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.

Advertisements

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

Exposed And Unconfident

I did something really stupid this weekend. I mean really, really dumb. Monumentally idiotic. Imbecile-level.

I shaved my beard off.

Now, there is an actual story behind this. My soon-to-be 11-year-old daughter, Emma, has been on me forever about 11535683_10155777623840217_2116900964301603517_nhow my beard scratched her face when I gave her kisses. She had actually started refusing to let me do it. As a sort of truce, I said I would shave it off for her birthday, which is in August. I decided to surprise her, though, by doing it a little bit early.

Well, actually, that’s not my entire reason for doing it when I did. I’m going to be starting college classes soon, and it was very important for me to have the beard when those began. Let me explain.

I’m pretty sure that before this past weekend, I had not been without a beard or at least a goatee for somewhere around the last 10 years. I distinctly remembered despising what I looked like the last time I shaved everything off before that. I had grown a beard in the first place, though, because I hated my face. I mean, I literally hated my face. It’s pasty and doughy looking. It has no real shape. It’s just this white mass of flesh, and my skin isn’t the best in the world either. A beard, as the old saying goes, covers a multitude of dislikes.

Okay, so I made that last saying up, but it really is true. I didn’t realize the level of confidence facial hair gave me. If you’re thinking I’m attempting to make a joke here, I assure you I am not. While most men (and women) are attempting to look younger, I actually wanted to look older. Nothing like a few white hairs in the beard to accomplish that. It not only made me look older, though, but it also made me feel older. The baby face was hidden away, and I finally liked what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t worry as much about what everyone else was seeing because I was so comfortable with what I was seeing.

vitabeardI can’t really put into words how traumatic this shaving experience has been for me. Several times, I have literally wanted to be sick when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror these past few days. I have actually looked up information on the internet about beard-growing supplements (Yes, Virginia, there is something called “Vitabeard.”) and ways to stimulate facial hair growth. Since I started noticed stubble again, I keep rubbing my face just to feel it there.

I am serious when I say this has messed me up a little.

Thankfully, even Emma has said I should grow back the whiskers, so I don’t have to fight with anyone about the decision to do so. As I creep toward rejoining the ranks of beardom, I am realizing I have learned a valuable lesson from all this. If you find something that makes you feel whole and confident and true to yourself, think very carefully before you go messing with it. Even if you do change it, though, and you don’t like it, you can always try to get it back. It may take a little time, but keep your eye on the prize.

Now, if you’ll excuse, I have to go count the hairs on my face. And measure them. Individually.

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?

The Invisible Alien

I believe I may be an alien being from another planet who possesses the power of invisibility.

“Crazy talk,” you say? “Not so,” I reply!

Consider this…

Nearly every computer or technological question I pose to humans is met either with a look of quizzical fascination or with the words, “Hmm, I’ve never heard of that before.” Perhaps there is some otherworldly electrical current which courses through my fingertips, rendering laptops and personal computers helpless before me. And maybe my knowledge of an alien alphabet keeps me from being able to enter passwords correctly, therefore keeping me out of websites and accounts it is crucial that I gain access to. Mankind appears incapable of solving these dilemmas for me.

I also possess the gift of being able to utter words into the air which are beyond the auditory perception of human alienears. Sometimes, it is as if what I’m saying isn’t heard by anyone at all. At other times, it is obvious that I was heard, but a response to my words is found lacking. This could be because I speak in some of dialect which I perceive as English, but is actually a type of speech birthed in the outer realms of space and transported by me to this rock known as Earth. I may also possess a different type of hearing which renders my measurement of volume inaccurate. What seems loud to me may be a whisper to someone else.

Whatever the causes, I seem to be able to move largely unnoticed through this world. I possess relative anonymity in a town I have lived in all my life. I have skills which appear to be fairly easy to ignore. My face is so unmemorable that a person I had actually met twice before told me that I reminded them of a picture they had seen on the news that day of an escaped convict. At my 20-year high school reunion, I ran into a former classmate who still lives in our hometown who asked me how work was going at the newspaper – somewhere I hadn’t worked in nearly a decade at the point.

Of course, I’m playing all this for laughs, but there are definitely times in my life when I feel as if I truly do not belong on this planet. I was reminded of this yesterday as I attempted to complete my college registration. Questions about usernames and passwords were met with largely blank stares. Did I stutter? Am I dense, and that is why I can’t figure this stuff out? Or am I over-thinking problems to the point where people don’t even understand my questions? No one is ever completely and constantly misunderstood, but certain days have a way of making me feel as if really am speaking a different language than everyone else.

