Ups, Downs, and All Arounds — How do we get through this?

Brian Huy Mac
13 min readDec 15, 2021

Original Date: August 13, 2018

FYI: This is going to be a long post and very personal

Where to start? With the recent celebrity suicides (Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Avicii, etc.) and having some friends recently lose friend’s / family. It really started me down the path of what I feel is one of our biggest challenges that we are ill equipped to deal with stress and finding purpose.

Anthony Bourdain having a cold one with Obama in Hanoi

It’s a tough topic as I am definitely no expert or make any claims on being one, let alone do I think anyone is really an expert, this is me trying to bring some cohesion to thoughts bouncing around my brain and sticking to my goal of writing a post every quarter.

  • Dealing with Stress
  • External Control
  • Loving yourself

This happy-looking shot was taken in 1999, when I almost destroyed myself. — Tim Ferris

OK immediately I will get the knee-jerk reaction — “Brian you are one of the happiest people I know” I will admit that I am very grateful to manifest as much happiness as I possibly can, it’s just no one is happy ALL the time, and in most cases people are caught by surprise “I had no idea” when these suicides happen. You don’t really know what is bubbling under the surface. I think Tim Ferris in being very open about his own experience with attempting suicide put together a very insightful and practical article that I strongly recommend reading. His family, friends, etc. as he admits would be shocked as he kept it from all of them for years before finding the courage to share. One part I want to kind of touch on is this spiral into this heavy, overwhelming, and complete darkness.

Dealing with Stress

Life is stressful. I’ve had me ups, and I’ve had my downs. The scary part is the downs. It’s so incredibly easy to disappear ironically in this hyper connected world we live in today. Once you go deeper down that path it gets sometimes harder and harder to see the light. Questions about what purpose our existence has, the burden on others, the feeling of inadequacy, and the world crumbling around us. Can’t even be bothered to drag yourself out of bed? For what? Compound this with for many people traumatic events like sexual assault, abuse, poverty, violence, etc. the weight becomes unbearable. I touched on this before post but there was a really rough period in Norway where I though “Man if this train hits me…” — we create our own realities of despair.

How to escape that low? that darkness? An interesting answer might be = Iceland. What does an island of 400,000 have to do with this topic? (Other then great Football team) Well Iceland now has one of the lowest % of teen alcohol and drug use in Europe -

How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs

https://www.youtube.com/embed/MzeNqLhsWE4

What really stood out for me was the study that basically when people are stressed / low they either want 1) A High to bring them up or 2) Something to Numb. Think about that for a second, I’ll wait. Now, think about how do you bring yourself up or numb yourself? Bad day at work? let’s get drunk, breakup? wine -o’clock. It’s interesting that we have positive and negative ways to get these highs and numbs. Often with the negative solutions they are only temporary relieves and often compound the emptiness, darkness that spawned the stress in the first place. How do we learn as kids to deal with stress? Is it taught? Even as adults we aren’t given the tools to properly process stress. This manifests itself in very self destructive behavior along with hurting others. After reading this article I realized when I go through my lows 3 things always happen:

  • I am not OUTSIDE in Nature
  • Anti Social aka too busy to go for dinner (but really not).
  • Stop exercising

Surf Bros

This is why I LOVE SURFING. It is my high pick me up. Getting out in the ocean, being around friends, getting the body moving, and catching a wave of endorphins! I think the important thing is to find POSITIVE ways that get you that high, moving your body, and outside. Probably why I have such fond memories as a kid walking my dog everyday. Also, I can imagine this is what gets people into so many activities like rock climbing, sailing, etc. I know that’s what made Crossfit so appealing for me too.

What do you do to get a high?

What about “Numb” or in essence kind of escape the low? For me it has always been disappearing into books and stories. I abused that library card hard as a kid and now my Kindle comes with me everywhere (+ Kindle Unlimited — Access to 1M+ of books for $10 a month). Disappearing into the sci fi future or sharing the struggles of the Count of Monte Cristo it’s been a great way to zone out. I am only now getting more into the music (Ukulele and Guitar) but that along with drawing, painting, etc. there are so many great ways to positively escape for a little while, take a break, breath, from whatever is going on. Probably what makes it so addicting with HBO/Netflix and video games (Damn you PUBG) as well. This break — just with everything though it’s important to do it in moderation/balance.

That for me is the key. To be conscious of how your feeling and purposely have things in place to help deal with stress positively long term vs destructive short-term substances (drinking, drugs, shitty food, toxic people, etc.).

External Control

Yes it’s great to have positive ways to “Deal with Stress” (High/Numb), but going surfing is not going to solve my problem Brian! This spiral into darkness, this overwhelming stress, weight, burden what is it? I don’t know the best way to tackle this topic and what it means for you but I’ll try with some quotes picked up along the way and some stories for what it means to me.

