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Can I Have Empathy for Me? #5

3 min read

My mind pulses far quicker than my heart.

We all want to be heard. I often wonder if I am saying things that people will understand. The fear of failure and shame that I carry in my mind are absolute. As if they were materialized limbs attached to my body.

Additionally, I often feel like a chameleon. When the anxiety is overpowering I attempt to ignore it. I push a door shut and camp out in the logic side of my brain. To interact in the world around me I mimic my way through. Since I have been doing this since junior high, I have learned to say the right things.

Coincidentally, I feel as if people are only telling me what I need to hear. Patronizing me because I am a burden in their lives. For many years, I never spoke of my suicidal thoughts it felt like manipulation. As if I was saying I wanted to kill myself for some attention. Of course, the fear that people will think I am seeking attention, that they are patronizing me, it is all my shamevision(tm).

From there, things get convoluted. Therapists and doctors compliment my ability to notice the shame. It is a first step to making changes. It is also an ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tale. Changes in my thoughts happen too slow and then I have shame about still having shame. I have to remind myself that the shame is the evolution of self-protection. The voice of shame is my overzealous and distorted safety mechanism. I am afraid to be less than perfect. 'Don't try and you cannot fail,' stopped working for a younger version of me and so I started berating myself. I have to double-down on my efforts to recognize the shame for what it is. The ability to focus and perform other tasks is minimized. My job becomes dancing through all these pitfalls and I cannot function in a social or work setting at the same time. I must shutdown. I become the chameleon.

I think I am safe. I say what I think you want to hear. However, I know I am doing it. I know I am pushing aside emotions that have tried to get my attention for years. I feel as if I am deceiving others. The shame latches onto these thoughts and feelings. I am back at the beginning. I am starting all over. I do not collect $200.

Can I Have Empathy for Me? #4

2 min read

Day off.

I wake up with an entire day in front of me. I am not coming home after 8 hours at work too exhausted to do anything besides eat dinner and sleep. No, it is a day to myself.

Well...

There are some requirements of adulthood that I must attend. I should sit down and pay the bills, dust and vacuum, do the laundry, change the furnace filter, do the dishes, and buy groceries. Additionally, there are a number of maintenance tasks associated with the roof over my head. Minor repairs and the fact that we are renovating a room will figure into the day off. The home is not just a roof over our heads, but an investment. Oh, and there's the issue of winterizing the balcony.

Then, I can have my day off. Sure.

If by some dark sorcery I accomplish everything above on my day off, I am still unable to sleep this night. I did not finish all those things, but there is a part of me (that I have been trying to cultivate for the last 4 years) that is proud of what I did get done. Did the inner critic who set the bar low and surpassing it was easy? Setting that aside, doubt still comes to disturb my sleep. Maybe I could have done more?

There is a term, internalized capitalism, which fits my mantra "I am not enough." Internalized capitalism is the idea that hard work brings happiness, not your health. It is when you determine your worth based on your productivity. Being profitable is your number one job. And, one feels shame for resting.

So, I lie awake. What more could I have done yesterday? Instead of musing on it here in bed, is there something I can still do at this time?

No! This is my day off. I didn't even get to experience that really. I am frustrated. My mind is a hurricane of what more could I have done and what I really wanted to do. The storm rages and I get up to watch TV or read a book to get through the storm. A sleepless night to sabotage productivity the next day. A nice recipe of shame to continue my week.

Can I Have Empathy for Me? #3

2 min read

Time stops for no one.

I suppose that it makes sense that I would be tired after a long work day in a new environment, compared to my previous schedule. My body feels like a pinata. Even after 8 hours of sleep, I feel punch drunk.

I want to take shots at the system. Capitalism has us working through the daylight and milking years from our lives in an effort to enrich someone else. The lore of a gloriously lavish retirement is the reward. However, that's my brain seeking to separate myself, my emotions, from the issue. What is the issue? Is it time? Is it how I spend time? Perhaps it boils down to my perception of time.

