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Old Dogs and Patterns of Behavior

5 min read

A sketch of my dog Coco

Those poop baggies are infuriating to open, that’s why I missed the car crash. Coco did her thing about 9–10 meters away from the corner where a small black sedan went head-on into a lamp post. That was a number of weeks ago and our rescue doggo is finally starting to enjoy walks again.

I was working hard to see Coco as my inspiration, if she can set aside her fear and anxiety so can I. After the witnessed accident, however, she reverted back into the darkness of fear. Coco ran with reckless abandonment seconds after the crash. I reeled her in and tried to pick her up to offer comfort, but she scratched and writhed to simply get away from the area. So, I ran with her for about 4 blocks. We ended up in a small park that offers some shelter from the city around it. Tail between her legs and jumping at every single noise, other dogs wouldn’t even excite her.

The next week was a real challenge. In fact, we drove Coco to an off leash park away from the city to get her some exercise because she wanted nothing to do with walks any more. Coco didn’t want to accept reality, like me. Once again, I found myself looking into a mirror. Coco had fallen into the old pattern of fear that kept her using pee pads on the balcony. She was not interested in adventuring outside and smelling all the amazing refuse people just leave on the sidewalk.

Fear of failure, fear of not being enough keeps me from being social, working, living life, and yes, peeing outdoors. This pattern of mine is one that has been imprinted on me for many, many years. Like Coco, it is easy to fall back into this destructive thought pattern. I can also bounce back like she can. I try to measure my mental health in moments. There are no good days or bad days, just moments. Right now, I’m here writing this and it feels like a hopeful and decent moment. I might stand up in twenty minutes and see the sink full of dirty dishes and fall into intense shame. Maybe thinking of my life in moments helps me cope a bit easier.

The reality that every moment wasn’t going to be “happy” for me had been easy to live in when I simply expected the worse. Accepting that I will find moments of happiness is very new to me. Of course reality is not fair. For example, I felt Coco needed to accept that we live in the city and accidents may happen. We had to get her back to walks around the city without fear. She’ll learn. She did it before. Can I do this for myself?

In week two after the trauma of witnessing the accident, Coco had her nose down on the sidewalk and her eyes on any car that was moving. The tail was not expressive, but not firmly tucked away either. Other dogs we ran into were a pleasant reprieve from the loud buses and the overcompensating noise from motorcycles. Once again, Coco was transforming. She was breaking her pattern of fear, slowly, at her pace.

In the third week, the tail waved like a stubborn flag in a tornado. Loud vehicles were scary, but there were interesting things to smell, and sidewalks we had not yet traveled. I remain envious of her growth. Sometimes I can see that I have made progress as well. Those are good moments. I have much work to do, as does Coco.

Our rescue doggo needs more leash training. Though, her obsessive little nose has taught me a lesson. “Stop and smell the roses,” they say. Coco is living in the now when her nose is to the ground. She’s not worried about being abandoned, car accidents, or what I want. This is a valuable lesson in mindfulness for me.

With my psychiatrist, we occasionally explore the past. How did I become full of anxiety and lose my sense of self worth? There’s a difference between exploring the past and living there. Often, when we examine our past we get caught up in it. The stories of our hurt, pain, failure, etc. feed themselves. We stop observing and leave the now.

The real issue with leaving the now is our desire for things to be different. Our minds spend a great deal of energy wishing things had not happened in the past. Or, we wish for an unrealistic future, “I wish tomorrow Coco would behave on the leash.” Both of these things are impossible to accomplish in this moment, right now. Accepting the past and the unpredictability of the future would appear to be key for me.

Unfortunately, finding acceptance is a process. For me, there’s a fine line between acceptance and ignorance. “Can’t change the past, so why worry about it?” Well, that sentence may be avoidance of those locked away emotions and not forgiveness and acceptance. Avoiding those feelings has a lot to do with how I got here.

So, my journey continues. I find it strange that I pick up organic dog poop in a plastic bag that will preserve it for a million years. Of course, I’ve been repressing emotions and ignoring the hurtful patterns of my past for my entire life. At some point we all have to deal with some shit.

I hope to see you in the now.

