sikkdays

Chaotic Mindfulness

How can mindfulness meditation practice help us with mental wellness? To answer the question we can look at how our minds function without it.

I recently listened to an interview with Dan Harris and he said something that kicked me in the ass. I had stumbled onto Harris when I started learning about healing my mental health. The news anchor found meditation at a time when he was dealing with PTSD and cocaine addiction. He made a Youtube video on the benefits of mindfulness that a few of my courses and doctors recommended. After seeing that video, I sort of forgot about him until this recent interview.

Harris tells Terry Gross that distracting thoughts during meditation are not a bad thing. “What do I have to do next?” “Am I doing this right?” “I'm frustrated,” are a key part of the meditation process. He believes that by gently refocusing our attention on our breathing, or whatever you choose during meditation, we are training the brain to interrupt invasive thoughts outside of meditation as well. The hope is that later in the day, when you have a thought like, “I'm not good enough,” you will be able to catch it and refocus rather than ruminate further on worthlessness.

My inner critic bristles at this idea. During meditation, I am focused on this task of, well focusing. In the middle of a busy workday or having an accomplishment being evaluated by someone close to me, I am too frantic to refocus. Fear and loathing dominate my thinking and mindfulness is some distant concept. Of course, as I pondered Harris' words further I wondered if my critical thoughts have proved his theory.

Here's a real world example. I am scared that you, the reader, think I am a moron. In fact, I know I am a moron because yesterday I measured wrong and cut a board for a flower box I was building incorrectly. Some time in the week, I was filling the humidifier and spilled water everywhere on the counter and the floor. In university, I did worked on a team project where I did most of the work and I think it was because my teammate hated my moronic idea for the video. In grade 10...I remember as a child my parents were frustrated...and so on, and so on.

My mind has trained for many years to find evidence of my worthlessness. When I feel shame, embarrassment or criticized, I focus on proving that to be true. I was worried you would think I was a moron and proceeded to dive into memories of shameful experiences from years ago. Could this be the same process of training Harris describes? If so, then it should be possible to change my thinking.

The Gotcha

I meditated daily between 2017-2018. Today, it rarely happens. It didn't work. I'm still broken. I still do not like who I am. This appears to be my inner critic at work again. In reality, I've had 40 years to train myself to loath who I am. A year of meditation is barely a dent into that pattern. Somewhere along the line, I let that old pattern back in and decided mindfulness meditation was a failure, like me. Instead of gently refocusing, I chose to continue beating myself up.

Personally, I wonder if there's some all or nothing thinking preventing me from moving forward. Perhaps, deep down I want to believe in a cure. I'm not completely rid of my depression and anxiety, therefore the meditation, the CBT, DBT, and psychiatrist sessions do not work. I've written before about the idea of accepting depression will always be a part of my life. Yet, there are those times, especially when I am wading through it, that I don't want to accept it. I want to be free of these intrusive thoughts, forever.

Even now, as I type this, I struggle. I want to end on a positive note and inspire myself and others. Yet I think, How many times have you said you would try harder and failed? Nobody is going to be inspired by what you say because you fail to follow through. It is exhausting to try and build new patterns. Am I a broken record, constantly saying the same thing over and over, but not following through? That's one way to look at it. However, it may show that I am working and trying to heal. If I have said I need to break this pattern of self-loathing before, than maybe I am training myself each time I repeat it. I suppose. Failure is how we learn. Is each time I sit here and feel bad for not following through with CBT or things I told my psychiatrist or partner a failure, or a lesson in improvement?

I am sad to say it doesn't feel like improvement. My mind is a forest fire of disbelief scorching any hope that was in the last paragraph. The only tree left unharmed is the one labeled, “maybe these thoughts will help someone else.” I think this is a good time to stop writing and try a meditation to put out the flames. Be kind to yourselves. Much love.

Computer Printers: 50 Shades of No Way

Like most things, computer printers have built in obsolescence. Except the manufacturers are more transparent about it.

In the last 15 years I have done my best to have a paperless work flow. It was easy for a video professional. Those times I did need something printed, I would send my files to a local copy shop. Without a home printer, I wasn't buying ink cartridges, fixing paper jams, or wondering why my computer couldn't see the printer. Recently, my partner has been working on her Masters and many of the courses provide articles as the teaching materials, rather than textbooks. Screens are not great for reading. We spend so much time in front of screens, I can understand why my spouse prefers paper. I love my e-ink reader, a very old Kindle, but it is a special kind of hell trying to read a PDF on one of those. So, we decided to get a printer. Now, I feel absolutely filthy.

