“Keep On, Keeping On!”

You know what’s more challenging than dealing with difficult health issues on a daily basis? Dealing with them while on a vacation.

It’s been over two years since I took a full week vacation anywhere, all because of the health issues I’ve had to deal with. I promised myself when I was in the Grand Cayman’s back then that I wouldn’t travel anywhere again until I felt better. Honestly, it’s much easier to be at home feeling totally miserable and uncomfortable in my own skin than it is being away and spending lots of money while feeling that way.

But when my best friend Cedric decided he really couldn’t keep doing the travel to see me twice a year and wanted to reduce it to a visit during the winter only, I realized that if I wanted to continue seeing him during the summer as well, I had to start travelling again. Last week’s trip to Massachusetts was the first time I undertook this new and fearful venture, which for the most part turned out to be not as difficult as I thought it would be, that is until Friday arrived.

Have you ever felt so crappy on any given day of a vacation, that you really didn’t want to do much of anything but spend it in your hotel room? That’s about how I felt last Friday as soon as I awoke, yet I didn’t remain in my room that day, as I felt that would only have made me feel even worse.

Instead, I spent the majority of it along the ocean side of Newport, Rhode Island, doing something called The Newport Cliff Walk, which essentially is a 3.5-mile-long walkway along the coast, high up on some cliffs, that parallel in front of a bunch of huge mansions. It’s rather picturesque and breathtaking at certain places along the way, yet for someone who’s battling debilitating pain, it tends to have the opposite effect.

When I have days where my health feels like this, I usually find myself praying quite a bit to God for the strength to keep going and that’s precisely what I did as my partner, Cedric, and I walked along a rocky trail that on any other day would probably have invigorated me and brought forth some child-like joy.

So, as I took each step on that cliff walk and prayed for that strength to keep going, I wondered more than not if my body might give out at some point, yet the words of my spiritual teacher kept coming forth from within my brain…

“Keep on, keeping on Andrew!”

In all truthfulness, I used to cringe every time she used to tell me that, but on some level, I knew I needed to do just that as I pounded the pavement and rocks one step at a time. And as I did, I began to think, maybe this is what faith really is all about, to just “keep on, keeping on” until things get better, until I feel God shining His light back onto me, or at least until I make it through to the next hurdle life brings me.

While unfortunately, my pain levels didn’t lessen much during the rest of last Friday, I can at least confirm that I did finish that cliff walk and was pretty proud of myself for it and very thankful to God as well. Because I believe it’s with accomplishments like this, that are little reminders from God that my prayers are being answered, that my faith is helping me to continue moving me forward, and that I am a living, breathing, example of what it truly means to “keep on, keeping on”…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

When The Extrovert Became The Introvert…

Recently, I did a Myers-Briggs test for my therapist that essentially breaks downs every individual into 16 different personality types and the most interesting thing I learned from it is how I migrated away from being an extrovert and become far more an introvert.

Ironically, 20 years ago or so, when I first took the Myers-Briggs test, which essentially is a long list of questions one answers to determine their four-character personality type, it clearly showed I was an extrovert tried and true. But in all honesty, learning that was really a no-brainer, as back then I loved being around people, I loved carrying on conversations with total strangers, and I loved talking to anyone really, with just about anything. But today, not so much, and the Myers-Briggs definitely reflected that change, which I know precisely why it did.

It all comes down to where my life is currently due to my health issues. You see, twenty years ago, I was a cocky, over-confident, and vane individual solely because I had a great computer career, plenty of money, considered myself a handsome guy, and an all-around athlete. This made it exceptionally easy for me to talk to people and I totally lavished in it every, single, day.

But zoom forward to 2010 when I began to face financial ruin, the loss of my business, a serious problem with my sex and love conduct, and a number of growing health issues, and I suddenly found myself slowly withdrawing from all my social circles. That trend would only continue over the years that followed, as my health issues intensified rather than lessened, causing me to lose all of my athleticism, my ability to hold a job, and even keep a decent physique I once worked so hard to maintain.

In the past few years, all of this has led me to become a total introvert, as I really don’t like being around people anymore, including even my partner sometimes, as I don’t feel like I have much to offer anyone. Maintaining talking points is a huge part of being an extrovert and I don’t feel like I have any of those right now.

Case in point, the number one question that always seems to arise when I’m in a social engagement is what I do for a living and boy do I not enjoy answering that question because it never leads to anything uplifting. Ditto the same sentiments if anyone should ask about my health when they see me nursing various parts of my sore body, because then any conversations I have next with them usually involves a gazillion suggestions where they try to fix me. That’s why I find the most peaceful existence these days is spending time by myself, hanging out in my yard, or down by the lake, or sitting right here working on a blog article, exposing my deepest vulnerabilities to the masses, but in an introverted way.

What’s interesting though is how quickly my old extroverted ways return, as last summer I experienced a four-day period where my health drastically improved and when it did, I found myself talking to everyone I came across and enjoying every minute of it. Unfortunately, any of those moments of noticeable health improvements haven’t lasted long. Instead, a repeated life of chronic pain and mental and emotional instability has led to an introverted existence and a relativity boring and not all too alluring personality to the general masses.

Don’t get me wrong though, I can be a very interesting person these days, especially when it comes to talking about spirituality, ascension, and the interconnectivity of all things in life, yet most people don’t want to talk about these things. Rather, people seem to like to talk more about are the very things that my life isn’t about anymore, like it once used to be. But, I’m ok with that. I’m actually ok with being more of an introvert than not nowadays.

