“It’s dark inside my skin, you promised to be my light.” This is the text message alert I sent myself today when I set my alarm on my phone. It is a promise I made to myself, a reminder; it could almost be considered a threat. I usually send an inspirational message or a reminder call to action, or sometimes just a thought prompt to myself each day. It’s my self-administered therapy, the only one that doesn’t come from a bottle or in edible form, all things being legalized. One thing that I keep consistent after I read my daily quote is a question, “What can I learn from you today.” This is my call to action and allows me to set the proper tone for the day, not like before. I used to leave my apartment in a neutral mood and allow the attitudes I meet to direct how I feel and then fight my way through the day. Success to push myself through the door can be found in the smallest thing I can complete. A shower, brush my teeth, anything I can complete is a measure of success and with that I can enter their world.

It’s so fuckin’ stupid to let someone or something to have that much of an effect on me. Stupid because I am the one that should be in control and just offer it to the wind.

I made a pledge to myself a lifetime ago that it has to stop, and this is how I deliver on that. I have never seen myself as much more than a work in progress, but the workers don’t show up every day and sometimes they’re late, and honestly, they never stay after quitting time. I realized I had a problem when I clued into one thing that was holding me back, I was negotiating with myself to find ways to convince myself that I had to go out, go to work and live. Anxiety and panic attacks take me prisoner and I was letting it get away from me.

Such a reflective epiphany; I am alone, so the only one that is here to help me is me; avoid the mirrors as long as possible. I don’t trust the reflection of the same person that was here yesterday, the only person that has always been here. How do I treat this person? Clarity comes at a price; understanding it is one thing, but taking the medicine of your own advice has two problems, the buy-in, evaluating if the patient is worth saving. It reminds me of a saying people use as a threat when they say be careful what you wish for; well, we should also be careful what lives we save. Once you know you need to be saved, only you can decide how. This greets my quiet morning breakfast: a simple strong coffee and a bowl of cereal that I intend to force down for the sake of having at least something, not the coffee; I love coffee, I mean the cereal. The trick is deciding to approach the day given and convince my feet to take me there. My mind has become well-versed in creating physical barriers that keep me inside this cave.

The taste of sour milk in stale cereal, fuck; not at all what I had in mind. But Christ, a very powerful prompt. Mental time travel, actually. I haven’t thought about those days for a long time. The memory of sour milk takes me back to my childhood. It’s hard to decide if it’s better than the alternative, powdered milk, but both are triggers, or at least one trigger and separate bullets from the same gun that fires its rude awakening right down my throat. Now that I think about it, powdered milk has a hollow taste with a lasting residue to scrape against your teeth, so there is no clear winner here. Either way, it was the taste of hard times; real hard times. The only thing missing from this morning’s taste trigger was a distinct hint of smoke.

A disturbing cause for reflection. This trigger is enough to shut me down for days. Some places in your past are meant to be left behind; this time, the memory was one of those. No good came from it; sure, lessons can be learned anywhere, but no one chooses to learn the really bad ones; you wear them for life like the stench of decay that can’t die. Those are the memories we bury deep in our mental backyard until some fucking animal or child playing there trips over the exposed bones; there is no way to bury them deep enough. Fuck, I hate me sometimes. Kill the patient but get the DNR signed first. HA.

I have come to learn the value of quiet reflection; this is why we drink coffee right? Always spin it to the positive, quiet reflection is the product of bitter isolation and social withdrawal, there is a world of others living this moment right now like me, but fuck them; I don’t care about them, I barely care about me. It would be easier if the enemy was someone I could punch, but I am the enemy and want to punch myself, but man can I punish myself and do it well. I can force myself to administer experiments and tests on myself and test the limits. How many days can you go without food and feed on your own vomit as you force yourself to keep down what little you sneak? Showering, forget it; how long can you stand to live in the erosion of your own skin? Real self-mutilation takes place inside and the wounds never really heal.

The seeds planted by others have helped this garden to grow. I am the fool that feeds it just enough to keep it alive. Every day left in decay fertilizes the intentions of others for me to justify by carrying out my job.

Music; yes, turn on the radio and start to administer my therapy. Self-help only works if you are looking for help, even accepting advice or any type of therapy has to be given to an open mind ready to hear it, otherwise it is a language that is never interpreted. I think I finally am, but need to find my approach, a real approach, not an online assessment and a quick solution. Reaching out in the past has shown me that very few people are really able to help. I have so much distrust of others I don’t believe in people that say they have gone through the same things; this sounds like a product on a shelf more than a real personal journey. It always feels like taking a prescription. I think the ideology of anyone in the psychology field is doomed to live the same day over and over again; how can anyone listening to the same type of problems over endless repeated days remain objective and optimistic about a human condition that is a recurring, revolving door. Each one that passes through the process is rushed through to rush through to the next one no one will ever help. Breakthroughs don’t happen in places like that, only in private practice, when money is only an object to the one collecting it. Fuck I hate my outlook.