1980s Hacker Mom

The dream of the future was alive in my youth thanks to my Commodore 64 computer. Buying joysticks, a tape drive, a floppy drive, and a printer for the home was the start of something exciting. We got an Okidata Okimate color printer that was surprisingly inexpensive! That is, compared to the typical black & white printers at the time, which were more focused on small businesses, not hobbyists. Like the printers of today, the Okimate had cyan, magenta, and yellow to print in color. However, all three colors were stitched together on one ribbon in a single cartridge. Perhaps 5 inches of cyan, followed by 5 of magenta, 5 of yellow and repeat. If the Okimate was sitting on magenta, but needed to make green, it would fast forward to yellow and then print cyan over that. Need more green? Skip magenta again. It was wasteful, there's whole parts of the ribbon that had never been used. Get to the end of the cartridge? Sorry, buy a new one.

Not so fast! As you can imagine printing took a long time back then, so what else are you going to do, but watch? Mom noticed the color skipping behavior of the printer. When a cartridge reached its end, my mother grabbed a number two pencil and rewound the ribbon, much like us old people had to do if a cassette tape malfunctioned. She placed it back in the printer and we tried to print something new. It worked! Occasionally, the printer would attempt to use a color that was previously used the first time around and that would make some colorful glitches.(Maybe this is my first introduction to something I now enjoy, glitch art) Yet, this hack was worth it to a teenager who's most important prints were silly posters for the student council election. This is before the days of spell-check. I remember that poster on which I misspelled intelligent. Ugh.

Offset and Get the Fix

That brief trip down memory lane illustrates how printer manufacturers make money. In the early 2000s printers were dirt cheap. Buy an HP printer for $50! Better yet, buy an Apple computer and we'll throw in a printer for free. The companies do not make money on the hardware. They make money by selling you their proprietary ink cartridges. I remember those $50 printers having replacement ink starting at $30 apiece. Buy 12 of those in a year and you've just purchased 7 printers. Have a color printer? Now you're buying 4 different ink refills.

As consumers took notice of this pusher/drug user model, we started to fight back. Making a mess with syringes people began filling the previously used cartridge with ink. Whole businesses sprung from this and created a 3rd party market. We could get aftermarket ink on the cheap! As technology progressed those disruptive companies manufactured cartridges that looked exactly like the original equipment.

Of course, tech progressed at the printer manufacturers as well. Inexpensive chips could be added to print cartridges in much the same way car keys were chipped. Not an OEM cartridge? Sorry, you cannot print today. To further increase profit printers came with more bells and whistles. All-in-one printer scanners and 'wireless' printers were made to justify a higher price upfront. Ever have success with a wireless printer? Finding them on your network is harder than finding a giant squid in the ocean. No problem touch screens to the rescue. Easily configure your printer on the network, for an added cost of a touch screen.

Tanks for Nothing

In recent years, a few companies like Epson and Canon have taken a note from consumers and created eco or mega tank printers. They do not take cartridges, but have reservoirs for the ink. I was impressed by this innovation because I want to be less wasteful. This looked pretty interesting and excited me. However, I am very cynical. What's the catch? Well, the main benefit for the companies is getting your money upfront. Rather than giving you the typical smaller than normal ink cartridge in the box when you buy the printer, they give the tank printers a 2 year supply. Instead of paying $120 for that all-in-one printer, you pay $400 because you're getting 2 years of ink.

Okay, the working poor at Epson have to pay for their mandatory Disney+ subscription to forget about life. Plus, regular yacht maintenance is not cheap for the CEOs of the printer giants. Either pay for the ink with the purchase of the tank printer, or buy cartridges over the lifetime of another printer? The super tank printer seems slightly better for the environment, so how about I purchase...ERROR 5b00

The next best thing to selling you ink on a regular basis is planned obsolescence. While researching Epson EcoTank and Canon Megatank printers, I found lots of complaints about similar errors. Canons spit out the error above which means that the waste ink absorber pad is full. Inkjet printers can clog easily, so this pad is there to soak up things after a print or during a cleaning. So by maintaining the printer, you are killing it. You cannot replace the pad. You cannot print with the error. Epson has a similar design and gives you a less cryptic message, 'end of life.' Consumers who have called in for service have been told that the repair plus shipping is likely going to cost more than buying a new one. Epson's own site says the following. >Most consumers who are out of warranty elect to replace the printer because replacement of ink pads may not be a good investment for lower-cost printers. In most cases, when this message occurs, the printer's other components also may be near the end of usable life.”

What about just making a serviceable ink pad? Again Epson, “Implementing this type of a design would result in more expensive printers. Most users would not benefit from such higher costs because their printers will never reach the Parts End of Life message.

Paper Jam

Today, after researching what printer to purchase, I feel exploited and weary. Epson is completely correct in its assumption people will buy new printers if they receive the planned obsolescence error. Bringing this issue to our governments would likely result in zero interest from politicians. We, the people, do not have the time and energy to fight lobbyists and lawyers. A lawmaker is more likely to send you a new $120 printer, then take your concerns and investigate.

