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Recognizing We Change As the Seasons Change

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.

Fractured Part 1: Avoiding Chet, My Inner Critic

10 min read

glitching me

My hate for myself is incredibly persistent.

Why?

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.

“Well, I…”

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.

Escape

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.

Outside Approval

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.

The Science Fiction of Being Self-aware

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.

Positively Pessimistic

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?

Stigma of Mental Illness

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.

Sikk Is Sick

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?

Yeah, so I have some work to do. I wanted to sit down and write about how difficult it can be to come up with positives at the moment. Yet, I typed a lecture about the mental health stigma in our society. Perhaps, composing a note on the perplex idea of being kind to myself would have challenged my negative outlook. In the process, I could have stumbled onto something positive. Today's blog seems to be some avoidance.

Alright, here’s something positive. I am not my mental illness. You are not your sexual preference. Your boss is not her political opinions. Your neighbor is not his race. That girl on the bus with the speaker blaring is not her choice in music. Your uncle is not his religion. We are humans. Let’s treat each other with respect and love with that in mind. Go hug someone. If you know my partner, start with her. She’s received lots of well-wishing for me, but she can use support and love as well. I have not always been an attentive spouse and my mental health is not an excuse. She can always use a coffee, a hug or safe space away from my recovery.

Thanks for reading. Much love to you.

What Is Your Super Power?

3 min read

“If you could have one super power, what would you choose?”

Telekinesis, invisibility, flight and super strength have been shown in fiction as valuable powers that could save the world. Those gifts are used to fight evil, but what if you didn’t have to fight at all? The Greeks call him Eros and his Roman name is Cupid. Love is the power I would choose. Instead of hurling cement mixers at villains, I’d shoot arrows like Katniss & Cupid. Forget using my mind powers to crush baddies, I would give them the gift of love.

Sure Cupid is often seen as mischievous, but every superhero with powers has to learn responsibility. An invisible boy in a girl’s locker room is a boring trope, at this point. Speaking of well known imagery, Tennyson wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Those of us who have felt the power of love know this is true. Love encompasses a number of emotions and feelings which can be difficult. Yet, in romance or friendship we have compassion and respect for those that we love. We make an effort to understand our loved ones and if we cannot, we choose to forgive.

Cupid’s power wouldn’t result in the big budget, CG destruction of New York like in The Avengers film. Love would bring opposing sides together to talk, not fight. Of course, we don’t live in the movies or comics. The hypothetical question of what super power to choose is a bullshit conversation starter. However, love is a super power. It’s inside each of us. Just as Superman has to choose if he’s going to walk, ride or use his power of flight, you can decide if you’re going to love someone. Will you respect your boss and be compassionate to her when she dumps a big assignment on you? Ultimately, what she does is out of your control. Your power is in how you react to her, and those around you. For example, you might be having a bad day and you think everything I just wrote is a pile of horse shit. I could defend my thoughts or have the compassion to listen to your criticism openly. That’s the power of Cupid that I want, the ability to get people to embrace their differences.

In the following Huey Lewis & The News song it is said we can “Change a hawk to a little white dove.” The super power I choose is “Tougher than diamonds and stronger than steel, You won’t feel nothin’ till you feel, You feel the power, just feel the power of love.”