Sunday, April 30

Emotional Memory: Demons and Angels of the Past

Today I had an experience that has made me think. I was singing with a friend in their ward - the song was "Scars in Heaven." I made eye contact with someone crying while singing, and where I had previously been able to sing without getting choked up, I was suddenly hit with an enormous wave of emotion. It felt like I was about to be crushed by emotional trauma. Visions of memories from my past - things I hadn't seen or remembered since they happened - all came rushing in. Finding people abused, discovering deep emotional pain in conversations, uncovering literal scars in others. Learning about suicides. Watching people die or cower in fear. A portion of the emotions and pain that I had felt in my entire life, pouring out of a door that opened just for a moment and let in a blast of cold before being closed again, proof that there was far more.

I made it through the song without breaking down or screaming in pain. The song was great. I couldn't stop crying on the drive back. And the memory of that moment haunts me... enough that I needed to write about it.

First, it haunts me because it highlights how *much* emotion there has been in my life. Some research postulates that some people with autism feel emotions less intensely than others. I could see that in my own life. I mean, if you ask me about the emotions I felt more than a few days ago, the intensity has dropped to zero. And when I've hit burnout? I don't know what emotions actually exist at that point. Other research has found the exact opposite - that some people with autism feel emotions more intensely. I don't know how they can track or compare that between people. I mean... isn't that super subjective? 

Ok. Just looked it up and it looks like at least some studies measure the chemical excitation levels in the brain between neurotypical people and people like me. So the studies that found increased emotional intensity were correlated with significantly increased chemical activities in the emotional centers of the brain. That makes sense. It seems unnatural to assume that I feel any differently than others, but that's also the attitude that kept my bipolar undiagnosed for so many years. Regardless of if I *do* experience emotions more intensely, the sheer amount of emotion that only a brief glimpse of my past brought was overwhelming.

It scared me.

It crushed me.

It hurt.

It left me lost.

It filled me with envy.

Is that what life is like for other people? Do they really have that many emotions? Can they really feel emotions that strongly... so many years after the fact?

I *cognitively* understand that emotions can build over time. On the negative side, they create emotional baggage. On the positive side, they become bulwarks of hope and meaning. I know in my head that we carry our past with us and we are a product of our experiences. That painful or joyful experiences can somehow mold people and keep causing pain or joy for weeks or months or years or decades after the fact.

But I don't think I ever really *understood* that, emotionally.

Honestly? I still don't understand. I understand some feelings and how they can have lasting impact over time. I understand a part of loneliness and abandonment, since my heart tells me they are a central part of my life even if it isn't true. Other emotions? My memory of being sexually abused is in the same place as last Thanksgiving, or planting potatoes on Friday. I'm pretty sure it happened. And if I can name an emotion it's only because I wrote about it in a journal entry and memorized it. But there's no actual emotion there.

But for a moment today I saw a glimpse of the absolute mountain that is my emotional past. And it scared me and made me jealous all at the same time.

Second, the memory haunts me because I was *able to remember*. Actually able to remember, for a moment, feelings that I had thought lost forever to the ether. I have *never* had this experience before in my life. Or... at least if I have, I don't remember it... which is actually possible except for the fact that I do write a lot of journal entries and I tend to categorize facts about the world inside my head (the fact that applies here: people in the world carry emotional baggage and bulwarks in the form of emotional memories and it can affect them a lot - I'm guessing it's sorta like how I constantly believe I'm unloved and abandoned even when I'm not? Maybe? And how that super messes me up. And I once ever actually saw the mountain of emotion that other people face and it was insane).

The crux of the issue: Was my sudden momentary feeling a one-time thing? A spontaneous gift from God to help me understand something? Or was it my brain temporarily tapping into locked but *still stored* emotional memory? And if it was the latter... *why* do I not remember? Is it something I can't control, and it was just a fluke of hormones and circumstance... or is there an actual key to unlocking it... or is it locked for a reason - a coping mechanism my mind created so long ago I can't remember its source? 

