8 min read
Victims of violence live in dread and despair, fearing the event(s) could occur again. Depending on the trauma and the individual, I imagine the process of letting go of the fear, to not have to look over your shoulder and be on high alert, takes time. Yet, how does one process a fear that is completely self-imagined?
From the moment I wake up, I am in fear. I get out of bed at a decent time so that no one will think I am a loser. I workout in my building’s small gym because I am afraid my appearance will be mocked by others. I don’t go to the YMCA or another gym with lots of people because I am distressed by the thought that someone may see me working out wrong. After my shower, I take an inventory of the people I may see on the day, from the cashier at the grocery store to friends and family. What did I wear last time I saw these people? I can’t put the same shirt on today, they may think I’m unclean, or worse.
Looking at the email and messages in the morning continues to deliver horror. All of us have internet connected devices in our pockets. What if you sent me a message and I didn’t respond right away? You’ll think I’m ignoring you! Worse, how should I respond? If I say the wrong thing, you may not like me. Speaking of messages, I better send my spouse a nice text before lunch or she could possibly leave me.
Continuing the unhealthy diet of fear, I have to work now. Unfortunately, my effort will not be good enough for my clients. Today, will probably be the day that they let me go. If only I worked faster. If only I was smarter. If I was more charismatic, maybe I’d be better at my job. By lunch, I’m exhausted. The fear of not being accepted for who I am has drained me. My facade crumbles and I run to junk food. That is, as long as no one is around to see me indulge.
Powered by carbs and sugar, I can now get back to worrying that the world hates me. Of course they do. I’ve just eaten a whole bag of chips or pint of ice cream for lunch, like a sad character in a movie. Why would anyone like me? Damn. A message comes through complimenting some work I did. I tremble a bit, uncomfortable. Thankfully, the fear reminds me that the message is a fluke. I got lucky. It was an easy assignment. Great, this client will now expect more of me henceforth. When they learn the truth about me, it will be an incredibly epic failure.
My spouse messages me asking me how I am doing. Since I’ve shared how fragile I am with her, she’s checking in on me. I’m uneasy and scared that it is simply pity. Why would she love someone like this? The thought is distracting and I’m fulfilling the earlier, fear inspired prophecy that I won’t get enough work done today. Another reason for her to leave me, I reflect still consumed by fear.
Perhaps, I better go to the grocery store and buy something she loves for dinner. Who am I kidding? She eats what I make because it is easier than cooking for herself. Surely, I’m not good at baking or cooking. As you can see, at this point in the day the fear is near paralyzing. Everyone at the grocery store is looking my way, judging me. Is my hair messed up? Could I be holding the basket awkwardly? Are my reusable grocery bags old and ugly? No, they recognize that I’m worthless. I must be in this person’s way. I’m in everybody’s way. The cashier silently considers my purchases which are disgusting and pathetic, since I’m restocking on junk food for tomorrow.
Dinner isn’t done soon enough. I spent too much time worrying about what to make and got to the store late. My partner wants me to tell her about my day, but we both know that I don’t work hard enough so there can’t be much to talk about. I take my medication and eat the food, all of which she provides. My job doesn’t pay enough, fear reminds me. She offers to do the dishes, but I’m feeling so guilty because I’m a failure that I keep trying to help. I want to prove value somehow, but inside I’ll never believe I’m useful.
Like so many other couples, we decompress from the day with some TV. While it is a chance to lose myself and the fear in a fictional world, I must choose something she will like. Otherwise, she’ll realize that we’re too different to stay together as a couple. She’ll believe we have nothing in common and choose to leave. I’m horrified that the one person who has accepted me will finally discern that she made a mistake.
While we get ready for bed, she tells me how much she likes the show we watched. I understand that she knows I am scared. Therefore, fear tells me that she is overcompensating with the comments about the TV show. I don’t have long before she comes to her senses and comprehends this is no way to live.
