restless. He was truly a man trapped in his own body.

Now I ask you this. Remember that email I quoted before? Have you ever considered how difficult it would be to send an email without being able to move your body? At first, I thought that perhaps he simply asked someone else to look through and respond to his emails. Boy, was I wrong.

He asked me to move his table towards him. This was no ordinary table. This was a table put together by some students from Duke’s School of Engineering. On the table was his computer and a reading stand. He then told me to do something strange: he asked me to place a stick into his mouth.

Have you ever seen a miracle? Because that day, I saw a miracle. I saw a man who could not move his body use a laptop and read a book. Essentially, the only part of his body he could move was his mouth. By moving a stick around with his tongue, he was able to manipulate the laptop, to check his emails, and to flip pages in his books.

Over the course of the next semester, I continued to visit him. Because of my personal problems, I was unable to work with him continuously. And regrettably, at the time, I did not realize what a miracle I was witnessing.

I tell this story because of one reason, and that is no matter how close we are to dying, there is always hope, love, and motivation to find in this world. There is always a reason to be happy… always a reason to fight to stay alive. Even when the world tells us that our time is up, and even when we cannot stop the onslaught of death, we can continue to fight to be brave. When it comes to life and death, bravery is not about how strong your mind is. It is how strong your heart is. It is the people that come to visit you, the friends that help you rebuild your life together… essentially, it is the people you love, that replaces the thought of life over death.

Thessie Mitchell was a man who had the choice to live or to die. Literally, after his accident, the health team came to him and asked him if he wanted to live or to die. And it was a difficult choice. He knew that if he chose to live, he would place substantial burden on his family. The cost of health care is high, and the apparent quality of his life is low. He would forever live without the pleasures of the past. But he chose to live.

In March of 2013, I visited the Post-Acute Center. It was a Sunday morning, after Chapel Choir. At this time, I had started to struggle with some problems of my own. That morning, we had sung the hymn, “It is Well With My Soul.” When I arrived at his room, Mr. Mitchell was sound asleep. Not wanting to wake him, I took out a piece of paper, and wrote the lyrics of the hymn out.

A few days later, I received an email:

Hello my friend,
I am so sorry that i missed you on last visit, i was probable sleep.
If that was the case, please wake me up so we can get some work
done!!. I like the scribe that you  wrote. I will see u when i see
you.

I will see you when I see you. These words hold an incredible amount of meaning to me. These are words of true faith. They are the words that I wish I could have been used to saying before now. At the time, these words meant nothing. But now, I understand. I will see you when I see you means that I have faith that I will see you again, and that it doesn’t matter when nor where that happens. It does not even matter whether I am alive, because we will all see each other heaven or in death.

The next time I visited the health center, Mr. Mitchell was gone. I asked the nurses where he went, and they told me they could not tell me. I sent a message:

5/3/13
I truly hope that you are alright. I am not really Christian, but I have no choice but to pray for you right now. I went to check on you at the health center, but you weren’t there and they couldn’t tell me anything. I am worried, but I believe in your strength. If your family sees this email, please have them send me information about your status.

I hope for the best,
Frank Lee

Unfortunately, his time was up. In December 2012, I was inspired by a man who fought bravely at the edge of death, in order to reach God to find meaning in his existence. In May of 2013, he had reached God more closely than any living soul can. In his stead, he left a legacy, a story that explained his life and all of the ethical decisions he had to deal with. More information about his book can be found at his website: http://thessielmitchell.weebly.com/biography.html. In addition, he left me with more of his story, that was intended to be Part 2 to his book: part 2. I leave these here with the hopes that I will one day come back to this post, to relive these memories.

The foreward to his book was written by Coach Krzyzewski. It talked about how even though Coach K’s job was defined by motivating people, Coach K found inspiration in Thessie Mitchell. And I can’t blame him. Most of us live with daily struggles–mortal coil–but there are a few rare souls out there that truly lived up to what they believed in, and tossed away all their pride, all their pleasure, to fight for love. Even as I write this story, I remember the smile on Mr. Mitchell’s face as he first saw me. And because of that smile, I know that he loved me.

We are punished justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our actions. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus,remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. 

