All Or Nothing

I really hate it when I repeat myself, but the truth is I do it all the time. As much as I try to stop myself from telling the same stories or writing about the same topics, I catch myself doing it frequently. At least with what I’m about to write here, I realize I’m doing it, and I acknowledge it freely.

I know I have written here about dichotomous reasoning, but when I did it before it was in reference to that also being recognized as “black-and-white thinking.” Things were either good or bad, right or wrong, and there was no in-between. Dichotomous thinking also refers, however, to “all-or-nothing thinking.”

All-or-NothingAll-or-nothing thinking can manifest itself in a number of different ways. For example, there’s perfectionism, where a person might insist on knowing a project will turn out perfect or just not start it at all. My issue with all-or-nothing thinking is a pass/fail mentality. Either what I do or have done is a complete success or it is a total failure. There is no “pretty good” or “acceptable,” and there is no room for the possibility that an outcome I haven’t seen yet could come true. I either succeed or I fail, and that’s that.

I have sort of a big week coming up, and I am trying my darndest to realize that the outcomes of upcoming events are not going to define me or lock me into an irreversible future I won’t be able to escape from. I’m also trying to remember that even if every plan I make this week goes awry, it does not mean that I am a complete failure, and it does not mean that I am doomed forever. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

I wish it were that easy. The more I come to learn about dichotomous thinking, the more I realize it is one of the more insidious aspects of depression. It terrifies a person, mainly because they constantly feel as if they are on the brink of falling into utter ruin. Anytime I have lost a job or been passed over for an opportunity or gotten a poor grade on an exam or struck out in a baseball game, I felt like my life was over. It obviously wasn’t; I’m still here. But I live in this uncomfortable place most of the time, where it feels as if the knockout blow is just around the corner.

Tomorrow, I will try to kick off a week of keeping dichotomous thinking at bay. It’s already tugging at me, and it almost makes me want to just pass on some things out of sheer terror. I won’t know the results unless I try, though, so I just have to put one foot in front of the other and take things one step at a time. I need to repeat those words over and over and over…

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Surprise!

fluSometimes I wish I just had the flu.

You know, you have a sore throat, a fever, a cough, maybe even a little upset stomach. There are very visible, outside symptoms. You can go to the doctor, he (or she) can look at you and compare the data in front of them to what they learned in medical school and then make a reasonably well-informed guess as to what is wrong with you. Then they can write you a prescription that is time-tested to cure whatever it is that is ailing you, whether it is actually the flu or some other illness you’ve managed to contract. Lie down for a day or two, take your medicine, and next thing you know, you’re good as new.

If only problems with the human mind could be as easily solved.

As I have written here before, I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with dysthymia or dysthymic disorder. To show how quickly terminology can change in mental health, however, it is now known as “persistent depressive disorder.” I have tried out several medications in an attempt to curb the symptoms of this particular form of depression, experiencing varying degrees of success with each one. I am currently taking Abilify, which is technically not even an antidepressant, but it seems to be working fairly well for me. “Fairly well,” however, does not equal “very well,” so I made an appointment several months ago to see a psychiatric doctor about what I should be taking.

Now, before anyone becomes overly concerned about me, the term “psychiatric doctor” pretty much just means a counselor-type who can prescribe psychiatric drugs (Yes, I am aware I just totally insulted the profession with that dumbed-down description.). I was not wrapped up in any kind of straightjacket or confining clothing, and no one attempted to have me admitted to any kind of facility. The appointment was more like a friendly chat discussing my symptoms and what medicine (or medicines) might work best to combat them.

Have you ever been to see the doctor, though, nearly absolutely convinced you knew exactly what was wrong with you and what the doctor needed to do to cure you? I approached yesterday’s appointment with that type of mindset. I was depressed and had been experiencing some anxiety-like symptoms, so I figured I obviously needed to review antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications and let the doctor determine which ones would work best for me.

How in the world, then, did I walk out of there with a prescription for Adderall?adderall

In case you’re not familiar with Adderall, it is most commonly used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (better known as ADHD). I do get sleepy sometimes, but not enough to constitute a diagnosis of narcolepsy, so that only leaves you one guess as to why it was prescribed to me.

