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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

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.

 

Morning Mantra Uno Check-in

3 min read

watercolor painting of olive green and gray background with brown dog bone in the middle

When I sat down to make a list of the things that I wanted to work on I made an effort to arrange them in a logical order. The First Morning Mantra is all about recognizing emotions and I thought this would be an important first step. Wow, is it difficult. Did I make a mistake, or is this my depression trying to keep me down?

Recognizing my emotions in my body is not the hard part, sitting with them, accepting the feelings is. So much of what I'm dealing with seems to be repressed emotions. It seems like I shouldn't feel overwhelming fear after hearing someone comment, "I was told you spoil your dog." Yet, that was my experience recently. As I was rewarding Coco for listening to my "leave it" request on her walk, I replayed the comment in my head. I started asking myself, am I doing this wrong? Are people laughing at me? Fear swelled into my chest. I was angry with myself in an instant.

Feeling unwanted, unloved, or made fun of is the crux of my repressed emotions. Am I like a cliché Hollywood movie character, I have abandonment issues? So much of our emotional lives are shaped in our early years. I don't remember anything before Kindergarten, really. Note how I shared the age of which I have spotty memories. I remember school. This is the place where you're rewarded for being "right." This is a place full of your peers. This is where you spend most of your youth.

Am I doing this wrong? Are people laughing at me?

Two questions I asked myself when I felt that "spoiling" my dog was bad. Of course, I'm not blaming education for my mental health. Perhaps there's a reason I cannot remember anything before Kindergarten. My mother left my biological father while I was a toddler or younger. She was a single mom trying to do it on her own. I may have not understood her challenge fully and been confused about the loss of a father. By the time she remarried, my kindergarten year, I may have already formed a the emotional pattern I have now. I loved my new father dearly, but we didn't have that baby bond that is discussed in the attachment theory.

Keep Going

At this point, I have to trust myself and continue with Morning Mantra Uno. The emotions that flood in when I take the time to follow the mantra can be very overwhelming. Yet, it has to happen some time, right? I've been living with this for years. Logic tells me it might not be best to break down crying as I walk the dog, or get incredibly upset with myself for accepting a gift. All I can do is my best. I'm the one in control. I picked this mantra because I knew I needed the work here. There are some guided meditations that I would sometimes use to work on all the repressed stuff, but it was hard. We don't like pain, so I probably didn't do them enough. This Morning Mantra is reminding me to be more proactive. I'll have to get back to those guided meditations. I just have to "keep going," as I say in the recording.

Those of you interested in the guided meditations I spoke of, search for R.A.I.N. meditations. I use Insight Timer on my phone, but you'll probably find some on Youtube or elsewhere. The acronym stand for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-identification.

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

Conflict and Compromise: My 6 W's

7 min read

Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin

 

How strong are your beliefs and how do your convictions hold up when they are they put to the test? In other words, when do you compromise?


Standing up for what you believe in is one thing that people are doing much more these days. Whether it is not vaccinating your children, refusing to hire white men, or the recent attack on the US government for separating families crossing the border illegally, people are loudly fighting back. It leaves me conflicted because fighting isn’t how we accomplish things. Protests gets you heard, but the work is done through working together in a discussion.

War

As someone who is working on mental health, I read a lot about suffering. Many psychologists and therapists are fond of Eastern philosophy because various mental illnesses result in people isolating themselves. Thus, the Buddhist concept that everyone is suffering is a great way for people like me to see that we aren’t truly isolated. So, when someone attacks me for being pro-choice, they are inflicting suffering. The intention is not to get me to change my mind, but bring me pain.

But Chris, compromise doesn’t work with many people, especially if you flip the argument above. I’m pro-choice and I’m never going to get someone who bombs abortion clinics to compromise.

Good point. Violence works. Yup. No more babies died when the abortion clinic was bombed. Oh wait, anyone inside the clinic was once a precious life that was snuffed out by the bomb. So how does anger, conflict, and violence get things accomplished any better than talking? It makes our egos feel pleasure, but it never helps the situation.

Words

How about this, do you use Google to search online? It’s the best, better than the other search engines, right? How do you know that? For many, that opinion was formed through word of mouth. The options were Dogpile, Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, Ask, AOL, but after many years of word of mouth and advertising we use the company name as a verb, “Let me Google that.” Marketing is essentially just talking, and advertisers have us buying $1000 phones every 2 years because we need them.

There’s no secret cabal that meets once a year in a secluded location to discuss how to keep women out of positions of power and men from feeling emotions. The damage is done by the stories, words, we’ve been teaching our children for decades. Girls are delicate and boys are tough. “No daughter, you cannot play hockey, it is a rough man’s game. Son, stop crying and suck it up.” Words. We give them so much power. It should be no surprise that we use words in our own heads to start conflicts and fights. “Did that car just cut me off? No one disrespects me like that!”

