Skip to main content

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.

Never Enough and Getting Unstuck with Taryn Arnold

4 min read

a drawn pie graph with 8 sections about one's life

Questioning self-worth is a vibrant message in our culture today. Marketing tells us we have to go to this school, buy this phone, own that house, eat those foods, and wear trend styles or we aren't enough. So, it is easy to see how I could think that I'm not enough. I'm not putting blame on advertising, but simply illustrating one of the many reasons why it feels so natural to think I'm a terrible son, brother, friend, husband, and podcaster.

I met Taryn Arnold via Patreon Hangouts at a time when the site was just starting and Paul and I were exploring Patreon as an idea for our podcast. Pursuing those deep-seated feelings of not being enough, I was trying to drive our podcast into "bigger," and "better" things. I was after outside validation because I wasn't giving myself any. The problem with reaching for the sky was the fear of rejection. After all, I don't think highly of myself or what I do, so why would any "big" guest consider doing a podcast I was involved in? The definition of "big, bigger," and "better" in this paragraph is just about anyone and anything that I saw as above me. That is, everything.

Going after new guests was terrifying for me. There was the expectation that I had to do it to feel successful and get that outside validation from listeners and the fear of rejection. I was quite taken aback when Taryn agreed to be on our podcast. (We recorded for 2 hours and made Taryn Down Apple and Ceremonial Ace of Base which was a ton of fun.) As we discussed Patreon Taryn went to our page and became our first patron ever.

Today, I can see the whole thing as a positive experience, but at the time I assumed it was a fluke, or I got lucky. That never enough feeling was a part of my core beliefs about myself. To be honest, it's still there and I spend a great deal of time trying to correct it. My mental health is why I took a break from doing the podcast. I wanted to find myself in a space where I could enjoy doing the show for myself again. I didn't want to pursue download numbers, 'top podcast lists," and "big" guests.

Speaking of podcasts, Taryn has started on mental health. Stuck with Taryn Arnold is about getting unstuck in life. It's a personal journey for Taryn that she's sharing with listeners. The second episode is about finding those areas in life where we're struggling. My squiggly wheel above is an exercise I did with Taryn as I listened.

I'm very happy to join Taryn on this adventure. This has also put her on my growing list of potential guests for my new podcast on mental health. I've been working on this for a while as I try to fight off those familiar demons of not enough, download numbers, etc. "Fight" is the wrong word. I'm trying to recognize where those feelings come from and show compassion for myself. Anyway, I hope create a new documentary style show that will be part therapy for me and hopefully helpful for others. I've been talking about this project for over a year. In that time I have the beginnings of a forum created for a community, a network provider lined up for the show, and a swank new logo created by the talented artist of Be This.

I'm going to be putting the finishing touches on the forum in the coming weeks and offer some invites to friends before I launch the podcast. At the same time, I'll continue making Morning Mantras. Please stay tuned, my friends. Also, please check out Stuck with Taryn Arnold.

Morning Mantra Uno Recap

3 min read

Purple sky with title of blog text

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

1) Recognizing Physical Tension

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

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

2) Accepting Feelings and Sensations

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

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

A Perfect Human Response

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

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

Next up, Mantra Dos.

Patterns, Paths, and Pain

6 min read

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

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

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

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

 

Introspection and Chocolate

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

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

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

 

The Mean Streets of the Brain

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

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

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

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

 

Morning Mantra Uno Check-in

3 min read

watercolor painting of olive green and gray background with brown dog bone in the middle

When I sat down to make a list of the things that I wanted to work on I made an effort to arrange them in a logical order. The First Morning Mantra is all about recognizing emotions and I thought this would be an important first step. Wow, is it difficult. Did I make a mistake, or is this my depression trying to keep me down?

Recognizing my emotions in my body is not the hard part, sitting with them, accepting the feelings is. So much of what I'm dealing with seems to be repressed emotions. It seems like I shouldn't feel overwhelming fear after hearing someone comment, "I was told you spoil your dog." Yet, that was my experience recently. As I was rewarding Coco for listening to my "leave it" request on her walk, I replayed the comment in my head. I started asking myself, am I doing this wrong? Are people laughing at me? Fear swelled into my chest. I was angry with myself in an instant.

