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It's All Too Much - The Grip of Anxiety

6 min read

U R Enough is the text cut out of to-do lists

 

What should you be doing right now, instead of reading this? If I were you, this is the question that would ruin the rest of my day, and likely the entire week.

In an interview, author Mark Mason was telling the story about how Everything Is F*cked A Book About Hope came to be. Manson was making money passively, as his previous book continued to sell. Currently, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck has sold 6 million copies. Manson was sitting at home, not getting out of his pajamas and playing video games. In the interview, he said he feared he had peaked. Manson had made his mark with that book. There was no plan or goal beyond having a successful book. The latest book is how he got through that funk. As a listener, I couldn't fathom thinking I would ever hit my peak.

In my reality, I am never satisfied with my progress. Anxiety's leash is constantly tugging me through the neighborhood of dissatisfaction. If the house is clean, I should probably go through the closets, scrub the grout of the tile, or fix the screens. Another common tactic is to change the perspective. Sure, the house is clean, but I'm behind on my podcast scheduling and editing. I'm not working out. Perhaps Manson's fear of peaking was in a similar vein, "what's next?" Regardless, I would love to feel as if I accomplished something for more than a fleeting moment.

Where to Begin?

Instead of writing this, there's a million tasks waiting for me. To list them all would take my lifetime. I've tried many time to organize my thoughts and prioritize them into a coherent plan. Sometimes this helps me manage the overwhelming feeling that runs me into depression. However, I mostly vacillate between overwhelmed and hopeless. The act of sitting down to prioritize things just becomes another thing on the list. My mental health, meditation, and self care all fall onto this distressing list of tasks that has me depressed.

As the cycle of depression continues to deepen, the source of these feelings become apparent. I am not enough. This core believe in my mind is driving the dissatisfaction in everything I do. *The house is clean, so what? I'm not enough. Unfortunately, knowing this is the reason of my pain hasn't offered much relief. When I'm in so deep that I've let go of the things that previously worked, like meditation and artwork, it is incredibly hard to start again.

I was merely keeping my head above water, but I was still lost at sea. I didn't meditate enough. The medication may work for others, but it's not enough for me. The narrative that I'm defective, undeserving, and not enough bleeds into everything. Exploring the origins of this belief is part of therapy. Working through those emotional memories in therapy may eventually bring some change. Sitting with, and tending to, the hurt child within me is supposed to help me manage better today. The idea being that an event, like a messy house, triggers that childhood emotional response of I'm not enough that I felt when I had a messy desk at school and got shamed for it in class. If I can work through that pain and hurt, it may be less likely to be triggered in the future.

Meanwhile I Am Still A Prisoner of Time

Engaging painful emotions is challenging for the most devout Buddhist monks, let alone an average person. All the while, the house does need to be cleaned. I do need to workout, pay bills, and walk the dog. The never-ending list only grows. It never contracts. Each new task is a new brick in my unbreakable backpack from the Not Enough™ store. I grow weary with it on my back and look over the edge of the mountain trail wondering what the drop would feel like. Avoiding the overwhelming list is not an option.

In the past, I've found journaling, or listing things far more helpful than thinking about them. Seeing the tasks, ideas, or fears in black and white can shed much more light on them. Sometimes this helps avoid the loops my anxiety and depression favor. A goal like "tomorrow I just want to be a success" is unrealistic and undefined and when I see it on the paper. In my mind it is a lighthouse looming over ever passing accomplishment.

In the past, I've also written about S.M.A.R.T. goals. I haven't used them in practice as much as I like, but that's likely because the strategy has fallen victim to my vicious loop of depression. I used the practice successfully for a few months to start working out and then I stopped. Thus, the practice must not work for me. Once again, the depression and its Not Enough put a stop to something that may have been helpful. Obviously, if there's one common thing that we humans stumble over again and again it is working out. I'm not alone. Even in writing this I had to admit I was successful when I made a SMART goal to workout. It lasted quite a long time, in fact.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Sometimes I feel like I've written all this before. Anyone who has read my blogs for the last two years must be bored and frustrated with me. "This guy still hasn't learned. He keeps saying the same thing over and over." Perhaps that is what recovery looks like. If continued use of alcohol can lead to addiction, then maybe working through the same thoughts will result in something sticking.

