Learning How to Paddle

During the last week or so I have been really reflecting on my mental health journey, which really only began in an intentional way in the last couple of months. I think I’ve been thinking about it because I have several “a-ha” moments and things seem to be working.

In the past, my motivation, moods, and overall emotional state seemed to shift back between highs and lows. It was never as pronounced as a bipolar disorder but I think it could be classified as cyclothymia, though I don’t know if it is technically serious enough for that. Regardless of whether I could get a diagnosis, this cycle of ups and downs every few months was causing problems in my life. There was rarely more than a week or three of stability, I was either up or down. Motivated or depressed. I was never just “good”. I was at a point where I had the resources to seek help, so I did.

Sidebar: It is worth noting that I took into consideration my diet, sleep patterns, exercise routines, etc. While all these things helped they did not get me to the stability that I needed.

I felt like I was rafting on a river without paddles or map. I didn’t know how to maintain a steady course and I was just thrashed around without much real control. I could put my hands in the water and guide myself a little bit (maybe even a lot in an emergency) but that was exhausting and rarely fruitful.

Getting mental help has assisted with that.

First, after consulting with a psychiatrist and psychologist with the VA I was prescribed Buproprian. This helped, but it certainly wasn’t a “fix”. Taking this medication was kind of like finding a fairly calm and predictable part of the river that I could get my raft into. I didn’t have much control based on circumstances but I was in a position where circumstances weren’t as jarring.

Second, I started seeing a therapist, specifically one that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and mindfulness meditation. Therapy has been like finding paddles for my raft. These tools help me navigate the river. Sure, it is difficult at first because they are unfamiliar (and there is a tendency to ignore them because they are difficult to use) but over time my muscles and skill with the paddles have grown. Now, when I see rapids or an eddy on the horizon I can prepare myself a little bit.

I still have a lot to learn and my skills are developing, but I’m happy with the progress. A big thing I’m focusing on right now is understanding the reasons for my fears, preferences, and such. Some of it surely linked to my upbringing and military service and being cheated on by the first two women that I loved, and others are linked to my feelings towards death and love. Unpacking those reasons allow me to address them and/or avoid them. It doesn’t fit really well into the river analogy but maybe discovering the source of my struggles is like finding a map of the river.

And, maybe most importantly, by working to find the root of my struggles I can forgive myself and others, and move on.

So, what are some of the things that I’ve noticed this week?

  1. RIA is coming kind of naturally. Recognizing my feelings when they happen, identifying what they really represent (usually fear), and addressing them in a systematic way is starting to be intuitive.
  2. I’m less anxious about being late for things, which has made my partner very happy.
  3. I communicate more clearly with my partner and am more assertive. I’m willing to say “no”.
  4. I am proactively seeking a social network here in Wilmington. I went to the Unitarian Church (and their after-service BBQ) and have contacted several organizations that I’m interested in working with. I’m also researching volunteer opportunities and may take singing lessons. Oh, and I started yoga again. Six months ago I would have never done these things, I know that because I didn’t do these things even though they’ve been on my “want to do” list for about two years
  5. I sent in paperwork to become an LLC and am actively working towards long-term goals
  6. I feel good, grounded, and much more confident. My body image issues have gone from a roar everytime I step by a mirror to a calmer growl (and sometimes silence).
  7. It has become easier to log off of Facebook and Instagram, or to engage in a fruitful way and then go about my day. In fact, I find social media kind of boring now.
  8. I’m way more productive and procrastinating less
  9. I don’t feel guilty for down time
  10. I’m not really using SnapChat anymore. I realize I was using it for external validation, which usually ended up making things worse when I tried to get it. As my therapist and I have worked on my body image issues a bit I have found less need for that.

I don’t make any universal statements because I think the world is rarely (if ever) universal, but I will say that I think everyone should see a therapist if they can afford it. Everyone. Even if you have no noticeable problems there is such benefit from talking to someone who has an outside perspective and is trained to help with the mind. This is the beauty of specialization, I can turn to a professional to provide knowledge that I don’t have (and don’t have the time/resources to acquire). A therapist also provides a level of accountability that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere.

So, there you have it. I’m learning to paddle along the stream of life. There are plenty of rapids and eddies ahead, but I’m slowly growing stronger and will be able to handle them with more and more gentleness and ease.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

I’m Stressed… Wait, actually, I am feeling fear

The following word vomit is based on a couple of things going on in my life now. First, I just listened to two episodes of the “Ologies” podcast that discussed fear (link). Much of what I talk about here comes from that podcast and you should listen to it. Second, working with a therapist over the last month or so has really been an enlightening and educational experience, so some of what I discuss here has come from my therapy sessions.

Sidebar: For those that don’t know, I see a therapist primarily to help me with my anxiety, which generally manifests itself as social anxiety. I’m also on medication (Buproprion), which has helped a lot, but therapy has been giving me the tools to deal with specific circumstances. Even if I wasn’t dealing with anxiety I would probably still see a therapist because I think everyone should, just like everyone should talk to a doctor, personal trainer, nutritionist, etc to maintain and improve their health. End sidebar.

