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Am I Incompatible With Unconditional Love?

6 min read

a black and white watercolor self-portrait

When we think of our pets, we think of unconditional love. Your cat doesn't care if you cut that person off in traffic yesterday. Your dog isn't concerned with your employment, and your rabbit doesn't think you're a monster because you haven't talked to your mother in a week. I've written about my dog on an occasion, or two. I think she's been therapeutic, allowing me to observe things about myself. Today, I noticed just how much I dislike myself. I cannot love who I am and seeing that hurts incredibly.

Our reality is the one we make for ourselves. Recently, I heard some advice that went something like, "We see people how we want to see them, not how they want us to see them." If you see a quality in someone else that you wish you had. Perhaps you begin to feel bad because you're not more like that person. Guess what? You have that quality inside you. This message was one of hope when I heard it. (I suppose it still is.) Reality is our perception and if we want to see our pets as loving us unconditionally, that's what we see.

Truth is, we don't know what other animals are thinking. We can only speculate. Is your cat "kissing" you because she loves you, or is she licking you because you're dirty? Is your hamster curling into your lap in a loving embrace, or simply for warmth? We perceive what we want.

Self-disgust

Coco sat on the couch looking at me with an anxious excitement after I said the magic word, "walk." I was feeling low and asked if I could just cuddle her first. Immediately, I decided she was frustrated. After all, I had said the magic word, but now I'm smothering her. Note the word choice there, "smothering." As I hugged Coco, I thought of the burden I was. I'm not walking her. I am not hugging her, but smothering the little dog. Plus, I should have walked her sooner.

I had turned the unconditional love from my pet into something toxic. I had projected onto her serveral of my fears. I had decided Coco did not love me, because how could she? I sat up. For her part, Coco reached her paw up and asked gently if I would continue to pet her chest. A new reality was just created and I cried when I saw it.

I had projected my own flavor of self-disgust onto Coco. She was in the moment, no longer anxious for a walk, but lowering her eyes in quiet satisfaction as she got her chest pet. I started to cry because I felt so sad for myself. I dislike myself so much that I won't allow the unconditional love from a pet to enter my reality. I cried briefly because I was sad. Then, I continued because I was frustrated. I had once again engaged the self-loathing that I am so familiar with, to feel angry. I will never get better. What is wrong with me? Isolation and punishment feels like my reality.

What Is Love?

In the musing above on the unconditional love from pets, I don't really define what love is. The hamster seeking warmth in your lap may be biological or practical, but who is to say that is not love? Wanting a hug and to be held can be emotionally motivated, but we also do it for warmth. And, when we seek warmth in the form of a hug, we rarely ask from those that we do not trust. They say trust is earned. They say trust takes time. If love requires trust, then it also takes time.

Honestly, I'm struggling here to define love for fear of how it will affect those close to me. You know who I am closest too? Myself. I suppose that's the real fear. It's so much easier to write about the events leading to this post, than it is to allow those feelings inside again. It hurt like hell to look into the eyes of this tiny creature with no agenda and realize just how deep my self-hatred goes. To project my disappointment in me onto an animal that we can never truly know the thoughts of makes me feel sick. Why can't you love who you are, Chris?

Perception and Reality

"We see people how we want to see them, not how they want us to see them."

It sound so selfish, but it is no less true. When emotions are involved we disregard rational thought. When someone states a fact about a family member it can seem like an attack. When we look at Brexit or the Trump rise to power we can clearly see the arguments are completely emotional and devoid of facts. So, I see Trump as a scared, insecure man-boy motivated by greed while my uncle sees him as the best leader in the world. My past experience and present mental health and emotions are wrapped up in my opinion, as are my uncle's. We see people how we want to see them.

The statement I heard in an interview continued to state that if I can see those things within another person, they are present in me. I am insecure and have been motivated by greed. I am human. No, I was thinking about Coco again. How I saw her switch from anxious excitement for a walk to completely soothed and relaxed as I pet her. She was loving me for it. Perhaps, I have that within me somewhere. Maybe I am sick, but I see her love for me in this reality. I may have the potential to love me as well.

