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Birthday Bereavement

5 min read

an art kit from my aunt with watercolor, acrylic, oil, pastels and more. thanks to my aunts for this art kit which will allow me to try some new things like acrylics, oils, and pastels

Celebrating another lap around the sun is not my depression's style. Instead, we mourn the loss of another year in the march toward dying as an unsuccessful, unworthy human. Birthday gifts, cards, wishes activate so much fear and disgust. I'm afraid I'll appear ungrateful for the effort if I don't immediately respond to friends and family. I'm terrified I will say "the wrong thing," or offend my benefactors. I am disgusted with myself and assume others must be as well. Therefore, the gifts or birthday wishes must not be sincere. Better send a card because he sent me one. I should message Chris on his birthday, it has to be hard getting another year older without changing his loser status.

The disgust all seems so unreal when spelled out, but there's not really a decent way to translate emotions and feelings to words. In my mind, I am not worthy of love. It's like when you believe there is an additional step when walking up or down stairs and there isn't one. Your mind sort of stops as the muscles of your leg and foot send feedback to the brain saying, "Um, we missed the step? What do we do now?" Your eyes relay information back to the mind that there are no additional steps and you're in the clear, but the brain still needs a moment to digest it all. When I receive a message saying, "Happy birthday," I can immediately respond as we are taught. "Thank you." I can also switch quickly into a toxic avoidance, "one more foot in the grave," or some other socially accepted joke to ignore my feelings. Meanwhile, I'm in that mind freeze of the phantom step. I am human garbage. This person likes me enough to wish me happy birthday. That does not compute. I have forty years of human garbage self-talk and just over two years of trying to think differently. You do the math and you can see how it usually shakes out in my mind.

Sharing these emotions and thoughts like this is another layer of the onion. When I look at my partner and share what I'm going through, I believe I see fear in her. Is she not supposed to give me a gift? Would my life be better if everyone ignored me? Of course my depression wants it that way. Isolation and freedom from what appears to be expectations people have for me means not having to deal with emotions. In openly sharing my thoughts on birthday wishes and gifts I fear I am pushing her and others away. Damn it. I should just be quiet. See, that's a win-win for depression and anxiety. If I say something, I may push people away. If I choose not to share, it becomes fuel for shame, How could I think these things about my friends and family? I'm the worst. No matter how you slice it, the onion brings tears.

Of course, one strategy is to reality check things. I can ask my partner how she feels about me sharing. I can ask you, "Did you just click Happy Birthday because the app told you to?" My psychiatrist weighed in on the idea of people feeling obligated to wish me well, "Everyone who did it chose to do so." They're all presumably very busy, and yet they did it. To this, I say what I told her-- I can see it rationally. I can see that people care about me. Perhaps, even emotionally I can feel it. Give me 5 seconds and I can no longer see and feel that way. Mood is a perception changer. Your baby toddler throwing their toys around can be cute, or if you're trying to get work done, had a bad day, or stressed in some other way, your response could be one of anger. I can get through the entire birthday in good spirits and crash the next day. Three days later, maybe I see things positively again. Life is ups and downs.

A gift of messages printed on the backs of photos from friends and family
A gift of messages printed on the backs of photos from friends and family

Thanks to everyone who wished me happy birthday and participated in the nice box of messages my spouse put together. There were unexpected cards in the mail and I even received another gift today. I wish I put in half the effort into loving myself that my friends and family have shown. Another layer to the onion that is me, is the fact that working on my mental health activates shame as well-- it's selfish to help myself. That's why my writings, like this one, are dual purpose. First, I'm sharing in hopes that it helps others know they are not alone. Perhaps, like much of the self-help books I've read, something in here clicks for someone. Secondly, I'm trying to infuse some of the things I've learned internally. Again, forty years of a different narrative makes it difficult to retain information counter to the installed belief system.

Birthdays can often bring up mortality issues for people. I think I spent a few birthdays chewing on the scary prospect of being mortal. I'm sure much of it was shame-powered, wishing to be around longer to accomplish every thing I'm supposed to do. Now, I'm working on celebrating myself, just as I am. My jaw is clenched as I type. It's no easy ask. Regardless, I'm going to try and finish my day being a bit more kinder to myself. I hope that you do the same for yourself.

Daniel J. Hogan's original web series in graphic novel form

Daniel J. Hogan's original web series in graphic novel form, signed by the artist and friend

 

Victim

5 min read

self portrait of my head trying to escape my head.