I have been known to talk about how stressed I am, especially to my partner. Work deadlines, financial woes, rainy weather, a dog who eats plastic and gets obstructed, a dying grandfather, feeling like I don’t have a social network, heartburn from too many Coronas… it all weighs on me. My heart races, my stomach is tied in knots, I have nervous energy but nowhere to put it. I get stressed-the-fuck-out!

But that is only kinda true, because “stress” is really just a linguistic trick to disguise how I am really feeling, which is afraid. All stress is fear. ALL stress is really FEAR. Full stop.

Fear is a natural occurrence and it has helped many species spread their genes by not dying, but in today’s world our fear center has been hijacked and is running WAY too much. Fear is either factual or fictional. Factual fear includes seeing an approaching army on the horizon, being cornered by a very angry antelope, or literally not knowing where you will find food or water.

Luckily, if you are reading this blog right now then you are probably in a position where you have rarely if ever, faced factual fear. You are more privileged than 99% of human beings who ever lived were. So, in theory, our fear centers should basically be bored and never stimulated. But that isn’t the case, because fictional fear exists.

Fictional fear is when our body interprets a situation as potentially deadly and gets the “fight or flight” system roaring when there really is no danger to your life. Let’s take the most common fictional fear in my life, sending an email to a client.

Situation: Email client an update on project.
Internal Dialogue: Oh fuck. What if you messed everything up? What happens if when you hit send you accidentally somehow included an embedded image from your computer of your dick? What if you include the wrong people on the email and you lose business? Oh god! Why! Why! Why!
Biological Response: PREPARE TO FIGHT OF FLEE!!!!!!!
Reality: I didn’t mess everything up, but if I did then I can repair it. There are no dick pics on my computer and emails don’t magically attach things. I am hitting “reply”, how would I include the wrong people? And if I did, that is fine. I’m not going to lose business because someone got an email that didn’t pertain to them. Half the messages in my box don’t require a response from me.

I know all these things. I am fully aware that nobody is going to die if I make a mistake at work. Even if somehow I make such a monumental mistake that I lose my job then I will be okay. I have a savings account that can get me through until I find more work. And even if that savings account is somehow drained (as well as my crypto investments, retirement fund, and all other resources). I have friends, family, and a wife who will support me in the short term. But I guess it is possible they could die and the country’s (shitty) social safety net will collapse because we are invaded by… umm, Canada? Then I might DIE!

So, basically, my body is responding to “send an email” with “If you screw this up you will get fired, your savings will evaporate, your family and friends will all die, the country will collapse, and you will be surrounded by polite mounties”.

Seems a little farfetched.

The truth is, our fear centers are overworked because society is constantly putting is in a state of panic. At the foundational level, fear takes two forms and both of these forms are used very heavily by marketing and politicians in order to get power and/or money.

The first form is the fear of not being good enough. This makes sense evolutionarily. My ancestor wants to mate with some hot lady in the tribe but thinks he isn’t good enough. So, the fear powers up and he works harder to acquire resources, grow stronger, defeat enemies, dance seductively, whatever. The fear encourages action towards a necessary goal to spread genes.

But, in our world, most people are “good enough”. We are good enough to get food and shelter long enough find someone to mate with (which is really our biological purpose in life). Modern marketing tells us otherwise though and fills us with this fear. Our abs aren’t six-packy enough, our car isn’t new enough, our retirement account isn’t big enough, our dick/tits are too small, or our armpits don’t smell enough like Harmony, Peace, Gold Temptation, Excite, Dark Temptation, Essence, Apollo, Anarchy, Black Chill, or Phoenix (WTF Ax?). We are NEVER good enough because someone, somewhere is always better than us at everything and marketing would have us believe that perfection is what we should be striving for.

So, we become afraid and each commercial starts the fear process churning.

The second form of fear is the fear of being out of control. Again, this makes sense evolutionarily. My ancestor sees that it is starting to get dark and her shitty primate eyes aren’t working that great. She no longer has control of her own protection and she uses that fear to run to a cave in order to be safe. The fear encourages action towards a necessary goal to spread genes.

Unfortunately for us, we have shit-bird politicians and the media who have decided that keeping us afraid of everything is a great way to stay in power. (I actually don’t know if this is an explicit intention by the individuals or if it is more of a natural institutional occurrence given the incentives in place, but I digress). When you turn on the news we are told to be afraid of fucking everything.

Every time a murder happens we are made to feel like it could happen to us, even though violent crime is at historic lows. Every war around the world is a threat to our safety, even though the likelihood of a war on American soil is basically zero. Every terrorist attack is something that may happen in our town, even though you are infinitely more likely to die because of a shitty diet than a terrorist attack (or, as we shall see in a moment, fear may kill you).

Instead of being afraid of real dangers (of which there are few) and/or dedicating time and energy to minimizing the true things that will kill us like heart disease, cancer, etc. Our minds are constantly in “fight or flight” mode in response to things that have a near zero chance of hurting us or directly impacting us.

But, there is one thing that maybe we should fear a little bit, fear itself. Because fear can kill us (slowly).

Being constantly afraid is kind of like being a cigarette smoker. It slowly, over time, weakens your body, fucks up your system, and leads to an early death. When afraid our bodies go through some awesome changes that help outrun a Mastodon. Our breathing and heart rates accelerate, blood is rerouted to the necessary immediate survival systems, muscles get tense, blood glucose and serum calcium increase, alertness prevents sleep, and our body prioritizes what is necessary “now” over what is necessary “later”. Basically, it says “hey, we want sex and genetic spreading but first we gotta be alive so we will worry about long-term health if we survive”.

