TMI?

brain-gameI am 99.9 percent sure I have mentioned this before, but just in case I haven’t, I love the National Geographic Channel series Brain Games. The way the human mind processes information, balances chemical and emotional factors, and even sometimes tricks itself into believing various things fascinates me. As someone who over-analyzes everything to death, the series is a small slice of heaven on earth for me.

I follow Brain Games on Facebook (www.facebook.com/braingames), and yesterday an article appeared on the show’s feed that I felt the need to go read immediately. Titled “Why the Modern World is Bad for Your Brain,” the article contains an excerpt from the book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, written by Daniel J. Levitin. In a nutshell, the article outlines how the fact that human beings have more information to technology and more capacity to obtain information than ever before is actually bad for their brains.

Rather than attempt to inject myself into the conversation concerning this article, I’m just going to post a link to it and see what you think about it. Then maybe I can follow up on it later. In all honesty, I’m about to fall asleep at my keyboard right now, which is possibly an indicator my brain needs to shut down for the day as well.

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Alone

It’s always amazed me that it is so difficult in this world to forge lasting relationships, but it is so very easy to wind up alone.

Lasting relationships require hours upon hours upon hours of getting to know someone. They require regular, consistent contact. They require honesty and commitment. They require the ability to apologize and admit when you’re wrong about something. They require sacrifices of time, effort, and sometimes even money. And they have to be constantly maintained.

Losing relationships, however, is a relatively simple thing to do. Just insult someone, directly or indirectly. Just miss your monthly or weekly lunch date a few times. Just get busy enough with work or kids or other obligations that you stop going out as much. Just don’t use the phone as often or email anyone or leave comments or messages on social media.

beach-fog-figure-1-ls-120120527_1721Imagine a scenario in which you’re walking with a large group of people. Suddenly, you all begin to enter a deep, thick fog. You’re aware of where everyone else is as you step inside, but you gradually begin to lose sight of them, one by one. Soon, you’ve made your way deep into the heart of the area, and you can’t see anyone. Even worse, none of them can see you either. You’re isolated, lost, and you don’t know how to get back to where you started from.

This is what seasons of feeling alone seem like to me. I know at one point I was in a place where I had plenty of good, reliable relationships. Then things start to get busy. Or I start to feel my depression a little bit more. Or my friends start to fade away a little. It’s not rare in these times for me to look around and ask, “Where did everybody go? What happened?”.

I believe these seasons are fairly natural for all of us. We all experience times when it seems we’re adrift on an island somewhere. Some people, however, are better equipped to handle these times than others. Confident people easily realize that their lives will eventually return to a normal social pattern, either with the relationships they had before or with new ones.

Those with depression or anxiety, though, often struggle through these seasons. We don’t understand where everyone went, and we’re not brave enough to reach out and ask anyone what happened. We’re not confident in ourselves or our ability to forge new relationships, so we become afraid things will always be this way, even though somewhere in the backs of our minds we know they won’t be. We fiercely try to hang on to any relationship we do have, because we dread those times when it feels as if no one is there.

Perhaps the worst part of feeling so alone for someone with depression is that we are simultaneously angry at the people we feel abandoned us and at ourselves for not reaching out more to avoid feeling so alone in the first place. So, a lot of the time, we just stew. It’s an anger that’s difficult to explain. It’s like attempting to punch your way out of a box you sealed yourself up inside. And there is still that part of you that sort of likes being alone and tries to convince you it’s really not that bad, even though you’re suffocating emotionally.

Strong people, this is when your depressed friends need you most. Invite them over to your house. Go see a movie with them. Meet them at a Starbucks for coffee. Randomly call or text them during the day. If you think they’ve been avoiding you, well, maybe they have been, but it hasn’t always been because they didn’t want to see you. They may have just not had the strength to reach out to you.

If any of this sounds hard, it is. The alternative is easy.

Too easy.

