“I think you’re doing better.  The first thing you talked about when you came into the session was someone else and their pain and problems, that’s a good sign that you’re looking outside of yourself however painful,” said my medication consultant Dr. Shannon as I left my last appointment.  I don’t know how I feel about this, as I’m not sure if I’m looking outside myself in concern of someone else’s pain, or if I’m concerned about their pain because of how it affects me.  I’d like to think Dr. Shannon is right, and in a way, I suppose he is, I mean usually something like this probably wouldn’t blip on my radar and it’d be reduced to an “Oh well, it happens.”  But, I’m having trouble getting it out of my head and I don’t know if I really want to let it go completely and be a robot, I haven’t had feelings like this in a very long time and… my mother thinks it’s a sign of me getting better, that it’s more healthy in the end than nothing.   Life is so amazing, and it’s incredible what you can find even in pain.  Cause life is pain, and crap, and drama and boggling your mind at any attempt to grok why.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my life and what I want to do with it, and what I’ve done with it so far.  This is an extremely sobering thought process for anyone, but it’s even more sobering when you’re faced with the fact that you’re allegedly a third of the way through your natural potential life and people only two-thirds of the way through are already dying.

When I was Willy the Red Husky I casually befriended a furry by the name of CuteFoxie on Yahoo Messenger (oh yeah, back in the day).  He talked to me about my “public fursuiting” (apparently that’s what you call it) videos and was definitely a fan, which meant a lot to anxiety-ridden atypically psychotic (at the time) little ol’ me.  I hadn’t heard from him in a long time since I stopped uploading videos really (and of course, stopped using Yahoo Messenger).  He recently died of natural causes at the age of fifty-five, as I learned from some random furry on Twitter.  CuteFoxie had somewhat recently joined Twitter before his death and, unfortunately, his second to last tweet read as such:

I know.  I learned of this news and tweet on my thirty-fifth birthday two weeks ago, where I was already thinking of my possible impending eventual inevitable doom and what I’ve done or could do in the interim, and it hit me somewhat hard.  That was of course (being my life) before I learned even more depressing news about other people I care about deeply, which explains quite a bit of the beginning of this post.  I feel for CuteFoxie a lot, and what’s funny is that I always saw him as a pretty connected fur in the community, with lots of videos, views, fursuits, and even having gone to conventions, and yet… I guess I have to remember that what things seem like aren’t always what they are.  These people, CuteFoxie, and the aforementioned more close individuals are special people.  I wish things could’ve been and could be better now, and I wish I could’ve, and could, know what to do.  With that said, and with respect, I don’t want to feel the same, and current, lack and desperation at the end of my life, whenever that random moment comes.

Let’s perform a necessary recap and elaboration on what’s changed with my life so far, as I haven’t written in a long time.  So far my life has been divided up into about four periods in my mind: as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, and how I am now.  But from another perspective, it kind of really boils down to about two: my childhood and my adulthood.

Bridging my childhood and adulthood I actually seemed to do a lot of things in reverse when I was growing up, the case in point being that of my confidence.  It seems to me, in my model of how I’ve perceived other people, that many people learn about confidence as they grow and are supposed to finally achieve a mature confidence as they get into adulthood.  As Carol said once in Maude, the popular TV show starring Bea Arthur before Golden Girls, when trying to help her mother, “Insecurity is for children.”   When I was very young, my confidence was forming, but at some point, just past seventh grade, it finally cemented and I became something else.  I made multiple close friends (all of which ended up related to me somehow… but that’s another story), fell in love (facing that I was some sort of gay), cofounded my own official club (more like a haven-like clique), and, I mean, I wore a freakin’ tail every day under my parents noses to a semi-rural high school in the late 90s in the age of Vanity Fair articles… and pulled it off (my classmates even featured my tail in the homecoming skits).  Then I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder… and the seeds of annihilation were planted.  CU rocked my entire world and perspective, and I remember very clearly the overpowering smell of weed as I entered my college dorm room for the second to last time and finally spoke the eighteen-year-old truth that had been coming to a six week boil, simmering on the dangerously high heat of tear-drenched pay phone calls home about recitation hall humiliations and four in the morning delusions; that truth and subsequent action that led to my mental health incarcerations, banishment from campus, academic suspension, and a .18 GPA.  But hey, at least I passed seminar.

