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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

 

Breakfast Seppuku

6 min read

Manipulated McDonalds M into an S for shame

 

"The best part about waking up is..." being alive. It's not Folgers in my cup or any other 'breakfast is good for you' marketing myth. Yet, it is the most difficult part of my day. The reality of the life I have lived and the insurmountable future ahead come crashing into me as I become conscious. I don't know what to have for breakfast or care, because of all the past/future on my mind. Life is complex and scary. For me, it becomes problematic and I start to wonder if it is worth it.

The way I self-medicated in the past was junk food breakfast. Donuts, Pop Tarts, and all kinds of sweets. Start the day immediately in avoidance. Give me something to make me forget about my existence. Diabetes forced me to change that habit. I worked hard to get a healthy breakfast routine. Though I like variety, I probably ate the same thing for breakfast for a year straight after learning to control my blood sugars. The sucrose morning treats were postponing my existential crisis with a sugar rush and then I would have to refill throughout the day, lest I wanted bear the weight of living.

I broke my healthy breakfast streak and let go of the diabetes worries as I started working on my mental health in groups and seeing a psychiatrist. It was a reward system. I spent the day working on stuff that is really uncomfortable. I am eating this entire large bag of M&Ms. I deserve it. Breakfasts have fallen into the old pattern again. Sweets for breakfast lead to shame for lunch and dinner.

The shame is all about my unworthiness. The impregnable feeling that I am undeserving and unlovable goes hand-in-hand with option D on every one of my decisions, suicide. Living with shame available in every single thought is torture. I can't speak for others, but I wonder if those who have taken their own lives came to a point where they decided they can never outrun the shame. Imagine, years of telling yourself "I must do more, be better." Regardless of your successes, that voice is ever present. When you finally acknowledge you've reached success, when you can actually see it, that voice is still there. Did Robin Williams realize that he had made it through drug abuse, beat the odds of being successful in comedy and Hollywood, creating a family, and in that clarity heard the shame and decided to quiet it once and for all?

Food For Thought

Is my breakfast choice really a life or death question? I think in some ways it is. I do believe suicide has been in my mind more lately. It's interesting that one of the things keeping me from ending my life is shame. That's right, the same force that rubs my every thought, desire, and relationship against a cheese grater of unworthiness is also keeping me alive. Suicide is for the weak. What a let down I will be. People will blame themselves. Others will be relieved and say good riddance. And, of course, my mind worries at all the critiques of my method of execution. "That was an idiotic way to commit suicide. Who knew he was such a moron?" It's weird. Chris is completely shame-powered. So, I eat my feelings. The loop is shame-sugar-shame.

Nobody wants to talk about suicide. It's uncomfortable and scary. Maybe that's why everyone was so struck by the loss of Robin Williams. He had no one to talk to about this subject. If the subject you want to talk about is taboo, it is a good chance that thoughts about it feel taboo and become shameful. When society does talk about suicide it is usually an investigation into a mystery, "How could this have occurred? We had no idea!" We never speak of it as a choice. Society argues about when a group of cells becomes a fetus and its right to life, but Dr. Kevorkian is evil for letting people decide their own fate. Society has chosen to think that suicide is a result of mental illness. One cannot be in their "right" mind to want to end their own life. Biologically, it is an interesting argument. Much of our mental health issues related to stress and anxiety can be traced back to the our fight or flight response, the one that kept our ancestors alive in a very different world. So yes, like animals there's something inside us that wants to live. Unlike other animals, we have this ability to think.

Chicken Egg Situation

Is it the shame that triggers option D, or suicide that trigger the shame? I don't have answers, only thoughts. Many are joyous, many are not. Before, I was "too busy" to consider these deeper questions. They hung in the background while I tried to be productive, earn, and move up in the world. My avoidance strategy was a combination of sugar, entertainment, and work. I replaced that with new things that I learned, the coping I described in a previous entry. I let go of what was working because it wasn't working fast enough. I was not cured. I went back to what I had done in the past, but I've burned out a lot quicker. Hopefully, this is all part of learning, creating new neural pathways, and trimming the old ones down. Whatever it is, I'm exhausted. My tanks are empty and I'm vulnerable. Something crawls at the edge of my perception, telling me to sit down and paint, to create. Unfortunately, the shame of doing something for my undeserving is so much louder at the moment. I should be working. I should be making money. I should be like everyone else.