That’s right: Mr. Shy, Mr. Good Grades All Through School, Mr. Back of the Room at a Party was told yesterday he met five of the 10 criteria for adult ADHD.

Huh?

adhdI thought people with ADHD were the ones who couldn’t shut up. I thought they were the ones who struggled with bad grades all through school. I thought they were the ones who couldn’t sit still for more than five minutes at a time. I don’t fit any of those descriptions. I just got A’s in my two master’s classes. Why do I have a prescription for Adderall now?

It actually makes more sense than it might initially seem. I have always had a bit of a wandering mind. I remember being young and my dad trying to teach me how to work on cars. I don’t remember a word of what he told me. I know even now during sermons or long lectures, I have a tendency to nod off or lose attention. I have a horrible time getting organized, and as much as I talk about wanting to be a writer, I never actually get focused enough to put anything down on paper (or computer screen). I can barely pick out a shirt to wear in the morning without having a low-level debate with myself.

This kind of scatteredness is what drew the doctor to his opinion that I might need to be treated for ADHD. Actually, it sort of came down to a coin flip between that and anxiety, and since anti-anxiety medicines sort of slow you down and I’ve been struggling with drowsiness lately, we decided to try the ADHD treatment first.

Today was my first day on the drug, so I’m still not sure how much of what I experienced were actual effects and how much was placebo. I do know I was much more awake than I have been for a quite some time, and I did tons of work at my computer today. On the sort of weird side, I didn’t eat anything between breakfast and dinner. Not a snack or anything. Didn’t even want food. I guess this could possibly be a positive, as I seem to gained a few pounds since I started taking Abilify. Kind of hoping it isn’t an everyday occurrence, though.

As with any drug, one day’s worth of results is not enough to measure the effects of taking it, so I still couldn’t tell you if attempting to lessen the effects of ADHD (which I may or may not even have) is the right way to go for me. There may be a complete reversal of treatment in my future. Or there may not be.

Sometimes I wish I just had the flu.

Tuneful Tuesday: My Real Life

There are a handful of songs I have avoided featuring on “Tuneful Tuesday” because, quite frankly, they cut a little too close to the bone. They dig down past my simply liking the song or feeling as if the words were significant to a place inside me that is not comfortable anymore. They make me squirm a little. They almost act as mirrors of things I am feeling or have felt in my heart and soul at one time or another.

One of those songs is Colin Hay’s “Waiting For My Real Life to Begin.” Most people are familiar with Hay as the lead vocalist of Men at Work, whose hits included “Overkill,” “Who Can It Be Now?”, and, of course, “Down Under.” What most people don’t realize is that he’s been recording music as a solo artist ever since the band broke up in 1985. Apparently, actor and director Zach Braff is a fan, as Hay’s music was featured in both the television series Scrubs and the film Garden State.

I’ve seen people list this song among those they find very hopeful and encouraging, but I’ve never quite taken it that way. To me, it represents all those hopes in life that never quite come true, no matter how optimistic our outlook may be. Two lines, in particular, always get to me…

“Any minute now, my ship is coming in…”

“When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened…”

To his credit, Hay doesn’t wallow in self-pity in the song. Those two wistful lines are actually followed by ones of optimism, although it’s difficult for me to tell sometimes if he is actually attempting to be optimistic or if he is merely being sarcastic. In fact, I’ve never actually figured out if this song is about hope or denial. It’s obvious the singer’s hopes have been dashed time and again, but he keeps spouting lines that appear to ring of hope. Is he really staying that positive, or is he so sick of hearing cheery sayings tossed at him that this song represents a kiss-off to all those who keep telling him things will get better?

“Just let me throw one more dice
I know that I can win
I’m waiting for my real life to begin”

I am a year past 40 years old now, and I still don’t feel as if my real life has begun. I haven’t found my niche. I haven’t gotten any big breaks. The things I dream of doing haven’t happened yet. And there are many, many days now where I wonder if they ever will. I’ve been waiting a long time. Is the fault with me? Is it just not God’s timing yet? Have I been dealt an unfair hand? I don’t know the answers to those questions. So when Hay sings “suddenly nothing happened,” I get a knot in my stomach and, if the day is bad enough, a lump in my throat.

