Privileged Patterns

I feel like a petulant child. There's a real resistance to tasks I see as “have to.” Walking the dog is often a healthy experience, but I am required to do it. Thus, I put it off and procrastinate.

This seems like a common theme or pattern for me. At least, that's the critical part of me seeing this. If I “have to” ride my bike this month for charity it becomes difficult to do. Does that not seem like the ugly head of privilege?

Additionally, this is compounded by my tendency to put myself in can't win situations. I may feel less inclined to make a planned dinner for friends because it is a “have to,” but if it happened spontaneously my anxiety would jump me like a mugger in an alleyway.

Anxiety is part of this “have to” business. I am afraid. A “have to” is an expectation I can fail. I will fail. I do not think I am enough. How does one fail at walking the dog? My mind, the neurons in my brain are very practiced at making every task a burden. This is depression. This is trauma. This is how the simple and sometimes rewarding experience of walking a dog becomes charged with failure.

This is a familiar space for me. I can often subconsciously self-sabotage. My jaw is tight and my chest is constricted in fear that I will not meet an expectation. And so, I do not try. I fail.

I am used to feeling that pain in my chest and my jaw. It is familiar to feel like I am not enough. For my mind and body that have learned to be in pain, that unfamiliar feeling of success is more scary. Should I successfully accomplish a task, I think I will forever be expected to do it in the future. Those seconds of pride and joy will disappear and I will be left in the void with my pain. So, why bother?

It is interesting to read how I am dealing with this. There's a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality coming out. I call myself a petulant child and privileged. These observations can be true as well as the fact that it is not healthy to feel this way about myself.

Acceptance and self-compassion, where are you? I could really use your help.

I do not want to go too fast and burnout, especially since I am having trouble cycling after only a week. However, it may be time to add meditation to the journaling and exercise mix.

Anxious Avoidance

Comedian Tom Papa said it's hard being an adult in his recent standup special. I met some people at a podcast conference one year that were doing a podcast on 'adulting.' When I think of that term, I think about those adult things like paying bills. I know I am not the only one who avoids those adult matters until the last possible minute. Especially those expensive tasks, like getting quotes to fix your HVAC or get a new roof put on the house. It's draining to have to jump through the hoops. Perhaps this is the real lesson from university, if it is uncomfortable, put it off.

Unfortunately, living with anxiety means just about everything is uncomfortable. When my partner brought up vacation time that she has coming up my jaw tightened and my heart raced. I wanted to escape. Avoid the discussion because I am afraid of the unknown. Similar to the anxiety caused by the unknown estimates I would receive to get the HVAC fixed.

If I take the time to dig deeper, there's much more to this. Firstly, I do not deserve time off because I am not doing enough. Second, efforts to do more cannot be scheduled or happen if I am on a vacation. Third, I am to return to my volunteer position around the same time she has vacation.

There's a peer pressure, that is really my internal voice and not necessarily from peers that drives me to follow through. If I say to someone, eventually I will bungee jump, I feel ashamed until I take the leap. I fear people are judging me for lying. In all truth, it is me and some all or nothing thinking. Additionally, this is how I have motivated myself for years, shame. So when I told a friend recently that we would get together next month, I feel like I cannot because of the vacation time. I cannot continue with my progress jornaling, and building my art portfolio and site because I will be on vacation.

Finally, my volunteering is a sort of distress for me. I've had time off, but that ends soon. I don't think I am ready to go back. Is it one of those things that feels this way, but once I am there I will be just fine? Or, am I really burned out and done with it because it is a source of trauma? Can it be both? I think it may be. I feel that it may very well be.

There are rational solutions here. I can simply move plans to get together with friends. I can return to my artwork after vacation. I can have further conversations with my volunteer supervisor. Emotionally, those sound awful. I want to crawl under the covers and disappear.

Weekend Worries

I think the feeling that I am not enough is similar to imposter syndrome. Somehow, I have fooled the world in the past Monday through Friday that I am a competent being like the rest of them. Now that it is the weekend, I want to crash. I am spent. This is what some 'regular' hard-working folks do, right? You work so hard and when the weekend comes you relax. Of course, there are others, like my partner, who want to make the most out of a day off. As an imposter, this means I still have to be 'on.'

