Chapter 2: Friendsmas

Word to the Wise: this is not professional advice. This is my experience and my experience alone. Some of these things may trigger those who read or listen to this story and so I advise everyone to proceed with a hint of caution. Again, this is not professional advice; it’s just observations of my own inner conflicts and intuition. There is some personal wisdom that I encouraged myself to share with the hopes of it helping, but it is not the end-all be-all solution. Everyone is different, but we can all learn from each other. If you are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, please reach out and seek help. You will never be penalized for doing so.

If you know me, you know it’s no secret that I’ve got a soft spot for dining out. And typically when I find a place, I stick to it religiously; from where I am, one of those places is UTOG Brewing. At this point, no one checks my ID, I never wait to be seated, they just tell me “we got some open seats at the bar” and I belly right up to the bar. The counter of the bar is a gorgeous slab of petrified wood with pools of blue resin filling in the holes of the slice. They’ve always got games on of some kind; typically it’s football, but around this time they were showing the US Olympic trials so I got to enjoy a game or two while eating over a work of art. I typically chatted with bartenders (one of the bigger brownie points for why I became a regular) and there was one in particular who had a knack for knowing a good Utah bar or two. I started inquiring about some of the hot spots in Salt Lake City and he without hesitation recommended three bars right off the bat. I’d tell you the bars but that’s a story for another day. The point is, this bartender had a specific taste in ambiance, and I was all for it.

One of the biggest saving graces to my sanity and loneliness while in Ogden was the friend group I encountered through a mutual friend. It turns out, one of my best buddies from college moved there a few months prior and insisted that I meet some of the buddies he met in town. I was unsure what meeting them would look like but I just allowed myself to be open to whatever may happen. I couldn’t help but hear some words of advice from a former employer of mine who brought this up in a conversation once: “After college, you really don’t make friends anymore.” I felt like the way he described it was a little confusing but I think I got the idea; college is really the last time you’re able to make friends. After you get your degree and start your life, most people become preoccupied with their own lives, they don’t really seek out opportunities to develop the same kind of relationships and friendships that you can make in college. So with that as a foundation, I proceeded with caution.

We met at a dive bar that the friend group was a regular at. In fact, we as a collective were given the name “The Elder Crew” because as the legend goes, the group showed up after a wedding still in their Sunday best and the bartenders thought they were Mormon missionaries, who traditionally have the title of Elder. So now, when it’s Thursday night, everybody in Funk n’ Dive knows it’s the night of the missionaries. Although there’s roughly twenty members of the group in total, I got to meet three of them and the night went off without a hitch. I clicked well with them, we shared a few laughs, a bromance or four may have started. It was a great change of pace of what life in northern Utah was like for me. So much so, that my college buddy Doug said he had never seen them be that welcoming so quickly. Since then, I have been a member of the Elder Crew.

It was the first week, literally, the first week of the year and one of our fellow elders had the idea to host a Friendsmas party at their house. I had been part of friend groups in the past, but I had never had a Friendsmas before so I thought The Elder Crew are coming together to have a post-Christmas celebration of my favorite holiday? God, I love these guys! And here’s how impactful these guys were to me: I treated these invitations like they were shifts for a job. I had been working two jobs at a time, but The Elder Crew felt like job #3 so I was more adamant with the structure of my schedule. But that being said, I had to make compromises and I was noticeably upset when I couldn’t be with the Elder Crew. Thankfully for me, Friendsmas was immediately after my morning shift so I was ecstatic to watch the schedule line up.

Friendsmas was on a Sunday and I typically worked midday and morning shifts on the weekends so my day started at roughly 5 in the morning just to give myself time to wake up and prep for the 8-hour day ahead of me. I honestly couldn’t tell you very much about what happened during the shift. Can’t really remember very much aside from a lot of restocking and checking the inventory only to discover we didn’t have any of what we were looking for on hand. That was a typical day regardless of what time the shift was. But the time had rolled around to punch out and I couldn’t have left any faster.

I drove straight home, got ready, grabbed my gift and ugly Christmas sweater which double as a drinking game (yeah, I went pretty far with it by bringing the best $25 I ever spent at Walmart) and got back in my car. I got to the hosting house in roughly 15 minutes, I watched the scenery slowly unveil the house from the roof to the gutters, to the door frames to the windows to the doors to the steps. I immediately parked almost to a screeching halt, I cranked the parking brake, snagged my gift, jumped out of the car, and plummeted. I emotionally plummeted.

What originally were thoughts of joy and excitement and eagerness suddenly became thoughts of self-doubt, insecurity, and isolation.

There’s a YouTube video called “How to Silence the Negative Voices in Your Head” by a channel called struthless that recommends making the negative voices in your head characters because by doing so, you’re kind of able to demystify the monster. I’m gonna try to do that with what was going on in my head so hopefully you can get a better visual of what happened. Let’s describe this voice and collection of thoughts that kept popping up as a black cloud with red eyes. That’s the first visual I get; it just kind of lingered around me, I was almost breathing it in, and if I wasn’t careful I would be seeing the world through the cloud’s eyes and not my own.