What are the steps to stop myself from feeling shame and self-loathing? I can't name those just as I cannot write a handy how-to article titled, "How To Fall In Love." Emotions are difficult to describe because they are constantly changing. We try our best to label them in order to better communicate with each other, but many cultures have a number of emotions you have never heard of. In fact, emotions that we often think of as bad, were once thought of as good. This short TED Talk covers both these points quite well. I don't know how to find love for myself at the moment. Yet, moments from now, I may not even have to look for it. Emotions travel at the speed of light. Perhaps, I don't need to go along for every ride. I see myself as I want to see me.

Never Enough and Getting Unstuck with Taryn Arnold

4 min read

a drawn pie graph with 8 sections about one's life

Questioning self-worth is a vibrant message in our culture today. Marketing tells us we have to go to this school, buy this phone, own that house, eat those foods, and wear trend styles or we aren't enough. So, it is easy to see how I could think that I'm not enough. I'm not putting blame on advertising, but simply illustrating one of the many reasons why it feels so natural to think I'm a terrible son, brother, friend, husband, and podcaster.

I met Taryn Arnold via Patreon Hangouts at a time when the site was just starting and Paul and I were exploring Patreon as an idea for our podcast. Pursuing those deep-seated feelings of not being enough, I was trying to drive our podcast into "bigger," and "better" things. I was after outside validation because I wasn't giving myself any. The problem with reaching for the sky was the fear of rejection. After all, I don't think highly of myself or what I do, so why would any "big" guest consider doing a podcast I was involved in? The definition of "big, bigger," and "better" in this paragraph is just about anyone and anything that I saw as above me. That is, everything.

Going after new guests was terrifying for me. There was the expectation that I had to do it to feel successful and get that outside validation from listeners and the fear of rejection. I was quite taken aback when Taryn agreed to be on our podcast. (We recorded for 2 hours and made Taryn Down Apple and Ceremonial Ace of Base which was a ton of fun.) As we discussed Patreon Taryn went to our page and became our first patron ever.

Today, I can see the whole thing as a positive experience, but at the time I assumed it was a fluke, or I got lucky. That never enough feeling was a part of my core beliefs about myself. To be honest, it's still there and I spend a great deal of time trying to correct it. My mental health is why I took a break from doing the podcast. I wanted to find myself in a space where I could enjoy doing the show for myself again. I didn't want to pursue download numbers, 'top podcast lists," and "big" guests.

Speaking of podcasts, Taryn has started on mental health. Stuck with Taryn Arnold is about getting unstuck in life. It's a personal journey for Taryn that she's sharing with listeners. The second episode is about finding those areas in life where we're struggling. My squiggly wheel above is an exercise I did with Taryn as I listened.

I'm very happy to join Taryn on this adventure. This has also put her on my growing list of potential guests for my new podcast on mental health. I've been working on this for a while as I try to fight off those familiar demons of not enough, download numbers, etc. "Fight" is the wrong word. I'm trying to recognize where those feelings come from and show compassion for myself. Anyway, I hope create a new documentary style show that will be part therapy for me and hopefully helpful for others. I've been talking about this project for over a year. In that time I have the beginnings of a forum created for a community, a network provider lined up for the show, and a swank new logo created by the talented artist of Be This.

I'm going to be putting the finishing touches on the forum in the coming weeks and offer some invites to friends before I launch the podcast. At the same time, I'll continue making Morning Mantras. Please stay tuned, my friends. Also, please check out Stuck with Taryn Arnold.

Patterns, Paths, and Pain

6 min read

Two paths, a sunny one and a dark, small one. Watercolor painting

I wanted some help with a project and I called on my friend German from The Modern Manhood Podcast. It was really great to bounce ideas off of him and he helped me focus on what was important. We had an enjoyable conversation over drinks and dinner and parted ways. Then, I was alone with my thoughts. The joy of the evening faded away.