Feeling unwanted, unloved, or made fun of is the crux of my repressed emotions. Am I like a cliché Hollywood movie character, I have abandonment issues? So much of our emotional lives are shaped in our early years. I don't remember anything before Kindergarten, really. Note how I shared the age of which I have spotty memories. I remember school. This is the place where you're rewarded for being "right." This is a place full of your peers. This is where you spend most of your youth.

Am I doing this wrong? Are people laughing at me?

Two questions I asked myself when I felt that "spoiling" my dog was bad. Of course, I'm not blaming education for my mental health. Perhaps there's a reason I cannot remember anything before Kindergarten. My mother left my biological father while I was a toddler or younger. She was a single mom trying to do it on her own. I may have not understood her challenge fully and been confused about the loss of a father. By the time she remarried, my kindergarten year, I may have already formed a the emotional pattern I have now. I loved my new father dearly, but we didn't have that baby bond that is discussed in the attachment theory.

Keep Going

At this point, I have to trust myself and continue with Morning Mantra Uno. The emotions that flood in when I take the time to follow the mantra can be very overwhelming. Yet, it has to happen some time, right? I've been living with this for years. Logic tells me it might not be best to break down crying as I walk the dog, or get incredibly upset with myself for accepting a gift. All I can do is my best. I'm the one in control. I picked this mantra because I knew I needed the work here. There are some guided meditations that I would sometimes use to work on all the repressed stuff, but it was hard. We don't like pain, so I probably didn't do them enough. This Morning Mantra is reminding me to be more proactive. I'll have to get back to those guided meditations. I just have to "keep going," as I say in the recording.

Those of you interested in the guided meditations I spoke of, search for R.A.I.N. meditations. I use Insight Timer on my phone, but you'll probably find some on Youtube or elsewhere. The acronym stand for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-identification.

Finding Shame in the Simple Act of Fixing a Laptop

5 min read

An image of 2 identical Macbook laptops

I took this picture wondering how this even happened. How did I end up with identical 8 year old laptops? Like many things in my life recently, the answer is somewhat complex and related to mental health.

First, I offered to adopt the second laptop because it was not functioning. I wanted the challenge of seeing if I could breath life back into the device. When you work at a retail store, your first job is sales not repair. So, when the original owner was told "We cannot promise that a fresh install will work, but you'll lose everything,"  I was somewhat alarmed. These things are not cheap, Mr. Apple Store "genius." Why not try? I wasn't part of this original conversation, so I have no idea if the "genius" offered to backup the data before the fresh install (which is completely possible on Macs with their Target Disk Mode). Yet, this is a 7+ year old device. I've added a new battery, more memory, and a solid-state drive to my personal laptop that is 6+ months older, and I am frequently frustrated by its sluggishness. Thus, I can understand why one would choose to buy a new laptop instead of fixing this one. Of course, it's a matter of cost which brings me to the more complex answer to "how did I end up with a second 8 year old laptop?"

One of my deepest wounds is about my worth. I place a tremendous amount of value on productivity, salary, and how others see me. It's impossible to love and approve of one's self when you are constantly comparing yourself to those around you. There's always someone smarter, braver, bigger, stronger, faster, etc. I can never measure up. I used to make this joke at the expense of my mother's parents, "If I was President, my grandparents would say, 'It's not a very well paying job. You can do better.'" When my mother was in a deep depression, she couldn't get out of bed. For me, it's always been unemployment. How can I ever live up to the expectations I've made for myself? Impossible.

Even now, as I write this, the self critic in me feels that I've been unemployed more in my life than employed. Thoughts that I'm a loser for typing this to the world are loud and frankly hurtful. The reality of those emotions flooding in had me step away from writing this post, briefly.

Being unemployed for long periods of time, and my childhood have created some unfortunate financial habits. As such, I jumped at the possibility of being gifted 7+ year old laptop. My mother helped me realize that we rarely invested money, or saved for vacations while I was growing up because of my dad's health. Dealing with all the complications of Myasthenia Gravis didn't leave us with a lot of money. Nor was there the security of believing that it was a possibility to take a trip to Hawaii in the following year. And so, we didn't look to the future. This infected me with the "I could walk out the door and get hit by a bus" virus. This bug makes me and others see money differently.

My self critic enjoys not being financially stable or employed because it gives him life and meaning. When I see a shiny new phone, laptop, or something else I cannot afford, it is fuel for shame. Therefore, in shame I jumped at the opportunity to get an identical laptop because I don't deserve a new one. I can't afford a new one, because I am not earning enough, because I'll never earn enough.