Those systems that help us stay alive in a life-threatening situation are supposed to be temporary and they cause all sorts of problems when they are turned on too much. Our biological emergency systems are not meant to be running 24/7. When we are afraid our bodies are not spending resources on proper cell regeneration (cancer is a problem with cell regeneration) or food digestion (affects obesity), and the increased blood pressure puts pressure on the cardiovascular system (heart disease). Too much fear kills, and we are constantly being told to be afraid.

So when I wake up in the morning instantly check Facebook I am killing myself. I find that I’m not good enough because one friend has a better body and another friend got a promotion and another friend is having more fun on vacation and another friend started a business. FIGHT OR FLIGHT! MUST GET BETTER!

I continue to kill myself by checking the news. I find that everything is out of my control and Trump is going to start WWIII, except our allies will be North Korea and Russia, and our enemies will be Europe and Canada. I see that another murder happened in a midwest town that I didn’t know existed. I find out that the stock market might crash and everything is DOOOOOOOMED. FIGHT OR FLIGHT! MUST REGAIN CONTROL!

And all day I inject myself with fear and slowly kill myself, all in response to things that are actually unlikely to harm me and are completely outside of my sphere of influence. Not only that, I am killing my partner and pets (maybe). Fear is contagious. When stressed afraid our bodies release pheromones that tell others to be afraid. Makes sense for our evolutionary ancestors but kind of a shitty system today.

That is why I have found Stoicism to be so valuable because its philosophical foundation is based on figuring out what is in my sphere of influence and ignoring the rest. I can’t stop Trump from saying or doing crazy shit, and I also can’t stop a tornado from occurring on Mars, so why should I worry about either?

So, how do I try and handle fear now? First, I avoid unnecessary fear. I do my best not to check Facebook or the news. I also meditate daily, go for walks outside in nature, and study Stoicism. These practices have helped me calm down and get a better view of both what is truly happening and how I can affect it.

When it comes to addressing fear when I feel it the most effective tool for me is R.I.A. My therapist told me about this and I actually have a little sticky note on my computer screen that says RIA. RIA stands for Recognize, Identify, and Address. Usually, I don’t need to get to the Address portion.

Recognize means labeling what I’m feeling. Sometimes it takes a few steps to get to the foundation. Maybe I’m feeling anxious while talking to my partner. Instead of “I’m anxious”, I’ll mentally or verbally say “I’m feeling neglected”. Why am I feeling neglected? “I am feeling neglected because I feel like my voice isn’t being heard.” Why is that causing this response? “Because I feel out of control” (fear)

I am also really trying to change my language to stop me from identifying with my feelings. For example. Instead of “I’m stressed/afraid” it would be best to think “I am feeling stress/fear”. The stress isn’t part of who I am, it is something I am experiencing.

Identify involves determining if this is a factual fear or a fictional fear. Am I really out of control? Usually, no. Usually, there is something I can do to address the situation, which brings us to…

Address is doing what is necessary to calm the biological responses down and resolve the issue. Maybe I go for a walk or maybe I listen to music or maybe I masturbate. If something can be resolved then I talk with the appropriate people or take the necessary actions to resolve it.

RIA is so damn simple, but it has really been an eye-opener for me. I am increasingly able to address my fears and live more of the life I want. Thanks, Therapy!

PS: I couldn’t figure out where else to put this but I found it interesting. According to the podcast (seriously, listen to it), highly successful people don’t use the word “stressed”, instead they use the word “fear/afraid”. Stressed implies that the source of the problem is external, it creates a victimhood mentality, it minimizes your ability to change your circumstances. But, by identifying something as a fear you can overcome it or address it fully. Everyone feels fear, there is nothing to be done about that, but the way we address fear can be the difference between life and death.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Goin’ to Church

Today, at approximately 10:05 am EST I went to church for the first time in 10ish years. You may be wondering why I decided to go to church today. Or, maybe you aren’t wondering that. I can’t read your damn mind… but assuming you are wondering about that helps my blog post flow more smoothly.

So, to answer that query that you may or may not have (Schroedinger’s Query)… I don’t really have a solid, single answer. It is a combination of at least three things:

  1. I’ve been interested in attending a Unitarian Universalist service for a while but was overly anxious about it.
  2. My therapist is encouraging me to branch out and therapy is working. Sidebar: I actually had several “fuck yeah! this is working” moments this week. Go me!!!
  3. It is increasingly clear that I am not a magical social magnet that will draw in like-minded people simply by existing. Apparently, when you move to a new city in your 30’s and work from home it is really hard to meet people, especially if haven’t mixed your genes with someone else. You gotta be proactive.

Some mixture of all that came to a head this morning and I decided to attend the church service. And, you know what? I’m glad I did. The Unitarians seem like a really good fit for me, mostly because they seem to be focused solely on spreading love and defending the vulnerable. I know most Christian churches pay lip-service to the teachings of Christ but in my experience that is rarely the case.