Compromise, I'm writing. Pain is personal. Those closest to me always want to know how they can help. You aren't responsible for what myself or anyone else is going through. Our minds create our own realities. You can help by validating those of us with pain. Yours isn't a position of fixer, but one of listener. You can bring me joy by reaching out. My mind will create the narrative that you're doing it out of guilt because you read this, but if you keep reaching out it will challenge this belief. Being heard is so important, but sometimes we don't want to talk. You can still be there. It can be draining for me to manage all the anxiety when being around people. And so, I isolate. One on one, with friends I trust are still stressful with my thoughts of unworthiness and fear of saying or doing the "wrong" thing, but the volume is less intense. I forget this and don't reach out. It seems unfair to put some onus on others, but hey, you asked how to help. Maybe you should bring me breakfast?

Don't Try, Don't Fail: The Constant Flow of Negativity

8 min read

Street Art of a skull with a heart and a mind inside it

In the world that is my mind and body, depression is a utility. Pipes and wires travel throughout my system ensuring basic darkness permeates the emotional ghettos and physical suburbs of Chris.

Those of us that are privileged to have water and electricity in our homes sometimes forget how the process works. Water is constantly being pushed through the pipes of the house, only stopping at faucet handle. One turn and it is instantly let free. The same goes for the electricity behind the light switch, if you touch the wires behind the switch they are live with power. If you must affect repairs to your plumbing, you shut the water off at the street or disable the pump that brings it up from a well. Yet, all the pipes in the home still have water in them and you'll be forced to drain them before making repairs. This is probably the best way I can describe my dealings with depression. It's always on and if I want to make changes, I still have to deal with what's in the pipes.

I've written about the challenges with my inner critic and my patterns of negative thought. I scrolled through my blog to grab an example or two, but I realized most of the posts in the last two years cover this subject. I'm always writing about it because it is always present. There are no simple decisions for me. The negativity is primed like water in pipe. An urge to use the restroom can start at a fear that the toilet won't work and end with me homeless, or dead. The toilet doesn't work, I'm responsible for breaking it, my partner decides this is the last straw in living with me, the jobless loser and his mental illness, and I'm out on the street. Maybe I starve to death later. Honestly, that's an abbreviated version. See, even now I am stopping myself from sharing the entire, drawn out story that my brain has created for fear of boring you. As I type this, my brain is concurrently working out all the reasons why sharing my issue will be bad. Friends and family reading this will blame themselves or distance themselves from me, surely.

My first therapist challenged me to keep going down the ladder of these thoughts. In the example above, the act of going to the restroom resulting in death is tremendously far fetched. This was her point, by following the story to an improbable end I would see these thoughts in my head are not helpful or worthwhile. Nonetheless, they are here. Constantly. It has gotten worse over the years. Well worn paths, neural pathways that I've rewarded time, and time again.

I've also learned this is part of my biology. Early humans developed this negative bias to protect themselves from danger. I try to remind myself of this fact. Though, it can be overwhelming when I never have a break. The anxiety is HVAC system that never shuts off. It's always in the background of everything I try to do. A static muddying every conversation and interaction.

Having depression, negativity and self judgment, as a utility readily available with every thought is exhausting. Right now, my jaw is clenched. I don't want to continue to share my thoughts on this subject for fear of being judged. Yet, I wonder if this is why so many find suicide an option. My pain is not a disease to fight, but my own mind. My pain is self-inflicted. Yet, to me it feels automated, just as moving my fingers on this keyboard.

