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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The Saboteur

You find yourself in a deep, dark hole, with only yourself. You know full well how you got there. And you have only yourself to blame.

You’ve been here before, but each time you return the darkness feels more suffocating, the weight of guilt and shame heavier. Your first inclination is to lie down and accept it, to let it all just smother you. At least that way it would end. Something inside you, though, keeps telling you to get up. You’re not exactly sure what that something is. Your best hope is that it is the will to live. Your worst fear is that you are too selfish to give up on the awful creation you have turned out to be.

You fumble through the space around you until you find something you can touch, and then you begin the slow, arduous climb out. You’re not exactly sure how deep the pit is or if there is even a top to it, but you continue to dig your nails into the walls and make your way up, up, up. Occasionally, you imagine you hear a voice or two encouraging you, telling you that you can make it if you just keep trying. These voices are faint, however, and you don’t trust your senses enough to believe they are real, so you brush them aside and continue your ascent.

sabotageEventually, you see a light. At first, you don’t believe it is real. As it becomes sharper and more intense, you begin to move faster toward it, desperate to feel its warmth and heat. Suddenly, it is real before you. It moves from the world of abstraction to become an oasis in your desert, a shelter from the wind and rain that has pounded you senseless for so long. It illuminates you, so much so that the voices you thought you heard earlier become real as well. You begin to shine yourself, thanks to this amazing, saving grace.

As wonderful and light as you suddenly feel, however, you still feel the weight of your worst fears like an albatross draped around your neck. You know the terrible darkness which resides in your soul, and you know somewhere deep inside you that you are not good enough for this moment. You are not capable enough, smart enough, attractive enough, skilled enough, mature enough to maintain it. The light burns as brightly as it ever did, and it continues to reach out to you and beckon you, but in your mind you are convinced it will see you through you one day and withdraw itself.

You begin to try to secure it, to make sure it cannot abandon you. You begin to form constructs around it, essentially boxing it in and dulling its luminescence. You know you are effectively contaminating the purity of what exists, but your fear blinds you to all logical thought. You realize you need the light to survive, but you are convinced it will not choose you to receive its blessing, so you begin to crave it as an addict would crave a needle in his arm. You are fully aware of your selfishness, and you resolve to do better a thousand times, but each time you look at it you are overridden by one horrible, terrible thought: It will leave me if I grant it freedom.

Then, one day, you are confronted with the truth you knew all along. You really are selfish. You really did destroy the beauty that was before you. You really can’t change what you have done. Your heart begins to race, your thoughts begin to scramble, and you begin to admit your every sin and flaw. You are devastated when the light suddenly speaks to you and says, “You foolish, foolish man. I chose you all along, but you could not receive what I offered you.” You feel your grip loosen and the air begin to rush past your ears as you begin to fall, down, down, down. The light becomes more distant. In fact, you even notice it beginning to turn away, slowly, reluctantly. It wanted you, but you could never believe it.

Your fall is swift, much more rapid than your ascent, and it is not straight. You bump against walls that once seemed smooth, but now seem to be jagged and rocky, puncturing you as collide with them. You recall that you have felt pain like this before, but it seems more intense this time, as it does each time you fall. You wish at times that the fatal blow could be delivered, but it never comes, and you chide yourself because there is still that part of you that is selfish enough to want to cling to life with all you are worth. Then you feel the dull thud of yourself hitting the bottom. The light is gone. You are alone.

And you find yourself in a deep, dark hole, with only yourself. You know full well how you got there. And you have only yourself to blame.

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.

Envy & Us

Yesterday, I wrote about how depression can cause people to become very selfish and unsupportive. I only sort of hinted at what can cause this type of behavior, though, probably because I didn’t want to admit I had it hiding in myself, too.

It’s envy.