To be fair, my experience is basically the churches I attended until I was about 20 years old, my parents and their friends, and the public Christian representatives. I don’t really recall anything that I’d call hate being preached from the pulpit but the love being preached was shallow when you start talking to the congregation. They may love Christ, but they are quick to support closed borders and government policies that lock up people for being poor, sick, or sinners.

It has been many years and my memory is likely biased, actually, scratch that, my memory is biased as fuck but it is what I have. Anway, looking back I don’t recall a lot of real following of Christ’s principles in a concrete sense.

For example, in Matthew we read that the King has prepared a kingdom for those that helped those that were hungry or thirsty, inviting in strangers, clothing those in need, looked after the sick, and visited those in prison. I can’t recall seeing ANY of that in the church I attended.

Did my church go to prisons? Nope. But they certainly encouraged policies to grow the prison population. As if most of the main characters in the New Testament didn’t spend considerable time in prison unjustly, many dying in it… <sarcasm> But I guess our government doesn’t make mistakes or put people in prison for bad reasons </sarcasm>

Did my church provide food, clothes, or water for those in need? Maybe once or twice, but it certainly wasn’t something done regularly.

Did my church invite in strangers? SURE! As long as they were American, because I guess in their Bible Jesus was all about closing off borders and letting refugees die (many of whom are Christian). It makes me wonder if Christians in America were persecuted, killed, or just lived in such terrible conditions that they were watching their children die who would they turn to for support? I imagine they wouldn’t go to the Christians in Mexico because that would be pretty hypocritical.

Did my church work to provide a home for orphans? Nope. But they certainly had a lot of people who had many, many, many kids. While there are nearly half a million kids in the foster care system the churchgoers I saw neglected them because they felt their own damn genes were too important. Yep, that is selfish as hell.

The closest thing that I can remember that was focused on helping others was the annual youth group trip to Mexico to build a church or school or homes. But, the more I think about it that really wasn’t about helping the poor. If it was about helping the poor we would have been spending all those considerable resources to provide shelter for the homeless in Portland, feed the hungry, or foster/adopt children.

The annual Mexico trip was actually for the students, not to serve those in need. It was a selfish trip meant to provide an experience for the members of the youth group. The people being “helped” were really just being used. Yes, they got help, but that was secondary to providing a week of learning, study, bonding, sunburns, whatever for a bunch of teenagers.

I saw a lot of money spent on buildings and sound systems and helping those within the church, but I certainly didn’t see much happening with those resources to help those in need outside the church.

Whew… that was a lot longer rant than I expected it to be. But I guess you get where I was coming from when I entered the Unitarian Church today.

Church today was pretty great for me. The format was familiar but the message wasn’t something that I had really heard in a church before. The hymns and messages were about proactive peace, tolerance, and love. They called for justice. It was a message of action. I actually cried at one point during the Pastoral Prayer. I felt welcome, loved, and home.

It was nice and I look forward to going back next week.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

Your Life is Your Work

work (noun): activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.

Work-life balance. We all know what it is and we often crave a “better” balance, which usually means more “life” and less “work”. This isn’t really what we want though. To want this is to believe the false dichotomy that our life and our work are separate, but that isn’t the case. We may want a better job-life balance, but that is different.

As humans, our life IS our work, and it should be treated as such. Our time away from work is often wasted away on numbing ourselves in comfort instead of struggling to be the best human we can be. We avoid struggle, suffering, and pain in our non-job time as if our purpose is to spend as much time in a near-sleep state as possible. We give very little intentional thought to what our purpose is and how we can achieve it.

I read all kinds of self-help books. In reality, they shouldn’t be called “self-help”, they should be called “here is what one person thinks worked for him with the benefit of hindsight and the human capability to filter out a bunch of stuff”, but I digress. I read a lot of these books and in my experience, each one tends to be about 10% applicable to my life. So, I pick and choose what works for me and put the book on the shelf for future reference when my life inevitably changes.

One thing that I’ve noticed from these books, as well as a number of business/entrepreneur/”get rich this way” books is that the lessons that are often focused on how we make money can be and should be applied to our life’s purpose. These books are usually big on sitting down and explicitly writing out a vision, plan, and purpose. But how often do we do that for the most important task, living? In my experience, rarely.

What is your vision for your life? I don’t know mine but today I am working on it.

What are your core values? For me it is peace, pleasure, and love, but why are these the case for me? I’m not sure but I want to find out because maybe these values suck

How do you measure success or know you are on the right path? Lower body-fat percentage, more orgasms, friends who call me during their times of need, new experiences… but I am still unsatisfied with this list.

What process do you use to make decisions? Trial and error, but I don’t record the problems I face or the solutions, so I end up running around in circles. I consult experts and trusted allies.

How long did you meditate, ponder, research, these questions before articulating them? Not long enough.

Did you write them down and post them somewhere where you can see them? Is your vision of the good life, your purpose for living displayed somewhere prominently so that you can be inspired when the days get tough? Mine isn’t.

We spend so much time figuring out how to make money or numb the feelings of life. Our time away from our jobs is supposed to be easy, leisurely, without discomfort, but that is the exact time when we should be suffering more because we will be suffering for something of our own choosing.

We should suffer the most from our true work, our lives. And we should spend at least as much time plotting, planning, examining, reflecting, and articulating our purpose in life as we do with our money making or fat burning schemes. How easy it is to plan a workout schedule but how much more valuable it would be to plan out a schedule of philosophical, spiritual, community, and true personal growth (for we are more than our muscles and skin).