I've lost confidence in my ability to recognize my harmful patterns of behaviour because my psychiatrist proposed that I may be taking on a victim role. This new label is uncomfortable and I want to crawl back into bed.

victim [vik-tim]: 1. a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency. 2. a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency.

Ouch. Trying the definition on for size, does fit. There's a strong sense that by writing this right now, I'm engaging in the practice of victimizing myself. This is why I want to go back to bed. This is why I am frozen, frustrated, and floundering.

I was struggling with my familiar pattern of shame, and the anger I direct at myself. To my psychiatrist, I described a situation where I made a decision, and in that moment it felt good. It was free of strife. As the hours wore on, I started to get angry. "Hadn't I felt pressured into that decision by my spouse?"I thought. Through therapy, I've learned that anger is not a "negative" emotion. It's perfectly okay to be angry at someone. It's simply about responding, not reacting. "Perhaps my anger shouldn't be towards myself? I can be legitimately angry with my spouse."

I brought those thoughts up to the psychiatrist. I felt in control, calmly made a decision, and confidently moved forward. Hours later, my self-critic came in to challenge my resolve. Breaking this pattern is so hard. This is when the psychiatrist proposed that the anger was a result of me making myself the victim. I had taken the situation and made my spouse out to be my oppressor. I was projecting my frustration with myself onto her. Now, I was using the "it's okay to be angry" that I've learned, in this warped way. I was ignoring my responsibility and laying blame elsewhere.

My Own Parent

I've written before about my stoic father. He was genuine and a good person, but I don't ever remember hearing him say, "I love you." Beyond that, he was good cop 85% of the time. As bad cop, mom spent her time telling me how she "should" punish me. I should be grounded, this is the guilt I carried a lot. Thus, this may be part of how I learned to punish myself.

The guilt and shame goes back to the way my mother was raised. Like every parent, mom wanted to give me the childhood she didn't have. Her parents, my grandparents, were very judgemental and negative. After growing up in that, it makes sense that mom would want me to not experience such criticism. Therefore, I was left to punish myself for mistakes, and things I perceived as mistakes.

Now, my grandparents were not negative 100% of the time. Neither was my mother. To be fair, I am also not punishing myself all the time as well. I'm simply sharing my perspective into my patterns. I suppose I'm clarifying because I'm so turned around at the moment. "Is this description of my past, me playing the victim again?"

Regardless of the past, I am my own parent in this moment. Seeing myself as a child is probably not helpful. Yuck. I'm really in a dark space. I'm not trusting myself, right now. I'm afraid the progress I've made with my emotions is now my same old pattern masquerading as development. Again, "is this me playing the victim to my depression and shame?"

Agency Now

Both definitions for victim above deal with agency. I'm feeling a distinct lack of agency since hearing the psychiatrist's theory. Hi, I'm playing a victim to the theory! I was given this grenade to hold onto 3 days ago. I've been ruminating on it ever since. In other words, have I been present?

Right now, I'm writing this in order to find clues and sort through the thoughts that are making me feel like garbage. I'm not simply observing and analyzing the thoughts, though. I'm reliving events. I'm in the psychiatrist's office. I'm back at the discussion with my spouse. I'm worried about my mom and spouse reading this. I'm not here. I'm not present.

I have no agency in the past because it is done. I have no influence on the perceived futures where I've offended my spouse and mother. Agency is control. This is the value that I find in negativity. Assuming the worst, being judgemental is exerting control. If you always believe the worst, you won't be surprised. This is perhaps the power my grandparents used to make themselves feel good about the world around them. The criticism I remembered seeing in them, and the way they behaved around my mother, as she was growing up, was their way of controlling the environment. Here I am, following in their footsteps. Judging the past and the future is not being here, in the now.

Once again, I feel like I need more concentration on being in the now. It seems like an oversimplified solution to my issues. There's another problem, looking for solutions, rather than accepting where I am. Being present is a powerful tool, not a solution. I have agency at this very moment. I can break down and cry, getting lost in the sadness that I feel. I can also hit the publish button to send this out and stop beating myself up. It's just a bit tricky in this state of mind. My resolve and confidence are weakened. If I stop beating myself up right now, am I ignoring the issue? Am I bottling it up and not learning anything? I suppose those questions are dragging me into a future I have no control over. I can only make the decision with the information I have in this moment. Anything else could be flirting with victimization.

Afraid of What We Find

4 min read

A jittery letter H

 

Hustle.

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

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

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

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

What are we afraid of?

takes a deep breath

What am I afraid of?

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

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

Hide.

A Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Relationships and Mental Wellness

7 min read

Two oval shapes mirroring each other in a gritty environment

"You're not responsible for the emotions of others."

