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Finding Myself in the Maze of Mental Illness

6 min read

Some collage work on a picture of myself

 

Getting to know myself is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Along with all the distractions provided by society and culture, the truth is that I don’t want to know who I am. Many of us binge Netflix, work 80+ hours a week, and volunteer to help others in order to escape from being alone with our minds. People shove addiction, religion, self-help books, life coaches, relationships, and the trend of the month into that feeling that something is missing. It’s true that we can find solace in some of those things, but until you know what’s really wrong and who you are none of it will work.

I’ve come to believe one of the roots of my depression and anxiety is the absence of self-worth. This is the hole I’ve been trying to fill. The feeling of “I am not enough” is common for those people with mental illness. Yet, the path to healing is as different and individual as the labels on the heavily scented products at Bath and Body Works (seriously, there’s no design constant happening in that store).

Both the anxiety and the depression are roadblocks to healing. Nothing I do is good enough. I don’t put in as much effort as I should. I can’t create anything as well as others. I never live up to anyone’s expectations, most of all my own. Chet believes I am a failure, and because he’s my inner critic, I think it’s mostly true. I don’t completely feel that way thanks to the anxiety I carry with me which makes me question all my thoughts. The challenge comes in the loop that traps me. It’s like Bill Murray being trapped to repeat Groundhog’s Day over and over.

Me: I think this therapy/self-help book/training/support group/etc. is helping!

Anxiety: It is. Just keep doing it exactly the same way. Wait, am I doing this right? I don’t know. What if I’m doing it wrong?

Depression: When have I ever done anything right? No, I’m failing. This doesn’t work. I’m broken.

I tried to manage my anxiety and depression through Morning Pages and that lasted a few months. It didn’t cure me and I stopped. The same goes for meditation, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, sentence stems on self-esteem, and a few self-help books. In every case the depression and anxiety got the best of me. In fact, I could argue that these parts of me crave trying the new things so I can get that sweet, sweet, shame and feeling of failure. These patterns of self-destruction are biological according to Dr. Kristen Neff in her book Self- Compassion.

We want to be safe. Our development, both as a species and as individuals, is predicated on basic survival instincts. Because human beings tend to live in hierarchical social groups, those who are dominant within their groups are less likely to be rejected and have more access to valued resources. In the same way, those who accept their subordinate status also have a secure place in the social order. We can’t take the risk of being outcast by the people who keep us out of harm’s way. Not if we want to stay alive.

I am constantly critical of myself because of my need to fit into society and my social groups. This is where I step away from my needs and desires again. Instead, I use social comparison. “I should be smart like that woman. I wish I was successful like her. I will never be as talented as him.” I’ve been ignoring myself for so long, I have no idea where to start. Each time I sit down to find out what it is that I need, I get lost in the same pattern of shame and anger. Why am I not as amazing as you?

Healing seems to be somewhere between realizing that we’re all suffering and accepting myself for who I am. Nobody wants pain. This is why we run from it. This is why myself and so many others run from our emotions. That person saying hateful things on Facebook is just as afraid of hurt as we are. Pain is as natural as love. It's trying to tell me something so I can grow. In Radical Acceptance Tara Brach says, “The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.” I isolate myself. I don’t return messages, don't call friends, and don't seek social situations. I want to think I am alone in pain, my world shrinks. My language becomes finite. In many cases above I use words like nothing, anything, and never. I also start the process of shame with other words like should and wish.

At this moment, the path to healing seems to be observing this use of language and those biological patterns I follow. Forgiving myself and accepting my emotions as they are is incredibly challenging. Especially in the stressful day-to-day activities where my patterns have always dominated. Additionally, the depression and anxiety make the ability to see progress difficult. And so, I keep working on me. I keep attempting to document my process to help myself and get some realizations past the loop of shame, sadness and anger.

Next up in the game plan to find my self-worth is joining a men’s group to discuss my problems with humans instead of a computer screen. While I am currently in a mental health support group, the men's group has a specific focus that I need. I also have a project I am just about to launch to help myself daily. I say launch because I’m going to share it publicly. I hope others find it useful, but as I said before healing is individual. We can do this. Let’s just give ourselves time. It won’t happen over night. Much <3

Fractured Part 3: Just Me

6 min read

Image of me ghosting

I’ve sat down on four separate occasions to conclude the exploration of my self and wrote four different things. Before, I shared how I am bullied by Chet and thrown into a frenzy by Sparky’s anxiety. I thought the purpose of writing another part would be to explain who I think I am, or maybe who I want to be. However, it turns out that I’ve already covered that.

