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Is Compassion For Trump Possible?

6 min read

Sketches of sad Trump

As someone struggling with mental health issues I recognize parts of myself in Trump. I’m working hard to correct my behaviours, regulate my emotions instead of deny them, and find self-worth from within. All of these things start with having compassion for myself. Perhaps the best way to go about that is to have compassion for others.

President Trump is mentally ill. Note, that I am not a doctor or qualified to claim this as fact, but I do see the similarities that I am working through. This unmanageable need to be liked, to have recognition, and power can all be signs of insecurity. For me, some of this may stem from abandonment issues. Before you go searching Trumps childhood, know that there are a number of ways our minds can form these unhelpful neural pathways and patterns. I grew up with a mother and a father, so why do I fear abandonment? Yet, much of my therapy is starting to point to this issue. I want to control my environment, or at least believe that I do. While Trump makes outlandish claims of his success and adoration, I do the opposite putting myself down and believing I am incapable of being loved. This is how we both control our narrative. I refuse to believe that I have any worth to anyone and Trump believes he is a miraculous gift to anybody that interact with him. No matter what critics say of him, or what loved ones tell me, the two of us control the narrative in our minds.

Opposing Trump with anger, internet memes, and commenting on his social media posts have no affect. His delusion protects himself from harm and controls his inner narrative in order to not see anything that doesn’t feed his beliefs. Those people are jealous of him, weak, or terrorists. I imagine that would be how he twists the feedback. For myself and the self-hate, I see compliments as me getting lucky or being praised for something that anyone can do. Again, dismissing those things that do not jive with my belief that I have no worth.

When I say we should have compassion for Trump, I’m not excusing his behavior. I don’t want my friends and family to lose healthcare, jobs, or their lives because of something he does or says. All I am proposing is that we have to look at each other with compassion. Trump is an everyday reminder of why we need more compassion in the world.

How Can We Subvert Trump By Being Compassionate?

Nobody wins in war. Arguing is not any different. Fighting the powers that be means you’re a freedom fighter, right? Well, to the opposing side, you’re a terrorist. Our world is not one that can be simplified into good vs. evil. That is the fairytale that we keep feeding generations, but humans are far more complex than good or evil. Compassion is far superior, in my opinion, because it builds a bridge instead of blowing it up.

The next thing I hear when I speak of compassion is “But, they’re not going to show compassion! Trump won’t return our compassion with some of his own.” It’s not a fair exchange, that’s how you know you’re doing it right. We give of ourselves without expecting anything in return. Compassion starts small with friends, family, and coworkers. It does not start at the Trump level. Look at the example of our modern day tech bubble, everyone wants to be the next Uber, Twitter, or Facebook. Those successes didn’t start day one at the top of the world. Facebook started at one university. This small community eventually grew by adding more Boston area universities. Students who had friends at other universities outside Boston eventually told them about this new thing. Facebook added more and more schools. Eventually, Facebook included high school students, and finally allowed anyone to join. Curious parents who watched their kids interact with this website decided to join and check it out as well. Compassion starts the same way. We naturally pay it forward. If you smile at someone walking the opposite direction on the street, there’s a phenomenal chance that they will smile back.

If you’re protesting Trump, try to imagine that person on the other side shouting in support of the President. You’re angry because Trump sexually harassed a number of women. What if I were to tell you the person on the other side was related to Monica Lewinsky. As you’re rightfully steaming with anger, that person also has a similar feeling about Bill Clinton and has chose to ignore the allegations against Trump and support him. Both of you want women to be treated with respect, why are you shouting at each other? Perhaps the Trump supporter is excited about the huge tax cut, but you’re opposed. You don’t know why that supporter is there. Could it be that the democrats refused to cut taxes which forced his employer to move overseas for cheaper labor? Who is to blame? His employer who was only trying to make shareholders happy by showing a profit. Should we blame the democrats for not cutting taxes? Is the supporter at fault for not choosing a better job? The idea is having compassion for the person’s situation, not for what they’re doing at the moment.

Yes, those are hypothetical situations that I made up and controlled the narrative of, just like Trump and myself do with self-worth. Regardless, I have to believe that compassion is the best method to make the world better. That’s the goal of the anger focused at Trump, right? It’s not about labelling him or putting him in his place, correct? We just want a better world. Show compassion, respond not react to those you disagree with. As an incredible friend told me, “true subversion is not yelling as loud as you can, but actually doing the things that are better than the things we are doing now.”

I’m not alone in this idea of compassion instead of opposition. A number of groups reported record donations after Trump’s election. What would be more rewarding, an argument on Facebook with your conservative uncle, or volunteering for the local ACLU and telling a citizen they don’t have to worry about the travel ban and will get to see their family again?

Compassion and anger are both emotions, and they feed themselves. If you give compassion it will feel good and you’ll want more. If you continue to use anger, you’ll continue feeding it and become embittered with everything around you. Perhaps you’ll even start to hate yourself. Trust me, you don’t want that.