Much💜

Anxious Dogs

7 min read

Coco the dog

She arrived at the Canadian rescue in November of 2017. The only history available for “Petunia” is the official documentation that got her across the US/CAN border. She was spayed, received a rabies shot and a microchip in the states prior to crossing the border. Petunia was also given meds to treat a cough and prevent heartworm.

The rescue organization saves dogs from shelters that euthanize, breeders, or simple surrenders from owners. Small dogs may be at a particular risk in the last 10 years or so because people like Paris Hilton who use the animals as accessories. Harsh judgements like that aside, every pet deserves a loving life even if it means uprooting them from thousands of miles away. The philosophy of the rescue that saved “Petunia” is that they can help more dogs find a “furever home” (this pun is used by all rescues, I swear) by using a kennel facility. Instead of finding foster homes until such time the dogs can be adopted, this rescue takes care of the animals at their location as best they can, while a call is put out for a new family.

“Petunia” has now traveled many miles, being abandoned at a kill shelter, to being poked, medicated and brought somewhere entirely new. When I meet her in February, she’s shaken and wary. “Petunia” seems to have bonded with one of her caregivers in 3 months and now she’s about to be removed from that relationship as well. She’s full of anxiety, afraid to be touched and her tail is so firmly tucked behind, and under, that you could mistake her for a boy dog. Things don’t get better at our new “furever home,” located downtown instead of the country like the rescue where she could run about if she chose. This tiny ball of anxiety has been abandoned and confused for so long that it is her natural state.

What If?

That’s the question anxiety is constantly trying to prepare us for. I am perpetually worried about everything. How poorly will you judge me for ending the sentence before with a preposition? Will people think I’m weak for sharing this? Does anyone really care, or are they showing me pity? Did I look like an idiot at the grocery store today? Does my sister hate me for not calling her recently? Maybe she'd rather I didn't call?  My old friends must think I’m a loser for breaking down, right?

The first week with “Petunia,” who we renamed Coco, was very challenging. My fears of not being accepted and Coco’s fear of abandonment clashed. It felt like she didn’t want to connect for fear of losing us. Meanwhile, my mind was wanting that unconditional love from a pet. My insecurity barked at me as Coco started to bond with my spouse in the second week. Rationally, I was telling myself that having her as a somewhat distant roommate for the next few years was better than her being euthanized. Emotionally, I was crushed. All my “what ifs” that played out were validated. My negative self image isn't my illness, it is the truth.

At the same time, I was fascinated how similar I was to Coco. The psychiatrist has asked me if I think I have abandonment issues because of my need to be validated by others. The desire to get my self-worth from those around me is driven by fear. Coco was afraid to be left alone in that first week, but also afraid to get close to us. For me new people, new friends, are more humans I will fail. This is where Coco and I differ. She’s all, “I’m not getting close to you because you’ll probably leave me.” In contrast, I believe that I will fail you and lose you, so why try?

Old Dogs

Talking to people about our rescue, Coco, I got lots of advice. “Give her some time, she’ll come around.” One person with a dog of a similar breed commented that her dog was now 9 years old and still timid. She continued to mention that her dog prefers women to men. It’s not just me. However, that doesn’t fit the negative narrative that depression wants to keep replaying, “there is something wrong with me.”

As Coco does start to warm to me by the end of a month, my story has to change. How can I keep depression’s motto alive in my head, “there’s something wrong with me?” Well, one month and Coco has come around and is no longer afraid of me. It’s almost been an entire year of groups, therapy, and classes to work on my mental health. Something must be wrong with me if Coco can beat much of her anxiety in only a month.

Why can’t I learn this new trick? Am I too old? Coco is still suspicious of strangers, but one could argue that’s a healthy fear. It can protect her in a cagey situation. What is my fear trying to protect me from? The obvious answer is pain and hurt. Coco was afraid of the same thing in the first week. Yet, she didn’t turn it on herself, as I did. My concern about failing others is a way to prevent myself from getting close in the first place. It is self sabotage.

Training

On good days, I can see how far Coco has come in a month and be inspired. Potty trained outside, being brave in a big city on walks, letting me pick her up, learning her name, and getting used to our schedule are just a few of the things she has accomplished in such little time. Anxiety comes to her face a lot, but she’s persevering. Every change she’s accepted has been due to practice. That’s what training is, essentially.