Can I fix it? Can I get access to the ability to actually remember emotional conversations, relationships with people, or *anything* beyond a few days ago?

And if I can... could I handle it? For as long as I can remember, my emotions have been like fireworks in the sky. Fierce, passionate, explosive, and present, leaving behind nothing but wisps and space for the next explosion. I almost broke down and stopped breathing today, and that was when the door to my emotional past was open for a moment. Would I even be able to function if suddenly I had full access to the emotions of my past? Being able to tap into positive experiences to sustain me would probably be great. I think. Right? That sounds like absolute euphoria to a kid whose emotional memory is so broken that he bears psychiatrically diagnosed scars of negligence birthed while living in one of the most supportive and loving environments I have ever heard of. With access to feelings for more than two days, I could do anything. I could stop the constant mental battle where my heart insists that my newest friends have ghosted me after not hearing from them for 2 days. I could do anything. But could I handle the pain? Feeling the pain of all the people close to me who have committed suicide... every time someone mentions the word? Being able to remember the emotional pain that has left me broken and torn to pieces?

I don't know that I could survive.

And that hurts.

I don't understand.

Just the memory of the experience while singing is still there. I'm struggling to function while I process things I thought I had already processed.

If I could fix it, would I want to?

I mean... people can process emotions. I should be able to process them and still be functional, right? But what happens if I can't? There's the fear that I wouldn't be able to. What if a lifetime of emotional immediacy has crippled my ability to handle stuff from the past? Or what if the brain chemical activity tests are right, and I've got a form of autism that causes me to experience emotions far more intensely? So intensely that normal processing and coping methods don't actually work... and the emotions hit the maximum allowed limit and I become a vegetable or an emotional invalid if I really could feel my past? What if fixing my link to the past completely breaks my ability to be present?

I'm probably being melodramatic. Maybe? Rereading this before I publish it, it sounds melodramatic. But I'm also a few hours later and the memory is already starting to fade.

Is it even a thing to be fixed? I feel like it is... maybe? Yes, having a limited emotional memory might be extremely useful in being able to handle consistent extraordinary amounts of emotional pain. But if I've got repressed emotional memories then it would be great to break through those.

I don't know the answer to this. I'm headed to a conference on autism in a few weeks; hoping to get a recommendation for an amazing therapist who specializes in adult autism there. I'll file this away with all the rest of my questions.

In the meantime... I think that maybe today was to help me better learn to understand people. Some people have deep emotional memories, and they can carry emotional scars and happy memories around with them their entire lives. They build on their pasts, rising above or sinking below their circumstances. Sometimes they get stuck in the past. Others of us have far fewer emotional memories. We remake ourselves each day. We live in the present. And we also probably sometimes get stuck in the habits of the present. 

What does it mean to being a better friend? It means realizing that I can create good memories or bad, and that those memories might last forever. It's recognizing that my friends have their own history, likely hidden only from easy view but still very real... and that being there for them includes both the painful and the positive from that past. It means being there for them when the mountain of emotions has fallen. It means building up a mountain of love.

Saturday, February 11

Save 100 lives. Watch 100 die.

Yesterday I threw away 1800 pounds of food. Two nights ago someone I knew died. And in both cases, if I had been better... maybe it wouldn't have happened.

I read a story once about a youth who apprenticed with a master healer. After years of learning about herbs, poultices, operations, anatomy and health and nutrition, and participating in hundreds of procedures, the master said, "I have nothing left to teach you. This is your final test. Go out and save 100 people. Go out and kill 100 people. Be incredible and save people them from crises that would have left them dead. Be inadequate and watch them die because you weren't good enough. Be the person who saves someone, and the person who could have saved someone, but didn't. Only then will you be a true healer and come to appreciate the cost and impact of our craft."