Failure And Isolation

It's no surprise that my coping mechanisms are a result of all the freely available criticism and negativity.If I assume I am a failure and paint myself this way for others, I will not disappoint. In fact, I prove that I am a failure. At the same time, I tell myself that this is pathetic. I am still disappointing people because I've given up. It's not living. It is hiding. Is that toxic thinking? Is this the man up bullshit I have inherited from society? Every time I find a job that I'm qualified for, I find hundreds of thousands of reasons I would screw it up. Writing a cover letter drains me. If I make it to an interview, I am already burned out. I've had the job for weeks in my head, prior to the interview. I've gone over millions of ways that I would fail. This process is similar for meeting new people. The weight of this negativity that saturates my molecules as I am in these situations is exhausting. Solitude and isolation both reaffirms that I am a failure and keep me from trying anything new.

At this moment, my inner critic is reminding me that there's nothing new here for readers of my blog. I've written all this before. The last couple months have been hard for me and I'm itching to find some empathy. I just feel so misunderstood. I've been applying for jobs, working on a few projects, and expect myself to do more. This is where the feelings of being misunderstood originate. From the outside, I assume my productivity looks like I am better and therefore people will expect more. In reality it is me expecting those things. Furthermore, each project and job application means turning the faucet on, pouring in the depression and darkness. Over the years, I'vve protected myself from these feelings by not trying.

The Strategies For Managing The Pain

The big picture of a lifeless Chris doing nothing to avoid pain is hard to think about, yet always in the background. It's pumped in through the pipes. The strategies I've found that are helpful are not cures. Again, something I have been trying to grasp in my blogs, there is no cure. Acceptance is the way to move forward, but it is easier said then done. Since my strategies are not complete fixes, I lose site of them pretty easily. Trying to start them up again triggers my shame. Why did I stop doing these things? I suck. They didn't cure me, so why try again? Sorry conspiracy theorists, but I would much rather have pure flouride pumped to the pipes of my world than all these dark thoughts.

What works for me when I remember is art, meditation, journaling, being active, and being around people. Creating art is a mindful process and the results are not as important as that process. I do it for me, not for likes, fame, or fortune. Meditation is similar because I'm creating that space in my mind to counter all the negative stuff that is automatic. Journaling helps me see what is happening. Sometimes it can trigger me to feel worse, but I can't always depend on a professional psychiatrist. I have to think these things through for myself. Being active is a way to jump start the body. My mind and body are connected. The deep dread makes me physically ache. It upsets my stomach and drains me of energy. Walking, riding my bike, and exercise can work in reverse. An energized body can influence the brain. Being around people is a tricky one. It will most likely trigger a number of insecurities, but positive interactions can really energize me. Every interaction cannot be positive. This is life. However, the only way to work on my negative bias is to continue having experiences.

Currently, I am having a hard time getting back into the swing of these strategies. Things are dark. I suppose this is another good time to remind myself that I'm entitled to have down days, weeks, and months. It's valid to feel this way. Believing I should be otherwise only triggers shame, not healing. Perhaps I get back into a better place by accepting this. The utility is always going to deliver self-criticism. It feels hopeless when I'm in this space.

There's a fine line between acceptance and ignoring the issues. I think the line for me is staying in the present. It's overwhelming to think about just how much time I've lost, how many things I've put off, and how I've screwed up the last couple months. The past cannot be changed. Worrying about all the things I need to do, the things I should have been doing is overwhelming as well. It's the future. Once again, I find myself in need of being in the moment. I need to take care of what I can do right at this moment. It's easier said than done. Especially when you've spent your whole life living in the past and future.

The Calendar, The Depression, And The Golem

6 min read

A self-portrait of myself reaching up from the water. I may be drowning.

Depression.

I penciled it in for the morning.

I would guess this happened because I was preparing for the psychiatry appointment I had scheduled in the middle of the day.

It was Monday. The world around me goes back to work to bring home the bacon, scramble for promotions, and attain status. I tried to make a go of it, dressing to take my partner to work and walk the dog. The winter bit at me while on the stroll. I had good company, though. The dog who was also unemployed. Once home, I tried to barricade myself from the depression with chocolate. Or, was that choice because of my mental health? It's never clear in the fog of self doubt.