For me, practice and routine are difficult. The negative voice interrupts me, “The dog got better in a month, what’s your problem?” I fall into that loop of self-loathing. Change takes time and practice, but perhaps I keep trying new things instead of sticking to one? That was me being hard on myself again. I have stuck with some strategies that work, but impatience can easily tempt me back toward the negative self-talk. It’s another fear. I’m scared that no matter what I do, I’ll never be able to love myself. I think I’m supposed to sit and stay with that emotion, but it will take some training.

Meanwhile, Coco has decided the entire sectional couch is hers. She loves walks, belly rubs, and Piña Coladas. Just kidding, no alcohol for the pooch. Coco’s tail is rarely hidden from view these days, unless it disappears in a wagging blur when my spouse comes home. Her ears seem to be always alert, even when she looks like she’s napping. That anxiety of me possibly abandoning her to go to a psychiatrist appointment, or my partner leaving for work, keeps her attentive. Though, overall she’s made some impressive leaps in behavior. With Coco’s influence and example, I hope that I too can overcome my fears.

Smile: Fake It Until You Make It

5 min read

I’ve received this ol’ chestnut of advice from many people, complete strangers to therapists. Personally, I’ve found it not all that useful, but we really need to break the popular phrase down to understand if it can work for us.

Making It

So let’s look at the end goal first. What does “make it” mean to us? This will be different for everyone, but we rarely take the time to examine our feelings. When a therapist used the phrase she was specifically talking about my mental state. When depression and anxiety are running the Chris Show, my goal is to take over as director. My personal goal is to be “normal.” What is “normal?” This is not a specific goal. Well, after a number of groups, psychiatry appointments, and self-help books I understand that I am normal. Humans are imperfect.

Okay, what if my goal is to not be carried away by depression and anxiety?Again, this isn’t really specific. Perhaps “make it” is finding balance? Do you see my issue here? “Fake it until you make it” didn’t work for me because I have too many unanswered questions. I cannot clearly define what making it would be when it comes to my mental health.

Faking It With A Smile

The first part of the phrase, “fake it,” was useless as well. I knew I was a sham. The language is poorly chosen in my case, my negative core beliefs attach to it which makes the exercise have the opposite effect. There’s a number of studies that have scientifically proven that a smile can alter our brain chemistry and moods. I also find smiles from other people can be contagious as well. Yet, I wasn’t receiving these benefits because I wasn’t smiling.

I spent a day smiling every time I felt insecure, I felt anxiety, or had negative thoughts. By the end of the day, I was in physical pain. I had a headache too. After trying this out in the morning, I think my forgiving, positive smile turned into a grimace. The smile wasn’t genuine and I paid for that.

Smiles do work when you mean them. If not, well you look scarier than a purple blob trying to sell your kids burgers.

Amok

Why do folks run amok with this gem of a phrase if it doesn’t work? It seems like bad advice from my personal perspective, at least when it comes to mental health. Can you fake a new job until you figure it out? Perhaps, yes. (Of course, as someone with anxiety, I feel certain that faking it would backfire on me.) Certainly, there must be some traction for this phrase to have made it this far into our language.

William James was a Victorian philosopher and American psychologist who believed that actions guide our emotions, not the other way around. In other words, if you want to be happy, laugh. This “act as if” principle, as it is sometimes called, has been popular for many years. Psychologists and motivational speakers are all about this idea. However, as I shared my personal experiment above, we must clearly define what it is that we are trying to achieve. I’d argue that if you can figure out your specific goal, you won’t be faking it at all. For example, the theory of acting as if says if an introvert wants to be more social they should imagine the behavior of a friend who is extroverted and mimic them. If the introvert does this a few times successfully, they’re no longer faking it. Fear prevents us from trying things we are uncomfortable with, but when we succeed the fear quickly loses power over us.

The challenge isn’t in faking it, or making it. Sitting down to examine yourself, to feel and sit with those thoughts and emotions about what you believe you are lacking is the hard part. To observe those difficult emotions as they run amok in my body without getting caught up in the story of why I feel insecure or the narrative of what “could” happen seems to be a better skill than faking it.