Self-examination serves more than a philosophical purpose, it is practical and increasingly necessary in today’s economy. We are moving towards a day when each person is their own brand. We will all become freelancers, the days of working for one place or one career for 40 years is pretty much gone, but our schooling system still pretends things haven’t changed.

Self-reflection, finding vision, articulating purpose all require practice, they are mental muscles that need to be worked in order to be effective, and we will all need them to be effective. A life of just following orders or relying on standardized measures to determine success may be what our schooling thinks the future will be like but it won’t be. In order to succeed in the coming years we need to be well-practiced at deeper thinking.

And what better place to start practicing than struggling for our purpose in life?

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

How Do I Wish To Suffer?

I recently finished “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson (10/10: Would recommend). It is a really solid self-help book… though it is more of an anti-self-help book. I actually plan on re-reading it here in the next week or so and trying to set up some action items to implement the book’s philosophy, but until then I am going to continue to ruminate over some of the concepts discussed.

There is one in particular that I can’t get out of my head, the concept of suffering. Maybe it is because I’ve been getting a bit into Buddhism or maybe it is because the “what makes you happy/passionate/excited” question never worked for me. Regardless, Manson flips the script and instead of asking “what is your passion?” he asks “what are you willing to suffer for?”.

Suffering is inevitable, it can’t be avoided, it is part of life, we evolved because we suffer. We suffer because we want, crave, desire, long for things we don’t have, and when we acquire them we just move the goalposts. But suffering isn’t necessarily bad for us as individuals or as a species. Suffering leads to finding food, crossing continents, having sex, climbing mountains, working in soup kitchens, growing a garden, and flying to the moon. Humans unique (mostly, as far as we know) ability to envision a better world and feel longing for it both causes our suffering and has allowed us to become all we are. You are suffering and will continue to suffer until the day you die, and so will I.

So, the question remains, if I could choose how I wish to suffer, what would that look like?

At this point in my life, I have come up with three ways I wish to suffer. I’m sure there are more as I continue to dive into my mind a bit and refine things, but these are the basics.

My body: I am willing to suffer to make my body into something that is healthy and sexy. I could claim the work I go to is only about health, longevity, etc., but the truth is that I want to feel sexually attractive and working on my body helps that. Vain? Superficial? Shallow? Maybe, but it is also the honest truth. I like sex and flirting and new experiences and my opportunity for those increase if I have a strong, healthy, fit body. So, I must suffer. I forgo the savory and sweet foods that are unhealthy, I will go through the painful process of exercising, pay for a trainer, and fast regularly.

My partnership: Relationships involve suffering. Though, it is mostly indirect suffering (hopefully). I am prioritizing one person in my life when I crave more variety. I forgo adventures and travel because I desire my partner with me. My life is filled with a million “what if” scenarios that don’t involve my partner because I have set myself on a path with her. Now, I don’t regret it at all and my choice to be with her has opened up a million new scenarios that would never present themselves if I was single, but choosing is still suffering. I’m willing to suffer for us, though, more than any of these others.

Assisting With Death: This is the newest one to come to the surface but it has been an undercurrent in my life for some time. My training with the International End-Of-Life Doula Association has sparked a desire to suffer for this cause. I am willing to spend hours of my limited life learning, training, and volunteering to help ease the transition for both the family and the dying person. I’m willing to get out of my shell and learn to be more personable, compassionate, patient, mindful, and confident. I’m willing to spend money and time to expand my skill set (particularly massage) and I’m willing to suffer the failures and setbacks that come from starting a business.

So. Suffering is unavoidable, but I can direct my suffering to what I believe in instead of letting it direct my life. In fact, we all can.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

How to Change Your Mind

I just finished “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence” by Michael Pollan. First off, I kind of hate the title. That unneccesarily wordy subtitle doesn’t really do a good job of explaining what the book is about. Sure, that is all in there but it is actually a small part of the book. That isn’t to say I didn’t love the book, I did, I just don’t like the title.

So, what is this book about then? Well, a bunch of stuff. It provides a great historical account of scientific research into psychedelics. It has an interesting discussion of mushrooms. It is a first-person account of the author’s psychedelic experiences. And it looks into how psychedelics can help with dying, addiction, depression, etc.

For me, this book came at a very serendipitious time. I actually ordered it a while back but it was a pre-order, which means I was a little surprised when it showed up on my doorstep last week. Of course, it was new and shiny so I brought it along to the INELDA training I went to in Toronto. Plane rides are the best opportunity to read books and spending four days mostly alone in a strange city provided additional opportunities to dive into the book.

Not only was its arrival great timing because I needed something to read, it was also wonderful subject matter for the training that I took part in. The same weekend I was training on how to help others with death I found myself reading a book where some of the pages were devoted to how psychedelics can help people with death. I’ve long resisted my interests in sex, drugs, and death. I didn’t see them as something that I could turn into a career and I wasn’t really sure why I’m comfortable with them (is it because they are taboo or because they are all altered states of consciousness?). That has changed though. I see a vague path in front of me where I can merge the death and drugs in a way that will allow me to be a healer. Where is this path leading, exactly? No fucking clue, but the path is clearer now than any other time in my life.