We live in a disposable society. There are no vacuum or television repair businesses. Washers, dryers, and even bicycles make their way to landfills because the cost of repair is far more than replacement. Warranties are lip service more than anything else. When you complete the phone maze to finally get a human, they explain to you that buried in the fine print is a clause that says, “Not today, Sunshine.” Instead of manufacturers backing a product with pride, retailers and other companies fill the warranty gap with “extended warranties.” Much like the manufacturers, they have their own fine print. Thus, we are left with making another purchase to avoid the headache. The path of least resistance always wins.

There Is No Margin

One last note to add to my research. If we go back to the beginning, printer manufactures create these devices to make a profit. One of the ways companies have found to sustain profits is through subscription. So, HP has created a program where the printer tells HP it is running low and they automatically send you new ink in the mail. They have several monthly payment plans and you can quit to let the useless device collect dust at any time. Sound familiar? This is how Xerox works. The price of their copy machines is beyond affordable for even large businesses. Instead, most lease the machines and pay for the toner and maintenance. As an aside, movie theaters are now stuck in this model thanks to the rise of digital projectors. We live in the age of Subscribe or Die, I guess.

So what could I buy to solve the issue of printing many documents at home in an economical and environmentally friendly way? As I said above, I was weary from the research. I gave up on finding something that would be a useful and worthwhile investment for our future endeavors. Instead, I opted for something that could handle infrequent printing. No clogs in a laser printer. I will bow to my new master, Brother, and be thankful every time I am able to easily find the required toner cartridge. Perhaps I should take bets on how many prints it will be able to make before it reaches the manufactured “end of life” count coded into the machine?

Help Me With My Bio

I've written silly bios in the past for my freelance work and way back for work in theater. I've never written an artist's bio because I have never tried to be an artist. I've decided to join an art show through a local art collective and I need to write a bio. I am so nervous and typically afraid to share things because of my core belief that “I'm not good enough.” So, I would just write this and hand it in without any feedback. However, logically I know collaboration can only make things better. So, please let me know what you think of the following. You can tell me at sikkdays. I'd appreciate any comments. Thanks.

As a video editor, Christopher composed national commercials and focused on motion graphics. As a digital artist he pursued perfection with the voodoo known as undo. Exploring the analog world of paints, wood, and paper, he has become fascinated with the magic of the process. Christopher is now conjuring freely and embracing the spontaneous results. Through his art Christopher is investigating his own mental health. Perfection is unattainable and the pursuit of it results in shame, fear, and anger. Christopher's work is also developing themes of recovery and wellness.

Punish Thyself

“You know better.” This is a phrase used by parents and teachers that describes the challenges of adulthood. We perceive societal norms and often judge ourselves to those rules instead of our own moral compass. For me, it's more than just ethical behavior and the word of law. I am also looking at the society around me and judging my every decision. “Would someone else post this very blog? Probably not, it looks weak. They wouldn't want to appear broken.” Every time this inner critic engages me, right or wrong, I feel that I deserve to be punished.

There is no better person to punish me, than myself. Denial of the things I need and want is very easy because shame tells me I don't deserve happiness. This has had a profound affect on my therapy because if I find something that helps me, like writing, I take it away from myself. Unworthy and shameful are consistent emotional states that I am 'comfortable' feeling. They are familiar. Success and happiness are fleeting and will leave, so why bother experiencing them in the first place?

Yesterday, I learned that I also engage in physical punishment. When I was a boy, I was spanked. Now, I bite my nails. I eat junk food. Both of these feed the shame. They may seem like minor offenses, but the destructive nature of these acts encourage the continued shame cycle. After feeling shame for so long, it doesn't seem foreign to my mind to think about suicide. It's merely a continuation of punishment. The act of suicide, and thinking of it, is another thing to feel shameful for because some people think it is weak and “giving up.”

Patterns of Discipline

The overwhelming internal theme for me is that I am not enough. So, the simplest of errors, like sleeping in, can result in me punishing myself by removing something that I have recently learned is beneficial.

Meditation has given me a lot of introspection and helped me. “What a waste of time. You should be working like everyone else, you loser.”

Journaling and writing has been a way to explore my emotions and get things out of my head. “Yet, you still make the same mistakes that you've observed in your writing. Maybe your time would be better spent not whining.”

Art is actually rewarding. Painting and creating is something I have found that I enjoy for myself, not for any outside validation from others. “Kid stuff. It's play. Of course you like it. Again, get a job.”

I haven't read much on “love languages,” but I would wager my father's was providing a roof over our heads. Perhaps my shame around never having a good enough job or career stems from growing up in my father's shadow. Of course, that's my perception of my father. I also see both of my grandfathers in that same light. My mother too, is in this category. I wonder if I am stuck trying to live a life following this example I have set for myself? In actuality, my “love language” might not be acts of service at all.