By the way, the word amok, or amuck, was used in the days of opium dens. It comes from the the Malay word “amoq,” meaning “a state of murderous frenzy.” Europeans who got high on opium and ran into the street killing people with a squiggly looking dagger were said to have run amok. That dagger is called a kris. There you go, I’ve killed my dreams, and yours, of “faking it until you make it.” What a coincidence, my name is Chris. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some soul searching to do.

 

The Suicide I've Already Committed

8 min read

Victims of violence live in dread and despair, fearing the event(s) could occur again. Depending on the trauma and the individual, I imagine the process of letting go of the fear, to not have to look over your shoulder and be on high alert, takes time. Yet, how does one process a fear that is completely self-imagined?

From the moment I wake up, I am in fear. I get out of bed at a decent time so that no one will think I am a loser. I workout in my building’s small gym because I am afraid my appearance will be mocked by others. I don’t go to the YMCA or another gym with lots of people because I am distressed by the thought that someone may see me working out wrong. After my shower, I take an inventory of the people I may see on the day, from the cashier at the grocery store to friends and family. What did I wear last time I saw these people? I can’t put the same shirt on today, they may think I’m unclean, or worse.

Looking at the email and messages in the morning continues to deliver horror. All of us have internet connected devices in our pockets. What if you sent me a message and I didn’t respond right away? You’ll think I’m ignoring you! Worse, how should I respond? If I say the wrong thing, you may not like me. Speaking of messages, I better send my spouse a nice text before lunch or she could possibly leave me.

Continuing the unhealthy diet of fear, I have to work now. Unfortunately, my effort will not be good enough for my clients. Today, will probably be the day that they let me go. If only I worked faster. If only I was smarter. If I was more charismatic, maybe I’d be better at my job. By lunch, I’m exhausted. The fear of not being accepted for who I am has drained me. My facade crumbles and I run to junk food. That is, as long as no one is around to see me indulge.

Powered by carbs and sugar, I can now get back to worrying that the world hates me. Of course they do. I’ve just eaten a whole bag of chips or pint of ice cream for lunch, like a sad character in a movie. Why would anyone like me? Damn. A message comes through complimenting some work I did. I tremble a bit, uncomfortable. Thankfully, the fear reminds me that the message is a fluke. I got lucky. It was an easy assignment. Great, this client will now expect more of me henceforth. When they learn the truth about me, it will be an incredibly epic failure.

My spouse messages me asking me how I am doing. Since I’ve shared how fragile I am with her, she’s checking in on me. I’m uneasy and scared that it is simply pity. Why would she love someone like this? The thought is distracting and I’m fulfilling the earlier, fear inspired prophecy that I won’t get enough work done today. Another reason for her to leave me, I reflect still consumed by fear.

Perhaps, I better go to the grocery store and buy something she loves for dinner. Who am I kidding? She eats what I make because it is easier than cooking for herself. Surely, I’m not good at baking or cooking. As you can see, at this point in the day the fear is near paralyzing. Everyone at the grocery store is looking my way, judging me. Is my hair messed up? Could I be holding the basket awkwardly? Are my reusable grocery bags old and ugly? No, they recognize that I’m worthless. I must be in this person’s way. I’m in everybody’s way. The cashier silently considers my purchases which are disgusting and pathetic, since I’m restocking on junk food for tomorrow.

Dinner isn’t done soon enough. I spent too much time worrying about what to make and got to the store late. My partner wants me to tell her about my day, but we both know that I don’t work hard enough so there can’t be much to talk about. I take my medication and eat the food, all of which she provides. My job doesn’t pay enough, fear reminds me. She offers to do the dishes, but I’m feeling so guilty because I’m a failure that I keep trying to help. I want to prove value somehow, but inside I’ll never believe I’m useful.

Like so many other couples, we decompress from the day with some TV. While it is a chance to lose myself and the fear in a fictional world, I must choose something she will like. Otherwise, she’ll realize that we’re too different to stay together as a couple. She’ll believe we have nothing in common and choose to leave. I’m horrified that the one person who has accepted me will finally discern that she made a mistake.

While we get ready for bed, she tells me how much she likes the show we watched. I understand that she knows I am scared. Therefore, fear tells me that she is overcompensating with the comments about the TV show. I don’t have long before she comes to her senses and comprehends this is no way to live.