Before I can be saved, I need to figure out who I am or who I wish to be and is that worth the effort. Until I believe in myself, no one’s advice or help will make a real difference. This is where I need to start.

Your life is your book to write, not to wait to read, so how many chapters do you want to skip, and do you want to rush to the end? Only an idiot sprints through a marathon. I was that creature, and this became my habit. There are always lots of reasons to run; I have learned that the worst type is when you run but never leave; it’s a lack of self-commitment. Again, that’s the one the cuts from the inside and heals slowly.

The self-sent morning texts do help and remind me that if you see a glass half-empty or a glass half-full, regardless, it is half-accept what it is. The rest is what you make it.

There is power in little details and washing your face or brushing your teeth can jumpstart a positive outlook. When I feel the onset of my enemy approaching, I have to remind myself that even a small simple task completed is enough to defeat the panic sometimes. Any gesture I do for myself instantly gives value to me; it is the perfect instant click response we are all programmed to with every part of the outside world we lie to and hide from. Garbage, it what we allow to decay and throw away, just wash and win is how it begins. I am trying this and selling myself to myself. Who knows if it will be the answers I need.

Sometimes I even talk about myself out loud in the third person so that I can separate me from me and care about how I feel. There are lots of ways to trick myself into giving a shit about myself; sometimes it works and sometimes not so much. But it did help me make a list of success strategies. So no matter what, it’s a start, and I think this is what self-help is; finding a way to convince the toughest critic that they need your help. Yourself. I exist as my own worst enemy and struggle to live as my best friend.

What is it like to live as an apology? I think it’s a lot of things.

Mostly it’s finding enough time to realize it and turn it into something worth living without needing to apologize for and sharing. I have to learn that sharing isn’t giving everything away; if it was, then would it be called giving; simple can be that simple, I don’t know. I don’t know if I ever achieved even the easiest part of that. I think back to how I was built, what came together to give me that precious start. Sarcastically speaking.

That taste trigger, man; I remember times were very tough, simple wasn’t simple, the simple things are a struggle when simple supports don’t exist for you. The structure cannot exist without support; easy, right?

Memories are the mind’s first weapon; we live to experience things, store the moments and results, and this is what structure we should be relying on to build from; it’s there as a backup because most people only live to give advice and never see the real value in it, we bury our past and the game of hide and seek becomes one of forget and bury deep. I think that memories are our way of creating roads and posting signs we will forget to read and lose our ability to navigate our way back. Over time, we lose ourselves because we see that person as a threat and can’t even trust ourselves for our own benefit; we facilitate our own demise.

These are all the thoughts that fight for center stage in my mind as I look in the mirror and expel the fuckin’ taste of a half-buried past.

I remember spending a birthday in a laundromat, the words were all I got HAPPY BIRTHDAY, I had no idea what day it was and needed nothing else, just the words seemed to be enough, I didn’t know enough to understand that this was even something people celebrated, it was just a day, not realizing this was my birthday gift and the entire party, it never mattered and makes no difference to me now even as I look for room in the overfilled kitchen sink. Times were hard. I remember more than I am brave enough to admit. The shovel has entered the sand. Yeah, I remember that and I remember not caring that my present were worlds, it didn’t matter, nothing was needed, I didn’t care, it never occurred to me to care, one day is like the rest until someone else gave it more meaning than I would have. I had no idea it was even my birthday and had no expectations of what that meant. I survived, I didn’t care, it must have killed my mother inside; this is what it means to live with your eyes wide shut. Wide-open and unaware of what you see. Her only gift was her words, but I was okay accepting that, and she never knew it.

She never asked for a handout, as far as I ever knew, and never got one, as far as I ever saw, she never asked for a thank you and never got one either. I saw it; I didn’t understand it, but I felt it. Things would have had to improve a lot to just be considered terrible. I remember a few things about my early days; okay, maybe way more, and for the longest time I felt that I had to be ashamed of my past, it was there to be buried, and was deep; even now parts of it are hard to remember, or admit to. It formed the person I am embarrassed to be, so hating my beginning is easy. The ones that need the most help out there are the ones that don’t have the voice to ask for it.