It's getting easier to see these damaging thought patterns in my life. However, it often happens after the fact, when I can take a step back and see what transpired. Then, my demon returns to tell me, "So much for getting better. You screwed up again." At this point, compassion is useful. A compassionate friend reading this may note that it's great that I can finally recognize the pattern. That's a first step. That same friend might also feel like giving me a hug. This is a role I can take, accepting myself as I am now and giving myself compassion. It's something I have been successful at, but it is not easy. I hope in time this will become a new pattern.

In the meantime, what am I doing with this second laptop, really? Do I donate it somewhere? Perhaps, I offer it back to its original owner, or sell it and give the money to her? There's silly projects I can do with another computer, but I'd rather have a little Raspberry Pi that consumes less energy. I realize this dilemma is one of privilege, but I'm grateful to have another chance at recognizing my self-worth issue.

Much <3

Safe Spaces, Suffering & Humanity

4 min read

An image of clouds over a school field with the sun rays shining through

 

One of the side effects of going to mental health groups for me is seeing humanity in pain.

Each of us is afraid of hurt. Two angry people shout at each other before throwing punches because deep down they do not want pain. In groups we are given a list of rules which basically boil down to treating each person as a human. It’s a vulnerable setting for everyone there. In a way, the rules aren’t needed after a while because we’ve all shared our inner fears and have bonded. We didn’t come together because we’re amazing athletes or because of our successful business stories. Our relationships in the room are not dependant on our productivity, but built from our common hurt. Athletic careers can change overnight, just as business success. However, there’s always going to be pain in our human lives.

Stepping outside of the safe space of our group meeting room, I see so much suffering in the world around me. Of course, I see it through my own lens, this journey that has brought me here to vulnerability. People around me seem to be so busy avoiding emotions. Work harder, achieve more, ignore pain. Though, I don’t see those people in their own safe spaces. Perhaps they share emotions with a partner, a friend, or a family member. Safe spaces are incredibly important.

Conflict on the Internet

Recently, actor Wil Wheaton was banned from the Mastodon server he joined after leaving Twitter. It was dramatic, brutal, and brought all sorts of emotions up for me. I’m not here to argue for either side of this story. Basically, the thing about posting thoughts online is that they have potential to live forever. People felt uncomfortable with Wil Wheaton’s past. I don’t know what he feels or believes because I am not him. I cannot speak for the LBGT folks who fought to have him removed. All I am left with is sadness.

People are entitled to their emotions. There is no right or wrong, only suffering. The way I see working through pain is not with fighting, but by accepting and listening. Wars are not won on a battlefield. They are resolved by a few people in a room talking and listening. As someone who has fallen in love with the community I’ve made on Mastodon it was hard to see the division taking place. It was inevitable, as the Fediverse continues to grow, but it hurt me nonetheless.

Seeing the article linked above from The Verge on this Mastodon drama made me realize just how important safe spaces are. So many people complained about Wheaton that the administrator of the server he was on was getting 60 complaints an hour. Yet, if you look at the comments on The Verge article, there’s an absent of LBGT voices. It’s obvious to me that they don’t feel safe speaking there. Though, I’m not surprised. I recently watched this video from HBO and Vice News about the history of discrimination when it comes to blacks accessing swimming pools. I was shocked to see footage recorded on mobile phones in this day and age of people attacking blacks at public pools! It’s truly sad that we seek to divide ourselves instead of seeing our common humanity.

The need for safe spaces is important. While public spaces may not be ideal, I cannot imagine living in fear of sharing my beliefs or who I am with people I love and trust. It’s one thing to decide not to engage, and listen, and another to hide from others for fear of abuse. Even if we magically dropped our avoidance of emotions and pain, we would still need places where we can share. A nudist, and a Muslim who believes in a certain standard of modesty may not make the best support buddies. However, they may be able to bond over the persecution they’ve received. I’d like to repeat what I said before, we’re all suffering.

Listen and love, my friends. Each of us has our own suffering. I’ll leave you with an awful joke that I made up.

A priest, a rabbi, an iman, a non-binary person, a furry, a nun, a minister, a lesbian, a gay man, an atheist, a lama, an astrologist, and a white guy walk into a bar to have a drink. Isn’t that beautiful? All these different individuals coming together to share a beverage, no matter what they choose? I wish it wasn’t a joke.

Much<3