“I am not enough” and therefore I cannot do enough in a single day. Your birthday gift, the vacuuming, dinner, and the dog walk must be done. I can't forget to call my mother too. If I were to accomplish this list in a single day my mind adds 15 more things. What about all the things I failed to do the day before, the week before, and last month.

I carry all this on my shoulders throughout my day. I haul it to my new job. I place more items I should do onto my list. I move it all piece by piece, home and crash. Escape into a bad television show, a game, or a book is where I land. It feels better than just crawling into bed right away. Additionally, I can add the shame that I didn't do anything after work to my burden.

An animator I interviewed once told me that he completed his independent short on the weekends or after work. He told me how difficult it was and the way he pushed through. He convinced himself, “Draw one line.” Sometimes it would be just that. Other times he would continue to draw a few more. And maybe, sometimes he would get inspired.

Can I Have Empathy for Me? #2

2 min read

Pending doom.

The new job means new responsibilities, new relationships to form, and the desire to prove oneself. It is natural to be nervous in this situation. Most employers recognize there will be an adjustment time and do their best to make you feel at ease. Despite that, there's always that initial nervousness.

I've theorized in the past on the challenges of adulthood. The popular example is making friends as a child. You simply walk up to another child and ask if they want to play. As children we don't really feel bad if someone answers "no." We move on. As we age, we learn social customs and more importantly what does not work. I cannot punch you in your shoulder to introduce myself. So the older we are the more rules we have written inside our head for friendship introductions. It's hard to make friends as an adult as you try to avoid the mines you've stepped on before. Starting a new job brings up all the lived experience in my past of "things not to do" and my anxiety wants to run away with that information.

Thankfully, I haven't had a lot of turnover in my job history, at least after university. However, I did breakdown mentally. I haven't worked in an office with others in a long time. So the level of initial nervousness on the first day is exponentially increased. My inner monologue that "I am not enough" is a deafening air raid siren. I am biting tears before they flow.

As I said above, there is no one here out to get me. They will onboard me as someone who is new and needs some training. That is the reality. The pit of my stomach refuses to believe this. My clenched jaw smugly pouts at the idea of success. My brain is a bookie taking bets from the other organs on how I will fail this time.

Reality blurs.

I have to focus. Here I go. I am not alone. I have all this doubt with me.

Can I Have Empathy for Me? #1

3 min read

I am afraid of good things.

I am not humble or modest. When there's something "good" happening for me, I shut down and I isolate. Any celebration or congratulations are loaded with shame.

Anytime I journal or blog, I write "I am not enough." If I have written that out over a thousand times, it doesn't get close to the amount of times I hear that in my brain in a single day. I project this slogan "you are not enough" onto those around me. The cashier thinks I am not enough because I am buying the wrong groceries to be healthy. The passerby on the street as I walk my dog thinks I am not a good enough dog owner. My therapist is not watching the clock because there are more appointments to attend. No, he knows I am not good enough to help myself and take any advice for healing.

A text message, an email, all the modern day notifications on my phone are reminders of my inadequacies and failures. The glasses I wear are not rose-colored, they are polarized. They don't prevent eyestrain, they are polarizing in that they divide me from reality. I only see avenues for shame.

I found some relief in treatment through psychotherapy and EMDR. Meditation and journaling also helped to an extent. Each of those tools involve hard work and concentration. It is not easy to face the emotions I have avoided for 40+ years. Throughout my life, I have formed habits that feed the shame. Changing the way I see things, changing those glasses is incredibly difficult. It takes my full focus. As I shared above, I cannot walk the dog and remember that I was born to be enough. None of us are born worthless or inadequate. Yet, that is how I feel. I talk to myself as if I am a burden and without any worth.

Therefore, an award for being "Volunteer of the Year" at my regional Canadian Mental Health Association is not an honor. A new job is not an accomplishment. These are minefields for me. Did they make a mistake? Now, that they named me "Volunteer of the Year," watch me make them regret it, because I will somehow. If I was hired to pet puppies all day, I am sure I would screw it up.

