On Stress Addiction

There’s a real strength that comes from knowing your own limits (or, in some cases, seeming lack of limits). I’m writing specifically from the veteran’s viewpoint, but the concept applies to anyone who has consistently overcome obstacles they didn’t think they’d be able to overcome.

It’s easy enough to accomplish the impossible when the choice is taken from you.

In the instance of service, there is rarely ever a choice. Service-members are faced with terrifying obstacles from the time they join – from entering a tear gas chamber for the first time to entering a battle for the first time – and presumably anyone reading this who relates has survived those challenging obstacles and gained the confidence that comes along with it.

Something else comes along with it, too.

“Overcoming the odds” is an addictive accomplishment that can leave us feeling like we’re failing when life finally settles down. The feeling of “I can handle more than this” can often be replaced with “I SHOULD be handling more than this,” and we can easily become addicted to living on the edge of burnout – or worse, on the edge of life and death. There’s a healthy way to process that feeling, and a plethora of unhealthy ones.

I once wrote that “Duty is when idealism must be suppressed in favor of rationality,” but the idealist must eventually come to terms with their emotions once more, and eventually you WILL be presented with choices (for some, this prospect seems far into the future). As someone who is trained to handle the impossible, choosing not to add too much to your plate is sometimes difficult. So make sure the things you add are PROductive and not DEstructive.

Go to school. Buy a house. Get a hobby. Play music. Work two jobs and pay off debt. Help others! (Seriously, no matter how much you’re doing, you’ll eventually feel like there’s no point to any of it if it only benefits you). Get into art. Study. Read. Workout.

The other option is to become addicted to TRAUMA rather than STRESS. I’ve been there and done it, but sometimes it’s like we’re tempted to build a checklist of things that are stacked against us in order to validate (to ourselves or others) what we’ve overcome. It’s important to realize that the world isn’t set out to hurt you. You aren’t cursed to a life of pain. There are a lot of tools and resources out there for you to use your resilience in a positive way, but don’t get set on being in pain just so you can overcome it.

As survivors, we need to be aware of this phenomenon. All this said, I’ll be closing on a house at the end of the month (as many of you know), and have decided to return to school full time in addition to working. I’m very excited to see what I can learn from history, and to delve once more into the humanities.

Let others celebrate your victories with you, not just the trauma you’ve overcome.

More to follow, as always.

-TQV

Why the Interlude

Greetings, friends.

As many of you know, mine is not a “personal” blog. While I write memoir for philosophical purposes on occasion, my primary mission in writing is to help people who “live on the edge” because of their mental health struggles, so I rarely post updates that are exclusively personal. In this case, I’m making an exception:

I wanted to post a brief explanation for why I haven’t written much this week and why my posts may be intermittent for this entire month:

I’ve taken yet another foray into home ownership. Hopefully this is the last time for a good decade or so. This will be my 4th home purchase (with three sales) and my seventh move in eight years. I should do a post about how living in high stress environments is addictive and tends to make you take more risks than you did before, but I’ll have to save that one for another time.

As many of you know, home buying is pretty stressful stuff and nothing ever goes as planned. BUT – I’m very thankful that my wife and I will have the lovely place below to call our home.

While dealing with the home purchase, we also added another member to our family – Lady will hopefully enjoy the fenced in back yard pictured above.

So – steady progress toward our long term goals, but it means taking a brief hiatus from writing so much.

Can’t wait to get back in touch with ya’ll! Keep us in your thoughts until then!

-TQV

Working Class Economics

My thoughts for the day(cade). I’m about over this running in place thing. I’m always strategizing about how to live authentically but also break away from institutional control. Financial independence is the Millennial American Dream – not a house we can’t afford or a truck that shows how in debt we are. I think my generation largely just wants to live a simpler life – and many of us are BUSTING IT to make that happen.

More Ideas for Managing Abnormal Stress Levels (Don’t Pull the Trigger!)

On June 11th, I posted a blog about managing abnormal stress levels. Several folks reached out to me and said that they found it helpful, so I’ve thought of a few new ways that I manage stress and wanted to share them as well. You can check out the first blog, here.

One of the key points in the first blog was recognizing how helpful reading and studying can be in managing stress and mental battles, and I decided to expound on that with my June 20th article titled, “Four Books to Pull You Back From The Brink.” I KNOW those books will help you if you invest the time in them.