Who I want to be is perfect. The gravity of anxiety from Sparky is a constant reminder of how I wish I was someone else. The gut punching criticism of Chet may have started out as a way to motivate myself to be this perfect someone. Perhaps the real fracture isn’t between the quibbling voices in my head, but between who I am and who I want to be. Where did this idea of perfection come from? Is it a result of the low self-worth, or the cause of it?

Childhood Is A Blueprint, But the Child’s Mind Is the Designer Not the Parents

While we might all be a similar shape, there is no mold, no factory creating similar humans. We develop through our individual experiences. Our animal brains learn by recognizing and creating meaningful patterns. No matter how many times you tell your toddler daughter not to touch the stove, she still reaches for it until she gets burned. After that, she knows to be careful around those things that look like stoves. Of course, this is at the simplest level. Will she associate the aroma of the hot cocoa on the stove with the pain? Do her siblings care for her or tease her? What color was she wearing? All of these things could affect the pattern formed in the child’s developing mind.

Exploring my childhood through psychiatric therapy has been tough. I think we often tend to draw a line between abuse and mental illness. Thus, I spent time struggling against these conversations around childhood because of my loyalty to my parents. I was not physically abused by them, so why are we talking about this?  Once I realized we were talking about my story and the way I interpreted events, my fears subsided.

The School of Life has several videos on the subject of childhood and the following is the most recent.

I thought the psychiatrist and I were Sherlock and Watson. We were going to find the one event in my childhood that would unlock my self-worth and fix me. Too much fiction in the form of books and TV may have created this fantasy about therapy. The reality is that recalling painful memories of my childhood help me get to those emotions I’ve been stocking away like nuclear waste. No matter where you put nuclear waste or emotions, they don't go away, ever. Talking about my feelings out loud allows me to see how they influenced my decisions. Therapy isn’t about reliving childhood, it is about trying not to repeat it in the now.

Who I Want to Be

At the moment, I want to be loved by others above all else. This is an attempt to fill the hole that is my own self-worth. Maybe this is a side effect of having a biological father who never attempted to contact me. Perhaps it is the result of loving and respecting a father who I don’t remember ever hugging or hearing him say, “I love you.” Toxic masculinity and childhood trauma aside, the changes that have to happen now must come from within me. I need to be a human who loves himself as much as he loves others. It’s like I need a seed to grow a happy new plant, but the only way to get the seed is to grow the happy new plant. Nature is complicated.

I believe a big part of being the human I want to be is to stop denying the one I am now. The demand for perfection is a result of being unhappy with who I think I am. I believe I am a burden. I am cluttering your social feed, mind, and eyes with serious talk instead of cat memes. Motivation in my world is done through guilt, not pride. Even writing part 3 of this story has nothing to do with journaling, growth, or pride. I feel like I have to do a third part. Why? The logic doesn’t hold up when I try to put it to words. My classic guilt has bloomed into a mega crop of shame filling my mind like an endless briar patch.

Original Sin

The premise that began this 3-part series was flawed to begin with. What if I wasn’t born into this life fractured, but perfect? I am the perfect human. We drop the phrase “only human” whenever we make mistakes. So, it turns out I don’t need to walk around believing I’m imperfect because the truth is quite the opposite.

I don’t need to be perfect and I am not fractured. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men do not have to find a magical glue to stick me back together again, as I once thought. I should not ignore my emotions and do the Humpty Dance when I feel bad. I simply need to be and accept the me I am in this moment (and the emotions). The self I’ve been discussing in this series is built from the past successes/errors and future worries. I can learn from my past, but I don’t have to identify with it. At least, this is how I currently believe I should proceed. Like the rest of you, I’m just making it up as I go.

Hi.

I’m Chris.

I’m not Chet or Sparky.

I’m not fractured.

I’m a human who wants to learn to love himself.

Wow. This is difficult.

Old Dogs and Patterns of Behavior

5 min read

A sketch of my dog Coco

Those poop baggies are infuriating to open, that’s why I missed the car crash. Coco did her thing about 9–10 meters away from the corner where a small black sedan went head-on into a lamp post. That was a number of weeks ago and our rescue doggo is finally starting to enjoy walks again.