I am a burden. I am pathetic. I am stupid. Obviously, I wasted German's time. He must think I'm an idiot. I imagine he's going home to tell his partner what a loser I am.

Walking home from the pub, I couldn't shake those thoughts. Despite the fact that we openly talked insecurities and mental health, my inner critic was carrying me away with anger, pain, and sadness after I left. These feelings are not based in reality, there's no evidence that German thinks any of these things.Yet, this is my perception when I look back on the evening. I am not alone, of course. We all look back at events with a cloud of apprehension or nostalgia. Dwelling in either area can be dangerous when depression is in the equation.

 

Introspection and Chocolate

There can't be such a thing as too much chocolate, right? Some, especially those who aren't into chocolate, may believe there is a limit. I wonder the same about examining my own thoughts and feelings. Is there such a thing as too much introspection? As someone who takes forever to make a decision, I can see the argument against examining one's self "too much." No matter how much I think about me, I still have to make the doughnuts, I have to go about my day and take care of my responsibilities. Whether German likes me as a person or not, the laundry needs to get done, food needs to be put on the table, and chocolate needs to be eaten. I believe this is stoicism, but that book is still on my reading list. Regardless of what I think, there's work to be done, so why bother being introspective?

On the flip side, chocolate is damn delicious. Some people use pumpkin pie as an excuse to eat an entire tub of whip cream. If you leave me alone with a pan of chocolate brownies, I hope you don't want the pan back because I'm liable to eat it as well. Being introspective is learning who I am. There are layers when I think about thinking. It can seem unnecessary from the surface level. The thoughts above about being a pathetic loser, for example, bring pain to me. Best to leave that alone, right? That's not going to get the housework done. Anyway... Yet, the next layer below is asking the question not of German, but of me. Why do I think I'm a loser? In my warped mind, if I ask German, he will never admit he doesn't like me. He'll want to spare my feelings, people are rarely honest, and so on. In other words, I'm going to believe what I want to believe. Time to ask why.

Instead of avoiding the pain, I have to go into it. Why do I think I'm a loser? The immediate response is, "just stop thinking this." Do I need to rehash some ancient memory to move forward? I think understanding it can take the power away from my self-critic. No matter how much money a man has, you're not going to take investment advice from him if he says he bought Bitcoin because he only invests in things that start with the letter "b." What if a teacher told 7 year old me that I was the worst student she ever had in class on Tuesday, and in the following evening during parent-teacher conferences I heard her say I was one of her favorites? That may have created some trust issues. I can't very well base my worth on what a 7 year old with one bad experience thinks. So, understanding the past is a good thing.

 

The Mean Streets of the Brain

The 7 year old is not alone, unfortunately. Using his lens, I've grabbed other experiences through the years to reinforce this idea of mistrust. I must be terrible because +add negative events here. It's like letting the tobacco or sugar industry study the affects of their products. "The things we make are great! Keep buying! There's no problem here."

Things are literally reinforced in the brain. The favorite phrase that I've read over and over is "neurons that fire together, wire together." When two brain cells make a connection, or wire together, they fire information through the wire. If they do this over and over, you brain builds a highway here. "Ouch! I burned myself on the stove again." The brain cells need better communication between the idea of a stove and hot, let's remove the traffic lights and put in an 8 lane superhighway here.

Now, over the years I alone have perceived that I am not enough. I feel that I am a loser. Those two brain cells, the loser label and the Chris, are affixed together with the neural pathway equivalent of the Autobahn. Through my recent groups, therapy, friends, family, and introspection, I've been trying to connect Chris to the decent and lovable brain cells. At the moment it is only a rough two-track. Actually, it feels more like a Rock Crawling course.