Thus began my adulthood and my first adult worries were if I’d spend my first Christmas away from home locked in a remote guinea pig wonderland where no one made sense, and if no one I knew would ever be the same.  I’ve finally realized today, seventeen years later, that that was the day I started to run.  When I was laying in my dorm room wooden frame bed, the walls glowing and breathing with hate in my mind’s eye, waiting to lose consciousness and die, I somehow separated from myself and hid in the quiet darkness, floating on distant emergency sirens from beyond the confines of my peanut butter ridden system.  Ever since then I’ve been doing my damnedest to stay hidden in that “dark side of the light,” to use a phrase from the angst-ridden ramblings of a mathematical madman, and I’ve been running as hard as I can into a deceptively safe and accepting oblivion.  That’s the only way I can explain the slow-burn that was the degradation of all of my self-confidence leading to the eventual total disappearance of my identity seven years ago and the ensuing eventual total social isolation, and believe me I’ve been trying to explain it to every therapist and doctor that had a sliver of hope of understanding ever since.  What started as an experimental relationship of personality disordered instant intimacy ultimately pulled the trigger on the psychological smoking gun I had pointing to my head ever since I realized my best friend had been just one long con job.  And the evening the silver bullet tore through my grey matter, rearranging the viscera of my limbic system as I listened with absolute horror to the betrayal of the medical profession known as sexual surrogates, still sticks in my mind as if it happened yesterday.  I sat on that card table set up next to the power meters watching the laundry machines vibrate, as my vibrations kept getting lower and ever lower, my whole being slipping out through my fingers, feet, and eyes until I was nothing; laying in bed watching the red glowing electric clock count from midnight to seven in the morning without so much a blink.  I spent two-and-a-half years with absolutely no will to live, having stopped vibrating completely, and honestly, I have no idea how I made it at all, every day filled with puke inducing anxiety and self-loathing so paralyzing I couldn’t even make myself a cup of coffee let alone dinner.

I’m lucky because I found early on in my adult life, while I still had remnants of that signature Asher exotic mojo, a special, compassionate and understanding soul that could always shine his light like a flashlight to see directly into that ever-lengthening blackness even if I was blind.  From day one where I showed him my tail and red underwear like a strutting mating peacock dance he could see the promise, he could see the dream, and he knew I was going to be the one; and carried all the belief in me that I eventually became too weak to carry myself on his broad shoulders.  It confounds me that he’s been waiting fifteen years for me to stop running even when it meant living with a drug-addled criminal (not me), even when it meant giving up his hometown and friends, and even when it meant driving my crying overdosed body to the emergency room in the middle of the night.

I used to dream, when I was a kid, of all the things I would do when I was grown up, had more skill and knowledge, and would be taken seriously.  I had so many ideas and things I wanted to do.  I haven’t done a single one of them.  In my early adulthood, while I pretended to program a revamped smarter, more powerful furry website, or anything even slightly productive or profitable, I lived at WalMart spending a fortune I never had and rearranged furniture at three in the morning in strange hookah fueled crazes of global domination, Bellamy salute and all.  There was so much pain, I was running so fast, that you could hardly breathe the stale manic air without an existential crisis, and I couldn’t even understand what it was I was doing or who my friends even really were.  While I was pretending to chase my dreams I was really holding on to memories that never even happened, a potent fantasy world where computers printed money by factoring primes and I fervently edited my genes in a death-defying attempt to overwrite all the inherited depression, borderline personality, bipolar, and excruciating intellect.  I couldn’t stop running, even in the subsequent years of my adult life when I lost everything, even myself, and instead of pretending I just stopped existing at all.  All I knew is that I was an eight-year-old wunk stuck in a no-compromise twenty-eight-year-old gay male human body getting pushed out of the inpatient ward one more time, getting bigger and larger and not knowing what to do about it.  I’ve spent a sickening amount of time doing literally nothing, and a very unfortunate amount of time brute force thinking my way through a masquerade of what I thought were rational lessons but were really just figuring out how to exist at all in a sea of complete mental dysfunction.

I thought for a long time that these were the bricks in the wall I laid out in front of me as if I was in a one-man production of the Cask of Amontillado and I could never break through, but really the truth is the wall never existed.  I’ve written before about all my blocks, my creative cramps, my self-loathing, my frustration with my lack of effectiveness, and my inability to seemingly do anything, but I don’t think these have been true reflections of the actual situation.  Maus has always told me that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, and in his words, I for one reason or another have determined to set my mind on “getting in my own way and making myself miserable.”  I’d like to think he’s absolutely correct in his assessment of my mental prowess, perhaps, but incorrect in what I’ve set my mind on.  I haven’t set my mind on stopping myself or standing in my own way because ultimately that wouldn’t make sense, I mean, like an actor in a crazy high-school written play I have to ask, “What’s my motivation?”  What I’ve set my mind on is running and hiding in the dark corners of my hate glowing seventeen year old dorm room because I’m so afraid of living as myself due to, essentially, the belief that my whole self isn’t good enough, isn’t powerful enough, and isn’t strong enough to deal with the actual, humiliating, painful reality of adult life.