Tuneful Tuesday: Understanding The Dark

When Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the U.S.A. exploded onto the music scene in 1984, I had no idea who “The Boss” was. I grew up in a house where my dad was listening to “Outlaw Country” artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings while Springsteen was making a name for himself in rock ‘n’ roll circles, so hits such as “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” were foreign to me. As far as I knew, Born in the U.S.A. was this guy’s breakout album.

The first real memory I have of seeing Springsteen in action was in the video for the single “Dancing in the Dark.” I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the heavy synth lines in the song were something of a departure from The Boss’s usual guitar rock. I also remember thinking, despite the late-in-the-video heroics of a young Courtney Cox, “Man, this dude can’t dance.” The song was catchy enough, even though I wasn’t wild about the saxophone solo near the end. Yes, I didn’t know who Clarence Clemons was at the time either.

Beyond not knowing my rock history back then, however, I also didn’t really get the song, possibly because I was around 10 years old at the time and thought nobody wrote better songs than Michael Jackson (who, ironically, did not write a large majority of his own songs). The lyrics just didn’t make any sense to me. Something about writing a book and being bored and working as a gun for hire and, naturally, dancing in the dark. I was light years away from being able to decipher what any of that meant.

As a 40-year-old man, though, “Dancing in the Dark” reads a lot like my life some days. “I ain’t nothin’ but tired/Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself.” I don’t know how many times I’ve felt that way about myself in the past several years. “I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face.” Yeah, there have been plenty of times where I just wanted to scrap everything about myself and start all over again. What I thought was a goofy pop song as a kid was actually a guy singing about hitting his midlife years and not knowing what in the world to do with himself. He just knew he wanted something. I can relate totally to that now.

I heard this song on the radio last week, and I completely “got it.” I had been working my way up to an understanding of it for the past few years, but it finally clicked. Sometimes these things just take a while, I guess. Now, the dancing and the sax solo? I’m still working on those.

My Basketball Diary (Go Get It)

NCAA Basketball:  MAR 11  Cal Poly at Long Beach StateIt seems as if a large majority of my life these days is revolving around basketball. My two oldest daughters are playing for a local private Christian school and practicing three nights a week (unless one of those nights is a game night, in which case they are, obviously, playing a game), and my oldest son just started playing his first season of Upward Basketball, which consists of one night of practice a week and one game every Saturday. These two factors combined mean our family could potentially be involved in some type of basketball-related activity five days a week, every week.

The irony of this is that, at one point in my life, basketball nearly destroyed me. The elementary school and little league years were enjoyable enough, but pretty much from the seventh grade on it was a near torturous experience every year. Just so I don’t have to recount the whole saga again, just go read this earlier post. I was (and still am) severely apprehensive about letting my children play any type of sports, mainly from the fear they will have an experience similar to mine.

I feel so foolish for still flashing back to those days and letting them having any type of hold over me, but all this basketball lately has caused me to dredge them up again. This time, though, instead of feeling silly for recalling them, I’ve begun to see that they really do still have a hold on me. This isn’t some tale of an old guy lamenting his lack of glory days as a jock, though. This is the story of how perceptions formed as a teenager or adolescent can follow someone into their adult life and cause them all kinds of problems along the way.

My oldest daughter, in my opinion, has the potential to be a very good basketball player. She has a good skill set, a rapidly developing shot, decent speed, and enough size to get by. The only thing I’ve seen that is holding her back right now is she is not aggressive enough. Some people might even say she’s not mean enough. She doesn’t look for her own shot. She prefers to pass off to the older, more experienced players. She shies away from physical contact, which limits her on defense and rebounding. I feel as if she is right on the cusp of becoming someone who could get more minutes on the floor, if she only assert herself a little more.

I am absolutely terrified to tell her this, though.

