What The Shirt Says

0829140705I’m wearing a Batman T-shirt today … and I’m very nervous about that.

I don’t like stuff on my shirts. I just want a shirt that is plain – no logos, no slogans, no jokes, no band names, no television shows, no tags, no nothin’. I own the shirt I’m wearing today and a Captain America T-shirt only because I bought them to fit in with friends who bought comic book T-shirts to wear to comic book movie premieres. Ask me what my favorite shirt is and I’m likely to respond, “The blue one.”

As with most things in my life, though, this goes beyond just personal fashion sense. Fact is, I put way too much thought into what I’m going to wear each day. You wouldn’t know that by looking at me, since my daily wardrobe generally consists of a polo shirt or T-shirt with jeans or a pair of shorts, but you’d be amazed at how much thought I put into just picking out the color of the shirt I’m going to wear each day.

A poor choice of color, however, isn’t going to cause me that much stress. There’s just something about having something on my clothes that attracts people’s attention that bothers me, which is odd because one of my big frustrations in life is that I don’t feel like people pay much attention to me. No, my problem has to do with perceptions. People are going to make fun of a comic book shirt on a 40-year-old guy. People will think I’m poor because the brand name is cheap. People won’t like the band I’m a fan of. People will think the event I went to is silly.

In other words, whatever negative connotation that could be attached to what I’m wearing, that’s what I’m thinking of, so I assume that must be the first thing everyone else is thinking of.

The more self-confident readers are probably saying “Who cares what someone else thinks about your shirt?”, and I understand that. I’m a pessimist, though, whose view is often filtered through the lens of depression, so I almost instinctively find the silliness in things. Here’s an example of how I’ve been on the other end of this…

I noticed someone on Facebook the other day mentioned how much they loved the sports teams at the high school I graduated from. I’ve written here before about how youth and high school sports basically chewed me up and spit me out, so I stopped caring about how my school fared while I was still a student there. In fact, I don’t think I attended another sporting event at my high school after my sophomore year. Anyway, my first thought when I saw this on Facebook was, “Who the heck cares? I can’t believe someone would care that much about something so stupid.”

As soon as I thought this, I felt immediate conviction. This person actually did love the local high school sports teams. They would wear their T-shirts out in public and root for them on social media. Just because I didn’t think it was worth my time didn’t mean they should think it wasn’t worth theirs. Did that mean I had to share their enthusiasm? I don’t think so (Or, at least, I hope not.). I should at least be respectful of their passion, though.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter what I thought. They loved their high school sports, and who cares what I think about it? In the same vein, shouldn’t I be able to love comic books, video games, social media, ’80s rock, etc., etc.?

So I’m wearing a Batman shirt today … and it’s still bugging me.

 

 

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Counseling, Abandonment, & God

I have only one sibling, a brother who is seven years younger than myself. As a result, I have no idea what it’s like to have a sister. At times, I’ve described certain women as being “like a sister” to me, but in actuality I have no idea if they’re like a sister to me or not. I just knew we got along well and I never wanted to date them.

It’s sort of odd, then, that I now have two sisters-in-law (Or is it sister-in-laws? I’m never sure what’s correct.). I mean, they’re not my sisters, but they’re technically a part of my family now. In fact, one of them is not even married to anyone related to me, except that he’s my wife’s brother, who is sort of my brother because we’re in-laws. I guess that makes her my sister-in-law by in-lawness … or something like that.

One of the unexpected results of my first writing about my depression online was the number of people who sent me messages about how they had dealt with issues of their own. One of them was my sister-in-law (the one married to my brother-in-law), and we’ve compared notes a couple of times since then concerning our different experiences. One day we were discussing feelings of abandonment, and I remember thinking, “Eh, I’ve never really dealt with that too much.”

Apparently, I thought wrong.

For the first time in my life this weekend, I watched the movie Good Will Hunting. Remember the scene where Robin Williams’ good will huntingcharacter finally gets sick of Matt Damon’s character screwing around and kicks him out of his office? Welcome to my counseling nightmare. Somewhere inside me, I am convinced that one day I’m going to tell a counselor something so bizarre and frustrating that he or she will throw up their hands and say, “Whoa, dude. That is jacked up. I’m not sure I want to work with you anymore. Take a walk, and come back when you’re serious.”

