000. Hear the Stories Behind Your Hosts

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Key Quotes

• “If we ever hope to collectively heal this world, we must begin by first discarding these feelings of guilt, shame, and fear that we feel when it comes to expressing our authentic truths and recognizing our lived experiences for what they were. These negative emotions, feelings, and thoughts are largely handed down to us by a long, long line of parents.” – Wesley Jackson

• “When we start connecting with each other, when we start building communities ourselves, outside of what we’re being told, when we start generating power in ourselves and among ourselves, that’s when I think things truly have a chance to change.” – Andrew Gilley

Episode Summary

• Wesley Jackson shares his story of struggle and self-discovery involving childhood abuse, learning disabilities, and complex PTSD.
• After reconnecting with his authentic self and going through personal growth, he realized that he could teach others how to survive their traumas too.
• Andrew Gilley reveals that he had been subjected to childhood sexual abuse by an authority figure that profoundly shaped him in more ways than he thought possible.
• Both Wesley and Andrew share their stories to emphasize the need for people to accept themselves and commit to personal development in order to become agents of positive change.

Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Andrew Gilley: Welcome to the Surviving Humanity Podcast, where we talk about the problems caused by us humans and how to survive them.

Today, we’ll be talking with each other about our personal stories and how they relate to the mission of this podcast.

Our SubredditFacebook, and Twitter are the best places to go for community, connection, support, and even opportunities to provide feedback directly to us, the show’s hosts.

If you want to help support the podcast, please join our Patreon, share it with others, and don’t forget to follow, rate, and review on your favorite podcast platform.

So we’ll get into it.

Wes, let’s share our stories. I think storytelling is a crucial part of the human experience and we’re going to carry that through the entire show.

What story do you want to share that brought you here to Surviving Humanity?

[00:00:39] Wesley Jackson: I want to share a story of struggle and self-discovery.

Trauma’s been a theme throughout my life, beginning before my birth actually, and continuing until up to just a few months ago.

While being blessed and privileged in many ways, at the same time, my childhood was unfortunately rife with abuse of all sorts – mental, physical, and emotional.

Due to this, I spent most of my life until recently living for other people. Whether it was at home, at work, or in any kind of relationship whatsoever.

This codependency coupled with being twice exceptional, or someone who is intellectually gifted, yet also possesses learning disabilities, has led to a life full of hardship.

I’ll share some examples of what this looked like.

Being consistently bullied both at school and at home.

Nearly failing my senior year of high school due to truancy and depression and stress.

Taking a medical leave of absence due to clinical depression for my entire first year of university.

Reenacting my parents’ dysfunctional relationship throughout every relationship I had in the past.

Becoming a people pleaser and a doormat, especially with those who held some sort of authority in my mind. Add on top of all this, a heavily compromised nervous and immune system due to complex PTSD.

[00:02:07] Andrew Gilley: That’s quite a lot on your plate there.

So, what was the experience like for this inside? What were you seeing, hearing, feeling, and thinking when you were going through all of that?

[00:02:19] Wesley Jackson: Due to my unique disabilities and the unjust treatment that I received at the hands of others thanks to said disabilities, I always thought that there was something inherently or fundamentally wrong with me.

I would watch others in my presence be treated with kindness, care, and compassion; yet, when it came to me, somehow, the rules changed.

So, everyone denied my struggles being true disabilities due to the fact that I was also intellectually gifted.

I had the pleasure of being called stupid, lazy, idiot, and even dumbass, so many times throughout my life and at such a consistent frequency, that it eventually completely internalized as self-talk.

I had this idea in my head where, if everyone else has always acted like there was something wrong with me, how could I not believe it myself?

This is especially when considering that both society in general and media throughout most of this time were corroborating this same message.

So, despite my achievements throughout my life, I have always thought of myself as being deficient – never being good enough or never being worthy enough.

So feelings of fear, guilt, shame, sadness, loneliness, and anger have permeated my body and mind on a daily basis.

Nearly all of which I turned inward towards myself.

Some of which I rarely turned outward towards others, especially those closest to me, unfortunately.

So, anxiety in particular has been a daily part of my life since very young and later came the depression.

What all of these experiences had ultimately led to was a life that was completely full of denial and a near absolute void of self love.

This manifested in me through the physical, mental, and emotional realms in a variety of negative ways.

[00:04:29] Andrew Gilley: That’s a lot of stuff compounded on each other.

But you mentioned something had changed a few months ago.

How did you find a way through this? What changed?

[00:04:38] Wesley Jackson: Reconnecting with my authentic self, from childhood, before all of this conditioning and programming was thrusted upon me.