To end these memories, here are some chat messages I uncovered between Jonathan Hong and me, that perhaps show a window into my memories at the time:

Jonathan Hong
Hey not bring up any sad memories
but were you ever sad about Thessie?
Did it ever hit you?

Frank Lee
no

Jonathan Hong
reallyy?

Frank Lee
yes

Jonathan Hong
were you that detached?

Frank Lee
i wasnt detached
things dont really hit you until a long time later
i didnt know thessie as well
i knew him for a few months
and there wasnt a shock
after they said they couldnt tell us
what happened
i pretty much knew

Jonathan Hong
ok i see
I was really sad
thinking about how painful it must have been for you

Frank Lee
that was needless
but thanks

Jonathan Hong
hmm not like i tried
you’re welcome
I remember
you knew Thessie’s bday was 2 days away from yours

Frank Lee
its not as bad working with these people in nursing hime
because you know they’re there for a reason
i can only learn from thessie while he was alive
and hope that he reconciled his death
he was a great man
and he taught me a lot
but his death was inevitable

Jonathan Hong
yea i was really happy you met him
I remember you wanted to go visit him on his birthday
you mentioned visiting him for the first time in weeks/months
because it was his birthday
As soon as you said that I felt like I needed to check
and i found out

Frank Lee
he was a good friend

Jonathan Hong
im surprised at the fact you’re not sad
I was so emotionally torn on what to do
And it hurt me to have to tell you

Frank Lee
idk
why
im not emotionally attached to thessie

Jonathan Hong
maybe it’s a self defense mechanism

Frank Lee
honestly i dont think i get emotionaly attached to people in general anymore

Jonathan Hong
you were so excited about him
at the time though

Frank Lee
its like if a teacher dies
you just accept it

Jonathan Hong
.. no i would be extremely sad if my teacher died
i was close to all my teachers in high school
college teachers yea id accept it
besides mr kabbalah
and my writing professor

Frank Lee
i guess im an emoionless person

Jonathan Hong
i think it might be a self defense mechanism for you
it seems to work at a deeper level than how mine works

Frank Lee
no i just dont think im that emotionally attached

Jonathan Hong
you were so excited about thessie
though
worried about him enough to pray about him

Frank Lee
i can be excited about a lot of things

Jonathan Hong
and ask others to pray about him
happy to talk about his story
you wanted to show him to me so much
asked me so many times to go with you
excited when i was excited to see him
you had a time when you were sad about him being sick
i remember you telling me on the walk back to randolph

Frank Lee
i wouldnt consider that sad
i dont remember
what i felt

Jonathan Hong
you were sad
i could tell you were

Frank Lee
oh well
i guess i just sort of accept it

Jonathan Hong
I honestly believe that he is in heaven
He was a man who knew God
at least from what I Saw
*saw

Frank Lee
he tried his best
and he fought longer than most people would have

Jonathan Hong
If you believe what I believe then yes it would make sense to me if you weren’t sad

Frank Lee
whether or not he is in heaven doesn’t determine whether or not i’m sad

Jonathan Hong
but hmmm
shouldnt it thoguh?

Frank Lee
not for me

Jonathan Hong
then the question is why are you not sad?

Frank Lee
perhaps for you
im not sad because i didnt know him well enough

Jonathan Hong
hmmm from the amount you talked about him
it seemed like you knew a good amount about him
but i gues
s

Frank Lee
thats very on the surface

Jonathan Hong
that is a reasonable answer

Frank Lee
i didnt know how he acted as he grew up
i dont know what his face looks like when hes in pain
i havent seen him cry
if i knew him better
i would be very sad
but all i know of thessie
is that he was happy
or tried to be happy
when he saw me
and i admire that bravery

 

My Battle with Mental Disorder

•June 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Stay awhile and listen. This is the story of how my brain became injured, and what I learned through the process. As a disclaimer, because of my mental injury, I find it difficult to remember certain details , especially those that do not pertain to my injury.

Four years ago, I began to experience severe depression. I won’t discuss what caused it, for the honest reason that I don’t know. Perhaps one day a therapist will help me figure out what happened, but for now, I’ll just say I was met with some unfortunate circumstances. Instead, here I will focus on my experience during the mental disorder.