I do not deserve to relax because I haven't done enough throughout the week. I didn't hold down a 40+ hour job and take care of my family. The things I did in the week seem minimal compared to what I think the rest of you have done. However, if you're relaxing on the weekend, I can do that too without looking like the awful, waste of humanity that I am.

Perhaps, I am especially anxious this weekend because there are plans to be social with some people to support pride. New people means getting to know them and talk about myself. Since I do not like me, it is not something I like to chat about.

My jaw is tight. I am afraid. I can spin it to anger at myself because the only constant in all of this is me. This is my fault. Now, I have a hollowness in my chest. I am sad after reading what I wrote.

Strategy vs. Shame

I started journaling again because it was somewhat successful in the past. Connecting with my feelings rather than ignoring or going numb made me somewhat lighter. There was another tool that worked in the past, the calendar.

This is another difficult thing for me, like journaling. Here, letting out the feelings and thoughts that bombard me, can be painful. Am I purging the harmful thoughts or am I giving them voice? The calendar is similar because any unfinished tasks become avenues for shame.

The reality is that shit needs to get done. So, using a calendar to schedule things isn't all bad. It can lessen anxiety. Like journaling, it can free space in my head. I do not need to worry about giving the dog a bath today because it is on the calendar for next week. Let's concentrate on today.

When I write out my plans for the week I do pretty well. My strategy is sitting down on Sunday or Monday and just making that horrible, shame-filled to-do list on one side of my notebook. Then, I prioritize things on the other side of the notebook into the days of the week. I reality check that I am not taking on too much or that I have ample time for tasks. For example, taking the car in for an oil change could take 40 minutes or 2 hours depending on how busy they are. So, I better not dump other time consuming or questionable commitments on that day.

Anxiety makes this a tenuous strategy, but it can work until it stops. We all have those weeks, right? The ones where nothing goes to plan, or we find appointments we have no control over have piled up in the same week. Things come crashing down for me then. Hard. The shame sucker punches me, throws me down some stairs, and curb stomps my mind.

One thing I learned was to give myself a day, perhaps Friday, that is unplanned. This way, if something comes up and changes my calendar I have a buffer to move things into.

My calendar this week went well. There were no issues. Shame would like to pop in here and say that means I should have done more. In fact, this is why today's journal is happening. I am ashamed that I didn't do more. It is Friday, an open day! What should I do? Freeze. Crash. Shame. This is the dark side of my strategy.

Angry If You Do Angry If You Do Not

The psychiatrist sits back in the chair, steeples their hands and pauses before speaking, “Do you think you had the right to be angry in that situation?” Then, they relax their hands and posture to add, “Would someone else in your situation be mad?”

This is a classic “we cannot control our emotions, but we can choose how we react” teaching moment. It is okay to be angry. It is not okay to take a baseball bat to your neighbor's car. It makes sense on a rational and personal level. Complexity comes within the relationship, there are two people in the situation. You can spare your neighbor's car, but that doesn't stop the behavior that angered you in the first place. You can gently and maturely speak to the neighbor, but there is no guarantee things will change. And, you have to start over at the beginning. It's okay to be angry that it didn't work out, but we can still choose not to pick up the baseball bat.

Last night, I was rude to my partner. She left a water bottle on its side in the entryway and it leaked all over several things. To me, my spouse could have easily prevented this by closing the open lid and setting it upright. I was angry. I don't think I shouted, but I was dramatically holding an inquisition with my words.

My spouse felt horrible. She visibly slumped and got very quiet. I think she was then frustrated with me. Suppressing the anger is bad for me, but expressing it made things worse. Perhaps if I go back to suppressing anger I will only be harming myself and no one else.

Anger is commonly seen as a 'negative' emotion. Many of us do suppress it and have no idea what to do with it when it comes up. We often associate anger with violence. So it must be contained. Again, anger is an emotion, violence is a behavior.

So what do we do with anger?