Here is a comment a friend of mine left on Facebook after I posted a link to yesterday’s post there: “But what’s worse for me? It brings me down even further knowing that I have those selfish feelings. It is an evil cycle.” The word cycle is one that can be used often in the life of a depressed person. It basically means there are feelings that beget feelings that beget feelings… It’s almost like building blocks.

facebook depressionSpeaking of Facebook, the news world was abuzz this week concerning a study by University of Missouri researchers published in Computers in Human Behavior which linked use of the social media site to feelings of depression. Specifically, researchers discovered a link between Facebook use and envy. The problem seems to stem primarily from people perusing other people’s pages rather than participating in the more community/social aspects of the site.

Why is this a problem? Well, just browsing over a person’s profile is not going to produce an accurate representation of that person as a whole. We all want to put our best foot forward in the public eye, so all of our pictures are going to be smiling and happy; none of our posts will expose our darkest secrets; and we will do our best to appear busy, confident, productive, and happy. Without a component of human interaction, why wouldn’t we all think everyone else has a better life than we do?

Interpersonal relationships often yield surprising results. They let us know that other people are just as vulnerable, just as scared, and just as apprehensive about certain things as we are. Facebook, as a whole, can yield some incredibly positive experiences. It can reunite old friends, deepen relationships, even lessen the symptoms of depression in some instances. The problem isn’t with social media; it’s with us.

We get jealous and envious of those who seem to have it better than we do. We perpetrate a false image of ourselves to the world because we are convinced no one would accept the real us. We turn away from those who actually are honest about their struggles because they make us uncomfortable. All social media has done is just give the already-envious people within us the chance to step out onto the stage a little more.

The great irony of a site like Facebook is that it is ultimately antisocial at its core. It is designed to allow us to communicate with others without having to spend actual, physical time with them. A survey such as this one is exactly right and exactly wrong at the same time. It is highly accurate in connecting social media use to intense feelings of envy and depression. It falls short in painting Facebook as the villain. The enemy, as they say, is us.

Tuneful Tuesday: Don’t Fade

Depression is a selfish disease. It makes those who suffer from it focus nearly entirely on themselves and their pain. That’s why counselors will often suggest doing things for others as an activity to bring people out of depression. It takes a person’s focus and turns in inward, where there is nothing but the heaviness of the affliction.

This type of selfishness can manifest itself even in relationships between depressed people. Let’s say two depressives meet and form a relationship. They may initially be very encouraging of one another, rooting for the other to improve. It is a very beautiful type of relationship … until one of them actually starts to get better. Feelings of jealousy and abandonment can follow.

No one wants to be alone, no matter how inwardly focused they are.

The song “Don’t Fade,” by Toad the Wet Sprocket, seems to be dealing with a few different things. There is obviously a struggle of some sort between a couple. Any song with the lyric “How could you forsake the love of God that way is clearly dealing with some heavy subject matter. One particular line of the chorus always stood out to me, though.

“Don’t fade. Stay in here with me.”

The selfish part of the depressive in me has thought these words more than once. I have seen friends shed stress and anxiety and unhappiness and felt the sting of feeling as if I will never get any better and that they are leaving me. I have been jealous of their new-found happiness and comforted by their setbacks. I have not been a good friend because I could not – or would not – take the focus off myself. I wanted them all to stay in here with me.

I’m working to become a better cheerleader for people I know who are struggling. I’m trying to share in their joy and applaud their successes. I really do want them to get better. I really want to get better.

I still want you to stay in here with me. Maybe we should move where “here” is, though.

Tuneful Tuesday: I Like What?

So, the other day, I’m driving home from work and I hear this song on the radio that I kind of like. Now, you have to remember, I don’t listen to the radio all that much. When I do, it’s sort of a forced behavior, because I know if I don’t keep up with what’s current I’m going to become one of those old guys who doesn’t know any music past whenever he started having children. Plus, I work at a radio station, so actually listening to the radio is one of the last things I want to do when I leave for the day.

Anyway, I didn’t know what this song was, and I didn’t get to the SoundHound app on my phone quick enough to check what it was, so I sort of logged it away in my brain to check on later. Then, because I forget everything these days, I didn’t think about it again. This pattern of curiosity, interest, intent, forgetfulness, and inaction is fairly common with me.

