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.

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I’m Still Here!

I have not posted anything here since last Tuesday, but I have a very good reason why: I am a college student again! My first night of classes began last Wednesday, and I also have one class online. These are summer classes, so everything is going to be pretty compact and intense. I spent all day today reading, typing up a paper, and making copies of pages from a workbook. Welcome back, my friend.

SUMMMER-SCHOOLThat last line may be a joke, but I had honestly forgotten about the intensity of college courses in general, and I had definitely forgotten how compressed a summer class can be. As a result, I have been more than a little overwhelmed just trying to set up some sort of routine to deal with everything. I believe the newness and initial shock will wear off, however, and I will find my groove eventually. In the meantime, my posts here may be sporadic, which is sort of a shame because I’m getting some great material to write about from these classes.

So there you have it. Just my quick little check-in to say I’m still here, I haven’t stopped blogging, and I will have some really good stuff coming up in the future. Of course, the future maybe two years from now, but… 🙂

Who Are You Working For?

“Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?”

I had never really dwelt on the question before. I just knew I felt as if I wasn’t getting the job done. All my efforts felt scattershot, pecking away a little bit here and there. I could always look back at something I did and blame that for my not finishing something important. This was particularly true in instances where I had done something of no lasting consequence, such as playing a video game or lying down for a nap. I knew I was failing … but who, exactly, was I failing?

Quotation-Stephen-Hawking-blame-guilt-human-people-Meetville-Quotes-1595I’ve written here before about dichotomous thinking. This is when a person sees nearly everything in terms of black and white. There is no gray. Something is either right or it is wrong. How does this manifest in my life? Well, one area is work. Now, “work” for me can mean a great many things, which is actually part of the problem here. Going to my job every day is work, but I also somehow manage to turn writing this recreational blog into work as well. Therefore, I am very much driven by what I am supposed to be doing.

Here’s an example: I consider myself – correctly or incorrectly – a writer. What is the pinnacle for a writer’s work? Well, writing a book, of course. I have some ideas. Heck, I probably have enough material from this blog to get a pretty good jump on a book of essays. I just can’t seem to get anywhere on it. I have several theories for this – poor time management, lack of strong material, intimidated by the process of putting everything together, etc., etc. – but the bottom line is always this: I don’t get it done, and I squander the writing ability I have in the process, thereby making me a failure.

This brings the issue full circle, though. Who exactly am I letting down by not getting this done? I mean, is it potential readers? Is it my family? Is it myself? The only answer I could come with will sound a bit lofty: God. I have these abilities that were placed in me, and I do nothing with them. At least, I don’t use them to their full capabilities, and that absolutely fills me with guilt.

Another component of my guilt is a profound feeling of selfishness, and even though several people have tried to impress upon me the fact that I really don’t do many things strictly with myself in mind, I generally view myself as an extremely selfish person. In fact, I sort of view myself as a product of the society we live in today. Everyone is trying to get theirs, and even the people giving only seem to be doing it so they can be seen by others. Our hobbies are expensive, and our universes seem to be focused almost entirely on our own orbits.

What if, though, we’re all just trying to escape our own guilt? What if we’re all chasing these ridiculous dreams and kim-kardashian-kanye-westnotions around in the hopes that one of them will eventually allow us to look in the mirror and say, “Okay, that is the one that hit the mark!”? Could there be some kind of guilt hidden in the Kardashians of the world? Could the Kanye Wests be trying to meet some mark the rest of us don’t know about? Okay, I’m stretching now, but maybe you get the point. Is it possible that we’re all just trying to please someone?

So let me finish the way I started: Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?

Bring It On

As I mentioned in my last post, it looks as if I’m going to be a student again. I received an email Friday indicating that I have been conditionally accepted into the Ed.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Murray State University. The “conditionally” part consists of my keeping a 3.0 GPA for my first nine credit hours. Piece of cake, right?

hate_schoolThis may come as a surprise to all my friends I grew up with who considered me a super-nerd for all those years, but I never really liked going to school very much. I know, you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Duh, no one liked going to school very much.” I guess to a certain extent that’s true. I didn’t know very many boys and girls who couldn’t wait for the big, yellow bus to roll by or, later on, for that home room bell to ring. There was a lot more high-fiving done at graduation than occurred on a Monday morning, for sure.