Re-framing the tasks that overwhelm me can help, but the real work is still in self-worth. That emotional pain that triggers tears even as I write this is a tremendous weight. My eyes water because I am ashamed that I'm not enough to figure this out. Like a race car, I go around and around, eventually ending up in the pits. Then, I have to lift myself up and get ready for the coming laps.

Birthday Bereavement

5 min read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Victim

5 min read

self portrait of my head trying to escape my head.

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

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

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

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

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

My Own Parent

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

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

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

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

Agency Now

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

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

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

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

Afraid of What We Find

4 min read

A jittery letter H

 

Hustle.

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

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

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

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

What are we afraid of?

takes a deep breath

What am I afraid of?

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

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

Hide.

A Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Improving Mental Health Triggering Your Inner Critic

3 min read

Mirror image of a male face that's been digital manipulated. The face has been split in red and blue colors

 

"When change comes from a place of non-acceptance, and when there's an absence of compassion, the inner critic is then often driving the bus." ~Dr. Candice Creasman

It's easy to look at the quote above and agree quickly without introspection. That's fear, keeping us away from the pain and emotion we carry within. Change is something we crave. We find ourselves always reaching for more. The loose, societal definition of success is "more." If you can get an A in school, why can't you get an A+? One promotion at work is great, but what's next? You've lost weight, but can you now tone your muscles?

Goals are not necessarily evil, but they need to be clearly defined. Often, like for me, there isn't a specific goal. Instead, I dwell on the fact that I'm not enough, no matter the accomplishment. This is me not accepting myself. That's my inner critic demanding change.

I can also use peer groups or society in general to beat myself up. This social comparison is another way to motivate change. Obviously, it is still coming "from a place of non-acceptance." Moreover, it can find its way into recovery. Just like the desire to lose weight might seem like a decent goal, improving mental wellness is a great idea. Except, when it is the inner critic "driving the bus."

I've made progress, but it's a slow process. Truthfully, this will always be part of my life. The hope that tomorrow I will wake up confident, successful, and no longer bothered by my inner critic or depression is a myth. Regardless, it's a myth that can be very compelling. Thus, my inner critic uses it as motivation for change. I see you, the reader, as a "normal" person. Why can't I be successful like you? Suddenly, my desire to get well has been twisted back into my pattern of old. I'm not enough. My efforts, my progress so far, are not enough. I am a joke.

Can It Be Both?

Of course, it's the lens that I'm looking through. Using social comparison and non-acceptance, I see a failure. With the compassion spectacles on, I see progress and I can taste a faint dusting of gratitude. For me, I think there's still much work in forgiveness to be done. I'm still punishing myself for the past. "So much of my life was wasted in depression. There's so little time ahead," I think. So for me, acceptance may come in the form of forgiveness. Here and now, there's nothing I can do about my past. Probable futures where I beat depression 20 years ago, or where I'm "successful" are a distraction. Here is where I need to be, in acceptance.

There are days, where I wake up and leave the compassion spectacles on the dresser. I have to accept this as well. Yes, I have screwed up. Yes, I am sad. I am tired. So be it. Living in denial, or non-acceptance, is not healthy. Yet, that very thought can engage the inner critic and send me into the past or the future. It's a loop. Accepting that today, or better yet, that this moment is a difficult one, is a far better strategy.

 

I go forward attempting to ask myself who is driving the bus. What is my motivation for change, today?

Wish me luck.

Much <3

the image above is part of a series or study of my emotions that I was working through on my Pixelfed account. It will be on my art blog soon.



Relationships and Mental Wellness

7 min read

Two oval shapes mirroring each other in a gritty environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are We Then?

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

Now what?

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

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

Then & Now

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

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

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

Much <3

The 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.

Am I Incompatible With Unconditional Love?

6 min read

a black and white watercolor self-portrait

When we think of our pets, we think of unconditional love. Your cat doesn't care if you cut that person off in traffic yesterday. Your dog isn't concerned with your employment, and your rabbit doesn't think you're a monster because you haven't talked to your mother in a week. I've written about my dog on an occasion, or two. I think she's been therapeutic, allowing me to observe things about myself. Today, I noticed just how much I dislike myself. I cannot love who I am and seeing that hurts incredibly.

Our reality is the one we make for ourselves. Recently, I heard some advice that went something like, "We see people how we want to see them, not how they want us to see them." If you see a quality in someone else that you wish you had. Perhaps you begin to feel bad because you're not more like that person. Guess what? You have that quality inside you. This message was one of hope when I heard it. (I suppose it still is.) Reality is our perception and if we want to see our pets as loving us unconditionally, that's what we see.