I was working hard to see Coco as my inspiration, if she can set aside her fear and anxiety so can I. After the witnessed accident, however, she reverted back into the darkness of fear. Coco ran with reckless abandonment seconds after the crash. I reeled her in and tried to pick her up to offer comfort, but she scratched and writhed to simply get away from the area. So, I ran with her for about 4 blocks. We ended up in a small park that offers some shelter from the city around it. Tail between her legs and jumping at every single noise, other dogs wouldn’t even excite her.

The next week was a real challenge. In fact, we drove Coco to an off leash park away from the city to get her some exercise because she wanted nothing to do with walks any more. Coco didn’t want to accept reality, like me. Once again, I found myself looking into a mirror. Coco had fallen into the old pattern of fear that kept her using pee pads on the balcony. She was not interested in adventuring outside and smelling all the amazing refuse people just leave on the sidewalk.

Fear of failure, fear of not being enough keeps me from being social, working, living life, and yes, peeing outdoors. This pattern of mine is one that has been imprinted on me for many, many years. Like Coco, it is easy to fall back into this destructive thought pattern. I can also bounce back like she can. I try to measure my mental health in moments. There are no good days or bad days, just moments. Right now, I’m here writing this and it feels like a hopeful and decent moment. I might stand up in twenty minutes and see the sink full of dirty dishes and fall into intense shame. Maybe thinking of my life in moments helps me cope a bit easier.

The reality that every moment wasn’t going to be “happy” for me had been easy to live in when I simply expected the worse. Accepting that I will find moments of happiness is very new to me. Of course reality is not fair. For example, I felt Coco needed to accept that we live in the city and accidents may happen. We had to get her back to walks around the city without fear. She’ll learn. She did it before. Can I do this for myself?

In week two after the trauma of witnessing the accident, Coco had her nose down on the sidewalk and her eyes on any car that was moving. The tail was not expressive, but not firmly tucked away either. Other dogs we ran into were a pleasant reprieve from the loud buses and the overcompensating noise from motorcycles. Once again, Coco was transforming. She was breaking her pattern of fear, slowly, at her pace.

In the third week, the tail waved like a stubborn flag in a tornado. Loud vehicles were scary, but there were interesting things to smell, and sidewalks we had not yet traveled. I remain envious of her growth. Sometimes I can see that I have made progress as well. Those are good moments. I have much work to do, as does Coco.

Our rescue doggo needs more leash training. Though, her obsessive little nose has taught me a lesson. “Stop and smell the roses,” they say. Coco is living in the now when her nose is to the ground. She’s not worried about being abandoned, car accidents, or what I want. This is a valuable lesson in mindfulness for me.

With my psychiatrist, we occasionally explore the past. How did I become full of anxiety and lose my sense of self worth? There’s a difference between exploring the past and living there. Often, when we examine our past we get caught up in it. The stories of our hurt, pain, failure, etc. feed themselves. We stop observing and leave the now.

The real issue with leaving the now is our desire for things to be different. Our minds spend a great deal of energy wishing things had not happened in the past. Or, we wish for an unrealistic future, “I wish tomorrow Coco would behave on the leash.” Both of these things are impossible to accomplish in this moment, right now. Accepting the past and the unpredictability of the future would appear to be key for me.

Unfortunately, finding acceptance is a process. For me, there’s a fine line between acceptance and ignorance. “Can’t change the past, so why worry about it?” Well, that sentence may be avoidance of those locked away emotions and not forgiveness and acceptance. Avoiding those feelings has a lot to do with how I got here.

So, my journey continues. I find it strange that I pick up organic dog poop in a plastic bag that will preserve it for a million years. Of course, I’ve been repressing emotions and ignoring the hurtful patterns of my past for my entire life. At some point we all have to deal with some shit.

I hope to see you in the now.

Much💜

Fear and Butterflies

4 min read

For most, suicide is not option D. This bit of wisdom was shared by Ana Marie Cox in an interview on mental health. A doctor gave her this insight after she was institutionalized after attempting suicide. I was as shocked to hear that first sentence, just as she stated she was in the interview. Really? Everybody doesn’t think about suicide?

In my teens, I thought about suicide in excess. If options A, B, or C did not work out I always had D. It wasn’t a ploy for attention on my part because I felt I was alone. That may not have been true, my family may have been there for me, but I felt alone. The loneliness a sign that my depression has been hanging around for much longer than I thought. I never made an attempt at suicide in my youth, but looking back I can see the inclination to do self-harm. There was an uneasy voice in my head when I was near danger, “what if I just leaned over this railing even more?”