The one thing that the fear has right is that this is no way to live. Avoiding the world around me to protect myself from being judged, from expectations, from not being accepted is slowly killing me. Unlocking this fear of acceptance seems to be key to getting a life for me. At the moment, I knock on the door and get the angry rebuttal of a teenager. Emotions of anger, fear, sadness and shame rumble through the gap like a subway train as I peek through the door. When a train thunders through a doorway, instincts take over. As we know from above, my instinct is fear. So, I close the door.
The only person who can open this door is me, but at this time I cannot. What’s next? Well, I don’t have to do this alone. Truly, I must open this door. I need to accept myself. However, nobody bursts through doors like they do in television and movies. Service men and women, military or civil, use a tactical response. They try to learn as much as they can about the situation they’re getting into before kicking the door down. Therefore, I am getting help to learn about the other side of the door. It’s a difficult and long process. It feels very arduous in a world where we get solutions and gratification so quickly. Progress is slow and not in a straight line.
At the beginning of this journal entry, I may have compared myself to a victim of violence. I feel as if I should apologize for that because I have never experienced a situation like that. In my experience, someone who loves me abuses me mentally. I wish for escape from the situation, it is within my power. The abuser in question is me. I would not be here if I didn’t care about myself in some way. Yet, I cannot quit the fear.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, you have to grasp the fact that you don’t have to do it alone. Understand that there is no quick fix. Just like getting a healthy body takes many hours at the gym, you have to remember the brain is no different. How do I process all this fear that is completely imagined? Gradually, I stumble through with agony and the occasional helping hand from each of you.
“There's a difference between fear and paralysis. And I've learned that I don't have to "grow up" to be open to opportunity, to be willing to step through doors without being pushed. I just have to be brave. I just have to be slightly braver than I am scared.”
2 min read
My inner critic squawks at me like a car alarm in the dead silence of night. The volume is never about being good enough, it is more convinced that I’m not good at anything.
Thus, armed with imaginary ear muffs and medication I pursue the simplest of tasks hoping not to set off the alarm. A few weeks ago, I designed a t-shirt graphic for a contest and triggered the horn of self-criticism. So, I sent my image to 3 friends and my car alarm of insecurity wailed in preparation for the worst. All 3 reactions were more than positive. They were ecstatic.
Like an actual car alarm, my inner critic is often false. Yet, the alarm is necessary for protection. While the car alarm protects a car from theft, my fear attempts to shelter me from hurt and pain. However, I asked 3 friends for feedback! If any of them were critical of my design it would be beneficial to me and my efforts. There’s no need to set the car alarm when you’re inside the vehicle. This is a personal goal going forward, learning to disarm the alarm when I’m in a safe space. The horn of self-criticism has drained my battery too often and left me feeling helpless all too often.
5 min read
Previously, I introduced readers to Chet, my personal internet bully. Today, I’d like to share another voice-- my anxiety, the frantic and frazzled Sparky.
Our human minds cannot be still by design. Curiosity about the world around us keeps us safe. Even interior inquires that alert us to aches, pains and the like encourage us to go to the doctor. However, in those situations where we are comfortable, in our everyday routines, our minds wander. Try to clear your mind and concentrate on the sensations of your fingers and palms the next time you wash your hands. It’s nearly impossible. My mind jumps from feeling the temperature of the water to what I have to do next in the day. Sparky has business for me. If I bring my mind back and truly feel the soap, feel one hand lathering the other, my brain wanders to the fact that I am practicing this because I am broken. Thanks Chet.
Being in the moment is difficult.
If it’s not Chet beating me up, it is Sparky telling me what I should be doing. “We’ll show Chet, today,” exclaims Sparky, “Get up early, exercise, clean each room in the house, apply for 4 jobs, submit 2 articles to our editor, get to inbox zero, buy all the Christmas gifts early, call your mom, go grocery shopping, pay the bills, fix the sink, paint the living room, and make dinner!” A sizeable list for a healthy person, but perhaps not impossible? Regardless, the point is that my personal project manager, Sparky, never lets up. There’s always something that should be done. Those things above that are not accomplished today, will move to tomorrow’s hit list. Sparky’s unending to-do list keeps pushing down on me like the world on Atlas’ shoulders.