I cried when I moved two pallets of moldy asparagus and grapes into the truck, when I picked up those same boxes and tossed them onto the concrete at the waste station. If I had more time, or a better process, or a hundred volunteers, I probably could have saved at least a third of the asparagus by sorting and blanching and drying it... and all of the grapes by treating them with alkali, citric acid & vitamin c, and a probiotic fermentation. I could have turned all of it into chicken feed or pig sop or compost.

But if I stayed up all night processing I still wouldn't finish, and then the asparagus would rot on the warehouse floor over the weekend, potentially impacting the relationship I have with my borrowed space. 

I don't have the volunteer force yet.

I could have stayed up all night and turned it all to compost, but my personal compost pile would quickly overflow and jeopardize my relationship with my neighbors. Eventually I'll have a list of people to come take food after its end of life for animal feed and compost... but I don't yet.

I'm inadequate.

Is it my fault?

Is it a doctor's fault when he lacks knowledge that he could have had... knowledge that would have saved someone under his hands?

Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Hopefully in both cases - mine and his - we learn something and grow and change and become closer to what we really want to be.

I cried tonight in a crowded dance hall, finally getting a chance to process the suicide I had heard about. Is it trite to talk about dying produce and a dying friend in the same setting? Maybe. The impact is different. But the tears were the same. Both hurt. Both compel me to change. Both are proof of living in a broken, painful, imperfect world of which I am a broken, imperfect part.

I've seen hundreds of people in suicidal crises. For whatever reason, that's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My world has always had people who struggled with thoughts of suicide. From the time I was 11, at temple dedications, EFY, summer camps, people at church and school and gas stations and grocery stores and the library, then later through online chat rooms and emails and Facebook messages... people have approached me and spilled their hearts, needing a friend to talk to in crisis, somehow knowing I would listen.

A friend said something to me that helped me. "Pray for him. He still needs your support and love." Death sometimes feels so final - robbing me of the ability to interact with someone or make a difference - but it really isn't. Death isn't the end of existence, and pain doesn't end at the end of life. Suicide is a decision made in the midst of crisis, but my own suicidal ideation in the past wasn't just from a moment. It was built on a lifetime of pain and anguish and hopelessness and loneliness and work that made me feel worth nothing. 

And that doesn't go away at death. I don't know exactly what the next life holds for each of us, but I do know that much of what exists here continues to exist there - especially emotional ordeals. Which means, perhaps, those who have passed need my prayers of support more than those they left behind.

And while it doesn't make the pain any less, it gives me something to do. Something to hold on to. Something to feel like I still *can* make a difference in someone's existence, even if I failed to be there in mortality.

I can't save every piece of produce that I accept for donation. I won't be able to moving forward, even with a host of volunteers to process food and an avant-garde triage system that allows us to quickly take care of everything. But I can make a small difference by improving today, by taking what I've learned, the pain, the frustration, and the sorrow, and using that as fuel to learn and grow and make tomorrow better.

I also can't be there for every person in my life. Autism and social anxiety and remnants of bipolar, awkwardness and fear and depression and OCD and obsession and addiction and simple stupidity and naïveté and all the rest will get in the way. I'll fail again, even with a prompting from God that pushes me and tells me what to do. Others will die under my watch. I can pray for those who have gone on, and go to work trying to better myself, hoping to make a difference in those who have been left behind.

And, hopefully, as the days go on, the true Healer will give me part of His guidance. He'll help me grow and change and become something better, and I'll come to appreciate the cost and impact of His craft - helping people find joy and happiness in this life and eternity.

If you need a friend to talk to, I'm still here. And the email I started back when I first began blogging is still around. You can find me at

Sunday, February 5

Life Update (I started a nonprofit)

 I started a nonprofit.

It's called Rescue.Food.

We have the expansive, enormous vision of eliminating food waste at every step of the supply chain. We find the food no one wants - open containers of catered French toast or a bag of tangerines that has begun to mold or a jar of soup in the back of your fridge or an entire truckload of expired yogurt - process it into something new and desirable and shelf stable, then turn around and send it back into the community.