Why would a father be afraid to dispense some potentially helpful advice like this on to his child? Because that is the same thing he was told when he played – over and over and over again. I cannot recall how many times I was told I did not want “it” bad enough. “It” could mean a number of different things back then. “It” could mean more playing time. “It” could mean a rebound or a loose ball. “It” could mean simply that my attitude didn’t seem up to par that day. “It” basically became everything I couldn’t – or, in the eyes of my coaches, wouldn’t – accomplish.

Now, I am not going to lie and say I have never missed out an opportunity because I didn’t try hard enough. preview_minEveryone has had to learn that life lesson at one point or another. What I heard from all those admonishments from coaches, however, eventually translated into this for me: You do not have it in you to accomplish what you want. I never realized until recently how I took this line and ran with it. I’ve backed away from opportunities for years, always thinking the reason I missed out was because I just didn’t want “it” bad enough. In reality, though, I was simply going along with what I was told; I didn’t have it in me to succeed. I wasn’t aggressive enough or talented enough to achieve anything.

As a result, I’ve lived a life of “almost” successes. I’ve been pretty good at a lot of things, but never great at any of them, mainly because I never believed I could be anything above average. Most days, I still feel that way. How, then, can I look at one of my kids and tell them, “You’re pretty talented, but you just need to try harder”? Sometimes that’s necessary, but not when they are giving something all they’ve got, like my daughter is doing with basketball right now. She needs to have a chance to figure this out on her own, not be endlessly told how she’s “just not getting it.” Because if you’re told that long enough, you start believing it.

Do I “get it” today? I don’t know. Most days, I don’t feel as if I’m trying hard enough, that the majority of my failures come from a basic flaw in my personality that can’t be overcome. I don’t believe I have what it takes to succeed. I have let a decades-old opinion of me dominate a large majority of my life. Can I break that pattern now?

Depends on how bad I want it, I guess.

Faith

IMG_0263A little over a week ago, I received a request on Twitter to review a book on this blog. Since no one has ever asked me to review a book here (or anywhere else for that matter), I immediately jumped at the opportunity and received my copy of Your Self Sabotage Survival Guide: How to Go From WHY ME? to WHY NOT? in the mail a few days later.

The request was prompted by a post I wrote here titled “Perhaps I’ve Said Too Much,” which discussed how I focus so much on negative things about myself that I often self-sabotage my own efforts to achieve success. My use of the hashtag “#selfsabotage” must have attracted the good folks at Career Press, and they extended the offer for me to review the book. A perfect match, right?

Well, not quite. To be clear, Your Self Sabotage Survival Guide is a finely written book which excellently conveys author Karen Berg’s enthusiasm for helping people rise above various attitudes and behaviors which can hold them back in life. The emphasis of this site, however, deals more with everyday life issues, while Berg’s book focuses more on achieving success in the business world. For example, whereas Berg’s book dedicates an entire chapter to the importance of personal appearance, this blog is much more likely to discuss how depressed people can sometimes have problems getting out of bed to make it to the closet where their shirts are located.

So while I read the book and recognized what an excellent job Berg was doing talking to her target audience, I found myself not really paying a lot of attention to what she had written. While I did not readily identify with many of the behavioral tips she offered, however, I always got a clear sense of where she was coming from: We can often do just as much to hold ourselves back as anyone else can, and sometimes we have to make a conscious effort to change not only how we view ourselves but also how we act. As I mentioned in my last post here, coming to terms with that mindset has been difficult for me, but I think I’m finally starting to get it a little more.

One chapter in Berg’s book did stand out for me, and it had to do with faith. There are no Christian sentiments expressed in the book, but observe what Berg says about the topic of faith:

“Faith is belief. Faith is what makes you know that even without immediate proof, the choices you’ve made and the course you’re on are the right ones.”

For all the talk I’ve done about depression and fear and anxiety and lack of success, I’m not sure I’ve ever been entirely convinced I could be free from any of it. For so long, I’ve looked back on large chunks of my life and felt as if I hadn’t been at such a disadvantage physically or socially or economically I might have succeeded, when in many instances the real truth was that I didn’t think I could succeed no matter what the circumstances. Not smart enough, not handsome enough, not outgoing enough, not talented enough. Other people may have tried to put all those labels on me, but I’m that one that chose to believe them.