Life

The one thing that the fear has right is that this is no way to live. Avoiding the world around me to protect myself from being judged, from expectations, from not being accepted is slowly killing me. Unlocking this fear of acceptance seems to be key to getting a life for me. At the moment, I knock on the door and get the angry rebuttal of a teenager. Emotions of anger, fear, sadness and shame rumble through the gap like a subway train as I peek through the door. When a train thunders through a doorway, instincts take over. As we know from above, my instinct is fear. So, I close the door.

The only person who can open this door is me, but at this time I cannot. What’s next? Well, I don’t have to do this alone. Truly, I must open this door. I need to accept myself. However, nobody bursts through doors like they do in television and movies. Service men and women, military or civil, use a tactical response. They try to learn as much as they can about the situation they’re getting into before kicking the door down. Therefore, I am getting help to learn about the other side of the door. It’s a difficult and long process. It feels very arduous in a world where we get solutions and gratification so quickly. Progress is slow and not in a straight line.

At the beginning of this journal entry, I may have compared myself to a victim of violence. I feel as if I should apologize for that because I have never experienced a situation like that. In my experience, someone who loves me abuses me mentally. I wish for escape from the situation, it is within my power. The abuser in question is me. I would not be here if I didn’t care about myself in some way. Yet, I cannot quit the fear.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you have to grasp the fact that you don’t have to do it alone. Understand that there is no quick fix. Just like getting a healthy body takes many hours at the gym, you have to remember the brain is no different. How do I process all this fear that is completely imagined? Gradually, I stumble through with agony and the occasional helping hand from each of you.

“There's a difference between fear and paralysis. And I've learned that I don't have to "grow up" to be open to opportunity, to be willing to step through doors without being pushed. I just have to be brave. I just have to be slightly braver than I am scared.”

Victoria Schwab

 

Alarming Insecurity

2 min read

My inner critic squawks at me like a car alarm in the dead silence of night. The volume is never about being good enough, it is more convinced that I’m not good at anything.

Thus, armed with imaginary ear muffs and medication I pursue the simplest of tasks hoping not to set off the alarm. A few weeks ago, I designed a t-shirt graphic for a contest and triggered the horn of self-criticism. So, I sent my image to 3 friends and my car alarm of insecurity wailed in preparation for the worst. All 3 reactions were more than positive. They were ecstatic.

Like an actual car alarm, my inner critic is often false. Yet, the alarm is necessary for protection. While the car alarm protects a car from theft, my fear attempts to shelter me from hurt and pain. However, I asked 3 friends for feedback! If any of them were critical of my design it would be beneficial to me and my efforts. There’s no need to set the car alarm when you’re inside the vehicle. This is a personal goal going forward, learning to disarm the alarm when I’m in a safe space. The horn of self-criticism has drained my battery too often and left me feeling helpless all too often.

Fractured Part 2: Sparky, My Inner Project Manager

5 min read

Previously, I introduced readers to Chet, my personal internet bully. Today, I’d like to share another voice-- my anxiety, the frantic and frazzled Sparky.

Our human minds cannot be still by design. Curiosity about the world around us keeps us safe. Even interior inquires that alert us to aches, pains and the like encourage us to go to the doctor. However, in those situations where we are comfortable, in our everyday routines, our minds wander. Try to clear your mind and concentrate on the sensations of your fingers and palms the next time you wash your hands. It’s nearly impossible. My mind jumps from feeling the temperature of the water to what I have to do next in the day. Sparky has business for me. If I bring my mind back and truly feel the soap, feel one hand lathering the other, my brain wanders to the fact that I am practicing this because I am broken. Thanks Chet.

Being in the moment is difficult.

If it’s not Chet beating me up, it is Sparky telling me what I should be doing. “We’ll show Chet, today,” exclaims Sparky, “Get up early, exercise, clean each room in the house, apply for 4 jobs, submit 2 articles to our editor, get to inbox zero, buy all the Christmas gifts early, call your mom, go grocery shopping, pay the bills, fix the sink, paint the living room, and make dinner!” A sizeable list for a healthy person, but perhaps not impossible? Regardless, the point is that my personal project manager, Sparky, never lets up. There’s always something that should be done. Those things above that are not accomplished today, will move to tomorrow’s hit list. Sparky’s unending to-do list keeps pushing down on me like the world on Atlas’ shoulders.

