Identity Crisis II

I’ve tried to write this post a few times now. It has been brewing for seven or eight months, ever since I decided to quit poker.

I have decided to quit poker.

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In my first blog on identity crisis, I wrote about my experience losing the pieces of myself that framed my decision-making and helped me make sense of the world. It left me unable to choose a direction, rudderless and adrift in a sea of possibilities.

This is something worse than that.

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I literally grew up in poker. I started playing seriously before I finished university, before I lost my virginity, before my first girlfriend, before my first break-up. Before my first utility bill, before my first real move, before the first pair of shoes I ever bought for myself, there was poker.

I learned the ups and downs of life as a poker player. I learned my coping mechanisms as a poker player. I learned real love, I learned fake love, I learned struggle, I learned triumph, as a poker player.

What are those lessons worth now?

More than nothing, probably. But it’s hard to shake this feeling that everything I learned in that context could be wrong out of it.

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Mid-writing this, I got linked to the perfect thing. Read it and then come back

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I am Mickey Mouse, with less stability and fewer options. I don’t get to springboard poker into something else. This is it. I’m starting over, just as lost as he is.

I’ve always been a straight-ahead kind of guy. I found something that got my juices flowing and leaned into it with all my might and got better at it. That was it, that was my process. It worked ok when I played hockey as a kid, it worked great when I played poker as an adult.

Nothing gets my juices flowing anymore. Poker hasn’t for a long time. So I need to go out and find something to tear into again.

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It’s befuddling to not have a thing, but it’s downright scary to lose one. It’s like being a boxer with a glass chin. You realize you can just get it knocked out of you at any time, and that will be it, you’ll have to give up everything you’ve worked for and move on. If this is the second time it’s happened to me, how many more bullets do I have in the chamber? I’m almost 28 and poker was 7 or 8 years of my life. What if I spend the next 7 or 8 years on something and I lose that fire again? Can I pick up the pieces and move on again at 36? Can I live without it?

And what if I never find it in the first place?

I am anxious about never finding it, about feeling set adrift and rudderless until one day I wash up on the shore, an old man with failing capacities, and announce “Hear I am, by accident. I hope it turns out OK.”

But I’m still quitting.

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I’m quitting because, ultimately, poker is a dumb card game. It’s rules are limited to passing money back and forth between participants. There’s no chance to make something more for people than what you started with.

I’m quitting because poker isn’t checking all of the boxes I need for a happy life, and as scary as it is to be without it, I have to try to find something that does. I have to strike out into the unknown, because I know what’s here, and it’s not enough.

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I’m not feeling very confidant right now. I’m feeling like the kid I was before poker, the self-loathing, socially anxious virgin with nothing to like about himself, nothing to be proud of, to hang his hat on and say “this is what makes me, me.”

But this is the highest percentage bet I get. This is the best shot I have at a fulfilling, happy life. Poker has given me what it’s given me, and it’s not getting any better, and I’m not getting any younger.

However many more bullets I get, I’m going down firing.

An Interview

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I had a very emotionally tough experience with some guided meditation, and I wanted to share parts of that, but I still haven’t settled with that experience in my own mind. I am going to try again on Monday, maybe more data points will help me find some insight to share. For now, I just wanted to share this interview with you:

http://www.pokernews.com/video/ben-wilinofsky-opens-up-about-living-with-clinical-depressio-9744.htm

Many thanks to the Pokernews team and Sarah Herring in particular for giving me a platform for my voice.

Guest post

Today is a guest post from my very favourite person on earth.

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Two of the dearest people in my life suffer from depression. I don’t. Quite the contrary, I’ve been blessed with an absurd mental resilience to shit. I can’t comprehend the mental state that makes a person want to take their own life. But when you care about someone immensely, you work to understand their heart and mind, perhaps more so than your own. So I’ve learned a lot about depression. Today, I wanted to share what I know. I hope this can help you understand and support your loved ones at their darkest.

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Some of Lucy’s mental issues manifest in crippling social anxiety. But when we invite her to go out, instead of deciding whether she feels well enough to do so, she always tries to figure out what’s best for other people. That’s because depressed people are notoriously bad at looking out for themselves.

“Shouldn’t I stay at home and hang out with Jenny so that she is not alone?”

“I should probably go, because if I don’t the evening will be awkward for Alex who doesn’t know the rest of you well.”

“I probably shouldn’t go because it’s a long car ride and I’ll make it really tight.”

Part of the reason this is a common behavior for depressed people is that not a lot feels very good to them, so it makes sense to try and make decisions based on other factors. But that’s an unhealthy habit and a self-fulfilling prophecy. They end up not doing things that make them happier, thus they don’t get happier. So every time, I try to break down to Lucy that she should do what feels good for her, and that that’s what would make everyone happy. I do it by helping her discard the reasons that don’t have to do with her and focusing on whether she feels she would enjoy herself. If you realize your depressed friend is doing this, you will want to look out for her instead. It can be tricky not to come off condescending. Focus on minimizing the pressure to make a decision and on not expressing your disappointment if it wasn’t your first choice.

