Tag Archives: depression

And now You’re back…

Well… I’m back. Not so much from outer space, but more like from a chasm of complete disarray that has held me prisoner for most of this year. While I think a good many of us started out 2017 with some trepidation, I actually felt on pretty good footing in a personal sense. I saw some light in the financial tunnel that did not appear to be an oncoming train for once. My professional life was doing not badly. I had physical fitness and health well in hand… and… I should have known better.

Along about mid-year, the universe decided to test the aggregate limits of my mental fortitude by throwing every aspect of my life into a wood chipper. I can’t decide if it was strength test or more of an agility thing as I kept bobbing and weaving to dodge those “slings and arrows” that I’ve talked about before (my apologies to the Bard).

Every time I thought that I could quit paddling so hard and relax for a minute, something else would hit and off we’d go spinning towards the rocks. Grief is a helluva thing, y’all. So, I paddled faster and harder just to keep myself and those I love above water as best I could.

The upshot? Well, every time I thought I was inspired to come back to my faithful and loyal audience, all I could think is “What a load of depressing crap this is…?” and I didn’t feel like putting that off on any of you. But now that the year is starting to spin down, I’ve seen several of my friends and colleagues participating in NaNoWriMo. No, I’m not going to be enthralling any of you with fictional prose, because the truth is that I have no gift for that. There are way too many others of my acquaintance who are better suited. So, I will let them entertain all of us with their offerings… they are quite good, I’m telling you.

I will celebrate the month by trying to open up a bit more to you, my few readers. See if I can dust the rust off and come up with something that doesn’t read like a typed version of Droopy Dog or Eeyore on a Quaalude. Who knows? This might be just the treatment the doctor (and by doctor, I do mean me. Ha!) ordered. I didn’t lay down and die (no matter how much I might have felt like it at times). So… for now, I will survive.

 

If you’re happy and you know it…

…Come tell me how you did it. Seriously. Share that stuff.

Actually, less important than the how or even the why is just the sharing part. One of the things that has become abundantly clear with the spread of media and social media is that moods, emotions, and general vibes are contagious. I’m talking bubonic plague levels. Most people reading that will scoff and take the stance of “Airy fairy hippie wants to tell us all to ‘not worry and be happy.’” Nope. That’s not what I’m saying at all, but it is incredibly short-sighted and naïve to believe that we go through life carrying around our emotional baggage all on our own and it never impacts another living being… in our incredibly social culture and ridiculously small and ever-shrinking planet. Think about it.

I just failed a happiness quiz. Like, literally, one of those stupid little click-bait pseudo-personality-test things that tells you which Disney character you are or what animal you were in your past life? Yeah, one of those. This one was telling you what percentage of you is happy. If it were a final grade for any academic class on the planet, my percentage was a failing mark. I really should not have been at all astounded by these results. Seriously, would a truly happy person even take a ridiculous quiz like that. Beyond the consideration of my willingness to test the concept, how much faith would I actually put into quiz that some kid hopped up on orange soda probably put together on those auto quiz generation sites? And… that is a pretty significant question.

In my case, I looked at the results and thought, Can that be right? Am I that miserable? I don’t really feel that unhappy? Then, of course, I took the quiz again. It wasn’t me trying to scam the results. It was more that I wanted to pay more attention to the actual questions and answers. That’s when I started to get uneasy. The problem with the quiz was that the questions looked almost valid. I recognized various entries from mindfulness training and even depression inventories. There were a few that looked like they had been derived from one of those articles about the habits of happy people, but as a whole this particular quiz didn’t feel like bunk.

So, what did I do with that information? Well, I’ll tell you. I waited, and I took it again on a different day. I actually put a note in my planner to this effect. I also took it at a different time of day. Guess what I found… the results were slightly different, but on the whole too close to be a significant difference. Does that mean that an internet social media quiz can accurately judge happiness? Nope. I don’t believe it for a second. In fact, regardless of the results of that quiz, I do not believe that I am technically an unhappy person. I believe that I have a lack of satisfaction with certain aspects of my life and I worry too much about stuff that I cannot impact through my own actions. In short, I am a control freak. (And yes, there are some of you reading this that just said, No kidding.)