Upon further inspection, however, I’ve realized my fear of getting “kicked out” goes beyond the counselor’s office. One day, I’m probably going to do something someone can never forgive me for. Or I’m going to mess up a relationship so bad a person will never want to speak to me again. Or I’ll alienate a family member to the point I never see them anymore. In my mind, these are not possibilities; they are inevitabilities. The only questions that remain are how am I going to do it and when is it going to happen.

As can be imagined, this has affected my personality just a teeny bit. I can be ridiculously non-assertive. I’ve hung onto relationships way longer than I should have simply because I didn’t want the other person to leave. I’m very shy, mainly because I’m pretty sure I’m going to say something stupid and embarrass myself. I don’t want to bother anyone, which, ironically, has probably actually caused me to have fewer close relationships in my life.

Where it really shows, though, is in my relationship with God.

It’s hard to live with a God you’re half-expecting to just throw up His hands and leave you one day. That’s how I’ve viewed him for a lot of years, though. Surely I was going to trip and fall enough times that I would wear out His patience. I’ve seen a lot of people use grace as a license to do pretty much whatever they wanted, so I guess over time the word sort of lost its meaning for me. Why would I need to “fear God” if He didn’t have a hammer He was ready to bring down on me? To repeat a phrase I’ve used about a million times before, “I know God loves me; I just don’t think He likes me very much.”

It was a revelation to me last year when, on a day I was incredibly late to a counseling appointment, the counselor I was meeting with didn’t get mad at me. It was a revelation to me this week when my wife chose to forgive me for a massive sin I had committed against her. It was a revelation this weekend when a good friend of mine dropped what he was doing to take a phone call from me. And it’s a revelation to me every day that God has allowed me to live 40 years on this earth without striking me down with a bolt of lightning.

Living without the fear of rejection must be a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, I know about as much about that as I do about being a brother to a sister. Maybe that’s why I have sisters-in-law … sister-in-laws … whatever.

Tuneful Tuesday: A Lot Of Things Different

People say they wouldn’t change a thing, even if they could
Oh, but I would

Much to my wife’s chagrin, one of my favorite movies of all time is 12 Monkeys. I’m a sucker for time travel, “Does it necessarily have to be that way or could the future be changed?” films. In 12 Monkeys, the theory appears to be that no matter who you do the future is always going to wind up the same way. In this case, Bruce Willis (SPOILER ALERT!!!) is always going to die at the airport, no matter what he does to avoid that. Or that’s how I interpreted the ending, anyway.

If someone offered me the chance to travel back in time, I would jump on it in a heartbeat. For someone with so many imperfections, I am a rabid perfectionist, and the opportunity to erase my mistakes is highly appealing to me. I am also dogged with regrets, and there are some days I would do anything to blot those out as well. “But what about the ‘butterfly effect’? You might change the future!” Yep, I don’t care; I’m goin’ back. Now.

I honestly wouldn’t know another Kenny Chesney song if you played it for me right now, but I caught this one under the absolute perfect conditions on a drive home several years ago. Late night, lonely roads, mind wandering… I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by the vocal, but the atmosphere and the lyrics immediately caught my attention. I didn’t even know the name of the song or the artist for several years; I just remembered there was a song about a guy who would go back and change everything.

Go ahead and scold me for living with regrets, but I’ve never been a “I regret nothing!!!” kind of person. So when I hear Chesney sing “I’d do a lot of things different…”, I know exactly what he’s talking about. Exactly.

Just Stop It

“So, that’s my story. I really want to stop, but I don’t know how.”

“Well, the first thing you should do is stop…”

Ah, yes, the circular reasoning most of us apply to the addict. Obviously, what would help the addict most is to simply stop whatever it is they are addicted to. If it’s smoking, stop smoking. If it’s overeating, stop eating so much. If it’s pornography, stop looking at pictures of naked women (or men). I mean, it’s not exactly rocket science.

Right?

matthew perryConsider the following quote from the Psychology Today website: “When referring to any kind of addiction, it is important to recognize that its cause is not simply a search for pleasure and that addiction has nothing to do with one’s morality or strength of character.” Or consider the words of actor Matthew Perry: “A lot of people think that addiction is a choice. A lot of people think it’s a matter of will. That has not been my experience. I don’t find it to have anything to do with strength.”

What makes an addict an addict? Not being able to resist compulsions. In other words, what makes an addict an addict is the fact that they’re addicted to something. If it were as easy as just stopping, they would probably have stopped by now.