The song finishes up with the line “On a clear day, I can see, see for a long way,” repeated once. I’ve had those days, too, where I felt as if I was bulletproof and that nothing in the world could bring me down. Unfortunately, that hasn’t turned out to be real life. I’m still waiting for that to begin.

And You’re Living For…?

The Dreamworks Animation movie The Croods has become one of my children’s favorites. We must have watched it at least three times now, and it’s grown on me a little more each time I’ve seen it. I’m not sure why I resisted it in the first place. Maybe it’s because I’m not big on caveman stuff. Or maybe I’m just not a big Emma Stone fan. Whatever the case may be, it had to win me over … and it did.

I’m struck a little more each time I watch this movie by how much I identify with the grugrole of the father, Grug. (Just a side note: Nicolas Cage totally knocks this voice-over out of the park. It’s a shame it took an animated caveman movie to remind me what a great actor this guy can be.) Here is a guy just trying to do the right thing, even though he doesn’t even really understand why he’s doing it. He just knows he’s supposed to keep the family alive, and that’s all he concentrates on. He’s so absorbed in performing that task, his own family even begins to tune him out. He winds up feeling like a failure, all because he did what he thought he was supposed to be doing.

There is a very poignant line spoken in the movie by Grug’s daughter, Eep (voiced by Stone), that so resonates with me every time I hear it: “That wasn’t living! That was just … not dying!” A counselor once told me it seemed as if instead of living life, life was just dragging me along. That’s what happens to me a lot. I don’t live; I just … not die.

As human beings, we seem to be hard-wired with a desire to stay alive. We cling to life under even the harshest of circumstances, even when there seems to be little promise waiting on the other side if we do. Those contemplating suicide are put under watch just to ensure they do not end their lives, meaning that even though they may have given up on holding on, the desire for them to live is so strong in someone else extreme measures will be taken by others to preserve a life that is not even their own.

Life is precious. We’re told that, over and over again. But no one ever says not dying is precious. Because it’s not.

See, holding onto to life is not quite enough. It’s like white-knuckling a ride on a roller coaster; you might make it to the end, but you didn’t have any fun getting there. You didn’t feel the freedom of letting out a primal scream or throwing your hands in the air and feeling the release of letting go. I believe there are so many of us stuck in this place. We keep doing things because we’re supposed to be doing them, but we really don’t take much enjoyment from them. They don’t leave us fulfilled, and they don’t increase our joy. They are billed as “living,” but they feel more like death.

In The Croods, the Crood family meet a young man named Guy (voiced by Ryan Guy-the-croods-34964097-480-379Reynolds). Guy is the opposite of Grug. He takes chances. He’s inventive. He’s not afraid. Most of all, though, he is hopeful. “Don’t hide. Live. Follow the sun. You’ll make it to tomorrow.” There was a tomorrow for Guy that held more promise than today. When we’re just punching clocks and meeting requirements and unsure of what in the world we’re doing, tomorrow looks like death. You don’t follow the sun because it’s not there.

I would very much like to live and not just not die. Like Grug, though, I have spent a long time banging my head against the wall, simply trying to do the things I thought were most important. Maybe it’s time I came out the cave. Maybe it’s time I followed the sun.

Maybe I should go looking for tomorrow.

I’m Back

I really wasn’t sure I wanted to do this anymore.

Actually, I’m not sure if “wanted to” is exactly the right phrase. Maybe I should say “could” do this anymore.

I wrote a post yesterday for the first time in a long while. I’m still not exactly sure why I did it. I think I just had some things I needed to get off my chest. I can’t say the actual exercise of writing made me feel that much better. If anything, I had a lot of trepidation about how what I wrote would be received.

im-backMuch to my surprise, though, I received a few “likes” and some very nice comments on social media. It seemed that at least some people could identify with how I was feeling. The number of views wasn’t through the roof, but it was solid, especially considering I hadn’t written anything in quite a while. To say all this was a pick-me-up would be a massive understatement.

Basically, certain people have caused me lately to doubt whether I am good for much of anything anymore. They knocked me down to a level I don’t if I’ve ever been at before. I have been anxious and nervous, unable to sit still longer than a couple of minutes at a time. The looming feeling of worthlessness has badgered me, and there are times when I genuinely agree with it. I have been knocked completely off my feet.

