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Morning Mantra Dos Check-in

4 min read

A drawing of my small dog on a leash looking at my morning mantra meditating guru dog.

This is the second month in my experiment and I want to share what I've learned so far.

Morning Mantra Dos features 3 goals around Acceptance.

1) Accepting myself as I am. This doesn't just mean "warts and all." That's a dangerous thought from my negative self. I need to learn to accept that even attempting to do morning mantras is a great thing. I often focus on those things I failed to accomplish on my to-do list, but what did I finish? I usually look past those things rather than accept that I am getting things done. I am getting better.

2) Accepting my life as it is in this moment. Right now, my mental health isn't great. That's okay. In this moment, I'm having some terrible side effects from the medication. I cannot make changes by complaining or denying these things are happening. The first step is acceptance. I'm overweight, my blood sugars are rising and that's the reality right now. The next day, moment, or week, things will be different. I will be different. Again, there are positive things that depression would have me ignore. Today, I was the best husband, son, friend, and dog daddy I could be. I have come a long way from a year ago. I have recognized many of the triggers for my suicidal ideation. It's not perfect, it just is. Things will continue to change, as will I.

3) May I be kind to myself, today. As I have emphasized above, I need to remind myself of the positive things that are happening. Furthermore, if I postpone my morning mantra to the evening, that's okay. It's a great opportunity to put myself down for "failing." However, I need to have some compassion for myself. Whether it's insomnia from the night before or a busy day, I need to respond to myself with kindness, not anger. It's okay to be upset too. Consoling myself rather than yelling at myself is a skill I am still learning.

Creating Space

One of the lessons that I will probably spin into the next Morning Mantra recording is that the preparations at the beginning are very important. I encourage myself and those of you participating to give yourself some space. We monitor our breath and begin the mantra as I would a meditation. Without this step, the mantra may become simply memorization.

I find myself doing the mantra as I walk my dog in the mornings. How cool, I've got it memorized! These words are now affixed to my brain, right? Well, no. I'm giving my dog commands. I'm watching the sidewalk for ice. I am wondering how much that 5th floor condo space over there costs. There's a lot going on when you're walking. It's really a good exercise to train yourself to be more mindful, but not great for my Morning Mantra practice.

By finding some uninterrupted space to do the Morning Mantra and focus on myself, I can let those 3 mantras listed above sink in. Just saying it to myself is not feeling it. Perhaps, we could even say that when I'm repeating the mantra during a dog walk, I'm not really accepting the words. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Accept my cheesy joke! I have.

Duration and Fatigue

When choosing guided meditations, I always wanted variety. Yet, I also wanted to focus on certain topics, which is why I created the Morning Mantras. The problem with doing the same guided meditation on self-compassion over and over is that I start to distract myself. I know what's coming next, I know the script. So, I'm thinking of what's on my calendar for the day and the like instead of being in the meditation. I believe this is why I'm trying to walk the dog and do the Morning Mantra at the same time. It's part boredom because I know what's next and part anxiety.

I wanted to do each mantra for a month in hopes that would be a good number of times to absorb the changes I want to make. I wonder now if a month is too long because I'm not fully engaging, or maybe it's not enough? That is, do I do them 3 times a week for 2 months? Repetition and the duration of practice are surely important. I'm just not certain what the best practice is. I'd be glad to hear any of your thoughts. (Sorry I had to close comments because of spammers, but you can find me elsewhere.) I'd love to hear from you!

P.S.

If you add the following URL into your favorite podcast app, you should get the Morning Mantras directly to your device without the need to come here and download them.

https://savethis.space/content/audio/?_t=rss

What The Politics of Khashoggi's Death Say About Humanity

7 min read

Flag of saudia arabia

(I wrote this a few weeks ago, but it made me really emotional and I just couldn't finish it.)

In the past I've written about the privacy concerns of our surveillance world in an effort to illustrate the dangerous power we've given corporations and governments. To my horror, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has brought to light something more frightening than the loss of privacy, the failure of humanity.