Do some people need a firm word or a swift kick in the pants to get their heads straight? Yeah, definitely. Not everyone is able to respond to that, though. Call it a lack of will power or chemical dependency or an addictive personality or whatever, but there are those who just can’t flick the switch and turn it off. They struggle.

And for years I’ve sat in the judgement seat and pointed my finger at them.

I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get how someone could be an alcoholic and still be a decent person. I didn’t get how someone could drift in and out of rehab and still have a place in society. I didn’t get how someone could look at pornography and claim to care about their marriage and family.

I didn’t understand addiction. And I didn’t understand mercy or grace.

I want to just stop judging the addict. I’ve been where they are, and most days I am where they are. I want them to feel free to come forward and ask for help without fear. I want them to be able to just stop hiding and get the help they need.

Sometimes “just stopping” isn’t that easy, though.

Tuneful Tuesdays: No One Knows What It’s Like

In the great pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll, The Who has always stood out as a group I never quite “got.” They have all the elements of a band I should be a big fan of – gritty lead singer, tasteful guitar player, monster bass player, and go-for-broke drummer – but something about their music never connected with me. Maybe it’s because the arrangements would occasionally jerk around abruptly or production just wasn’t as good back then. I think a larger issue, though, is I just couldn’t put up with Pete Townshend whining all the time.

Occasionally, however, he would come across a lyric I could identify with, even if the execution was never quite there. One of those instances occurred in the song “Behind Blue Eyes.” Some great lyrics, but the song shifts awkwardly in the middle section and sort of pulls me out of what’s going on. Thankfully, though, several years down the road another group would give the song a new and unexpected new life – well, for me anyway.

I am a lover of all things Irish. Heck, with a last name like “Sheridan” it’s practically a requirement. Traveling to Ireland one day is currently at the top of my bucket list, and I seem to add new reasons to want to go every day. The music from there does something to my soul whenever I hear it, and you can’t listen to Irish music for very long without running across The Chieftains. On their 1992 project An Irish Evening, the group is joined by Roger Daltrey for a live version of “Behind Blue Eyes” that is, in my opinion, superior to the original version.

Since this is “bad guy” week here on the blog, I thought this song was particularly fitting, since it basically talks about, well, being a bad guy. And since I never pass up a chance to share an Irish song, here’s a link featuring The Chieftains, Roger Daltrey, and a very young Jay Leno. As Sean O”Casey once said, “All the world’s a stage, most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”

We Could Be Heroes

Robin Williams threw me for a loop last week. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the guy, so of course I kept writing things about him here. In fact, I think everyone with a blog was writing about him last week. I don’t know if any of us actually contributed much to the overall discussion of Williams’ passing, but I think we all needed to try to deal with it in some way.

keep-calm-and-be-a-good-man-1My original intent last week, however, was to examine whether bad behaviors could be viewed separately from a person’s overall character. What I mean by that is, if a person’s activities or habits are not good, does that mean they are not a good person, or can what they do be separated somehow from who they are?

Let me recount a story for you from about three years ago, when my dad passed away. A lot of people came up to me and said some very nice things about my dad, my mom, and my family. Not that I wasn’t moved by anything I heard, but I managed to keep myself composed for the most part. The only thing that really broke me down was a statement most guys would love to hear, and it was directed at me: “You’re a good man.”

The reason it bothered me to hear that was because I didn’t think it was true. In fact, I knew it wasn’t true. They didn’t know all the stuff I kept hidden from everybody else. I felt like a screw up and a failure most of the time. I wasn’t a good person at all. I felt guilty even hearing people say that about me.

Flash forward to today when I was having a discussion with someone about not feeling like a very good man. As I was explaining how I didn’t feel I could be a good person because of sins I had been wrestling with for years and years, I was hit with a statement I’ve been chewing on all day: “Why don’t you believe you are a good man and start acting like it?”

At first, I wanted to throw this out as “Build it and they will come” crap, but the more I thought about it the more I realized there was megamind-first-5-minsa certain validity to what they were saying. It’s sort of the Megamind syndrome: If you believe you’re the bad guy, you’re going to think all you’re capable of is doing bad things. What if you thought you were actually capable of good deeds, though? What if you thought you could actually be good enough? Would it not only change the way you thought about things, but also the way you did things?