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Speaking of choices, people going through a depression episode often don’t know what they want. As I see it, that’s one of the major differences between depression and being really really upset. When I’m really really upset, I still know what would make me feel better. Sometimes it’s impossible, but I can picture it. Comfort of my husband, night in bed with popcorn and my favorite show, company of people I like are some of the more common remedies. Other times, I may feel down on myself but I can picture a long-turn solution in mind. It could be getting a rewarding job, becoming good at a game… or losing weight, or making a lot of money. They are not all admirable, but they are tangible.

The terrifying thing about depression is that there isn’t anything a depressed person can picture that will make him feel better. That’s what brings about the utter hopelessness that can be fatal. As a result, when you ask them what they want, they usually won’t know. And proposing various activities won’t help, and will often just leave both you and the depressed friend frustrated.

So about the best you can do is three things:

– Help the depressed person into her comfort zone. It can be a location or a show or a food that always makes her happy.

– When you can’t know how to make it better, just focus on not making it worse. Make sure you eliminate all unnecessary sources of stress, from unfinished chores to loud noises.

– Just be there with him, and wait for it to go way. It means more than you think.

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It’s easy to give hugs. Giving support and comfort is far from a selfless act, because it feels good. It’s a deeply rewarding experience: you get to bond with another person, you get to feel important. It’s a lot harder when your depressed friend/spouse/child/sibling needs something completely different. When seeing you is actually detrimental. When they don’t want to be touched at all. When they don’t want to talk, or when they want to talk to someone else entirely, perhaps a friend who understands how they feel.

That’s when you exhibit the true strength. That’s when it’s crucial that you remind yourself to not make it about you. Remember that this is a person you treasure going through something really bad and just be glad that something is helping, even when it has nothing to do with you. And let me tell you, it can be insanely hard not to take things personally. You can feel scared, or sad, or even hurt. And of course your emotions matter, so it’s okay to feel those things. Further, it’s okay to share it with your depressed friend or sister or SO. In fact, sometimes when Ben is depressed and it brings me down, comforting me helps him feel better, too. But over time, you can and should learn to reason with yourself that their desires and needs when they are depressed are due to their illness, and getting hurt by them is like getting hurt by someone with a broken leg needing to skip your ice skating party.

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Speaking of parties, depressed people will need to cancel plans, and they will feel guilty about it, and you must help them not to.

It’s not only the people unfamiliar with depression that don’t understand that it’s a serious mental disorder. Countless people who suffer from depression struggle to really think of it as a disease rather than something they are responsible for. So use my ice skating analogy if you must. Repeat that it’s not their fault they feel that way. Make the necessary calls. Place the sushi order for delivery. Download a movie. Snuggle in.

Take care of each other.

Everything else can take a raincheck.

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Thank you for reading.

Fuck It. Bad Day.

Hello again. It’s been a while. Can’t remember the last time I wrote here. Part of the reason is that I haven’t had much to write about. Honestly, more of it is that I haven’t needed to write. Despite wanting to help other people, I’ve learned to be selfish about how I use my time when I feel good. Conditioning, I guess. It’s been a scarce resource over the years.

Recently I’d been feeling like I had turned a corner. Episodes were few and far apart. I guess there is a natural correction that occurs when things are too good for too long. The easier life is, the harder it becomes to work on myself. I let things slip a little, and everything’s still ok, so I let things slip a little more. I have a drink now and then.

God I want a drink right now.

It’s hard to keep working on improving when things are going right. In school we were taught about lowering the water level to find the rocks. I see the same thing in poker. It’s hard to keep working on things when things are going right.

So is this an opportunity? How do I learn from times like this? What things do I look for when the shit hits the fan so I can dodge the rock next time?

I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like an opportunity. It feels like the same shit on a different pile. It feels like I’m just as lost in the woods as I ever was, but for a few months there I thought the trees were getting thinner. Maybe it was just variance.

If I look back, do I see the signs? Or am I trying to sort noise into a pattern based on the information I have now?

Is writing this helping me? Is it helping anybody?

I don’t know.

Fuck it. Bad day.

Identity Crisis

I was reading over old blog posts looking for a reference I thought I made and I re-read my favourite one that I have ever written. It’s so positive and hopeful. I feel like somebody else wrote it.

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It’s been a rough couple of months. I’ve been trying to write, but I feel like I have nothing to say that I haven’t said before. It’s like driving down a long stretch of highway where the scenery all looks the same. I start to feel like I’m not getting anywhere and it’s never going to change.

I’m not convinced otherwise.

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I’ve been sick a lot recently. My latest battle is with arthritis, cause unknown. People tell me I’m too young to have arthritis.

People used to tell me I was too young to have hip problems.

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Before I identified as anything else, I identified as a hockey player. My hip problems, which are ongoing, stemmed from the unnatural way a hockey goalie bends their legs to form a solid wall, pushes up and down and side to side with awkwardly angled knees.

It used to be hard to imagine going a week without playing hockey. When injuries finally forced me to quit, I would dream about playing. I would wake up with bruises on my right foot from making kick-saves against the wall in my sleep.

I am no longer a hockey player. I haven’t touched a puck for five years.