I was experiencing things and emotions my mind had no way to process, the images I saw were not the same as the ones that existed in her eyes, she saw things through a filter of poverty and shortfalls, failures in the same big picture never to be viewed the same way. This is why the emotional scars don’t heal; because time doesn’t allow you to return to fix what you never allow yourself to see as broken, plus moving on is a fresh bandage placed on it and never actually allow it to be repaired. It’s kind of messy inside someone’s honesty. Even messier in denial.

Tell a child they have potential and say nothing more is hollow praise when they don’t understand what potential is or how it relates to expectation. The basis of understanding is never translated, so the message may never be received or understood; the truth of potential is a denial of real confirmation of a person’s skillset, call it out for what it is and don’t present it with a wide brush and pretend it’s a compliment, most people never know what they are looking at as it is. We place so much importance on the commodities of life that we forget to live our best ones. This is why there are days that repel me from the outside, people and the streets, family and friends.

Excuses are a disguise, so this is where I look first when I self-analyze. Anyway, back to sour milk memories.

The take away from day one was to keep your head down and survive, no understanding of how or why, and no support to feel enabled to have real goals and a way to achieve. It was like I was told without any words that I will be a ditch digger because someone has to be. I can see where it came from; my world was fast fry, simple ten-minute meals every part of what I saw was a rush to get through things. I never understood good times and how time would fly past the moments; my life it had only one speed and it was shitty all the time. So looking back, school was an enemy and nothing about it embraced me, I had no idea how to approach it and accept whatever knowledge it had. Moving from place to place was how the chapters of my life turned the pages; it was that simple. Everything about my life was the reason I could never feel I had a place anywhere. From school supplies to my clothes, to my hair cut. The only place was out of place. This is the breeding ground for rebellion. That seemed to be the easiest solution.

If we only hear what we want, then shouldn’t we be more aware of what we say? Could have been worse. I saw a lot of ways that worse happens on a daily basis. So I say that from experience, not because it sounds so profound. So many times I saw that the truth was strange and harder to take than fiction, so there’s no point to lie just to keep it interesting. The more I see only tells me I would need a bigger shovel and more places to bury the shit I witnessed. I am running out of hiding places in my mind; my soul can’t stand up.

School teaches more than the shit you learn from lesson plans and books. Classrooms are not the only venue. School is a way to find our place and put a value to our life, it’s a sorting factory that dictates learning through memorization based on outdated curriculum and standards. Experts call it an impressionable time but never explain why or, more to the point, how to navigate and understand all of it. What does it really prepare us for? Where does it fail? I know now I never gave any of it a real chance; I only took what my hands could carry as I rushed through all of it foolishly.

I’m instantly transported back to that time before the world gave out awards for participation or anything past 3rd place. Winning was a simple concept, a competition based on the finish not by standing on the start line. There was no political correctness overload applied to any misunderstanding or intentions. It’s a hard balance to offer special interest with an emerging progressive society. This is how it was and we are allowed to hate it and change it and we have. But in doing so, I wonder if over-acceptance became blurred by fake entitlementl maybe our world has gone from exploration to click expectation. The planet is now so small. Click across the universe. Silence has become the only safe cause.,

Social influencers represent power by every post they puke up online; they are self-promoting and perpetuate self-indulgence and take center stage to find clickbait and headline chase for selfish gains. People that don’t even read the fine print give them likes and never see the message, no one cares. Swipe right-away and move on. Our online life is whatever we want whenever we want and is all the truth you are willing to tell.  There you can lie and steal, create any identity, and we do, and even then we complain about others’ truths. Still, no one is happy.

I always assumed that the happiest and most successful people were discovered by their talents early; could be, unless life disguises what your true talents are, or circumstances make identifying them near impossible. It may take decades to allow yourself to learn what they are and for the damage of ignorance and neglect be corrected, if time permits. I knew someone who told me that my greatness will find me; sometimes it takes longer, but that I will be unable to hide. Maybe she was right, maybe not, but I have a special love for her still and always will. Her words were inspiring but also the birth of hope, a flashlight I carry with me. It’s funny because the impact she had, however brief, is something she will never know.

Neighborhoods are the best schoolyards. This is where so much learning that takes place and the consequences are real; yeah, the school of hard knocks is what it is often referred to as attended and taught by your peers and it is real. Cause and effect are instant; no waiting, instant failure, or win. The easiest way to learn, parents are virtual or invisible and their language goes unheard and advice and rules unheeded. Opportunities to really make a difference are lost in all directions as I have been told. It’s funny, but we all know that a parent’s control ends fast when a child walks out the door, we know it, they lived it, so when did they forget it? Children walk in the forgotten footsteps of their parents. The cycle is self-defeating stupidity.