It’s an interesting point to ponder, and one I’m going to be seriously considering. I’m not sure if my depression is the reason for this, but I’ve never had a particularly high view of myself. I’ve never felt very adequate. And my sin, well, my sin is just the worst, you know. Much worse than anyone else’s. All this begs another question: Do I act like I’m no good because deep down I really believe I am no good?

guardiansFrom the aforementioned Megamind to this summer’s smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy, the world seems to be full right now of stories where the bad guys suddenly realize they don’t have to be bad anymore. This causes them to rise up and do noble things. Maybe the world is catching on and getting better. And maybe I need to follow suit.

The Drugs We Crave

You’ve heard it before. You’ve been driving somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, be it to catch an early flight or to work the ufoearly shift at your job, and started scanning the radio dial. You flipped past some music, but somehow that just didn’t seem appropriate. You wanted something more subdued, more relaxing, so you began to seek out the talk radio stations. And that’s when you found it – that program that discusses UFOs as if they are a totally real phenomenon.

For the record, I have a difficult time believing in life on other planets coming to visit ours. I just don’t think they could have done it without some type of definitive proof being captured by now. In this age of leaks and the internet and satellite technology and who knows what other means of making sure nothing ever stays a secret for very long, it’s impossible for me to believe not one concrete piece of evidence exists to prove the existence of UFOs. True believers, you may begin spamming me now at your leisure.

At any rate, I came across one of these programs on my way in to work this week, and perhaps out of a desire to be entertained or a need to shake my head in disbelief at something to stir myself awake, I began to listen to it. The program I’m referring to is Coast To Coast AM with George Noory. Noory’s guest that morning was Dr. Peter Breggin, who, according to the Coast To Coast website, is “a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and former full-time consultant with NIMH who is in private practice in Ithaca, New York.” What held my attention on this particular morning was the topic of discussion – the suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams.

dr-marvin-monroe-7Now, I know nothing about the validity of Dr. Breggin’s credentials as they are spelled out on the website. He may as well be Dr. Marvin Monroe from The Simpsons for all I know. Regardless, he was bringing up some very significant points on this particular morning concerning Williams’ death. For one, he pointed out how cruel and difficult the manner of death seemed to be. The method Williams chose to end his own life was not an easy one. He also mentioned how Williams’ years of drug and alcohol use could not have been beneficial to the activity in his brain.

And it was then, in the middle of this unusual forum at an ungodly hour of the day, Dr. Breggin said posed a question that made as much sense as anything I’ve heard in a long, long time: “Why do we always crave the drugs that are going to lead us deeper into depression?”

Dr. Breggin was referring to drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines, to name a few, but he could have been talking about a great many things we wouldn’t consider to be “drugs.” Pornography. Affairs. Excessive use of the internet. Self-pity. Hours upon hours of playing video games in darkened rooms. Promiscuous sex. Many people might look at this list and say, “Look, I don’t see anything wrong with any of that. Those things are part of my life, and I feel perfectly fine.” Maybe so. To many, though, any one of these items could have opened a portal to the dark world of depression.

The fallen part of us chases these things, though. We see sin, and we know its consequences, but so many times we charge after it anyway. Then the guilt comes pouring in, and it can only take us down, down, down. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Dr. Breggin didn’t know it, but he was describing the sin nature in all of us, the desire to do the very things we know will destroy us.

For the apostle Paul, the only deliverance from this kind of behavior was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the only deliverance for me. It’s the only deliverance for you. Cognitive therapy, counseling, psychology… These all have their place, but they cannot deal with the issue of sin. Only the grace of God can do that. I may doubt the existence of flying saucers and strange visitors from other planets, but I do not doubt that.

Missed It Again

Another week, another missed “Tuneful Tuesdays.” Sigh…

Is there any more perfect music video in existence than R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”? I don’t think so. I don’t even like the song all that much, but when you match it with the images in the video it takes on a whole other dimension. I actually have the song on my iPod strictly because of how much I liked the video. It’s beautiful.

If you haven’t seen it before, watch it now.

It’s Yours

“Sometimes I actually wish something had happened to me.”psychological-trauma-300x300

Even typing the words out in front of me, it still seems unbelievable I ever said them. In the course of discussing my past history and what might have caused my depression, I actually said those words. Why would I wish that? Why would I actually desire that something unfortunate happen to me?

Because it would give what I was going through some significance.