Truth is, we don't know what other animals are thinking. We can only speculate. Is your cat "kissing" you because she loves you, or is she licking you because you're dirty? Is your hamster curling into your lap in a loving embrace, or simply for warmth? We perceive what we want.

Self-disgust

Coco sat on the couch looking at me with an anxious excitement after I said the magic word, "walk." I was feeling low and asked if I could just cuddle her first. Immediately, I decided she was frustrated. After all, I had said the magic word, but now I'm smothering her. Note the word choice there, "smothering." As I hugged Coco, I thought of the burden I was. I'm not walking her. I am not hugging her, but smothering the little dog. Plus, I should have walked her sooner.

I had turned the unconditional love from my pet into something toxic. I had projected onto her serveral of my fears. I had decided Coco did not love me, because how could she? I sat up. For her part, Coco reached her paw up and asked gently if I would continue to pet her chest. A new reality was just created and I cried when I saw it.

I had projected my own flavor of self-disgust onto Coco. She was in the moment, no longer anxious for a walk, but lowering her eyes in quiet satisfaction as she got her chest pet. I started to cry because I felt so sad for myself. I dislike myself so much that I won't allow the unconditional love from a pet to enter my reality. I cried briefly because I was sad. Then, I continued because I was frustrated. I had once again engaged the self-loathing that I am so familiar with, to feel angry. I will never get better. What is wrong with me? Isolation and punishment feels like my reality.

What Is Love?

In the musing above on the unconditional love from pets, I don't really define what love is. The hamster seeking warmth in your lap may be biological or practical, but who is to say that is not love? Wanting a hug and to be held can be emotionally motivated, but we also do it for warmth. And, when we seek warmth in the form of a hug, we rarely ask from those that we do not trust. They say trust is earned. They say trust takes time. If love requires trust, then it also takes time.

Honestly, I'm struggling here to define love for fear of how it will affect those close to me. You know who I am closest too? Myself. I suppose that's the real fear. It's so much easier to write about the events leading to this post, than it is to allow those feelings inside again. It hurt like hell to look into the eyes of this tiny creature with no agenda and realize just how deep my self-hatred goes. To project my disappointment in me onto an animal that we can never truly know the thoughts of makes me feel sick. Why can't you love who you are, Chris?

Perception and Reality

"We see people how we want to see them, not how they want us to see them."

It sound so selfish, but it is no less true. When emotions are involved we disregard rational thought. When someone states a fact about a family member it can seem like an attack. When we look at Brexit or the Trump rise to power we can clearly see the arguments are completely emotional and devoid of facts. So, I see Trump as a scared, insecure man-boy motivated by greed while my uncle sees him as the best leader in the world. My past experience and present mental health and emotions are wrapped up in my opinion, as are my uncle's. We see people how we want to see them.

The statement I heard in an interview continued to state that if I can see those things within another person, they are present in me. I am insecure and have been motivated by greed. I am human. No, I was thinking about Coco again. How I saw her switch from anxious excitement for a walk to completely soothed and relaxed as I pet her. She was loving me for it. Perhaps, I have that within me somewhere. Maybe I am sick, but I see her love for me in this reality. I may have the potential to love me as well.

What are the steps to stop myself from feeling shame and self-loathing? I can't name those just as I cannot write a handy how-to article titled, "How To Fall In Love." Emotions are difficult to describe because they are constantly changing. We try our best to label them in order to better communicate with each other, but many cultures have a number of emotions you have never heard of. In fact, emotions that we often think of as bad, were once thought of as good. This short TED Talk covers both these points quite well. I don't know how to find love for myself at the moment. Yet, moments from now, I may not even have to look for it. Emotions travel at the speed of light. Perhaps, I don't need to go along for every ride. I see myself as I want to see me.

Morning Mantra Uno Recap

3 min read

Purple sky with title of blog text

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

1) Recognizing Physical Tension

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

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

2) Accepting Feelings and Sensations

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

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

A Perfect Human Response

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

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

Next up, Mantra Dos.

Patterns, Paths, and Pain

6 min read

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

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

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

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

 

Introspection and Chocolate

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

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

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

 

The Mean Streets of the Brain

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

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

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

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