Well, I’ve since implemented some new stress control methods in my life and I wanted to continue adding tools to peoples’ kits – so you can read them below:

  1. Spend time in the outdoors. Amanda (My Wife) and I actually have an entirely separate blog on this (The Gypsy and The Bard), and I can’t believe I forgot to mention it during my first edition of this post. Spending time outside in whatever way you prefer is a great way to manage stress. Combine this with the reading suggestion and go read the work of the transcendentalists while relaxing by a private waterfall. It’s sure to restore some energy to your life. You can also incorporate my next tip into this one!
  2. Get an animal. While I always caution against projecting toward humans (IE: Savior Searching), it’s perfectly acceptable to project toward a sweet pupper or other animal. They’re much less likely to disappoint, and you can search for one who has the temperament you need. I just got a little curr, who his gentle enough for my child, but also playful enough for me.
  3. Play an RPG. Don’t knock it til you try it! Playing an RPG, particularly an MMO, is a great way to disconnect from the stresses of your day and unwind a bit. It’s even better if you have friends who will join you. It’s a great way to socialize while also staying away from people – just be sure not to get sucked too far into the cyber realms! As with all things, balance is key.
  4. Blog! Obviously all of you are already doing this, but blogging has really been a great way for me to connect to new people and ideas, and find people who support my own. Thanks for what ya’ll do!

That’s all I have time for today, but I hope some of those tips help! Let me know if they do or if you have any others. Resilience and defiance are how we overcome adversity, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few tricks for managing stress along the way.

More to come, as always.

-TQV

Everything I’ve learned about blogging (June edition)

I shall begin this post with a bit of alliteration for my own amusement:

“Hello, honorable humans.”

Now, down to the crux of it: This post will no doubt get long, but I think there’s a lot of value added for ANY blogger. I’ve been developing and testing blogging strategies since I began this blog in May. I’ve learned a lot, and decided to compile it monthly in hopes that it will help others who are aspiring to build their network. I won’t take information away each month, I’ll just highlight new gouge so that people who have already read previously published portions can skip to the good stuff. This time, nothing needs to be in bold because it’s the first iteration. Here are some simple blogging strategies to help develop and expand your readership:

  1. Be predictable. What if I told you that this post about blogging strategies is an example of a blogging strategy? (Pretty obvious, many of you are thinking.) Anyone who has been blogging for long can tell you that a lot of what we do is about “value added,” and someone might follow my blog exclusively because they want to see what lessons I learn in the future that they can then apply. Once they’ve followed, they can decide whether they’re interested in my core mission, which is contributing to the fight on mental health issues. I think it’s nice to have a couple of “repeat posts” scheduled (ones where the theme doesn’t change but additional value can be added with each iteration). To that end, I’ve decided to do this (blogging strategy) and one other on a monthly basis. The other is a free networking opportunity for people to summarize and link to their blog in the comments of my post.
  2. Diversify within the confines of your brand. In addition to the scheduled posts mentioned above, I plan to VLOG once per week (the rules build upon each other, remember to be predictable) and post a song periodically (I don’t really have a schedule planned for that – this isn’t my full time job and I need to make the plan somewhat flexible to account for that. See rule number six.) Since my theme is essentially self-help, I can use different TYPES of posts to diversify within that brand. I write poetry to draw in the poets, music to draw in musicians, blogs to draw in old school bloggers, and VLOGs to attract people who prefer video to text. Figure out how you can impliment that idea for your brand. (As a self awareness point, I really need to get better about graphics/charts/etc.)
  3. Don’t migrate your previous work over all at once. When I first started TQV, I’d already been writing weekly articles on LinkedIn for some time. I decided that, in order to professionalize my portfolio, I wanted them all to be available on the site before I shared the link. Realistically though, few people have 6 hours to go through all of your work. Many will keep up with you if you post consistently, but only a few are going to really delve deep into everything you’ve written all at once. Instead of vomiting your life’s work onto your site, follow rule number four.
  4. Schedule posts! This one is SO SO hard for me because, when I write something I’m proud of, I want to share it to see what you guys and gals think. But if you’ve already posted, it’s much better to schedule it for the next day or so to make sure you have consistent content. If you want to maximize readers from this strategy, follow rule number five.
  5. Time matters. I’m not talking about the time you invest into your blog, though that clearly matters as well. I’m referring to the time of day. Since your blog posts are most visible during the first few hours after you post them, you need to try and learn when people are most likely to be reading. It’s probably not going to be 3AM, depending what time zone you’re in. For me, it’s ended up being early morning or around lunchtime, but be mindful of where your audience is and when they might want to peruse other peoples’ work.
  6. Be forgiving of yourself. As a recent writing friend of mine always says, “Writing is HARD.” It really is. This rule is honestly more important than any of the previous. You’ve got to cut yourself some slack. Remember that you’re doing this because you (presumably) love writing. Don’t push so much that you stop loving it.
  7. Don’t use ad income until you’re ready! I was using it. Totally, I was using it. I’m thinking, “Hell, the amount of time I invest into this thing, I may as well make what I can…” FALSE. I realized that I was spending more on my domain and advertising than I was making from ads. (BY A LONG SHOT). Why would you spend 50-100 bucks on your blog, and then distract new readers for the opportunity to earn a penny or two? My new strategy is to build the network first, and then implement some ad income and affiliate links.
  8. Don’t overthink your brand. People are so huge on branding that, often, bloggers will start multiple domains because they don’t want to break their brand. Your readers are dynamic, REAL human beings. They know you’re multifaceted. Don’t be scared to explore that with them. Or maybe I just get a pass on this one sense I essentially write about what it is to be human? Not sure.
  9. Help your supporters! This can be as simple as liking or commenting on posts, sharing a blog, or, as I learned just today, displaying your recent commenters on your home page. (Go check those people out, man. They consistently support me and I’m so appreciative.)