Government assassinations are nothing new. Recently, Russia has come under fire from a number of countries for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The CIA has been *suspected of removing (or plotting to assassinate) a number of leaders. In fact, in the 70s a Senate Select Committee investigated the CIA in regards to Patrice Lumumba, Ngo Dinh Diem, Rafael Trujillo, and Fidel Castro. Then there's Bin Laden, which there is no denying was killed by a U.S. strike team. What is new is that we live in a surveillance state.

Espionage is all about controlling data. Either protecting your own information, or obtaining confidential info from others, spying has always been about power. Using the information obtained, you can create a defense, plan an offensive, expose the truth or manipulate people. The information could be used to influence elections, for example. Extortion and blackmail are the types of things were often done behind closed doors. Exposing the information to the public is not as powerful as keeping secrets.

However, we now live in the world of Orwell's 1984. While many of us may not understand the technical wizardy around us, we accept the probability that a camera is watching. The cameras and microphones on our devices, plus other digital tracking systems used by Google, Facebook, Amazon, and our governments are also following the spies. Most likely, this is why so many people are ready to believe that Turkey has evidence of Khashoggi's death. Of course, they could have also bugged the building.

Power Over People, Not To The People

Turkey has chosen to use this information as leverage. This is the part I cannot stomach. I am appalled by this act. President Erdoğan keeps promising to reveal "the naked truth." The theory is that Turkey is releasing little bits of proof on a daily basis to strengthen it's relationships with the U.S. and other countries. Vice News reported:

A State Department official with extensive knowledge in the region told us that despite the rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan had signaled that he would be willing to quash the release of incriminating evidence at the right price. The State Department's official added, 'Erdoğan is playing this masterfully.'

Khashoggi was a human being, not a bargaining chip. Most likely you're reading this because you know me and occasionally stop at my website. Perhaps you don't know me, but have read something else here or on my social networks that made you curious to read more. Now imagine that connection between you and I being severed by my murder. The killer took my life because they overheard me saying I don't like coffee. My body was cut into pieces after being tortured and I was erased from existence. The one witness to the crime won't come forward because the murderer is her mail carrier. If she calls the police, she fears she will not be able to send and receive mail. In fact, blackmailing my killer allows her to now send letters and package without postage. My imaginary, and not very creative story is a gross simplification of the matter and sounds utterly ridiculous and awful. Why? It's called the ethics of reciprocity or the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is present in just about every religion on the planet, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's about compassion and avoiding suffering. Nobody wants to feel pain, ever. That's a natural human reaction. When we learn of serial killers or murderers that have taken lives unnecessarily it is unnerving. When our governments take lives during wars and conflicts, we focus on the end goal rather than dwelling on the casualties. When a government brutally murders a man and slices him up as an act of vengeance for words he's written, that is more than cause for alarm. When Turkey refuses to share the evidence of a human being's death in hopes to get a few more Easter eggs in its basket that is disgusting.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

Please don't lecture me on the minutia of foreign affairs and the economy. For too long we as people have looked the other way for some greater economic benefit. Well, we think you should treat your people better, enter country name here. So we've decided to issue you a stern warning. Now, if you could pass us those trade dollars. Thank you.

When is the government that represents its people going to start caring about humans?

Everywhere around the world we see decisions being made at the cost of human welfare. Trump's war against immigrants and their children, and the xenophobia in Europe is based on fear. People fearing other people! To answer my question above, governments will start caring about people when we do.

You and I need to set aside the past and forget about the future. We need to sit together, now. It's not about what kind of world you want for your children, but what sort of world do you want to live in? You and I can make those changes. I'm not talking about protesting Trump or shaming Turkey as my rambling post may appear. I believe we need to make changes at an individual level. Only by striking up a conversation with that person you fear, can you learn their story. That person is a fellow human. You can never truly experience the world as they have, but you surely have your own stories of happiness, sadness, and suffering.

