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Afraid of What We Find

4 min read

A jittery letter H

 

Hustle.

Whether you're a freelancer, a company person, or a homemaker, you're encouraged to do more. The cult of busy is not an exclusive club, but we treat it that way. "I work 60 hours a week in addition to my side business." Oooh! Impressive.

Heap more onto the to-do list! Even if it's not work-related, we demand more of ourselves. There's a new Netflix show to binge watch on top of your other shows, go go! The kids jump from choir practice, to football practice, to dance, and much more. We start them out young. This is how we were taught.

Hurry from one event to the next. Investigate your phone for games, social networks, and more entertainment in the scant seconds between event hopping. Low battery, no battery? Think: what's on deck for tonight, replay the conversation from earlier, worry about tomorrow, next week, the coming year.

Hold off any introspection. Avoid being with yourself. Escape who you are and hustle.

What are we afraid of?

takes a deep breath

What am I afraid of?

Well, shit. When I'm alone with my feelings it's all fear, shame and guilt. Deeper, I fear no one likes me. I am afraid I am unlovable. Of course, I'd rather work 60 hours, get drunk, or binge watch entire seasons of shows. If the only other option is spending time feeling those emotions, I choose distraction. Even when we're avoiding our own emotions, we react to strong emotions of others. "Don't cry! It's okay!" When we witness some sort of domestic dispute between people in public we may look away. It's uncomfortable to be around people emoting. Even if someone is extremely happy, we tease them. "Sure, it's great you won the million dollar prize, but what's that going to do to your taxes this year?"

In therapy, I'm told emotions are not positive or negative. I'm sure I've written about that before. It makes sense that we may even shy away from strong feelings of joy or love. The emotions are all connected. There's not a separate tap for each one. Letting some happiness in means sadness is a coin flip away. So, we run.

Hide.

A Breakdown

Heal. I've been trying to pick up the pieces from my break. When you glue something together, it's never as strong as it once was. I keep trying to hustle my way back to normalcy. The dam keeps breaking, though. I am afraid.

I journal here in hopes to help others, as much as to remind myself of the path forward. I'm still afraid. I'm ashamed of my break. I'm ashamed I'm not back in the hustle. I'm ashamed that I don't love myself.

That's the honesty. This is my truth. This is why I hustle.

Hate. Spending time with myself, I see just how little I like me. This is thought again. Distraction and hustle. It's much easier to say, "I hate myself," than it is to feel the pain of not knowing. The pain of sitting with the shame, anger, and fear that makes me tremendously sad.

Maybe that sadness comes from a place of compassion? I don't know. Or, I'm afraid to say. I'm scared to truly look for fear of the emotional pain.

Hazy. The journey or process of healing is nebulous and uncertain. I suppose that's life too. The years of self-loathing have allowed me to control my life and narrative. The certainty of knowing I am a failure and unlovable was somehow comforting. That's no longer true.

Hugs. This is my prescription. This is what will be helpful as I work on my mental health.

 

See what I wrote about the other letters and my artistic take of them on my PixelFed page.

Improving Mental Health Triggering Your Inner Critic

3 min read

Mirror image of a male face that's been digital manipulated. The face has been split in red and blue colors

 

"When change comes from a place of non-acceptance, and when there's an absence of compassion, the inner critic is then often driving the bus." ~Dr. Candice Creasman

It's easy to look at the quote above and agree quickly without introspection. That's fear, keeping us away from the pain and emotion we carry within. Change is something we crave. We find ourselves always reaching for more. The loose, societal definition of success is "more." If you can get an A in school, why can't you get an A+? One promotion at work is great, but what's next? You've lost weight, but can you now tone your muscles?

Goals are not necessarily evil, but they need to be clearly defined. Often, like for me, there isn't a specific goal. Instead, I dwell on the fact that I'm not enough, no matter the accomplishment. This is me not accepting myself. That's my inner critic demanding change.

I can also use peer groups or society in general to beat myself up. This social comparison is another way to motivate change. Obviously, it is still coming "from a place of non-acceptance." Moreover, it can find its way into recovery. Just like the desire to lose weight might seem like a decent goal, improving mental wellness is a great idea. Except, when it is the inner critic "driving the bus."