I experienced severe depression for about two to three years. It was, by far, the most painful experience I have ever had in life. I felt sadness, and emotional pain, from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep. There is no way to describe it other than hell. During this time, I was in college. All of my motivation disappeared. I saw life through a smokescreen, because my mind was so preoccupied by pain that I could not feel anything else. For people who do not have experience with depression, it is like learning that your closest friend had died. And died. And died again and again. Every single day.

Luckily, my closest friend was alive and well at this time. Every night, I would try to go to sleep, screaming inwardly and crying outwardly. My best friend would give me a massage until I fell asleep. Every night. His name is Jonathan Hong, and without him I would not be alive today.

For about the first year of the depression, I did not understand what I was experiencing. At this time, I did not realize that I had depression. I thought that I was just being weak, that if I worked harder, and tried harder, that I could overcome the depression. Because that was what I had been taught. During this time, I worked myself harder than ever. The semester coming back to school, I helped to publish a paper on the ocean’s largest ocean animals. In addition to taking university five courses (the expected being four), I took an extra emergency medical technician class that totaled over 200 hours during the semester. I worked extra hours in the cognitive neuroscience laboratory. I worked extra hours at a fish laboratory, where I helped to maintain the facility. I worked such that every single minute of my life was taken up by some sort of task. Because I believed, as people had said before, that in order to overcome depression you had to work harder.

That was my downfall. Instead of immediately going to my nearest therapist and psychiatrist, I burned out. Everything fell apart. I completed my EMT course, right up until I had to mail a form to receive my certification. But my strength had finally been exhausted. I took a look at my form, and I dropped it. And then I dropped.

What happened in the coming years, the rest of my years in college, was a blur. I can’t remember much. I have fond memories of being in a Christian a cappella group and in the chapel choir, and fond memories of being with my friends. These relationships are the only thing I can remember from college. I remember going to see the university mental health professionals for assistance. I remember taking Prozac, but it didn’t do anything. The strange thing is… I absolutely loved being at Duke. I met so many great people, and got so much help from everyone. But it was the worst few years of my life. Because of my mental disorder.

During this time, I developed several symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Without a doubt, the majority of my time was spent feeling sad. On top of that, I began to avoid certain locations on the school grounds that induced anxiety. Whenever I walked in a certain location, I would start feeling nauseous and start coughing. This symptom of coughing whenever I felt anxious about anything would continue for several years, even after leaving Duke. As for PTSD, my trauma was emotional – every time I would see someone in emotional pain, I would remember my endless nights of tossing and turning in bed, wanting to tear my brain into pieces. My mind was being attacked endlessly by demons.

The scariest symptom of all, however, was that I felt like I was going to die. Never once during my depression did I have thoughts of suicide. But I thought I was not going to live very long, not because I was pitying myself, but because my body had gone through so much emotional and physical stress I felt at the brink of a heart attack at all times. I told my best friend at least a hundred times, “I’m not going to live longer than five years.”

After my third year of college, I decided it was time for me to leave. I decided that I would graduate after 3.5 years of college, and for my last semester, I was going to spend it in China, at Duke Kunshan University (DKU). When I was there, I continued to have PTSD symptoms – every night, I would toss and turn in my bed, reliving my depression. But I began to learn to adapt to my mental disorder. It was at this time that I began to consciously suppress memories. Every night, I would take my memories from that day, all my hopes and dreams, and then shatter them. Once I finished crying, I felt no more pain. When I fell asleep, and awoke, it was like being born again.

Because of my memory suppression, I began to lose all of the restrictions that I used to have. I began to live without fear, and in a way, I became a somewhat more attractive person. I began to attract people because of my abnormality. At this point, I consider myself as starting to become crazy. Crazy because I had learned that I had to be different in order to deal with the pain I experienced.

At DKU, I had a relatively good time, and I can positively say that my severe depression lessened into perhaps a mild or moderate depression. I made a lot of new friends there, and began to develop my leadership skills. On the outside, I seemed to be a very happy, motivated person. But on the inside, my mental disorder continued to fester.