What I also found is that there is an awful lot of extraneous and worthless bull-pucky rampantly displayed and forced down our collective throats by the media and by social media on a daily basis. For the most part (minus puppies and kitties), the tone of this monumental tide of information tends to have a negative flavor. That includes giving an inordinate amount of fame and attention to complete asshats What? You thought by posting, reposting and saying look at what these hateful types are doing was a disservice?!? Hate to break it to you, but all attention is good attention for terrorists and extremists. Infamy works for them just as well as adulation…. But I digress. The news reported focuses on horrible behavior of humans against each other and diatribes from various hate (or power) driven entities. People rant and rage at each other for having differing opinions and outlooks… and they blame. While the world of social media has given birth and rise to a more monstrous “me” generation than the 80’s ever thought about, people use their right to free speech to fling abuse and general negativity with excessive abundance at their fellow creatures; and while they exercise their individuality and rights to hold opinions, they also crucify right left and center entire populations of other individuals en mass for holding differing beliefs and opinions than their own. They group all people who look the same or fall into the same race, ethnicity, or culture as if they are identical and could not possibly have individuality within those groups.  People who hold similar opinions or political beliefs are suddenly not distinct from one another. Friendships are torpedoed because of the expressed opinions or behaviors of complete strangers, and everything… I mean everything is offensive.

It has been said that 2015-16 is the era of the offended, that no one has a sense of humor anymore, and that people need to learn to ignore and move along. I can agree with that to a certain extent because planned ignoring  is the best way to deal with immaturity and acting out. I personally have a strongly developed ability to just scroll on by, unfollow, or block ridiculous or inflammatory crap with which I do not agree, and guess what… I don’t have to waste my energy getting offended by it in the process. On the other hand, I also believe that we’ve somehow lost the art of just having good manners, empathy, and the ability to consider others as individuals with just as much right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as we have. It seems that the whole world is caught in an enormous game of grossout/one-up/yo-mama with a side of “me first!”

And now, I’ve strayed so far from my original topic that I may never find my way back… um… oh, yeah… happiness. Too many people in the world think that happiness is a goal or a destination. William S. Bouroughs said, “Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war.” That one works pretty well. Eleanor Roosevelt said it better (in my opinion), “Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.”

That’s the ticket, isn’t it? When we live our own lives and stop worrying about or comparing it to what others are doing, I personally feel that it puts us in a better frame of mind to actually appreciate our present. Too many in this world talk themselves out of happiness or contentment by impatience or envy. We look out at the others around us and fail to see things that may be in our own lives. We look at circumstances and aspects of the world in which we live as if every single element is somehow impacting us personally… often when it has absolutely nothing to do with us at all. In moments of true contentment and peace, rather than just enjoying and being in that moment, we question our right to happiness. We literally talk ourselves out of the moment. We look for reasons to be sad, upset, disgusted, or outraged. Why is that? Is there something programmed within each of us that says that we are not experiencing life as a real event or with purpose unless we can find something to bitch about? Seems like a waste of a good life somehow, but I do it, too. So, I probably need to consider this the next time I’m talking myself out of enjoying a moment.

Something else that I have observed both in person and on social media is the negativity and venting vindictive spleen is not terribly helpful. Sure, the occasional extemporaneous rant can be a great release on pent up rage and swallowed disappointment. Sometimes it can be highly entertaining… but I said occasional. The more frequent or constant that the negativity is spewed forth, the more it begins to feed upon itself and become not so much a catharsis, but a spinning whirlpool of rage, hatred, or depression that sucks the spew-er in to drown in their own horrible mood and soul-sucking negativity. It often result in friends and family avoiding said individual (and/or blocking and hiding newsfeed). Misery may love company, but it tends to run off friends and family and seriously dissuade potential romantic interests.

Everyone has a bad day. To tell the truth, many have a lot of bad days that string together into larger measurements of time. However, the ones that seem to do the best with it aren’t dwelling on the negatives or comparing their own experiences with that of others. They do what I will call their “legitimate suffering” and get on about the business of living their lives. They acknowledge that the bad stuff happens. They let themselves feel the bad, and then they move through it into feeling not so bad and eventually better. Those that have more difficulty moving beyond the negative and get stuck occasionally need help figuring out why they are stuck and figuring out the best way to be unstuck. Sometimes that assistance can be from natural supports like family, friends, or faith. Sometimes it needs something more in the professional line.

The modern society has become very polarized in many ways about the experience of things that are perhaps less than happy. People are expected to “get over it and get on with your life” or be diagnosed and get medicated for it. I am the last person on earth to advise against professional assistance when it is warranted, but in the same line it is also completely normal to feel down, sad, or angry under certain circumstances. People do not perpetually walk around on sunshine with bluebirds and rainbows all the time. Everyone has times when they don’t feel so very chipper. It is also completely natural to have varying timeframes for the normal denouement of such emotions. Not everyone handles events such as grief, pain, loss, or trauma in the same way or within the same time. It is generally up to the individual to determine when “enough is enough.” When the experience of legitimate suffering is impacting the function of life in a significantly negative way, it might be time to seek a little assistance. For some, the energy to seek that assistance has run completely out, and that is where those natural supports can help, too.

