An Exorcism Of The Sins I Carry With Me

This is not a rehashing of my earlier entry on the events of 6/5/07. If you’ve read that, you know what I think happened that day. That entry was about the events. This is about something different.

This is addressing a hard truth about why after all these years I still care about two days in my past. It’s hard to ignore that for most people, West Memphis would be a joke. They screwed up at a new job but who hasn’t. They’d tell it with bold laughter that would inspire warmth from their peers. I’m unable to do that. As the anniversary of tomorrow has loomed, I’ve actually felt a wave of sadness and pain. I’ve taken a long look at myself and I’m not at peace with what I see.

And I really should be! I’ve been at my job for nine years. Things are ok. I haven’t repeated that incident though I’ve made new mistakes. I’ve redeemed myself. I’ve even fixed a lot of mistakes others made. I can let go of this juvenile mistake.

Except this isn’t the only mistake I carry. That’s what this entry is about. The other wounds.

For instance I should be able to forgive myself for ditching a friend at the movies when I was 9. I was literally a child. I didn’t know better. Why on Earth should I still regret what I did when I was 9?

I should be able to move past the time my brother goaded me into prank calling a crush and I made an ass out of myself when I was 11. Again, just a kid. Except it was the most humiliating moment of my life to that date. But a kid.

I’m right to feel bad about having called a girl in my class and bullied her at the same age. But she’s forgiven me long ago. Maybe I can too.

I regret having rudely passed up my grandmother’s offer to pay for me to see a movie when I was 15. Looking back, not only was I a horrible ass to a woman I love dearly but I could’ve seen Life is Beautiful at the theater. That’s a movie I actually do kind of love, problematic as it is.

I also regret having been an ass on my birthday that year. As well as on vacation that year. And also generally interacting with humanity at 15.

I regret everything about my senior year of Journalism class. Like every second of it I was at my worst as a person. I was a terrible leader and my work was awful that year. I was a raging asshole to boot.

I regret the awkward way I handled a gift from a friend that summer, but less so. That one dovetails with happy memory. Miss that woman so.

My meltdowns in college will always haunt me but the one over Hot Fuzz not playing Little Rock was the utter worst. Especially since it, um, did that week.

And then past West Memphis, I regret things.

I regret the job interviews I was awkward at. I had no chance in any case so I should’ve done better. I was never meant for interviews but still.

I’ve made mistakes at work I’m still tormented by even after they were fixed.

I regret the meltdowns at work in my absolute soul. How can I not? One of them caused a nervous breakdown so bad I tried to leave the state the next day.

I’ll never allow myself to feel peace over how I wounded Brandi, the girl I dated before Amanda. I knew I wasn’t into her early but I strung her along because I wanted to be into her and thought I could force it.

Of course there are ways I’ve hurt Amanda, mostly by not thinking of her feelings. I can be very self centered.

And there are so many I’ve hurt just by not thinking. I can’t count all of them.

These are the moments I replay in my head in the dark of the night. They’re the moments I can’t forgive myself for. The times I was self centered and lazy. The times I just didn’t care. These are the sins I carry.

That’s why I care about reaching the 10 year anniversary of this day. Because I’ve reached the 10 year anniversary of one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made. It’s the centerpiece of my ledger. I want so badly to let go of these feelings, to not have this balance. But I fear that if I ever let go of it I might allow myself to forget.

But then maybe it’s time I do. I don’t know that carrying these failings has worked. Maybe writing this serves as a grand exorcism of my misdeeds. A public apology. I have hurt so many people and I will never stop trying to fix that.

I have sinned and I am beyond sorry.

Maybe someday I’ll apologize to myself.

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A Love Letter to a Celebrity Crush

PRELUDE

We all prefer to avoid telling stories that make us look bad. This is a fact of human nature. We like to make ourselves look good and no matter how much we claim to be open, we all have weaknesses in this area. We have things about ourselves we’d rather not expose.

That’a what this story is. It exposes things about myself I’m highly uncomfortable with, namely my sexuality. I’m a straight white man so in theory I shouldn’t be unsettled by discussing this. I should feel free to leer. But I’m not proud of doing so.

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Why I Need to Talk (About Myself)

My name is Austin Shinn and I have an addiction. I am fixated on talking, especially about my life and myself.

The addiction became clear to me when I launched a second twitter feed in part to talk about stories from my past. I shared two or three before it became clear that nobody was listening. Admittedly, I don’t have many followers on that feed. But in the isolation, I realized my addiction. I need to talk nonstop and mostly about me.

Why? There are several excellent reasons. I’m a bit lonely during the day with just Lola around. I don’t have many friends at night. I’m constantly unable to stop thinking which burns off as excess energy. These are standard reasons. No reason to waste a graph on each.┬áBut there are two other reasons on my mind that I can’t stop weighing. It’s these that make me write today.

The first is a need for validation. Why do I write such long, expansive essays along with regular repeating columns I’m not sure are read? Because I’m fishing for that one specific topic that will interest people and make them listen to me. I want to know that I’m interesting because internally I fear that I’m not. Sure, I love writing but more specifically I want others to love my writing. It’s the one thing I’ve gotten any attention for in the past.