Okay, thanks for sticking with me so far. In addition to writing what I’ve learned about blogging, I also want to use this space to ask questions that I need help with. If you CAN answer, kindly do. 🙂

  1. Are hashtags still relevant?
  2. Have any of you hit a “wall” with viewers? I haven’t had much new action since I got into the seventies and I’d really like to break the infamous “100” mark.
  3. How important are graphics and photos?
  4. I’ve slowly connected with a few bloggers that are really kindred spirits (Peter, Nida, Cristian, Em, Nadine) …How do you find blogs that REALLY are concerned with the same mission as you? Is it really just being patient and “collecting them” over a period of months?
  5. If any of you would like to take a look at my site and offer any suggestions, I’d appreciate it and will return the favor (though I’m a total rookie, so I may not have much to suggest).

Lastly, I’m really starting to feel welcomed and accepted in this dysfunctional culture of awesomeness. I’m realizing that I can just be myself and support the healing of others, and that the world really is ready to accept that as a brand. Thanks for reading all this and following along, and I look forward to seeing ya’ll on the other side of the 100 follower mark.

-TQV

My True Nature (Video)

A song about a man’s struggle to exemplify the good in a world that isn’t.

Deep within me

There’s potential to be bad man

It’s a constant fight

To control the anger I have and

I feel a killer just arising up from within

And withal I am, I constantly try to control him

It makes me sick

To simply speak to a stranger

Don’t get me wrong

I’d never put a soul in danger

But when I’m all alone I feel I can finally breathe…

So if you could, just all stay away from me

I feel a killer just rising up from within

And withal I am, I constantly try to control him

I bind in chains different parts of my mind

So you think I’m sane and let me stay on the outside

But if you could see me on the inside you’d run away

If you heard the voices in my head you’d be afraid

I feel a killer just rising up from within

And withal I am, I constantly fail to control him

My True Nature (TQV)

The Tarantella

An original song inspired by a very old dance between mankind and fate. Enjoy!


The first demand she made of me

was to be awakened by fire and pain;

Speaking only in her whispered tones,

Fate seduced me.

She spoke to me of honor then,

and of finding my own way;

Of all the paths less traveled by

which lead into the fray.

Her eyes were fired by my own passions –

my own thoughts fell from her tongue;

On her pale skin I tasted then

the man I had become.

She spoke to me of redemption then,

and finally, of regret…

And with her kiss a brokenness

fell like hair upon my chest.

In a dark room lit by candle light

her silken dress fell to the floor;

Her veil of lies no more disguised

that Fate wanted more.

The last demand she made of me

was my death by my own hand;

Still in that room, her sweet perfume

is almost more than I can stand.

And so, we dance the Tarantella

She beckons, and I refrain…

Only able to deny her charms

because she taught me first to love the pain.