I felt like a light switch went off and I didn’t know what was happening. It was almost like I was having a panic attack but in the opposite direction. As my mom, a therapist, described it I was having a depression attack. Out of the blue, I was blue. And I was only spiralling faster and faster as the night went on. This black cloud that suddenly took over me was doing what the world of psychology calls projecting. Projecting is where you believe the world is a certain way because of your perceptions, and typically it’s in a negative light. If you think the world is full of douchebags, then your brain will tell you the next person you meet is a douchebag without a second to actually meet them.

The black cloud is a master projector and everything suddenly became fireproof evidence for why I was a piece of shit.

You don’t deserve to be here it would snap at me. You don’t belong here. I remember one of the most painful moments for me was when I was having a conversation with Doug about the most recent hypnotherapy class I took which funny enough was on fears, phobias, and anxieties. I knew what the cloud was saying wasn’t true; Doug is not only super excited for my hypnotherapy practice, but he was one of my biggest advocates and still is. But I still couldn’t find my emotional way out.

He doesn’t give a shit the cloud would say so shut the fuck up. Look at his body language. His eyes are glossing over and he wants to talk to someone else. Do the both of you a favor and stop talking. I kept talking anyway assuming that the cloud wasn’t there but I couldn’t turn it off. It was like it was yelling this at me directly behind me. And it persisted.

When the time for games came around, we wound up playing a game that really emphasized the fact that you needed to know the members of the group pretty well. Most of the Elder Crew had known each other since high school. I had only them for two months. It was like giving the black cloud kerosene and a match.

Aww, if only you could actually be a part of this the cloud said Just proves my point. You don’t belong here and the more you play, the more that becomes a fact. No one cares. You’re just here because you know Doug and everyone else is being nice and courteous and letting you stay. It was really messing me up. Everything little thing I did was an inconvenience to someone. And it really took a turn because I would start beating myself up without the black cloud.

Why the fuck is this happening? I would think to myself Why is the therapist having these problems? Shouldn’t I be immune to this kind of thinking? That’s when the black cloud went down the Imposter Syndrome path like it was uncharted territory. We wound up doing ten rounds of this game and I tried my best to keep my cool. The tough part was I knew this wasn’t anyone’s fault; it was actually a really fun night, and I was so grateful I got to be apart of it. I was just… clouded.

As we were wrapping up, which was actually quite divine timing, the black cloud finally made me snap.

Y’know what it said If you died tonight, no one in this room would bat an eye. That’s when I decided to go home. I had talked with select members of the Elder Crew about how I appeared to be that night. No one noticed anything, but I knew after the black cloud said that I ran the risk of spreading that energy and ruining others’ good time if I stayed longer. That’s what had happened in the past and I vowed to never do that again. So I said my goodbyes and I left.

On the ride home, I couldn’t stop the cloud and it started feeding me thoughts of self-harm and other kinds of damage and how the tiniest things were my fault. I was so infuriated, I smacked my hand against the steering wheel and I thought Alright, fuck this. I’m going to Harp and Hound. Harp and Hound was one floor directly above Funk n’ Dive. The dive bar was closed on Sundays, but Harp and Hound wasn’t and it had the same bartenders and bouncers so I knew if I went there, I would be somewhere public and I would be around people I knew. I texted Doug, just so I could reach out and I could leave a paper trail in case anything happened. I sat down and was waiting for some avocado rolls when I remembered my latest addition to my morning routine.

For Christmas, two family friends gave me something called Inner Compass Cards. These are kind of like Tarot cards but their topics are designed to improve your lifestyle and intuition. For that day, the card was “Many Thanks” which according to the booklet it came with meant I should be more focused on gratitude for that day. I tried to do so during the party but it was so overbearing I couldn’t hear myself think.

So now that I had some time to myself, I decided to sit down and just focus on gratitude. I pulled out the Notes app on my phone and I just got to work writing out all the things I was grateful for. But this wasn’t any other gratitude list: I specifically tried to reword the things that the black cloud was telling me in order to turn them into positive thoughts of gratitude. For example the black cloud told me that I was wasting Doug’s time and he wasn’t interested. So, the first thing I wrote was:

I’m grateful I got to rekindle my friendship with Doug in Ogden.

Then I thought about how the cloud was saying I didn’t belong in the group and no one cared if I left or died. So I then wrote:

I’m grateful I was able to spend more time with the Elder Crew and build memories in this friend group.

And the moment, the literal moment, that my thumb twitched down and pressed the “P” key for “group”, it felt a tap on my shoulder followed by a voice that said “It’s good to see you, buddy.”