“Disliked” is probably not as accurate a term as “uncomfortable” was for me, though. That feeling of high school awkwardness that most people shed once they hit their college years never shook off of me. I actually went through whole semesters at the university level without speaking a word to anyone in my classes. I hated going to buy books and getting i.d. cards made and figuring out where I was supposed to park. I don’t remember many days that I wasn’t just anxious to get the whole process over with.

And, yet, here I am again.

I still have some things to work out. I’m going to be making some calls tomorrow to confirm what’s going on with my financial aid, and I’m going to be meeting with an adviser tomorrow as well. I’m strangely not nervous about any of this. In fact, aside from occasionally wondering how all these classes would be paid for, I haven’t felt the usual jitters about immersing myself in the collegiate classroom experience again. I figure this either means I’m on the right track, or I’ve just been away so long I’ve forgotten what everything is like. I’m hoping it’s the former rather than the latter.

I really don’t have much more to say about this at the moment. This post was just more to say this is where I am, and this is where I’m going. Or, at least, I hope I’m going. Now, where did I put all those papers…?

I Can’t

Words cannot express how loathe I am to sit here and write this tonight. This is Tuesday. This is the day when I’m supposed to write a little something about a song that has meant something to me and get to bed earlier. I already took a nap this afternoon. This is the day that what I do here is supposed to be largely devoid of any type of controversy or dispute or weirdness. This is supposed to be the easy post.

After sitting here for the last 30 minutes trying to get around it, though, I’m finally giving in. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I have to get it out before I go to sleep tonight.

I do not get this whole Bruce Jenner thing.

I couldn’t scroll down my Facebook feed for 30 seconds today without either seeing the Vanity Fair with “Caitlyn” bruce-caitlyn-jenner-vanity-fair-coverJenner’s photo on the cover or someone posting a link to a blog or website discussing Jenner’s attempt to reclassify his gender. Depending on what you’re reading, Jenner is either a hero or a lunatic, someone exhibiting extreme bravery or someone who has lost his marbles. Whatever the opinion, that freaking picture is everywhere today.

I don’t really like to court controversy anymore. Maybe when I was younger and more assured of how correct I was about every situation, I would have embraced the chance to dive head-first into a topic such as this. As I sit here at this keyboard tonight, though, all I really want to do is get a few thoughts off my chest about how utterly confusing it is to try to wrap my head around this utterly baffling situation.

If I walked into work tomorrow and asked everyone there to start calling me “Debbie,” I would probably get some strange looks. Actually, I would get more than that. I would get a whole bunch of people telling me to knock it off. I’m a man, so it wouldn’t make much sense for me to suddenly demand that I be addressed by a woman’s name. Johnny Cash once sang about how “life ain’t easy for a boy named ‘Sue’,” and despite shifting attitudes on sexuality, it would probably still be pretty tough today. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; it’s just weird.

I am struggling to understand why, then, if I were to begin wearing female clothing and makeup, taking hormone therapy to change my biochemistry, and undergoing surgical procedures to alter my genitalia, I would be lauded as a “hero.” To me, these are much more radical steps than simply changing my name. Not only did Jenner change his name, though, he posed as a woman on the cover of a national publication which will grace magazine racks in everything from Walmarts to library shelves to gas stations across the country.

patinkinI also don’t think we’re using the term “hero” correctly anymore. In the words of the great Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” In my mind, “heroes” are firefighters who rush into burning buildings to save children or police officers who leap in front of bullets to protect innocent bystanders or soldiers fighting on the front lines on foreign soil. To me, Jenner was more of a hero when he was winning gold medals for America than he is for wearing a dress in public these days.