Weigh

What warrants compromise? This is my current dilemma. More on that in a second. First, compromise brings us back to suffering. Is someone’s belief in pro-choice, Muhammad, Trump, the Redwings, cycling, or polyamory more important than their relationship with you? In the end it always comes down to people. Will I refuse to be your friend because your religious beliefs differ from mine? Will I suffer by staying quiet when the subject comes up or is it an opportunity for me to make you suffer by telling you how wrong you are? Can we talk about it without fighting? I suppose that’s the goal– respecting each other to have different opinions and beliefs.

Wavering

When respect comes into play we return to compromise. For example, my vegetarian spouse has a no meat policy when it comes to herself. As I respect this conviction, I cook vegetarian meals. She, in turn, honours my desire to eat meat occasionally. Her strong principles don’t prevent her from having dinner with me. Furthermore, she continues to be in a relationship with the carnivorous gas bag that I am.

My current dilemma revolves around privacy and data. I have no desire to use Facebook, Google, or any of their creations. Doing so is agreeing to how they use not just my data, but that of any of my contacts. My spouse told me to contact a hotel using their WhatsApp number. We were trying to book the hotel for an upcoming trip. This process has broke something inside me.

I need to book the hotel, but am I willing to install something I do not trust for this purpose? I mean, I am already on Facebook to compromise with those people who refuse to try other methods of communication. I use Instagram and Hangouts for a similar reason. So, I must not be willing to stand-up for my convictions about privacy and data, right? This is not a worthy cause to me, huh? Damn it, yes! It is.

Writ

Clicking the button to agree with terms of service in Gmail allows Google and 3rd party developers to read your email conversations which means you’re giving away other people’s privacy even if they are not Gmail users and never clicked “yes.” That box that you think is so annoying every time you sign up for a new trending service or app is a legal writ. And so, by using WhatsApp to talk to the hotel I’ve given my identity and my contacts to Facebook legally.

As an aside, both co-founders of WhatsApp have left the company. First, Brian Acton bounced to form a nonprofit focused on privacy and public good. “This isn’t just important for select people in select countries. It’s important for people from all walks of life in every part of the world. Everyone deserves to be protected.” Recently, Jan Koum departed WhatsApp, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Worthy

I think it is time to be more like my incredible spouse. Perhaps, I should treat my feelings about data privacy as she treats vegetarianism. Maybe, I would feel better about myself if I stop compromising to make others happy. While my simple protest may not change the world or these data giants, I will suffer less. I can feel good about my decisions and myself.

Over the years, I have found a number of great, open, decentralized services to replace FB, Twitter, Google, and more. I currently host my own Nextcloud to replace Google Drive or Dropbox. I have my own email address, instead of Gmail. I use DuckDuckGo for search. My personal website has been syndicating my posts to FB and Twitter instead of me posting those places directly (a function will stop working soon). Though, I have been spending more time on Mastodon for social networking and chatting with friends. The Twitter-like service is self-hosted by many people and regardless of the server you choose using Joinmastodon.org, they all communicate with each other. It is similar to email, it doesn’t matter where you sign up, or if you host your own. You can still connect with friends. There’s no trade off, your data isn’t being sold or leaked because there is not central authority or shareholders to satisfy.

This is not an easy decision as so many of my friends and family may simply put the onus on me to contact them. So, is this my depression telling me to isolate or a strong conviction? The best answer is to take the reigns and reach out to people through other means. I can call and text my friends and family. Why do I need FB to do that? Of course, I will miss their images and sharing, but we have email and other ways to share. In August, I will begin the process of being true to myself and convictions. 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

Fractured Part 3: Just Me

6 min read

Image of me ghosting

I’ve sat down on four separate occasions to conclude the exploration of my self and wrote four different things. Before, I shared how I am bullied by Chet and thrown into a frenzy by Sparky’s anxiety. I thought the purpose of writing another part would be to explain who I think I am, or maybe who I want to be. However, it turns out that I’ve already covered that.

Who I want to be is perfect. The gravity of anxiety from Sparky is a constant reminder of how I wish I was someone else. The gut punching criticism of Chet may have started out as a way to motivate myself to be this perfect someone. Perhaps the real fracture isn’t between the quibbling voices in my head, but between who I am and who I want to be. Where did this idea of perfection come from? Is it a result of the low self-worth, or the cause of it?

Childhood Is A Blueprint, But the Child’s Mind Is the Designer Not the Parents

While we might all be a similar shape, there is no mold, no factory creating similar humans. We develop through our individual experiences. Our animal brains learn by recognizing and creating meaningful patterns. No matter how many times you tell your toddler daughter not to touch the stove, she still reaches for it until she gets burned. After that, she knows to be careful around those things that look like stoves. Of course, this is at the simplest level. Will she associate the aroma of the hot cocoa on the stove with the pain? Do her siblings care for her or tease her? What color was she wearing? All of these things could affect the pattern formed in the child’s developing mind.