I looked up to see the bartender from UTOG sitting down next to me and ordering a beer and a shot of Jameson. At this point in the night I was emotionally exhausted trying to fend off the black cloud, but I just thought to myself Keep talking. Do whatever you can to get out of your head and away from the cloud. So I allowed the conversation to keep going. What turned into a desperate attempt to escape my own head became a 2 hour in-depth conversation on the art of film and animation. Things I know religiously and I couldn’t shut up about as a kid. Not only did I chat with someone I knew but I just so happened to chat with this person I knew about the most familiar topic to me possible. I don’t care who or what you believe in existentially, but that solidified a lot of stuff for me. I was able to redirect my projections and go home exhausted, fading, but content and relieved. Emotionally, it felt like going five rounds into the Octagon and winning by split decision. I suddenly spiraled into a weird depressive state, wrote a gratitude list based on intuition-oriented Tarot cards and the universe or whatever you may subscribe to rewarded me for trying to get out of a rut.

That’s how a therapist gets it done I thought to myself. And now that I knew how to deal with it, I never had to worry about it again.

To its credit, the black cloud waited for at least a week to come back. I was having dinner, it was right after another shift at work, and I could feel the cloud creeping up. I was drinking a blue aloha with Teremana (Dwayne Johnson’s tequila) and in an odd the-universe-works-on-its-own-time-not-yours alignment, Burning Love by Elvis came on the speakers. It reminded me of The Game Plan, a movie with Dwayne Johnson whose character absolutely loved this song and I grew up watching and loving as a kid; it was almost like the universe was trying to enforce my intuition to beat the cloud faster. Now it wasn’t as bad as it was during Friendsmas, but I also kind of blame that on the fact that I wasn’t really gloomy and depressed more than I was irritated and angry that it happened again and so soon. I didn’t get it; I thought I was doing everything right. I was taking supplements to help my mood and boost my serotonin, I started meditating again, I was eating with the intention of increasing my protein intake, I was doubling down on the Inner Compass cards and being able to find signs of intuition. So why did this happen again? I tried to prove to myself that I could be strong enough to not worry about it by going home and doing the exact opposite of what happened the first time. More than anything, I was so confused. I knew that this was bad and I knew how to fix it, so why am I dropping the ball? Why am I not progressing like I want to? This is not how I wanted the year to start; it’s not who I wanted to be.

The next day, I was back to normal. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that I was victim to a full moon. I looked at my Inner Compass cards the moment I woke up which that day was also the first day that I felt compelled to grab two cards: Mirror and Freedom. Then, I went to go work out for about an hour or so while listening to Will Smith’s autobiography appropriately titled Will (highly recommend by the way) who quoted Viktor Frankl who said (and I’m paraphrasing) that it is important to give our suffering meaning. It was so impactful I bought a paperback copy of Man’s Search for Meaning and bought the digital copy while I waited for the physical copy to show up (that never happens). Later that afternoon, I was researching struthless videos to figure out the video I wanted to reference for this very story and I found a struthless video by accident called “How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others (The 5 Questions to Ask Yourself)”. I clicked on it and the video immediately got pushed to about the seven minute fifty-four second mark. It was a slide that said “Question 5: Add ‘and I love that’”.

Really? I thought to myself. Should I even try? The universe, or God, or your own mind, can sometimes have the most twisted of senses of humor. How could I love a black cloud that ruins my ability to be happy? How could I love something that makes me believe I’m not worthy of being loved? How could I love something that makes me feel degraded, and miserable, and inferior to my own doubts and insecurities? Struthless explains that by doing this your brain automatically attempts to figure out the logistics of the statement and whether or not it could be true. So since I had some time to kill and being a struthless fan, I gave it a shot.

I have occasional depression attacks that project me out of my own happiness, that make me feel like it’s good to doubt everything and think that people hate me and I’m not worthy of being loved… and I love that? A few moments of contemplation later, and the stars suddenly aligned. Everything that happened that day had a narrative-type connection and purpose.

The two cards I drew at random for the day, Mirror & Freedom, were understood. The Mirror card is a sign that says you should focus on yourself and your feelings, since those become reflections of the world around you. There’s an ancient Mayan saying that according to the Mirror card, is roughly translated in English to “I am another you”. How you feel is what you see, or project. The Freedom card implies that you should give yourself permission to be emotionally free. Whatever feelings you have, just let them be. I thought about those cards, and then the Viktor Frankl philosophy in Will, and then the statement I just said out loud to myself, and then all the signs and intuition I had received the same nights as the depression attacks and I had found this revelation which I share with you now, with the hopes that it inspires you to take that journey for yourself. Should you need it:

Yeah. I have random moments where the black cloud takes over. Where I’m depressed at the worst of times to be depressed. But it appears at times when I need to be reminded that I actually have the capability to confront it. By having moments of sudden loneliness, emotional plummeting, and mental pain, I can find meaning in the suffering which allows me freedom to reflect/project that discovery to the world like a mirror. By reflecting that discovery to the world like a mirror, I reflect my intuition and the smallest of beautiful things that I observe to The Elder Crew and other close friends and family because I am another them and to you, because I am another you.

And I love that.

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A podcast-memoir about a hypnotherapist finding his way through new and unforeseen circumstances.

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