Believe it or not, I understand what it’s like to not exactly be sure of your identity and to feel trapped by who people think you are. After years of living under the haze of depression, I felt a wave of new emotions and perspectives flooding over me once I got into counseling. There were some things I always thought I wanted that I suddenly didn’t want anymore. There were some things I used to do that I didn’t want to do anymore. People had a difficult time understanding that. The process of figuring out who I am and what I want is still ongoing, and I’m not always sure where it is going.

I don’t know Bruce Jenner, and I’ve always believed that in order to truly hate a person, you have to know them personally. I only say that because I’m sure someone reading this believes I hate Bruce Jenner and/or transsexuals. I really don’t. At the same time, though, I really don’t understand them, and I believe the path they are setting themselves on is not a wise one. In my case, even though I feel like I’m changing, the challenge is still to learn to live inside my own skin. What Jenner is doing feels like an attempt to escape that skin and become something different entirely. Unfortunately, what is in his core will always be there, no matter what his outer shell suggests.

Finally, it’s just strange to see the man who graced the front of Wheaties boxes when I was a kid decked out in a dress and sprawled out across a couch these days. Regardless of how I feel about Jenner’s current course of action, there’s no getting around the oddity of the situation. That’s why I’m not writing about music and iPods and things like that tonight. Some things just can’t be ignored, no matter how we try to.

Dr. Phil vs. The Bad Guest

I have a guilty pleasure.

I love watching Dr. Phil.

Yeah, yeah, I don’t care if the internet is ablaze with articles about what a quack Phillip Calvin McGraw is. There’s just something I like about a guy who will look at someone and not be afraid to say (literally), “What the hell is wrong with you?”. I’m also just fascinated with counseling in general right now, even though some of what Dr. Phil does stretches the definition of the word. He does usually offer his guest some type of assistance by the end of the show, and he does seem to genuinely want to help most of the time, even though many of his programs deal with topics that are clearly chosen because of their ability to get ratings rather than providing any type of useful service to the viewer.

When I was sick near the beginning of this year, I gorged on Dr. Phil for nearly a week. You’d be surprised at how dr philmany weird hours of the day and night you can watch the program. It’s like television crack for me. I just eat it up, from the guests who are totally clueless about how messed up they are to the damaged human beings finding hope again to the way Dr. Phil’s eyes look like they’re going to pop right out of his head sometimes. There’s not much I don’t like about Dr. Phil.

Of course, I said not much, which means, yes, there is something.

I was watching the show yesterday, and suddenly a very distinct pattern struck me. Anytime there are guests with opposing viewpoints of a situation, one of them always winds up being the bad guy (or girl). For instance, yesterday’s program featured an incredibly disturbed teenage girl and her parents. The girl would throw screaming, jumping tantrums at home. She was borderline suicidal. Her brother could not stand to be around her. She looked like an out of control child.

As the program unfolded, however, it was revealed that the girl’s parents were possibly even crazier (Pardon the term, but I couldn’t think of a better word.) than she was. They fought incessantly, sometimes abusing each other physically. They screamed and cursed at her. They had attempted to divorce three different times, but were for some reason, inexplicably almost, still under the same roof with each other. It also turned out that the girl actually functioned quite well everywhere else, except around her own family. Dr. Phil’s deduction was that the girl was an unfortunate victim of her surroundings, that her parents needed to get as far away from each other as possible, and that her only hope was to get as far away from these people as possible.

I can’t say I necessarily thought Dr. Phil was wrong with any of his advice, but he may have blurred some lines with his techniques. He actually hugged the girl (whose face was never shown) at one point, which I would think is sort of a no-no for a psychiatrist or counselor to do during a session. More than that, though, he clearly went after the parents. Now, don’t get me wrong; these people were messed up. It was sort of unsettling, though, to hear the audience applauding every time Dr. Phil pointed out how they were screwing up their daughter. I can’t say I liked them, but I don’t know that they needed to be humiliated like that.