The second is why I talk about me. I’m not a narcissist. I rather clearly hate myself. But I’m desperate to reach out. I want others to understand me. I feel like if people knew me they’d get me and respect me. So I cast my net wide in desperation that maybe the lockbox that is my brain will be opened for others.

There’s a third reason though. I was lonely as a child. I’m still trying to heal the silence and that doesn’t come easy. I want to fix the pain of my past. The solitary bike rides still wound me.

There’s no easy answer to this feeling. I have deep needs I’m struggling with and it doesn’t make me fun to be around. I’m way too much. I know. I think half of my twitter followers have me on mute. I’m working on this. I try to limit to one tweet an hour. But I still need to vent. I still have these issues. I still want to be heard.

I just need patience.

Confronting My Issues After A Social Media Overdose

WARNING: I’m going to be extraordinarily honest here. If you don’t want to hear about ugliness in my life, do not read this.

As always, I have to start this post with an explanation for why I haven’t written as much as I’d like here. The very real, very happy truth is I’ve been way too busy with a screenplay which I put to bed yesterday. Yay accomplishments. The very real, very dark truth is I’ve also been struggling hard with my mental illness.

I’m mentally ill. There shouldn’t be a sense of horror at saying that. I am. Of course I am. I’m diagnosed! But I’m starting to confront the scary truth that it might go a bit deeper than I like. This all stems from my apocalyptic fixation I’ve written on before. I’m starting to see how real it is and how susceptible I am.

In the last month, the specter of doomsday has been an almost daily occurrence. There was at least one moment where I went to the movies and came out relieved there wasn’t nuclear war. Then the health care war has raged. That’s led to talk that democracy is dead. And the last part, well the last part triggered me.

The episode I had on Thursday was the ugliest in my entire life. I really think it was. What triggered it was a sudden, very massive overdose of people declaring the sky had fallen. That the government was definitely going full eugenics. That a coup had already happened. That was the only way this awful bill could’ve passed. That we were all going to die.

Today I step back and I see what I read for what it is: A bit much if I’m nice and paranoid delusions if I’m saying what I truly think. Things just aren’t that bad and I think they might not ever get near that. But if you factor in my susceptibility to such talk and my intense emotions over a bill that stands to harm my family, yes I snapped.

All that happened was I screamed and cried a bit until I was talked down logically. Amanda really helped. But the emotions I felt were so intense that removed from the situation, I saw them for what they are: a form of psychosis. And if any event leaves me feeling less certain about social media, it’s this one.

It’s not a new idea for me that I need to consider leaving twitter for my own mental health. After the election and after a few other incidents, I took days off. I’m currently on limited use. mostly for the hype on Guardians 2. It’s really not the worst idea for me.

The problem is social media is addictive. That feed gets to you. Your notifications tab is a drug. When it’s in full blast with 8+ notifications, you have done something right. The reaction I got to the Silbermann issue post was really intense.

It also helps deal with loneliness. my friends have moved away and I’m slowly making new ones. Yes, I’ve got Amanda but I need more. I want to just talk comics & movies. I don’t think it’s so wrong to want an outlet. I don’t have many here.

But that’s one of the evil things about social media. There’s a frequent sense you need to have the correct discussion. If you’re not political 25/8 then you don’t care. You’ll be ignored. You need to be at your angriest all the time.

I noted this after the election of 2004: Being hyperpolitical is a skin I don’t wear well because it requires me to argue constantly and know what I’m supposed to say at every moment. I’m not good at that. I’m not good at being apathetic, but I’m really not good at living every moment in constant war.

But perhaps the hardest thing for me about social media is this: I’m bombarded with input nonstop. I get overstimulated easy. And if I’m bombarded with bleak imagery from, well I’ll be blunt questionable authority, then yes I snap. Because social media isn’t designed to filter arguments. The Wall Street Journal has the same respect as a drunk spewing paranoia there.

I’m a journalist by training. When I admit to these issues, I’m often asked why my job doesn’t trigger the same response. Easy. Being at a newspaper means I’m surrounded by filters. There’s a wall on the information I get that means it’s accurate. Hyperbole gets drained. And I’ve got bad news: Blogs are REALLY awful information sources. Even the “best” have far less accuracy than the Wall Street Journal or The Washington Times.

So this is where I am. I’m looking at what caused the episode and I’m making changes. I pruned my feed last night. I started blocking out the sources I know trigger me. Not to put my head in the sand–please read the two paragraphs up top–but to get healthier. If something is causing episodes of paranoia then NO it is not healthy to indulge in it.

I’m of course still in therapy. That I may never leave. I’m ok with that. I’m going to look into getting on stronger medication too. I’m not sure I want to keep living as if this is just what I am. I have more wrong than just depression and anxiety. That’s ok.

But most importantly, I’m looking hard at social media. It’s an addiction. There are no healthy addictions in the end.