Regardless of my “love language,” I certainly know how to inflict punishment on myself. It is something that I now see laced through my recovery. It's not that I don't apply myself after learning CBT or reading a self-help book. I take the gifts I received from those things and deny myself access to them. I don't deserve to be better. I don't deserve the help of my psychiatrist and friends. This is a familiar feeling that I have been managing for years.

Success and Failure

My doctor asked me if I fear failure or success more. To me, success is luck or chance. It doesn't seem sustainable. I don't fear it. I am afraid that it will set an expectation of success and that I will fail again. Logically, I understand that failure is how we learn, but emotionally I am living a very old pattern. If I don't try, I don't fail or succeed. Instead, I sit in the familiar comfort of shame. I even feel mortified in this realization. The loop continues. “You write all this and you still won't do anything different.”

Change is as hard as we make it. I suppose the upside is that getting over this tremendous mountain will be that much more rewarding. I feel as if I need to remind myself that recovery isn't a binary of success or failure, but simply moving ahead. Celebrating the victories, the times when I am able to get past the criticism and punishment, is still very foreign to me. Being in my practiced loop of shame, it is easy to write off things as luck, or focus on the all the times I was unable to succeed. I hope you can take a look at your own behavior and question the motivation behind it. For me, finding the space between observing and critiquing myself is very difficult. I know you can do it, I just need to believe that about myself.

Friendship, Isolation, Boundaries, and Authenticity

While sitting and listening in my recent group therapy I heard a lot of talk about the masks we wear. Like me, many of the people in the group are getting to know themselves. They expressed the desire to be around others who are authentic and genuine. This was a familiar feeling for me. I have struggled to make sense of this as well. Relationships flourish when we are vulnerable, but we can also have boundaries. How do we find balance between the two?

This Is Me

There's a danger in identifying with that which makes us neurally different than others. I have certainly fallen deeper into depression by declaring to the world that depression is all I am. We are not our injuries, disabilities, jobs, or parent's children. Each one of us is an individual. I simply wanted to state this upfront because it is important. If we are to be truly genuine, we are all the worries, feelings, thoughts, victories and failures together. We are not just one part of the whole. I recently heard poet, John O'Donohue, say this in an interview, “Identity is not biography.”

Part of learning who I am means letting go, in a way. To really let emotions free is a scary process. I have always held them at bay and tried to control them. For example, I cannot cry in a job interview if a question evokes those emotions. It isn't socially acceptable to express our emotions freely. We must be humble in our success and persevere through pain. This societal messaging can seem like a systematic oppression when you're vulnerably exploring yourself. Once you open the valve, it is much harder to close. Thus, my mind can start to do some unhealthy comparison. I'm open and honest and the world is not. I must be the broken one. Personally, I find blame is often a sign that I'm not being honest with myself. Looking for faults in the world rather than acknowledging that I am hurt is a distraction. I am sad that others are still wearing masks and scared that maybe they are not. Maybe they do want to hurt me? All of these thoughts and emotions are within me, regardless if they are true or not, and it is my responsibility to welcome and respect them.

When I let myself be vulnerable, when I am authentically me, it is an alienating experience. One must be courageous to stay in that space out in a world that is black and white. In the larger society around us, we are right or wrong. There are very few places where emotions are freely accepted. Furthermore, I struggle to stay vulnerable because it is new to me. Going out into the public is like being covered in second degree burns in a sand storm.

“Why can't everyone be vulnerable and honest?” This question, a thought, comes in to bring me out of that emotional space. It builds and the frustration becomes resentment. Was I better off before, when I squashed the emotions? Maybe I am better off being alone because it hurts to get close to people?

Isolation and Solitude

There's a distinction between making space to process emotions and isolating. One I do consciously and the other is subconscious. One is work and the other is not. When I begin to question the world around me, I am once again, avoiding my feelings. I may think that I need some downtime and believe that I am doing some self-care by avoiding social situations. The question I have to ask myself is “what is the emotion behind the decision to stay home?” Is it fear of fitting in? Is it shame?

There's nothing wrong with solitude. At this point for me, it needs to be intentional. I am not protecting myself, but exploring without distraction. Can self-care be a cup of tea, a good book, or a movie? Maybe? For me, those often seem more like distractions from some emotion or situation I am avoiding. When given the opportunity to be social or stay home, 85% of the time the social situation is going to recharge my batteries more than staying home. Humans are social creatures. Anxiety, depression and other neural divergent conditions often encourage us to hide.

