Like a zillion other people in the world, I follow Humans of New York. Some of the photos I see make me think, you know, this is cool and all, but seems a bit schlocky and tries a bit too hard to pull at the heartstrings. That’s the cynic in me speaking. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes he’s wrong.
I used to say, “Oh I’m cynical,” or, “Well, I’m just a cynic.” While that might be true, it’s in the same vein as, “Oh I’m bipolar.” So I guess that makes it labelling or something. This is going somewhere, I promise. Now, when I’m talking about myself – and this, admittedly, sounds crazy – I’ll say, “Cynical Tristan is in the house,” or “Uh oh, Angry Tristan is around the corner.” I guess it’s compartmentalization in a way, and I’m okay with that. I think what that shift has allowed me to do is recognize that there are parts of me that are cynical, parts of me that are angry, parts of me that are happy and sad and frustrated and a million other emotions, and that it’s okay.
I took a personal improvement course last year – again, this is going somewhere – and that opened up the door even further for me in terms of self-awareness and self-understanding. I was able to drop a lot of trash that I’d been carrying around for years and years, or if I haven’t been able to drop it entirely, I’ve been able to explore what I didn’t want to explore. I’m at a point now where I might have baggage, but I’m not carrying around as much bullshit. My heart isn’t filled with resentment and undirected anger. My temper isn’t white-hot. I’m not putting myself through as much shit or torturing myself over things that are out of my control.
The craziest thing about the course I took is that on the first day of the final conference (two conferences over a 6 month period, with course work in between), I answered a question and the guy that developed the ideology and philosophy of the program says, “Mr. Baggins, you’re carrying around a lot of pain, a lot of anger, a lot of shame and a lot of hurt. We’re going to get rid of that for you this weekend. You and I are going to have a conversation and we’re going to make it happen.” I was like, oh yeah, suuuuuure, bud. Not to say I wasn’t buying what he was selling or anything like that, though there certainly were some elements of kool-aid drinking in the course (I avoided drinking the kool-aid), but I was a bit skeptical. You’re going to take my pain from me? You’re going to take my anger and my shame and my hurt? I don’t think so. All of that stuff had been a constant companion for, I don’t know, 20 years?
In retrospect, it’s shocking how defensive I got about the thought of letting go of all the things that had been hurting me for so long. So, over the course of the weekend, we had our discussion groups, we talked about feelings (awwww), we talked about past experiences, what we see in each other, blah blah blah. Lots of hand-holdy, new-age, feel-good kind of stuff, right? There were a couple of activities, like staring into somebody else’s eyes and telling them what you see, and, in turn, somebody looking into my own eyes and telling me what they saw. Some things that stood out: a solitary dog (I thought of the Littlest Hobo), a mountain, a still lake (still waters run deep), a skyscraper grazing the clouds. Those are all things I connect with and all come back to standing apart, being aloof, but yearning for attention, yearning for love, yearning to find something or to be filled with something. Crazy shit, I know.
ANYWAY – again, this is going somewhere and will come back to the Humans of New York, trust me – so we’re doing all this stuff and Friday passes, Saturday passes and Sunday is coming to a close and I said, “Okay, we’re gonna do this.” So I get up to the front of the room and I’m standing in front of about 20 other people and it (whatever it was going to be) was going to happen. The instructor puts his hand on my shoulder and looks into my eyes and says, “Are you ready?” I laughed and was like, “I sure as hell hope so.” One of the trippiest parts about it all is when he looked into my eyes he looked into me. I knew I was getting into something deep and I don’t know, man, I was worried. I was afraid, for sure. So he’s got his hand on my shoulder and tells me to describe where the fear and hurt and pain and sadness and shame all live. I pointed to my stomach. Also, I need to take a moment to highlight how profound this experience remains to me: as I’m writing this I’m holding tears back; that’s kind of fucked to me. Anyway, the dude then asks me to describe what it looks like, its colour, etc. I held up my fist and said it was black, blacker than black if that’s possible, and it’s hungry.
He rubbed my neck and starts talking to me and telling me that this thing is getting ready to move, it’s time to go, etc. And I felt it. I could feel it sitting in the pit of my stomach resisting being excised. My knees went out from under me. I grabbed a garbage can in front of me and felt it bending (it was plastic) in my grip. My knuckles were white. Tears ran down my face. I started sweating. I started puking.
Sounds pretty fucking crazy, I know. I still kind of can’t believe it, but when something happens, you can’t really deny it. The only thing I can really relate it to is one of the revivalists who pushes people away and says, “YOU’RE HEALED!” because that’s honestly what it was like. It wasn’t snake oil like that though. I felt lighter afterwards. I felt like something was gone from inside of me. There was a hole there that I could fill up with whatever I chose to fill it up with. All that shit I’d been dragging from home to home, relationship to relationship to relationship, that I’d been trying to bury for years, that I’d tried to cremate and destroy, it was… it was gone. The feelings are still there sometimes, but I don’t have an emotional tumour hanging out in my body anymore. Of course, I still go through depressive episodes, but now they don’t have the backup to fuck my life so much.
Crazy, right? How does that come back to Humans of New York? This is how: I saw this photo and I’m like, “Yeah, man. I know you. I know what that’s about and I know what that’s like.” Over the last year, I’ve become profoundly (for me, at least) self-aware. I used to say for years that I knew my boundaries and limits and just didn’t care about them. That was mad true, for sure. I kind of care about them now. I care about being open and honest and loving and happy and sad and angry and cynical and optimistic and any other feelings that I might have. I care about caring. I care about telling people about myself, about my life and my experiences and my journey.
You’ve got a question about me? Go nuts and ask away. If it’s something I don’t mind sharing, I’ll share it. If it’s something that’s a little too personal, I might ask to get to know you a little bit better before I tell you. But even then, you know, sometimes I just say, fuck it, and answer anyway. For example, I went on a date last week and the woman asks me, “What makes you cry?” and I laughed and said, “Nothing! I’m a man!” And then I got serious and gave the real answer: Dukie from The Wire, thinking about my granny, seeing people hurting, seeing kids in distress, seeing people experiencing emotional pain and holding it in.
There are days when I feel disconnected still, and where I feel like I can’t get out of bed or I can’t see anybody or talk to anybody or whatever, but those days are fewer and further between than they used to be and I’m psyched about that. I’m psyched about living and breathing and smiling and crying. I’m psyched about life, I guess.
Loyal readers, I’m sorry if I lost you with all of that. Here’s a reward in the form of a song my all-time favourite singer, Townes Van Zandt, a beautiful, tortured soul who blessed us with his words, his songs, his feelings and his heart. He was the real goddamn deal.
Flyin Shoes – Townes Van Zandt
About Tristan Baggins
I have always wondered where to start with these bios, but I guess it’s always best to start at the beginning. I’m in my early-30s and I’m passionate about NBA basketball, heavy metal, hardcore, my cat, my friends, writing prose and poetry, helping people, craft beer and mental health. I am also diagnosed with Bipolar II; the clinical definition might have changed with the release of DSM V, but the title doesn't change my experience. The bulk of my 20's were defined by erratic behaviour, depression, paranoia, anxiety, and, if I’m being honest with myself, a lot of inadvertent self-harm and self-destructive behaviour. What I learned coming through on the other side of the tunnel is that the light’s there, it’s not a myth, and it’s worth reaching towards.