Sparky continues to micromanage my days by chiming in at the most absurd moments. While I’m trying to work, he wonders if I am going fast enough. Sparky wants to know what’s for dinner. He’s curious about how busy the airport will be next month when I intend to travel home. How will I get to my psychiatrist visit next week? Where will I park? Do I need groceries for dinner tonight? Does that person over there want my table by the power outlet? Have I been in the café too long? Should I leave? When did I last get the oil changed in the car? Is there food on my face? This work is taking too long, isn’t it? My boss likes me, right? Am I too slow? Do you think my spouse thinks I’m too slow? Maybe she even wonders if I’m lazy? Her parents? And then Chet joins the conversation. All of this takes mere seconds.
“Nothing is worth doing unless it is perfect.” This is Sparky’s answer to combating the insecurity of Chet. Thus, when I get on the Sparky train, things don’t happen spontaneously. To appease Sparky and Chet, I try to plan my way to silence my mind. Doctor appointment tomorrow? Alright, I’ll wake up, shower, brush my teeth, put on deodorant, get dressed, do my hair, eat breakfast, double check Google Maps for the time it takes to get to the doctor, leave early to find parking, and bring a book to read while I wait. What have I forgotten?
“Do I have a backup plan for parking? What if there is construction on the way?”
“Oh, hi Sparky,” I cringe.
“If your appointment isn’t until 10am, what can we get done in the morning. And after!”
“It’s going to be okay, don’t worry.”
“You don’t really think that.” Chet’s criticism interjects. “You’ll mess this up somehow.”
This is the formula that quite possibly gave me my trademark white hair so early. I live in fear. The anxiety has, at times, spilled into paranoia. Without self-esteem, anxiety fills in for confidence. Instead of thinking “I can do this,” I torment myself with all the things that can go wrong. Even with the simplest of tasks, I move from one crisis to the next in my head.
Focusing on a task, is very difficult. These two voices in my head work together and yet against each other. My inner critic inspires the anxiety. Sparky’s desire to beat Chet with perfection only give the insecurity an opening. The constant reminder from the inner critic that I’ll never be enough quiets the anxiety. "Why try if I am going to fail?" My anxiety-focused project manager also encourages me to take on less challenges to preempt the self-hate and critique. "I can't do this."
I started writing about Sparky a month ago, shortly after revealing Chet. I had difficulty finishing the story because I wanted it to be perfect. I made excuses to to do “more important” tasks instead. I was afraid. Moreover, I work hard daily to not get caught up in the spin. As I struggled to complete this confession, I bounced from believing I have made progress to wondering if I was in denial. Am I shutting down in response to Chet & Sparky? I know that ignoring their voices is not the answer. I have to learn to accept them for what they are. Like friends with differing opinions, I should seek to find compromise, not avoid them. Chet inspires me to be a better person. Sparky will keep me out of dangerous situations. More on that in the final part of Fractured. Wait, did I just use the “should” word? Damn, this is a confusing journey.
2 min read
The transition of the seasons is similar to changing one’s mind. We are stubborn creatures, built on our experiences as individuals. Perhaps you enjoy the fluffy, snowy winterland, but despise Fall. Maybe a tragic event or an unforgettable memory is associated with the Fall. The process of changing your mind about that season will not happen in a simple conversation. A walk with a loved one in the forest as it is changing from green to light yellow and deep reds may weaken your resolve. The smell of pumpkin pie or the joy of handing out candy to eager children at Halloween could soften your opinion of the Fall further. Gradually, like the seasons themselves, change can occur.
