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…

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.

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.