Alright, I suppose I challenged myself by naming my journal entry, "Can I Have Empathy for Me." I am not sure how to tackle this because it feels more permanent than a tattoo. I am not enough, no matter what I do. This is not a narrative in my head or something I can medicate away. It feels like a fact. The truth. The only positive thing I have at this moment is..well..this moment.

Perhaps mindfulness and trying to be present is what I might focus on today. Somehow, I will have to try and quiet the evidence of failures in the past and the fears of future disappointment and just try to press the "OK" button on this post. Then, I have to deal with the next 10 seconds, and so on.

Suspended in Anxiety

8 min read

acrylic painting of a dark figure laying down in a fetal position while bright colors blur past

 

With anxiety, an opportunity is not good fortune. An opening or chance at something is blood to the shark that is anxiety. Imagine the famous Jaws theme had the words, "What if..what if..what if..what if.what if.what if..."

Challenging The Narrative

I continue to nurture self-love. Finding joy in who I am verses what I have accomplished is an hourly challenge. Art has helped me cultivate these new and foreign feelings toward myself. The pieces I create come from the enjoyment of the process. The final artwork is a manifestation of the emotions I felt during the creative process. I was essentially in the moment. Me. The person I am was there.

I struggle constantly to keep that performative part of me obsessed with accomplishments at bay. What if I could sell my art? How can I make art that will sell? The people pleaser inside of me wants to go out there and sell hand painted, watercolor cards and worry stones that I have carved and polished. What if nobody is interested? Fear is triggered in these curious thoughts.

On one hand, selling art could be one of those mythical "do what you love" things. On the other hand, will I enjoy the process of being in the moment if I am trying to fill orders or making the same thing over and over again because it sells? See, I don't believe people will buy things that I create for me because I have spent 40+ years not loving me and the things I 'accomplish.'

Some of the people I absolutely respect, like Daniel J. Hogan, Adriean Koleric, or even Jessica Abel somehow manage to create amazing works of art and keep a day job. They pursue their passions and pay the bills. However, I am terrified of this idea. I had big ideas before my breakdown. While I was working I was going to make a number of video projects. I never did. I focused on my career and accomplishments. I worked plenty of nights. When I wasn't working, I was too exhausted to do much of anything.

I suppose that was a different me. That version of Chris was unaware of the all the pain I have suffered since. Yet, there is a pattern in my past equating my self-worth to what I am doing, not who I am. The fear that nobody would be interested in buying my artwork is rooted in this sense of accomplishment. I personally benefited from the process of creating the pieces already. Why should I care that they are piled up here in the corner and not selling? Unless, I am afraid that they will be rejected.

I've written it before, but people at parties and social gatherings never ask you what your passions are. We always start new interactions with "What do you do for a living?" Even when I had a career, I was intimidated by that question. Call it imposter syndrome, insecurity or whatever. In fact, I think those closest to me would say I still have a career as a writer now. My "even when I had a career" comment was another jab at myself.

My self-worth has always been tied to my accomplishments. The personal bar, or goal for myself was always unattainable. Somehow in my recovery, I have found art as a small thing that I can do and not mentally abuse myself. Sometimes I try to explain it away, "Maybe I like watercolor painting because I cannot fully control the water and have to accept it for what it is." Of course, I have learned a lot in the last few years and that theory doesn't hold a lot of water, pun intended. I've gotten better at my craft. Moreover, many people can do excellent photorealistic work in watercolor. My friend Heather L Gilbraith's Bouguereau Women or the work of a new acquaintance Larry Kapitzke are fantastic examples. Creating art from within myself is not an accomplishment. It just is.

Reality

"Money makes the world go 'round." Could I work a job, slinging packages on a delivery truck, being a cashier, or making license plates and pursue my passion? Not a full-on career, but a means for living as I create art on my time? I've asked the question of myself before. I want to say 'yes.' I feel like I should say 'yes,' because what kind of pretentious ass am I if I say, 'no.' What would people think of me. What would my family think of me.