The first step towards this revelation was my unlocked achievement (ultra rare) of total lack of desire to kill myself anymore, which, funny enough, has been a slight source of frustration because I’ve discovered hospitals will rarely take you unless you’re a danger to yourself or others even if your problems are what I call “clinical”.  In fact, the last times I wanted to hurt myself was when I was a zombie rat from space and when I was being hog-tied by black booted police on the dirty kitchen floor.  Laying on the bed in my repurposed room worried about accidentally ingesting peanuts in my childhood home telling my mother that I don’t want to die is a far cry from her compassionate pain fueled resignation that she’d understand if I didn’t want to live like this anymore.

It’s more than ironic that the moment I want to stop running and want to start living again, the source of it all is setting their dials to terminate and waiting for the message after the beep.  When my adopted brother’s girlfriend asked us at the soda fountain burger shop where we pictured ourselves in five years or even twenty years I would’ve never pictured this.  I wonder if she knew.  It confounds me that we got the magic elixir, that we got the DNA that’s enabled us to attempt to save ourselves and they apparently didn’t.  People don’t understand either, telling me to call them every day and tell them I love them, like it’s that easy; like it’s even possible to pierce that indomitable special veil of individualism without a pool of terror filled vulnerability rising up within.  Like a deer in the headlights of love, I can’t move and stand there completely exposed, scared out of my little mortal mind.  There are so many things I want to hold on to, there are so many memories, so many quiet little details, like the delicacies of burnt food, the palpable sense of mob injustice, and the towering vast expanse of intellect that are coming to an end sooner than I ever thought.  I want to grok why, but there is no answer out there that I could accept and, like every bit of hard-earned knowledge I’ve ever obtained, I have to sketch it out in my mind for myself.  I have to program the algorithm alone in a language that will never have a reference manual.

There was a book I threw across the room, also seventeen years ago, in anger and rejection once, but ended up reading anyway by a man named Frankl.  While I plan on reading him again now, the takeaway I remember the most was his third way for man to discover meaning; being the stance we take when confronted with unavoidable suffering.  In fact, the choice of this attitude is one of the freedoms we enjoy that can never be taken away from us.  Granted, I couldn’t understand this book at the time, I admit now, and it seemed of little use to me then, but it seems of great use to me now.

An important young woman once told me that there was no happiness, just the absence of pain, and I was determined to prove her wrong.  As a native-born American living in America now I get the sense that she may have been Cassandra two millennia after the war.  What I’ve been running away from, through thrown away books and discarded friends to all the misspent riches and unfulfilled dreams, is that life isn’t about avoiding pain in some bizarre attempt to live in a pseudo-hedonistic existential vacuum of happiness, but instead being alive is about lovingly embracing all the incredible pain brought on by simply existing.  I’ve been entirely ineffective my entire adult life because I thought I could take actions that would hopefully eliminate pain when in reality I needed to discern, process, and transform the ever-present monster into something meaningful for myself.

Happiness isn’t the absence of pain, it is the appreciation of the practical agency inherent in being painfully alive.  It is the ultimate choice between the reactions one can have towards unavoidable suffering.  I was conceived clear and free, in a perfect state of total potential energy unmarred, unchanged, from nothing; from a strange murky holographic projection of psychic existences, and then life began.  I was born.  I breathed air for the first time in what I imagine was a fit of existential screams as the vast universe enveloped my entire being, and it hurt being wrested away from the warm womb of automatic love and support.  And it hurt when I learned to talk and could at once encounter the possible rejections of others, and after that every time I fell and hit my head learning to walk.  Every time I laid on the couch just struggling to breathe, or when I fell off my bike and my best friend mocked my attack, and every time I couldn’t eat the same cookies as my friends, I felt it.  When Fluphy died, when I wore the same jacket every day in sixth grade and beyond to shield myself from the naked boy bodies in the gym showers, or when my mother cried holding me as I finally confessed my secret little heart on top of my math homework, it was there.  It was in all the treks across town with our backs to the blowing snow, all-nighters listening to cassette tapes and painting miniatures, wishing and hoping so hard that it could all turn out in my favor, and it was in the bathroom tears after he kissed me in an effort, that worked, to make me confront actual reality.  Blistering hot summer days working hard on things I hated, raising living things I despised, and cold lifeless hallways surrounded by others, penning poems dedicated to being reliqua dissimilis, being locked away, and when that damn fox desperately said his only authentic words to me having to tell him I couldn’t care anymore, all equal to a summation I don’t even need to write.