Help in the form of therapy and groups is called 'anger management.' Is it just me, or is that uninspiring? We do not call it cancer management, we call it cancer treatment. Sure, we cannot treat emotions, but I thought I was supposed to be accepting them, not managing them. Isn't suppression a form of management?

Some call anger a secondary emotion. This idea that anger is hiding another emotion. So I am insecure and a pathetic excuse for a human. Am I trying to take my partner down a notch to make myself feel better? I certainly didn't feel great afterwards.

Imaginary psychiatrist leans forward in the chair and repeats the mantra that is now drilled into me like some sort of national anthem. It's all memorization and zero feels, “We're not responsible for other people's emotions.” Golf clap, you expressed your anger! Her reaction is her issue. Hmm. I mean it is a fair argument. I cannot control my own emotions, I surely will not be able to control the feelings of others.

There was real pain inside me when I realized that I upset her with my tone. I passed my emotional distress to her and got it back two-fold. It would seem anger for me is a a question of communicating my feelings, but also accepting the results. There was a lot of 'I should not have reacted that way and I wish I could take it back like it never happened.' Even now, after journaling, I do not feel much better. If only I could have done something different. If I keep thinking that way, I am not really accepting where I am at, huh?


I guess it takes practice? The more I learn to communicate anger in a less harmful way, the better I will get?

Shame Feels Absolute

I had a difficult EMDR session yesterday. It was very hard to tap into the fear and self hate because that's the road to suicide thoughts. Hence, my Little Suicide talk in the last journal. In fact, the particular memory we explored in therapy was the one that unequivocally led to my loss of the will to live and eventual hospital visit.

I think today there is some residual defiance leftover. I do not want to explore emotions today. I want to get on with my to-do list, accomplish things in hopes it will make me feel good. This is a familiar pattern. This is my neural superhighway, a neural pathway that I have fed in my brain for so long that it is a highway. Be numb, do stuff, get positive vibes from others, still feel shame, burnout.

Okay. Where am I emotionally? Deep breath.

I am anxious. There's a training course I have to attend this evening for the distress line volunteering I do. I am currently on a break from volunteering, I think I burned out. I am terrified of going back. My confidence that I can help others is shot. One perspective is that there are staff listeners who help us through calls as needed. My view is that they are critics, parents, teachers, and friends that I will fail. Their job is to literally help me be a better volunteer. It is natural that they will tell me how I can do better in the next call. To me, it is painful. I absorb the honest critique and feed the shame that's been growing inside me for 40+ years.

I am ashamed today, as well. Yesterday was the first day of Ride Don't Hide, a fundraising event for the local Canadian Mental Health Association. I took a break from the distress line, but volunteer to be on the committee for the event. I rode my bicycle yesterday, day 1. There's a whole month ahead of me. There are 29 days for me to fail.

This brings me to anger. That part of me that knows I will fail is furious. The name-calling and hate clenches my jaw. Why am I so pathetic? Why can I not be like others who seemingly are flawless? They are not facts. These thoughts are not reality. Inside my body, in my mind, they are absolute.

Hard Wired & Homeless

As I continue to deal with the shame and infinite to-do list I see a concern around stubbornness?

I don't really like calling this situation stubborn, it just feels like once I get a thought, I cannot shake it. Perhaps stubborn is a good description. It is a strange experience that I am not sure I can elaborate on. It sounds trivial when I write it out, but here goes. An example from last night, I thought I might have a mini ice cream sandwich after dinner. My partner brought out some Twizzlers and we each had 2. At 3am, I woke up to go to the restroom and I could not get back to sleep. I had to go to the freezer and eat that mini ice cream sandwich.

That's just one example, it's not all about food cravings. If I think tomorrow is the day that I will vacuum and something in the family comes up, I really struggle. I do drop my plans, but it is like a multidimensional critter is chewing on my brain until I vacuum. I harbor anger that I didn't get to do it. There's the sense that I am being judged for not doing it, not having it already done. This is that people pleaser in me. I want to be all things for everyone. I want the gratitude and love from others because I do not give it to myself. No one can meet the expectations I have set on myself.