What this looked like specifically was years devoted to my personal development, countless hours of research and digging into my past, and most recently, seven months of weekly therapy.

This all began with personality tests in high school and university.

In 2018, I read a book called _How The World Sees You _by Sally Hogshead, which is what really re-sparked my interest specifically in personal development.

I then quit my binge drinking habit that I had developed in university on January 1st, 2020. And in December, 2020, everything started to change after I experienced a traumatic road bike crash into a ditch outside of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Since then, I’ve been experiencing chronic pain from head to toe on the right side of my body.

So, this has made my daily life much harder than it already was, unfortunately. It really began to sap the joy out of nearly every facet in my life.

So, I needed to find meaning within this pain, in order to move forward.

To do that, I began to look back – far back into time, as I began reacquainting myself with ancient Chinese and ancient Greek philosophy, as well as Japanese Zen, at the beginning of 2021.

During this time I began intensively studying other various spiritual modalities as well.

I like to consider myself a lifelong student, no matter what the material is, there’s always something more to learn about the world and ourselves as a result, every single day.

I believe this growth mindset or beginner’s mindset is imperative if one ever hopes to continue to grow throughout their life.

Most recently I’ve cut my binge smoking habit this past Spring, which I had developed due to recent traumas, and I’ve let go of a lot of toxic relationships that were just wasting my energy as well.

[00:06:57] Andrew Gilley: Alright. That’s a pretty dramatic shift there. How did that whole experience end up changing your perspective?

[00:07:05] Wesley Jackson: So, with the amount of trauma that I’ve experienced throughout my life, I was ultimately confronted with this kind of sink or swim dilemma within my head.

Do I crumble beneath the pressure of all of this?

Or do I continue to try my best and move forward no matter what that looks like each day?

I realized that there was actually a third option in all of this, and that’s where I can actually teach others how to swim too.

I realized that everything that I’ve learned and integrated into myself in order to survive these traumas that I’ve experienced, it can be taught to others who are struggling as well.

And so while pain is inevitable in our lives, suffering does not necessarily have to be.

I see the key to alleviating this suffering being through integration and connection with our fellow humans on this earth.

I would say that the resulting perspective here is one of honesty, openness, and transparency.

This is what I like to call my own HOT approach to life.

It’s one that I try my best to carry into each day, no matter what that looks like.

[00:08:22] Andrew Gilley: That’s great. So let’s step back for a second. You’ve talked about your story here on your personal level, but it’s not just about that.

When we zoom out and look at society as a whole, how do you think these things connect to your personal experience, the problems we’re looking at more broadly? Why is this important to us?

[00:08:42] Wesley Jackson: So, it’s important to recognize that my experiences are not isolated. Countless other people on this earth experience trauma as well, and will continue to, but we sure as hell can do so much better than we currently are across this world in terms of creating an authentic environment of both community and connection.

This is related to the larger problems of systemic ableism and generational trauma. Invisible illnesses, whether they’re physical, mental, or emotional are demonized throughout societies today. This is due to a lack of understanding and thus, appreciation, of the struggles that people like us experience every day of our lives.

What this all leads to is an environment of denial and invalidation, not only of others, but of the self too. Living in denial of one’s own or others’ lived experiences and authentic truths will only make the suffering that we experience on this planet worse and last longer. And so at the heart of this systemic ableism much of the time is generational trauma.

If we ever hope to collectively heal this world, we must begin by first discarding these feelings of guilt, shame, and fear that we feel when it comes to expressing our authentic truths and recognizing our lived experiences for what they were. These negative emotions, feelings, and thoughts are largely handed down to us by a long, long line of parents.

We must do better for our children and our children’s children, and I know that we can. So, what this requires us to do this supposed adults of this world is to change – not the children. The more we try to make our children into something they’re not the more damage we will just do to them. Thus, this trauma will just continue into the future.

The more we continue to see them as possessions or extensions of ourselves, rather than as fellow human beings on this earth, the more we will continue to deny their agency. So, we must lead by example; and with this great power comes great responsibility.

[00:11:11] Andrew Gilley: So, if you had to sum it up, what’s the moral of this story? What can we do to become better humans, like you were saying in response to all of this?

[00:11:21] Wesley Jackson: I would say that the moral of this story is that we absolutely must find the meaning within our pain, then use this meaning to help ourselves and others too, rise back up and become agents of positive change.

The goal of all of this is to help make the world a better place for not just us, but everyone and everything that exists and will continue to exist on this earth long after we’re gone.

So, I consider this our duty to our fellow humans and life on earth. This all begins with personal development. Accept yourself, commit to this betterment of yourself, and I feel that the rest will just naturally follow.