And I see that I have once again gotten distracted from my point which was about emotional contagion and how we impact ourselves and others by our very act of sharing. I was actually going for less negative and more about the impact of sharing positive experiences with others. I do not believe that the whole world needs to embrace an overly cheerful, Polyanna-like approach to everything they experience. I personally enjoy sarcasm and the occasional prolific rant when things generally disgust or displease me. However, after years of over-venting, I know that cathartic outlets work because they are a pressure valve of letting things go in a blast and be done. If the process is repeated too often or too long, the exercise loses its potency and the negativity loop feeds on itself just becoming more and more nasty and miserable over time. However, when I share something that makes me feel good or laugh, I feel even better than when I just keep it to myself. When friends do the same in sharing things with me, I like to think that they get the same benefit (and I get to see something else that may make me feel good or laugh). It’s a much more positive cycle. So, that is why I say, if you’re happy and you know it, come tell me about it.

Bless the “teachers” in Life

 

teach

I have, for many years, labored under the delusion that the best teachers were those that got awards and children loved and talked about into their later years as remembering Mr. or Ms. So-and-so who inspired and believed and encouraged. I thought about those “Teacher of the Year” recipients as the ones who have imparted the greatest knowledge and wondered if I had been privileged enough to encounter more of them what my life would have been like. This was my delusion, as I stated previously, for so many years.

In my more recent times, I have come to realize that the teachers in our lives are not always pleasant, loveable, enjoyable, or painless. More often, sadly, it is the nature of human beings to learn as much from adverse stimulus as from pleasure (though, yes, I know that pleasure is more likely to create a stable pattern of behavior). The point being, I realized quite suddenly one day that some of the most unpleasant experiences of my life came with some remarkably powerful (if difficult) lessons.

What amazes me, consistently, is the way that people continue to replicate behaviors over and over expecting different results. Observing individuals run into the same brick wall over and over full tilt, even with people holding up signs, screaming, or trying to physically hold them back, has made me understand that gentle teachers cannot always make a difference until the subject is ready to learn. It is the definition of insanity, but they continue to do it. Over and over, they break themselves against an immovable obstacle… never noticing that they could walk around, or that there is a door in the middle.

But that wasn’t really where I was going with this. I wish that I was one of the people that seem to learn the lessons on the first try and enjoy the success. That doesn’t really seem to be how my brain works. Instead it seems that my brain only absorbs the lessons that life offers through the application of repeated beatings with sticks, figuratively.

What is worse is that I have had the opportunity to learn the lessons presented with less pain involved, but almost without exception, I find that the only way that the lessons truly take hold is with some dramatically unpleasant experience. I spent a lot of time resenting the “teachers” in my life, blaming them for my unhappiness and the memory of unpleasantness. I was angry, and I felt myself to be righteous in my anger towards those wielders of the educational stick (sometimes literally, for example the first grade teacher who broke the ping-pong paddle against my narrow back… yes, it happened. Corporal punishment was used in the stone age of my primary years). After a while (like maybe round about the end of my first abusive attempt at matrimony), I realized that the anger and resentment really wasn’t doing me any good and wasn’t making those who harmed me explode in large, impressive, Hollywood-style fireballs of glorious carnage (I guess I should have talked to Michael Bay about that?). Yes, you can tell I had some pent up rage going on. Point being? It was a waste of perfectly good emotional and cognitive energy. Sadly, even being able to let go of the negative emotions didn’t fix everything. It took one final stage before I truly got it.

For years, I had been told that I overestimate the emotional attachments of acquaintances. Not in a delusional, erotomanic way; more in the way of being open to new friendships and welcoming them into an almost familial acceptance. I think this goes back to my days of living in the military brat mentality. To survive, you either made friends intensely and fast, or you were antisocial and content to be alone. Obviously, these are the extremes, but I do believe that the experience of living overseas in a closed community and moving around about every three years changed how I viewed social acquaintances. It didn’t occur to me that my acceptance was one-sided. It was horribly naïve of me, I know. I’m a psychologist, after all. I have observed and counseled a variety of people over the years to remove themselves from damaging one-sided relationships where they were being used. Physician (or counselor), heal thyself!