So, it's no surprise that my older pattern of self-disgust kicked in after chatting with my friend German. It is frustrating that I am able to recognize the pattern, but still get dragged down by it. At least I'm noticing it, right? First step and all? At times I can see this, yes. However, seeing through the fog of depression can be difficult. The psychiatrist explained something to me once about emotional pain, it has no sense of time. The part of the brain that deals in emotions is not at all connected to the part that perceives time. When you think about the loss of a loved one, it affects you even if it happened years ago. Those feelings that I'm somehow less are painful, true or not. Time to dig into another layer perhaps. Meanwhile, construction continues on reinforcing the new neural pathway between Chris and compassion.

 

Finding Shame in the Simple Act of Fixing a Laptop

5 min read

An image of 2 identical Macbook laptops

I took this picture wondering how this even happened. How did I end up with identical 8 year old laptops? Like many things in my life recently, the answer is somewhat complex and related to mental health.

First, I offered to adopt the second laptop because it was not functioning. I wanted the challenge of seeing if I could breath life back into the device. When you work at a retail store, your first job is sales not repair. So, when the original owner was told "We cannot promise that a fresh install will work, but you'll lose everything,"  I was somewhat alarmed. These things are not cheap, Mr. Apple Store "genius." Why not try? I wasn't part of this original conversation, so I have no idea if the "genius" offered to backup the data before the fresh install (which is completely possible on Macs with their Target Disk Mode). Yet, this is a 7+ year old device. I've added a new battery, more memory, and a solid-state drive to my personal laptop that is 6+ months older, and I am frequently frustrated by its sluggishness. Thus, I can understand why one would choose to buy a new laptop instead of fixing this one. Of course, it's a matter of cost which brings me to the more complex answer to "how did I end up with a second 8 year old laptop?"

One of my deepest wounds is about my worth. I place a tremendous amount of value on productivity, salary, and how others see me. It's impossible to love and approve of one's self when you are constantly comparing yourself to those around you. There's always someone smarter, braver, bigger, stronger, faster, etc. I can never measure up. I used to make this joke at the expense of my mother's parents, "If I was President, my grandparents would say, 'It's not a very well paying job. You can do better.'" When my mother was in a deep depression, she couldn't get out of bed. For me, it's always been unemployment. How can I ever live up to the expectations I've made for myself? Impossible.

Even now, as I write this, the self critic in me feels that I've been unemployed more in my life than employed. Thoughts that I'm a loser for typing this to the world are loud and frankly hurtful. The reality of those emotions flooding in had me step away from writing this post, briefly.

Being unemployed for long periods of time, and my childhood have created some unfortunate financial habits. As such, I jumped at the possibility of being gifted 7+ year old laptop. My mother helped me realize that we rarely invested money, or saved for vacations while I was growing up because of my dad's health. Dealing with all the complications of Myasthenia Gravis didn't leave us with a lot of money. Nor was there the security of believing that it was a possibility to take a trip to Hawaii in the following year. And so, we didn't look to the future. This infected me with the "I could walk out the door and get hit by a bus" virus. This bug makes me and others see money differently.

My self critic enjoys not being financially stable or employed because it gives him life and meaning. When I see a shiny new phone, laptop, or something else I cannot afford, it is fuel for shame. Therefore, in shame I jumped at the opportunity to get an identical laptop because I don't deserve a new one. I can't afford a new one, because I am not earning enough, because I'll never earn enough.

It's getting easier to see these damaging thought patterns in my life. However, it often happens after the fact, when I can take a step back and see what transpired. Then, my demon returns to tell me, "So much for getting better. You screwed up again." At this point, compassion is useful. A compassionate friend reading this may note that it's great that I can finally recognize the pattern. That's a first step. That same friend might also feel like giving me a hug. This is a role I can take, accepting myself as I am now and giving myself compassion. It's something I have been successful at, but it is not easy. I hope in time this will become a new pattern.

In the meantime, what am I doing with this second laptop, really? Do I donate it somewhere? Perhaps, I offer it back to its original owner, or sell it and give the money to her? There's silly projects I can do with another computer, but I'd rather have a little Raspberry Pi that consumes less energy. I realize this dilemma is one of privilege, but I'm grateful to have another chance at recognizing my self-worth issue.

Much <3