[00:12:13] Andrew Gilley: Alright. Thank you for sharing that Wes.

[00:12:16] Wesley Jackson: Thank you for listening, but let’s hear your story now, Andrew. What do you want to share that brought you here to Surviving Humanity?

[00:12:26] Andrew Gilley: Well, I’ve been in therapy since I was 12. So I’ve been at the mental health and personal development game for a long time.

The reasons vary, but they always centered on low self-esteem, depression, and intense fear, which unfortunately also has its origins in childhood trauma for me. Like far too many children in America and in the world, I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse by an authority figure, at the elementary school I attended.

He was well liked, well respected – I was isolated, shy, weird and confused. I was a perfect victim. I didn’t understand what was happening. I blamed myself and then he moved to another country and I just never told anybody. So, this is a profound shock to a young child – it’s profoundly shaped me in more ways that I can even possibly imagine.

I’ve been in therapy since I was 12, I’m nearly 30. My therapy experience itself can almost vote, but I’m still working on it. It’s a testament to the ways in which trauma shapes one so deeply. Not even the trauma itself, too. It’s the effects afterwards that come from the surrounding environment and the response. Because I didn’t have anybody I felt I could reach out to help with, I didn’t know what was happening, and it’s not just the trauma that really shapes somebody, that’s the spark.

What happens is when you look further, the trauma is sealed in. Because the world doesn’t understand you and you don’t understand yourself anymore. So, the healing can’t really begin until any of these things happen.

And I was very much struggling with that for a long time.

[00:14:04] Wesley Jackson: So, what were you seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking when you were struggling through all of this?

[00:14:09] Andrew Gilley: Abuse causes confusion, shame, and guilt; which are all central factors in my emotional development. From a young age, I would turn the negative feelings I was feeling because I couldn’t process them in on myself. I would have episodes where I would punch myself or beat my head against a wall.

I held myself to school particularly, because I wasn’t very athletic, this is what I had. Every single school assignment needed to be perfect to me. This just came from inside myself. I didn’t have pressure from parents, like a lot of other people did.

I felt this would make up for something somehow. I would build up a little bit of self-esteem, but it only ever lasted as long as I was doing perfectly and then it all just came crashing back down again. I just turned all of this anger and shame on myself and really could not find my way back out because I couldn’t see beyond what I saw as my own failure and my own problems.

[00:15:08] Wesley Jackson: So, how did you find a way through all of this anger and shame you were feeling and these problems you mentioned?

[00:15:14] Andrew Gilley: As soon as I became a teenager, I threw myself into a search for meaning I was trying to find something in myself to center on and I was looking pretty much anywhere to do it. I didn’t feel like a whole person. I felt like a puppet – playing different roles to meet the expectations of different people around me and none of this ever really worked.

I just got more and more depressed. My mental health continued to deteriorate. As I got into my teenage years, I went on antidepressant medication, which sort of helped, but not really. It just kind of kept me going. I turned to other sources, drugs and alcohol. It felt like I had no way out. It was a very dark time. When I got to college, I tried doing this again, basically, and I threw myself into philosophy.

I wanted to discover myself and understand myself. I know a lot of friends who went into philosophy for this reason, which it doesn’t actually help that much. At least it didn’t initially for me, but it exposed me to entirely new ways to think. And this exposure made me realize that I thought differently than a lot of other people, for a lot of reasons, but a lot of it has to do with the trauma here.

It made me realize how dramatically that had shifted my perspective, but the exploration of philosophy made me realize that other people have these perspectives too. This was helpful for me and I loved and still love philosophy, but my attempt to pursue it as an academic career did not really pan out.

When I was in grad school, a lot of those same feelings came back the same feelings of perfection and trying to overcome what I saw as a failure in myself and all these self-destructive tendencies just came roaring back. I got more depressed than ever before, and I really hadn’t ever dealt with any of this stuff.

I just kept pushing it away, trying to deal with it later and later. So, eventually I didn’t end up continuing my academic career and pursuing a PhD. I shifted my focus to studying a lot of other things, which we’ll talk about on the show.

I got through this not by trying to force myself through a new perspective, but by discussing these perspectives with other people about traumas we’d experience, just connecting to people online, who I would’ve never been able to meet in a million years before this time we live in. It made me realize that keeping my head down and suffering in silence wasn’t doing anybody any good, not me or anyone else that I could help.

[00:17:42] Wesley Jackson: That’s so true. You mentioned about how this changed your perspective. What exactly did that look like? How did this whole experience, this journey of yours, change your perspective in the end?