This is where my chief problem with Dr. Phil lies: Most of the programs I’ve seen draw a very distinct line between who is right and who is wrong. The older I get, though, the more I’m beginning to realize it’s very rarely that cut and dried. Even in this case, I’m not sure Dr. Phil should have been hugging a girl who was jumping up and down and screaming at her parents when she didn’t get her way. I’m all for finding the root of a problem, but I do not believe there is always a villain in every story. Sometimes “the antagonists” lose their way, too. Should they be marched out in front of a national television audience to be ridiculed?

Of course, even after saying all this, I’ll probably still be glued to the next episode of Dr. Phil I manage to catch. I will probably still cringe, though, every time the audience applauds and someone shifts uncomfortably in their seat because of it. Yes, sometimes people do bad things. I hope more of them will choose a private counseling setting for those to be brought to light, however, rather than facing the proverbial firing squad for all to see.

Your Condition

One of the major concerns I had when I first decided to write about my depression was that someone was going to read it and label me as damaged goods. As someone who was something less than capable. As someone who could not be trusted. As someone who “needed help” to make it.

The world is full of stories of people who were told that they couldn’t do something, and how that offensive perception motivated them to prove their naysayers wrong. Unfortunately, none of those stories are mine. I have had a tendency to let criticism force me into a hole and make me doubt everything about myself. I have let many a critic destroy my self-confidence over the years because instead of choosing to prove them wrong, I merely accepted that they were right.

Recently, though, I experienced something for the first time that made me want to rise up. Someone (who shall remain nameless here) made mention of my “condition.” It wasn’t presented in a derogatory way, but the underlying implication was this: You have not been adequate because of your depression. It was also suggested that I “get some help with it,” which I already am, so this just added insult to injury. I did not feel shame at that moment; I felt white-hot, pure rage.

silentThis is the danger and the double-standard people who choose to speak out about their depression face. On the one hand, they are heralded and applauded for their bravery. They receive encouragement and well wishes when they initially disclose this information. They are also branded, though. Their every flaw is suddenly put under a microscope. Things a “normal” person might say – “I’m having a really bad day today.” – become immediate red flags when uttered by a person who has been honest about their depression. It becomes a scarlet letter they wear.

Yes, there are certain aspects of life that are made more difficult by my “condition.” I tend to be hyper-emotional sometimes. I sometimes shun contact with other people. I am abnormally obsessed with thoughts about myself and my own condition. At times, I even have difficulty deciding on what color shirt to wear in the morning. My anxiety levels can spike to ridiculous levels. If living with depression were an easy task, it probably wouldn’t even have a name.

To bring someone’s “condition” up to their face, however, seems to be in incredibly poor taste to me. Unless it is accompanied by some sort of offer of assistance or encouragement, it is nothing more than a reminder to that person that they are what they always thought they were in their darkest and lowest moments – an inadequate creation. Society now preaches that those with depression should not fear coming forward with their struggles, but then it turns right around and makes an issue out of what they had been so afraid to share. There is no grace or dignity in that. No wonder people hide their afflictions for so long.

I want to be better than my “condition,” as I know everyone who struggles with depression does. There are scores of blogs online that delve into much messier and confessional descriptions of depression than this one. I am amazed by how freely some writers share their struggles. I have learned not to look down on them for their honesty, however, even if some of their writing comes dangerously close to online gripe sessions. I believe they can be successful, happy, well-adjusted people. They’re just having a tough time with things because of this demon they wrestle with daily.

When I took time off from writing this blog to study for the GRE test, I strongly considered not taking it up again. If this was going to be the stigma attached to me, I might as well just keep everything to myself. Somewhere along the line, though, I decided there were still some things worth saying. They may be just for me, but, if so, so be it. Even though I choose to speak out on this “condition,” I will not be defined by it. Shame on the person who thinks I am or will be.

Maybe It Is, Maybe It Isn’t

When I sat down at the keyboard to type tonight, I went totally blank. I had no ideas whatsoever. So I did what I usually do when this happens: I typed the word “depression” into the Google News search and sifted through the results.