Exploring my childhood through psychiatric therapy has been tough. I think we often tend to draw a line between abuse and mental illness. Thus, I spent time struggling against these conversations around childhood because of my loyalty to my parents. I was not physically abused by them, so why are we talking about this?  Once I realized we were talking about my story and the way I interpreted events, my fears subsided.

The School of Life has several videos on the subject of childhood and the following is the most recent.

I thought the psychiatrist and I were Sherlock and Watson. We were going to find the one event in my childhood that would unlock my self-worth and fix me. Too much fiction in the form of books and TV may have created this fantasy about therapy. The reality is that recalling painful memories of my childhood help me get to those emotions I’ve been stocking away like nuclear waste. No matter where you put nuclear waste or emotions, they don't go away, ever. Talking about my feelings out loud allows me to see how they influenced my decisions. Therapy isn’t about reliving childhood, it is about trying not to repeat it in the now.

Who I Want to Be

At the moment, I want to be loved by others above all else. This is an attempt to fill the hole that is my own self-worth. Maybe this is a side effect of having a biological father who never attempted to contact me. Perhaps it is the result of loving and respecting a father who I don’t remember ever hugging or hearing him say, “I love you.” Toxic masculinity and childhood trauma aside, the changes that have to happen now must come from within me. I need to be a human who loves himself as much as he loves others. It’s like I need a seed to grow a happy new plant, but the only way to get the seed is to grow the happy new plant. Nature is complicated.

I believe a big part of being the human I want to be is to stop denying the one I am now. The demand for perfection is a result of being unhappy with who I think I am. I believe I am a burden. I am cluttering your social feed, mind, and eyes with serious talk instead of cat memes. Motivation in my world is done through guilt, not pride. Even writing part 3 of this story has nothing to do with journaling, growth, or pride. I feel like I have to do a third part. Why? The logic doesn’t hold up when I try to put it to words. My classic guilt has bloomed into a mega crop of shame filling my mind like an endless briar patch.

Original Sin

The premise that began this 3-part series was flawed to begin with. What if I wasn’t born into this life fractured, but perfect? I am the perfect human. We drop the phrase “only human” whenever we make mistakes. So, it turns out I don’t need to walk around believing I’m imperfect because the truth is quite the opposite.

I don’t need to be perfect and I am not fractured. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men do not have to find a magical glue to stick me back together again, as I once thought. I should not ignore my emotions and do the Humpty Dance when I feel bad. I simply need to be and accept the me I am in this moment (and the emotions). The self I’ve been discussing in this series is built from the past successes/errors and future worries. I can learn from my past, but I don’t have to identify with it. At least, this is how I currently believe I should proceed. Like the rest of you, I’m just making it up as I go.

Hi.

I’m Chris.

I’m not Chet or Sparky.

I’m not fractured.

I’m a human who wants to learn to love himself.

Wow. This is difficult.

Why Is Change So Difficult?

4 min read

A Betamax player image glitched

To consider the question, put yourself in the following scenario:

You’re going to spend a month in Mexico. Thus, you decide to take a class in Spanish to make your time there easier, and learn a new language. At the end of the first class the teacher gives you homework.

How do you feel about homework? Did your mind internally groan. Perhaps, old ghosts from your past rose from the dark recesses of your memory to haunt you each day before the next class. Finally an hour before class, you sat down to do the homework. Or, you wrote the homework assignment off in frustration or shame.

Homework is a dirty word to many of us. It’s more than anxiety, it is a cultural perception carried over from grade school. Kids don’t want homework. Even some teachers don’t want to assign homework because that means “homework” for them in the form of grading.

This stigma has resulted in patterns of behavior like the one described above. In the hypothetical situation you decided to take Spanish for your personal benefit. This was not forced on you. Thus, homework is only going to improve your experience. Yet, this old phantom of the dread associated with homework clouds your mind from the truth. In this case, homework is good and our minds refuse to believe it because of years of learned behavior.

Knowing Is Less Than Half The Battle

Thankfully, I haven’t gotten a lot of people telling me to “just be happy.” There’s definitely still a stigma around depression and mental illness, but these things are becoming more prominent. Unfortunately, I am often the person telling myself to “just be happy.” I know many of my patterns of behavior. Sadly, I’ve spent years building them just as society has about homework. Therefore, changing them is not so easy.

The Chris Show is brought to you, and me, by Depression Inc. Like with Facebook and Twitter, I signed up without reading the Terms of Service. I wake up with the knowledge that I am programmed to despise myself. During breakfast, the loathing begins.