Could I combine my passion and making money? Perhaps commissions, gallery shows, teaching what I do? Well, I feel like I wrestled with this thought above. I don't know that I can enjoy the process if the goal is a product at the end. Again, it sounds pretentious, privileged. I would guess it is fear talking. I am afraid of failing. Could the venture ruin art as a potential recovery tool?

Reality is that money pays the bills, not my mental health. This is where the past Chris would bottle all this horse shit of emotion and thought up and tuck it deep within. I would use all these words as exhibits of what a loser I am in the court of Chris. Your honor, each and every person around us goes to work, pays their bills and lives in this system. Some, even find time to pursue things outside of work. Clearly, the problem is within us.

While that critical voice has caused me so much suffering, the truth is that its role is to protect me. the criticism is a very overprotective agent trying to save me from myself. In this case, is the voice is attempting to save me from harming a my relationship with art as a recovery tool? Or is the voice trying to stop me from taking on too much too fast? Is the voice completely misguided or only somewhat overprotective?

Opportunity Mocks

I am privileged to even debate these things. That is a factual thought that promotes that familiar guilt and shame within me. I suppose that may have contributed to me stepping away from writing this for a day or two. I wanted to collect and process my thoughts because there is a job opportunity on the horizon. I was moments away from physically shuddering after writing about reality above. I felt tears nestled behind my eyes, ready to leap forward.

I am terrified. I fear letting down those around me. the ones who continue to support me and those that say they see my improvement. I am scared of potential co-workers and employers being disappointed in me. I dread the day that I have to tell my partner that I couldn't do it. I quit. I failed. It's all there, in my head, that part of me who knows I am not enough. These thoughts are the manifestation of that core belief. Most of my days are spent in anxiety waiting for others to realize what I know.

Here I sit with these thoughts because I applied for a full time job and have an interview scheduled. In my recovery journey I have learned the importance of mindfulness and being in the moment. Ruminating about the past is a way to trap ourselves into wishing things were different. Wishes and time travel are not possible and thus the exercise fuels pain. All the Jawstheme 'what-ifs' are related to the endless number of futures that are possible. Being in the present is a super power.

Right now, I am frightened. That fear is based in my history of perceived failure. It is fueled by the potential ways I will screw up in the future. Anxiety assumes every decision is world ending. Starvation, divorce, homelessness and catastrophe are one decision away. Are you sure you want to go to sleep now? There's more you can do.

Reality and anxiety are not friends. Does the planet get vaporized by a black hole if I screw up my interview? Will a deity rain destruction on humankind if I am offered the job and refuse? Could a plague decimate all life on Earth if I accept the job and decide a few months later that I do not want it? I would be disappointed in myself by any of those personal outcomes, but I think the galaxy would be fine. Perhaps those outlandish results are wishful thoughts. The idea of the world ending coincidentally with a personal failure means I do not have to sit with my pain and disappointment. Hmm.

I do not know how to handle the pain of failure, disappointment and self-criticism. Unfortunately, I will never learn if I do not try. If I stay suspended in fear, frozen in indecision I remain unable to cope and tortured by 'what ifs.'

Issues Funding Mental Health

6 min read

Watercolor comic- First panel male holding phone taking selfie with old rotary telephone titled

In 2021 I spent a decent amount of time with the regional Canadian Mental Health Association in a couple roles. First, I tried volunteering on the distress line and then I got involved with a committee and fundraising. There's no doubt the not-for-profit organizations have struggled during the pandemic, but what struck me was society's attitude toward mental wellness. The stigma of depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. is slowly eroding away. Yet, I am still trying to help raise funds for assistance. In particular, how is that money spent?