Reconciliation between cultures doesn't happen in a meeting. It happens at an individual level and takes time. Rather than raising your protest sign to show support, extend your compassion to those in fear. Get to know their story of the suffering. If you're in fear, remember each of us is an individual. When I was younger, I was bitten by a dog. That event didn't make me steer clear of that dog in the future. No, I feared every dog for a long time. However, it was one individual dog, not her entire breed, not all white dogs, and not all big dogs. Fear does not have to be abolished, your lizard brain is trying to protect you. Understand that about those who are xenophobic.

Compassion is the way forward, not economic crumbs. The precious economy and the government overseeing it are made of people. Do unto others. If you have information that can end the suffering of Khashoggi's friends and family, why not offer it freely. Imagine, President Erdoğan, if you find success in this venture the precedent you set for your own life. Perhaps your game could backfire and MBS may offer a large, multi-year deal to the country of Turkey for you, dead or alive. Should we be bargaining with humans? I think not.

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.

Morning Mantra Uno Recap

3 min read

Purple sky with title of blog text

The first month of the experiment is over. How did we do?

1) Recognizing Physical Tension

This was chosen as my first mantra because I've spent a lifetime being stoic and untouched by emotion. I've idolized the STar Trek character of Spock for his ability to ignore emotion. Of course, this is a very difficult goal. Forty plus years in avoidance won't change overnight. However, I was concerned that meeting other mental health goals wouldn't be possible if I didn't let emotions in.

How did I do? Well after a month a positive is that I know the mantra by heart. I can repeat it in silence on transit or walking down the sidewalk now. Plus, I've been in touch with some fear and shame internally. I think I need to work on voicing this out in the open so I can get help from friends, family, and my doctors.

2) Accepting Feelings and Sensations

The first thing that happens when I engage my emotions is the transformation of them into shame, anger, and sadness. I am weak. I am stupid. I should not feel this! Sadness and anger are directed at myself and my current state. Thus, I wanted to practice accepting the feelings as they are in the moment.

How did I do? There have been a lot of moments where I allowed the feelings to stay with me. I felt them wash over me and tried to have compassion for myself just as I would a friend. Though, moments can be fleeting. I can easily go from "There, there, Chris it's going to be okay," to "You have to console yourself because you have no friends." Hey, baby steps. I'll get there.

A Perfect Human Response

I probably should have worded this better in the recording. My goal was to remind myself that I'm not alone. All humans experience sadness, fear, anger, disgust, etc. We all suffer. Acknowledging this not only helps me find compassion for myself, but compassion for those around me. Much of mental illness brings about self-comparison with others. I need to stop putting others on a pedestal and also lift myself up.

How did I do? More than anything this phrase in the mantra has really stuck with me. It has allowed me to catch myself getting angry about progressing so slowly. Remembering I am human helps me see when I've engaged that critical voice claiming I have no friends. I can do some reality testing instead of getting caught up in the story the self-critic has created for me.

Next up, Mantra Dos.

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.

 

Project Morning Mantra

3 min read

Water color picture of my dog meditating

Avoiding the well-worn paths that my mind has taken for so many years is incredibly difficult. Personally, I've found meditation and practicing mindfulness to be helpful, but I'm looking for something more. I require more self-compassion, confidence, and trust in this person that I am right now. In order to let go of the past and stop trying to predict the future I am going to try a mantra.

In the past, a therapist asked me to find a mantra and give it a try, but it felt sort of cheesy. The request has solid research behind it. Mantras work and that's why they've been around forever. Therefore, I wanted to create something personalized that I hope will work for me. I want to share this experience in order to get feedback and possibly help others.

My Technique

I find meditation incredibly helpful. Even the act of sitting down for 2 minutes and breathing in for a count of 4 seconds and breathing out for a count of 8 seconds can really help me focus. Breathing exercises and meditation can help reset your fight-or-flight response which can be triggered by stress. Your nervous system doesn't have to be in an actual life or death situation to go into fight-or-flight. This is why mindfulness and breathing exercises can be so useful. We're being triggered falsely and when we're ready to fight or run, thinking rationally becomes difficult.