Even with self-harm and suicide lurking in my younger years, I had a stupendous fear of death. Having never been convinced of any sort of afterlife, thoughts of my own demise were paralyzing, even into my forties. To me, death is not like falling asleep or a vision of walking toward the light. Death is like abruptly ending this observation midway through the third sentence above. The thought of my death would result in a panic attack, insomnia, and the occasional bad poetry.

Last year, I went to the hospital because that fear of death was gone. I had a break down. Guilt from my behavior, shame from addiction, and fear of showing my weakness to the world overwhelmed my native dread of death. I wanted to give up. I believe that fear is still missing. Though, I’ve started to wonder if it is the big bad behind my low self-worth.

There’s a colossal belief within me that a key to “getting better” is finding my own self-worth. As it is now, I live off of the acceptance and approval from others. I am desperate to be needed because I don’t believe I have a right to be in the same room with you. The emotion behind that is fear. It is a fear that I have no worth. Could it be that I’m afraid of dying without having proved my worth? Am I that cliché male of the species who distresses that he has nothing to leave behind when he is gone? That’s an ugly thought. It feels petty and pathetic to be worried about my legacy.

As I share my mental health story, occasionally I wonder if it is manipulative. Since I don’t feel as if I am accepted by others, perhaps I can get them to have simpathy for me. You can see how questioning my own motivations is driven by the fear that I am not behaving as I should be. I judge myself rather than accept who I am, grey hairs and all. I desire to be received by others because inside I don’t believe in me.

The urge for validation from the people around me ties nicely with the toxic idea of leaving a legacy. I am attempting to measure self-worth with money and things. Comparing myself to others only continues the depression and low self-worth. Even looking at what I’ve done in this world, my deeds are never enough.

That feeling may be a product of the competitive nature of our world. Even so, many of us look at our accomplishments in a very warped way. We want forward progress we can see. That’s not always the case though, is it? Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder gives us the idea that the simple act of stepping on a butterfly in the past can affect the future. Rather than fearing that my wages are a disgrace to my spouse and family, I might hope that the simple act of saying “thank you” to the bus driver yesterday helped her get through another tough day, week, or year of work.

I’m not sure if that’s blue-sky thinking or a valid concept. My depression and fear carry considerable weight in my thought process. Still, making generous assumptions about my simplest of acts could be something to work towards, a way to find some worth within. What are your thoughts?

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

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.

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.

Perfection Versus Swishblog

2 min read

If I hadn't worked professionally in commercial video, I probably wouldn't have a single thing in my video portfolio because I'm a perfectionist. I often sit on personal project ideas for months trying to map out every detail and each roadblock. Eventually, the dam breaks and I leap into the project, or another idea without any forethought. The third option is to do absolutely nothing. Sadly, that's been my modus operandi for a few years.

In university I had an interest in animation, but I never truly followed through with it because of this desire for perfection. Instead, I embraced storytelling through editing. The issue with editing is that you need content to work with. Jobs where your sole responsibility is editing are not entirely plentiful. Thus, most of my professional work has included camera work. It's never been a passion and I've never enjoyed it. Yet, I know what I like, and this new digital age of live streaming from mobile phones has been a hard pill for me to swallow.

Therefore, when I saw friend, and fellow GVSU alum, Steve Niebauer post a weekend challenge over at Vimeo I decided to try it. I was killing two birds with one stone. First, I was getting myself back on the creative video horse. (Wow, lots of animal analogies here). Secondly, I wanted to let go of this desire for perfect camera work. Here's what I did.

I used my mobile phone camera with the dreaded auto settings and just went and did my swishblog through the weekend. For music, I played with these pocket operators from Teenage Engineering. Once again, it was an exercise in acceptance for me. Obviously, I'm no Skrillex. And, that's okay. Perfectionism stops me from doing anything rewarding and it is time to change that.

It was good to create something. I hope to do more experiments with animation and music in the future. Only a week before Steve's challenge I decided to start working on a gallery site where I can post my work. That's my next project, a home for these imperfect experiments. Instead of creating work for page hits or likes, I want to start making things for me. Perhaps, it will lead to a new opportunity? If it doesn't, that's fine as well because I will be growing as an artist and an individual.