My Momma Bear

Growing up I am very lucky to have a mom (Michelle Bertram) who loves me, sometimes too much — don’t worry you’ll get grand children from me eventually, that really instilled a certain mindset in me. Between working 3 different jobs as a single mom to take care of me, my sister, and grandmom our house was filled with books. A lot of self-help growth books, an encyclopedia set (which at one point she sold door-to-door), but all of this sprouted the seeds of a “Growth Mindset” — Did she read this in the future somehow — “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids”.

The idea that you could grow, could learn, could kind of do anything, doesn’t mean it is easy, just possible. Contrast this to a fixed mindset that things are set, I am not good at languages, I am not good at math, etc. When we believe talent is inherent ie. your smart, it doesn’t build resiliency when you fail, because at some point you do, it becomes this identity crisis.

I can’t remember what book I was reading but they talk about this growth vs fixed mindset, and in a pilot program where they taught kids “Growth” mentality that the brain was a muscle that could be exercised vs homework help, one kid was quoted “I don’t have to be stupid anymore?”. Breaks my heart. Yet here we are with our own set of unconscious stories we tell ourselves of what is possible. Circling back to the idea of External Control, yes genetics has a role, the environment, your parents, all these external factors, but you are not set/fixed by them.

Despair = Suffering — Meaning

When I look back at the tough patches of life, because we all have them, this quote really resonated with me. Came across it from a book written by Chip Conely called Emotional Equations. What really gave me pause was this equation found it’s inspiration from Man’s Search for Meaning. Written by Psychiatrist Viktor Frank who shares his story of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival.

When I was in the rough spot during the Norway business venture, it was taking steps to remove suffering (part-time jobs crossfit coaching, website work, catering jobs to bring in my own personal income, finding ways to wind down the company debt free, finding a new job) and finding meaning (mastermind sharing with others ( Thomas Golizade Moen / Thomas Skavhellen / Markus Vesøen), business lessons learned with Hicham Chahine to take forward that I dug myself out of that despair. I’ll let Chip in his own words explain more:

Highly reccomend to explore other “Equations”

You define despair as suffering minus meaning (Despair = Suffering — Meaning). What does that mean?

Viktor Frankl’s landmark book “Man’s Search for Meaning” was my salvation 3–4 years ago when I was going through a depressing time. I turned that profound book into this equation so that it could serve as a daily reminder or mantra on a bad day. Suffering is basically a constant in life. If you’re a Buddhist, that’s the first Noble Truth, but it’s just as relevant in a punishing recession and in many relationships. Meaning is the variable — it’s what you make of it. The way this equation works, if you increase the meaning of something and suffering stays constant, then despair declines. For me, it meant I was asking “What’s the lesson or learning in this?” Often, I had to think of life as sort of an emotional boot camp and that the way I created meaning from a challenging situation was to imagine what emotional muscles I was training — whether it’s resiliency, humility, compassion, or courage — that could serve me later in life. — Interview — 3 Equations that will change your life

“Life is happening for us, not to us”

https://www.youtube.com/embed/jAg09076Syw

Not to get into existential philosophy / physics but what is reality? Everything we experience is filtered through our perspectives. Heard this quote recently in a Tony Robbins podcast but it really stuck with me as a good reminder that the ONLY thing we can control is ourselves, our thoughts, and our actions. When we find meaning in those things that happen for us we can reduce the despair.

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The last thing about External Control that I wanted to share is the 3P’s.

My go to book right now I get for all my friends who have recently lost someone or experienced a traumatic experience is Option B by Sheryl Sandberg. Working with happiness researcher and anecdotes from her own struggles suddenly losing her husband, the book explores how you can face adversity, become more resilient and find joy again, when life punches you in the face.

There’s a lot of lessons in the book but the first chapter is about the 3P’s and how these are biggest beliefs keeping us from growing, overcoming and finding joy again when life sets us back.

  • Personalization: The belief that we are at fault.
  • Pervasiveness: The belief that an event will affect all areas of our life.
  • Permanence: The belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.

My hope is that you believe that nothing is fixed, that you find meaning in life happens for you, and find the resiliency to face adversity by letting go of external control .

Love Yourself

“in the United States, nearly 88 percent of all homicides are committed by men. Men in the United States are six times more likely to commit suicide than women.”

What is it about the world that breeds such hate? Recently reading “Masks of Masculinity” by Lewis Howes helped articulate something I’ve struggled with, what does it mean to be a man? That definition in it’s current form is so toxic to ourselves and those around us. When I think of people that are pulled to these extremist groups (terrorist, racists, misogynist, etc.) what drives them that way? The book talks about some of the masks we wear as men to try to meet this definition of what it is to be a “man” and how to let go. Although the book is about masks of masculinity, women also wear masks for their own definitions, and at the end of it all it all comes down to our inadequacies.

None of us our perfect yet we put on these masks to try to hide our beliefs of inadequacy. Show me someone that hates someone else and I’ll show you someone that hates themselves. The book talks about 9 masks and reading chapter by chapter I saw myself in so many of them, some when I was younger, some I still struggle with now.

The FamJam

  • The Stoic Mask. The Stoic mask will tell a man to prove himself by being invulnerable and tough. All his emotions should be carefully managed and suppressed. There is no room for crying, pain, feelings or emotions.
  • Growing up when my mom left my dad, I felt I needed to take care of her, my sister, and my grandmother. That meant being the “man”. I never cried, I never complained, I tried to take it all on myself and never talked about it with anyone, all the while feeling I was never enough. I can’t be more thankful for the amazing man that came into my life, Tony Bertram, my step-dad who loved me and my sister like his own. Remember him telling me I was the most stressed 12-year old he ever met. Even today I am only slowly peeling off this mask, learning to be open about my struggles and sharing my inadequacies, learning to Love Myself as it’s held me back in relationships in the past.
  • The Athlete Mask. The Athlete mask tells a man to prove himself by being good at sports.
  • The Material Mask. The material mask will tell a man to prove his worth by the amount of money in his bank account.
  • The Sexual Mask. The sexual mask will tell a man that his worth is proven by his sexual conquests and the number of women he has slept with. This mask tells men that relationships are for settlers and quitters. A real man loves briefly and then leaves.
  • Hooking up with lots of girls, getting country flags, being a puma, for a long time would look at these guys and be jealous. What a man! Only now you start to understand when you peel away the mask, there’s an emptiness to hiding this inadequacy. What is more fulfilling is when you love yourself and find a partner that accepts all of that.
  • The Aggressive Mask. The aggressive mask will tell a man to prove himself by being aggressive. When he sees something that he wants, he must go after it regardless the feelings of other people.
  • I think what I’ve struggled her is that it’s always the idea that the “Nice-guy” loses. You put on this mask because it’s what apparently gets results. Learning though that you can be assertive, determined, focused, without running over other people, instead getting there by lifting others up.
  • The Joker Mask. The Joker mask will tell a man to prove himself that he is funny and always able to laugh away all his problems.
  • The Invincible Mask. This mask will tell a man to not feel fear, ever. A man behind the invincible mask takes risk and doesn’t take into consideration the consequences of his actions.
  • The ‘Know-It-All’ Mask. This mask will tell a man to prove himself by his knowledge. A real man is supposed to have all the answers and to know exactly what to do in every situation.
  • God this is a tough one for me. This idea if you don’t know things people will think less of you. Learning to “Listen” has been a big thing I am working on. You can have discussions, you can get to places with great questions, and admit you don’t know everything. It’s been said you have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason and I am trying…
  • The Alpha Mask. The Alpha mask will tell a man to prove himself as an alpha man, meaning: someone who is a true winner. A true man must dominate, and win everything he can.

For me, I look at a man as a symbol of inspiration, someone who lives to be of service along his journey. He’s someone who follows his purpose, who experiences fears but has the courage to face them and move forward anyway. He’s someone who is loving to all people, creatures, and the world, himself included. He’s someone who can take care of his basic needs and teach others how to live in abundance. He’s someone who doesn’t judge people but looks for ways to lift others up. And he’s someone who leaves this place better than the way he found it. That to me is a man.

When we start to recognize the masks we wear to hide our insecurities, and start to peel them off, and really love ourselves for who we are, this opens the door from the darkness.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/272940765

On a happy note this is probably why some festivals (Burning Man / Lightning in a Bottle / etc.) are such profound experiences for people. If I could give my 20 year old self some advice it would be to “let go” of those beliefs, expectations I had for myself. It’s this love for yourself, acceptance of inadequacies, pure happiness, and gratitude that comes from letting go in the moment.

How to deal with Festival Blues — https://www.reddit.com/r/LightningInABottle/comments/8ncxxr/how_to_deal_with_postlib_woes/ — Just remember the experience should enhance your self love, not define it.

If you made it this far. Thank you.

I love you.

I just want you to know with all the ups, downs, and all-arounds I am here for you even if you don’t need it! I’ll be that “Panic Button” you know you can call, text, or message, just reach out. You are a wonderful gift to the world, to me, and I appreciate you letting me share.

Trending in the right direction!

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