So after brushing my teeth for the second time, the panic attack is almost complete. I look composed on the outside and to anyone that didn’t know me, I would appear completely normal, a little closed-off and quiet, but otherwise normal. Inside the story is different, I can feel the need to slide under my sheets and admit feat. I begin to consider the list of ailments that could be infectious as I stand here back to a time when I was in grade three, that taste trigger is at fault.

Like lightning some of the bad shit hits me, it escapes the fuckin burial site I made for it a lifetime ago. My feet are nailed to the floor as it comes for me, panic my only friend, here you come again.

Just walking out a door can be far from normal and a lesson learned the hard way, always keep your eyes open and wits about you. Normal changes on a daily basis. It’s amazing what normal can be and how blind to wrongdoing we become when you are so immersed in it, everything real is fake. Waking up to the sounds of gunfire, stray bullets, fire alarms, general gang violence, drugs, theft, and destruction was a part of just how shit goes. A teen made the mistake of saying too much to the wrong person about money and names and that was it. He got two, maybe three steps out his door, three quick shots, and his next move was his last, shot dead in his doorway. It’s still an everyday thing, it was just what could happen, and how strange it is to see it and realize that killing this guy actually to a small degree cut down on crime, his dead ass will no longer move product, steal, or rape. The calls come in and I go out. Seriously, the streets are vicious and heartless, and it doesn’t matter if you believe it or not; it kills on a daily basis.

I realize that after all this time, I am still standing, looking past my own reflection in the mirror. A good panic attack is like that for me, a paralyzing trip through time travel. This time, the trigger was the milk, but the attack was already loaded into the guns chambered by the struggles the world is facing on a daily basis. People would usually go back to their childhood with the idea of it being a time of protected innocence, but in my case, it is a horror show that I thought was rotting in its place.

I find the strength to fill the sink with water and splash it on my face. Shaving is next. Time now finds its way to my conscious mind and becomes a reminder that I have to move my ass. I have to get it together, get dressed, and get out there. So many are counting on me doing my job, more than ever before. I have a uniform to put on; I need to find my brave face as well. I have been having increased panic attacks and anxiety past my ability to control.

As a front liner, a paramedic, once the uniform is on, I can never have a bad day, ever. I have to live in a world where the world greets me at its weakest and worst. After all I have been through growing up, gravitating towards a career of servitude is no real surprise.

I had no real idea of what that would mean and how bad it could get. I truly figured that I had become desensitized to the sights and sounds of every day. I hear the voices, last words confessed to me, and the blood that I wear every day.

By March 19th, it escalated with the pandemic, now even our A-game may never be good enough, and the highest level of pressure found a new level. I am falling apart every day I have to go out there and look at so much uncertainty. It is great to see people coming together and coping with the COVID-19 threat, but I read the Tweets and see the news and honestly we all talk about it. In today’s world, there is no consistent message, just conspiracies and blame, fake numbers and profiling. Even here on the front line, there is barely any honesty.

We know what we have hands-on and anything more is a mystery that becomes a political platform. The pandemic is showing that there are things in life we can live without and things that are really not that important; the Earth can slowly heal and it should be a lesson learned, not a level of abuse we can take back against the environment.

I am not even sure what COVID-19 is and where it came from. Is it better to keep the conspiracy theorists out or let them have their say? What news isn’t fake, what feed is telling the truth. I find it all exhausting and impossible to deal with. I have spent my career facing the sadness of so many lives and it was more than I was ever able to process; there is such an unmeasured amount of PTSD in my world and the full effects are a fucking mystery, no one even knows what tolerance levels are for this. So each day is a tougher battle than the day before. It is so much to deal with. The front line is mainstream social media content and news footage unlike ever before, I don’t like the idea of performing for the 6PM news; my uniform performs a job my body is having trouble completing. The public sees what that uniform represents, the person inside is in disguise, and sometimes I am not brave. Sometimes I am not strong, sometimes I want to break down and cry, and sometimes I am wrong. It is a uniform and identifies my abilities; inside it, I am still a person, I am never allowed to let that show. So I bleed in private. A life worth living is never found when following a crowd; this is the face that looks back at me in the mirror as I prepare to leave; at what point can the apologizing stop? I tell myself that I am sorry for never coming to my own defense, I was never my own best friend, I have to leave and do my job and suppress all of this.

I bargain with myself and find a way to convince myself to put my uniform on and be strong for those who can’t and do all I can to make a difference in every life I touch. I can help save some and others will not have to die alone.

Fuck, it’s late; I have to go.