Friendship and Boundaries

What about our peeps? Can they be as genuine with us as we are with them? Again, 'maybe' is the answer. If it isn't us, we all have that “Debbie Downer” friend. We have the popular one, the chatty one, the artistic, new age one, etc. Our friends play different roles in our lives, just as we do in theirs. It can feel like rejection when you open up to someone and they do not reciprocate. People have individual tastes, though. My partner would not be open to your numerous stories of gruesome surgical blunders, but I would listen. Boundaries are healthy. If someone is truly your friend, you can explore boundaries with them shame-free. Through, open communication they can say, “I'd rather not discuss that.” Likewise, you can say, “That makes me uncomfortable.”

It can be very difficult to try to find boundaries in today's world. There's a culture of “Gotcha,” a desire to call people out. As friends, I would hope we can respect each other's opinion. That's not always the case in the real world, of course. When we expose our emotions, things get uncomfortable. Maybe that's because we don't often speak with our hearts? If can tell a friend in passionate anger my opinion, can I not apologize with just as much sincere love?

Turning It On and Off

Is the switch to turn off my emotions behind my ear? My interior world before my breakdown was a place of paranoia, anxiety, and self loathing. A comment like, “Nice blog, Chris,” would invoke questions of sarcasm. If not sarcastic, is the person feeling pity for me? Are they saying that because they think I want to hear it? In my mind, I could continue deeper and wonder what my late father or my deceased grandmother would think. Am I a disappointment? This is all to say that my interior world is a vast echo chamber. All of that and more can happen in the time it takes me to say thank you to the initial comment. Therefore, I don't have to turn my emotions off with a switch. I have plenty of space to process it.

As I said above, I feel very raw and exposed when I am vulnerable, but the best person to comfort me is always here. It's me. All those questions I asked after the comment are motivated by fear. It's a fear that I do not belong. Rather than express the fear with further questions to echo the fear, I can try to use the space to feel it. Welcoming the pain doesn't mean I have to tell the commenter. Perhaps those deeper issues of my father's opinion and feelings of failure may be better explored in solitude, but I can use my inner space to hold and welcome the emotion rather than more questions. Writing this here seems like one of those “in a perfect world” situations. Truthfully, I am not always capable of sitting with emotions.

Processing emotions is taxing. It can be exhausting. This is why people in my therapy group, and myself, struggle in a world that wears masks. We don't have the energy to put a mask back on. When we do, we feel inauthentic and that hurts. I thought I was finally getting to the core of my issues, but now I have to pretend that I am okay for the benefit of the world around me? It feels like a step backwards. I think my strategy is to be genuine with myself. I'll do my best not to wear a mask, but I will try to have boundaries. We are supposed to choose our battles, right?

Confidant

So, how do we find that close friend who we can be vulnerable with? Maybe we don't. Perhaps I can share my insecurities about my art with other artists, but my fear of being a terrible husband are behind a boundary in that case. Instead, I may address that directly with my partner, or a close friend who is also in a committed relationship. Yet, I cannot talk to my partner or friend about my artwork because I fear they won't understand. Does that make sense?

It can feel like change is impossible, but I like to remind myself that I am not the same person I was twenty minutes ago. Those things we experience can change and influence us. If people change, so do our relationships. Our confidant today, may only be an acquaintance next week. It sounds extreme, I know. Fiction in books and movies like to tell us that emotional bonds are forever, but we don't need to grieve every loss. My best friend lives miles away in another city with his family. If we talk once every three months, that's okay. Before, we may have been much closer, but we both have families now. I can embrace that with joy and some sadness. I can make a new friend and confidant. And, that person could move away, or explore a passion that similarly removes them from my life. I think the key is to value the present moment with those around you.

How do you find friends? There's lots of things written on the internet on this topic. I think the first step is to not isolate so much and be social. This is where I am at. This is the thing I can do at this moment. Before I go, thank you for reading this. I appreciate your encouragement and comments. Maybe we're friends?

Forgetting: A Positive of Aging

Inevitably, our elder friends and family joke about how forgetful they have become as they get older. Whether it's a power of suggestion or not, I find myself blaming age for lost thoughts. Yet the more I work on my mental health, I wonder if thoughts are all that helpful.

Certainly, the context of a thought matters. Not remembering to take one's medication is not great. However, not thinking of the 6,974 things that could go wrong if you miss your meds wouldn't be a bad thing. Thoughts can be a source of trouble because we sometimes feel they are facts. For example, I imagine you have stopped reading this already. I believe it. It's a fact, just as plainly as the fact that I am unlovable and a burden. Of course, these are not facts. Logically, I know this. Though, there's still a deep sense, a feeling, that those things are true facts.

Strive for Excellence

When we forget things it feels like a betrayal. Before we were able to do so much. Provide. Succeed. Retire. That cultural message is about getting an education, finding work, creating a family, and retiring after all your hard work. Be productive now and relax later. The cult of busy is something to take pride in and when you take it away in retirement, many people struggle. While I'm not retired, I spend a lot of time shaming myself for forgetfulness. Why would I forget something? What am I doing that is so demanding that would stress me so much to forget? Nothing. I am a loser. While extreme, it's similar to a retired person thinking, “I shouldn't be so forgetful, I don't have as much on my plate as when I was working.”