Since I've felt that guided meditation has helped me through much of my mental health journey, I've decided to incorporate my mantras into a meditation of sorts. My first attempt at a mantra was done under the guise of "I must do this to get better or else!" I set myself up for failure by adding this kind of pressure. Rather than waking up and looking into a mirror like Stuart Smalley and repeating my phrase, I want to get myself in a receptive state. I want to calm that fight-or-flight system and really absorb the mantra.

Honestly, I don't know if I will really like hearing myself in a recording each morning. However, I want to try this because I really want to improve my self-compassion and silence my inner critic. Starting tomorrow, I'll post my first mantra which I intend to use each morning for the next month. Then, I will post a new mantra each month in an effort to make changes. Join me on this journey, or poke your head in to check in on me occasionally and see what I've learned. The one ingredient necessary to survive any and all mental health issues is social connection.

Much💜

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

Finding Myself in the Maze of Mental Illness

6 min read

Some collage work on a picture of myself

 

Getting to know myself is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Along with all the distractions provided by society and culture, the truth is that I don’t want to know who I am. Many of us binge Netflix, work 80+ hours a week, and volunteer to help others in order to escape from being alone with our minds. People shove addiction, religion, self-help books, life coaches, relationships, and the trend of the month into that feeling that something is missing. It’s true that we can find solace in some of those things, but until you know what’s really wrong and who you are none of it will work.

I’ve come to believe one of the roots of my depression and anxiety is the absence of self-worth. This is the hole I’ve been trying to fill. The feeling of “I am not enough” is common for those people with mental illness. Yet, the path to healing is as different and individual as the labels on the heavily scented products at Bath and Body Works (seriously, there’s no design constant happening in that store).

Both the anxiety and the depression are roadblocks to healing. Nothing I do is good enough. I don’t put in as much effort as I should. I can’t create anything as well as others. I never live up to anyone’s expectations, most of all my own. Chet believes I am a failure, and because he’s my inner critic, I think it’s mostly true. I don’t completely feel that way thanks to the anxiety I carry with me which makes me question all my thoughts. The challenge comes in the loop that traps me. It’s like Bill Murray being trapped to repeat Groundhog’s Day over and over.

Me: I think this therapy/self-help book/training/support group/etc. is helping!

Anxiety: It is. Just keep doing it exactly the same way. Wait, am I doing this right? I don’t know. What if I’m doing it wrong?

Depression: When have I ever done anything right? No, I’m failing. This doesn’t work. I’m broken.

I tried to manage my anxiety and depression through Morning Pages and that lasted a few months. It didn’t cure me and I stopped. The same goes for meditation, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, sentence stems on self-esteem, and a few self-help books. In every case the depression and anxiety got the best of me. In fact, I could argue that these parts of me crave trying the new things so I can get that sweet, sweet, shame and feeling of failure. These patterns of self-destruction are biological according to Dr. Kristen Neff in her book Self- Compassion.

We want to be safe. Our development, both as a species and as individuals, is predicated on basic survival instincts. Because human beings tend to live in hierarchical social groups, those who are dominant within their groups are less likely to be rejected and have more access to valued resources. In the same way, those who accept their subordinate status also have a secure place in the social order. We can’t take the risk of being outcast by the people who keep us out of harm’s way. Not if we want to stay alive.

I am constantly critical of myself because of my need to fit into society and my social groups. This is where I step away from my needs and desires again. Instead, I use social comparison. “I should be smart like that woman. I wish I was successful like her. I will never be as talented as him.” I’ve been ignoring myself for so long, I have no idea where to start. Each time I sit down to find out what it is that I need, I get lost in the same pattern of shame and anger. Why am I not as amazing as you?