That’s why I like working on my puzzles, coloring in my coloring book, watching my science fiction, fantasy and superhero TV shows, going to the movies, and writing my blogs all by myself, as I never have to sit in judgment by the world when I’m doing any of those things.

Regardless, I tend to believe my Higher Power always wanted me to experience this extended period of introversion solely for purposes of learning greater self-awareness and undergoing deep spiritual healing, two things of which were never able to occur in the busy, extroverted life I once lived. But I also tend to believe that my health will fully improve one day in this life and when it does, I’m inclined to feel as my therapist does in that my extroverted ways will return, except this time, I think they’ll be put to far greater use, on a Higher scale for God’s purposes, something of which I will gladly welcome with open arms…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

What Is Body Dysmorphia And How It Affects Me…

There’s a condition that’s quite similar (and maybe even related) to hypochondria and it’s one that I and few others I know suffer from. It’s called Body Dysmorphia, or as doctors would refer to it, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

In short, BDD is a mental illness involving an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. The flaw(s) may be minor or imagined by the person dealing with this condition and they may spend multiple hours a day trying to fix it. Some may even resort to cosmetic procedures or exercise to excess to deal with it. And lastly, a few other common traits for individuals with this disorder is to frequently examine their appearance in a mirror, constantly comparing their own looks to that of another, and a tendency to avoid social situations or having their picture taken.

Currently it’s estimated that 1 out of every 50 people have this condition where treatment for them is generally through therapy and the use of medication like anti-depressants. While I’m currently using multiple visits a week to a therapist to handle this condition, I have continued to avoid the use of any medications due to the over-sensitivity I have to most drugs, i.e. terrible side effects. Instead, I have been utilizing holistic modalities to treat it. Unfortunately, that decision does have a consequence in that I have many-a-days where this disorder has gotten the best of me.

Here are a just some of the ways of what that looks like (when this condition may get the best of me):

  1. Seeing myself as overweight, especially in the love handle and belly button regions, even though I’m 6’5” and currently weight in around 172 pounds.
  2. Seeing pimples, aging spots, sun spots, and any type of skin blemish in general as grossly exaggerated, where I find myself doing whatever I can to remove them, often causing myself small wounds in the process.
  3. Nose appearing hugely out of proportion to the rest of my face, especially when I look at my side profile.
  4. Regularly heading into bathrooms wherever I am, solely to stare in the mirror, where I often find myself critiquing the way I look.
  5. Pushing myself to overexertion at times solely to keep an image up.
  6. Freaking out when anyone touches my face or neck usually because my brain thinks it will cause me to break out.
  7. Becoming overly anxious when an accident causes a wound to my face or neck.
  8. Seeing things on my skin that no one else sees and picking at them as a result.
  9. Asking people if they see certain things on me when it comes to my image.
  10. Frequently thinking and worrying throughout much of the day about what other people may be thinking of the things I don’t like in my appearance.

While many might think that the majority of these are the same as being self-obsessed, it’s really not. Individuals like me who deal with BDD usually feel more ashamed about our appearance, rather than loving and glorifying in it. In other words, it’s not a vanity thing, it’s a mental illness and honestly, it sucks for any of us who have to deal with it because it regularly robs us of ever being fully present wherever we are.

In light of that, I have been wondering a lot lately if this condition may have gotten passed on to me by my parents who too demonstrated some of its negative behaviors. I also remember my mother constantly putting pressure on me when it came to looks, like being forced to place medicated cremes and ointments on my face any time a pimple showed up on it. And now, living in a world where looks seem to be more important than anything, especially in the gay culture, makes my obsessiveness with this condition all the worse.

Nevertheless, BDD has been besting me more than not lately and caused me plenty of shame. I have been picking at my skin more than ever, some of which is also out of sheer frustration with where my life is at given all the health conditions I’ve been going through in recent years. Sometimes I think that if I was totally blemish free that my other health issues wouldn’t matter as much, but I know that’s just an illusion and part of what this condition wants me to believe.

A close friend of mine who also deals with this condition would probably agree with all the points I’ve raised so far when it comes to BDD. The only difference between them and I is that they finally opted to get on one of the medications used to treat this condition just recently. And while it has helped them curb much of those obsessive behaviors that come from this disorder, they’ve told me it’s also stunted much of their ability to feel, be compassionate, and creative, all of which I personally discovered myself any time I ever attempted to use them in the past to curb my own obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

So, instead, I do my best to pray every day, meditate, and seek more holistic ways to help with this disorder, but still struggle to be present more than not because the obsessive thinking and compulsive actions that often play themselves out throughout my days.

Do I believe that this will always be this way though? No. And I say that because I am working on some things in life that I feel have brought this condition to the surface more than ever before. You see, my identity as a human being, my worth, and my purpose are all a big question mark right now in life, given I am not able to work or bring in any type of income at the present time. Nor am I able to be the all-around athlete I once was in my free time. And with my sole worth for most of my life being based upon status, position, income, and personal abilities, I look at myself now and think the only thing that I may have left of worth is my looks, which is why I believe this condition has arisen so much in the past three years.

Regardless, I have faith in God that I am working through this and will find total healing from it, but I must continue to remember that disorders like BDD take time and patience to work through, require surrounding myself with unconditional loving support, and keeping myself busy in activities that don’t involve staring at myself in the mirror and critiquing all that I see…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson