Infinity War: Half a Conclusion

Just a reminder to check out my most recent guest writer appearance: this time on Mental Health Matters where I look at my own battle with anxiety. You can follow me on Twitter here. I will soon be moving some content to a new blog. My entertainment posts (films, games, random theories, etc will stay here. My travel and mental health posts will move to the new one. I’ll keep you updated! Anyway, let’s get to Avengers: Infinity War!

 

Avengers Infinity War: My Hopes and Concerns

As a fan of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) I’ve been following this storyline since Iron-Man back in 2008! I’ll admit, the road has had its fair share of ups and downs but in this article I’m going to share my opinion of some of the surprises I had along the way (both good and bad) and why I’m slightly concerned about the two Infinity War films (yet ever optimistic). I’ve found that a pretty consistent rule I can follow goes something like this: If an MCU film excites me then it’s going to suck. If I think it’s going to suck then I’m usually pleasantly surprised.

 

Let’s start with the Lows

Within the MCU there have certainly been some gems (other than infinity gems) but there have also been some incredible disappointments. Within the universe itself, there are certainly some characters that are more “main” than others. Iron-Man, Thor and Captain America all have their own trilogies. For me, the Thor trilogy was pretty disappointing. Both he and Loki are two of my favourite characters but the story just sort of repeated itself through all three films. The first Thor film was perhaps the best of the three but in all honesty, the other two were pretty disappointing considering all the characters they had to work with.

Of course, we can’t talk about the lows of the MCU without addressing Age of Ultron. The trailer to this day is still one of my favourites. This idea of an AI cutting its master’s strings in order to bring its own skewed version of peace to Earth sounds fascinating. The creepy version of the Pinocchio music was a great touch. Up until this stage the Avengers had been invincible and it was let slip that at least one of them wouldn’t make it to the end of the film. Ultimately what we got was a cheesy AI, the family-tale for Hawkeye (which I could easily have lived without) and the death of an Avenger (if someone who joined the Avengers that day counts). Personally, I would have killed Hawkeye: Especially after forcing us to jump into his God-awful personal life.

 

Then Move onto the Highs!

Where to begin? I guess let’s start with the Captain America films. The first film we got was ok. I was never a huge fan of the character and while I found the first film pretty enjoyable to watch, I never imagined he would become my favourite character (or one of). When The Winter Soldier came out, the trailer looked awful. I couldn’t have been less interested in the film and I didn’t go to the cinema to see it. This happened to be at the same time in my life where I was reading about corrupt governments, shady organisations and other issues that ran parallel to the film. So when I did eventually see it, it was incredible. To this day it has one of my favourite fight scenes. Civil War was very entertaining but the story itself could have been a lot better. Still though, a great watch!

Speaking of Civil War, we can’t talk about the highs without mentioning Spiderman. The web-slinger was welcomed back into the MCU in 2016 with an appearance in the Cap vs Iron-Man battle. I was incredibly doubtful of Tom Holland: Mainly because I’d always pictured Andrew Garfield as fitting in perfectly with the cast…that being said, Tom Holland did an incredible job and I loved Spiderman: Homecoming. I mean THANK THE LORD that we didn’t need to see the origin story again. That was an amazing move!

Then there are the entries that while not being films, do exist within the MCU. One example of this would be Marvel’s Agents of Shield. This came out just before The Winter Soldier and I couldn’t have cared less. That is until I happened to catch an episode or two where shit hit the fan and Hydra turned on Shield (it was actually what led to me watching The Winter Soldier). Since then I’ve been a huge fan. The show, similar to the films has had its highs and lows but I thoroughly enjoy it and look forward to seeing where it goes.

Infinity War

So this brings us to Infinity War. A film that is divided up into two parts but is ultimately the conclusion of 10 years of storytelling. I’m usually against this idea of dividing films up. It was OK in Harry Potter because there was a giant book to explore but every other film series that has done it since has just milked the idea. You usually have the first part of the film ending on a cliff-hanger where the heroes look like they’ve lost and you start to wonder how the hell they’ll make it through…but they do. Film makers have caught onto this though. So now, in the same way that films stop being numbered, you now also avoid numbering the two-parter films. So what was originally set out to be Infinity War part 1 and part 2 is now Infinity War and something else.

Similarly, Justice League part 1 and part 2 will now be given separate names. This is to make you feel less ripped off. I won’t get into DCEU right now but their idea is to skip the huge build up and instead cram what Marvel did in 10 years into 2 films. Essentially one film brings 3 characters together and the other brings the rest…and the villains. Marvel will most likely spend the entire first part of Infinity War showing just how powerful Thanos is. The Avengers will get a couple wins (probably against the Children of Thanos) but will ultimately get defeated at the end. The one in 2019 will show more new characters come into play (I’d imagine) and give us what should be an incredible end to this sage. Before Phase 4 that is.

 

Let the Worrying Commence

So why am I worried? Well, I’m slightly concerned that we’ll get a regurgitation of the first two Avenger films. When we first saw the Avengers Assemble, it made sense that they were fighting hordes of enemies and it worked really well. But then we got to Age of Ultron and watched them initially struggle to fight like 5, semi-destroyed Ultron bots only to then face hundreds of much more advanced bots with ease (for the most part). I mean it’s great, you get to see the heroes work together, get cool kill-shots, make use of their huge range of powers…but it does become a bit tiresome.

I’m worried that they’ll focus too much on giant fight scenes. I mean obviously it’s called Infinity War for a reason but there will be a line that I’m hoping they don’t cross. The last things we want is for 10 years-worth of story-telling to end in a weak boss battle. This brings me onto my other concern: while I assume (as I mentioned earlier) that Thanos will destroy potentially everything by the end of the first film, I’m still worried that it might be a little too easy for the Avengers/Guardians to defeat him when the time comes.

After all, this is a character who has been seen as more powerful than Loki or Ronan or any other number of characters who have proved a challenge for their respective foes. So when we have Thanos WITH infinity gems and the infinity gauntlet, his children and imaginably some form of army, we really do need to see the heroes being knocked down as low as they can possibly go. Not “oh the Hulk destroyed some buildings and the witch gave us flashbacks” defeated but actually all the way down to the bottom. We need to seem them properly questioning defeat: A moment where nobody says anything clever or cocky or optimistic.

 

A Little Look at Loki

Speaking of heroes, let’s talk about Loki for a second. As I mentioned during my ramblings about Thor, the Loki-Thor relationship has repeated itself over and over again. Put simply: Loki tricks Thor. We saw this happen again in Thor: Ragnarok only for Loki to seemingly redeem himself by coming to the rescue and sticking by Thor’s side at the end. However, the tesseract makes its way into the Infinity War trailer (in Loki’s hands no less after him seeing it in Odin’s vault) and as such, I’m worried that Loki will fit into his same role as the previous films and ultimately turn on the heroes only for it to backfire on him. As we are BOUND to lose some characters in this film, I really hope Loki isn’t one of them. As such, I’m hoping he appears to betray Thor and the others only for it to be a double cross. If I could choose one character not to die, it would be Loki!

Death is another issue. We know that most, if not all of the main line-up will be returning for the 2019 sequel…so where does that leave us with Thanos and his destructive force? If NOBODY dies then that’s a bit too “fairy-tale story” but obviously if they all die then there’s nobody left to save the universe in the next film. My concern is that we won’t lose enough characters. I LOVE most of the characters in these films but some of them have to go for dramatic effect. How long can plot armour (and film contracts) really protect them? I figure for sure Cap is going either in 2018 or 2019. I also fear that Loki might join him.

 

The Death List

So who would I sacrifice to the mighty Thanos and who would I keep? Good question. My preferred death list would go something like this (in no particularly order): Definitely Hawkeye! Vision can go. Rhodes could as well but I feel like if they were going to kill him off, they would have just had it happen in Civil War…unless him not dying was important to avoid an irreparable rift. Anyway, Black Widow is sort of a grey area. The character has been a lot of fun and while I don’t hope that she dies, I wouldn’t shed a tear if she did. Falcon is another character that I don’t wish death upon but wouldn’t care a great deal about.

Unfortunately, due to film announcements we knew who won’t be dying (although if Marvel were clever they’d throw in a red herring here and there). We have Ant-Man and the Wasp coming out in 2018 but after Infinity War. We have a Spider-man sequel in 2019 so we know that he survives both films. Guardians Vol.3 will also be out after both films but that’s not to say that all of them will survive. I doubt that Quill will die or Groot but everyone else is fair game, especially given Drax and Gamorra’s personal vendettas against Thanos.

 

Will we lose the Main Three?

As for the main characters? As I said, I think Captain America could be a goner in one of these films. We’ve seen him go from loyal soldier to outlaw but his arc certainly seems to be reaching its end. Since Bucky is also going to be making an appearance, it could be that the mantle of Captain (and the shield) makes its way to him. Iron-Man is a difficult one. I’ve heard rumours of an Iron-Man 4 but quite frankly, I’m not sure what else they can do. I don’t want Tony Stark to die as Robert Downey Jr is a much needed comic relief in the films but at the same time, I’d rather he died than outgrew the role. I mean after defeating a terrorist network, his mentor: Obadiah, poisoning, Ivan Vanko (and Hammer industries), Loki and his army, The Mandarin and his super soldiers, Ultron, and ultimately Thanos…what else is there?

Then there is Thor to consider. I certainly pray to Odin that they don’t try to make a fourth Thor film but who knows. I could see Thor dying as well but then who would rule over Asgard? Would Loki perhaps live and finally get the throne he’d been so desperate to sit on? I don’t think that Thor will die after getting the symbolic eyepatch (or perhaps not so symbolic) just like his father but with Asgard (in the literal sense) destroyed and not many survivors left, could these two films end it altogether? This could be an opportunity to scratch Asgard and its people off the map entirely.

 

So what does this all mean?

All in all, I think it would be difficult to mess this two-parter up as badly as Age of Ultron but never say never! I just hope that by the end of the 2019 film, we have a proper conclusion. When Avengers ended, the group just sort of dispersed to do their own thing with the same thing happening after Age of Ultron. We had stand-alone films after both though and with the cast list growing larger and larger, there won’t be space to have all these characters existing in the same universe. Since this is meant to be the finale (in a manner of speaking) I just hope that we don’t have like 15 or more characters hopping into cars, spaceships or bi-frost beams (well, perhaps not that last one anymore) at the end with no real explanation for what is going on.

Yes, it will be sad to lose some of the characters but if Game of Thrones has taught us anything: watching a Stark getting stabbed at a wedding makes for incredible entertainment!

 

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The Conspiracy Conspiracy

 

What is a conspiracy? Well to use the first definition that Google displays it’s: “a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful” or “the action of plotting or conspiring”. However, we are all familiar with how the word is used today. If you get the label of a conspiracy theorist, then it means you wear a tinfoil hat because you’re worried that the aliens who shot JFK and planned 9/11 are using their base at Area 51 to read your mind. Keep in mind that the term “conspiracy theory” doesn’t directly refer to someone believing some crackpot theory. It’s simply a theory related to a group’s secret plan.

As such, I want to use this post to explore this idea that perhaps we need to view conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists in a different light. Similar to how the blanket term of “drugs” is often used as if all drugs are equally as dangerous or equally as addictive or remotely the same substances whatsoever. Yes, we have class systems for these drugs but just keep in mind that weed is in the same level as amphetamines, ketamine and barbiturates. But this isn’t a drug post.

So what will I be looking at today? I’m going to look at some of the extremes: the conspiracy theories that really do deserve to be up there on the “tinfoil hat required” list while also looking at some of ones that turned out to be very factual despite being mostly ignored today. I’m also going to cover an area that seems to be avoided or seen as the “no-man’s land” in every single aspect of life: the middle ground. For some reason you’re either down the rabbit hole or you’re not. There’s never an opportunity to stick your head in to take a look.

Get the Tinfoil Hats Out

I’m going to keep this section fairly short and light-hearted (all to build you up for the later sections). The truth is there are a million if not billion random conspiracy theories out there that I’m sure we’ve all heard. The Elvis one is always a go-to option but rather than explore that one further, let’s warm up with another musical icon: Paul McCartney.

 

Paul is Dead

What about the idea that Paul McCartney died in a car crash in 1969 and The Beetles covered it up and replaced him with a look-a-like? This is one that I only heard about recently and it’s certainly an interesting one. Apparently, at the end of the song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ you can hear John Lennon saying the words “I buried Paul”. People have even interpreted the album covers as being signs as well. The famous Abbey Road cover being a nod to the funeral which is why Paul is barefoot. This theory was put to rest pretty quickly when Paul McCartney took part in an interview with Life (I’m sure the pun was intended) magazine in which he acknowledged the rumours as being ridiculous…sounds like something a Paul McCartney look-a-like would be paid to say…

 

From Bombs to Tsunamis

I’m sure we all remember the horrific tsunami that took place on Boxing Day 2004 in Indonesia. The scientific explanation is that the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that took place triggered the tsunami and everything that followed. However, there are those who believe that the US government (or at least some section of the US military) detonated a 5-10 megaton bomb in order to trigger the tsunami as a way of sending in “relief support”: All in an effort to claim oil fields. Apparently the type of waves in the area were indicative of an underwater explosion. Combine that with the fact that the US had aid there incredibly quickly and you have a fishy situation. Out of all these slightly crazier conspiracy theories, this is the one I view as being most likely…not that I believe it but I just think that the US government is capable of literally anything!

 

The Moon is a Hologram

Yup, you read that title correctly. The moon it seems is a hologram and the Illuminati or some other secret society has pulled the wool over our eyes for decades. It’s hard for me to go into this one with an open mind, mainly because the entire conspiracy doesn’t make a great deal of sense. From what I can tell, this theory began when an amateur photographer observed the moon for a year and noticed ripples of some sort. He then came out and expressed the idea that the power system was failing which is what caused the ripples. He notes that while doing this he spotted an unlisted satellite that is one of many that projects the moon into our sky.

If you’ve never heard of David Icke, he’s an intelligent man who has bought into what seems like every conspiracy that has ever existed e.g. Saturn is the home of the lizard people who run this world in their human costumes. I first encountered Icke several years back when a talk about the nature of reality, the governments of the world, the holographic universe theory ended with him butchering by favourite Bill Hicks moment: “Just a Ride”. I have nothing against Icke as a human but I do get the feeling that he peddles a lot of nonsense in order to gain from it financially. If you make a theory crazy enough, there will always be people who will hop on board.

Anyway, Icke suggests that the moon being a hologram is all part of the Illumanati’s control over us. By presenting a fake moon, they highlight their power. It doesn’t end there. Oh no, sir! Apparently, the real moon could still be out there and could even be home to a population of alien colonisers. We will be looking at the moon landing further on in the article, I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear.

 

The Reptilian Conspiracy

In case you’ve managed to avoid hearing this one: The Earth is home to shapeshifting lizard creatures who rule the planet. These aliens are known as the Annunaki (which is based on ancient mythology from the Sumerians, I believe) and the Royal Family are actually lizard-people. Of course they are just the low level lizard people. We once again visit the opinion of David Icke, who claims that the bible references these lizard people (of course when you look at the mentioned passages, you don’t get that impression at all).

Apparently this species arrived on Earth via flaming UFOs and manipulated the human race into being their slaves. Only then did they realise that to truly rule, they would have to use their shape shifting power to become human. I’m all for believing in ancient aliens and civilisations but this one definitely requires a tinfoil hat to be a part of.

 

From Downright Crazy to Downright True

Of course not all conspiracy theories are quite as out there. There are many, many examples of governments creating shady plans in order to benefit their own agenda. Some of these are just downright terrifying to imagine but will also set us up for the final section. This section won’t cover anything that isn’t factual. I might share my opinions on them but the cases themselves are all completely true.

 

Operation Northwoods

This is an incredibly interesting yet also terrifying report. It’s suspected to be one of the reasons that JFK was assassinated (more on that in the next section) Operation Northwoods was a proposed false-flag operation. Who proposed it? Certain groups within the US Department of Defence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that’s who. The proposal called for the CIA and several other agencies to commit acts of violence and terror against US civilian and military targets while under disguise as Cubans.

Some examples of these acts included: hijacking planes while dressed as Cubans with Cuban identification; attacking Guantanamo Bay in order to kill military targets while again, being disguised as Cuban soldiers; blowing up US ships and finally, planting bombs and carrying out attacks in US cities. The purpose of this was to create a strong public opinion that invading/going to war with Cuba would be necessary.

 

MK Ultra

Ever worry that the government might be poisoning you or brainwashing you? Sadly, Project MK Ultra is a true example of this. The CIA (an agency we will be referring to A LOT!) carried out highly illegal tests on both US and Canadian citizens (all unwitting). What was the aim? Well, they wanted to find the most effective techniques for interrogations and brainwashing. So they tested a wide variety of drug methods such as dosing people with LSD. They also tried hypnosis, sensory deprivation and a wide variety of other techniques including verbal and physical abuse.

Ultimately, while an investigation was carried out to determine all the shady shit the CIA had been doing, very little was done in relation to the MK Ultra project. Most of the files were destroyed at the command of the head of the CIA at the time, Richard Helms.

 

The Snowden Files

We all remember the relatively recent breakthrough that the NSA and the GCHQ had been spying on not only enemies but also allies. Both organisations right under our noses had carried out illegal and certainly shady mass data collection and if not for Edward Snowden, we would be none the wiser. Once again, very little has happened as a result of this and the US’s reaction to a whistle blower has been made quite clear which doesn’t bode well for any future releases of this nature.

Of course this won’t have stopped there. The CIA uses Snapchat to collect facial recognition data and Mark Zuckerberg is still all too willing to supply any information he can to any paying buyer, especially government bodies. People like Theresa May want us to have less privacy and if the Snooper’s Charter had gone through, apps like WhatsApp that use encryption to keep messages private, would have become illegal unless they supplied governments with backdoor access.

It’s safe to assume that most of our data is still being collected, they’re just finding more and more ways to do it.

 

I could write about so many more but I don’t want people to get bored but at least you’ll have seen a glimpse of some of the shady acts that our governments have been very willing to do. If you’re interested in these sorts of historical moments, then I suggest you read up about the WTC bomb of 1993 (I think) and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. This brings us on to the final section.

 

The Middle Ground

One thing that needs to be addressed in terms of conspiracy theories is the middle ground. Why can’t I believe part of a conspiracy theory but not the whole thing? We view them as being one extreme or the other. The reason I’ve named this post The Conspiracy Conspiracy is because I think part of the reason people ignore the middle ground is that they simply don’t want their bubble to be burst. If we can agree that the above example are factual then are the following ones really so hard to believe? I’m going to basically give you an overview of my beliefs on the following well-known conspiracy theories. I personally can’t see any reason why it’s such a stretch to believe them.

 

The Moon Landing was Fake

Ok, hear me out. I believe that we went to the moon. I’m not about to deny that we did. However, I think that while we did go to the moon, fake footage was also shot. I’m inclined to believe the Kubrick conspiracy version of this i.e. Kubrick was brought in to film the fake version and left clues to this throughout other films such as The Shining. My belief is as follows: NASA and the US were about to make history by being the first to send men to the moon. Were people just going to accept that as fact? Of course not. If someone claimed today that we had men on Mars but didn’t provide proof, we’d label them a crackpot conspiracy theorist.

As such, I think a back-up was created just in case there were any issues. In the event that the mission as a whole failed or the footage wasn’t available, then this back-up version would have been used. I’m not even against the possibility that some of the fake footage was added to the real footage. I just think we need to be open minded about the whole situation. There are many examples of Neil Armstrong and the others clearly hiding details. Don’t believe? YouTube and the Internet will be your friends!

 

JFK Assassination

I am a strong believer in the idea that this wasn’t just the work of Oswald or Communists or whatever other official explanation was given. Everything about the assassination screams “conspiracy” and yet for the most part, people ate up the official story. You only have to look as far as the autopsy photos changing, bullets changing, footage being destroyed, files being set for declassification and then delayed.

Is that not enough? Well, what about the ridiculous number of eye-witnesses who died within a few years of the event? Not that their individual deaths were suspicious (although cut breaks surely are) but the sheer number that have died in that time is certainly bizarre and an anomaly. It is said that the odds of them all being dead by 1969 is one hundred thousand trillion to one.

A YouTuber whose channel is Bright Insight led me to the idea that George Bush Senior may have had a direct involvement in JFK’s assassination. He was working for the CIA at the time (one of the agencies seen as most likely to have carried out the assassination) and since he became president (followed later on by his son) it’s no real surprise that keeping this under wraps would be essential. Especially since that leads to a whole bunch of questions about other times the CIA and the Bush family may have joined to commit illegal activities.

 

9/11

Truther is a word often thrown at someone who doesn’t agree with the given narrative about the 9/11 attacks in New York. Am I a truther? No…well, sort of. If you viewed it as a scale with believing the narrative being 1 and believing Bush himself piloted the planes via remote control as 10, I’m probably in the middle: Somewhere between 4 and 6.

Everything about the event just seems off. If you ignored everything else and simply focused on how the Bush administration handled the event that alone would raise suspicions. It just so happens that that isn’t the only evidence. Just to be clear here, I don’t believe that explosives were planted in the buildings or that the CIA organised the attacks (although if you read up on the WTC bomb several years previous, it certainly raises some suspicions).

However, I do believe that it is completely possible that the attacks were allowed to happen and were closely monitored as the day went on. I do believe that the US government received countless warnings that such an attack would take place. I do believe that the attacks were used to fuel public opinion and mount an unnecessary invasion in order to take control of oil and opium. I also believe that the 9/11 Inquiry was great at avoiding any real answers or investigation and that thousands of people had their lives torn to pieces and got a mumbling moron President making everything worse.

 

In Conclusion

So what is the conspiracy conspiracy? Perhaps it’s a plan from a secret society to turn anybody who questions the official narrative into a tinfoil hat wearing nutjob…or perhaps it’s just a title that has no real meaning that to sound catchy. I’m not genuinely implying that the word conspiracy is in itself a conspiracy…but I think that as a society, we’ve attached connotations to the word that ought not to be there.

The point of this post isn’t to debate conspiracy theories. The point of it is to highlight that sometimes, your government and my government are responsible for some extremely shady shit. Yet we let them get a pass over and over again. It’s like letting your dog shit on your pillow and then just shrugging your shoulders because fuck it! I think we all need to take a step back, look at the evidence and decide whether something is believable or not. Just because someone suggests an idea that goes against everything the media or your teachers or your parents are telling you, doesn’t mean that you should rule it out.

I’m not saying believe every crackpot theory you hear. I’m saying that you should look at all the evidence and come to your own conclusions. Government conspiracies are probably in motion right now so don’t go down the path of saying “a government could never get away with that”. They have and they will again. When a red flag is raised with an issue but a group of the people believing it also believe that the Earth is flat, don’t assume that your point of view is wrong or that theirs is…

…And when it comes to the CIA, assume the worst.

 

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter to be kept up-to-date with writing I do outside this blog. If you have a taste for conspiracy theories, check out one of my older posts that looks at how the petition system in the UK is simply there to make you feel like you tried and failed to make a change.

Star Wars Episode VIII: The First Order Strikes Back

So this post is going to be a sort of combination of two things. Primarily it’s my current expectations for the next Star Wars film but it’s also a rant about the use of trailers. I haven’t seen the film yet so don’t worry about there being spoilers. Everything I saw is based on the trailers or my own predictions.

Speaking of which: Remember when you watched a trailer and thought “wow, that looks interesting” whereas now you watch it and basically get the entire idea of the film. I bet if they released The Empire Strikes Back today, the trailer would end with Vader saying “No, I am your father…”

 

Star Wars So Far

What can be said about Star Wars that hasn’t been said before? Nobody can deny the fact that it’s an incredibly interesting saga and obviously a successful one. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have glaringly obvious flaws! Whether you look at the inconsistencies, the average storyline or the predictability Star Wars in a sense is eye-candy. It’s great to look at it, it’s great to think about but is it perfect? No. In fact the closer you look, the more you realise that the effort should have been moved away from the special effects a little and more towards a competent storyline.

I won’t get into a whole original vs prequel trilogy debate beyond this paragraph as I think I can sum it up that quickly. The original trilogy was awesome because of the characters. The special effects may have been good for back then but they aren’t now and yet, people still love the films. If you can overlook the Empire essentially being defeated by stone-age bears then sure, the storyline was ok. The prequels on the other hand, look pretty fantastic (for the most part) but again, the storyline just isn’t that great. They had a target they had to aim for but somehow the arrow they fired went up and down, left and right, curving all over the place before getting there.

I think that these new films are a chance to retell that story without being predictable: something I’ve yet to see happen. The Force Awakens was cool but nobody can deny that it was exactly the same plot as the original Star Wars. Even Mark Hamill has come out and said that they’re all about the money. There is no heart or soul going into it anymore, they’re basically playing to the most generic audience to try and make the most money. More on that later! For now, let’s talk trailers.

 

What’s with the Revealing Trailers?

Something that I’ve noticed happening more and more recently is revealing major plot points in the trailers. The Simpsons movies was the earliest example of this for me. All the funny moments were in the trailer so when you watched the film, it felt like you’d seen it before. Thor: Ragnarok…Wow! Can you imagine how much better that film would have been if you never expected Hulk to appear? In the film they even go into it as if the audience is going to be shocked.

Every single trailer had the Hulk in it! I would LOVED to have seen that film without knowing such details. I wish trailers could go back to being teasers. Enough to interest you and get the excitement pounding at the inside of your chest like you’ve just recently encountered a face-hugger. Rather, we get the movie in bitesize form.

It’s like all the big reveals you get now before things are even released: all in an attempt to build up hype but why? Do they seriously think people wouldn’t go see Thor without Hulk or go and see Star Wars without seeing so much of the film in the trailer? Recently they announced that there is a “big shocking moment of truth” in the upcoming Star Wars film…couldn’t they just let us find that out for ourselves?

I remember when we were nearing the start of the 6th season of Game of Thrones. I was late to watching the show (the 5th season was halfway through when I played catch-up) so I’d never had to deal with trailers for it before. I remember watching the first trailer, thinking to myself “wow, this is incredible” and then slowly realising that I now knew pretty much the entire storyline. I mean the trailer was practically the whole season just squashed into a minute.

This is also when I realised just how ridiculous the idea had become. For Game of Thrones season 6, we got something like 3 teaser trailers. If it had ended there it would have been great. Then we got a slightly longer one. Followed by maybe 3 more? 4? 5? For season 7 I avoided every single trailer I could. When it came on TV I looked away. When YouTube recommend it, I avoided it. Quite frankly, I enjoyed this season a lot more. So let’s look at the Star Wars trailer.

 

Why Star Wars is going to be average!

If you’re a Star Wars fan then you’ve most likely seen the trailer. Star Wars Episode 8: The Empire Strikes Back…Again? It’s so blatantly copying the structure of episode 5 and yet, people are losing their shit at the idea! I can guarantee you that they’ll try and top the father reveal from Episode 5 and guess what; it’s going to be awful. Other than the trailer, I’ve avoided everything I can in relation to the new film.  Why? Because I’m still eager to go and see it. My expectations may be low but I have hope. Not a new hope mind you, just a slowly fading away hope.

This is why I think these new films are flawed. In episode 7 we had the same thing. Oh look, Han Solo is killed, of course. Any guesses as to whether Leia dies on episode 8? What about Luke in episode 9? That isn’t the issue though. They’re using too much symbolism of light vs dark and while it worked for the older films, they’re missing their shot with these ones.

I mean let’s take the trailer apart a little. You have what is essentially the assault on Hoth. In fact, if you look closely in the trailer, you’ll see that the same ATATs are still being used. Where they got them from is a question I’d love to have answered. It’s good to see that 30+ years has led to the machines now walking like apes.

We already know we’re going to have a Yoda-Luke training parallel here so that’s hardly a shock. Part of me hopes that when Luke says “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before” that is isn’t talking about Kylo. After Kylo being beaten pretty easily by an untrained Rey in the previous film, that would just be an embarrassing moment.

 

Let me Use the Force to Glimpse the Future

Here’s my prediction and it could be completely wrong: Rey is going to train with Luke. We see that much from the trailer. She’s going to reach a point where she has to leave to save her friends. Despite having been in the same situation himself, Luke will try to convince her not to go. Eventually she will and it will lead to her confrontation with Kylo Ren. Rey is going to use her anger and it will become hatred. Ultimately, she will join the darkside through manipulations from Snoke. There are rumours that we get a force ghost in this so my prediction would be that Anakin convinces Kylo Ren to come back to the light side of the force. Then there will be this big dramatic change where Rey is now bad and Kylo is good. I don’t think Luke will die in this film. If he doesn’t, he’ll definitely die in the next one though.

The film will end with an evil Rey. I wouldn’t even be shocked if she ends up being the one who kills Leia or Luke. I’d say Finn but there is absolutely no way that Disney is killing one of only two or three black actors. Speaking of Finn, you’ll also notice from the trailer that he gets another mock-lightsabre fight. The first one was bad enough but now he fights like that again? And with Phasma no less…

My only alternative theory is that Rey might not turn to the Dark Side but she will pretend to. Her plan will be to get close to Kylo and Snoke in order to infiltrate the First Order and shut them down from the inside. The First Order will then reveal that they have a reason for doing what they’re doing and in fact they aren’t just a galactic dictatorship.

 

Side Theory

I think there will be many throwbacks to the previous trilogies in this one, most likely in an attempt to fix plot holes and continuity errors. However, I do think that this could be an interesting opportunity for them to advance the storylines from the prequel trilogy.

When you watch the prequels again and get past some of the awful acting and bad writing, you realise that there was a point to Anakin’s view of things. He wasn’t in the right by joining the Emperor but he was in the right about the Jedi and their view/involvement in things.

This will take us back to Episode 5 where Luke enters the cave and decapitates Vader only for this mask to explode and reveal his own face. Luke becoming Vader is less symbolic of him becoming evil and more symbolic of him realising the truth of the Jedi: that they had become a corrupt organisation. Luke seeks isolation because he realises that Vader was right all along (despite going about it the wrong way) and he can’t come to terms with that. Sure, his isolation appears to be due to Kylo Ren and perhaps that was the trigger.

What if there becomes a new rule of two for the Jedi? Whenever there are too many Jedi, there also ends up being unbalance in the force (quite literally) and so things have to be reset. This would stick to the prophecy: Anakin DID bring balance to the force and he did destroy the Sith!

Now there is a new enemy that spawns from the attempt to create more Jedi. The imbalance leads to one of the pupils being tilted towards the Dark Side. Leia claims it was Snoke who lured Kylo Ren to that side but what if it was the Dark Side itself? We know the force is an energy that surrounds everything but also that to some degree, it has consciousness, even if through the deceased Jedi.

What if we take this one step further and view the force vs the dark side as being quite literally light vs dark…but it is in fact the same thing. The light side of the force is the dark side and the dark side is the light side. One energy that needs to remain in balance. Luke realises this and flees. Perhaps he knew that the force would one day bring someone to him but he needed to be patient. I mean it could also be a Lost type scenario where you literally have white vs black exploding out your ears.

 

My Hope for the Future

I wish I could say that I hope episode 8 and 9 will be incredible and take the saga to a whole new level of entertainment. Sadly, I’m not super optimistic and so my hope lies in the other films. I was never ever ever ever ever a fan of the idea of bringing the Star Wars films back. I was even less of a fan of their anthology films…but Rogue One actually changed my mind about that. Out of all the films so far that was the one I imagined I’d hate the most. I mean as far as I was concerned, we really didn’t need to bridge between episode 3 and 4.

I was pleasantly surprised. I mean they still made it super cheesy and I feel like it could have been a lot better but still, pleasantly surprised. My initial thoughts on a Han Solo film are about the same but I’m coming round to the idea. An Obi-Wan Kenobi film is DEFINETLY something I can support. Seeing Ewan McGregor back in the role would allow me to forgive the Star Wars saga for some of its mistakes.

That being said, I heard recently that it might be a prequel. If it’s a prequel and NOT Obi-Wan between episodes 3 and 4 then I’ve lost all faith in the saga. I mean that would just be absolute nonsense. A) Ewan McGregor doesn’t look that young anymore. You can make-up the shit out of him but he was baby-faced in Episode 1. B) As much as I’d love to see Liam Neeson return as Qui-Gon Jinn, I could settle for a force ghost. C) I feel like a prequel of the prequels is just unnecessary. We could get some real character development for Obi-Wan as well as some Vader scenes quite possibly. We could learn more about the rise of the Rebellion and the Empire.

 

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the Star Wars Battlefront games. The truth is, I think they speak for themselves. If a Playstation 2 games from 2004  and 2005 have a higher entertainment value, better storyline and are still played after 13 years then I think that says a enough about EA and their money hungry, soul-sucking company.

 

If you have any comment or questions, be sure to leave them below. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter where I post some of the work I do outside my own blog.

Anxiety: A Day in the Life of…

Note: This is a re-post. I accidentally deleted the original post when I was trying to take it offline for editing. So if you’ve read this before, nothing new has been added!

 

Anxiety! A word that seems to be popping up more and more often but what is it? Well it’s a pain in the ass to say the least (not literally…well…sometimes). This isn’t going to be a scientific explanation of anxiety or a representation of the sorts of anxiety that people can experience. This isn’t even going to be a guide on how to work out if you have anxiety issues.

Quite simply, I’m going to walk you thought my anxiety, the good times, the bad times and the many ways I’ve tried to deal with it (both successfully and less so). So if you have anxiety this post could be useful in terms of presenting some new coping strategies and general life adjustments. If you don’t have anxiety and perhaps don’t fully understand what it is, hopefully this will help.

To save you some time, I’ve added titles to separate this longer than expected post. If you have zero interest in my ramblings about my backstory and history with anxiety then feel free to skip down to the title named ‘So what is anxiety?’ Here is where I share what I experience in terms of anxiety and then go on to share the techniques I’ve used to help decrease its effect on my life (the tips are pretty much at the very bottom so feel free to scroll down.

 

Origin Story Time

I’ve always been a shy person. My earliest school reports consisted of “knows the answers but doesn’t share them” or “needs to speak up more” to “doesn’t engage in group activities”. While most people grow out of this, my generally introverted nature and shyness clung to me like glue. I don’t subscribe to this idea that you’re either an introvert or an extrovert.

I think anyone can display characteristics of both at different times. That being said, I was definitely at the polar end of the scale at school. Outside school, I would have been seen as an extrovert. I never experienced anxiety though. Nerves? Yes. Shyness? Yes. Preferring to stay somewhere to read or play my Gameboy rather than go socialise? Yes. All pretty natural experiences that I’m sure many of us went though.

Even in high school (aged 12-18) I didn’t get any anxiety. I was bulled a hell of a lot and didn’t want to go to school but I never felt a single moment that I could identify now as me being anxious. I could sit exams completely relaxed (perhaps too relaxed), I could speak in front of classmates about as well as the general school populous.

I do think that to some extent the bullying I faced is what’s left me a little “off” mentally. I grew up in a small town where if you hadn’t left by the age of 18, chances are you never would. It was a lovely place (if you were raising a family or on your death bed) but everyone knew everyone. Yet somehow I managed to get randomly attacked on multiple occasions. Always by people who were drunk.

I started to fear walking down the high street. I always compared my town to the film I Am Legend. It was fine during the day but as soon as the sun began to set…these creatures would come out from the dark to wreak havoc. I started to worry whenever I going somewhere alone at night, even by bus. Pathetic, right?

I started to fear people in general. Going to the shop used to make me sweat and if the person at the checkout spoke to me my heartrate would go through the roof. My conversation was usually limited to one word answers. I would wait as long as I possibly could before going to get my haircut or to the dentists.  I got ill a lot and couldn’t go to the doctor. There were times I was convinced I had cancer and somehow, social interaction was worse than death.

I consider myself to be a rational-minded individual. I usually think with my mind rather than my emotions. Despite there being no logic in it, I just couldn’t go out into the world where people were. I used to walk my dog off paths into the middle of nowhere. Up hills and through forests, just wherever I thought people wouldn’t be.

The most annoying thing was that I knew it was illogical. I knew that nothing would happen, that speaking to people wasn’t a big deal. Sometimes I could even convince myself that the next time I did, I’d ooze charisma. Of course what actually would happen is that I’d freeze. It’s like every person was a T-Rex and the only way I could avoid them was to stay still. My mum used to worry about me but whenever she confronted me about it, I always went on the defensive.

Looking back, I think if I’d been honest back then about it, my life would be quite different now. That’s neither here nor there. It wasn’t until I had finished high school and actually started university that I started to notice that I was even worse than I originally thought. I moved to a city where my cousin was at university. This guy was my idol growing up and when I moved there, he still was. After doing modules on psychopathy at university, I can tell you that this dude displayed far too many psychopathy traits. If you have anxiety, here’s a piece of advice. Do NOT hang around with toxic people. I learnt this a little too late. So as a result I spent 3 years of my life (2 of them living with the guy) with toxic people in my life.

I spent 3 of my 4 years at university hearing about how I was too quiet, I came across as weird, that I was ruining people’s image. That’s right! My cousin wanted me to improve my social skills so that he didn’t look bad. I was frequently given the classic lines of “talk more, it’s easy” or “there’s nothing to be nervous about” and of course “you need to stop being shy”. What these lovely human beings didn’t know was that every social event where I was sober was like hell to me. My problem was so bad that up until the point of being drunk (and I mean way past tipsy) I couldn’t socialise. People who had only met me on nights out couldn’t believe how quiet I was.  I guess I gave off a bit if a serial killer vibe.

So it’s fair to assume that my virginity stay intact until my 2nd year of university. Not that my friends knew that. By this stage I was already known as “King Virgin” without them even knowing that I was. It’s difficult to be intimate with someone when you can’t really speak to them. My socialising was even worse with women (clichéd, I know). My 1st and 2nd year of university were around the time (the 2nd time in my life) when suicide became a very easy way out. I know what you’re thinking; it’s a ridiculous reason to want to die. My issue wasn’t that I wanted to die. I didn’t. It’s more that I couldn’t see how it was possible for me to live. How was I going to get a job? How would I travel? How could I do anything without speaking to people?

 

The Attacks

Funnily enough, my anxiety hadn’t even peaked yet. As I mentioned earlier, I had never had an issue with taking exams in school. Suddenly at university I felt the most uncomfortable I’d ever been in my life (at that point). Somehow I got through first year fine. I mean I’d missed a ton of classes but not enough to raise any red flags with the university.

Sometime in 2nd year, during an exam, I finally snapped. The first full-blown anxiety attack I’d ever had. On top of my anxiety, I have a fear of being sick. I mean it’s not really a fear but more the fear of drawing attention to myself by being sick. Although, I do completely hate throwing up and I avoid it at all costs. So you can imagine that in an exam room with about 60 people in it, how that could be an issue.

My heart was racing. At times I actually thought I was about to die. Was this a heart attack? My breathing was impossible to control but I tried my best. My hands were sweaty. Should I leave? Should I raise my hand and tell someone I need to go? No, then everyone will look at me. Plus, if I do that I’ve accepted that I’m going to be sick or pass out. Speaking of passing out, I did feel pretty faint. Where was the nearest bin? Could I get to that in time if I felt it coming up? I need to focus on something else. I’ll look at the clock. Oh God, I have a full 2 hours left and the earliest I can leave is in an hour and a half. I haven’t even written the first paragraph yet.

Maybe if I focus on the work it will go away. No, that isn’t helping either. By this point I’m screaming internally. I just want it to stop. At times I stopped breathing all together. At others I was breathing frantically. The films always say to take slow deep breaths (incorrectly) but that doesn’t seem to be helping at all. My body was literally shaking. I was going from hot to cold then hot again. I was sweating more and more. If this was death, I figured at least this would all be over. Maybe I should just get up and leave. Do I really need a degree? No, I’m sure I can find something else to do. Maybe I can rationalise with my brain. I can re-sit this exam if I fail so there is literally no pressure.

Regrettably, I suffered through far too many exams (about a year-a year and a half) before I finally forced myself to go see a GP. I needed something I could take before an exam but not long term. I was completely opposed to being on any long-term medication. Why? Well, we’ll get to that later. I met my GP (literally the grumpiest and least helpful I’ve ever met). He told me that I just needed to relax.

That’s right, my GP, a man charged with handling the health of the public told me to relax. Let’s just say that all the advice he gave me was about the same. He prescribed me propranolol which I was supposed to take for a month to see how it helped. I had told him I didn’t have any anxiety attacks outside the exams but he insisted.

Needless to say, I ignored him. The instructions clearly stated that they could be taken prior to the anxiety attack inducing situation. So that’s how I used them and it did work. I still felt the deep-rooted terror bubbling but my heart stayed calm (the purpose of the drug) and so I could actually get on with my exams. Otherwise I would usually spend an hour having an attack and then the 2nd hour would be me doing the exam itself. The only other time I used propranolol was on planes where I found I also got anxiety attacks. I’m not scared of flying but being crammed next to strangers really sets my anxiety off.

 

Improvement

When I got into my final year of university, I felt pretty amazing. I had a girlfriend, I socialised a lot more than I used to. To be completely honest, I’d been exposed to the drug scene. I would go to one club and take MDMA, party hard, smoke some weed and go to bed. Those were some of the best nights out of my life. Now, I do not preach that MDMA isn’t dangerous. It certainly can be.

That being said, I love it. I take it maybe once every 3 months at most now but back then it was once or twice a week. You can judge me but MDMA opened my eyes to a world I’d never seen before. I started exploring other drugs, reading about them, watching documentaries, asking people about their experiences. I also had a girlfriend which was new to me.

So life was going very well. I could go to the shops, get my haircut, etc without freaking out. I was still incredibly nervous around new people but I figured that’s something I’d just have to get used to. The issue was that I was about to finish university. I had no plans and knew I was going to have to move back to the black-hole of a town I thought I’d escaped.

One of the things I loved about university was all the different opinions. You could discuss any topic and chances are somebody would have a completely different point of view. My hometown wasn’t remotely like that. Bringing new ideas into their world was like walking into a school with a gun. I had some friends who weren’t like that but only a few.

 

The Great Depression

Here began my year of unemployment. I was in the previously mentioned black-hole. I was living with my anti-drug parents. I was sleeping in a bed that was about 6 feet above the floor and involved climbing a ladder to get into. My anxiety came back in ways I couldn’t imagine. Some days I didn’t leave my room; other days I would just walk my dog for the entire day to escape.

I’d purposefully get lost in the woods just to take longer getting back. I tried to go to the gym which was probably the only thing that helped me keep my head on remotely straight. My parents wanted me to pay rent (which of course is completely fair) since they thought I was claiming unemployment benefits. So I paid them money every month out of my savings because I couldn’t go on job seekers allowance.

You see I knew that while on job seekers allowance you have to take whatever job you are given. What if I was given a waiting job or a bartender or a cashier? The thought alone made me feel sick and want to cry. To be clear, I I’m not against working. I’m a hard worker but the social element is just impossible for me.

I wanted something I could do and I needed to start earning money. It’s not that I wanted to be lazy or just couldn’t be bothered. The way I always describe it to be people is that it’s like someone else is battling me for control of my mind. Sometimes, even when I have all the will to do something, I just can’t do it.

For example, I missed a lot of classes at university and I knew their policy for sending warning e-mails. I could never bring myself to check my e-mails because I worried there would be some degree of confrontation in e-mail form from the university. Thing is, I simply had to reply with an excuse in order to get out of it. Yet what I did always made matters worse because if they didn’t hear from you, they took it further.

So I created a lot of my own problems simply through an inability to act. It was the same with work. I wanted a job, I needed a job but I just couldn’t do it. After a year of burning through literally all of my savings, I found a job I could do. Costco were looking for stockers. Not luxurious but it was something I could handle.

 

The Turning Point

What I didn’t realise was that this job was going to represent a turning point in my life. Don’t get me wrong, the interviews and first few months were hard for me on a mental level. Within the first month I almost had to phone in sick because even though I was right outside the store, I’d had a minor anxiety attack on the way in and as a result felt incredibly sick. Costco has a 90-day probationary period where they can basically just fire you for no reason.

I started in summer and by Christmas I was starting to get the hang of things. My girlfriend and I had broken up and I didn’t really have any desire to get back into “the game” as such. I realised though that I still needed to escape the black-hole I was living in.

I hadn’t taken any holidays yet so I applied to take a month off to go travel around Thailand. If you happened to read my post, you’ll know that this ended up being a trip around Cambodia. Long story short: this trip was incredible. It had moments where I was at my absolute worst in terms of long feelings of anxiety but it also forced me so far out of my comfort zone that when I came back, I felt lighter, I guess.

I don’t want to say that it changed me because this isn’t a cheesy movie. It did give me positive and negative experiences though which ultimately altered my view of things at a sub-conscious level. So when I got back from the trip I found my anxiety was minimised. I noticed it more at work but it soon spread to my personal life.

At work, I found that I could work as a cashier without any problem. I soon became quite comfortable in the role actually and would frequently volunteer to go cover when they were short staffed. Something I never thought I would do. I also volunteered to go on trips. Yup, Costco sent me to London to work at a store down there. Something I’d have worried about before. I had been using an online platform to try to meet women. Before Christmas I had been talking to one in particular. We had planned to meet but both of us bailed so ultimately we scrapped it. My anxiety was just too bad and I couldn’t do it. But in the essence of feeling confident, I sent her a message about meeting up and we did.

This woman was incredible. We clicked in ways that I’ve honestly never connected with another human being before in my life. By the 3rd date I was actually worried that she might not be real. Had my mind just conjured up this wonderful human just to trick me into doing things? You see we both enjoyed the same stuff but the difference was that she would actually do it without hesitation.

So pretty soon we’d been to comedy clubs, nights out, parties, I’d met loads of her friends and hadn’t been overwhelmed with anxiety once. Sadly, she would soon be moving. As she moved away, I got sent to Paris to work at a Costco they were opening up. I was hollow when I realised that this woman who was everything I could ask for in a partner was about to leave my life, potentially forever.

In terms of my anxiety though, I was still at the top of my game. I spent a month in France working at the Costco there. I was regularly miles outside my comfort zone. I don’t speak French but I got a lot of roles supervising over the French staff and often had to be in charge of making decisions that would actually affect the store.

By the time I got back home, I was on fire. I was on good terms with all the mangers both in France and at home, I had been trained in pretty much every major part of the store, I was now training new starts who had just joined. The woman who I missed so much came back up to graduate and when we met, we decided not to throw it away. We’d never really discussed what would happen after she left before then.

 

This may all seem somewhat irrelevant to anxiety but I swear it’s leading somewhere!

 

So since my girlfriend and I wanted to stay together but now lived hundreds of miles apart, I did something I’d never imagined doing. I went down to visit her at her mum’s house. So I stayed there for a week. Luckily her mum was lovely but I’ve always had an issue with people’s parents. Not just girlfriends but actually anyone’s.

I always got anxiety because I was/am a fussy eater but I also hate being a pain so I often find myself in the middle of a dilemma. The experience as a whole was a lot of fun and I don’t think my anxiety was ever an issue. At this point we said the infamous L word but we also decided that we’d go to Amsterdam together on holiday. We both smoke weed so we figured it would be a fun place to visit.

 

The Next Level

To sum up Amsterdam: smoking weed in public areas with anxiety is not fun. We were there four days and most times when we smoked, the first hour or two I was in freak-out mode. I’d experienced this with weed to lesser extents but it was pretty full on. It wasn’t so much the weed as it was the environment.

In Amsterdam you have a mix of stoners and “lads”. The lads are getting drunk, being boisterous, and being the usual sort of rowdy cave-dwellers you would expect to find. This is usually what I fear on a night out so being super stoned and in the middle of it just threw me off.  It was an experience though and it was here that we made the decision that I’d move to Spain with her.

I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t have a wide range of skills to use and I’d never really had any desire to live in Spain. As I write this, I’ve been in Spain for nearly 5 weeks. I’m now back outside my comfort zone and my anxiety is definitely creeping back in.

The issue is that conversation for me is already incredibly difficult with people I don’t know well. So conversation with either people who speak a little English or through my mumbling attempts at speaking Spanish is downright awful. Some of my anxiety stems from a fear of ridicule and speaking a language badly falls into that category. The issue I face is that it’s too easy for me to stay in the flat. I work as a freelancer writer so I only need to leave to go to the shop.

This brings me onto my next issue. Doing things like going to the shop, things that normal people do without even thinking about it, are now back to being a big deal for me. I’ve basically accepted that I’ll have to wait until I go home at Christmas to get my haircut. I try and force myself into social situations because that’s the only way I’ll learn Spanish.

The thing is that I find it too easy to use my poor Spanish as an excuse not to speak. I’ve barely spoken any with people. I worry that I’ll spend too much time in the flat and my anxiety will creep back in. I’ll soon be back to as bad as I’ve ever been, especially since I’m not going to the gym either. In fact my exercise doesn’t go much further than walking to the very nearby shop.

It’s strange when you know that you’re about to fall into a pit but still don’t do anything to stop yourself. On the one hand, if I seize this opportunity to be outside my comfort zone but to gain from it like I did in Cambodia then I could come out a much healthier individual. The issue is doing just that. It’s like I’m balancing on the edge of a cliff: if I fall in one direction then I fall far. If I fall the other way then I am safe and can enjoy the wonderful view.

 

So what is Anxiety?

Don’t worry if you skipped all of that, I got carried away rambling about my past. It was only supposed to be a brief history. So what is anxiety? If you’ve never experienced it, it can be difficult to describe. Think about whenever you’ve done something that scared you. Maybe you’ve been on a roller coaster at a theme park or perhaps you’ve jumped out of a plane.

That feeling you get when you’re about to start and your stomach goes tight, your heart is beating faster than you thought was possible, your mind is racing through a million and one scenarios of how this could end horribly. Now imagine that you get that every time you speak to someone new or every time you have to go even slightly outside your very restricted comfort zone. Even worse, imagine that you feel that constantly.

The physical sides of anxiety can be bad but my biggest enemy is my own mind. You get caught in a spiral that just sends you further and further down. Imagine that you’re flying a plane and something starts going wrong. Nothing major but a little red light starts flashing. It’s easy to solve but your co-pilot starts freaking out. He presses buttons, he’s screaming at you, flailing around like a madman. Suddenly there are 5 or 6 new problems that are slightly bigger issues but it’s still possible to solve it. Unfortunately your co-pilot is still losing his shit. He’s made 8 lights flash now and he’s taken control of the plane and is trying to bring it down to land…on water. You have to solve this but how can you deal with your co-pilot and all these problems he’s created?

This can go on for a while and sometimes the plane crashes, sometimes the co-pilot jumps out the plane with his parachute and leaves you with all the problems, other times you manage to calm him down and bring the plane back into a smooth cruise with zero lights flashing. This can happen to me several times a day depending on what I’m doing. So I’ve tried various coping strategies which I’ll share with you now. I’ll also explain some of the ones I’ve still to try.

 

Tips and Tricks

1) Get rid of anyone in your life that actively tries to bring you down. This may sound petty and perhaps you wouldn’t want to but in all honesty, you notice a difference. When you can start to just be yourself and not worry about someone picking on your insecurities or trying to manipulate you or anything like that, your anxiety will be less prevalent. It also stands to reason that you should find people who are like you. I don’t mean people with anxiety (although it can help being with people who actually understand) but more people who share your interests. Life is easier when you can just be you.

 

2) Breathing exercises. If you get into a situation where you start to feel your anxiety beginning to bubble, there are tons of breathing techniques that people claim to work. Deep, slow breathing is NOT one of them! When you get near an anxiety attack, your body begins to take in more air. If you do it too quickly you start to hyperventilate. What you actually want to do is reduce your oxygen intake. One method is covering one nostril and breathing through your nose. This can work but it doesn’t control the breath-rate. My favourite and most effective is box breathing: breathe in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4 and then repeat. I notice the benefits pretty quickly but if you focus on it for a while, it’s also meditative and works wonders.

 

3) Speaking of mediation, this is another one I would recommend. Meditating a couple of times a week can help your brain de-stress. I’m not suggesting you “align your chakras” or go on a pilgrimage. Meditating is simply concentrating on a specific thing to allow your mind to focus and become clear. If you want to use it for spiritual purposes, you can. I basically use it to see my own mind and thought processes in a different way. I would highly recommend the 26 minute long Sam Harris guided mediation on YouTube. I’ll add a link at the bottom. It is perfect for beginners or those looking for a simple and direct meditation technique. You can actually use meditation when you’re feeling anxious but I personally find it nearly impossible to do.

 

4) You need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m not going to lie, it can be difficult but it is all about small steps. It’s like going to the gym to build strength. You start on a weight and then you move up. As you move up it gets more difficult and you will struggle but after some time that weight becomes easier and then you move up again. It’s the same thing. Move into a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Accept beforehand that it will but know that you will get used to it. You may never feel 100% comfortable doing it but you will start to feel comfortable enough that it doesn’t freak you out quite as much.

 

5) Find a way to let loose. You need to find a way to let off steam. For me, it’s taking drugs. For the record, I’m not addicted, I don’t take drugs to melt my brain, I don’t take them because I “need” them. I take them responsibly because they can be a lot of fun. I’m not promoting the idea to you but for me, if I smoke some weed then I feel great. I laugh at some stupid shit or I come up with some crazy theories about films and then I sleep like a baby. If I take MDMA I dance to some good music, I chat about crazy shit to people I barely know and I have a lot of fun. I don’t get the “loss of control” feeling that alcohol can give. On MDMA I feel like myself just happier.

 

6) Another outlet for those of you who don’t think a therapist is a direction you want to go in, is a journal. I know! You probably don’t want to be a grown adult who keeps a diary. I’m not saying that you write in it every day. You don’t have to open with “Dear diary, today Justin…” I have kept one on my laptop for 7 years now. Whenever I have stuff on my mind, I go on, I mark the date and then I just empty my brain. I always write it as if someone will be reading it once I die. I share all my thoughts, feelings, and predictions for the world, what I’ve been doing. I literally just let everything out. Chances are nobody will ever see it. I have left random clues for people to find to get access to it.

For example, when I had a cancer scare last year (when I say cancer scare, I mean there was a lot of blood somewhere there shouldn’t have been and so I was tested for cancer) I didn’t want to tell anyone about my journal. In fact the only person who knows about it is my girlfriend and I’m pretty sure she’s forgotten. Anyway, I left an encrypted message on a page in a notebook for my brother. It had a simple to solve key but would have taken time and effort. It told him my laptop password, the document to open, the password for that and who was allowed to see it. Just write absolutely everything down and put a password on it so you never have to worry about somebody seeing it.

It also means you can go back and see what your frame of mind was like at a certain point in time. For instance, I can look back to 2011 to see all my high school drama, 2013 is my university bullshit; I can see what I was thinking and what I was doing. It’s interesting to see because obviously the human memory isn’t hugely reliable so being able to look back and see exactly what was going through your head 7 years ago is kind of trippy.

 

7) Stay away from caffeine! Some of you with anxiety may be fine. For me, it was actually what triggered my anxiety attacks (something I discovered years later). The caffeine basically causes your body to react in the same way it would from a natural anxiety attack. Your brain then notices these changes and as your conscious mind becomes aware of them, it does in fact cause an anxiety attack. So in essence, because you detect what seems like an anxiety attack, you get anxious and actually have one.

 

8) Personally, I would also say stay away from alcohol as much as you can. I find that alcohol is a very easy crutch to use. It can become too easy to just “get blitzed” in order to feel less self-conscious and ultimately less anxious. I find, however, that my anxiety has started to creep up when I feel myself losing control: Those moments where my actions don’t feel like my own but rather someone else’s. I still have the odd drink here and there but when I do drink to get drunk, it’s a lot less than what I used to consume.

 

9) Exercise can make an incredible difference. It may sound clichéd but it really does. You don’t have to aim to be a body builder but even just going for a run a few times a week or taking part in a sport will work wonders for you mind.

 

The Future

 

So I’m hoping to take a trip fairly soon that could possibly show drastic results. I don’t mean a physical trip but rather a drug-induced one. Magic mushrooms (or more specifically: psilocybin) has shown incredible results in treating depression and anxiety. More and more evidence is coming to light that not only is it more effective that pharmaceuticals but it has a fraction of the side effects, if any. This is going to be the start of my journey (depending on how it goes of course).

I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) smoking DMT which I plan on doing again but I want my first stop to be mushrooms. For those of you who are perhaps anti-drug or still have the high school anti-drug campaign fear tactics running around in your mind somewhere, you should know that it isn’t about a high. I’m not taking the drugs for fun or to escape reality.

I want to take them for the experience they can potentially provide.  You see, psilocybin reorganises the connections in your brain. One trip can completely alter one’s personality as it causes them to create new connections that don’t necessarily have the flaws the old ones did. People with anxiety and depression in studies have gone months feeling cured. Imagine if drug companies brought out a drug that had a few side effects but you only had to take it once every few months? It would be revolutionary.

Obviously, I haven’t tried them yet so I’m not speaking from personal experience. Maybe it doesn’t work for me or give me the experience I need. Maybe this is how I discover psychedelics aren’t for me. At least I’ll know that for sure and will have tried, rather than living through my life with a treatment growing right in front of me in nature.

I’ve spent years researching certain psychedelics: their history, effects, potential benefits, potential risks, advice on taking them, etc. So don’t be fooled into thinking this is a decision I came to lightly. Depending on how my mushroom trip goes, my girlfriend and I want to travel to South America.

Not primarily for this purpose but definitely to do it. We want to visit an ayahuasca retreat. For those of you unfamiliar, ayahuasca is basically a drinkable version of DMT. I will post a link at the bottom to an incredible introduction to it. It’s a mind-blowing drug that is not remotely recreational. This drug is a spiritual drug and is not to be taken lightly.

 

Further Info

 

If you have any questions or anything, don’t hesitate to comment below or even send me a message. I’m happy to share any of my experiences with anyone so if you have anxiety or just want to know more about it, my door is always open. Feel free to send me a private message if you have something you’d like to discuss that you don’t feel comfortable sharing publically. I’m always happy to offer whatever advice or insight I can. Don’t feel that you have to suffer through mental health problems alone! There are always people you can turn to!

 

This is a link to the Sam Harris guided meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OboD7JrT0NE

 

This one is to a previously banned TED talk by Graham Hancock about consciousness but he also discusses his experiences with ayahuasca: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0c5nIvJH7w

 

I’m also including a link to a Joe Rogan podcast where he discusses ayahuasca. If you haven’t heard of Joe Rogan or only know him from UFC or Fear Factor, he is an incredible human being. His podcast is the only one I listen to and some of the guests and topics they discuss are incredibly insightful and educational: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_fuE9La6Xg

Life in Spain for a Scotsman!

Having spent the first 24 years of my life living in Bonnie Scotland, the time eventually came for me to leave the nest. Growing up near Edinburgh, Scotland certainly has its perks but the miserable weather, the somewhat problematic drinking problem and the familiarity in itself soon became tiresome. So with that in mind, off to sunny Spain I went with no understanding of the language, no knowledge of the culture and without ‘Moving to Spain’ ever being on my to-do list. Luckily, I was moving there with my girlfriend who happened to be the polar opposite on all three of those points. So without further ado, here is my summary of my life in Spain so far!

The Language Barrier…

As I already mentioned, my grasp of Spanish didn’t extend particularly far past “Hola” before I moved out here. I’d always wanted to learn another language but had always lacked the motivation and the aptitude for picking one up. I had studied French for most of my high school life and had barely learned anything. One thing I commonly heard people say before I left Scotland was “It’s always easier to pick up a language when you live in the country”. Of course, this may very well be the case for anyone who socialises at a normal level but for someone who deals with social anxiety 24/7; it’s a little trickier than that.

…with a Scottish Accent

That being said, I’ve started to learn the basics. Duolingo and Rosetta Stone have been useful enough for a basic understanding. I have the good fortunate of living with my girlfriend who speaks Spanish practically fluently. So whenever I encounter something that just doesn’t make sense to me, she’s only an elbow’s nudge away! Of course, that isn’t the only language barrier. In Pamplona, most people who do speak English have learned it in school but even when they’ve had real world experience with the English language; it’s usually accompanied by an English accent. My Scottish accent isn’t even that strong as far as I’m aware. Yet many people have told me my accent is impossible to understand. One hilarious moment was having a group of American’s question whether I was speaking German or English.

Employment

Since finishing university, it had always been my plan to do a TEFL course and go to China or Japan or just somewhere far away from the UK to teach English. So with only a month or two between me deciding to move to Spain and actually moving, I managed to squash in a TEFL weekend. The weekend itself was incredibly helpful but I went all out and paid for the 140+ hour course. Meaning I still had 120 hours online stuff to complete. My plan for work was to spend the first couple of months living off my savings while I complete the TEFL course and then give private English lessons after my initially optimistic teaching assistant application was turned down on multiple occasions.

Of course it’s one thing to have a plan in your head and it’s an entirely different thing to act on it. As much as I want to eventually get around to finishing my TEFL course, I stumbled across a different way to earn money that would also not require a grasp of the Spanish language: freelance writing. I won’t go into huge detail about that as I’ve written another post on it already. However, what started off as hugely unsuccessful and extremely frustrating turned out to be my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’d always wanted to write and I am now earning more than I was working part-time with Costco in Scotland.

The only real issue with this is that the work isn’t necessarily steady. I have two projects for this month that will earn me enough to cover my time so far in Spain but what about next month or the month after that? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Things to Do

Pamplona itself is a decent size with what would seem like a relatively large student population. I just moved here from a small town which basically comprised of retirement homes, charity shops, churches and pubs. So anything near to a club would be an improvement. I was shocked to discover that actually Pamplona doesn’t have a great deal to do. We’ve been to numerous bars and a couple of the clubs and it just seems a little dull if I’m honest. One of the clubs did show potential but in order to get to the good music (in my opinion) you have to worm your way through a sweaty, testosterone-oozing mass of “lads, lads, lads”. You step outside and there is vomit left, right and centre.

I mean maybe this is the point in my life where I just put the drink down, forget the clubs, buy a pipe and do my crossword puzzles in a rocking chair. While the pipe part doesn’t sound so bad, I’m not quite ready for the rest. I guess I had the impression that Pamplona would be a bit more ‘hustle and bustle’. I mean this is the city where once a year people literally get chased by bulls down the street.

Surrounding Area

There certainly seems to be plenty to do in Spain itself. My girlfriend has repeatedly suggested we go to Barcelona for a weekend. We have plans to go skiing after Christmas in the nearby mountains bordering with France. As well as that, I’ve been dying to see some cave art, like that mentioned by Graham Hancock in his book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. It just so happens that the Cave of El Castillo is only a 3 hour drive away from here. So I definitely want to get around to doing that at some stage. We’re also not that far from the North Coast of Spain so there are a huge number of sea-side towns to visit.

Weed

As a partaker in the consumption of marijuana, I was relieved to hear that there exists a sort of loophole in Spain whereby it’s legal to own, smoke and even grow weed in the privacy of your own home. You’re not allowed to sell it or grow it where members of the public can see it but other than that you’re safe. To me, that translates as “it will be easy to get hold of weed” when in fact, it’s easier in Scotland! It doesn’t help that Pamplona is a very traditional city. Places like Barcelona have weed clubs where people go and smoke together whereas Pamplona still butchers bulls for sport and entertainment.

Pros

For starters, when I arrived here at the very end of September it was 29oC. To put that in perspective for anyone not from Scotland: the highest temperature EVER recorded in Scotland was 32.9oC and that was at the start of August. Average maximum temperatures for a Scottish summer are between 13oC-15oC. The weather in Pamplona stayed in the 20s up until about 2 weeks ago where it dropped to between 9oC and 12oC. Not to mention that the total number of days it has rained would fit into one week. While for Scotland the total number of days it rains per week is 7! So yeah, the weather is certainly a plus.

Another pro is the food. I’m somewhat of a fussy eater but going out for pinchos is great for me. There is always a meat option so I’d never go hungry. Following on from food is the drinks. I don’t mean soft drinks (we’ll get to that in the cons) but the alcoholic drinks. In Scotland, if you order a vodka and coke, you get this tiny measure that’s not even slightly more than what it’s supposed to be. They chuck a slice of lemon in and pour some semi-flat coke into the glass. When you’re at a club or bar here, each drink is like a work of art. The measures themselves are like twice that of Scotland, you get a lime rubbed round your glass and squeezed into it with some mint or other additions. I couldn’t believe how refreshing a drink could taste.

While it being a traditional city can be a downside, I love walking around old buildings. There are a lot of sights in Pamplona to explore such as The Citadel which is a huge fortress that was built in the 16th century. People also seem a lot more cheerful and friendly here. That could just be due to the weather, and I don’t think any place is free of its grumps or angry teens but certainly everyone I’ve met so far has been extremely welcoming and hospitable.

Cons

To keep things balanced, there is also a cons list. One of the few cons is one that’s very close to my heart: Irn-Bru is only brewed to its original recipe in Scotland. So even if it existed out here (which it doesn’t) I wouldn’t be drinking the same drink. I’m also an avid cinema goer which isn’t an option for me here as I don’t speak enough Spanish to watch the films I want to see. I recently watched a disturbingly poor quality version of Thor: Ragnarok just so I wouldn’t have to worry about spoilers (not that that ended up being an issue, you’ll probably see a blog post about it soon enough).

My Personal Goals

I guess the root of all my problems lies more with me than with Pamplona, Spain. Now that I have a taste for writing, it’s all my mind is really focussed on. So completing TEFL is on the shelf, learning Spanish is still on-going but has certainly stepped away from 1st position on my priorities list. I have so much that I want to accomplish and do, yet I can’t have time and money. So I need to either sacrifice time into work in order to fund trips to Barcelona, skiing, ETC. My other option is accepting that I can’t really afford to go anywhere but I’d then have more time to concentrate on my Spanish, focus on expanding my personal writing and creating some sort of following on that absolutely nonsensical social media platform they call Twitter, and perhaps pick up some extra skills along the way.

The simple option, of course, would be to get a job that involves learning and speaking Spanish. The issue with that being that my ability to socialise is about as high as my ability to speak Spanish: Meaning that the two combined together would lead only to disaster. Yes, I would probably learn as I went but until that point I’d be a flaming hot ball of anxiety, slowly melting into a puddle.

To sum it all up, Spain shows a lot of promise. It might not sound it from the content of this post but I’ve a realist and I’m only expressing myself in the way I feel is most honest. I’m not trying to sell the idea of moving to Spain but neither am I trying to convince people not to. While there are still things for me to see and do here, Spain has not been thoroughly enough explored yet.

I’m thinking of doing a post based on the idea of moving to Scotland. Not for myself of course but for those thinking of doing so. If that is something you think you’d be interested in then let me know!

Be sure to follow me here and on Twitter: @BakedHaggis

Alternatively, if you’d like to take a look at the work I’ve been doing on a Pompeii travel blog, you can check it out here: http://discoverpompeii.com/blog/

Similarly, if you want to see my first guest appearance on someone else’s blog, you can find that here: http://jerseygirlgonecaribbean.com/cambodia-temples-beaches-history-lessons-cameron-madden/

 

My Meditation Experience

 

I had this weird experience while listening to the Sam Harris guided meditation on Youtube (find a link at the bottom). Just to clarify before I go any further, I’m not religious whatsoever. I would class myself as spiritual but I’ve never really had any major experiences with my consciousness, even while meditating. I’d meditated many, many times and while it has been beneficial, my experience was never particularly bizarre. So for maybe the 10th or so time, I listened to this track. It also started off fairly routine with the focused breathing and becoming aware of sounds in the room. But when I first started becoming aware of my consciousness, I felt it expand.

Imagine the sun expanding and swallowing the Earth but rather than being yellow, its black, or at least very dark navy blue. It was like I was sinking into an expanding sun. Maybe it was more like a black hole. It got darker and darker the further I sunk.My heart rate actually increased and I could feel myself beginning to sweat. I almost lost my focus at this point because it was such an unusual experience for me. I guess it’s kind of similar to when you realise you’re lucid dreaming and get too excited and ultimately wake up. Luckily, I managed to concentrate on my breathing enough to continue.

When the audio reached the part where you open your eyes, I felt like what I was seeing wasn’t there: Like by opening my eyes I wasn’t seeing the outside world but more a projection of it. Like it could be real but more than like a screen was just turned on in my consciousness. I guess it could be compared to when a blank tv is turned on or a game loads up. The difference being that it was connected to the very base level of my mind. This was one of the creepy parts of the meditation as it made me feel like someone had just loaded reality onto my brain’s TV screen. I may not even be where my eyes are seeing. It could be like controlling a drone as it flies miles away. I guess that is kind of similar to how vision works.

When I closed my eyes again I started to notice bizarre feelings. Why were they bizarre? Well not only could I feel them, but I could also see them. The pressure on my back from the seat I was leaning against was a red wire or rope going straight from the bottom of my consciousness right up to the top. The seat colour itself was also red but that may have just been a coincidence as I couldn’t see or really remember the seat at this point in time. I could see my feet touching the floor as a green string, also going from the bottom to the top of my conscious field. I could see my hands touching my knees as bluey-green wire. This is where things started to get really trippy!

As I moved my hands, the string moved. Not necessarily because of the movement itself but more because of the change in sensation. Wiggling my fingers made the bluey-green strings vibrate. The more sensations I created, the more they vibrated until they became a sort of wiggle. They resembled a fluctuation chart going from its highest point to its lowest point over and over again: Like rolling hills that swoop down into sunken valleys. The weird thing was being able to experiment with this. Moving one part of my body and watching as the coloured string vibrated differently depending on the physical sensation I was feeling.

As I reached the second part where I opened my eyes, I felt my consciousness expanding (the same feeling of the sun expanding). I felt like I was in my head but also leaving it at the same time. Like my point of view stayed the same but the reach of my consciousness grew. It soon felt like I could reach out with my consciousness. Like at any moment I would make contact with the ceiling or the floor or the piece of paper that I could see. That at any moment I’d feel it as if I was touching it with my hand. I felt like my consciousness was a balloon gradually inflating. The centre of the balloon or sun stays in the same place; much like my centre but it is still expanding and reaching further.

So yeah, this was my most interesting and unique meditation experience (up until the day before I wrote this, I’ll write about that one soon). I’d had times where I’d come out of meditation at the end feelings a little strange or different but this was the first time I’d had proper visuals. Not to mention the whole expansion of consciousness feelings. I’m not sure that’s what people mean when they use the term ‘expansion of consciousness’ but that’s how it felt to me.

 

 

As always, feel free to comment with any questions or opinions. Hit the subscribe button to see more of my random-ass posts. Alternatively, follow my new and still empty Twitter @BakedHaggis to keep up to date with what I’m doing. Thanks for reading!

 

Sam Harris Meditation Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OboD7JrT0NE

Also, check out Sam Harris’s book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion which is where I first found this guided meditation and learned that I could be spiritual simply by viewing consciousness differently and without having to believe in a God.