It's a worthy goal. Something everyone can understand, something that can make an enormous difference in food security and the environment and community togetherness as a whole. It has the possibility of uniting the poor and the rich and helping everyone become better stewards of what they have.

How it works:
  1. Someone finds super cheap food, food destined for the trash, or food is donated by individuals or organizations.
  2. A volunteer Food Hero processes the food into something with at least a 2-week shelf life (usually longer) in their home kitchen. We have dehydrators, zipper bags, and other food processing equipment available to borrow for anyone who needs it, and teach classes on food preservation.
  3. Volunteers can keep up to 20% of any donated food they process.
  4. Food gets labeled according to Utah law, then dropped off at a Rescue.Food kiosk.
  5. Anyone in the community can get super-low-cost or free food from the kiosk. Money spent goes to buy equipment, supplies, and more low-cost food to rescue.

People can also just drop off homemade or shelf-stable food. So we have homemade cookies alongside rescued fruit bread, next to cans of pinto beans.

This week I set up a distribution kiosk (so excited for this!), made bread from damaged industrial cake mix + banana peels, processed moldy apples with a three step alkali / citric acid / lactobacillus regimen to destroy patulin, and met with the local Community Action.

This coming week I'm meeting with Orem City, hopefully setting up another kiosk, experimenting with crazy ingredients, and trying to find more ways to improve distribution.

In other aspects of my life I'm doing great, albeit with a current caveat. I overdosed on vitamins during a food binge a few weeks ago, and developed hypervitaminosis from dangerously high amounts of vitamin A, D, and E. Taking liver supplements and doing my best to detox... and hoping that it takes less than the "up to 4 months" estimated for my body to heal. In the meantime, I'm dealing with brain fog, 25 pounds of sudden weight gain, headaches, simultaneous hunger and nausea, painful fluid swelling in my legs, hair falling out, peeling skin, exhaustion, zero exercise tolerance, and whatever other symptoms I can't remember right now.

...Writing it down makes it seem worse than it feels. I guess I'm glad I asked my little brothers for a blessing after they get home from Church today.

Health-wise, I was down to 150 and on the verge of finishing my short-term intervention to hit 10% body fat. Super excited about the progress I made and feeling healthier. Hoping that comes back very soon.

Emotionally, I've been great as well. I have excess emotional energy and was able to start Rescue.Food, work on random projects at Nature's Fusions, and interact with people around me in ways with which I previously would have struggled.

Spiritually, I'm also in a great place. I love my ward, and host a Sunday potluck where I invite people to come eat with my family each week. It's stressful, but it feels like it makes a difference. Temple-worthy. Focused on God.

I read a handful of research articles on autism and addiction, and one of them found a strong correlation between people with high functioning autism and cyclic obsessions - essentially addictions that can spontaneously switch or change. 

Hence my current addiction to food. Food is all I think about. I feel hungry throughout the day, while I'm eating, even after eating so much that I'm in pain. I wake up in the morning and I'm starving. I wake up at night and I'm starving. Just always, always hungry. It'll go away for a little while, to taunt me, and then jump back. The only thing that has brought respite is doing multi-day fasts. I'm hoping that as soon as I stop focusing on food / getting to a healthy body fat % that food will stop being an obsession. Here's hoping.

My next life goal has something to do with missionary work. And I'm spending most of my free time with Rescue.Food... so I guess it'll be combining those two things together.

Just wanted to share the good things in my life. :)

ps - For people who care, as of Feb 4 there are 2 Rescue.Food kiosks. One is in the Soap Factory - 52 W Center Street in Provo (open Monday and Wednesday - Saturday, 12-9); the other is in the lobby of Nature's Fusions - 57 N 1380 W Orem (open Monday-Friday 8:30-4:30). The Rescue.Food website is - the current list of food, GroupMe for food rescue efforts, our instagram (yeah... I have no visual skill) and other documents are linked there. Our current needs... are help finding an actual space to call our own, as well as obviously more food to rescue, and more people to rescue food.