Sorry Spider-man, This Woman Is My Hero

3 min read

Not too long ago, I proclaimed that I would choose love as my super power, over flight, strength, or invisibility. The idea of choosing compassion over anger, or being right, sounds very idealistic. Nelba Márquez-Greene’s words in the video below are so powerful because she speaks them from a space of love and compassion. In my opinion, she seems so genuine as she talks about her daughter and the tragic events.

I’ve spent much of my life looking outside for my self-worth and telling people what they want to hear to get acceptance. Nelba Márquez-Greene’s quality of being open and authentic is something my father had and it inspires me. I believe to move forward that I will have to be my own hero. I cannot aspire to be as unrealistic Spider-man, nor can I be my father or Márquez-Greene. When we look at our heroes, we must go deeper than just their deeds.

As I said, I have a tendency to be a pleaser, a “yes” person. I want badly to be liked by you, by everyone. Thus, my father’s trait of being genuine is the core reason why I idolize him. In the video above, Nelba Márquez-Greene is telling her story with compassion. She has been through a tragedy and honestly says don’t give me the “Well at least…” bullshit. Nelba Márquez-Greene wants to talk about what happened, not the loss. She wants to bring change with compassion and community.

Spider-man, well maybe I once gravitated towards him because not everything went his way and he still carried on? There’s the lovely line from Spidey’s uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Yet, I am having trouble really finding what it is that would make Spider-man my hero over Nelba Márquez-Greene and my father. Sorry, Spidey.

The search within myself for meaning and worth is incredibly difficult. The emotional work is draining, time-consuming, and absent of facts. I realize that I cannot shape my life to be more like my father or Nelba Márquez-Greene. I have to become me. I hope that sometime in the future I can write an apology blog to Nelba Márquez-Greene and declare myself as my own hero. Until then, I will be inspired by her words and her work.

You can learn more about Nelba Márquez-Greene and her foundation at The Ana Grace Project

A Journey Inside My Depression

9 min read

Last week I spent 2 days trying to productivity my way out of feeling. This is old hat for me. Where does that phrase come from? Yuck, that’s my mind’s way of finding more avoidance, I start searching for that answer instead of sitting here and dealing with my emotions. I’ve been suppressing tears. Why? I wish I knew.

It goes like this, I woke up one morning to a note from my spouse. Regardless of the content, I felt shame and guilt. Even before reading it. I assumed it was bad news. I assumed I’d done something wrong. I stayed up late the night before, trying to keep the tears away. I promised not to stay up too long and I did. I was guilty. I didn’t share my battle against the tears. I was ashamed. Sharing my vulnerability would have made it real. Guilt and shame fit. What did the note say? Doesn’t matter. In the past I’ve stayed up late avoiding my issues with unhealthy distractions and destructive consequences. Another reason to guilt myself. It didn’t matter that the late evening was spent problem solving website issues. I was judging myself on the past. I was not at all focused on the now, on the content of the note.

I believe depression is an awakening of sorts. Those of us who reach this stage realize something isn’t right in our lives. It is acknowledging that the problem isn’t with the outside world, but within us. Nobody in the history of the world has said, “This was the best day of my life! It will never get better than this. Well, I guess I’ll jump off a bridge. I might as well leave a success.” People who have suicidal thoughts have lost self-worth. That loss is very difficult to live with. How do you correct this problem in your own mind? If it was something on the outside of the body, a cut, a rash, or a bad haircut we know what to do.

What makes depression worse is that we are creatures of habit. The truth is that we want the pain of depression. The predictability is a comfort. Depression becomes standard operating procedures. We can’t make sense of success. We write it off as luck because personal success would challenge our assumption that we have no worth. We take our meds, see therapists, and tell people we want to be free of the dark corners of our minds. Yet, if I wake up tomorrow free of depression, what will happen? Predictability will be gone! Without a logical pattern to understand how will I know what to say and do? In this state of mind, in the depression, my low self-esteem won’t let me see that I can function in a world without comfortable predictability.

Damned If You Do

There it is. Please help me, but I don’t want help. I project this can’t win attitude on others when they try to listen and help. My morning letter from my spouse was a positive one, but I assumed it was bad.

I cannot imagine living with me. Of course I can’t because I have lost self-worth and contemplated suicide. Before sitting down to write this I was outside and chose to cross the road at an intersection without a stop sign or a traffic light. “Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus,” I thought. As I walked on, an older woman limping down the sidewalk passed and I wished I could donate my somewhat healthier legs to her. Let’s give her a better life with this donation and also end my pain. How do my loved ones deal with that? It seems hopeless.

I couldn’t live with someone’s depression myself. In the past, my ex-wife was depressed and I ran. I asked my father how he stayed with my mother as she suffered through depression. Conveniently, I don’t remember if he had an answer. I only remember my mother telling me that he was hurt by the question. I wish my father was here to help my spouse. Of course, that wish is me avoiding responsibility. If I just got better, my spouse wouldn’t suffer. Even worrying about my partner is avoiding my own issue of depression.

Nonetheless, it cannot be easy to live with me. As I explained, sometimes I don’t want to help myself. I have tools from therapies, group sessions, and classes. I didn’t use those resources last week. Instead, depression and the stereotype of the suffering artist had me writing this. Even admitting that fuelled my depression. “Idiot, why aren’t you using your tools? Come on, Chris!”