Sparky continues to micromanage my days by chiming in at the most absurd moments. While I’m trying to work, he wonders if I am going fast enough. Sparky wants to know what’s for dinner. He’s curious about how busy the airport will be next month when I intend to travel home. How will I get to my psychiatrist visit next week? Where will I park? Do I need groceries for dinner tonight? Does that person over there want my table by the power outlet? Have I been in the café too long? Should I leave? When did I last get the oil changed in the car? Is there food on my face? This work is taking too long, isn’t it? My boss likes me, right? Am I too slow? Do you think my spouse thinks I’m too slow? Maybe she even wonders if I’m lazy? Her parents? And then Chet joins the conversation. All of this takes mere seconds.

“Nothing is worth doing unless it is perfect.” This is Sparky’s answer to combating the insecurity of Chet. Thus, when I get on the Sparky train, things don’t happen spontaneously. To appease Sparky and Chet, I try to plan my way to silence my mind. Doctor appointment tomorrow? Alright, I’ll wake up, shower, brush my teeth, put on deodorant, get dressed, do my hair, eat breakfast, double check Google Maps for the time it takes to get to the doctor, leave early to find parking, and bring a book to read while I wait. What have I forgotten?

“Do I have a backup plan for parking? What if there is construction on the way?”

“Oh, hi Sparky,” I cringe.

“If your appointment isn’t until 10am, what can we get done in the morning. And after!”

“It’s going to be okay, don’t worry.”

“You don’t really think that.” Chet’s criticism interjects. “You’ll mess this up somehow.”

This is the formula that quite possibly gave me my trademark white hair so early. I live in fear. The anxiety has, at times, spilled into paranoia. Without self-esteem, anxiety fills in for confidence. Instead of thinking “I can do this,” I torment myself with all the things that can go wrong. Even with the simplest of tasks, I move from one crisis to the next in my head.

Focusing on a task, is very difficult. These two voices in my head work together and yet against each other. My inner critic inspires the anxiety. Sparky’s desire to beat Chet with perfection only give the insecurity an opening. The constant reminder from the inner critic that I’ll never be enough quiets the anxiety. "Why try if I am going to fail?" My anxiety-focused project manager also encourages me to take on less challenges to preempt the self-hate and critique. "I can't do this."

I started writing about Sparky a month ago, shortly after revealing Chet. I had difficulty finishing the story because I wanted it to be perfect. I made excuses to to do “more important” tasks instead. I was afraid. Moreover, I work hard daily to not get caught up in the spin. As I struggled to complete this confession, I bounced from believing I have made progress to wondering if I was in denial. Am I shutting down in response to Chet & Sparky? I know that ignoring their voices is not the answer. I have to learn to accept them for what they are. Like friends with differing opinions, I should seek to find compromise, not avoid them. Chet inspires me to be a better person. Sparky will keep me out of dangerous situations. More on that in the final part of Fractured. Wait, did I just use the “should” word? Damn, this is a confusing journey.

Recognizing We Change As the Seasons Change

2 min read

The transition of the seasons is similar to changing one’s mind. We are stubborn creatures, built on our experiences as individuals. Perhaps you enjoy the fluffy, snowy winterland, but despise Fall. Maybe a tragic event or an unforgettable memory is associated with the Fall. The process of changing your mind about that season will not happen in a simple conversation. A walk with a loved one in the forest as it is changing from green to light yellow and deep reds may weaken your resolve. The smell of pumpkin pie or the joy of handing out candy to eager children at Halloween could soften your opinion of the Fall further. Gradually, like the seasons themselves, change can occur.

When I look around today, I wonder when did Fall start? How did I miss it? Was I fortified, under a blanket in my depression, hidden from the world outside? Did stress and anxiety keep me from savoring the delights of Fall? All those things I have to do, the things I want to do, and the grey noise provided by my fear of failure kept me from hearing the birds announce the coming of Fall. That must be the explanation.

in fact, that reasoning is most likely wrong. Like changing our minds, the transition of the seasons takes time. You will see the colors of the leaves when Mother Nature is ready. Each year we are fascinated when it happens because it is a mystery. Our individual brains are mysterious as well. Instead of questioning myself, instead of giving in to the the stress and busy-body culture, let’s take time to enjoy the mystery. Rather than question my existence, perhaps I should just enjoy it. Whenever Fall’s vibrant brush painted my neighborhood, it’s here now. Time to go enjoy some color.