One thing about the “teachers” is that if you are repeating the lesson, the learning aids get more and more obvious. Thanks to the many learning opportunities in my existence starting all the many years ago, I have finally learned a few things:

· Adults are fallible and sometimes cruel

· Human beings are indolent and typically will not go out of their way to inconvenience themselves only to benefit someone else

· Justice does not always mean a happy ending

· Being innocent does not always mean you escape punishment

· Being good doesn’t guarantee happiness or success or reward

· Loyalty is not always reciprocated

· Truth is not always believed

· People lie… a lot

· Pretty gets you more than smart (though smart lasts longer)

· The hardest worker will be rewarded with more work (if you have a task that needs to be done, look for a busy person)

· The good times are not when you find out who your friends are… It is when you are in need and at your darkest that you can see to weed out the users, fakers, and cheats. And more importantly? The truly hearty specimens of friendship are able to shine through the withering and choking vines.

· Being right sometimes sucks

· Generosity does not breed reciprocation, it merely renders the generous depleted (thanks, Shakespeare)

· Refusing help when you need it doesn’t make you strong

· People do not like change, especially when it means they can no longer predict outcomes or rely on someone to act the way they always have

· “Acting as if” works pretty darn well… (thanks, Aristotle)

Oh… and alcohol does not make people sing or dance better. That one is not as much a lesson I’ve been taught as an observation that I feel compelled to share whenever I have the opportunity.

This year has been especially enlightening due to several instances of having the curtain pulled back to reveal some rather devastating facts and severe disappointment in my own blindness: My horribly misplaced faith. This is all pretty dark, depressing, and cynical stuff. It isn’t all bad, though. I have been amazed and humbled by some of the truly beautiful, supportive, and decent people who were overshadowed by the more grandiose deceptions of others. Understated loyalty is a much stronger statement to me, now, than other more flamboyant displays, and resentment does absolutely nothing to assuage the pain of betrayal. These are just the lessons that I have been “taught.” I didn’t always want to learn these lessons. However, I will bless my “teachers” in hopes that if I have learned my lessons I will not have to repeat the grade.

Monster Spray: For Things that Go ‘Bump’ in Your Life

www.gocomics.com/9chickweedlane/2005/11/05
9 Chickweed Lane

Many people talk about being an optimist or a pessimist. They talk about drinking vessels with various descriptions of their contents as an assessment of being one of these. I’ve tried my hand at optimism, and I have been accused of being a pessimist; but in truth, I prefer to think of myself as a realist. I try not to expect the worst. I always try for the best outcomes, but I prepare myself for negative outcomes because I just want to have a fallback plan. Does that make me the harbinger of gloom and doom? Am I a Negative Nelly? I hope not. I certainly do not want to be.

In the course of human experience, I have found that my involuntary, sometimes unconscious response to events in my life, positive or negative, is to expect the worst and take what I get. If things turn out to justify my expectations, I’m never pleased with the results, but I use the outcomes to reformulate a plan to address the situation from a different approach. If things turn out better than I expect, I am relieved or elated. I worry that this approach is more negative than I would prefer, and knowing that negativity can actually serve as self-fulfilling prophecies in a neurolinguistic way, I have spent much effort attempting to change my way of thinking. The best I’ve been able to accomplish so far is to take a neutral stance in my expectations without giving bias to my fears or my wishes. It doesn’t work 100% of the time, though. I still find myself frequently looking over my shoulder and waiting for that alternate piece of footwear.

This is where that “expect the worst and take what you get” philosophy has really been the biggest detriment to my own peace of mind and happiness. While there may be some logical premise in expecting a negative outcome so that I am not surprised or disappointed, the side effect of this attitude is that I am not always able to relax and enjoy the positives that occur.

Perhaps it is a holdover from years of childhood superstitions and folk wisdom that became so ingrained that I cannot seem to shake off their lessons. Perhaps it is a result of traumatic experiences that have indelibly written their warnings on my memory to never get too comfortable with the good times of my life. No matter what the etiology, I find myself (like many others) when things are going too well looking under the bed for the monster, around the corner for the mugger, or over my head for the anvil. I know that I am not alone in this particular human frailty. There are many of us who cannot seem to enjoy life when it seems to travel smoothly avoiding the usual potholes that liter the road. It almost seems that we are tempting or cheating fate when all the stars and planets align to make the path we tread a bit too gentle and pleasant. We expect that other shoe to fall from the sky and squash us like a bug under one colossal heel.