Stigmale

The other option was to let the tears come. A difficult task for a male in our toxic Western society. We often talk about the social influence has on the development of girls to women, but rarely talk about “boys being boys.” We’re told to “man up,” instead of emote. Crying is a weakness. I knew for days that what I needed was a cry, and yet, I couldn’t do it until the pain became unbearable. Should I listen to a sad song or watch an emotional movie to bring the tears? No. I just needed to let them come.

I needed to feel safe to allow them to happen. Though, repressing them for so long had my eyes watering in a public cafe as I reflected on my week. What are you feeling as you read that last sentence? Are you feeling empathy for me because you can relate to sadness or because you’re embarrassed for me having this emotion in a public space? You could argue there isn’t much of a difference, but it may illustrate how much we’ve tried to distance ourselves from emotions in society. The fact that we feel shame or awkward having emotions in a public space is troubling, in my opinion.

Coming Out The Other Side

At the end of the day, I reached for my mental health tools. It’s very tough because even these helpful tools can affect me negatively. Chet(me) was quick to make me feel bad for waiting days to get the tools out. That’s the loop, the depression feeding itself, once again.

I confessed to my partner how I perceived her morning letter. Once again, revisiting the idea that I project the “can’t win” attitude on her. She held me and I cried. The release wasn’t as cathartic as I had hoped it would be. Perhaps, this is because of that male stigma that I am fighting against. There’s a part of me that believes crying serves no purpose. It doesn’t solve the issue. I feel the same way about anger. Getting angry never seems to fix anything, so why bother crying or getting angry?

These emotions are natural that is, we all feel them as humans. Repressing the tears for days resulted in a number of issues for me that I could have avoided if I simply let them happen when I first felt the need for tears. Supposedly, the trick is to feel our emotions, without getting caught up in the story. In other words, figuring out what is behind the emotions instead of getting carried away with thoughts of fixing the future or past events that led to the feeling. Initially, I was feeling bad because it is the season. I haven’t worked regularly in a year and much of my identity is my work. What do I have to be proud of? That question is going the wrong direction, it is heading towards the story. Beneath my identity issue, under the idea of having no work is the common theme that I have no self-worth. It’s possible that this is what my tears are trying to tell me.

This is why depression is called a mental illness. The perception of reality is distorted with many of us. While many mental disorders may present themselves in behaviors, depression can sometimes remain within. This is why suicides of loved ones can affect us so deeply. Sometimes it is the only sign that there is a problem.

How To Get Help or Help Others

  • There’s this great Wikipedia page with a list of suicide crisis lines for a ton of different countries. Talk to someone it can help. Even if you haven’t attempted suicide, thinking it is a distant option is not healthy. It has been option D for for me since junior high. I recently learned that not everyone thinks this way. Reach out using one of those lines above or find someone you trust to share your emotional struggles.
  • Make It Ok has a number of resources to help you talk to friends with mental wellness issues. They want to abolish the stigmas around mental illness in society, so take a few minutes to check the site out.
  • Reach out to each other. Those of us dealing with mental illness will not come to you. My self-worth is nonexistent. I am not going to email, text, or call you after I write this. I don’t want to burden you. I don’t even want to be with me! There’s even an urge to apologize for recommending that you to reach out to me and others with mental illness. After all, “it takes two to tango.” Sometimes friendships feel unequal when you have to be the one always making contact. Well, my spouse had a sign in her grade school classroom that fits, “Fair isn’t everybody getting the same thing. Fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be successful.” Help your friends be successful, reach out and engage each other.

The Suicide I've Already Committed

8 min read

Victims of violence live in dread and despair, fearing the event(s) could occur again. Depending on the trauma and the individual, I imagine the process of letting go of the fear, to not have to look over your shoulder and be on high alert, takes time. Yet, how does one process a fear that is completely self-imagined?

From the moment I wake up, I am in fear. I get out of bed at a decent time so that no one will think I am a loser. I workout in my building’s small gym because I am afraid my appearance will be mocked by others. I don’t go to the YMCA or another gym with lots of people because I am distressed by the thought that someone may see me working out wrong. After my shower, I take an inventory of the people I may see on the day, from the cashier at the grocery store to friends and family. What did I wear last time I saw these people? I can’t put the same shirt on today, they may think I’m unclean, or worse.

Looking at the email and messages in the morning continues to deliver horror. All of us have internet connected devices in our pockets. What if you sent me a message and I didn’t respond right away? You’ll think I’m ignoring you! Worse, how should I respond? If I say the wrong thing, you may not like me. Speaking of messages, I better send my spouse a nice text before lunch or she could possibly leave me.

Continuing the unhealthy diet of fear, I have to work now. Unfortunately, my effort will not be good enough for my clients. Today, will probably be the day that they let me go. If only I worked faster. If only I was smarter. If I was more charismatic, maybe I’d be better at my job. By lunch, I’m exhausted. The fear of not being accepted for who I am has drained me. My facade crumbles and I run to junk food. That is, as long as no one is around to see me indulge.