When I look around today, I wonder when did Fall start? How did I miss it? Was I fortified, under a blanket in my depression, hidden from the world outside? Did stress and anxiety keep me from savoring the delights of Fall? All those things I have to do, the things I want to do, and the grey noise provided by my fear of failure kept me from hearing the birds announce the coming of Fall. That must be the explanation.
in fact, that reasoning is most likely wrong. Like changing our minds, the transition of the seasons takes time. You will see the colors of the leaves when Mother Nature is ready. Each year we are fascinated when it happens because it is a mystery. Our individual brains are mysterious as well. Instead of questioning myself, instead of giving in to the the stress and busy-body culture, let’s take time to enjoy the mystery. Rather than question my existence, perhaps I should just enjoy it. Whenever Fall’s vibrant brush painted my neighborhood, it’s here now. Time to go enjoy some color.
10 min read
My hate for myself is incredibly persistent.
Simple. This is all I have ever know.
Many of us have difficulty sleeping in a new place, or bed when we’re traveling. Thinking positively about who I am is no different. My natural state is one of inner criticism and self loathing. A compliment from a friend or a stranger is a dumb luck, no big deal, or dismissed in some other way. Challenging that natural state further activates the inner critic. I’ll call the critic, Chet.
“Stop thinking for other people. If she thinks I did good work, accept it.”
Chet replies, “You can’t accept the compliment because you don’t deserve it. You’re not worthy.”
“I did my best.”
“That’s your best? She doesn’t like it. She’s being kind.”
“I wish I had more time, it would have been better.”
“So it wasn’t your best,” remarks Chet.
“Do you think other people have to tell themselves to accept a compliment?” asks Chet. “It’s probably just you.”
“I’m working on accepting myself.”
“This is why people never like you. You’re broken Chris. So you need to learn how to fix yourself? Right?”
“It’s not a bad thing.”
“Keep telling yourself that. You’re not special. Everyone has problems. And they don’t have the time or patience for yours. Stop wasting everyone else’s time. You’ll always be this way.”
That’s Chet. Well, that’s me. That is how I treat myself.
The best way to get out of my head and avoid Chet is distraction. Doing something productive is tied to my identity, so it is typically not helpful. In those situations, self-doubt comes at me hard. What’s left is Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, video games, reading, and other vices. (Interesting to note how much of my attention on that list is owned by companies. Almost like it is their goal.)
Watching Youtube, blowing through a season of a TV show on Netflix and dulling my thoughts is the new “can’t get out of bed.” I shouldn’t say that, each of us have our own challenges. There have been days when I didn’t even want to leave the bed. Watching the plot of a video, or show unfold is obviously better than getting lost in my thoughts of inadequacy. When the day ends and I realize that I’ve done nothing productive, it’s simply another chance for Chet to make me feel low.
Endless scrolling on social networks is an excellent way to silence Chet. Getting lost in the success, or perhaps drama, of others is readily available on Twitter & Facebook. Those companies are competing for the amount of time they can hold my eyeballs captive and they were doing a fabulous job. Even the garbage posts from people with different political views than me are captivating. While I might stop myself from getting sucked into the flaming comments, I will spend my time trying to find at least 3 sources that either prove or disprove the claims. The next thing I know, I’ve lost hours.
On top of being distracting, the positive posts from friends and family on social media further assist Chet. Positive news of exciting trips, new jobs and happy dispositions increase my self-loathing. Comparing myself to others keeps me in that familiar state of sadness and depression. Logically, I know people are only sharing what they choose. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has difficult challenges and it’s quite possible people have filtered those negative events from their social feeds. However, depression is far removed from logic. Emotionally, seeing those cheery posts and humble brags feeds Chet.
On the flip side, there are those on social networks sharing pain and difficulties. Obviously, those are delicious and savoury to Chet as well. Other people hurting is confirmation the world is as dark as I believe it is. That validates Chet’s philosophy– I should stay in the grief and the misery. I’ll never be surprised or out of control that way.