Bojack Horseman was falling into a well worn pattern of denial on the television. His issue was apparent to me at the time, yet my own denial was miles away from my thoughts. The clock refused to slow and depression finally stepped aside.

I blocked time off in the afternoon for anxiety. I should leave soon, or I will miss my psychiatry appointment. I waited until the last possible moment to go out the door. Swimming in questions that the doctor may ask of me, I schedule some shame. Why can't I ask myself these questions? What is wrong with me? Now, I will be late.

The appointment is attended by someone else. He exists outside the fog. In the safe space of the doctor's office, he speaks of the challenges of living with me. I envy him. He tells the doctor that he thinks he might not be real. He fears his confidence and self-control is an illusion. As if I was smart enough to be a double agent and fool both him and the doctor. No, his abilities are real. Though, I fear he may just be a golem I constructed to protect me from further hurt.

The appointment behind us, I make time for escapism. The positive words from the doctor and my other are too difficult to digest. I head for some retail therapy. I feel like I'm part of the real world now. Which of these things can bring me status? Of course, I'm shopping in a surplus store and the liquidation outlet next door. It's a punishment of sorts. I am not really part of the working world. I don't deserve nice things.

Exhaustion.

It's not on the calendar.

The exhaustion has no right to be there. I don't work like others. How could I be tired from talking about, and ignoring, my emotions? Yet, it comes down on me like the gravity of a star. Ignoring the pull, I work on laundry and setup the new television antenna I purchased earlier.

The scheduled day is over. Anxiety about tomorrow sits down to read me a bed time story, but I'm too tired. Instead, I read some fiction because reading is perceived as an intelligent past time. I like reading as well. Both reasons can be valid, but I want to focus on the first to get another hit of shame. After closing the book, I drift nowhere in particular. I can't tell if the fog is lifting or if I am sinking.

My partner stirs. The Sandman is held hostage by the stress of her Monday. My guilt and anxiety leap into action to soothe her. To be fair, they nudged me awake and I genuinely enjoyed trying to help her rest by telling her a story.

It's midnight. She is asleep and I am now alone with shame and depression. She works so hard and what do I do? I saw the psychiatrist today. It's been a year. I'm still here. I'm still failing. What happened to my exhaustion is unclear.

The Fellow At The Appointment

He's here in the dark, watching me write this. The blackness of the night swallows his words as if he is underwater. He seems to want to remind me something said at the appointment. Was it him or the doctor? What did they say? I'm sorry, I don't understand. I'm tired. He is not so easily deterred. He reminds me that earlier in the evening my partner said she appreciates everything I do for her. She told me that every time work gets stressful she sees me step up to take care of her.

The memory surfaces. It was him. At the appointment, he said something about taking control. "I don't have to be a passenger or a victim. I can take some responsibility here. I can make change." We talked about art with the doctor. The perfectionist that once shared head space with us is now incredibly quiet when we create art. In fact, I think my golem stepped aside as I explained to the doctor that I enjoy the process of painting and creating. The end product, well it's not a product. The finished work is always a delightful surprise now that perfection is no longer calling the shots. The doctor calls this progress. I realize that I haven't been writing or painting lately because I've been punishing myself instead of enjoying my own company.

Strange, I switched to saying "we" in the above paragraph. Indeed, I didn't need my golem to protect me during the Monday appointment. There's a sense I am unfamiliar with in my chest. I may be slightly proud that progress can be seen. I'm cautious because I am more comfortable in the known world of disappointment and depression. It's predictable here in negativity. He murmurs under the water, "art." Immediately, I understand. Perhaps it is good to be cautious about progress because like art, my life is not about a final product. It's the journey. It's the process where I can find balance and maybe some happiness.

Curious. I thought my golem was a double agent working for my depression. "I'm good," he tells those around me. "No need to worry or continue discussing my emotions." However at 12:44am, he seems to be genuinely helpful.

Technically, it's now Tuesday. I'm too tired to schedule any more introspection. I will try to sleep again. Good night.

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 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💜

 

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.