I have strategies to help. I can fill my schedule with tasks, meditate, exercise, and eat healthy. Even if I achieve success with these tools my pattern emerges. Good job. Of course, the reason you did all this today is because you’re broken. Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eeyore wouldn’t hesitate to block depression from his social networks. Knowing of my mental distortions help, but that information is held within the very hard drive I’m trying to repair.

Are We Sure Time Heals All Wounds?

People can learn to live with mental illnesses. I have friends, who I hope to feature on an upcoming podcast idea, that are doing just that. I believe the path to a better life lies in creating new patterns. On my reading list is a book focusing on neuroplasticity. It is possible to change our brains, but it requires practice and time. The real tricky part? Time is a construct of the mind. Thus, depression distorts time and therefore my healing.

  • Tried doing things differently for a while and it didn’t work.
  • I don’t have time to fix myself. I should be working and enjoying life because I’m already in my 40s.
  • It’s too late for change. I’ve wasted my life.

This is why learning to live with my mental illness, making change is difficult. It’s homework that I don’t want to do because it means graduating into a world far bigger than my school. My mind, in this negative state, is predictable. Expecting sadness, fear, failure, disappointment, and shame is certain. Rolling the dice to possibly get joy, happiness, or success is unpredictable. I just can’t afford another failure, I have to be perfect. That’s the mental illness weighing in. Even the observational thought, “What do I have left to lose if I roll the dice?” has a negative connotation in my mind. It goes back to “The reason you have to try so hard is because you’re broken.

Changing the mind is like following the instructions to set up your first VCR in the 80s using the video tape instructions it came with. That means there’s hope for me. People figured out their VCRs sooner or later. Or, they asked for help from friends. I just have to hope that my mind isn’t Betamax and eventually I’ll get there.

Fear and Butterflies

4 min read

For most, suicide is not option D. This bit of wisdom was shared by Ana Marie Cox in an interview on mental health. A doctor gave her this insight after she was institutionalized after attempting suicide. I was as shocked to hear that first sentence, just as she stated she was in the interview. Really? Everybody doesn’t think about suicide?

In my teens, I thought about suicide in excess. If options A, B, or C did not work out I always had D. It wasn’t a ploy for attention on my part because I felt I was alone. That may not have been true, my family may have been there for me, but I felt alone. The loneliness a sign that my depression has been hanging around for much longer than I thought. I never made an attempt at suicide in my youth, but looking back I can see the inclination to do self-harm. There was an uneasy voice in my head when I was near danger, “what if I just leaned over this railing even more?”

Even with self-harm and suicide lurking in my younger years, I had a stupendous fear of death. Having never been convinced of any sort of afterlife, thoughts of my own demise were paralyzing, even into my forties. To me, death is not like falling asleep or a vision of walking toward the light. Death is like abruptly ending this observation midway through the third sentence above. The thought of my death would result in a panic attack, insomnia, and the occasional bad poetry.

Last year, I went to the hospital because that fear of death was gone. I had a break down. Guilt from my behavior, shame from addiction, and fear of showing my weakness to the world overwhelmed my native dread of death. I wanted to give up. I believe that fear is still missing. Though, I’ve started to wonder if it is the big bad behind my low self-worth.

There’s a colossal belief within me that a key to “getting better” is finding my own self-worth. As it is now, I live off of the acceptance and approval from others. I am desperate to be needed because I don’t believe I have a right to be in the same room with you. The emotion behind that is fear. It is a fear that I have no worth. Could it be that I’m afraid of dying without having proved my worth? Am I that cliché male of the species who distresses that he has nothing to leave behind when he is gone? That’s an ugly thought. It feels petty and pathetic to be worried about my legacy.

As I share my mental health story, occasionally I wonder if it is manipulative. Since I don’t feel as if I am accepted by others, perhaps I can get them to have simpathy for me. You can see how questioning my own motivations is driven by the fear that I am not behaving as I should be. I judge myself rather than accept who I am, grey hairs and all. I desire to be received by others because inside I don’t believe in me.

The urge for validation from the people around me ties nicely with the toxic idea of leaving a legacy. I am attempting to measure self-worth with money and things. Comparing myself to others only continues the depression and low self-worth. Even looking at what I’ve done in this world, my deeds are never enough.

That feeling may be a product of the competitive nature of our world. Even so, many of us look at our accomplishments in a very warped way. We want forward progress we can see. That’s not always the case though, is it? Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder gives us the idea that the simple act of stepping on a butterfly in the past can affect the future. Rather than fearing that my wages are a disgrace to my spouse and family, I might hope that the simple act of saying “thank you” to the bus driver yesterday helped her get through another tough day, week, or year of work.

I’m not sure if that’s blue-sky thinking or a valid concept. My depression and fear carry considerable weight in my thought process. Still, making generous assumptions about my simplest of acts could be something to work towards, a way to find some worth within. What are your thoughts?

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.