I think it boils down to Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. Anxiety generally stems in some part from the lack of these needs being met. The first tier is the basic needs that each person has for living, in other words biological necessities. The second tier is safety, shelter, and access to resources. People who have threats to meeting these basic of all needs have no energy to expend on other tiers, which involve things like social interaction, belonging, and achievement. For people who have experienced these threats and overcome them, the fear of falling back to that level is sometimes so real that it is difficult to shake off the constant thought that at any time, all could be lost. For others, the fear of losing the respect and love of family or other social supports may be as overwhelming as the idea of wondering where the next breath or morsel of food might be obtained. We fear being defined by our mistakes with the tarnish of failure marking not only ourselves but anyone with whom our lives might be linked.

What it all boils down to is that regardless of what tier we manage to attain, most of us never reach the pinnacle of self-actualization (especially in the current economic and social climates) because like toddlers struggling with learning to walk presented with a staircase, we cling to our highest achieved step looking down with fear that we will plummet back to the bottom. Any rock climber will tell you, “Don’t look down!” To ascend to the top, it is important to keep eyes on your goal, not where you have been. It is easier said than done. The fear of failing, falling, and losing the tenuous ground we have worked so hard to achieve keeps us from risking whatever progress we have been able to attain, but it traps us in the lowest levels of mere existence.

For some, this can become a debilitating depression or anxiety that paralyzes action and activity, isolating us from friends and family or making us such a misery to ourselves that we even shun the company that misery always loves. I have often wondered why this trait plagues some more than others, or if there is some way to inoculate our psyches against such attacks as you might vaccinate yourself against epidemic illnesses prior to a trip to undeveloped territories. Why shouldn’t we have monster spray to ward of the evil unknown lurking in the closet of anxiety? Why can’t we arm ourselves with the Acme Anvil Umbrella (which also protects against falling foot fashions)?

So much of what happens in our lives is a matter of choice. I am not necessarily saying that we choose everything that happens within our experience, but I am saying that choice has a much bigger part in how we approach the life we live than we might realize. This isn’t a philosophy welcomed by many. If life is a choice, then we have to take responsibility for the bad that happens in our lives as well as for the good. Too many of us get caught in the trap of relegating the responsibility for the bad stuff happening to us to the realm of evil or other people who carry out the evil. That is why I have avoided even using the phrase “happens to us”; it implies an external locus of control and puts all the responsibility outside of ourselves. The contradictory part of the philosophy, for me, is that the same people who talk about things happening to them will usually be the first to claim the victory and success in their own actions. Now, before some of my readers start calling “foul,” I know that there are people who attribute all success and goodness in their lives to their higher power. That is very generous of them, and it shows an element of piety that precludes pride. However, I still think that is giving over to an external locus of control that does no honor to human spirit and dignity, and yes, even to the higher power to which you ascribe merit but deny the free will given to humanity by same. For without free will, what is piety and goodness. If it is not by choice, where lies the merit. However, I did not intend to go off on a religious or metaphysical tangent. So, I will try again…

We live by our choices. Consciously or unconsciously, it is true. By saying this, I am not (with intentional emphasis) saying that we choose the negative aspects of our life or the occurrences that impact us in less than positive ways. Our choices are limited to our own responses and actions. We cannot choose for others (with the exception of the relatively brief period of parenthood or some aspects of other types of guardianship and political decisions). We cannot choose the behaviors of others or how they will treat us, but we do have the choice in how we respond, react, and behave.

Our lives are a series of choices that we make. While there are contributions of physical and biological directives that compel some of the actions that we take, we are unlike the rest of the animal kingdom in the development of a prefrontal cortex in our brains that provide us the cognitive benefit of decision. We can decide, maybe not so much what occurs by the choices of others, but we have the power to choose our own emotional and behavioral responses. This may not seem like much of a superpower to some, but it’s is one of those “sleeper” powers that have more impact than you realize. If you believe in evil or a spirit of antagonism, the inability for those choosing to act against us to impact our spirit, will, and emotions greatly reduces their powers.

So back to those monsters and shoes and such… We do have a built-in monster bane that we just need to activate: The power of our choices. We may not be able to entirely dismiss the monster under the bed, but we have the choice of whether we allow it to prevent us from taking actions of our own. We have the choice of whether to allow the fear of loss or failure to paralyze us. I think that I will start making some active choices in my life about how I respond and what (and who) I allow in my life to impact my emotions and self-concept. Will I be free of the monsters and anvils, probably not, but I can try to reduce their perceived control.

9 Chickweed Lane is a daily comic strip by Brooke McEldowney. It can be found at http://www.gocomics.com/9chickweedlane