Here I Am Now

Perhaps forgetting is a sign of being in the moment. So often my thoughts are about what's next or past gaffs. “What was I going to do after I got home from our lunch together?” Is that as important as spending time with you? (Okay, sure. Forgetting that I need to take my meds when I get home.) I am suggesting that maybe forgetfulness comes when we can truly relax. Maybe this is why age seems to come with this stigma? Retired folks with less on their plate have less worries plaguing their anxiety? Mortality becomes more real and is a far bigger fear than changing the furnace filter I would think. And thus, many seniors try to share the idea of making our time here on Earth count.

Inner Critic

We are fearless in our youth. We don't spend time thinking we could get hit by a bus or fall down an elevator shaft. As we age and slow down, we look back with nostalgia and gratitude. I think I also look back with regret. The regret of things I think I did wrong and my wasted youth. “If only I would have used my time more wisely.” Thus, forgetting things now taps into this inner criticism of myself. I can blame the lost thoughts on age, but hidden behind that is a feeling that I didn't do enough when my mind was “sound.” Forgetfulness becomes a tool to shame myself for growing old. Guess what? We all age. So get over yourself, Chris.

Am I romanticizing the idea of forgetfulness by thinking it could be a good sign of change? Perhaps. Though, being in the moment seems really important. Trying to remember my grocery list as I sit at a funeral may be escaping the situation. It's a distraction from the emotions brought by grief. Maybe focusing on how forgetful we are as we age is a distraction from the emotions brought up by the realization of our mortality. Better to try and fix the problem of forgetfulness than dwell on the fears of death. Again, when I write “death” I jump to thinking what that would be like for me, rather than feeling the sadness and fear of not existing. How scary that I wouldn't be able to write you anymore, feel my partner's touch, cuddle my dog, eat chocolate, or feel the sun on my skin? It's really scary. It is a pit in the stomach, tension in the jaw, and shallow breath frightening. Rather than letting my eyes well up from sadness, I again focus on the things I haven't done yet. I'm not making enough money. I'm a bad brother, son, husband, and I need to fix that. All these thoughts come at me as a subconscious strategy to avoid those feelings about my coming death.

The next time you forget something, maybe that's alright. It felt important before, but right now it isn't. Accepting that may be part of remembering. Understanding that the thought wasn't a fact and is an opinion is also helpful. “Don't forget to take your meds,” is an opinion. Forgetting to take insulin and then having symptoms is a fact. One that will likely remind you to take the meds.

You know what? Forget this entire blog. Age or mental wellness aside, forgetting is not an issue at all. It is the dwelling on the forgetfulness that is a problem. These thoughts that I should remember, or criticisms that being old or forgetful is bad are not helping us remember! They only serve to shame us. Leave the past and the future behind. Feel into the now.

Birthday Bereavement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakfast Seppuku

“The best part about waking up is...” being alive. It's not Folgers in my cup or any other 'breakfast is good for you' marketing myth. Yet, it is the most difficult part of my day. The reality of the life I have lived and the insurmountable future ahead come crashing into me as I become conscious. I don't know what to have for breakfast or care, because of all the past/future on my mind. Life is complex and scary. For me, it becomes problematic and I start to wonder if it is worth it.

The way I self-medicated in the past was junk food breakfast. Donuts, Pop Tarts, and all kinds of sweets. Start the day immediately in avoidance. Give me something to make me forget about my existence. Diabetes forced me to change that habit. I worked hard to get a healthy breakfast routine. Though I like variety, I probably ate the same thing for breakfast for a year straight after learning to control my blood sugars. The sucrose morning treats were postponing my existential crisis with a sugar rush and then I would have to refill throughout the day, lest I wanted bear the weight of living.

I broke my healthy breakfast streak and let go of the diabetes worries as I started working on my mental health in groups and seeing a psychiatrist. It was a reward system. I spent the day working on stuff that is really uncomfortable. I am eating this entire large bag of M&Ms. I deserve it. Breakfasts have fallen into the old pattern again. Sweets for breakfast lead to shame for lunch and dinner.

The shame is all about my unworthiness. The impregnable feeling that I am undeserving and unlovable goes hand-in-hand with option D on every one of my decisions, suicide. Living with shame available in every single thought is torture. I can't speak for others, but I wonder if those who have taken their own lives came to a point where they decided they can never outrun the shame. Imagine, years of telling yourself “I must do more, be better.” Regardless of your successes, that voice is ever present. When you finally acknowledge you've reached success, when you can actually see it, that voice is still there. Did Robin Williams realize that he had made it through drug abuse, beat the odds of being successful in comedy and Hollywood, creating a family, and in that clarity heard the shame and decided to quiet it once and for all?