So to type up something on the internet and have people – even people I’ve never met before in my life – respond to it in a positive way is huge. It’s enough to make me want to keep writing, which is what I love to do more than anything else anyway. It lets me know there may be some actual worth to what I have to say. And it gives me something to do, which is something I desperately need right now.

I feel, in a way, that certain restrictions have been lifted off of me concerning what I write here. That means what I post from now on may not be pretty. It may not be inspiring all the time. It may offend someone or hurt someone’s feelings. I certainly don’t aim for these things to happen, but they might. I just want to be real, and I deserve the freedom to me.

I’m back. Let’s get started.

No Thanks

It is true that I haven’t written anything here in a while because I have been taking graduate level summer school classes. I have another reason, though, one which I’m a little reticent to talk about in specifics. So, in order to be as evasive as possible, I’ll just say that life has put me through the ringer lately. The last two weeks have been some of the toughest I have ever faced from a mental health standpoint, and the depth of feeling I have reached today is nearly alarming. I feel empty, used up, hopeless…

saltUndoubtedly, someone will read that last line and take me to task on it. It is in these times that I have to remember not everyone has wrestled with depression in their lifetime, and quite possibly they never will. Or perhaps what they perceived to be depression was merely scratching the surface of what it can do to a person. Whatever the case may be, it is in these times that these people will try their best to help, to say the right thing, to “fix” whatever is wrong, and one of them will invariably tip the bucket of salt to pour directly onto the wound that lies open.

There are a great many things people will say in times of struggle, hardship, and emotional suffering. Many of these can be written off as benign sayings which we have all undoubtedly heard countless times before: “This is just a season. It will pass…” “You just need to get over it…” “One day, you’ll look back on this and be thankful for the lessons it taught you…”

Um, no to the third one. I will not.

To clarify, I do believe that one day someone can look back on a situation and express deep, heartfelt thankfulness that they are not in that situation anymore. In fact, I believe a person can even look back at a traumatic event and pick out some reasons they are glad the actual event occurred. But to be thankful for the symptoms? Uh-uh. No. No way. Not happening.

I refuse, then, to be thankful for the dark hole of depression I have suddenly been flung into. The person who experiences post-traumatic stress should not be expected to cozy up to it like it’s some bosom buddy. The thought of someone dealing with suicidal thoughts sitting down one day and chronicling how grateful they are for that season seems absurd to me. These things I just described all suck, yet there seems to be a strange sentiment floating around that they’re somehow blessings. They are not.

Hopefully, I will reach a place of happiness and mental healthiness again, and I will be able to sit down and write about how much better things are. Just don’t expect me to hail the benefits of being depressed, hopeless, and distraught. The only good aspects of these things is the part when they are left behind. If that makes me ungrateful, color me the most ungrateful man on the face of the earth.

What It’s Like

Have you ever noticed no one ever really asks what depression is like? It’s odd, considering people are prone to ask all kind of questions about other seemingly taboo conditions, everything from colonoscopies to prostate exams to hemorrhoids. With depression, though, there seems to be some type of fear of the unknown, as if knowing about it will forever lead a person down as long and dark a road as the person they are talking to.

What I have found, however, is that people who suffer from depression seem to not have much of a problem talking about themselves. Or at least they don’t have a problem talking about it with counselors or other depressives. With the rest of the “normal” population? Eh, not so much. I know in my case it is because I feel an immense weight to keep up the facade that I am a good person who has been blessed greatly and always does what is right.

I can assure you here, I am not that person.

Take today, for instance. The blade on my riding lawnmower has stopped working for the umpteenth time now. In itself, this would be a regular snag of life, something to be repaired in the natural stream of occurrences. Not for a depressive who is having an off-day, however. I was already quite overwhelmed by school and work from the rest of the week coming into today, and I had not been able to get to the yard all week because of intermittent rain nearly every day. Even the sections I finished were difficult, as wet grass kept clumping up beneath the blade deck, actually killing the engine a few times. About 15 minutes in, I just wanted to be done with the whole thing, but I still had a at least another acre to go.