Fractured Part 1: Avoiding Chet, My Inner Critic

10 min read

glitching me

My hate for myself is incredibly persistent.

Why?

Simple. This is all I have ever know.

Many of us have difficulty sleeping in a new place, or bed when we’re traveling. Thinking positively about who I am is no different. My natural state is one of inner criticism and self loathing. A compliment from a friend or a stranger is a dumb luck, no big deal, or dismissed in some other way. Challenging that natural state further activates the inner critic. I’ll call the critic, Chet.

“Stop thinking for other people. If she thinks I did good work, accept it.”

Chet replies, “You can’t accept the compliment because you don’t deserve it. You’re not worthy.”

“I did my best.”

“That’s your best? She doesn’t like it. She’s being kind.”

“I wish I had more time, it would have been better.”

“So it wasn’t your best,” remarks Chet.

“Well, I…”

Do you think other people have to tell themselves to accept a compliment?” asks Chet. “It’s probably just you.”

“I’m working on accepting myself.”

“This is why people never like you. You’re broken Chris. So you need to learn how to fix yourself? Right?”

“It’s not a bad thing.”

“Keep telling yourself that. You’re not special. Everyone has problems. And they don’t have the time or patience for yours. Stop wasting everyone else’s time. You’ll always be this way.”

That’s Chet. Well, that’s me. That is how I treat myself.

Escape

The best way to get out of my head and avoid Chet is distraction. Doing something productive is tied to my identity, so it is typically not helpful. In those situations, self-doubt comes at me hard. What’s left is Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, video games, reading, and other vices. (Interesting to note how much of my attention on that list is owned by companies. Almost like it is their goal.)

Watching Youtube, blowing through a season of a TV show on Netflix and dulling my thoughts is the new “can’t get out of bed.” I shouldn’t say that, each of us have our own challenges. There have been days when I didn’t even want to leave the bed. Watching the plot of a video, or show unfold is obviously better than getting lost in my thoughts of inadequacy. When the day ends and I realize that I’ve done nothing productive, it’s simply another chance for Chet to make me feel low.

Endless scrolling on social networks is an excellent way to silence Chet. Getting lost in the success, or perhaps drama, of others is readily available on Twitter & Facebook. Those companies are competing for the amount of time they can hold my eyeballs captive and they were doing a fabulous job. Even the garbage posts from people with different political views than me are captivating. While I might stop myself from getting sucked into the flaming comments, I will spend my time trying to find at least 3 sources that either prove or disprove the claims. The next thing I know, I’ve lost hours.

On top of being distracting, the positive posts from friends and family on social media further assist Chet. Positive news of exciting trips, new jobs and happy dispositions increase my self-loathing. Comparing myself to others keeps me in that familiar state of sadness and depression. Logically, I know people are only sharing what they choose. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has difficult challenges and it’s quite possible people have filtered those negative events from their social feeds. However, depression is far removed from logic. Emotionally, seeing those cheery posts and humble brags feeds Chet.

On the flip side, there are those on social networks sharing pain and difficulties. Obviously, those are delicious and savoury to Chet as well. Other people hurting is confirmation the world is as dark as I believe it is. That validates Chet’s philosophy– I should stay in the grief and the misery. I’ll never be surprised or out of control that way.

As I write this with my rational mind, I seem to be far removed from it all. However, that’s what I subconsciously desire, that sadness and self-loathing. It is a familiar state that I know how to manage. Feelings of success, and joy may be fleeting and unexpected. “When will those happen again? It’s unpredictable. Better to stay in this familiar sadness,” says Chet.

Escape also comes in the form of assisting others. I’m eager to help a friend or family member for extended periods of time as long as I don’t have to improve myself or think about depression. The unfortunate pitfall is resentment. After a while, I begin to feel good about myself for helping others. Then, Chet will swoop in and tell me that I’m not appreciated by those that I help. Perhaps desperate to cling to that good feeling, I project Chet’s voice onto my friends and family members. It’s an efficient way to self sabotage. Loss of friends and family furthers my journey to darkness. Perhaps this is a behavior I perfected once I started in the working world? So many of us feel under appreciated at work.