IMG_0264Earlier this week, I bought a new watch. I got it at Walmart, and I think it looks nice. Someone at work was asking me about it, and immediately I began to say, “Well, it’s just a Casio from Walmart…” No matter what it cost or where it came from, it’s still a nice-looking watch. Why did I feel the need to downplay anything positive about it? It tells the time just as well as a $200 watch would. It may not have as many bells and whistles as a more expensive watch, but it does the same job just as well.

I’ve written here in the past about how depression is something I’ll have to cope with and adjust for every day, and that is indeed true to a certain extent. I can also choose to believe, however, that my adjusting efforts will be successful and that I can lead a well-balanced life and not have to live in fear of falling of the edge of the precipice all the time. I can stop self-sabotaging my own life.

If you are stuck in a career or life rut and would like to begin redefining yourself, I have no problem suggesting Your Self Sabotage Survival Guide as a fine starting point for your efforts. Again, the book is written by Karen Berg and is published by Career Press. It may not have been exactly what I was looking for, but it may be exactly what you need.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

If you’re a follower of this blog, you probably noticed there wasn’t any “Tuneful Tuesdays” post here yesterday. In fact, there wasn’t any post at all here yesterday. The explanation for this is pretty simple.

Yesterday sucked.

External factors were certainly involved. My mom is in the hospital right now with the symptoms of what is likely chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). My youngest daughter had a case of strep throat this week. My two oldest daughters are still playing basketball for a local Christian private school, practicing three days a week, and my oldest son has started Upward Basketball now as well. And, of course, as with any job, there has been no shortage of workplace drama to occupy my time.

Certainly a list such as this could cause a day to not go so well. The real problems, though, were internal, with me. I threw the day away. I stayed on the internet too much. I didn’t get enough work done. I was irritable with those around me. I did morally disappointing things I won’t discuss here. All of this put me in a state of agitation, guilt, shame, and depression. In short, I found some mud, and I wallowed in it.

Identity-ChrisYM-Blog-4-In the midst of all this, I began taking a new antidepressant yesterday. Most antidepressants don’t really start showing any effects until after a few weeks of use, so there is obviously going to be an adjustment period. I was discussing this with someone yesterday when they gave me a somewhat unexpected admonition: Be very careful to not to start identifying yourself too closely with what you’re dealing with. In other words, just because you struggle with depression, don’t let your whole life be about that.

So yesterday was a train wreck, today was me coping with the fallout of everything that happened the day before, and tomorrow will be … what? Well, I know what it could be. It could be another day of me filtering everything through the lens of a person who is struggling with depression. Someone who is going to do the best he can to cope with the struggles he faces. Someone who has to fight back the various temptations that have dogged him for years, temptations that will never go away.

Or…

Instead of focusing on the symptoms of my depression, maybe I could focus on ways to alleviate those symptoms. Better yet, I could start living as someone who has figured out what was going on with himself mentally and has taken strides to improve himself. I could put safeguards in place to avoid those temptations and realize I am someone who can overcome them. I could stop dwelling on all the things I’ve done wrong in the past and start living in the present instead. I could take one step at a time instead of attempting to review the past 20 years and map out a strategy for the next 20.

I started this blog to offer encouragement for those struggling with depression or mental issues. I wanted to let people know they weren’t alone, that someone else out there knew how they were feeling. Somewhere along the way, though, I became more focused on problems than solutions. I never want to pretend I have all the answers. In fact, I generally don’t like bloggers who claim to. If I don’t begin to think like an overcomer again, though, I am doomed to just keep repeating the same miserable days over and over again. When I went in for counseling over a year ago and began taking medication, I didn’t do it so I could remain the same. I did it so my days would get better.