As I write this with my rational mind, I seem to be far removed from it all. However, that’s what I subconsciously desire, that sadness and self-loathing. It is a familiar state that I know how to manage. Feelings of success, and joy may be fleeting and unexpected. “When will those happen again? It’s unpredictable. Better to stay in this familiar sadness,” says Chet.
Escape also comes in the form of assisting others. I’m eager to help a friend or family member for extended periods of time as long as I don’t have to improve myself or think about depression. The unfortunate pitfall is resentment. After a while, I begin to feel good about myself for helping others. Then, Chet will swoop in and tell me that I’m not appreciated by those that I help. Perhaps desperate to cling to that good feeling, I project Chet’s voice onto my friends and family members. It’s an efficient way to self sabotage. Loss of friends and family furthers my journey to darkness. Perhaps this is a behavior I perfected once I started in the working world? So many of us feel under appreciated at work.
Since I cannot find acceptance within, I attempt to find it outside. I crave approval from people. I must be liked. This task is made all the more difficult by the fact that I project my beliefs onto others. I think for other people. The doctors label this cognitive disorder “mind reading.” You there, reading this text, you think I’m a pathetic white male with a First World problem. “Oh no Chris, your life is so hard, surfing the internet and watching Netflix. Give me a break.” Of course, that’s not your voice. That’s Chet. That’s me believing that I know exactly what you are thinking. It feeds the need to bash myself.
It’s difficult to project like that onto strangers and acquaintances. I can dismiss their compliments because “they don’t know me,” but I do more easily accept the good from people I barely know. Unfortunately, Chet and I think those close to us are trying to protect me. My loved ones are being kind or polite when they give compliments. Once again, I’m mind reading. Though, I feel that our society does have some issues when it comes to honest critiques. You can’t tell your 2 year old niece that her drawing is garbage. We want to encourage her and help her build confidence.
I think we often twist encouragement into compliments, when it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Language is a powerful thing. Above, as Chet (my negative self) belittles me, I use words like “never” and “always.” These are finite words directed to keep me down. Saying, “Good job,” to your niece is a bland compliment, not inspiring. Why is it good? Perhaps something like “The face, the legs and arms look great, but look at me. Are my legs and arms connected to my face? Let’s try to draw a belly!”
Encouragement is always done with affection. And, love is built on trust. We cannot have trust without honesty. I would like to believe that critique of my work is far more valuable than compliments. First, learning to tolerate and love myself is a priority. Approval from strangers is also not sustainable. Once I have it, I would crave more and then that stranger becomes a friend. Thus, I fall into the trap where Chet believes friends say what I want to hear, as mentioned above.
In iRobot, the Terminator films, and many other Scifi movies artificial intelligence has it out for mankind. Discovering its superiority, the A.I. determines that humans are expendable in these stories. Now, that I’m aware of Chet, aware of this part of me that is at home in fear, anxiety, anguish and self-hate, can I rid myself of it? Should I even contemplate the idea of removing a piece of who I am? I believe that’s the easy way out. In fact, this could even be Chet’s idea. How do you remove a part of yourself? Once I fail to accomplish this, Chet swoops back in to tell me what a let down I am.
The difficult and longer path is more likely to be successful. Learning to live with myself will be complicated. Right now, I’m working in groups, and with doctors to achieve this goal. I am seeking to validate, or acknowledge Chet and interject with evidence to counter his thoughts.
Chet loudly proclaims, “Nobody will ever read this post, Chris.”
“How do you know that?”
“It’s obvious. Nobody reads what you write.”
“Show me proof. Look at the numbers, Chet.”
“Ha,” exclaims Chet, “blog visits, Facebook likes, and comments, they’re all fake typically. People just click the buttons, they don’t read the whole thing.”
“Chet, that’s still not evidence. Those are your opinions. Furthermore, I didn’t write this for likes. This post about mental health could help someone else, but right now it is helping me. I’m learning more about myself and you. I’m learning how to explain my troubles to the doctors and how to ask people close to me for help.”
“You certainly need help!”
