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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.

Smile: Fake It Until You Make It

5 min read

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

Making It

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

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

Faking It With A Smile

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

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

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

Amok

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

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

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

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

 

A Journey Inside My Depression

9 min read

Last week I spent 2 days trying to productivity my way out of feeling. This is old hat for me. Where does that phrase come from? Yuck, that’s my mind’s way of finding more avoidance, I start searching for that answer instead of sitting here and dealing with my emotions. I’ve been suppressing tears. Why? I wish I knew.

It goes like this, I woke up one morning to a note from my spouse. Regardless of the content, I felt shame and guilt. Even before reading it. I assumed it was bad news. I assumed I’d done something wrong. I stayed up late the night before, trying to keep the tears away. I promised not to stay up too long and I did. I was guilty. I didn’t share my battle against the tears. I was ashamed. Sharing my vulnerability would have made it real. Guilt and shame fit. What did the note say? Doesn’t matter. In the past I’ve stayed up late avoiding my issues with unhealthy distractions and destructive consequences. Another reason to guilt myself. It didn’t matter that the late evening was spent problem solving website issues. I was judging myself on the past. I was not at all focused on the now, on the content of the note.

I believe depression is an awakening of sorts. Those of us who reach this stage realize something isn’t right in our lives. It is acknowledging that the problem isn’t with the outside world, but within us. Nobody in the history of the world has said, “This was the best day of my life! It will never get better than this. Well, I guess I’ll jump off a bridge. I might as well leave a success.” People who have suicidal thoughts have lost self-worth. That loss is very difficult to live with. How do you correct this problem in your own mind? If it was something on the outside of the body, a cut, a rash, or a bad haircut we know what to do.

What makes depression worse is that we are creatures of habit. The truth is that we want the pain of depression. The predictability is a comfort. Depression becomes standard operating procedures. We can’t make sense of success. We write it off as luck because personal success would challenge our assumption that we have no worth. We take our meds, see therapists, and tell people we want to be free of the dark corners of our minds. Yet, if I wake up tomorrow free of depression, what will happen? Predictability will be gone! Without a logical pattern to understand how will I know what to say and do? In this state of mind, in the depression, my low self-esteem won’t let me see that I can function in a world without comfortable predictability.

Damned If You Do

There it is. Please help me, but I don’t want help. I project this can’t win attitude on others when they try to listen and help. My morning letter from my spouse was a positive one, but I assumed it was bad.

I cannot imagine living with me. Of course I can’t because I have lost self-worth and contemplated suicide. Before sitting down to write this I was outside and chose to cross the road at an intersection without a stop sign or a traffic light. “Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus,” I thought. As I walked on, an older woman limping down the sidewalk passed and I wished I could donate my somewhat healthier legs to her. Let’s give her a better life with this donation and also end my pain. How do my loved ones deal with that? It seems hopeless.

I couldn’t live with someone’s depression myself. In the past, my ex-wife was depressed and I ran. I asked my father how he stayed with my mother as she suffered through depression. Conveniently, I don’t remember if he had an answer. I only remember my mother telling me that he was hurt by the question. I wish my father was here to help my spouse. Of course, that wish is me avoiding responsibility. If I just got better, my spouse wouldn’t suffer. Even worrying about my partner is avoiding my own issue of depression.

Nonetheless, it cannot be easy to live with me. As I explained, sometimes I don’t want to help myself. I have tools from therapies, group sessions, and classes. I didn’t use those resources last week. Instead, depression and the stereotype of the suffering artist had me writing this. Even admitting that fuelled my depression. “Idiot, why aren’t you using your tools? Come on, Chris!”

Stigmale

The other option was to let the tears come. A difficult task for a male in our toxic Western society. We often talk about the social influence has on the development of girls to women, but rarely talk about “boys being boys.” We’re told to “man up,” instead of emote. Crying is a weakness. I knew for days that what I needed was a cry, and yet, I couldn’t do it until the pain became unbearable. Should I listen to a sad song or watch an emotional movie to bring the tears? No. I just needed to let them come.

I needed to feel safe to allow them to happen. Though, repressing them for so long had my eyes watering in a public cafe as I reflected on my week. What are you feeling as you read that last sentence? Are you feeling empathy for me because you can relate to sadness or because you’re embarrassed for me having this emotion in a public space? You could argue there isn’t much of a difference, but it may illustrate how much we’ve tried to distance ourselves from emotions in society. The fact that we feel shame or awkward having emotions in a public space is troubling, in my opinion.

Coming Out The Other Side

At the end of the day, I reached for my mental health tools. It’s very tough because even these helpful tools can affect me negatively. Chet(me) was quick to make me feel bad for waiting days to get the tools out. That’s the loop, the depression feeding itself, once again.

I confessed to my partner how I perceived her morning letter. Once again, revisiting the idea that I project the “can’t win” attitude on her. She held me and I cried. The release wasn’t as cathartic as I had hoped it would be. Perhaps, this is because of that male stigma that I am fighting against. There’s a part of me that believes crying serves no purpose. It doesn’t solve the issue. I feel the same way about anger. Getting angry never seems to fix anything, so why bother crying or getting angry?

These emotions are natural that is, we all feel them as humans. Repressing the tears for days resulted in a number of issues for me that I could have avoided if I simply let them happen when I first felt the need for tears. Supposedly, the trick is to feel our emotions, without getting caught up in the story. In other words, figuring out what is behind the emotions instead of getting carried away with thoughts of fixing the future or past events that led to the feeling. Initially, I was feeling bad because it is the season. I haven’t worked regularly in a year and much of my identity is my work. What do I have to be proud of? That question is going the wrong direction, it is heading towards the story. Beneath my identity issue, under the idea of having no work is the common theme that I have no self-worth. It’s possible that this is what my tears are trying to tell me.