Powered by carbs and sugar, I can now get back to worrying that the world hates me. Of course they do. I’ve just eaten a whole bag of chips or pint of ice cream for lunch, like a sad character in a movie. Why would anyone like me? Damn. A message comes through complimenting some work I did. I tremble a bit, uncomfortable. Thankfully, the fear reminds me that the message is a fluke. I got lucky. It was an easy assignment. Great, this client will now expect more of me henceforth. When they learn the truth about me, it will be an incredibly epic failure.

My spouse messages me asking me how I am doing. Since I’ve shared how fragile I am with her, she’s checking in on me. I’m uneasy and scared that it is simply pity. Why would she love someone like this? The thought is distracting and I’m fulfilling the earlier, fear inspired prophecy that I won’t get enough work done today. Another reason for her to leave me, I reflect still consumed by fear.

Perhaps, I better go to the grocery store and buy something she loves for dinner. Who am I kidding? She eats what I make because it is easier than cooking for herself. Surely, I’m not good at baking or cooking. As you can see, at this point in the day the fear is near paralyzing. Everyone at the grocery store is looking my way, judging me. Is my hair messed up? Could I be holding the basket awkwardly? Are my reusable grocery bags old and ugly? No, they recognize that I’m worthless. I must be in this person’s way. I’m in everybody’s way. The cashier silently considers my purchases which are disgusting and pathetic, since I’m restocking on junk food for tomorrow.

Dinner isn’t done soon enough. I spent too much time worrying about what to make and got to the store late. My partner wants me to tell her about my day, but we both know that I don’t work hard enough so there can’t be much to talk about. I take my medication and eat the food, all of which she provides. My job doesn’t pay enough, fear reminds me. She offers to do the dishes, but I’m feeling so guilty because I’m a failure that I keep trying to help. I want to prove value somehow, but inside I’ll never believe I’m useful.

Like so many other couples, we decompress from the day with some TV. While it is a chance to lose myself and the fear in a fictional world, I must choose something she will like. Otherwise, she’ll realize that we’re too different to stay together as a couple. She’ll believe we have nothing in common and choose to leave. I’m horrified that the one person who has accepted me will finally discern that she made a mistake.

While we get ready for bed, she tells me how much she likes the show we watched. I understand that she knows I am scared. Therefore, fear tells me that she is overcompensating with the comments about the TV show. I don’t have long before she comes to her senses and comprehends this is no way to live.

Life

The one thing that the fear has right is that this is no way to live. Avoiding the world around me to protect myself from being judged, from expectations, from not being accepted is slowly killing me. Unlocking this fear of acceptance seems to be key to getting a life for me. At the moment, I knock on the door and get the angry rebuttal of a teenager. Emotions of anger, fear, sadness and shame rumble through the gap like a subway train as I peek through the door. When a train thunders through a doorway, instincts take over. As we know from above, my instinct is fear. So, I close the door.

The only person who can open this door is me, but at this time I cannot. What’s next? Well, I don’t have to do this alone. Truly, I must open this door. I need to accept myself. However, nobody bursts through doors like they do in television and movies. Service men and women, military or civil, use a tactical response. They try to learn as much as they can about the situation they’re getting into before kicking the door down. Therefore, I am getting help to learn about the other side of the door. It’s a difficult and long process. It feels very arduous in a world where we get solutions and gratification so quickly. Progress is slow and not in a straight line.

At the beginning of this journal entry, I may have compared myself to a victim of violence. I feel as if I should apologize for that because I have never experienced a situation like that. In my experience, someone who loves me abuses me mentally. I wish for escape from the situation, it is within my power. The abuser in question is me. I would not be here if I didn’t care about myself in some way. Yet, I cannot quit the fear.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you have to grasp the fact that you don’t have to do it alone. Understand that there is no quick fix. Just like getting a healthy body takes many hours at the gym, you have to remember the brain is no different. How do I process all this fear that is completely imagined? Gradually, I stumble through with agony and the occasional helping hand from each of you.

“There's a difference between fear and paralysis. And I've learned that I don't have to "grow up" to be open to opportunity, to be willing to step through doors without being pushed. I just have to be brave. I just have to be slightly braver than I am scared.”

Victoria Schwab

Apologizing to You, Me, Everyone

5 min read

Is “I’m sorry” an effective phrase? I could spend my time, my energy, my money to give you everything you deserve. I will work to give you, everything that you need and want. I know the things you desire. I often see baubles that make me think of you. How easy it would be to spend the money, whether I have it or not. I could fill your home with everything you love. Sadly, that will not measure up. Unfortunately, gifts will not be enough, not for what I did.

Words like, “I’m sorry,” can sometimes feel hollow. The phrase is used so often, in all facets of our lives. How does one make those words count? What form of apology could possibly work for what I’ve done? Of course, I can’t know that answer. It lies within you somewhere. You may not even realize it.

Personally, the simplest, easiest answer is denial. Treating the event like it never occurred is the first thing that comes to mind. Traveling back in time to remedy the issue before it happens seems like a more feasible solution than living with the pain. Why did this happen? I use every atom of my body to wish that it didn’t.