After graduating Duke University, and because of my experience with mental disorder, I decided to find some work helping people that also have mental disorder. The first thing I came across was applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy. For about half a year, I worked with children with autism and other developmental disorders. Afterwards, I applied to medical school, and then spent another half year as an Americorps member working with neurotypical children in schools, teaching them how to play.

20170627_144442

During this time, I worked hard to adapt myself to my mental injury. Before my mental disorder, I perceived life like a little child. I always looked towards what was next, what was in my future, and what I could do more. After experiencing my mental injury, I now live life as if I am going to die in a few years. I now live life like an old man. I live life according to what is meaningful to me and my experiences.

There were several breakthroughs that helped me begin to recover from my mental injury. I say “begin” to recover because I know that I am not fully recovered yet. In fact, I would say that it is probably extremely rare for anyone to completely recover. The first was learning to suppress my memories. Although I think this is unhealthy in the long run, it was a necessary mental technique in order to deal with mental distress. It is because of memory suppression that I now have slight memory problems, but I would rather have memory problems than feel sad any day.

The second was the discovery of rejection sensitivity dysthymia. I discovered this after my psychiatrist told me that I had atypical depression, which is characterized by extreme reactions to small things. For example, I received a text from a friend that said they couldn’t hang out. Because of this, I felt like the world was going to end. I logically knew that I was overreacting, but I couldn’t change how I felt. This led me to Google atypical depression, and from there, I found a link to rejection sensitivity dysthymia. After learning about this disorder, my life changed. I began to realize that everything I had done previously, and had led to all my mental problems, was rooted in something that had happened in my childhood. The key was this: I was rejecting myself before I was actually being rejected. After learning this, I began to have a lot more self-confidence, and to be completely honest, it took away a lot of my PTSD symptoms of triggered flashbacks.

Nowadays, people might think I am crazy. If I look at myself from the outside, I am someone who definitely has something wrong with my head. And to me, that’s fine. Maybe I am a little crazy. But I am only crazy because I had to fight a battle that many people don’t have to fight. And for some people, I am a beacon of light, because I have experienced things in this world that are dark and scary, but also enlightening. I live in a disillusioned world, a world in which there is no such thing as living a “normal” life. Even though I don’t want anything more in the world than to be able to revert back to how I felt before my mental injury, I know that I now live with something that can give me the power to change the world: sorrow.

Today, I live without restraint, and I am not afraid to not conform to what other people think is right. Because I know what is right deep inside. Other people might look at me, and consider me weak, needy, incompetent, or deranged. Yes, I am all of those. But I am not concerned. Today, I live for myself, and my brothers and sisters out there who suffer from mental disorder. I live for those in need, and whose cries for help are being ignored by society. I don’t live a happy life. Nor do I live a logical or moral life. I live my life.

Here are many of the problems I now have because of my injury, and that I hope to resolve in the future:

  • My time perspective is completely out of order. Because of my depression, I placed myself into a present-hedonistic time stasis. In other words, I preoccupied myself with the present, because I became afraid of the past and of the future. Recently, I got in touch with one of the developers of Time Perspective Therapy, a form of therapy that uses time to help treat PTSD. In order to readjust myself to “normal” life, I need to reinforce positive memories, re-evaluate negative memories, solve my problems with my current fatalistic thinking, and create a positive future for me to look forward to.
  • I have a bad diet/exercise/lifestyle. Because of my depression, I threw away everything I knew before about discipline and maintaining a daily lifestyle. I learned to use food as a drug. I learned to sleep whenever I felt sad or anxious. I became extremely soft on myself, not because I was weak, but because if I didn’t, I would experience another mental breakdown. Slowly, I need to move towards a more healthy diet and re-introduce exercise into my life. As my symptoms become lighter over the course of years, I will slowly teach myself to live a “normal” life again.

Unfortunately, my thoughts, and my energy end here. I can probably write endless pages about what my mental disorder was/is like, but I can’t bring myself to do any more in this moment. I hope to flesh this post out more in the future, but for now, this will do. As for anyone wondering why I am talking about this now, it’s because I can, and it’s meaningful to me. So why not?