“Thanks for your input, Chet. Certainly, your attitude has helped me in the past. Perhaps, I was in a dangerous situation or your fear and anxiety saved me from some heartache in one of my past relationships. Yet, I think I’ll stick to believing that this post will be helpful in some way.”
Wish me luck friends. Doing that conversation in my head is much more difficult that typing it. Especially in the moment, when I’m in the middle of a conversation with a real person. A chat with those of you that I ultimately respect is so challenging because I don’t feel worthy. I’m sorry that I never shared this before. I was ashamed, and telling myself I deserved to feel that way. Please seek me out and don’t let me isolate myself. I can only get better at bargaining with Chet if I’m in those situations. I’m grateful you took the time to read this. I’m not alone in having mental health issues. The next time you get cut off on the road or experience bad customer service, try compassion. Perhaps that person has lost a loved one or is dealing with anxiety. It’s better to err on the side of compassion. I’m not there with myself yet, but I’m learning.
5 min read
A telemarketing company calls you for the 3rd time this week and you think to yourself, “They’re annoyingly persistent.” That evening you’re staying up past your bed time to finish the laundry. There’s nothing in there that you need tomorrow for work. No, you want to finish the laundry because you set a goal to have it done today and “I’m being stubborn!”
It’s curious, right? Telemarketers are slime and yet we had the courtesy to call them “persistent.” For ourselves, we use a word with a negative undertone, “stubborn.” Why is it so difficult to be kind to one’s self?
Thanks to the province and city I live in, I am able to get help to find some answers. Specifically, I’m learning why it is so hard to be positive. It turns out that I don’t particularly care for me. As such, if you were to call me persistent for seeking help instead of ending my life, I wouldn’t accept the compliment. “It’s nothing. Anyone can do it. It was easy.” On top of not taking credit for persistence, I would further strengthen my self-hate by thinking the fact that I need help is proof that I’m a failure. Every mental illness, every treatment, therapy and medication has a stigma. Why would I see “getting help” as a positive thing?
In the group sessions I attend there are a wide range of mental health issues. Each of them have their own stigmas and they vary by gender. I was discussing the power of The Mask You Live In, a documentary on how men are brought up, with someone at the centre recently. My new friend pointed out that Hollywood has a big influence. For example we may have compassion for women with schizophrenia, but all the men are depicted as violent killers. Pregnant women with addiction issues are blamed or judged in our culture. Since the perceived role of women in society involves bearing & raising children, we charge them with maintaining the moral values of our communities as well. Meanwhile, my depression is viewed as nothing more than a stumbling block. The idea that this is a temporary setback for me is related to the stigma of mental illness.
A 2015 study in Canada reported that 40% of people said they “experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.” Plus, 39% of workers surveyed shared that they would not inform their bosses if they had a mental health issue. Seven years before that study, a whopping “46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour.” Remaining positive as I try to heal is very difficult when the world sees me this way. Remember, how supportive you are to friends that break limbs. We’re even compassionate to people who lose limbs. Yes, their lives will change, but at least they’re still living, right? Many of us have mental health problems, but we’re still here. Support us, don’t shun us.
In order to help with my depression & anxiety I take medication and I work hard each day to quiet my pessimistic inner self. These are facts. Next year, I won’t be off the meds or working less hard. This is reality. It’s the goal going forward. The idea that I can drop the meds or the hard work is not the aim. People have come forward to my partner sharing stories of friends & family who have gone through similar episodes. Sometimes, they share their own stories of mental health. I appreciate those willing to openly communicate about mental wellness. The support is always helpful, but each case is individual. Be careful not to stigmatize those of us with mental health problems while trying to show support. It’s perfectly fine to be on medication, to go to group sessions and see a therapist.
The groups & therapist have challenged me to journal about my happiness. What are my talents or skills? What positive characteristics do I have? Well, I’m great at beating myself up. Does that count? Sorry, my negative self core is persistent when it comes to his job. Hey, look at that! I wrote “persistent” instead of stubborn. That’s positive right?