I dream of the wishes coming true. I fantasize about time travel. I imagine these scenarios to stay away from reality. I escape from the hurt and pain in these illusions. Except, that’s where I need to be. Experiencing the pain is how to move forward. Exploring the hurt is how we learn.

For me, I still have to learn to forgive myself. I would love your forgiveness, and at one time, I thought it would help. In truth, that would simply let me off the hook. That is, the true power of forgiveness and acceptance resides within me. If I don’t deal with my own issues, I will not grow.

What Have I Done?

I cannot reconcile the abuse and distress I have caused. I cannot absolve myself from bringing you pain. Throughout my life, I have not always been a good person. I’ve said things out of anger, performed inexcusable actions and recently threatened to hurt myself. No matter how many times I try to do nice things for you. No matter how many times I cancel my plans and bend over backwards for you, my own wound will not heal. I cannot forgive myself. I am unsure how to do that. This is a deeper issue for me. I have all those years of guilt, years of judging myself against my own twisted code of behavior. These rules that protected the fearful child within me, and kept me from emotions.

The words, “I’m sorry” pale in comparison to my hurtful deeds. Yet, each time I utter that phrase to myself, I feel better inside. At least it feels good momentarily. Accepting my truth, accepting I hurt you doesn’t mean I have to like it. Acceptance is not condonation. I must accept the past to get on with the future. Again, forgiving myself is going to be a difficult challenge. See, I do owe you an apology because I was not myself when I offended you. In order to genuinely atone for what I’ve done to you, I have to accept what I’ve been doing to myself for years.

Compassion

Regardless, accepting the past to live in the present and build a future is a lesson each of us can benefit from. We all process this lesson in our own time. I’m still not there yet. I’m still entrenched in sorrow. I hope for the sake of your happiness and joy that you can forgive me. Moreover, I beg you to accept and forgive yourself for your past. Learn from your pain. Understand that you got to this stage in your life by, in part, making some hurtful mistakes. Accepting that truth will make your life much brighter.

Often the person who needs to hear the words, “I’m sorry” from you is, well, you. Give yourself some compassion. Remember, compassion is love. In my opinion, you can’t really show compassion to anyone, including yourself, if there is hate within you. In these turbulent times filled with hate speech you may be tempted in to a combative reaction, but conflict is never the answer. If you really want to stand against the divisive groups getting media attention, show compassion to those around you. Love, real love, brings together far more people than anger could ever hope to mobilize. The same goes for that which is inside each of us. Anger, guilt and shame are like an infection, easy to get if you don’t take care of yourself. Love and compassion may be more elusive, but the reward is far greater.

Accept what is in the past. Forgive and love yourself, friends. Share your compassion openly. Those of us hurting want to learn from your example. I want to learn from you, please. I’m weary from the regret. I have treated you, each and everyone of you poorly. Also, I’m extremely sorry for the way I’ve treated myself. Like each of you, I need compassion and forgiveness.

Alarming Insecurity

2 min read

My inner critic squawks at me like a car alarm in the dead silence of night. The volume is never about being good enough, it is more convinced that I’m not good at anything.

Thus, armed with imaginary ear muffs and medication I pursue the simplest of tasks hoping not to set off the alarm. A few weeks ago, I designed a t-shirt graphic for a contest and triggered the horn of self-criticism. So, I sent my image to 3 friends and my car alarm of insecurity wailed in preparation for the worst. All 3 reactions were more than positive. They were ecstatic.

Like an actual car alarm, my inner critic is often false. Yet, the alarm is necessary for protection. While the car alarm protects a car from theft, my fear attempts to shelter me from hurt and pain. However, I asked 3 friends for feedback! If any of them were critical of my design it would be beneficial to me and my efforts. There’s no need to set the car alarm when you’re inside the vehicle. This is a personal goal going forward, learning to disarm the alarm when I’m in a safe space. The horn of self-criticism has drained my battery too often and left me feeling helpless all too often.

Fractured Part 2: Sparky, My Inner Project Manager

5 min read

Previously, I introduced readers to Chet, my personal internet bully. Today, I’d like to share another voice-- my anxiety, the frantic and frazzled Sparky.

Our human minds cannot be still by design. Curiosity about the world around us keeps us safe. Even interior inquires that alert us to aches, pains and the like encourage us to go to the doctor. However, in those situations where we are comfortable, in our everyday routines, our minds wander. Try to clear your mind and concentrate on the sensations of your fingers and palms the next time you wash your hands. It’s nearly impossible. My mind jumps from feeling the temperature of the water to what I have to do next in the day. Sparky has business for me. If I bring my mind back and truly feel the soap, feel one hand lathering the other, my brain wanders to the fact that I am practicing this because I am broken. Thanks Chet.

Being in the moment is difficult.

If it’s not Chet beating me up, it is Sparky telling me what I should be doing. “We’ll show Chet, today,” exclaims Sparky, “Get up early, exercise, clean each room in the house, apply for 4 jobs, submit 2 articles to our editor, get to inbox zero, buy all the Christmas gifts early, call your mom, go grocery shopping, pay the bills, fix the sink, paint the living room, and make dinner!” A sizeable list for a healthy person, but perhaps not impossible? Regardless, the point is that my personal project manager, Sparky, never lets up. There’s always something that should be done. Those things above that are not accomplished today, will move to tomorrow’s hit list. Sparky’s unending to-do list keeps pushing down on me like the world on Atlas’ shoulders.