Food For Thought

Is my breakfast choice really a life or death question? I think in some ways it is. I do believe suicide has been in my mind more lately. It's interesting that one of the things keeping me from ending my life is shame. That's right, the same force that rubs my every thought, desire, and relationship against a cheese grater of unworthiness is also keeping me alive. Suicide is for the weak. What a let down I will be. People will blame themselves. Others will be relieved and say good riddance. And, of course, my mind worries at all the critiques of my method of execution. “That was an idiotic way to commit suicide. Who knew he was such a moron?” It's weird. Chris is completely shame-powered. So, I eat my feelings. The loop is shame-sugar-shame.

Nobody wants to talk about suicide. It's uncomfortable and scary. Maybe that's why everyone was so struck by the loss of Robin Williams. He had no one to talk to about this subject. If the subject you want to talk about is taboo, it is a good chance that thoughts about it feel taboo and become shameful. When society does talk about suicide it is usually an investigation into a mystery, “How could this have occurred? We had no idea!” We never speak of it as a choice. Society argues about when a group of cells becomes a fetus and its right to life, but Dr. Kevorkian is evil for letting people decide their own fate. Society has chosen to think that suicide is a result of mental illness. One cannot be in their “right” mind to want to end their own life. Biologically, it is an interesting argument. Much of our mental health issues related to stress and anxiety can be traced back to the our fight or flight response, the one that kept our ancestors alive in a very different world. So yes, like animals there's something inside us that wants to live. Unlike other animals, we have this ability to think.

Chicken Egg Situation

Is it the shame that triggers option D, or suicide that trigger the shame? I don't have answers, only thoughts. Many are joyous, many are not. Before, I was “too busy” to consider these deeper questions. They hung in the background while I tried to be productive, earn, and move up in the world. My avoidance strategy was a combination of sugar, entertainment, and work. I replaced that with new things that I learned, the coping I described in a previous entry. I let go of what was working because it wasn't working fast enough. I was not cured. I went back to what I had done in the past, but I've burned out a lot quicker. Hopefully, this is all part of learning, creating new neural pathways, and trimming the old ones down. Whatever it is, I'm exhausted. My tanks are empty and I'm vulnerable. Something crawls at the edge of my perception, telling me to sit down and paint, to create. Unfortunately, the shame of doing something for my undeserving is so much louder at the moment. I should be working. I should be making money. I should be like everyone else.

Compromise, I'm writing. Pain is personal. Those closest to me always want to know how they can help. You aren't responsible for what myself or anyone else is going through. Our minds create our own realities. You can help by validating those of us with pain. Yours isn't a position of fixer, but one of listener. You can bring me joy by reaching out. My mind will create the narrative that you're doing it out of guilt because you read this, but if you keep reaching out it will challenge this belief. Being heard is so important, but sometimes we don't want to talk. You can still be there. It can be draining for me to manage all the anxiety when being around people. And so, I isolate. One on one, with friends I trust are still stressful with my thoughts of unworthiness and fear of saying or doing the “wrong” thing, but the volume is less intense. I forget this and don't reach out. It seems unfair to put some onus on others, but hey, you asked how to help. Maybe you should bring me breakfast?

Don't Try, Don't Fail: The Constant Flow of Negativity

In the world that is my mind and body, depression is a utility. Pipes and wires travel throughout my system ensuring basic darkness permeates the emotional ghettos and physical suburbs of Chris.

Those of us that are privileged to have water and electricity in our homes sometimes forget how the process works. Water is constantly being pushed through the pipes of the house, only stopping at faucet handle. One turn and it is instantly let free. The same goes for the electricity behind the light switch, if you touch the wires behind the switch they are live with power. If you must affect repairs to your plumbing, you shut the water off at the street or disable the pump that brings it up from a well. Yet, all the pipes in the home still have water in them and you'll be forced to drain them before making repairs. This is probably the best way I can describe my dealings with depression. It's always on and if I want to make changes, I still have to deal with what's in the pipes.

I've written about the challenges with my inner critic and my patterns of negative thought. I scrolled through my blog to grab an example or two, but I realized most of the posts in the last two years cover this subject. I'm always writing about it because it is always present. There are no simple decisions for me. The negativity is primed like water in pipe. An urge to use the restroom can start at a fear that the toilet won't work and end with me homeless, or dead. The toilet doesn't work, I'm responsible for breaking it, my partner decides this is the last straw in living with me, the jobless loser and his mental illness, and I'm out on the street. Maybe I starve to death later. Honestly, that's an abbreviated version. See, even now I am stopping myself from sharing the entire, drawn out story that my brain has created for fear of boring you. As I type this, my brain is concurrently working out all the reasons why sharing my issue will be bad. Friends and family reading this will blame themselves or distance themselves from me, surely.