Old Dogs and Patterns of Behavior

5 min read

A sketch of my dog Coco

Those poop baggies are infuriating to open, that’s why I missed the car crash. Coco did her thing about 9–10 meters away from the corner where a small black sedan went head-on into a lamp post. That was a number of weeks ago and our rescue doggo is finally starting to enjoy walks again.

I was working hard to see Coco as my inspiration, if she can set aside her fear and anxiety so can I. After the witnessed accident, however, she reverted back into the darkness of fear. Coco ran with reckless abandonment seconds after the crash. I reeled her in and tried to pick her up to offer comfort, but she scratched and writhed to simply get away from the area. So, I ran with her for about 4 blocks. We ended up in a small park that offers some shelter from the city around it. Tail between her legs and jumping at every single noise, other dogs wouldn’t even excite her.

The next week was a real challenge. In fact, we drove Coco to an off leash park away from the city to get her some exercise because she wanted nothing to do with walks any more. Coco didn’t want to accept reality, like me. Once again, I found myself looking into a mirror. Coco had fallen into the old pattern of fear that kept her using pee pads on the balcony. She was not interested in adventuring outside and smelling all the amazing refuse people just leave on the sidewalk.

Fear of failure, fear of not being enough keeps me from being social, working, living life, and yes, peeing outdoors. This pattern of mine is one that has been imprinted on me for many, many years. Like Coco, it is easy to fall back into this destructive thought pattern. I can also bounce back like she can. I try to measure my mental health in moments. There are no good days or bad days, just moments. Right now, I’m here writing this and it feels like a hopeful and decent moment. I might stand up in twenty minutes and see the sink full of dirty dishes and fall into intense shame. Maybe thinking of my life in moments helps me cope a bit easier.

The reality that every moment wasn’t going to be “happy” for me had been easy to live in when I simply expected the worse. Accepting that I will find moments of happiness is very new to me. Of course reality is not fair. For example, I felt Coco needed to accept that we live in the city and accidents may happen. We had to get her back to walks around the city without fear. She’ll learn. She did it before. Can I do this for myself?

In week two after the trauma of witnessing the accident, Coco had her nose down on the sidewalk and her eyes on any car that was moving. The tail was not expressive, but not firmly tucked away either. Other dogs we ran into were a pleasant reprieve from the loud buses and the overcompensating noise from motorcycles. Once again, Coco was transforming. She was breaking her pattern of fear, slowly, at her pace.

In the third week, the tail waved like a stubborn flag in a tornado. Loud vehicles were scary, but there were interesting things to smell, and sidewalks we had not yet traveled. I remain envious of her growth. Sometimes I can see that I have made progress as well. Those are good moments. I have much work to do, as does Coco.

Our rescue doggo needs more leash training. Though, her obsessive little nose has taught me a lesson. “Stop and smell the roses,” they say. Coco is living in the now when her nose is to the ground. She’s not worried about being abandoned, car accidents, or what I want. This is a valuable lesson in mindfulness for me.

With my psychiatrist, we occasionally explore the past. How did I become full of anxiety and lose my sense of self worth? There’s a difference between exploring the past and living there. Often, when we examine our past we get caught up in it. The stories of our hurt, pain, failure, etc. feed themselves. We stop observing and leave the now.

The real issue with leaving the now is our desire for things to be different. Our minds spend a great deal of energy wishing things had not happened in the past. Or, we wish for an unrealistic future, “I wish tomorrow Coco would behave on the leash.” Both of these things are impossible to accomplish in this moment, right now. Accepting the past and the unpredictability of the future would appear to be key for me.

Unfortunately, finding acceptance is a process. For me, there’s a fine line between acceptance and ignorance. “Can’t change the past, so why worry about it?” Well, that sentence may be avoidance of those locked away emotions and not forgiveness and acceptance. Avoiding those feelings has a lot to do with how I got here.

So, my journey continues. I find it strange that I pick up organic dog poop in a plastic bag that will preserve it for a million years. Of course, I’ve been repressing emotions and ignoring the hurtful patterns of my past for my entire life. At some point we all have to deal with some shit.

I hope to see you in the now.

Much💜