I have friends who have been stalked, molested, divorced, injured, operated on, verbally abused, and cheated on. Some of them were able to move on, some needed some help, and some are still dealing with the fallout.  They have a reason to be depressed. What the heck ever happened to me? Granted, I’ve had my bumps here and there, but nothing like that. At least I could focus on a certain circumstance or event. How am I supposed to deal with just general sadness and confusion?

I’ll never forget the response I received to that first sentence (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Whether or not you feel like the reason for your depression is significant, the pain you are feeling is entirely real to you.”

A catastrophic event in someone’s life would certainly be a reason for them to be depressed. At the same time, not getting a particular grade on a test may also cause those feelings. Should the latter instance be discounted because the circumstances are less significant? In some instances, probably. Some people just like to whine. In other cases, though, that bad grade may feel like the end of the world, especially if the person receiving it is presupposed to depressive moods. The events can hardly be compared, but the magnitude of the feeling can be wholly equal.

I was recently talking with someone about post-traumatic stress disorder, and he said one of the keys to dealing with it is to own the feelings that accompany it. Basically, if you deny anything is wrong, you can’t begin to deal with the symptoms. I believe the same can be said of depression. So many times the temptation is there to push it down because what happened to us doesn’t seem bad enough to warrant the heaviness. We feel as if we should be able to straighten out our own thinking, especially when there doesn’t seem to be any reason to feel the way we do.

Someone needs to hear this. If you’ve led an uneventful life but still feel depression at your door, it is real. If you’ve been through a traumatic experience but you think you can’t ask for help, you can. If you’ve wondered why you feel different than you think you should, talk to someone about it. There is no bar of significance one has to clear to be deemed worthy of experiencing depression. If you are dealing with it, it is your whole world.

If you need to just get over it, I’m sure a counselor will be able to tell you that pretty quickly. I’m going to bet, though, that if anything I’ve written here today touched a chord with you they won’t turn you away. That pain you’re feeling? It’s yours. It’s real. It’s significant. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. Nothing has to happen to you to validate the way you feel. Don’t just pack it all away. Reach out. Seek help.

Remember, it’s yours. Only you know how bad it is. No one else ever will unless you tell them.

 

Death In The Family

I had intended on starting a series of posts today reflecting on whether or not bad behaviors necessarily mean people are bad themselves … but my heart just isn’t in it.

There must be some way to stop all this death.

Suicide is such a frightening word to consider, and it occupied a space in the news both in the county I live in and on the national level Robin WIlliamstoday. Out of respect for the family (and because I don’t really know what happened), I won’t say too much about the local instance, other than to say it allegedly involved a gunshot wound to the head. Everyone probably knows about the national news by now: Robin Williams is dead.

Authorities are stating that Williams cause of death is believed to be “a suicide due to asphyxia.” I’m sure if you glanced at the top of this page, you noticed the word “Christian” in the blog title. I know little to nothing of Williams religious affiliations, but he seemed at times to not exactly be fond of Christianity as a whole (even though he was raised in a very religious home). His language, particularly in his stand-up routines, could be off-the-charts crude. He was one of the funniest men alive, but I’m not sure what was in his soul.

None of that mattered today. When I read the news that Robin Williams had died, I felt as if I had lost a family member. And that made me very, very sad.

There was a certain tenderness beneath all the madcap antics Williams put on display. That tenderness emerged later on in his acting career in movies such as AwakeningsGood Will Hunting, and even Patch Adams (which may contain the funniest joke ever involving gynaecology). And there were also the numerous trips to rehab for alcohol and drug addiction, and, finally, the severe depression he was apparently battling prior to his death.

Through his comedy and acting, he was a part of my life. Through his struggles, I learned he was a human being, just like me.

I don’t know that a faith in God could have eased Williams’ mental suffering and the anguish that led him to apparently take his own life. Part of me wonders how he managed to make it through so many other trials only to commit suicide at the age of 63. At some point, the struggle overtook him, and he couldn’t find the strength to go on.

There must be some way to stop all this death.

Interestingly, in a post on Williams’ own Take That blog site from 2011, he wrote about how he didn’t have to be enslaved by feelings of sadness and depression. I only wish these words could have sustained him today…

“We do get ‘hard wired’ by certain things about ourselves, negative soul/life destroying stuff … seems impossible to get out of. It isn’t, it’s a choice.

“Things can change. I can choose happy … what a gift.”