So, to summarize… Yesterday, bad. Today, rebuilding. Tomorrow, hopeful. All I can do is move on. I haven’t been doing very much of that lately. Tomorrow would be a good day to start again.

Five People

I work with a gentleman who is 72 years old. He’s a rather interesting fellow. He once managed a radio station, ran his own advertising company, and now lives on a houseboat (I don’t know, there’s just something interesting about living on a boat.). He also possesses a Masters degree in Psychology, which means I pick his brain quite often concerning mental health issues.

i-wonder-how-other-people-see-meMore often than not, though, he uses his education and experience to discern different things about me. For example, after I told him this morning about the long walk I was able to take by myself this past Saturday, he said a psychiatrist once told him to not feel guilty about getting out and doing things on his own every now and then. Then he looked at me and said, “I bet when you did that (i.e., went for the walk), you felt like you were abandoning someone or letting them down.”

Ping.

As a result of instances such as this, I tend to listen very closely when this gentleman dispenses any type of psychological advice. Now, I have always shied away from the “Choose one word to describe me” types of Facebook posts or cornering people into telling me what they think of me. It just feels too much like manipulation. I mean, what person is going to write or say in plain, public view, “Yeah, you’re kind of a jerk”? After something my co-worker said this morning, however, I may have to give this a shot.

He told me someone once recommended that he go to five people – family members, friends, whatever – and ask them what they thought about him. I would have completely brushed this idea aside if not for a reaction I received from the last piece I posted here this past Saturday. After posting a link to what I wrote on Facebook, one of my best friends from school messaged me and said, “That did not sound like the guy I remember.” That made me wonder… If one person didn’t see me the way I saw me, I wonder if others didn’t either?

So I’m posting this to look for my five people. Or it could be more than that. Send me a message on Facebook. Message me privately here. Send me a message on Twitter. If you know me well, great. If you don’t know me that well, take a shot in the dark. This is my little experiment, and I may immediately regret doing it, but I thought I’d give it a try. Maybe I’ll even hear from you.

The Myths Of Me

I would consider my teenage years to be largely wasted ones. I have no way of knowing, but I believe the depression I wrestle with today had me firmly in its grip even back then. It’s not that I don’t remember any happy times at all, but I don’t remember many that weren’t overlapped by the shadows that lurked in my mind. There was lots of confusion, anger, and sadness, even more than the usual teen mind is able to muster.

As a result, I formed a lot of perceptions about myself which were almost entirely negative. My self-esteem was virtually non-existent. These beliefs about myself were so powerful that I carried a large majority of them into adulthood. In fact, most days I feel as I’ve hardly grown at all over the years. This is who I thought I was then and, on many days, who I believe I am now:

– Unattractive physically
– Shy and awkward
– Immature emotionally
– Talentless
– Unappealing to the opposite sex
– Too skinny
– Not athletic enough
– Unable to obtain what I wanted
– Unsure of what I wanted to do with my life

All of this doesn’t even take into account the fact that I had what was termed a “nervous stomach,” which caused me all kinds of embarrassment. Or that my hair curled at puberty and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to make it look like anything. Or that I had the usual teenage bad skin and acne. I did the typical fast food job all teenagers these days get, and I was a miserable failure at it. I couldn’t even work at Wendy’s.

true falseI had a chance to take a long walk by myself today. The sun was out, my schedule was clear, and I was itching to get in some kind of physical activity, so I took off. I have always struggled with what is God’s voice and what is the voice I generate with my own thoughts, so I hesitate saying God spoke to me today, but as I walked I began to think about how I still view myself in much the same way I did back then … and how much of that is wrong.