This is something I've heard often in therapy, groups, and through other resources. Logically, it makes sense. If you could make someone feel love for you, there would be no need for dating. No, people are in charge of their own emotions. It may not always feel that way to us. Sometimes it seems like the emotions are in control, not the other way around. Dealing with emotions is a whole topic of its own. What I sat down to write about was healing yourself while being in relationships.

Much of my depression appears to stem from my worth as a person in this world. For years I have lived off the validation from others. I was desperate to impress everyone, parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, and strangers. Their praise was all I had because I did not love myself. I was ashamed of who I was. I used to joke that if I became President that one of my grandmothers would have said, "I think you can do better. That job doesn't pay that much does it, Christopher." That was my joke, these are not direct quotes from grandma. This is how I saw myself-- never good enough.

The path to healing is to find a way to love who I am, in this moment. I cannot change my past and fearing the future only leads to more trouble. However, I'm not alone in this journey. I have a partner and family. They say you don't choose your family. Would my partner have chosen to marry me if my depression was written into the contract? I was miserable when a former partner went through depression. In fact, I left. I grew up with my mother locked away in her room. When my father tried to talk me out of leaving my former partner, I told him that I didn't know how he could live like that. My mother told me that hurt him a lot, to hear me say that. Again, dwelling on the past or unseen futures is not typically helpful with depression. Though, here in the present, my mental illness is a factor in our relationship.

The shame of being unworthy is fueled by that past memory, but the difference here and now is communication. This is a key part of my healing and relationship. My personal message that "I can do better" is supposed to motivate me, but telling myself it over and over has convinced me that I'm not enough. It doesn't matter which relationship, mother, sister, spouse, I'm not enough. That desire for outside validation that I mentioned earlier morphed into a new shame delivery system.

"That person is just being polite. They know I'm not really talented, important, or helpful," I thought.

Therefore, communicating with my partner openly is far more helpful than listening to that punishing voice in my head. This is a double-edged sword, sharing my thoughts and emotions like this. Openly sharing has her trying to create a map of pitfalls to avoid. No one wants to see someone they love hurting. So, what are the situations we need to navigate around to avoid Chris feeling pain?

The map is a myth. Even now, as I write this, I'm hoping to stumble on my own map to help her navigate my depression. You're not responsible for the emotions of others. Our minds are unique to the moment we are in. Our brains have plasticity and are constantly changing. There is no ranking sadness, anger, happiness, fear, surprise, and disgust. Each has the ability to overcome the others. Something that would normally disgust you to eat, may not look bad if you haven't eaten in 10 days. Fear of death is a big scary thing to some of us, but sadness of depression can easily dull the fear. Happiness that your partner is alive after a crash can overpower the anger or sadness you feel at losing your father's classic car. The point is, we cannot predict what others will feel. We barely have control of our own emotions.

Where Are We Then?

I share, it concerns my partner, and we're both left uneasy. If it was just me alone, my depression wouldn't affect anyone, right? This is depression talking again. That desire to isolate and shield ourselves away from any feeling whatsoever.

Now what?

Maybe the clues are above. My partner is concerned, she is affected by what I am going through. Her desire to avoid pitfalls is far more important than anything else. That's love. In that moment, she's trying to help. The same goes for me as I write this. The worry that our mental health is a burden on those around us is based in a fear of future pain. I'm missing that key present moment, she's doing everything to help. Her fear that she's not saying the right things or could be doing things that are harmful comes from how I behaved in the past. Instead of worrying about what may happen, all of us would be better off to focus on what's in front of us. I'm here and sharing. Human connection is an amazing thing if you just take time to really be present.

I'm not being critical of my partner or myself. Though, that is my old pattern. I'm simply trying to remind myself and those of you reading that nothing matters more, than this moment. Regret is born from realizing that fact too late. The "should haves" begin to slap the shore of your beliefs and you find yourself awash in feelings that you didn't do enough. There's that word again, ""enough." Maybe I need to try to remove that from my vocabulary with a Morning Mantra. In fact, I think saying "too late" was a bad idea as well. Truthfully, it is never "too late" when you're in the present.

Then & Now

I didn't leave my former partner because of her depression. I left to avoid mine. The shame that I was unable to pay the bills and returning to school because I couldn't hack university before was the motivation. I had failed my parents, my marriage, and everyone. I wasn't who I thought they wanted me to be. I suppose that was the question I was really asking my father at the time, "If you love my mother, will you love me if I can't be who you want me to be?" Of course, he didn't want my mother to be in pain. However, it wasn't up to him. All he could do was be present and communicate. Healing takes time, moment to moment.