Sparky continues to micromanage my days by chiming in at the most absurd moments. While I’m trying to work, he wonders if I am going fast enough. Sparky wants to know what’s for dinner. He’s curious about how busy the airport will be next month when I intend to travel home. How will I get to my psychiatrist visit next week? Where will I park? Do I need groceries for dinner tonight? Does that person over there want my table by the power outlet? Have I been in the café too long? Should I leave? When did I last get the oil changed in the car? Is there food on my face? This work is taking too long, isn’t it? My boss likes me, right? Am I too slow? Do you think my spouse thinks I’m too slow? Maybe she even wonders if I’m lazy? Her parents? And then Chet joins the conversation. All of this takes mere seconds.

“Nothing is worth doing unless it is perfect.” This is Sparky’s answer to combating the insecurity of Chet. Thus, when I get on the Sparky train, things don’t happen spontaneously. To appease Sparky and Chet, I try to plan my way to silence my mind. Doctor appointment tomorrow? Alright, I’ll wake up, shower, brush my teeth, put on deodorant, get dressed, do my hair, eat breakfast, double check Google Maps for the time it takes to get to the doctor, leave early to find parking, and bring a book to read while I wait. What have I forgotten?

“Do I have a backup plan for parking? What if there is construction on the way?”

“Oh, hi Sparky,” I cringe.

“If your appointment isn’t until 10am, what can we get done in the morning. And after!”

“It’s going to be okay, don’t worry.”

“You don’t really think that.” Chet’s criticism interjects. “You’ll mess this up somehow.”

This is the formula that quite possibly gave me my trademark white hair so early. I live in fear. The anxiety has, at times, spilled into paranoia. Without self-esteem, anxiety fills in for confidence. Instead of thinking “I can do this,” I torment myself with all the things that can go wrong. Even with the simplest of tasks, I move from one crisis to the next in my head.

Focusing on a task, is very difficult. These two voices in my head work together and yet against each other. My inner critic inspires the anxiety. Sparky’s desire to beat Chet with perfection only give the insecurity an opening. The constant reminder from the inner critic that I’ll never be enough quiets the anxiety. "Why try if I am going to fail?" My anxiety-focused project manager also encourages me to take on less challenges to preempt the self-hate and critique. "I can't do this."

I started writing about Sparky a month ago, shortly after revealing Chet. I had difficulty finishing the story because I wanted it to be perfect. I made excuses to to do “more important” tasks instead. I was afraid. Moreover, I work hard daily to not get caught up in the spin. As I struggled to complete this confession, I bounced from believing I have made progress to wondering if I was in denial. Am I shutting down in response to Chet & Sparky? I know that ignoring their voices is not the answer. I have to learn to accept them for what they are. Like friends with differing opinions, I should seek to find compromise, not avoid them. Chet inspires me to be a better person. Sparky will keep me out of dangerous situations. More on that in the final part of Fractured. Wait, did I just use the “should” word? Damn, this is a confusing journey.

Recognizing We Change As the Seasons Change

2 min read

The transition of the seasons is similar to changing one’s mind. We are stubborn creatures, built on our experiences as individuals. Perhaps you enjoy the fluffy, snowy winterland, but despise Fall. Maybe a tragic event or an unforgettable memory is associated with the Fall. The process of changing your mind about that season will not happen in a simple conversation. A walk with a loved one in the forest as it is changing from green to light yellow and deep reds may weaken your resolve. The smell of pumpkin pie or the joy of handing out candy to eager children at Halloween could soften your opinion of the Fall further. Gradually, like the seasons themselves, change can occur.

When I look around today, I wonder when did Fall start? How did I miss it? Was I fortified, under a blanket in my depression, hidden from the world outside? Did stress and anxiety keep me from savoring the delights of Fall? All those things I have to do, the things I want to do, and the grey noise provided by my fear of failure kept me from hearing the birds announce the coming of Fall. That must be the explanation.

in fact, that reasoning is most likely wrong. Like changing our minds, the transition of the seasons takes time. You will see the colors of the leaves when Mother Nature is ready. Each year we are fascinated when it happens because it is a mystery. Our individual brains are mysterious as well. Instead of questioning myself, instead of giving in to the the stress and busy-body culture, let’s take time to enjoy the mystery. Rather than question my existence, perhaps I should just enjoy it. Whenever Fall’s vibrant brush painted my neighborhood, it’s here now. Time to go enjoy some color.

Fractured Part 1: Avoiding Chet, My Inner Critic

10 min read

glitching me

My hate for myself is incredibly persistent.

Why?

Simple. This is all I have ever know.

Many of us have difficulty sleeping in a new place, or bed when we’re traveling. Thinking positively about who I am is no different. My natural state is one of inner criticism and self loathing. A compliment from a friend or a stranger is a dumb luck, no big deal, or dismissed in some other way. Challenging that natural state further activates the inner critic. I’ll call the critic, Chet.