Mistress Tarantella, The Dance with Fate (TQV)

The Ethics of Blogging

Ah, success. Over the course of a month, I’ve gone from writing regardless of whether anyone was going to read it to writing with a fairly consistent expectation that they would. It’s been a fairly natural progression built on one thing: caring about people and my craft. I do believe though, that I could’ve been wildly more successful if I was willing to do so in an ethically questionable way:

  1. I’m fairly confident that if I clicked like on a thousand posts every day without actually reading them, at least a few dozen would follow my blog. Some of them would later find real value and connectedness within the community I’ve built, and I could eventually find time to really delve into their work.
  2. Is it ethically questionable to trash and re-post early blogs? When I first migrated my initial group of articles from LinkedIn, I didn’t know anything about blogging. I didn’t know about scheduling posts or posting during blogging “rush-hours.” The ones that didn’t get much attention because of HOW I posted…I’m inclined to delete and re-post in a more strategic way. Both to build a following and so people can benefit from the concepts I write about.
  3. I totally paid to have something re-blogged. It worked really well – Cristian Mihai (who is a must-follow for all new bloggers) sells the opportunity to have your blog shared with his 220k+ followers. It helps him to keep writing full-time, and you get to share your message with a larger group. Something like 90 people “liked” my post on his page, and a few even followed me! Serveal of them really benefited from or related to the the mental health concepts I wrote about (Here).

Anyway, do you guys think it’s okay to build your network in an ethically questionable way in order to achieve your larger long-term goals? Or do you think the slow, honest, organic path is the way to go? Which method do you think the hyper-successful folks have used? I never want to get to the point that I reply to heartfelt comments with a pre-formatted and impersonal blurb – but I do want to reach the maximum amount of people whose lives I can contribute to and learn from.

Thanks for your thoughts!

-TQV

Frozen with Fear (And How Not To Be)

When I was 16 years old, I was selling cigarettes and t-shirts in my hometown bar, working at night and going to school during the day. I was even smaller then than I am now – maybe 130 pounds if I had a 10 pound barbell in each hand. It was an educational few years for me: I saw adults who were well respected in the community fight, vomit, and initiate affairs under the influence of alcohol. I learned how to deal with drunks, and how not to be, in a general sense.

It was during those years that I experienced my first ever “fight or flight” moment. A group on group bar fight broke out right in front of my little cubby hole of a store. It was too early in the night – the bouncers were scattered about, not expecting trouble. Still getting settled. My reaction was worse than either of the “fight or flight” options. I froze. I mean, I was a kid, right? What was I supposed to do? The guys fighting were all wearing “Tap-out” shirts and seemed like they were trying to make a name for their MMA school – MMA was just on the up and up in those years. By the time I snapped myself out of the frozen state, the bouncers had arrived. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to call for them. I just stood there, frozen in fear. Once the fight was over, I’d beaten myself up for it for half the night. I decided right then that I would never be frozen like that again because of another man’s actions.

The next time a bar fight broke out, I was ready for it. Two guys – again, way too beefy for me to take on – were pummeling each other furiously. In a lot of ways, the second fight was worse than the first. The group had mostly been throwing each other around, making a mess but not really doing any damage. These guys were throwing real blows. Blood had already been spilled by the time I heard the noise. Don’t freeze. DON’T FREEZE.

“HEY!” I yelled in the most boisterous voice I could muster. It gave them pause, but they went back to pummeling each other. I ran in. Grabbed one of the beefy guy’s arms. Put him in an arm bar (I’d taken a bit of martial arts myself, but the passive philosophical type). I held his arm with all my might, and managed to stop his punches. Then, I realized by mistake. The other man was still free. He carried on punching the one I was controlling, and I inadvertently turned the tide of the fight. Then the bouncers showed up and rescued my 16 year old self again.

I was proud, in some ways. I knew I’d messed up, but I’d learned that the fight or flight “instinct” can be controlled. I learned that action is better than inaction, and I learned the first rule of emergency management: Don’t get excited.

Years later, those skills became increasingly relevant in a military setting, but I had one more freeze-up incident.

It was in the Horn of Africa, where I was part of a “Force Protection Liaison Team.” I’d spent months building relationships with everyone from human traffickers to tribal elders in an effort to keep Americans in the region safe. You can’t fight a threat you don’t know about. Anyway, a hotel fire broke out in one of two hotels in the Northern half of the Djibouti. By the time my partner – a Marine Staff Sergeant – and I arrived, the place was in terror. There were electric explosions along with things like alcohol and fireworks in the building, so that added to the chaos. We were in the desert and had no water to fight the fire with. All around me there were children screaming and women crying, and worst of all – they said there was still a man inside.