This feeling of wanting to quit eventually began to spread into other parts of my brain, and suddenly nothing seemed particularly worth doing anymore. I tried to pray that the lawn would become easier to mow and that the feeling would pass, but that was almost exactly when the blade stopped engaging. I was then able to completely bypass everything else and focus all my anger and frustration directly on God, who, instead of making things easier, saw fit to make them infinitely more difficult. Yes, I believe God can control lawnmower blades.

Following a (very) halfhearted and unsuccessful attempt at using a push mower to complete my task, I decided depressionperhaps a bicycle ride would do me good. After all, exercise is highly recommended for those who suffer from depression. It is supposed to work as a natural mood enhancer, and sometimes it does. Today, however, I was struck nearly immediately by the same feeling I had on the lawnmower: I want to quit. Being nearly four miles from home, however, I didn’t really have much option as to whether to continue on. I did make it home eventually, but I really wasn’t feeling any better about things.

And now I am here at this keyboard, realizing I haven’t written much of anything at all here all week, even though blogging is probably one of my most enjoyable activities. Today, though, nothing is really feeling like much of an enjoyable activity. No future scenario looks all that good to me. No present assignments seem all that important to complete. And at the same time, I feel an overpowering fear within me of being bored and finding myself un-useful to everyone. I want to be alone, but I am afraid of being thrown away. I know exactly what I want, but I have no way of getting it at the moment. Or at least that is what I have convinced myself.

So this is what it can be like. Is every day like this for me? Thankfully, no. But a lot of them are. And a lot of them are for other people as well. We just don’t tell you because we know you’ll either judge us, run away from us, or start trying to help us by throwing out advice we’ve heard about a billion times before over the course of our lives. We put up strong, friendly, smiling fronts, and all the while we can feel tears welling up behind our eyes and lumps buried in our throats. We don’t want you to see that, though. More accurately, we don’t feel like we can let you see that.

Sometimes we just need to know we can break down. We need to know we can unleash our secret thoughts and not be judged for them. We want someone to just say hello for the heck of it. We want to think something is worth fighting for, without everyone dictating to us what that something is. We need honesty and transparency. And more often than not, we get none of those things.

This is what it is like.

 

Oppressing Myself

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about multiculturalism and how being a part of a race or ethnic group other than Caucasian can foster feelings of tremendous inadequacy. These feelings can lead to those in these groups seeking to dull the pain of their experiences through any number of means, including denial, assimilation, and even outright hatred toward their own heritages. Indeed, there is a desperation for some people to not only escape their situations, but also to escape who they are in general.

This is not light reading I have decided to pick up for myself on a whim. It is part of two college classes I am taking this summer. The prevailing opinion I seem to be picking up on so far is that white people – whether they realize it or not – are part of a privileged race. This privilege is not even necessarily evident; it simply exists because white people (white males, in particular) have traditionally been the dominant cultural group in America. As a result, many Caucasians have never experienced the type of prejudice and even hatred directed toward other ethnic and cultural groups. Therefore, they have less of a reason to loathe themselves because of their cultural station.

I’ve been turning this idea over and over in my mind, and I have come across a feeling of self-hatred for myself. It has not come from a sudden realization that I have acted in a racist way toward anyone, although I do not rule out the possibility that I have. I also do not mean that I necessarily feel as if I have been wronged by some other ethnic or social group, although specific incidents where this may have happened certainly spring to mind. If these two variables have been eliminated, then, where exactly does it come from?

Here’s what I have concluded: I have discriminated against myself.oppression-fists

How is this possible, you might ask? Well, it has to do with my depression and my lack of self-esteem. By result of my never believing I was very handsome, talented, skillful, or desirable, I denied myself many opportunities. It’s not that I didn’t want to succeed; it’s just that I didn’t particularly think I was worthy of it. Of course, external factors may have had a role in this as well, but the driving force in my desire to change myself came as much from inside myself as it did outside. Any barb or slight directed at me was not deflected by a sense of self-worth, but was rather taken to heart and assimilated into my personality.

I have reached a sort of crossroads in my life. I am starting to believe I am worth more, but I am concerned that I have spent so much of my life believing I was less that no one will give me a chance to prove otherwise. This is a hopeless feeling, to say the least. It almost describes the tree falling in the woods: If a person changes but no one takes notice, do they really change? Just as the answer to the question about the tree is affirmative, however, so is the one to this question concerning change. A member of an ethnic or cultural group who makes a lifestyle change does it as much for themselves as for the society around them. Perhaps that is the truth I need to focus on.