“Stop thinking for other people. If she thinks I did good work, accept it.”

Chet replies, “You can’t accept the compliment because you don’t deserve it. You’re not worthy.”

“I did my best.”

“That’s your best? She doesn’t like it. She’s being kind.”

“I wish I had more time, it would have been better.”

“So it wasn’t your best,” remarks Chet.

“Well, I…”

Do you think other people have to tell themselves to accept a compliment?” asks Chet. “It’s probably just you.”

“I’m working on accepting myself.”

“This is why people never like you. You’re broken Chris. So you need to learn how to fix yourself? Right?”

“It’s not a bad thing.”

“Keep telling yourself that. You’re not special. Everyone has problems. And they don’t have the time or patience for yours. Stop wasting everyone else’s time. You’ll always be this way.”

That’s Chet. Well, that’s me. That is how I treat myself.

Escape

The best way to get out of my head and avoid Chet is distraction. Doing something productive is tied to my identity, so it is typically not helpful. In those situations, self-doubt comes at me hard. What’s left is Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, video games, reading, and other vices. (Interesting to note how much of my attention on that list is owned by companies. Almost like it is their goal.)

Watching Youtube, blowing through a season of a TV show on Netflix and dulling my thoughts is the new “can’t get out of bed.” I shouldn’t say that, each of us have our own challenges. There have been days when I didn’t even want to leave the bed. Watching the plot of a video, or show unfold is obviously better than getting lost in my thoughts of inadequacy. When the day ends and I realize that I’ve done nothing productive, it’s simply another chance for Chet to make me feel low.

Endless scrolling on social networks is an excellent way to silence Chet. Getting lost in the success, or perhaps drama, of others is readily available on Twitter & Facebook. Those companies are competing for the amount of time they can hold my eyeballs captive and they were doing a fabulous job. Even the garbage posts from people with different political views than me are captivating. While I might stop myself from getting sucked into the flaming comments, I will spend my time trying to find at least 3 sources that either prove or disprove the claims. The next thing I know, I’ve lost hours.

On top of being distracting, the positive posts from friends and family on social media further assist Chet. Positive news of exciting trips, new jobs and happy dispositions increase my self-loathing. Comparing myself to others keeps me in that familiar state of sadness and depression. Logically, I know people are only sharing what they choose. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has difficult challenges and it’s quite possible people have filtered those negative events from their social feeds. However, depression is far removed from logic. Emotionally, seeing those cheery posts and humble brags feeds Chet.

On the flip side, there are those on social networks sharing pain and difficulties. Obviously, those are delicious and savoury to Chet as well. Other people hurting is confirmation the world is as dark as I believe it is. That validates Chet’s philosophy– I should stay in the grief and the misery. I’ll never be surprised or out of control that way.

As I write this with my rational mind, I seem to be far removed from it all. However, that’s what I subconsciously desire, that sadness and self-loathing. It is a familiar state that I know how to manage. Feelings of success, and joy may be fleeting and unexpected. “When will those happen again? It’s unpredictable. Better to stay in this familiar sadness,” says Chet.

Escape also comes in the form of assisting others. I’m eager to help a friend or family member for extended periods of time as long as I don’t have to improve myself or think about depression. The unfortunate pitfall is resentment. After a while, I begin to feel good about myself for helping others. Then, Chet will swoop in and tell me that I’m not appreciated by those that I help. Perhaps desperate to cling to that good feeling, I project Chet’s voice onto my friends and family members. It’s an efficient way to self sabotage. Loss of friends and family furthers my journey to darkness. Perhaps this is a behavior I perfected once I started in the working world? So many of us feel under appreciated at work.

Outside Approval

Since I cannot find acceptance within, I attempt to find it outside. I crave approval from people. I must be liked. This task is made all the more difficult by the fact that I project my beliefs onto others. I think for other people. The doctors label this cognitive disorder “mind reading.” You there, reading this text, you think I’m a pathetic white male with a First World problem. “Oh no Chris, your life is so hard, surfing the internet and watching Netflix. Give me a break.” Of course, that’s not your voice. That’s Chet. That’s me believing that I know exactly what you are thinking. It feeds the need to bash myself.

It’s difficult to project like that onto strangers and acquaintances. I can dismiss their compliments because “they don’t know me,” but I do more easily accept the good from people I barely know. Unfortunately, Chet and I think those close to us are trying to protect me. My loved ones are being kind or polite when they give compliments. Once again, I’m mind reading. Though, I feel that our society does have some issues when it comes to honest critiques. You can’t tell your 2 year old niece that her drawing is garbage. We want to encourage her and help her build confidence.

I think we often twist encouragement into compliments, when it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Language is a powerful thing. Above, as Chet (my negative self) belittles me, I use words like “never” and “always.” These are finite words directed to keep me down. Saying, “Good job,” to your niece is a bland compliment, not inspiring. Why is it good? Perhaps something like “The face, the legs and arms look great, but look at me. Are my legs and arms connected to my face? Let’s try to draw a belly!”