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It’s a hard thing, losing a piece of your identity like that. You have certain things that drive you, that frame your choices and put your life in context. I was in great shape and I didn’t drink, for the purposes of being a better hockey player. Were those things better than the alternative? I didn’t really know. They were for the purposes of being good at hockey, but once I had lost my frame of reference, my actions ceased to be purposeful.

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After I was a hockey player, my search for a new identity lead me to body build. It allowed me to get the endorphin release of exercise in a more controlled manner, and channel my competitive spirit and drive into something that made me feel better about myself.

But the injuries kept piling up, and I convinced myself eventually that I needed to stop, try to heal my body and balance it better, and rebuild from scratch.

It was around this time that I went vegan.

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Some people might recall that during the summer, I tried to eat a little fish for health reasons. It didn’t go down right, but my health has gotten worse, so I’m trying again.

I had been a vegan for two years, but my ailing health and medical professionals have suggested to me again that I may need to consume animal products in order to improve my health to a livable baseline.

I think there are a lot of good ethical and environmental reasons not to eat animal products, especially those raised on factory farms. Before this, my food choices had been purposeful.

Now I’m just a guy who eats.

 

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I’m spending some time in the states with my girlfriend, who is about the only thing that makes me happy. Being here means I can’t play online poker.

So who am I, exactly? All of these things that I’ve self-identified as, that I’ve used to frame my decisions, are no longer a part of my life.

I had planned to use my time here to reclaim parts of my identity. I wanted to work on my physical health (which has a fairly big impact on my mental health) and to work on my writing. Instead, my arthritic joints have prevented me from putting in work physically, and sapped me of my motivation. I feel hopeless and purposeless.

They were all right. I’m too young to be dealing with this shit.

My Experience With my Body Image

This blog was written for, and posted by, a friend of mine who writes about body image issues, both in her blog and in her PhD work. You can, and should, check out her blog here: http://femmered.blogspot.nl/

 

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I have been sick recently. I had a high fever and no appetite for a couple of weeks. I lost a lot of weight. Pants I had bought in the spring of 2011 (when I was very sick in a different way) started to fit too loosely around my waist. I could see my ab muscles. I could see my ribs.

 

After my fever subsided, I started, predictably, to put that weight back on.

 

I felt bad about it.

 

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I suffer from depression, anxiety, have low self esteem, and yes, body image issues. These are not things that fit nicely within clearly defined lines. They blend together, feed off of each other, and become parts of a whole person.

 

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When I was 18, I decided I wanted to bodybuild. I created a matrix to measure the nutritional values of some staple foods and measured my diet down to the gram. My mother was worried I had an eating disorder. I worked out obsessively, to the point of taking a cab to a 24 hour gym when a group project meeting broke at 2 am and the school gym was closed. At my physically strongest, I was 5’9”, 175 lbs, with roughly 10% bodyfat. I was deadlifting nearly 400 lbs.

 

I didn’t like myself then any more than I do now.

 

I still catch myself wishing I was that strong again.

 

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I am a victim of self-improvement. I am in a constant state of feeling like I am not good enough for myself. This feeling has motivated a lot of my projects. It also feeds my self-esteem issues. I tried to satisfy both by making a project out of changing my body.

 

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The insidious thing about changing your body is, paradoxically, that it is obvious.

 

If you change yourself emotionally, or mentally, only the few people close enough to you to know your heart and mind are going to notice, and those people are going to see you often enough that the change will be gradual. But if your body changes, anyone can notice. The reinforcement, positive or negative, can come from all the people who see you, from family through complete strangers. The feedback that you get on physical traits far outstrips the feedback you get on metaphysical ones on sheer volume, even if you value your metaphysical traits much more highly. For someone constantly seeking to feel good enough, it can become addicting and entrapping.

 

You get stuck in this feedback loop where you get the positive reinforcement, the attention or praise or body language you crave, so you make more changes, which results in more positive reinforcement. You get stuck on the treadmill and the speed keeps increasing, and the faster it goes, the harder it is to get off.

 

And then all of a sudden your legs quit.

 

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As an eighteen-year-old with low self esteem, I worried that I wasn’t good enough to find love or sex (even with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t know which worried me more). I have both now. I have a richer, more rewarding life than I did at 18.

 

But the old feedback left desire lines in my brain, and nowadays, I feel weak. I feel powerless. My mood suffers. I don’t get the endorphin high I used to get from the gym. I have a partner who gives me plenty of positive reinforcement, but I’ve never handled praise very well.

 

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Since chronic ailments prevent me from working out (or at the very least make it a risky and harmful idea), I spend a lot of money on clothes to try to look good nowadays. I feel good every time I do, and then I feel bad about feeling good about something so superficial. I wish I drew more of my self-esteem from my inner qualities, some of which I think are pretty good.

 

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I think, if I had to guess, the solution lies along a path involving a lot of brainwork: meditation, yoga, mindfulness. I don’t think I can change how I feel about myself by changing who I am. I don’t think there is a “better” me out there that I will be able to love on his merits. So maybe changing how I perceive the world around me and my place in it will work. I don’t really know, but it’s worth a try. I’ve been good, maybe great, in a lot of other ways, and it hasn’t helped.