I froze for what seemed like eternity – it was really just a few seconds before my earlier lessons kicked back in. Already this post is longer than my average, so I’ll summarize to a great extent, but after a night of fighting for our lives and the lives of others – seeing men pass out from smoke, and attempt to fight a raging fire with dirt and sand – we managed to at least make sure everyone was safe. Even one guy who thought the best way to fight the fire was to stand on the roof and beat it with a large stick. He thought that if the roof collapsed, it would be more effective to dump dirt on the fire from above it. I wondered why anyone would want to force the collapse of a roof they were standing on. I questioned whether I would give my life to save his – he, who had made a stupid choice that could’ve resulted in hellacious pain. The conclusion I came to is my own to bear, but what I learned that night is this:

The fight or flight response is largely dependent on experience and priorities. These days, I often find myself running toward chaos where I think I can lend assistance (it typically turns out to be nothing more than a scare of some kind). I don’t know that there’s much that would make me freeze these days – though I’m aware it’s still possible, for anyone. But if you think about the worst case scenario and know what you’re willing to die for, there’s no reason you can’t prevent yourself from ever being frozen in fear.

If folks like reading about these concepts, maybe I’ll explore them further?

Much love,

Dustin Stitt (The Quiet Visionary)

The Cool Guy Club – A Leadership Failure

People love to talk about themselves. It’s an early lesson for many, particularly in intelligence, but also in politics, journalism, and a plethora of other careers. It’s a healthy attribute – it helps us to connect to one another, build our inner circle, and relate to other cultures – but when the ego becomes programmed to draw a constant comparison between our own experiences and the experiences of those around us, a culture of inadequacy and exaggeration is formed. Instead of an environment of growth and empowerment, we create one of stagnation which sucks the motivation out of a large percentage of the work force. We feel the need to “fluff” our resumes and stories, as if our actual life experience isn’t really enough, and we create a sort of “laundry list” of events that make us who we are. There’s no laundry list. The entirety of our journey makes us who we are, not just the catch-phrases that sound good to other people.

“Cool guy clubs” are particularly prominent in a military environment, and are a primary contributor to many psychological effects that follow military service. Particularly during their first decade, whatever experience a service member gains is never really enough. I remember reporting to my second command following a pretty intense tour which featured some of the toughest mental training a sailor can go through, followed by a deployment to the Horn of Africa and another to Central America. I’d been broken down and rebuilt a number of times, but the first question my new supervisor asked was, “So what ship were you on?” When I responded that I hadn’t served on a ship (other than to travel to various third-world countries), he responded, “Don’t worry – we’ll make a real sailor out of you.” I was a non-commissioned officer with multiple medals and warfare specialties, but evidently, I wasn’t a “real” sailor.

Even before then, during my first tour, you weren’t one of the “Cool guys” unless you were an expert marksman. Or an interrogator. Or unless you’d been through SERE, or been OC sprayed. There was an endless list of experiences that evidently mattered, but it was only comprised of things you hadn’t already done. I always thought that it was a phenomenon exclusive to the military, but as it turns out, it isn’t.

“Oh, you run a blog? Did you break a thousand followers yet?”

“Oh, you’re an author? How many books have you published?”

“Oh, you’re getting married? First time?”

“Welcome to the Company! Have your degree yet?”

Instead of contributing to the journey of others, we compare ourselves to them.

Instead of flaunting all the reasons that leaders are in a leadership position, (This is why I have authority over you. This is why I am cooler than you.) leaders should be validating not only the experience of their employees, but also the personality traits and organic strengths that they each contribute to the team.

Upon taking my current position, my boss handed me a drawing of a blank check. He said, “You know what that is? It’s empowerment. I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t trust your judgement. As long as you know you can deliver what you promise people, you don’t need to ask my permission first.”

So break down that “Cool guy” culture. It’s not about who is the most tactical, who has been shot at the most, or how cool your Oakley’s and five-eleven pants are. It’s about humble confidence, a proactive attitude, and enabling your people to achieve their truest potential (rather than trying to hold them under your thumb and keep them at a place that makes you comfortable).

Leadership isn’t comfortable. Train your replacement – hell, train your CEO’s replacement. Help your people to achieve their dreams, and in doing so, you’ll make endless progress toward achieving your own. And if you get good at that, make everyone you meet one of “your people.” Humanity is a group experience. If you find a passionate person out there who has managed to escape complacency, encourage their passion. Don’t rid them of it.

-A proud non-member of the Cool-Guy Club