Healing seems to be somewhere between realizing that we’re all suffering and accepting myself for who I am. Nobody wants pain. This is why we run from it. This is why myself and so many others run from our emotions. That person saying hateful things on Facebook is just as afraid of hurt as we are. Pain is as natural as love. It's trying to tell me something so I can grow. In Radical Acceptance Tara Brach says, “The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.” I isolate myself. I don’t return messages, don't call friends, and don't seek social situations. I want to think I am alone in pain, my world shrinks. My language becomes finite. In many cases above I use words like nothing, anything, and never. I also start the process of shame with other words like should and wish.

At this moment, the path to healing seems to be observing this use of language and those biological patterns I follow. Forgiving myself and accepting my emotions as they are is incredibly challenging. Especially in the stressful day-to-day activities where my patterns have always dominated. Additionally, the depression and anxiety make the ability to see progress difficult. And so, I keep working on me. I keep attempting to document my process to help myself and get some realizations past the loop of shame, sadness and anger.

Next up in the game plan to find my self-worth is joining a men’s group to discuss my problems with humans instead of a computer screen. While I am currently in a mental health support group, the men's group has a specific focus that I need. I also have a project I am just about to launch to help myself daily. I say launch because I’m going to share it publicly. I hope others find it useful, but as I said before healing is individual. We can do this. Let’s just give ourselves time. It won’t happen over night. Much <3

Is Compassion For Trump Possible?

6 min read

Sketches of sad Trump

As someone struggling with mental health issues I recognize parts of myself in Trump. I’m working hard to correct my behaviours, regulate my emotions instead of deny them, and find self-worth from within. All of these things start with having compassion for myself. Perhaps the best way to go about that is to have compassion for others.

President Trump is mentally ill. Note, that I am not a doctor or qualified to claim this as fact, but I do see the similarities that I am working through. This unmanageable need to be liked, to have recognition, and power can all be signs of insecurity. For me, some of this may stem from abandonment issues. Before you go searching Trumps childhood, know that there are a number of ways our minds can form these unhelpful neural pathways and patterns. I grew up with a mother and a father, so why do I fear abandonment? Yet, much of my therapy is starting to point to this issue. I want to control my environment, or at least believe that I do. While Trump makes outlandish claims of his success and adoration, I do the opposite putting myself down and believing I am incapable of being loved. This is how we both control our narrative. I refuse to believe that I have any worth to anyone and Trump believes he is a miraculous gift to anybody that interact with him. No matter what critics say of him, or what loved ones tell me, the two of us control the narrative in our minds.

Opposing Trump with anger, internet memes, and commenting on his social media posts have no affect. His delusion protects himself from harm and controls his inner narrative in order to not see anything that doesn’t feed his beliefs. Those people are jealous of him, weak, or terrorists. I imagine that would be how he twists the feedback. For myself and the self-hate, I see compliments as me getting lucky or being praised for something that anyone can do. Again, dismissing those things that do not jive with my belief that I have no worth.

When I say we should have compassion for Trump, I’m not excusing his behavior. I don’t want my friends and family to lose healthcare, jobs, or their lives because of something he does or says. All I am proposing is that we have to look at each other with compassion. Trump is an everyday reminder of why we need more compassion in the world.

How Can We Subvert Trump By Being Compassionate?

Nobody wins in war. Arguing is not any different. Fighting the powers that be means you’re a freedom fighter, right? Well, to the opposing side, you’re a terrorist. Our world is not one that can be simplified into good vs. evil. That is the fairytale that we keep feeding generations, but humans are far more complex than good or evil. Compassion is far superior, in my opinion, because it builds a bridge instead of blowing it up.

The next thing I hear when I speak of compassion is “But, they’re not going to show compassion! Trump won’t return our compassion with some of his own.” It’s not a fair exchange, that’s how you know you’re doing it right. We give of ourselves without expecting anything in return. Compassion starts small with friends, family, and coworkers. It does not start at the Trump level. Look at the example of our modern day tech bubble, everyone wants to be the next Uber, Twitter, or Facebook. Those successes didn’t start day one at the top of the world. Facebook started at one university. This small community eventually grew by adding more Boston area universities. Students who had friends at other universities outside Boston eventually told them about this new thing. Facebook added more and more schools. Eventually, Facebook included high school students, and finally allowed anyone to join. Curious parents who watched their kids interact with this website decided to join and check it out as well. Compassion starts the same way. We naturally pay it forward. If you smile at someone walking the opposite direction on the street, there’s a phenomenal chance that they will smile back.