This is why depression is called a mental illness. The perception of reality is distorted with many of us. While many mental disorders may present themselves in behaviors, depression can sometimes remain within. This is why suicides of loved ones can affect us so deeply. Sometimes it is the only sign that there is a problem.

How To Get Help or Help Others

  • There’s this great Wikipedia page with a list of suicide crisis lines for a ton of different countries. Talk to someone it can help. Even if you haven’t attempted suicide, thinking it is a distant option is not healthy. It has been option D for for me since junior high. I recently learned that not everyone thinks this way. Reach out using one of those lines above or find someone you trust to share your emotional struggles.
  • Make It Ok has a number of resources to help you talk to friends with mental wellness issues. They want to abolish the stigmas around mental illness in society, so take a few minutes to check the site out.
  • Reach out to each other. Those of us dealing with mental illness will not come to you. My self-worth is nonexistent. I am not going to email, text, or call you after I write this. I don’t want to burden you. I don’t even want to be with me! There’s even an urge to apologize for recommending that you to reach out to me and others with mental illness. After all, “it takes two to tango.” Sometimes friendships feel unequal when you have to be the one always making contact. Well, my spouse had a sign in her grade school classroom that fits, “Fair isn’t everybody getting the same thing. Fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be successful.” Help your friends be successful, reach out and engage each other.

The Suicide I've Already Committed

8 min read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria Schwab

 

Apologizing to You, Me, Everyone

5 min read

Is “I’m sorry” an effective phrase? I could spend my time, my energy, my money to give you everything you deserve. I will work to give you, everything that you need and want. I know the things you desire. I often see baubles that make me think of you. How easy it would be to spend the money, whether I have it or not. I could fill your home with everything you love. Sadly, that will not measure up. Unfortunately, gifts will not be enough, not for what I did.

Words like, “I’m sorry,” can sometimes feel hollow. The phrase is used so often, in all facets of our lives. How does one make those words count? What form of apology could possibly work for what I’ve done? Of course, I can’t know that answer. It lies within you somewhere. You may not even realize it.

Personally, the simplest, easiest answer is denial. Treating the event like it never occurred is the first thing that comes to mind. Traveling back in time to remedy the issue before it happens seems like a more feasible solution than living with the pain. Why did this happen? I use every atom of my body to wish that it didn’t.

I dream of the wishes coming true. I fantasize about time travel. I imagine these scenarios to stay away from reality. I escape from the hurt and pain in these illusions. Except, that’s where I need to be. Experiencing the pain is how to move forward. Exploring the hurt is how we learn.

For me, I still have to learn to forgive myself. I would love your forgiveness, and at one time, I thought it would help. In truth, that would simply let me off the hook. That is, the true power of forgiveness and acceptance resides within me. If I don’t deal with my own issues, I will not grow.

What Have I Done?

I cannot reconcile the abuse and distress I have caused. I cannot absolve myself from bringing you pain. Throughout my life, I have not always been a good person. I’ve said things out of anger, performed inexcusable actions and recently threatened to hurt myself. No matter how many times I try to do nice things for you. No matter how many times I cancel my plans and bend over backwards for you, my own wound will not heal. I cannot forgive myself. I am unsure how to do that. This is a deeper issue for me. I have all those years of guilt, years of judging myself against my own twisted code of behavior. These rules that protected the fearful child within me, and kept me from emotions.

The words, “I’m sorry” pale in comparison to my hurtful deeds. Yet, each time I utter that phrase to myself, I feel better inside. At least it feels good momentarily. Accepting my truth, accepting I hurt you doesn’t mean I have to like it. Acceptance is not condonation. I must accept the past to get on with the future. Again, forgiving myself is going to be a difficult challenge. See, I do owe you an apology because I was not myself when I offended you. In order to genuinely atone for what I’ve done to you, I have to accept what I’ve been doing to myself for years.

Compassion

Regardless, accepting the past to live in the present and build a future is a lesson each of us can benefit from. We all process this lesson in our own time. I’m still not there yet. I’m still entrenched in sorrow. I hope for the sake of your happiness and joy that you can forgive me. Moreover, I beg you to accept and forgive yourself for your past. Learn from your pain. Understand that you got to this stage in your life by, in part, making some hurtful mistakes. Accepting that truth will make your life much brighter.

Often the person who needs to hear the words, “I’m sorry” from you is, well, you. Give yourself some compassion. Remember, compassion is love. In my opinion, you can’t really show compassion to anyone, including yourself, if there is hate within you. In these turbulent times filled with hate speech you may be tempted in to a combative reaction, but conflict is never the answer. If you really want to stand against the divisive groups getting media attention, show compassion to those around you. Love, real love, brings together far more people than anger could ever hope to mobilize. The same goes for that which is inside each of us. Anger, guilt and shame are like an infection, easy to get if you don’t take care of yourself. Love and compassion may be more elusive, but the reward is far greater.

Accept what is in the past. Forgive and love yourself, friends. Share your compassion openly. Those of us hurting want to learn from your example. I want to learn from you, please. I’m weary from the regret. I have treated you, each and everyone of you poorly. Also, I’m extremely sorry for the way I’ve treated myself. Like each of you, I need compassion and forgiveness.