I can look at the annual report and give you specific numbers, but like so many things in our world the answer is always "more money is needed." I promise I am not going to go off on one of my capitalism rants. I also do not need to tell you about how badly mental health is underfunded. Certainly the pandemic has drawn more attention to the issue as we all isolate and no longer have those connections humans desire. There has been some increase into funding mental health because governments recognize that should we find "normal" again, after the pandemic, mental wellness services will be needed.

There, we have more money. Well, that's that. Thanks for reading.

Wait...

The programs in place were already underfunded. Any boost allows organizations to pay their bills. Or perhaps, they can expand counseling resources from two therapists to three. Group homes can get the maintenance they needed 4 years ago. A help line may now have the funds to be 24 hours or start a texting service as well. There is a large need in our communities going unfilled. Naturally, any money going to not-for-profits should expand their services to help more people.

I mentioned that I volunteered at the distress line. It was a very challenging situation for me personally. I entered the training believing that this role would help me keep many of the strategies I have learned in my mental wellness journey. Use it or lose it, practice makes pattern (not perfect!) and all that. I received a great deal of training at no cost to me and the professionals were there during every call I took. Afterwards, I would be debriefed and offered any assistance I may need. If those on site couldn't help me with a troubling call, I could speak to a therapist through a health plan that the organization has. Volunteers getting health benefits? That's cool.

I lasted a few months before I decided that wasn't the position I was ready for at this moment in my life. I may share more of that story in the future, but in the end I do not fit into the crisis model. Again, because we have ignored mental health for so long as a society, these distress lines are incredibly busy. Thus, the need for volunteers. Financially it isn't possible to have psychologists and therapists on the line for 24 hours. The crisis model is used by volunteers to help callers get through the immediate emotions. Moving callers from panic to concern, for example. Then, volunteers and callers come up with strategies should a similar situation happen again. Finally, volunteers offer the contact information for more long-term services. In this model, volunteers can help more callers. Referring people to long-term services means I am not on the phone for 3 hours with someone. It is also important because it doesn't create a dependency. If you are calling me 4 times a day, I cannot help others.

A Thought Experiment

Imagine if we really funded mental health as we did COVID-19? What if those of us volunteering at the crisis line were actually paid for our experience? We value programs to help community wellness, but do we recognize the roles of those within it?

As I said, that fast moving crisis model wasn't for me. Still, others thrived. Many of the volunteers eventually do more training and become paid staff. It's a tough field, though. In my search for someone to talk to I briefly saw a counselor connected to an addictions clinic. The individual took some time off and I was reassigned. When they returned, I saw them for a couple months and then they left permanently. Most of us have encountered issues at work where there just are not enough people on hand to finish projects on time and efficiently. It is very stressful. Now, imagine that in a mental health setting where people come in 8+ hours a day and tell you such intimate and difficult stories. Burnout must be inevitable.

In a similar story, my first attempt at getting help was at a teaching hospital. One day a week they do intakes for a program. They interview everyone that shows up in a 3 hour period. From there, they only admit those with the greatest need. I was turned away. Setting aside my emotions, imagine that as your job. "It sounds like a difficult situation, dealing with suicidal thoughts twice a day. However, at this time we cannot admit you to the program (because I just met someone thinking about killing themselves 4 times a day)." You work at a place so underfunded that you are weekly turning away people who may die. Burnout is inevitable in this situation.

Personally, I believe I could better serve in a group situation where I could share my experience and have those long-term connections with group members. Sometimes this is called peer support. Many organizations have a professional and someone with lived experience lead a mental health group. I have been looking for a space to do this kind of work instead of the distress line work. I feel it is a calling of sort. Of course, I cannot live on volunteer work alone. I must make money. Thus, this blog is somewhat self-serving. It would be amazing if I could find a position like facilitating a group and to receive pay for it. Unfortunately, that's not a reality at this time.