Encouragement is always done with affection. And, love is built on trust. We cannot have trust without honesty. I would like to believe that critique of my work is far more valuable than compliments. First, learning to tolerate and love myself is a priority. Approval from strangers is also not sustainable. Once I have it, I would crave more and then that stranger becomes a friend. Thus, I fall into the trap where Chet believes friends say what I want to hear, as mentioned above.

The Science Fiction of Being Self-aware

In iRobot, the Terminator films, and many other Scifi movies artificial intelligence has it out for mankind. Discovering its superiority, the A.I. determines that humans are expendable in these stories. Now, that I’m aware of Chet, aware of this part of me that is at home in fear, anxiety, anguish and self-hate, can I rid myself of it? Should I even contemplate the idea of removing a piece of who I am? I believe that’s the easy way out. In fact, this could even be Chet’s idea. How do you remove a part of yourself? Once I fail to accomplish this, Chet swoops back in to tell me what a let down I am.

The difficult and longer path is more likely to be successful. Learning to live with myself will be complicated. Right now, I’m working in groups, and with doctors to achieve this goal. I am seeking to validate, or acknowledge Chet and interject with evidence to counter his thoughts.

Chet loudly proclaims, “Nobody will ever read this post, Chris.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s obvious. Nobody reads what you write.”

“Show me proof. Look at the numbers, Chet.”

“Ha,” exclaims Chet, “blog visits, Facebook likes, and comments, they’re all fake typically. People just click the buttons, they don’t read the whole thing.”

“Chet, that’s still not evidence. Those are your opinions. Furthermore, I didn’t write this for likes. This post about mental health could help someone else, but right now it is helping me. I’m learning more about myself and you. I’m learning how to explain my troubles to the doctors and how to ask people close to me for help.”

“You certainly need help!”

“Thanks for your input, Chet. Certainly, your attitude has helped me in the past. Perhaps, I was in a dangerous situation or your fear and anxiety saved me from some heartache in one of my past relationships. Yet, I think I’ll stick to believing that this post will be helpful in some way.”

Wish me luck friends. Doing that conversation in my head is much more difficult that typing it. Especially in the moment, when I’m in the middle of a conversation with a real person. A chat with those of you that I ultimately respect is so challenging because I don’t feel worthy. I’m sorry that I never shared this before. I was ashamed, and telling myself I deserved to feel that way. Please seek me out and don’t let me isolate myself. I can only get better at bargaining with Chet if I’m in those situations. I’m grateful you took the time to read this. I’m not alone in having mental health issues. The next time you get cut off on the road or experience bad customer service, try compassion. Perhaps that person has lost a loved one or is dealing with anxiety. It’s better to err on the side of compassion. I’m not there with myself yet, but I’m learning.

This Old Dog Is Trying to Learn New Tricks

3 min read

The mind is a pretty amazing thing, the way it can flutter from reading this sentence to wondering how many people suffer from depression in the world and trying to figure out why your smart phone battery dies so quickly. All those thoughts occur in a blur of a few seconds. Meanwhile, your brain is also regulating your breath, controlling your eyes as they dance across these words and translating the meaning. Breathing, moving muscles and many other functions feel automatic, we don't have to "think" about them. Analyzing these words or worrying about work tomorrow are learned behaviors, despite feeling automatic as well. Changing these automatic thoughts is difficult and takes time.

This is the crossroads I am at now. Throughout my life I've learned that I'm unreliable, untalented, unintelligent and unloveable. These are automatic thoughts, no matter what opinions you may have about me. Why do I have them? At some point I thought they were helpful to me. Perhaps junior high me convinced himself that unreliable & untalented kept me on the bench in sports, so I wouldn't let anyone down? Reprogramming who I am will take some time. That low self-esteem is the core of my being. My default setting is to put myself down. I recognize that these negative thoughts are unhealthy. It's a good day when I can identify those thoughts. However, rebuilding my core beliefs to something more positive is a step that I have not reached.

This process is more frustrating because the cycle feeds itself. My default is believing I am a failure, so being unable to correct this default is confirmation that it is true. Like a politician, I'm only grabbing the statistics that prove my case and ignoring evidence to the contrary. The amount of time I spend trying to recognize my negative thoughts can be exhausting. The low self-esteem is automatic and to confront it, I must always be present. Right now, it feels like Newton's 3rd Law is in play, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." There was bad crime in Gotham before Batman showed up. In order to compete with a furry pretending to be a crimefighter, crooks became super villains. The negative self image is fighting back and I am struggling. I'm a castaway who has escaped the island on a makeshift raft, but the ocean current keeps driving me back to shore.

The next phase is obvious, I need to construct a positive paddle to propel myself forward. Although, my head is swimming with the skills I've learned thus far thanks to the public health system here. Like most of us in our modern world, I lack patience. I want the change to happen now. Really, the next step is putting my new skills into practice. It's not enough to recognize my low self-esteem, but to correct it slowly. I enjoy the group therapies, but there's work that has to be done outside the safety of my peers. I have to help myself. At the moment, all I can do is identify what needs to happen.

I really wish I could post something more hopeful, more useful to those that read this. One of the great things about group therapy is learning that you're not alone. Perhaps, sharing my thoughts and feelings is enough? Though, it's probably a good time to remind myself and you that action is the first step, not motivation.