There's also some control issues here. It common for people with anxiety and depression to have issues around control. The anxiousness leaves us feeling completely out of control. We cannot predict what will happen next and that causes anxiety. So we look to set things in stone. I want things to be predictable to calm my anxiety and people please. Being stubborn or hard wiring my next step is ensuring that I get a predicted outcome.

Sometimes, that outcome may be negative, but the important part is that I expected it. This is a way to negotiate my emotions, to stay numb. In many cases, I even perform self-sabotage subconsciously.

The Little Suicide

I do not know if I have shared this before, but I have often dreamed of being homeless. When the basic human biology of staying alive disappeared, I went to the hospital. The feeling of peace because I wanted to die scared me. I've always been afraid to talk about mortality. I cannot accept that one day I won't have a thought. That I am not here forever. Even typing this has brought me anxiety.

With that fear back thanks to therapy and medication, whenever I get suicidal ideation I think of other ways to harm myself. I think of other ways to die and be less of a burden. I often think I should be homeless. Many people avoid the homeless. They are something we'd rather not see, human suffering. We're taught to devalue them because they aren't working hard enough. Homeless people seek handouts from us hard working capitalists.

If I were to disappear into the streets, I would be invisible. I would no longer be a burden. Governments rarely even help homeless. It's all religious groups and charities. I would no longer bring pain to those around me with my poor choices and broken mind. There would be no expectations. My pain would be physical from hunger, lack of sleep, and from the physical elements. That I could understand far easier than the psychological pain. This is why I sometimes think of being homeless as a little suicide. Bonus points because I could still get my psychological pain (shame) from not having the courage to take my own life.

Disjointed Musings on Core Beliefs

I am still overwhelmed with all the tasks that should be finished. I did make some progress yesterday. As I wrote about before, the shame is telling me to do more. No time to be happy about accomplishing much yesterday, do more.

I am always playing catch-up. Perhaps I am trying to make up for some failure in the past. Trauma has my body reliving that failed moment over and over again every time? My jaw is tight. I am frustrated. I am angry that I cannot fully figure this out. There's some social comparison happening. I see others in my life free of these issues in my thoughts.

A deep breath. Thoughts are not facts. My mind is a social network feed of everyone living their best lives. Yet, friends in my life are not free of burdens. Like social media, my mind is curating the details. The shame is using social comparison to 'motivate' me. This is something I know well. Shame is my absolute motivation tool. While some therapists that I have talked to have been giving me the branded advice 'Just Do it,' my mind prefers, 'Don't fuck it up.'

Why can I not catch-up with my to-do list? Why is my list an infinity of unfinished tasks? It is never enough because I am not enough. Something here clicks. Making that connection between the endless task list and my core belief, 'I am not enough' somehow makes me feel lighter. Tension in my jaw has gone down.

There's a curiosity, possibly motivated by the shame, around this connection. I have been working on 'I am not enough' in my EMDR treatments. How is that core belief still so active? Am I doing EMDR wrong? Am I lying to the psychiatrist in the sessions?

My experience and past volunteer work has taught me a lot about the Autonomic Nervous System. This is the on/off switch inside us that has rest/recover/tend/befriend on one side and fight/flight/freeze on the other. One of the ways to reset this part of the nervous system is from the bottom up. When we are in fight/flight/freeze the nervous system engages us physically. Muscles tense, breath becomes shallow, and all the other changes to help us defend ourselves in an attack. Working from the bottom up, I can do some deep breathing or meditation to reset the Autonomic Nervous System to get back to rest/recover.

Perhaps my core belief of I am not enough is in the process of being changed by EMDR, but like the Autonomic Nervous System there are many parts to a core belief. That mantra of 'I am not enough' may be less charged emotionally for me, but the processes that it triggers are still active. 'I am not enough' equals motivation to finish the infinity to-do list in my mind. The tasks (not all of them) are a reality. They do not disappear with the change of my core belief. So when I start doing things on the to-do list, I am traveling from the bottom up to 'I am not enough?'

I Whine about Me

So much discomfort. I think I may be somewhat familiar with my needs now? I am not meeting them.