Ten Things I Like About Myself

This is something I was challenged to do by my therapist. He felt that I could benefit from focusing my OCD tendencies on the things I like rather than dislike about myself. He feels this could be an interesting challenge for me and helpful. I agree and as I’ve torn myself down publicly why shouldn’t I build myself up publicly? So here goes. 

  1. I am a great dad. This is a new trait but a trait I know is there. I adore Lola and she adores me. I’m naturally good at caring for her. This is something unexpected but real. 
  2. I am loyal to my friends. Sarah Andersen has that great cartoon about getting in a tank when someone hurts her friends. That’s me. Cross me? I don’t care. Cross my friends? Welcome to die. 
  3. I have a strong sense of humor. I’m definitely not someone with a standard sense of humor but I have a unique and potent one. I love wordplay and satire. I also love great slapstick. 
  4. I hold on tight to my interests. I’ve been a Star Wars fan for over 20 years. I was first a Mickey Mouse fan before I could talk and I just today added a new MM comic to my phone. I hold onto what I love. 
  5. I don’t let my limits hold me back if I want something bad enough. I learned to ride a bicycle even though being autistic made it hard. Once I learned that, I wanted so badly to get out that I pushed myself on epic bike rides despite lacking a body built for them at first. In time I became great. 
  6. I’m a gifted writer, even in fiction. I don’t credit myself enough with how skilled I am here. I know I’m a good nonfiction writer but I really can craft short fiction and with a good idea, even screenplays. I have skill at character. Are my pieces heavily focused on my interests? Yes. So are the pieces every other human being writes. 
  7. I’m good at my job. I really don’t give myself enough credit. I can look at a blank page and in 15 minutes have it filled. I know how to place my jumps doing business. I know how to find the very best art. I’m great at my job. 
  8. I’m gifted at creative solutions. The image of an autistic running through various calculations in his head to figure something out? That’s me. And that rocks. I can think my way out of a bind if I have enough time. 
  9. I’m damn good at gifting. This is a unique skill but one I have. I will find the exact right gift for someone and it’ll be one they never see coming.  That’s a ton of fun for me and kind to others. 
  10. I clean up well. I know I look like a slob often but when I dress confidently I look sharp. I wear suit jackets well. I have a very piercing stare and it’s an effective tool for me that enhances that cleaned up look. 

So there you have it. 10 good things about me. Will there be a corresponding list? No! I’m not going to tear me down anymore. But I will add to this list in time. 

On My Fear of the Apocalypse

One of the defining moments in my childhood came when a teacher told us in fourth grade about the ebola virus. She laid out exactly how it would wipe us all out. It was rather graphic discussion for a fourth grade class and she wasn’t much of a teacher to be blunt. But I remember that incident because I had a violent anxiety attack that afternoon that resulted in me being unable to function. My counselor tried but a germaphobe was born I fear.

There have been other apocalyptic moments in my life. In my freshman semester of college, I became fixated on global warming. I wasn’t wrong but I was overly obsessed with it and couldn’t function at times. After college, it was the economy. Same situation. I was right but it destroyed me.

And now I’m here. I’m obsessed with the idea we are heading to a period of apocalypse, this one social. I am studying every warning sign. I look at every piece of evidence that something horrible is about to happen. I follow every vote. I monitor it all.

What makes this so awful is this: For the first time ever, I am in an echo chamber with nobody to help me. My peers are making it worse in fact. If I share my concerns, I’m told repeatedly a great purge and die off are coming. Yeah, I’m just getting walls of help I stress.

It’s taken a physical toll on me. I’m unable to sleep. I’m having trouble eating and when I do eat, not well. I’m definitely going through severe depression. It’s just bad.

I’ve felt very alone because I don’t know how to handle it. My usual outlet of social media is only making things worse. I don’t want to burden those I know in person. I’m alone frankly. 

And I think my great pain is that I can’t give up and accept things are awful and that’s just how it is. I might get to if I was alone in life. Then I could give up as completely as possible. I could go full bunker and punish me before they punish me. I could go very far with this. 

I can’t. I have a wife and daughter who need me. For them I must keep going. There’s nothing more to add to that. But the pain and fear don’t go away. They can’t. So I have to try to make sense of everything. 

Looking back at the previous panics a pattern emerges. Ebola was within 6 months of the move. Global warming was during first semester of college. Economy hit just when I was out on my own. This hit during Lola’s first year. Every apocalypse accompanied a period of true change in my life. And they all were real, albeit with varying degrees of direct impact. 

There’s also a theme to what I fear. It’s all a grand impersonal threat that affects me. I think on a micro scale so I have trouble no matter how old I get with the macro. My brain just isn’t built for it. I can’t grasp that I’m just a speck in all of this. The universe doesn’t consider me at all and that’s scarier than if it did. 

The hard truth is in this moment I don’t have answers. That is the nature of a panic like this after all, fearing the unknown. I just know I have to keep going. I am in therapy. I am taking my meds. I am trying to use every technique I have. 

This fear won’t ever escape me I suspect. It’s how I’m wired. All I know is I don’t get to quit. I must fight on.