Every day, from day one, everything constantly affected me, constantly changed me by its very nature of having to be experienced, and every change, even this one no matter how positive, is painful to my personal psyche.  For me, it comes down to the fact that you can’t save it, that no moment can truly be captured, and that life without change stops being life.  And further, beyond that, life has to be sustained through work, sweat, and intentional volition no matter my consciousness’ desires, feelings, or capabilities.  Man has to shovel excrement, grow food, hunt and raise animals, punch buttons on machines, breathe, think, run, fight, kill, dominate, procreate, eat, and take care not only of himself but of everything he values.  We have to take on everything with the acceptance that eventually we have to let it all go again.  I find all of this profoundly aching, and now I realize impressively beautiful.  At our core we are beings of love, a transcendental valuing that can at once be an act and an object, no matter what form it might take in our conscious experiences and it’s because of that divine gift, that little piece of mystery that climaxes into who we are, that we experience existential pain.  Without it this transcendental quality, I could argue that we wouldn’t exist.  To me, beauty is an expression of love that at once contains and incites within us our purest natures, and in this way then beauty and pain are not opposites, they are two sides of the same single coin; the same singular subject known as consciousness.

And so, now I look back on it all with worn-out eyes, tired from all the years of running, awash in the splendor of all this pain and beauty, and I can now appreciate everything in a way I would’ve never conceived otherwise.  My unrequited love rests up there with my oldest brother and I running our hands across our blankets in the dark making lightning sparks, my never fitting in sits with me on the lap of my great grandparents as they watched the sunrise singing to me, and all of my fears rest lightly on the diesel vapors of the four dour truck early in the morning preparing for a trip to the city.  At once I dress myself up in stinky intimidating black canvas dusters and misunderstood faux fur ears and tails, swim in pools naked like it’s nothing, whistle seventies funeral pop dirges while hauling water, and salute the downfall of mob oppression masquerading as civil society.  I remember everything from falling off my chair laughing inside a college experience I could never have to the thirty-six-hour coma where they stole my underwear and I couldn’t shut up about it, and my current isolation slides into my direct messages while I’m eating expensive Chinese with all my high school friends.  I race down dirt roads in a homemade go-kart, watch the greatest movie ever about talking ducks from another dimension, cry because all dogs really do go to heaven, blast giant mutant frogs with grenades, and rescue the princess one more time from the clutches of the fuming dragon king in his final form.  I want to stab my arms so bad when he tells me his sexual escapades, I want to die oh so hard when I see all the pretty costumes, and I want to just lift into the sky and never return with every hug from every stranger who’ll never see my face.  I’m simultaneously so small and fragile I could disappear and so large I could destroy whole civilizations with a thought.  The sun rays peeking through the clouds every sunset illuminate my smiling face and betray my every thought of total annihilation.  The poor tiger buys me movies and games to cheer me up because I’m having a sad time, and I feel bad because I rarely watch them or play them all the way through, producing false hopes.  I dance uncompromised, drink my coffee in the moment, write in late night bathroom stalls, and fearlessly forge new pathways that are just off enough to cost me valedictorian.  I put them in my head as I will forever always see them instead of the gaunt living phantom lying on the couch now, I tell them in prayers to no one how much I will always love them with all my heart no matter what they do because I understand, and I’ve always understood. I cast incantations with ten-pointed stars and Buddhist swastikas hanging over my bed, and reason out the universe with Rand at my side.  And all of it, after all of this, after everything, is so uniquely magically painfully beautiful, and for once I feel it for everything it is.

I wrote before about how I didn’t want to have the same lack and desperation at the end of my life as others have decided, willfully or otherwise, to have, and that I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done in my life and what I want to do with the rest of it.  Now that I’ve decided to stop running, and indeed to tap into the love that is at the core of my, and everyone’s, existence, I want to do all of those things I haven’t yet done that I guess just got put on hold until now.  I’ve always wanted to be powerful enough, awesome enough, smart enough, and/or skillful enough to actually execute any one of my myriad countless ideas that I’ve had throughout my life.  It’s funny because one of the reasons I’ve suited in the past was to control my identity, because I could don a costume and control what I looked like, what I seemed like, and the things I could be in other’s eyes (like, as so aptly put by my oldest brother, a freakin’ rockstar.)  It was a control I felt and believed wholeheartedly that I never had.  I was always just a dirty little psychologically-stunted furry with Borderline Personality Disorder unworthy of praise or value.  And to some extent, maybe I am, but now I am powerful enough, awesome enough, smart enough, and potentially skillful enough to do all the things I want to do because I’ve decided I am, simple as that.  You can do that too, yes even you.  I think I read it somewhere so it must be true.  Consider minds blown.