My first therapist challenged me to keep going down the ladder of these thoughts. In the example above, the act of going to the restroom resulting in death is tremendously far fetched. This was her point, by following the story to an improbable end I would see these thoughts in my head are not helpful or worthwhile. Nonetheless, they are here. Constantly. It has gotten worse over the years. Well worn paths, neural pathways that I've rewarded time, and time again.

I've also learned this is part of my biology. Early humans developed this negative bias to protect themselves from danger. I try to remind myself of this fact. Though, it can be overwhelming when I never have a break. The anxiety is HVAC system that never shuts off. It's always in the background of everything I try to do. A static muddying every conversation and interaction.

Having depression, negativity and self judgment, as a utility readily available with every thought is exhausting. Right now, my jaw is clenched. I don't want to continue to share my thoughts on this subject for fear of being judged. Yet, I wonder if this is why so many find suicide an option. My pain is not a disease to fight, but my own mind. My pain is self-inflicted. Yet, to me it feels automated, just as moving my fingers on this keyboard.

Failure And Isolation

It's no surprise that my coping mechanisms are a result of all the freely available criticism and negativity.If I assume I am a failure and paint myself this way for others, I will not disappoint. In fact, I prove that I am a failure. At the same time, I tell myself that this is pathetic. I am still disappointing people because I've given up. It's not living. It is hiding. Is that toxic thinking? Is this the man up bullshit I have inherited from society? Every time I find a job that I'm qualified for, I find hundreds of thousands of reasons I would screw it up. Writing a cover letter drains me. If I make it to an interview, I am already burned out. I've had the job for weeks in my head, prior to the interview. I've gone over millions of ways that I would fail. This process is similar for meeting new people. The weight of this negativity that saturates my molecules as I am in these situations is exhausting. Solitude and isolation both reaffirms that I am a failure and keep me from trying anything new.

At this moment, my inner critic is reminding me that there's nothing new here for readers of my blog. I've written all this before. The last couple months have been hard for me and I'm itching to find some empathy. I just feel so misunderstood. I've been applying for jobs, working on a few projects, and expect myself to do more. This is where the feelings of being misunderstood originate. From the outside, I assume my productivity looks like I am better and therefore people will expect more. In reality it is me expecting those things. Furthermore, each project and job application means turning the faucet on, pouring in the depression and darkness. Over the years, I'vve protected myself from these feelings by not trying.

The Strategies For Managing The Pain

The big picture of a lifeless Chris doing nothing to avoid pain is hard to think about, yet always in the background. It's pumped in through the pipes. The strategies I've found that are helpful are not cures. Again, something I have been trying to grasp in my blogs, there is no cure. Acceptance is the way to move forward, but it is easier said then done. Since my strategies are not complete fixes, I lose site of them pretty easily. Trying to start them up again triggers my shame. Why did I stop doing these things? I suck. They didn't cure me, so why try again? Sorry conspiracy theorists, but I would much rather have pure flouride pumped to the pipes of my world than all these dark thoughts.

What works for me when I remember is art, meditation, journaling, being active, and being around people. Creating art is a mindful process and the results are not as important as that process. I do it for me, not for likes, fame, or fortune. Meditation is similar because I'm creating that space in my mind to counter all the negative stuff that is automatic. Journaling helps me see what is happening. Sometimes it can trigger me to feel worse, but I can't always depend on a professional psychiatrist. I have to think these things through for myself. Being active is a way to jump start the body. My mind and body are connected. The deep dread makes me physically ache. It upsets my stomach and drains me of energy. Walking, riding my bike, and exercise can work in reverse. An energized body can influence the brain. Being around people is a tricky one. It will most likely trigger a number of insecurities, but positive interactions can really energize me. Every interaction cannot be positive. This is life. However, the only way to work on my negative bias is to continue having experiences.

Currently, I am having a hard time getting back into the swing of these strategies. Things are dark. I suppose this is another good time to remind myself that I'm entitled to have down days, weeks, and months. It's valid to feel this way. Believing I should be otherwise only triggers shame, not healing. Perhaps I get back into a better place by accepting this. The utility is always going to deliver self-criticism. It feels hopeless when I'm in this space.

There's a fine line between acceptance and ignoring the issues. I think the line for me is staying in the present. It's overwhelming to think about just how much time I've lost, how many things I've put off, and how I've screwed up the last couple months. The past cannot be changed. Worrying about all the things I need to do, the things I should have been doing is overwhelming as well. It's the future. Once again, I find myself in need of being in the moment. I need to take care of what I can do right at this moment. It's easier said than done. Especially when you've spent your whole life living in the past and future.

Victim

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

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

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

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

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

My Own Parent

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

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

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

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

Agency Now

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

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

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

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