I've made progress, but it's a slow process. Truthfully, this will always be part of my life. The hope that tomorrow I will wake up confident, successful, and no longer bothered by my inner critic or depression is a myth. Regardless, it's a myth that can be very compelling. Thus, my inner critic uses it as motivation for change. I see you, the reader, as a "normal" person. Why can't I be successful like you? Suddenly, my desire to get well has been twisted back into my pattern of old. I'm not enough. My efforts, my progress so far, are not enough. I am a joke.

Can It Be Both?

Of course, it's the lens that I'm looking through. Using social comparison and non-acceptance, I see a failure. With the compassion spectacles on, I see progress and I can taste a faint dusting of gratitude. For me, I think there's still much work in forgiveness to be done. I'm still punishing myself for the past. "So much of my life was wasted in depression. There's so little time ahead," I think. So for me, acceptance may come in the form of forgiveness. Here and now, there's nothing I can do about my past. Probable futures where I beat depression 20 years ago, or where I'm "successful" are a distraction. Here is where I need to be, in acceptance.

There are days, where I wake up and leave the compassion spectacles on the dresser. I have to accept this as well. Yes, I have screwed up. Yes, I am sad. I am tired. So be it. Living in denial, or non-acceptance, is not healthy. Yet, that very thought can engage the inner critic and send me into the past or the future. It's a loop. Accepting that today, or better yet, that this moment is a difficult one, is a far better strategy.

 

I go forward attempting to ask myself who is driving the bus. What is my motivation for change, today?

Wish me luck.

Much <3

the image above is part of a series or study of my emotions that I was working through on my Pixelfed account. It will be on my art blog soon.



The War on Empathy

3 min read

An image of a handgun with the word Empathy engraved on it, painted in watercolor

I am sensitive to conflict. It's a topic that is on my mind a lot latey. Last September, I was affected by the anger on both sides of an online dispute. More recently, I felt the need to speak up in another community argument on Mastodon. The printing press was the beginning of a revolution, but the internet has brought humanity to an arms race. All the voices are shouting and no one is listening. Of course, that's my perspective of current events. I think I feel this way because I'm a microcosm of humanity.

Planet

Brexit, Trump, Bolsonaro in Brazil, the tragedy in Syria, and the continued hate in Isreal are all complex issues. In general, it looks like xenophobia is taking over the world. Many hope this is the last gasp of conservative times and brighter days are ahead. People think events like this will galvanize others to fight against the unjust people in the world. This is what frustrated me in the blogs linked above. Fighting begets more fighting.

The willingness to be empathetic with a white supremacist may feel like a waste of time. People believe what they want to believe, right? It's true, some may not be open to empathetic communication, or offer you compassion in return. In fact, this is the play book of US conservatives these days, "Thanks for crossing the isle to try to negotiate, but no thanks." Look, I don't have a solution to bring world peace. I'm just saying searching for a solution has to be better than name-calling and threatening an eye for an eye.

Chris

I realized today the reason I'm so sensitive to all the conflict. Looking at the surface level, my mind tells me that I'm getting old. Sure, that's it. I've seen these things happen a few times in my lifetime. Still at the surface level, the world says I'm a white male and that means I'm threatened because I might lose power. Below the surface is something much more accurate. I am conflict.

I don't like myself. I write about mental health, in part, as therapy. I'm over here trying to convince myself that there's a better way. Yet, inside I loath who I am. When I am in a safe space like a therapist's or psychiatrist's office and I share something emotional, I often get the question, "How do you feel right now, after sharing that?" My first reaction is always, I said something stupid didn't I? This doctor thinks I am hopeless. Pathetic. It's the same when I share something here on the web. I judge myself and project it onto others if necessary.

I am the human writing these words about the value of compassion and empathy. I am also the human who hates that I am here writing this. I should not be so weak. I shouldn't have to keep writing the same thing over and over again. Why can't I learn? People must be so sick of my crap. Those are not empathetic thoughts. I am conflict.

I cannot unfriend myself. I cannot protest myself. I don't think it would be healthy to speak out against myself. After all, that's sort of what that critical voice is doing to me already. My options are limited. Like so many of the conflicts around us, the solution is not an easy one. Conflict resolution takes time. Compassion takes time. Wish me luck and maybe test drive empathy yourself. Hint, it has nothing to do with guns or weapons.

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