Kudos to all the work we've done as a society to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. There is progress to be proud of, but no amount Silcon Valley startups offering apps for video therapy or phone counseling at a small subscription price are going to move us forward. We need to fund mental health like we fund a military. The private sector is all about profit for shareholders and they cannot be in charge of health, mental health, or education for that matter. We'll get more prescriptions from big pharma, instead of funding people with lived experience and history to help others. Nobody wants to live in a world where we have to subscribe to pay for our life giving organs. Mental health care needs to be taken seriously not only by society, but by government and budgets. The people doing the work do not need achievement awards or LinkedIn reviews. They need to be fairly compensated and respected.

Finding Strength Within

5 min read

Multiple images of the same face glitching together

I had an interesting session of EMDR today and I thought it would be best to document it. I am currently fighting the voice in my head that says, "It will do no good to document this because you rarely read your own writings." However, I do not celebrate my victories. Successes? It is difficult to label those things that work for me because I fear it was a fluke. A one-time bit of luck is not success or a victory. It is a fortunate accident. Thus, I want to sit down and write this out to build that neural pathway of recognizing success.

On more than one occasion in the last year I have met other Chrises during EMDR. I have relived childhood memories and recent events during the therapy. Sometimes the me that is writing this will appear in the memory to comfort a younger me. I have even seen the younger me pop into a recent memory to ask me questions and support me.

There is some fear and anxiety around sharing this. I do not want to sound like a kook or new age star child. Of course, this is a legitimate strategy used in some therapies. Doctors have scanned brains as people recall trauma and the parts of their brains that light up are the same that show when people are in actual distress. Effectively, people's bodies are experiencing the event as if it is happening. That can feel overwhelming to those of us who experience trauma. Therefore, some therapists suggest that we replay memories like a movie or a slideshow. We are instructed to observe the memory, but try not to relive it.

The first time I met myself in EMDR, I was there to console a confused 7 year old. That younger version of me felt alone and ashamed. Adults were mad and younger Chris had no one to turn to. So, he turned on himself. If the adults were disappointed in him, then he would also be angry and disappointed at himself. With nowhere to turn, I could not shake the real emotions of that little guy during the memory. Suddenly, this adult me was there parenting that 7 year old. Explaining the actions of the adults was little help. A promise to be there for him and a hug, even though imaginary in my therapy, relieved a lot of tension in my body.

Today, I was dealing with recent trauma. I was looking at my poor behavior and it was tied to the suicidal breakdown that brought me to the hospital. I've likely told the story of being turned away from overworked mental health programs here on my blog. After hitting a few walls, I called my therapist and got an answering machine. That was it. Proof that I was not important. My fears were not just in my head. It was all true. Then, I received a call from my general practitioner. (Likely my therapist listened to the message and alerted the GP.) That reality check brought hope. I made it through another couple days.

During EMDR, I kept latching onto that call from the GP. The tension in my body would go down, but not completely disappear. My psychiatrist asked me what the tension might be. After another set of eye movement, I realized I was ashamed. I had once again turned on myself. Why would anyone want to be with a broken person like me? I wouldn't want to be with me. I couldn't handle a previous relationship where the person was depressed. I ran. I could not handle my mother's depression. I sought escape. Now, the GP had shown me compassion and my wife was still by my side. I went from being confused by their behavior to using the past to shame myself.

Then, I found the others.

I kept coming back to the call from the GP because it relieved tension in my body. However, the shame was still there. I needed someone to be there for me that I could always count on. I wanted to ensure that I would never be alone. The only way I have done this in the past is by being a "yes person." Desperate for affection from others because I cannot provide it to myself. Suddenly during therapy, I was there. I was standing next that me on the phone. I was crying those sort of sad/happy tears. As I tried to hold onto that feeling younger Chrises entered the room. All of us were scared. We were not sure this would work. My default is shame. If my EMDR appointment ends and my partner and I have a miscommunication will I just go back to the default? We were afraid of the unknown. I was comfortable with the familiar pain of shame. So, I was holding onto that tension because what if?

They kept coming, the younger Chrises. My body got lighter as years of armor slowly unraveled. I feel lighter, but the work is not done. It's a cliche, but my time was up for that appointment.