One by one, counterarguments began to present themselves against what I have believed about myself for so long. I am not confident enough to say my life changed today, but I knew by the end of that walk that I needed to get to a computer or piece of paper and write down everything that had come into my mind. Here, then, are some arguments against my own perceptions of and beliefs about myself:

Unattractive physically – I found a woman who found me attractive enough to marry me, and we have been together now for 16 years. I’ve cut out most of the sugar from my diet and hardly ever drink carbonated beverages anymore, so I rarely get pimples now. I grew a beard and keep my hair cut short, so it looks neat now.
Shy and awkward – I still struggle mightily with social anxiety, but I couldn’t even count the number of people I have met over the years. I have so many friends now that I never would have dreamed of meeting. I know lots of people through my job.
Not athletic enough/Too skinny – I can ride my bicycle ten miles at a time on the road. I don’t have a gut hanging over the front of my pants like so many guys my age. An antidepressant and an occasional pill for seasonal allergies are the only medications I take, whereas I know so many of my friends already on blood pressure medication. I’m thinner now than when I graduated college.
Talentless – I can play guitar and bass fairly well. I won a Kentucky Press Award when I worked as a newspaper reporter. I have over 150 followers on this blog, and it’s only been up a few months. I’m on the radio every day. I can even sing a little.
Unsure of what I want to do with my life – After going to counseling for my depression the past couple of years, I have decided I want to pursue a Masters degree in counseling. I am currently studying to take the GRE test to get into graduate school.

I should have written all of the things I was thinking down immediately, because I’m certain there were more. I realized my stomach isn’t upset as much anymore because I realized years ago I was slightly lactose intolerant. All those cartons of milk in school were tearing my stomach to bits. And the list goes on…

I still feel as if I have so many things mentally to overcome. I still live in the same town I grew up in, so sometimes it seems as if I’ll never escape what others will always believe about me, no matter how much I change or grow. I still feel so out of place sometimes, and you probably noticed I didn’t address everything I had listed concerning how I felt about myself. I don’t want to be who I was anymore, though. I can’t ever reclaim those lost years; all I can do is make an attempt to make the ones I have left count for something. I hope and pray I can hold onto what I was thinking on that walk today. I’m so afraid I’ll forget.

Maybe I should start reading my own blog.

Someone, Sometime, Somewhere

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you didn’t matter.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you weren’t good enough. Actually, worse than that. They told you that you would never be good enough. Ever. They didn’t apply that to what you were doing; they applied it to who you were. It wasn’t a matter of your ability or your skill level of your aptitude for learning things. They made you believe you were so flawed as an individual that nothing you ever did would succeed.

Someone, sometime, somewhere made you believe you couldn’t really be worthy of love. Sure, you may have found love in different places or relationships. You may have experienced it on a deep and personal level. But you never felt like you deserved it. If anyone ever found out who you really were, they would take their love away. All of your relationships would have to be maintained by you never quite letting the other person see everything. You would always be one bad move away from being left all alone.

ImproveSelfEsteem_thumbSomeone, sometime, somewhere made you believe you would never get better. Your depression, your addiction, your sickness… You were going to have to live with those forever. You could try a lot of different things – medication, therapy, prayer – but none of them were really going to work. You might make a little progress here and there, but you would always slide back to your basic state. They may have event old you it would be better just to put an end to everything, so you could save yourself and everyone around you a lifetime of heartache.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you a lot of things. You’re ugly. You’re crazy. You think too much. You feel things too deeply. You over-analyze everything. Your feelings aren’t relevant. You’re too shy. You’re too loud. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re a hothead. God couldn’t love someone like you. You can’t change. You’re going to be the way you are forever. You might as well just give up.

Someone, sometime, somewhere also told you that you were wanted. That you were loved. That you had hope for a future and strength enough for the present. That you didn’t have to stay the way you are. That it might take years and year of work, but you could actually get better. That you were handsome enough or pretty enough. That you would never be left all alone. That you could actually win every now and then. That you had hope.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you did matter.

Who do you believe?

Tuneful Tuesday: Set Me Free

Mark 5:1-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name isLegion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there,clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.