[00:17:53] Andrew Gilley: Trauma was an interesting beast for me. It’s an interesting beast for everybody. It always really feeds into aspects of your personality because when you hear somebody described as a narcissist, they’re usually very self-important. They think they’re the best person in the world, the most important.

I sort of thought that too, just from the opposite angle, because I thought everything I did mattered so much that my failures had a really dramatic moral character to them. Like if I upset a friend, it literally felt like the end of the world, emotionally speaking.

So it took me a long time to break out of this because if you’re feeling this self important, even if it’s in a negative way, it stops you from having an honest connection, because you’re just thinking about yourself, even if it’s coming from a good place, and you’re trying to be kind and helpful to the other person, you’re still too self-centered.

So when I stopped doing that, and I started really trying to be present and listening to other people, that’s when my thinking really started shifting around communities. Because where we grew up, America in general, is a very individualistic society and a lot of things are emphasized about personal achievement and these things have their place, but it was really the connections I was forming that made me realize that this is the thing we’re missing.

And I started pulling from all these different areas of my life. I talked about how I was wearing masks before, but when I was able to recontextualize that as stepping into different roles and looking at the ways in which my self was connected to all of these things, my real self, then I started sharing more and more of myself with the people I cared about and the people around me.

And I’m still working on that. Integration is difficult. Authenticity. Vulnerability. These are difficult things. It’s not one day you wake up and suddenly you can express yourself authentically – it’s work, but I’m doing it.

I’ve committed to it and I’m still doing it. I never would’ve done that before. And what I really credit to this and what really shifted my perspective was the philosophy surrounding community and the ways in which community forms an integral role in our social relations and all of our relations and the ways in which that links back to the self.

It’s not an isolated self entering into a separate community. These things are interconnected.

[00:20:15] Wesley Jackson: You mentioned how these things are interconnected. So, how do you think your story then is related to these larger problems that you’ve mentioned throughout society and why do you think this is important?

[00:20:27] Andrew Gilley: Like you said, unfortunately, my story isn’t that uncommon.

But my story isn’t about the specific events that happened, it’s about the emotions that underpin them and the struggle to overcome them and survive. These things are universal. Everybody’s got their past struggles. It doesn’t have to be something so dramatic and shocking as child abuse. It could be the slow wearing down of having to see racism every day or getting discriminated against at work as a woman or anything like this.

These are all traumatic things. These are things that deny us and deny us community. And the world is too fast to slow down. Because you could scroll off Twitter and fire off five abusive messages to make yourself feel a little bit better before you go to your terrible job and get screamed at your boss for no money.

We’re too burnt out to be empathetic all the time. It’s an unreasonable expectation when our lives are so difficult. We’re bombarded by stimulus. We’re trapped in a slot machine called Facebook or Twitter, and our personal interactions get commodified into social media templates. That’s not good for us. It’s a fake connection.

It’s a superficial one. It’s a replacement of actual human connection – mediated through gambling – essentially a dopamine slot machine. That’s not a good replacement for authenticity, empathy, and community. We need to get beyond those trappings and really reach out to one another.

[00:21:51] Wesley Jackson: Yeah, reaching out to one another. It’s really important. So, what would you say then is the moral of this story of yours and what can we do to become better humans in response to all of this?

[00:22:06] Andrew Gilley: First, I’ll just say, if anything like this, like the traumas we described today have happened to you, I’m sorry.

You didn’t deserve it. None of us did. But it’s not only what your struggle is that we could connect over. It’s the anxiety, the loneliness, the depression. When we connect to that, we also connect with our experiences, our individualities and our uniqueness. I have healed the most in conversations with other people.

It doesn’t have to be a dramatic heart to heart. Sometimes it’s a casual sitting around or just sitting in silence with somebody you know that understands that pain. We’re all unique in our bodies and minds, but that’s the uniqueness that we have to connect to. We are all unique, but it’s in this way, we can learn from each other and learn what our connections are too.

It’s in this way that we’re all beautiful. We all have things inside of us that are worth giving to each other. It’s my hope that people slow down and be kinder to themselves, because it’s very hard living right now and be kind to yourself for living in troublesome times. Be more empathetic to one another when you can be.

I know it’s not easy and it’s not gonna be perfect every day because it’s hard. But, when we do all of this, when we start connecting with each other, when we start building communities, ourselves, outside of what we’re being told, when we start generating power in ourselves and among ourselves, that’s when I think things truly have a chance to change.

[00:23:35] Wesley Jackson: Wow. That’s very powerful. Thank you for sharing all of this, Andrew, and thank you to everyone for listening.

Our next four episodes will highlight unethical advertising, beginning with a personal account from my own experiences as a professional digital marketer for the past six years.

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