I will work more on this next week's appointment. Things may process on their own, or things might get worse in the mean time. However, today that sad/happy bunch of Chrises brought me to a better place. I hope that this process of loving myself continues to grow.

The Season Between

2 min read

A road with lifeless trees along it and the muck and leaves left after Winter

 

There is a void between Winter and Spring. The trees remain lifeless and decaying leaves are pasted to the anemic grass like papier-mâché. The dust, dirt, and refuse collected by the snow throughout winter is molded into the landscape. The muted tones of the environment make it impossible to distinguish a blade of grass from a flower stem. This purgatory is depression.

The unnamed void between the seasons in an anxious time. A glimmer of sunshine can quickly morph into a snow storm. Thus, I have taught myself to distrust the sun. I will not believe its lies of a better tomorrow. The snowfall and the expectation of it numbs me. I know what hides beneath the fluffy blanket of snow, my colorless purgatory.

There is a temptation to hope for a rain to wash away the decay and have a fresh start. Unfortunately, the rain transforms the landscape into an inescapable pit. The soft ground swallows me whole. If I should break free, the mud and decay clings to me as a constant reminder that this is where I belong. The lifeless browns and grays are now part of me and fog my vision.

Eventually, Spring will come. Trees and plants will bloom and the grass will glow green. Through my brown and gray lenses the change in the environment only signals that this metamorphosis will not last. Winter is around the corner. A frozen retreat to hide from the pain, anxiety, and depression.

I will welcome the blinding white of snow that burns the brown and gray fog of my vision. I will be free of the unnamed season and numb. I cannot predict the weather or when the seasons will change. Therefore, the only emotion I will engage with is fear. I am afraid the depression will come back. Let me be frozen. I want to stay numb. I am so afraid of the unnamed season between. Eventually, the fear melts the snow and I return to the purgatory I was trying to avoid.

 

The Unsustainable Upward Trend

7 min read

neurons at a meeting on happiness, a watercolor paintinghelpless neurons

Sustainability often comes up in economics, but rarely comes up as a topic in general discussions of mental health. Some think talking about relapse will do harm. It is also triggering to caretakers, friends, and family to see someone in pain, so we avoid anything that is not progress. However, the goal for those of us who are neural diverse is finding balance not a cure.

When we talk about normalizing mental wellness these days people often compare things like anxiety and depression to broken limbs-- you would take some time off work and seek medical attention if you broke your leg, you should be able to do the same for mental health. Unfortunately, some injuries can be more serious than others. The leg may not return to its previous usability. This is always the case for mental wellness. Trauma alters our brains. While someone with an injured leg may have to rely on a cane after physical trauma, we may require continued therapy, medication, meditation, or other supports.

Pain is debilitating. A friend with a back pain has good days and bad days. On those bad days they have difficulty focusing and feel like they are better off resting than making things worse. Psychological pain is no different from this physical pain. There are good days and bad days. One difference between physical pain and psychological pain is that we can often notice when others are in physical pain. Those of us dealing with mental health issues have pain that is not visible to the naked eye.

It is common for people that are neural diverse to isolate when they are in pain. My depression relentlessly attacks me with thoughts and feelings that I am a burden to others. Therefore, I can hide my pain from you because I do not want to burden you. Or, I believe if I am so distraught that you can see my psychological pain it is likely to have an adverse affect on you. We don't want to see our loved ones in pain. The raw emotion is uncomfortable. We want to avoid pain. This is a natural, human reaction. Though, my depression sees your frustration as proof that I am a burden, you are not the cause of my pain. Likewise, I am not the cause of your discomfort. Yet, an uncomfortable past experience may convince you to avoid discussing my pain in the fear that you'll trigger me more.

When we avoid the reality of psychological pain it can reinforce stigmas around mental wellness, confirm my distorted view that I am a burden, and disrupt the process of finding equilibrium. Our mental wellness will not be graphed with a green line shooting upward like some sort of dream stock price. There are hills and valleys and recovery is a lifelong process. My hope is to find neutrality. I want to find something sustainable. I have no interest in trying to make each day better than the one before because that's unrealistic. Even for people who may not have depression, anxiety, or another neural diversity, mental wellness does not trend upward every moment of their lives.