I guess my dream would be to have a facility where dying people and their families can come to receive psychedelic drugs to help them with they dying process. We’d also have other professionals (nurses, doulas, massage therapists, therapists, nutritionists, etc) that are all focused on dealing the physical, mental, and spiritual struggles that come with dying in a healthy way. After my training, reading this book was like icing on the cake.

And, as is the case with all books, it has opened up a lot more rabbit holes. Like always, the back cover is filled with books I want to read and things to continue researching. This list includes:

  • “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan
  • “The Varieties of Religious Experiences” by William James
  • “Altered States of Consciousness” by Tart
  • “Animals and Psychedelics” by Samorini
  • “The Philosophical Baby” by Gopnik
  • “The Perennial Philosophy” by Huxley
  • Holotropic Breathwork
  • California Institute of Integral Studies
  • Katherine MacLean
  • Compass Pathways
  • Journal of Psychopharmacology
  • Al Hubbard
  • Paul Stamets TED Talk
  • Keats, “negative capability”
  • Henry Berson
  • Siddha Yoga
  • Esalen
  • Phenomology

I’m working down in Florida today and my upcoming weekend is busy as tits, but I really, really, really hope to start diving into this work more soon. I am no longer going to spend my time reading and doing the things I should do when I feel a passion growing inside me to help others in this important way.

Oh yeah, and the book made me want to try psychedelics again, but in a more therapeutic and controlled setting. I’ve never really been into psychedelics, my experiences have been mediocre at best. But I’m willing to give them a try again.

Vigil and Last Breath Ritual

As promised, here is my current death plan. I am sure that things will change considerably in the coming centuries but this is where I stand now.

Vigil

Once my body is showing signs that I’m in the last couple weeks of life it is time to start the vigil and get me into the last place I’ll be alive. Planning this was actually pretty emotionally difficult. I broke down crying when I was thinking about taking my last breath. My tears weren’t because of sadness really, or fear. My last breath is going to be fucking beautiful and a pretty awesome end to a life well-lived.

So, this plan is based on a “dream” scenario where I die at an old age in some home that I haven’t built yet.

I want my last days to be in my bedroom where there is a massive window that looks out into the forest. Occasionally I’d like to be wheeled outside to feel the sunshine, look at the stars, and feel the rain. I love the rain and spending a few minutes just feeling drops of water would be wonderful.

My bedroom will be mostly empty except for the things I’d like people to read to me. I want people to tell me stories about our lives together, read letters that they’ve written, read some poetry, play acoustic instruments, and read some books that I never got around to reading. The only time I want any television on is at the end of the day when I’d like to watch Netflix with Anna, just like we do most nights now.

I’d like candles that smell like blueberry or vanilla lit occasionally. And each morning I’d like someone to bring me up a fresh cup of coffee that I can smell. Music should be played regularly as well, specifically a death playlist that I’m still compiling. If anyone wants to sing some of the songs I choose or play them on a musical instrument that is cool too.

Oh, and I want a peace lily in my room.

Before entering into the room where I am dying (and I definitely want visitors) I want to people to really get into a good headspace. My room is not a place to argue over money or logistical bullshit, keep that outside. Before entering my room I want everyone to take a scrap of paper (the doula will organize this) and write something they are grateful for. It doesn’t need to be something huge, it can be something simple and plain. The grateful notes will be put in a box and read to me on occasion.

All friends and family are encouraged to visit me and take care of any unresolved issues. As most people know, I love being touched. Friends and family are welcome to touch, hug, cuddle, etc. The only limit is my head. Only Anna can touch my head or play with my hair. Oh, and I’d like my dog to come and curl up at my feet whenever possible.

Last Breath Ritual

When my body starts actively dying it is time to get the last breath ritual started. First, I’ll need someone to light a small campfire outside using oak if possible. Then, when I’m in my last hours of breath (or shortly after I die if I go quickly) I want to be taken outside and put into a hammock that is set up for this occassion. Ideally, Anna will be cuddled up with me and will gently remind me from time-to-time that it is okay to let go (damn it, now I’m starting to cry in the airport).

Four Candles

Once I’m set up in the hammock I want four candles set up at each corner of the hammock. The first candle will be green and once I’m in settled in I want my mother to take fire from the campfire and use it to light the green candle. This represents my birth, the springtime of my life. I’d like people to sing or play Amazing Grace when the candle starts burning. While this candle burns I’d like it to be fairly solemn and people can discuss my life, how I impacted them, and such. Next to the green candle will be a picture of my birth (or when I was a baby).

When the green candle is nearly burnt out I want my father to use some of the remaining flame to light the second candle, a yellow one. This represents the summer of my life that my father helped prepare me for through his example. I’d like an acoustic version of “Southbound” by MxPx played when this candle is lit. Then, the doula will bring out beer and other drinks or food. This is a bit of a party period and I’d like laughter. Next to the yellow candle will be a picture of the four of us guys from high school.

Once the yellow candle is nearly gone I want Josh to use the flame to light the third candle, an orange one. This represents autumn of my life and how Josh acted as a mentor and best friend throughout adulthood. When the orange candle catches fire then I’d like an acoustic version of “Past Lives” by Kesha played. Next to the orange candle will be my wedding photo. This period can continue the party.