Outside Approval

Since I cannot find acceptance within, I attempt to find it outside. I crave approval from people. I must be liked. This task is made all the more difficult by the fact that I project my beliefs onto others. I think for other people. The doctors label this cognitive disorder “mind reading.” You there, reading this text, you think I’m a pathetic white male with a First World problem. “Oh no Chris, your life is so hard, surfing the internet and watching Netflix. Give me a break.” Of course, that’s not your voice. That’s Chet. That’s me believing that I know exactly what you are thinking. It feeds the need to bash myself.

It’s difficult to project like that onto strangers and acquaintances. I can dismiss their compliments because “they don’t know me,” but I do more easily accept the good from people I barely know. Unfortunately, Chet and I think those close to us are trying to protect me. My loved ones are being kind or polite when they give compliments. Once again, I’m mind reading. Though, I feel that our society does have some issues when it comes to honest critiques. You can’t tell your 2 year old niece that her drawing is garbage. We want to encourage her and help her build confidence.

I think we often twist encouragement into compliments, when it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Language is a powerful thing. Above, as Chet (my negative self) belittles me, I use words like “never” and “always.” These are finite words directed to keep me down. Saying, “Good job,” to your niece is a bland compliment, not inspiring. Why is it good? Perhaps something like “The face, the legs and arms look great, but look at me. Are my legs and arms connected to my face? Let’s try to draw a belly!”

Encouragement is always done with affection. And, love is built on trust. We cannot have trust without honesty. I would like to believe that critique of my work is far more valuable than compliments. First, learning to tolerate and love myself is a priority. Approval from strangers is also not sustainable. Once I have it, I would crave more and then that stranger becomes a friend. Thus, I fall into the trap where Chet believes friends say what I want to hear, as mentioned above.

The Science Fiction of Being Self-aware

In iRobot, the Terminator films, and many other Scifi movies artificial intelligence has it out for mankind. Discovering its superiority, the A.I. determines that humans are expendable in these stories. Now, that I’m aware of Chet, aware of this part of me that is at home in fear, anxiety, anguish and self-hate, can I rid myself of it? Should I even contemplate the idea of removing a piece of who I am? I believe that’s the easy way out. In fact, this could even be Chet’s idea. How do you remove a part of yourself? Once I fail to accomplish this, Chet swoops back in to tell me what a let down I am.

The difficult and longer path is more likely to be successful. Learning to live with myself will be complicated. Right now, I’m working in groups, and with doctors to achieve this goal. I am seeking to validate, or acknowledge Chet and interject with evidence to counter his thoughts.

Chet loudly proclaims, “Nobody will ever read this post, Chris.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s obvious. Nobody reads what you write.”

“Show me proof. Look at the numbers, Chet.”

“Ha,” exclaims Chet, “blog visits, Facebook likes, and comments, they’re all fake typically. People just click the buttons, they don’t read the whole thing.”

“Chet, that’s still not evidence. Those are your opinions. Furthermore, I didn’t write this for likes. This post about mental health could help someone else, but right now it is helping me. I’m learning more about myself and you. I’m learning how to explain my troubles to the doctors and how to ask people close to me for help.”

“You certainly need help!”

“Thanks for your input, Chet. Certainly, your attitude has helped me in the past. Perhaps, I was in a dangerous situation or your fear and anxiety saved me from some heartache in one of my past relationships. Yet, I think I’ll stick to believing that this post will be helpful in some way.”

Wish me luck friends. Doing that conversation in my head is much more difficult that typing it. Especially in the moment, when I’m in the middle of a conversation with a real person. A chat with those of you that I ultimately respect is so challenging because I don’t feel worthy. I’m sorry that I never shared this before. I was ashamed, and telling myself I deserved to feel that way. Please seek me out and don’t let me isolate myself. I can only get better at bargaining with Chet if I’m in those situations. I’m grateful you took the time to read this. I’m not alone in having mental health issues. The next time you get cut off on the road or experience bad customer service, try compassion. Perhaps that person has lost a loved one or is dealing with anxiety. It’s better to err on the side of compassion. I’m not there with myself yet, but I’m learning.