Finding balance between the ups and downs of mental wellness sounds like a very difficult task. As such, standing by and supporting someone through it is equally complicated. You cannot expect us to keep 'getting better' in an upward trend, but you want to help us avoid the pain. Avoidance is a strategy that eventually implodes in my experience. I would classify avoidance as damaging and distraction as a better alternative. Personally, I struggle with that classification. Shame tells me that my distraction is an avoidance tactic. However focusing on grief, loss, anxiety, or whatever the psychological pain is for 24/7 is draining. Therefore, a book, a movie, a coloring book, cooking, or whatever you find some satisfaction in can be a healthy distraction despite what the shame says.

Speaking of draining, you can encounter fatigue trying to support someone dealing with mental wellness issues. That desire to stop our pain fuels the need to see a steady improvement like a stock. Not meeting that goal can be frustrating and draining as a support. Perhaps redefining what 'getting better' means is a strategy to help those of us that are neural diverse and those of you trying to support us. The definition will likely be different for everyone. In general, getting better may mean accepting where I am at and setting a goal of preventing myself from hitting rock bottom again. Maybe, understanding that good days and bad days are a reality, but being able to recognize when the bad days are trending in order to ask for more support? I certainly don't feel that I have communicated what 'getting better' means to me very well in this paragraph. That is likely a sign that I do need to sit down and better define it so that I am not trying to reach unrealistic goals subconsciously. sigh

Using those unrefined parameters, how will I know 'bad days' are trending? This is the benefit of the hills and valleys of mental health. We learn in those valleys. Failure and mistakes are how we learn. The way to find balance or neutrality is to experience the highs and lows. In economics, companies that constantly try to make 20% profit from the year before often make cuts to achieve those numbers. They fail to innovate and learn. It's a strategy that works well if you're hoping to get large numbers to increase your selling price and move on. However, it is not a sustainable strategy. And, I am unable to sell my collection of traumatized neurons. So living with them is a better idea than shooting for an unrealistic upward trend in mental wellness.

If I do not try, I cannot fail. Somewhere along the line, perhaps early in my childhood, I adapted this philosophy in a low. Shame or embarrassment may have triggered the thought and it became law. Much of my anxiety comes from the expectations I put on myself. I build them up into an impassable mountain until I have convinced myself not to try. As such, I see expectations from others and want to run the other direction. In the same way as a caretaker, friend, or partner of someone like me, you may have experienced a severe low in your neurally diverse friend. In that moment you constructed a law that you do not want to see that again. You want to protect your friend, just as my anxiety is trying to protect me.

Sometimes, I need someone to just listen. Sometimes, I need a gentle reminder. Many times, I am unable to communicate what I need. As a support, you cannot be expected to know what it is I need. Remember that connection is always needed. Validating and accepting where we are in the highs and lows goes a long way to help. Empowering people with neural diversity to make their own choices is part of that validation. Directly set boundaries for your own mental wellness and we will respect that. Communicating your concerns helps us reality check what anxiety or depression is telling us. Maybe you don't find me a burden and want to hear what I have to say, but today is not a good day. Perhaps, there's a family member in your past who had similar issues and I am triggering you. It is okay to be direct and set that boundary. "This triggers something from my own past that I would rather not revisit. However, ruminating on this stuff all the time is really draining. So if you want a distraction, please reach out. I can totally help in that way."

We are social creatures and isolation is part of many mental health concerns. I cannot say every exposure to others will be beneficial, though it can often help to be surrounded by strangers at a park or a mall. Connection, even those as thin as being surrounded by other humans that are strangers can be helpful. Please do not let anything I have written prevent you from connecting with myself and others who are living with neural diversity. Just try not to be like the helpless neurons above.