When the orange candle is burnt down I want Anna to light the final candle, a blue one. This is the winter of my life and Anna, as my partner, was with me until the end. When this candle is lit things should calm down a bit. “My Way” by Frank Sinatra should play but when the song is over I’d like it to be mostly nature sounds and gentle conversations. I’d like the candle (or replacement candles) to keep burning until I take my last breath. After my last breath the doula should blow out my candle.

When I am no longer breathing I’d like to be moved to a bike-powered carriage and have loved ones bike me down to a pre-determined spot where I will be buried. It should be near a river and I’d like to be washed in the river.

Once clean, I want friends and family to lower me into the ground. In my mouth I want a little bit of MDMA placed, in my right hand a beer, and in my left hand a book on Stoicism (specifics TBD). I want to be wearing a plain t-shirt and jeans. A black flag should be folded and placed on my chest. Once buried I’d like a final poem by Hafez to be read by the doula and then they should say “We are stardust, and to stardust we shall return”. I don’t want my grave marked.

After those words people can head on up to the house to have a celebration of their choosing.

So, there it is, part of my death plan. There are still things that I haven’t figured out yet like a Legacy Project, but at least my final days are somewhat taken care of. Oh, and it should go without saying but I’ll say it, if there is anything I missed then Anna has the authority to make those decisions. I know I didn’t cover any medical stuff. I don’t view death as a medical emergency, or even a medical issue, but decisions may need to be made and I want her to make them. I want Josh, Kayla, and Jordan to support her and provide any guidance she may need. If somehow there is a significant disagreement or a compromise can’t be made then flip a coin.

It was interesting and somewhat difficult to do this exercise, but I actually feel more at peace now that I’ve given it some thought. Not only that, I’m inspired to make the most out of my life. I’m motivated and excited and can’t wait to keep trying to make this (probably) one conscious life count.

Memento mori

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

End-Of-Life Doula Training – A Post-Mortem

Well, I’ve had almost 24 hours to settle my mind a bit about the training I just completed. I’m going to reflect on it here, but first I think some explanation of what the EOL Doula perspective is and why it is of interest to me. This is just a quick elevator speech and I highly recommend people check out the International End-Of-Life Doula Association website for more information.

The basic goal of the doula is to help a dying person have a good death. It is a push away from the industrialized death industry that is so pervasive in our culture and a recognition that death is natural and shouldn’t be hidden away. We live in a very unique time in history where we try and hide death, and that is a mistake.

In general, a doula works with the dying person and their family over a number of months both before and after death. They work with the dying person to reflect on their life, recognize their legacy, and resolve any issues that may still exist. They work to establish rituals and set up the location for death in a way that is as pleasing as possible to the dying person. When you close your eyes and think about the moment of your death, what do you want the area to look like? Smell like? Sound like?

Do you want to have open windows, natural light, and the sounds of nature? Or do you want to be surrounded by laughing loved ones, Frank Sinatra on the radio, in a cozy, dark room? Every person is different and the doula’s goal is to work to make these things happen. The first step in any action like this is to acknowledge death and explicitly talk about it (which is why I will be posting my current death plan stuff soon). Unfortunately, very few people want to discuss death and what their loved one would like in their final moments, even when the dying person is clearly close to death.

The doula is also a source of information about what the dying process can look like. There are a lot of things the body can do once the body starts actively dying and those things can be scary if you are unprepared for them. The doula eases this fear by being someone who is experienced and educated on death.

After death occurs, the doula helps implement whatever plan was developed for the moments after the last breath. They help facilitate so that family can express their emotions freely and not worry about details like who will call the funeral home, who will light candles, etc. Some people who die don’t want a fuss after their last breath and others want a celebration. A doula facilitates that.

Lastly, a doula works with the family for weeks or months after the death to help them process their grief and the death experience. They are a source of comfort and reflection when all the hustle-bustle dies down. When someone dies they often have family and friends in town to lean on for a few days or weeks, but eventually, people move on with their lives and the deceased spouse, children, or other close family members can feel isolated and alone. The doula checks in and helps during this vital period.

So, that is a quick down-and-dirty run of what I spent the last 3 days training to do. I am definitely still a noob and have a lot of learning ahead of me but I feel passionate about this and I am looking forward to exploring exactly how I will help people have a good death. The next step for me is to get a business legally started, start volunteering at hospices/hospitals/VA/prisons/etc, and go to massage therapy school to specialize in massage for the dying and those with terminal disease.

While that is my path, it isn’t necessarily the path of everyone who attended the training. There were 19 of us that ventured to Toronto to train and we have very diverse backgrounds and motivations. Take, for example, the other four members of my Table Tribe (or “Lee’s Tribe”) – Oh, and names changed because I did not receive explicit consent to share too much:

  • Allison – Retired pastor who is in her 60’s. Now lives in a rural community and loves horses.
  • Bethany – Somewhat hippy mother of two and former American. Loves Burning Man and cheese.
  • Carol – A French-Canadian mother in her 40’s.
  • Debby – A younger (late 20’s?) musician and business owner.

We spanned all ages (from early 20’s to 80’s), political view points, and geographic regions. To be honest, the only thing that most people had in common is that it was a very female-dominated training event. Out of the 20 people involved (19 students and 1 trainer), there were only two men. Is this because men aren’t as interested in death or compassionate enough for this role or people don’t want a male doula? I don’t know, but the fact is that being a male EOL doula, much like being a male massage therapist, is rare.