Two stories sort of piqued my interest, even though they were fairly different in nature. The first came from 99.9 WBUR in Boston. According to a study by Boston economist Paul Greenberg, major depression is costing the American economy $210.5 billion a year. That number was $83.1 billion in the year 2000. The study speculated that the tremendous increase in cases of depression (particularly in those 50 or older) could have been sparked by the recent economic recession in the U.S.

The second was an opinion piece written for the New York Times by Hilary Jacobs Hendel, titled “It’s Not Always Depression.” In the piece, Hendel describes her work with a patient named Brian. Brian had basically been through every type of depression treatment imaginable, with the exception of electroshock therapy, which he did not want to do. Hendel eventually zeroed in on Brian’s chronic shame, developed from a childhood of emotional neglect. Once she was able to do that, she began the process of helping Brian experience emotions again and reducing the shame. After meeting twice a week for four years, Brian finally reached a point of recovery.

There has been lots of talk lately about how depression is a disease. A popular analogy these days is to compare depression with other diseases, such as asthma or cancer. In fact, there was a cartoon circulating around the internet not long ago titled “If Physical Diseases Were Treated Like Mental Illness” which puts this comparison in visual form. To an extent, it is an apt comparison; major depression is not something one just “gets over” usually, even though a great many people think recovery is simply a matter of will power.

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What worries me, though, is that to call depression a “disease” is a fairly one-dimension description of it. It makes it sound like you can just pop an aspirin in the morning and alleviate all the symptoms the rest of the day. Indeed, I think many people have this mindset already. “If I can just find the right antidepressant, I will get better.” Well, in Brian’s case, he had taken just about every antidepressant known to man, and he was still nearly comatose. He had been treated for the disease, but he was far from being cured.

Depression is a sum of parts. It may be fueled by shame or anxiety or physical illness or guilt or any number of other factors. Everyone has a lifetime of experiences they bring into the arena with depression. Granted, in some instances, the cause of depression can be more chemical in nature, and medication can improve a person’s mood drastically. In most cases, though, without some type of therapy, a person will likely not ever reach a place of full recovery (if that is even possible with depression). Experiences that have shaped a person’s way of thinking must be reckoned with.

Greenberg’s study does actually point out how the word “depression” actually encompasses a great many mental and mood disorders. The headlines, though, always trumpet the word “depression” and nothing else. There is so much more to it than just that. If we don’t understand this, the dollar amounts in Greenberg’s next report may reach the stars.

An Open Letter To You

openletterThis is for you.

I owe you a giant apology.

I have lied to you. I have hidden things from you.

I have stolen from you. I have taken things that did not belong to me.

I have denied the truth when it suited me. I have hidden because I did not want to face reality.

I have hurt you beyond measure. I have no excuse for this.

Why have I done all these things? Simple: I am selfish. I am so absorbed in my own head and my own life that I failed to see beyond the parameters of my own existence. I loved you, but it was within the confines of my own space. I wanted to help you, but it was always with an eye on what I could get out of it. Even now, as I type this, notice how many times I refer to myself.

And who are you? You are the person who trusted me. You are the person who believed in me. You are the person who loved me. You are the person who encouraged me. You could be a great number of people. You know who you are.

I say this to you: I am sorry.

I realize that you have absolutely no reason to forgive me for any of this. I was even so bold as to point out the splinter in your eye when there was a huge plank in mine. I can only beg your forgiveness and try to remind you that beneath all this ugliness is a person you once cared for. He is still here. I ask you to give him another chance.

Much of what I did, I thought I did for you. It was always through the lens of me, though. For us to work, it has to be us. I cannot be untruthful with you anymore. I cannot place my needs above yours. I cannot doubt myself and throw up walls to distract from the real issues at hand. In short, I can never benefit you so long as I am so wrapped up in me.

I am writing this to you because whether you were aware of it or not, I damaged something between us. I hope it can be repaired, but I have to accept that it may never be what it was before. I can only move on now and attempt to regain your trust. You are what is important to me now. I have seen the damage I can inflict. I am sick of me.

This is for you.