There's a desire that's been inside me for the last week, Be Creative. Painting, crafting, and building has been therapeutic. It feels different when I am creating. Unfortunately, the desire becomes a should. While I need to get ready for an install of new blinds tomorrow, I want to create. There's a recharging that happens when I am creating. Then, when I put it off for so long, it becomes evidence for shame. I cannot seem to enjoy the process. It becomes about the finished product.

Finished product is a should. It's the world of gig economy. Let's all hustle for ourselves. Could I sell my artwork and creations? Hey! Let's try! Just like that, it becomes less about the mysterious feelings that occur in the process and more about the product.

I have spent the entire pandemic saying, “I should put my artwork up online to sell it.” There's not enough art if it starts to sell. I should do more. What if it doesn't sell? How will that affect my mental wellness. Thus, I am frozen again. Sometimes it feels like I am wired for shame like some are wired for coffee. Today is a Sunday, what can I beat myself up about today? I need my fix.

There's a real desire to cry. I want to crawl into bed and try again tomorrow. However, I have to take care of the outside world today and tomorrow. I do not deserve time to grieve. There is physical pain in my body, but I cannot pinpoint exactly where because I am so used to numbing this feeling.

Passive-Aggressive To-Do

The list beckons. A written to-do list is merely a bookmark for the ongoing burden in my mind. There's an endless list moving through my neurons, all the shoulds from a lifetime.

Trauma can often leave people stuck in the moment when they were traumatized. Someone pulled the fire alarm and 30 years later it is still wailing. Therefore, I wonder if the Infinity Should List that is my mind has dropped tasks into the fire. No matter what I accomplish, there is always more to be done. I cannot stand back and look at clean dishes. I am off doing the laundry while thinking about 'how behind I am' with 4,682 other projects/ideas/chores. Looking at my screen as I type this, I realize I need to upgrade the hard drive on our family desktop because it is close to full. That task has been in the to-do pile for 2 years, at least. Everywhere I look is an unfinished chore. That text message from a friend is a reminder that I didn't sit down and make a card for another friend, like I told myself I would.

Writing a daily journal to explore my feelings was on the list, I did it for two days and this morning I was already feeling that I should spend my time better. The living room, dining room, and kitchen need to be cleaned because someone is coming to install blinds in 2 days. If I sit down to type, I might not get up. I am a lazy piece of garbage.

The dichotomy of “must prove to myself I can do it” and “I am garbage” is part of the ongoing cycle. Should I set a goal and accomplish it: Why didn't I do it sooner? Oh because I am garbage. Of course, if I do not reach my goal it proves I am garbage as well. Thus, I freeze. Why try? It results in pain.

I put off today's journal until I knew I would be interrupted. We had plans to take the dog to the park, so I sat down to start writing as my spouse was getting ready. When she was ready to go, I dropped the thoughts and dashed off. Once again, I put myself in the position where I would be unhappy. I should have written sooner. Now, I get to beat myself up about it. I should have said to my spouse, “I have identified that journaling is important. Can I have 20 minutes before we leave?” Instead, I stopped writing. I jumped to secure her happiness, I thought. Now, I can feel ashamed for not journaling and not speaking up about it.

There's a part of me that I very much dislike. There is a passive-aggressive tendency that I have a lot of difficulty recognizing. If I mention the incident to my partner now, there is a possibility that she will feel guilty. Thereby, transferring some of my guilt and shame to someone else. This may result in sympathy for me. I imagine that feels good because I rarely have sympathy for myself.

I have picked up on some of my passive-aggressive behaviors. I do a lot of teasing of those around me. I always have. It seems that some people believe I have a decent sense of humor. However, I noticed some of my teasing is a passive-aggressive, unflattering comment disguised with a smile and a chuckle. Comedy roasts only work when everyone knows it is a roast.

The reason I seem behave this way is out of fear. I do not want the spotlight on me. I do not want to give direct communication to someone because what if they do not like what I say? I will make a joke instead.

My friends and family around me may have experienced my passive-aggressive nature, or they haven't noticed. The issue is mine. Those teasing jokes are feeding my shame. They are reinforcing the neural pathways that are thriving on pain. I can ruminate about things I should not have done and said. And, the cycle continues.