I was lost in a future I thought everyone wanted. I was trapped in a past where I believed I made the wrong decisions about my education, house purchase, and letting others depend on me. I was depressed. When I observer the past, and don't get swept away in it, I can see my depression goes back much further.

Once my psychiatrist told me that the emotional parts of our brain have no sense of time. An emotion triggered by a memory can be just as powerful as the day the event actually happened. When I think of my father and all his medical complications as I write this, I feel sad despite the fact that he passed away a while ago. Wherever he is now, no matter what my beliefs, he's not hurting now. Living with my mental illness has not been a picnic for my partner. Tomorrow, may very well be another troubling day. Right now, in this moment, we have each other and I'm going to hold onto that and enjoy it. And of course, I have to continue to work on my relationship with myself.

Much <3

The War on Empathy

3 min read

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

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

Planet

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

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

Chris

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

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

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

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

Morning Mantra Dos Check-in

4 min read

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

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

Morning Mantra Dos features 3 goals around Acceptance.

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

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

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

Creating Space

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

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

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

Duration and Fatigue

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

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

P.S.

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

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

Morning Mantra Dos

The text of Morning Mantra Dos and a drawing of a meditating dog

Perfectionism is a burden I carry. It comes from this overwhelming feeling that I am not enough. In Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love That Heals Fear and Shame, Tara Brach writes "Imperfection is not our personal problem--it is a natural part of existing." The need to constantly be better may seem like a positive goal, but Brach goes on to say, "Staying occupied is a socially sanctioned way of remaining distant from our pain."

I'm not saying that we should stop trying to improve, but in order to progress we need to take stock of our situation. We need to accept it. This can be a difficult task. To avoid our own suffering we might blame others or believe the world is against us. We may deny that anything is wrong and try to move on and make changes without really understanding what's wrong in the first place. Thus, we fall back into the same destructive patterns.

For example, forgiveness of ourselves or others cannot happen until we accept the situation. I haven't had steady work for a number of years. I am ashamed to admit that. I feel like a loser. I get caught up in this story of shame, anger, and feeling sorry for myself every time I think about it. Applying for jobs is often not done to make changes in my life, but to punish myself for being a loser. I do it to make myself feel worse. I simply haven't accepted where I am.

Therefore, I'm terrified of more failures. I want everything to be perfect. In Self-Compassion Dr. Kristin Neff shared the following:

When you can trust that failure will be greeted with understanding rather than judgment, it no longer becomes the boogeyman lurking in the closet. Instead, failure can be recognized as the master teacher it is.

Remember if this guided meditation-style thing doesn't work, you can try writing out the mantra in a journal. Dr. Nathaniel Branden found that sentence completion exercises worked well at changing behavior for his patients.

If you'd like to download the Morning Mantra instead of coming to this page each morning, right click the following and save it to your device: Morning Mantra Dos.

Much💜

Morning Mantra Uno Recap

3 min read

Purple sky with title of blog text

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

1) Recognizing Physical Tension

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

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

2) Accepting Feelings and Sensations

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

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

A Perfect Human Response

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

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

Next up, Mantra Dos.

Patterns, Paths, and Pain

6 min read

Two paths, a sunny one and a dark, small one. Watercolor painting

I wanted some help with a project and I called on my friend German from The Modern Manhood Podcast. It was really great to bounce ideas off of him and he helped me focus on what was important. We had an enjoyable conversation over drinks and dinner and parted ways. Then, I was alone with my thoughts. The joy of the evening faded away.

I am a burden. I am pathetic. I am stupid. Obviously, I wasted German's time. He must think I'm an idiot. I imagine he's going home to tell his partner what a loser I am.

Walking home from the pub, I couldn't shake those thoughts. Despite the fact that we openly talked insecurities and mental health, my inner critic was carrying me away with anger, pain, and sadness after I left. These feelings are not based in reality, there's no evidence that German thinks any of these things.Yet, this is my perception when I look back on the evening. I am not alone, of course. We all look back at events with a cloud of apprehension or nostalgia. Dwelling in either area can be dangerous when depression is in the equation.

 

Introspection and Chocolate

There can't be such a thing as too much chocolate, right? Some, especially those who aren't into chocolate, may believe there is a limit. I wonder the same about examining my own thoughts and feelings. Is there such a thing as too much introspection? As someone who takes forever to make a decision, I can see the argument against examining one's self "too much." No matter how much I think about me, I still have to make the doughnuts, I have to go about my day and take care of my responsibilities. Whether German likes me as a person or not, the laundry needs to get done, food needs to be put on the table, and chocolate needs to be eaten. I believe this is stoicism, but that book is still on my reading list. Regardless of what I think, there's work to be done, so why bother being introspective?