If you’re protesting Trump, try to imagine that person on the other side shouting in support of the President. You’re angry because Trump sexually harassed a number of women. What if I were to tell you the person on the other side was related to Monica Lewinsky. As you’re rightfully steaming with anger, that person also has a similar feeling about Bill Clinton and has chose to ignore the allegations against Trump and support him. Both of you want women to be treated with respect, why are you shouting at each other? Perhaps the Trump supporter is excited about the huge tax cut, but you’re opposed. You don’t know why that supporter is there. Could it be that the democrats refused to cut taxes which forced his employer to move overseas for cheaper labor? Who is to blame? His employer who was only trying to make shareholders happy by showing a profit. Should we blame the democrats for not cutting taxes? Is the supporter at fault for not choosing a better job? The idea is having compassion for the person’s situation, not for what they’re doing at the moment.

Yes, those are hypothetical situations that I made up and controlled the narrative of, just like Trump and myself do with self-worth. Regardless, I have to believe that compassion is the best method to make the world better. That’s the goal of the anger focused at Trump, right? It’s not about labelling him or putting him in his place, correct? We just want a better world. Show compassion, respond not react to those you disagree with. As an incredible friend told me, “true subversion is not yelling as loud as you can, but actually doing the things that are better than the things we are doing now.”

I’m not alone in this idea of compassion instead of opposition. A number of groups reported record donations after Trump’s election. What would be more rewarding, an argument on Facebook with your conservative uncle, or volunteering for the local ACLU and telling a citizen they don’t have to worry about the travel ban and will get to see their family again?

Compassion and anger are both emotions, and they feed themselves. If you give compassion it will feel good and you’ll want more. If you continue to use anger, you’ll continue feeding it and become embittered with everything around you. Perhaps you’ll even start to hate yourself. Trust me, you don’t want that.

Sorry Spider-man, This Woman Is My Hero

3 min read

Not too long ago, I proclaimed that I would choose love as my super power, over flight, strength, or invisibility. The idea of choosing compassion over anger, or being right, sounds very idealistic. Nelba Márquez-Greene’s words in the video below are so powerful because she speaks them from a space of love and compassion. In my opinion, she seems so genuine as she talks about her daughter and the tragic events.

I’ve spent much of my life looking outside for my self-worth and telling people what they want to hear to get acceptance. Nelba Márquez-Greene’s quality of being open and authentic is something my father had and it inspires me. I believe to move forward that I will have to be my own hero. I cannot aspire to be as unrealistic Spider-man, nor can I be my father or Márquez-Greene. When we look at our heroes, we must go deeper than just their deeds.

As I said, I have a tendency to be a pleaser, a “yes” person. I want badly to be liked by you, by everyone. Thus, my father’s trait of being genuine is the core reason why I idolize him. In the video above, Nelba Márquez-Greene is telling her story with compassion. She has been through a tragedy and honestly says don’t give me the “Well at least…” bullshit. Nelba Márquez-Greene wants to talk about what happened, not the loss. She wants to bring change with compassion and community.

Spider-man, well maybe I once gravitated towards him because not everything went his way and he still carried on? There’s the lovely line from Spidey’s uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Yet, I am having trouble really finding what it is that would make Spider-man my hero over Nelba Márquez-Greene and my father. Sorry, Spidey.

The search within myself for meaning and worth is incredibly difficult. The emotional work is draining, time-consuming, and absent of facts. I realize that I cannot shape my life to be more like my father or Nelba Márquez-Greene. I have to become me. I hope that sometime in the future I can write an apology blog to Nelba Márquez-Greene and declare myself as my own hero. Until then, I will be inspired by her words and her work.

You can learn more about Nelba Márquez-Greene and her foundation at The Ana Grace Project