Love

•July 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XC3ahd6Di3M]

I can’t believe I haven’t done this post yet.

What is love? Is it real, or something made up? What are the different forms of love? Why does love have such a strong effect on people? What’s the history of love? These are all questions I plan on answering in this simple blog post.

As a youngster, love to me has seemed to be some sort of mystical substance that pours from people’s hearts into the lives of others. We feel it when our mother holds us when we curl up in her arms, or when our father smiles when he sees us at a proud moment in our lives. We sense it when we fight for our team, sacrificing ourselves for the good of our troop. We are immersed in it when we lay down our armor and give it up to our God. And, of course, we want to believe in it when we think we’ve met that one person that might change our entire lives.

Before, going on to other sources, I have to go to my trusted source, Wikipedia. It says that the straight up answer for the question, “What is love?” is that love is a positive expression that is stronger than the word “like” and contrasted with the word “hate.” Love is caring or identifying with some person or thing, and it can be targeted towards the person itself (narcissism). There are many cultural differences in love, and it can be impersonal or interpersonal.

Impersonal love is when someone says, “I love California weather,” or sometimes when people say they love to do certain altruistic acts. For example, someone might love to serve his or her community, but that is an impersonal love and not an interpersonal love, even though it is dealing with people. Perhaps I enjoy the feeling of helping people, then I might say I love helping people, but do I actually love the people themselves? Maybe, maybe not.

http://www.barefoot-photo.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/IMG_9601.jpg

Interpersonal love is the interesting stuff. Helen Fisher, an expert on love, divides love into lust, attraction, and attachment. Lust is sexual desire; attraction is what makes one want to pursue another; and attachment often involves a sense of security. Interestingly, neuroscience has suggested that a set of chemicals, including hormones, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, stimulate the brain’s pleasure center (nucleuc accumbens, prefrontal cortex) and leads to increased heart rate, loss of appetite and sleep, and a sense of excitement. You’ve had that feeling before, haven’t you? In addition, a group has found that a nerve growth factor has high levels after someone first falls in love, but that level returns to its base level after a year.

Honestly, that’s not much we know about love in terms of neurologically. Let’s take a look at psychological. Looks to be much more promising. Psychologist Robert Sternberg says that love involves intimacy, commitment, and passion. Intimacy is sharing personal lives, and can be found between friends. Commitment can be found between friends as well. Passion is different, as it is sexual attraction. Empty love = commitment only. Romantic love = intimacy and passion. Companionate love = intimacy and commitment. Fatuous love = passion and commitment. Consummate love = all of them. You know what? I actually quite like this way of looking at it! Good job, Sternberg, you get a prize.

Now, in terms of cultural differences, I’m just going to focus on the Chinese view of love. The concept of Ai was developed by Chinese philosopher Mozi in the 4th century BC in contrast to Confucius’s benevolent love (piety, kindness, loyalty, etc.). Mozi wanted to replace the Chinese belief in attachment to family and clans and extend love to be more universal. He believed that love should be equal to all people. The word “Ai” is used less frequently than in Western societies’ “love”, as “I like you” rather than “I love you” is more often used, depicting a sense that love is more serious of an affection. Sort of makes sense. I’ve probably never heard of my parents use the word “love” before, in English or in Chinese, whereas I hear it from younger people a lot (like “I love children!”).

Also, as a curious individual, the Christian love of God has also inspired me quite a bit. Agape is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. It is the way God loves humans, and the kind of love Christians try to show others. I must say.. I am very fond of this kind of love. Throughout my life I have been immersed in agape. People have reached out to me in religious settings more than anywhere else. I am very, very glad agape is a thing. Phileo is human delight, or “brotherly love.” The famous love quotation from the bible (1 Cor. 13:4-7) says that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs…” I think a lot of Christian people go by this amazing description of love, and I think it’s amazing how people are affected by the love of their God.