I have my work cut out for me because, well, I’ve had a lot of ideas in my life, and the ones that have survived the cull of forgetfulness are not exactly easy.  I value my family a lot and rely on them a bunch, they’ve always been helpful and accepting and I want to help them back as much as they’ve helped me and in that vein, I’ve been working as the site/blog administrator and budding social media manager for my mother and her new enough fabric store in my childhood hometown, for Maus and his two blogs/sites focused on his both his singing and his art, and in the near future for my older brother and sister-in-law and their radical lifestyle blog Raising Wild Humans.  I have this as well as work on my own projects, now including my life, which includes this blog, a new blog I’m starting titled How To Program Anything, and a host of others encompassing just about everything.  I want to learn another language, like Japanese (of which I’ve made good progress), and I want to straight up finally make a video game as it’s been a dream of mine ever since I first played The Legend of Zelda by Shigeru Miyamoto on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, a successful YouTube series, and a new amazing fursuit to end all fursuits that have come before, but those projects themselves have to rest a bit in the shadows for now.  Hey, no peeking!

I don’t want to end this post without a solid takeaway, so I thought I’d share one of the observations I’ve made in the last week that has helped me come to all the realizations I’ve written.  The first naive observation I’ve made that has indirectly lead to this new found awareness of pain and beauty, and the okayness of it all is that, and I know this sounds obvious and simple, but in order to get what you want out of the things that you do you have to have at least one thing and do at least one thing.  Luckily, both of them come directly from you.  Those things are a plan and effort respectively.  This isn’t as obvious and simple as it sounds, as a lot of different things can get in one’s way from having either of these things at all such as depression, a fear of failure/success, self-destructive choices and behaviors, not knowing what you want, or even unsupportive friends.  I know I’ve struggled with all of these at one point or another, and it’s hard, even seeming at times like this is just the way it is and will always be.

I’m here to tell you that it’s not, for anyone, if you will choose to believe me, or want to try to believe me.  First, we start with a plan.  It doesn’t matter how long it takes to formulate a plan, any plan at all and it doesn’t matter what the plan’s about, from waking up and taking a shower every day to writing your best novel yet, as long as it’s positive.  If you need to, write out an outline of the elements of the plan with other details, such as the pros and cons, or the hopeful effects it’ll have on your life, whatever you need to do.  It may help to form a checklist on your phone, the fridge, or your computer if you can break the plan into smaller pieces so you can see a roadmap of where you need to go but remember that it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to check off the items, only that you eventually check them off.  In fact, checking them off can be a reward in and of its own as it’s a recognition of how far you’ve come.

Secondly, we have the effort.  This is the hardest part in my opinion.  I have found that for me the key is in what I call the deciding moment, being that moment when you’re brain is making the decision on whether to engage in past unplanned negative or empty behavior (in my case sleeping on the couch) or whether to expend a little effort, endure a little discomfort and pain, to do something positive and valuable to you.  In the light of the beauty I have found in pain, this decisive moment has gotten a little easier for myself, but other ways to make it easier is to think about the result.  Will you ultimately feel better having done something empty, or having done something valuable?  Another way might be to decide ahead of time that you won’t even entertain another decision, that you will just do something automatically, or if that’s impossible you might instigate a certain expectation of responsibility by finding someone else who could help hold you accountable.  There are tons of ways to boost your efforts, hundreds of self-help books have been written about it, and I can’t cover them all here.  The key here is to approach it with honesty and self-compassion, meaning that you don’t beat yourself up if you relapse, you just recognize it and pledge to do better.  I have found that we are a product of our decisions, and often times the things that seem immovable and unchanging are really past decisions we’ve decided to unquestioningly believe.

With that, I must finally conk out this post.  It’s been an exciting and tumultuous ride but I’m glad to say I’ve come out the better for it.  I really needed to write this post for myself right now, and I hope that maybe it can help someone else too.  Even when life is at its most painful, it can also be at its most authentically beautiful as well; it all depends on the stance you decide to take in the face of unavoidable suffering, the exercise of a freedom that can never be taken away.  Make a plan, expend some effort, and you’ll go far.

photo credit: The Pumpkin Theory Window face via photopin (license)

Asher Wolfstein

Metaverse Resident

About the Author

A metaverse resident, you can find me on Second Life (kadar.talbot) and other online platforms. I write about my digital life, my musings, and my projects as a programmer, webmaster, artist, and game designer. (exist (be wunk) (use rational imagination) (import artist coder maker furry) (conditional (if (eq you asshole) (me (block you))))

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