Tuneful Tuesday: Everything Has Changed

In May, for my job, I attended a concert featuring contemporary Christian bands The Afters and Hawk Nelson. It was a pretty decent show, even though neither of those bands are exactly on my list of favorites. The Afters probably had the more polished sound, but Hawk Nelson brought more energy to their stage show. Plus, I would up downloading a Hawk Nelson song after the concert, so I guess they won the night.

Except they didn’t, really. The opening act of the concert was advertised as Dan Bremnes, but when we arrived we noticed banners up for Justin McRoberts. I was familiar with one of Bremnes’s songs, but I had never heard of McRoberts. Turns out, he’s been around for quite a while, but has stuck mostly to the independent circuit. After a few notes of his first song, though, I was hooked. This dude could sing, and he was a fiery and passionate singer and storyteller as well. He performed with only an acoustic guitar, but for me he stole the show.

Justin McRobertsSince that night (and a few additional downloads of his music), I keep an eye out for mentions of McRoberts. I caught one this weekend on the NoiseTrade.com website. For anyone who is not familiar with it, NoiseTrade offers music for free downloads, with the option of leaving a “tip” for the artist. McRoberts had a song titled “Everything Has Changed” on a sampler from the syndicated radio program Under the Radar titled Escape to the Lake. Under the Radar features music from Christian artists who do not receive the type of radio airplay of, say, The Afters or Hawk Nelson.

I am not having the greatest of weeks so far (Read yesterday’s post for further explanation.). Right now, as I’m typing this, I don’t feel as if there is anything in the world I can actually do right. I feel as if all the progress I thought I had made recently was merely an apparition and that I am going to forever cycle in and out of feeling like there is no hope in even trying. I don’t want to just change small parts of me; I want to change everything.

This song by McRoberts is a mighty realization and coming to terms with who someone is and the changes they have made to become, in their eyes at least, a better person. It’s about freedom, or, more specifically, getting free from yourself. It really is a song about everything changing. I have listened to it five times now just in the course of typing this blog. It is where I want to be. It is who I want to be.

Everything will change. That’s what I need to hold onto right now. Everything will change.

(Unfortunately, I could not find a video for this song, so I am including the link to the NoiseTrade page with the sampler. It is well worth the download.)

http://noisetrade.com/escapetothelake/escape-to-the-lake-2015-22-artist

Panic/Anxiety Attacks

I still very distinctly remember my first panic/anxiety attack as an adult. I was a student at the local university and was working for a used college textbook warehouse. I was in the shipping department boxing up an order to be sent out. I don’t recall exactly what was going on at the time, but I believe I had some sort of combination of not liking the job, being stressed out by school, and figuring no female would ever take an active interest in me going on. I remember picking up a book, turning to my right, and freezing. I literally couldn’t move for a second or two. It was almost like a weird out-of-body experience.

And then it passed, and I didn’t have anymore … until today.

panicAt least, I think I had one today. To be honest, I don’t know enough about panic/anxiety attacks to say for certain if I’ve ever had one or not. The symptoms of this one were even different. Whereas I froze up the first time, I became very agitated with this one. I don’t remember my breathing being affected the first time around, but it was sort of labored today. And my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest today, which didn’t happen before. Like the first time, there was a combination of circumstances involved, but I don’t really want to go into them all here.

I actually do remember being very young – in the first or second grade – and breaking down crying in the school cafeteria for a few days. I’m still not sure why. Something in there just panicked me, and I would burst into tears. With that in mind, I suppose it would be safe to say I’ve had some anxiety lurking inside me for quite some time now. Whether that is related to my depression is almost impossible to guess, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. It’s there, and it apparently has triggers.

I guess my point of writing this, though, is to find out a little more. Did I actually have a panic/anxiety attack? If I did, how can I do a better job of dealing with it if I have another one? What are the symptoms to look for? And, of course, I always want to hear stories of others who have walked through a fire of some sort. Share your stories here, too.

And don’t be anxious about it. 🙂