On the flip side, chocolate is damn delicious. Some people use pumpkin pie as an excuse to eat an entire tub of whip cream. If you leave me alone with a pan of chocolate brownies, I hope you don't want the pan back because I'm liable to eat it as well. Being introspective is learning who I am. There are layers when I think about thinking. It can seem unnecessary from the surface level. The thoughts above about being a pathetic loser, for example, bring pain to me. Best to leave that alone, right? That's not going to get the housework done. Anyway... Yet, the next layer below is asking the question not of German, but of me. Why do I think I'm a loser? In my warped mind, if I ask German, he will never admit he doesn't like me. He'll want to spare my feelings, people are rarely honest, and so on. In other words, I'm going to believe what I want to believe. Time to ask why.

Instead of avoiding the pain, I have to go into it. Why do I think I'm a loser? The immediate response is, "just stop thinking this." Do I need to rehash some ancient memory to move forward? I think understanding it can take the power away from my self-critic. No matter how much money a man has, you're not going to take investment advice from him if he says he bought Bitcoin because he only invests in things that start with the letter "b." What if a teacher told 7 year old me that I was the worst student she ever had in class on Tuesday, and in the following evening during parent-teacher conferences I heard her say I was one of her favorites? That may have created some trust issues. I can't very well base my worth on what a 7 year old with one bad experience thinks. So, understanding the past is a good thing.

 

The Mean Streets of the Brain

The 7 year old is not alone, unfortunately. Using his lens, I've grabbed other experiences through the years to reinforce this idea of mistrust. I must be terrible because +add negative events here. It's like letting the tobacco or sugar industry study the affects of their products. "The things we make are great! Keep buying! There's no problem here."

Things are literally reinforced in the brain. The favorite phrase that I've read over and over is "neurons that fire together, wire together." When two brain cells make a connection, or wire together, they fire information through the wire. If they do this over and over, you brain builds a highway here. "Ouch! I burned myself on the stove again." The brain cells need better communication between the idea of a stove and hot, let's remove the traffic lights and put in an 8 lane superhighway here.

Now, over the years I alone have perceived that I am not enough. I feel that I am a loser. Those two brain cells, the loser label and the Chris, are affixed together with the neural pathway equivalent of the Autobahn. Through my recent groups, therapy, friends, family, and introspection, I've been trying to connect Chris to the decent and lovable brain cells. At the moment it is only a rough two-track. Actually, it feels more like a Rock Crawling course.

So, it's no surprise that my older pattern of self-disgust kicked in after chatting with my friend German. It is frustrating that I am able to recognize the pattern, but still get dragged down by it. At least I'm noticing it, right? First step and all? At times I can see this, yes. However, seeing through the fog of depression can be difficult. The psychiatrist explained something to me once about emotional pain, it has no sense of time. The part of the brain that deals in emotions is not at all connected to the part that perceives time. When you think about the loss of a loved one, it affects you even if it happened years ago. Those feelings that I'm somehow less are painful, true or not. Time to dig into another layer perhaps. Meanwhile, construction continues on reinforcing the new neural pathway between Chris and compassion.

 

Morning Mantra Uno

Quick doodle of the text

I’ve decided to start my mantra experiment with recognizing emotions. As a man in our Western world, society demands we be tough and without emotion. “Don’t cry, be a man!”

I imagine it is not just men who avoid emotions these days. Our culture of busy keeps us from spending time with ourselves. Whether it is carting kids to after school sports, going to the gym, continuing your education to stay competitive in your career, or simply the distraction of the smart phone and television, we avoid emotions. Who wants to feel pain, sadness, frustration, or anger?

Yet, I’ve learned the hard way that it is important to recognize and accept these feelings. Burying them and avoiding the pain has had a profound affect on my life. Anxiety, depression, and a lack of self-worth have laid waste to who I am.

Therefore, I want to get better at accepting these emotions. I’m only human. So, Morning Mantra Uno is about recognizing and accepting emotions. I think this is going to be key as I progress through more mantras, so I have made it number one.

Is a month of reciting this daily too long?

Maybe. We’ll see.

Is this guided meditation-like thing not working for you?

You can try writing out the mantra in a journal. Dr. Nathaniel Branden found that sentence completion exercises worked well at changing behavior for his patients.

If you'd like to download the Morning Mantra instead of coming to this page each morning, right click the following and save it to your device: Morning Mantra Uno.

 

Much💜