The next day, I was talking with a friend, and she mentioned this song by One Direction that she liked. Now, when I hear the words “One Direction,” I think “modern-day New Kids on the Block.” That’s not meant as a compliment. There’s a store in a nearby mall called Claire’s that’s filled with One Direction merchandise. To put this into perspective, the rest of the store is filled with Hello Kitty, Disney’s Frozen, and virtually ever other brand that would snag the attention of a 12-year-old girl.

I told my friend that I don’t like One Direction, and I proceeded to mock her for even bringing them up. Then she began describing the new song of theirs that she liked … and it was the song I had heard on the radio. So I looked it up on the internet, and, much to my chagrin, I still kind of liked it. It’s apparently called “Night Changes.” It even has this sort of cheesily endearing video.

Of course, my initial reaction to realizing I actually found a One Direction song even remotely appealing was one of shock and horror. I’m not supposed to like this kind of music. I’m supposed to thumb my adult and sophisticated (and twice-broken) nose at this kind of thing. The more I thought about it, though, it actually did have a nice melody to it. And it wasn’t some dopey dance track. And it did fool me on the radio, so…

I have a One Direction song on my iPod now.

I remember in a counseling session one time telling my counselor how it concerned me that I wasn’t focused on enough “adult” things. He proceeded to tell me how, as a young man in his early- to mid-20s, he liked to get home from work in the afternoon and watch cartoons. I’ll never forget his words: “I’m a grown damn man, and I can watch cartoons if I want to.”

So if I want to like a One Direction song, hey, it’s just a song. I was out the other day and heard REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and thought to myself, “You know, I kind of like this song.” It took me a minute to push past worrying about people today thinking it’s kind of cheesy. I can like what I want to. I’m not saying I’m going to be downloading the entire One Direction catalog, but if I decide to, that’s my prerogative. Ooh, speaking of a song I like…

Super Weird, Part II

Oh, America, America. What has happened to you?

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I mean, it’s been this way for years and years now. The ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, even during this young century: Everyone is looking for love. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to give love to someone else. Everyone just wants everyone to love each other. Love, love, love.

It’s always the funniest commercials that usually make the headlines the morning after the Super Bowl is played, and those are usually the ones which leave people talking the longest. Every year has its share of serious spots as well. Oddly enough, some of the most touching commercials in recent years have been advertisements for beer, although other companies struck a more gentle tone this year as well.

1422463197_budweiser-lost-dog-zoomMacDonald’s is encouraging people to pay for their food at the restaurant “with love.” A computer tech spilling a bottle of Coca-Cola inspired all kinds of thoughtful acts in an ad for the soda company. Numerous commercials touted the noble attributes of family and fatherhood. And then, of course, there was that adorable little Budweiser puppy dog being rescued from a pack of wolves by a herd of thundering Clydesdales. Even the horses were showing love.

There’s nothing wrong with love. It’s great. It’s fantastic. Close-knit families, kind human beings, even affectionate animals are all wonderful things.

They’re just not enough. They’ve never been enough. And they’re not ever going to be enough.

That was my pervading thought as I watched all these messages of love flash across the television screen in front of me. We live in a love-starved world. It’s a vacuum we are all desperately trying to fill. My question would be, though, if we have been promoting love for all this time, in so many creative and different and uplifting ways, why is it not taking hold? Why do we all still seem to be so lacking in it, and why do we still feel the need to promote it, as if our message is going to resound differently than the million that came before it?

We are running from God. We are running from the only love that can save us. We’ve been running from Him forever, decade after decade after decade, thinking we can replace His place in our hearts with just enough of this or just enough of that. It’s folly.

I am certainly not going to disparage anyone from promoting peace and love, especially considering the heinous acts human beings perpetrate on each other on a daily basis. Love needs to be shouted from the rooftops every chance we get, even during the Super Bowl. It’s an incomplete message, though, and it’s going to keep missing the mark until we understand that in order to love fully we have to turn to the one who loved us first.

I applaud every company which used its advertising dollars for this year’s Super Bowl to promote positive, encourage messages aimed at making this world a better place to live in. They can’t make us love God, though. We’re the only ones that can do that. He’s still waiting. Why are we?

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.

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.