Saint Augustine and Saint Monica

Saint Augustine and Saint Monica

Unfortunately, lust (suggested as setting one’s heart upon one thing, long for, covet, and desire something) is not love, and is instead one of the seven deadly sins (though this is more in the line of Christian ethics). Saint Augustine, a philosopher, said that he searched his whole life for love, but he only found jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and contention. Finally, he found love with God. Augustine contrasts love, which is enjoyment on account of God, with lust, which is not. Augustine believed that love involves sacrifice of pleasure, but his views and experiences on love affected his view of women, deeming them lacking in self-control and less rational (but not completely degrading).

So.. now that we have a brief (dang, love has a LOT of info!) overview of love, let’s go into some questions I’ve had.

What is the love of homosexuals? Is the same as that of heterosexuals? What about in terms of the Bible?

For this matter, I am going to a site called Ransom Fellowship (the first that game up in my Google search). It starts by pointing out that homosexuality amongst men is somewhat different from that of women. Whereas men usually have no choice in their sexuality, women often are seen “converting” to lesbianism or using lesbianism as more of a political ideology than an actual exclusive sexual attraction. This I can somewhat believe because of other research in lesbianism (see my previous post on sexuality), but, of course, these are tricky matters.

Homosexual behavior is wrong, in terms of in the Bible, but some argue that homosexuality itself is not a sin, but rather the abusive, exploitive, uncommited, and destructive expressions of it. The specific lines are Romans 1:24-27: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” The exchange of natural relationship to the unnatural, homosexual relationship is deemed a rebellion against God and the “fallen condition of humanity.” In these lines, “Paul establishes the intrinsic immorality of homosexual behavior irrespective of social context, personal motivation or anything else.”

So the real question is, must Christians fight against their own sexuality if they were to be homosexual? The answer from this website is a clear “yes.” Homosexuality is a sin, and although the church will help however it can for those who struggle, life without sexual fulfillment is the correct path to take – the same that can be said for single men, widows and widowers, divorced and those are sexually incapable. The Bible does not condone any hatred towards homosexuals. I have a lot more to say about homosexuality, but I will leave that for another day.

Why is love so painful?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IY15fAmmhnQ]

This is a pretty big question. Everybody everywhere goes through that crush stage, where we are thrown into this dark hole filled with jealousy, envy, fear, and all sorts of bad things. Others often go through losing close friends or family members. Sometimes arising from that stage is heartbreak, which is an intense emotional pain that can happen if a loved one leaves, dies, or rejects another. The pain of heartbreak is super interesting, because, as an intense emotional pain, it can lead to stimulation of the same nerves as physical pain (such as the vagus nerve, causing pain, nausea, and muscle tightness in the chest). This emotional pain can often come with depression, which is a normal reaction to life events sometimes but can be disastrous and develop into a psychiatric disorder for others (usually it is circumstantial and not a disorder).

The important thing to note here (and now I’m moving onto a psychological view) is that pain often comes in two parts: physical and emotional. Even stubbing your toe can give you a negative emotional reaction to, say, walking around barefoot. Old couples often make the news when they seem to pass away at similar times – can a broken heart actually kill someone? “Broken heart syndrome” is real and is the heart’s response to a surge in stress hormones and may feel like a heart attack. Fortunately, “at least for all the hurt love causes, it has an equally powerful ability to heal.”

I have personally seen the pain of love in action. My mother was at a time bereaved, and I have seen her lying on the ground, before we quickly dispatched her to the hospital. She said it felt like a heart attack, but it wasn’t. But she was there, just lying there, having a panic attack. I cannot imagine that kind of emotional pain, where you literally feel like you doom is approaching.

I do, however, have some other sort of emotion-induced pain that I have heard very few talk about but I’m sure is common. What causes it might be left for a different post, but the pain itself begins in the chest and extends out through my limbs and down my legs, usually ending in the soles of my feet. It’s a very weird form of pain, seeming to go through my muscles, and I think I first induced it through push-ups or something.

Does true love exist?

Hey man, I really don’t know. Flip a coin and hope for the best?

Anyways, those were my three top questions. I’m really sorry about the writing quality – I haven’t written in a long time and I feel like my writing has gotten a lot more coarse and uninteresting. I hope to be able to write more and for my writing to improve a bit as I get used to it again. I definitely have not done this subject justice.

Next time, I write about cars. Let’s do this.