Oh well, I don’t mind.

Wait, there was something else that stood out to me. The EOL training had a relatively large number of LGBT members. I’d guess at least 25% of the participants were LGBT, and maybe as high as 50%. My estimate is based on explicit conversations with people, as well as the general terminology people used like “partner” instead of boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband.

Post-Script: This is to the person who sent me a message on SurveyMonkey. I’m really glad you reached out and that we met and I’m thankful for whatever it was that brought our group together. Much love your way and I can’t wait to get the letters started so that we can all learn a little bit more about each other. Writing is definitely something that I love, even if my blog has been kind of angsty lately…

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Toronto – Part III

I almost deleted my last post. I rarely even consider that. No matter how raw or controversial or unsure I am of what I’m writing, I always see value in keeping it posted. As the group I’ve spent the most time with here in Toronto can attest, I let my freak flag fly pretty quickly. Luckily, they are all bad ass.

Anyway, I was embarrassed about my last post. Alcohol is really the only drug that I use that can lead to embarrassing moments of potential regret. But, instead of deleting it I decided to reflect on it and revise it a little bit.

First off, I realized that I drunkenly wrote about sex for two reasons, one fairly direct and one more indirect. The first reason was that I was hoping that by posting that someone at this event would see it and want to hook up. That’s kind of a longshot because I only know of one person who really knows of my blog and I doubt anyone is spending their free time reading my randomness. Posting it was a way for me to be passive, to feel like I was doing “something” when I was really doing nothing. Writing like that is about as likely to get my some intimacy as liking Facebook prayers is going to stop world hunger. I wanted intimacy without effort, I didn’t want to put my ego out there because I have fairly low self-esteem and a distorted image of myself.

The second reason is that talking about sex is a way that I cover up my need for intimacy and physical touch. Maybe it feels more masculine (in a toxic way) to be chasing sex at all times, even at a death conference, or maybe it is something else. Regardless, talking about death all day and literally writing out how I want my last moments to be is a very raw, deep, and intimate process. And I’m someone whose love language is “touch”, so when I am feeling deep and raw and emotional I want to express that through touch. My partner is a thousand miles away and I am an introvert who is painfully aware that it can be threatening for a male to try and initiate touch, so instead, I write about it where very few people will notice it.

There are definitely more things that I want to write about this experience and I am going to publicly post my plan for a good death, vigil, and rituals that I want to have completed when I die. I used to think that I didn’t want anything special but the more I think about it the more I want to be a little fucking selfish. So, that means all my loved ones will have to hear a few Kesha songs, drink some hoppy beer, and do things my way.

I’m a little sad for all this to end and I wish I would have gotten to know everyone even better. I feel really close to my little table tribe (there are five of us) and I am going to miss them. This was such a bonding experience and they are all super cool. I hope we stay in touch… actually no, I’m not going to rely on “hope”. I’m going to make a strong effort to stay in touch by email, snail mail, or smoke signals.

Post-Script: Last night I went down to the hotel bar and drank beer while watching the Stanley Cup. Canada should just issue me a citizenship right now. Though, as fun as that was I feel like it was kind of a failure. My therapist has been gently encouraging me to be more outgoing and strike up conversations with strangers but I never got the courage to do that last night. I just sat there and drank beer by myself and felt slightly confused by some of the things I saw on the ice.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

 

Toronto – Part II

I’m a little bit drunk, so bear with me. First, the carnal things:

  • The lighting in my hotel room is great and my workouts are paying off. As my snapchat friends know (well, those who have consented to nudes) my back and ass look pretty good right now. Getting a personal trainer was one of the best decisions I’ve made recently. I’m very satisfied with the results.
  • It is a new experience being in a place where there are two guys and 17 women. Being in an open(ish) relationship means I should be thrilled but I don’t know what other people’s relationships are like (or if they have them) and I’m still introverted as fuck. So, despite my partner’s support for me making out with strangers I’ll probably keep going to bed alone. At least the bed is huge and I can sprawl out naked.
  • Is it weird that I still think about sex and hooking up at a training situation that is focused on death? Probably. Cie l’evye (my french is terrible). Sex (like death) is an important part of life. I can’t turn off my desire to be intimate and curiousity about the look and touch of other people.

Alright, less than carnal stuff.

  • The more I learn about being an End-Of-Life doula the more I feel a calling towards it. How we deal with death in western culture is pretty fucked.
  • My fellow trainees (is that what we are called… maybe we are pre-doulas… or baby doulas…) are all incredible people. The variety is astounding. There are 26-year old college students and 70-year old retirees here. Such a wealth of experience and knowledge and perspective.
  • Drugs are a bonding experience. Once I mentioned my love of MDMA the flood gates opened and many people discussed how psychedelics and such have helped their life.
  • I need and want to write my death plan. It is never too early.
  • Shit… I’m sure there is more… I’ll be back to this later when I’m less intoxicated or horny or alone. Actually, I’ll still write when I’m alone.

PS: I see a lot of red underlines, which means that I misspelled everything. Sorry about that, I hope you can still get the gist of it.

 

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”