This is presuming, of course, I actually manage to get someone’s attention. I cannot count the number of times recently I have been point-blank staring at someone and said something they appeared to have not heard whatsoever. Yesterday, when I got home, my two sons were running around the side of our house. I called to them; they didn’t even break stride. Am I that uninteresting? Have I said so many useless and trivial things in life that everyone just ignores whatever I say, whether it is important or not?

When did I become someone people could stare straight through? Or was I this person all along and am just now realizing it?

I am getting better at accepting who I am and realizing my personality traits are what they are. I’m also trying to figure out how all these parts of me make up a useful and functioning person. The real fear, though, is that I’ve waited too late to get started. Maybe I spent too many years in space. Maybe this is as good it gets for an invisible alien.

The thing is, though, there’s no way to backtrack from here. The alien wouldn’t come to Earth if he didn’t think there was something worth coming here for, and there’s nothing much in the outer limits worth staying there for. Adapting, improving, evolving, learning… These are the ways we aliens learn to survive in what can be a hostile environment sometimes. It’s not just a matter of survival, though; it’s a matter of learning to love and to live and to find a voice that asks questions worth hearing.

I Am Death

John James Rambo is dead.

No, I mean, seriously. Rambo died, like, a long time ago.

Most people are only familiar with Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of the muscular Vietnam vet from the four Rambo FirstBloodRambo_021Pyxurz
movies he starred in, but fewer realize John Rambo actually made his first appearance in a book, David Morrell’s First Blood, which was first published in 1972. The book differs quite dramatically from the First Blood movie that hit theaters in 1982, most notably in its ending. SPOILER ALERT: John Rambo does not walk away in the book; he is shot and killed by Special Forces Captain Sam Trautman. In fact, an alternate ending of the movie has Trautman (played by Richard Crenna) killing Rambo as well.

Of course, it would have been extremely difficult to make Rambo sequels if the title character was deceased, so he did not meet his demise at the end of the first movie. I haven’t seen the fourth movie, Rambo, but I did notice a common theme which emerged from the first three films: John Rambo was not particularly keen on fighting and killing. He could rise to the occasion when he had to and leave an impressive trail of carnage behind him, but he generally tried to keep to himself and avoid violence whenever possible.

Rambo didn’t remove himself from the presence of people because he was shy or was really into meditation or anything like that. He got the heck away from everyone because he knew every time he was around a bunch of people, somebody was going to die. It might be part of a mission or it might be a misunderstanding between he and the locals, but whatever the case, wherever John Rambo went, death came with him.

There was a time in my life that I honestly believed I was cursed. I believed that anyone who came into contact with me was not going to successful at whatever they were trying to accomplish. If I was involved in what you were doing, it was not going to go well. If your life was going pretty well when you met me, you could be pretty sure it wasn’t going to stay that way. I wasn’t even sure where this curse came from; I actually just thought it was me somehow. Wherever I went, bad stuff happened.

I don’t have quite as fatalistic view these days, but there are still definitely times when I remove myself from situations because I believe I would be a detriment. I believe a lot of people do this and don’t even realize it. They become so convinced that nothing good can come out of them that they begin to project that onto other people and situations as well. If a normally healthy person gets sick, it’s because they came into contact with them. If a normally successful person falters, it’s because they drug them down. If someone who is usually happy becomes depressed, it’s because they altered their mood.

Now, Rambo was always forced back into action by Trautman or some other situation which demanded him to re-engage, and probably each one of us who has felt the urge to run away and hide have faced similar moments of truth. With Rambo, though, everyone knew he was going to deliver once he got out there. With us, eh, not so much. We might succeed, but we might also fail spectacularly. When we try to tell someone this, however, they tell us how silly or melodramatic we’re being. They don’t understand that we have totally lost our confidence in ourselves, and that we believe we are carrying death with us wherever we go.

I’m sure the John Rambo who went on to be featured in three more movies after First Blood wished sometimes he could have had the fate of the John Rambo who died at the end of the book. That way, no one else gets hurt because of him. Without him, though, an awful lot of positive things would never happened. That’s what I and everyone else who has ever struggled with this feeling fight so hard to grasp: We really do serve a purpose and function, and we really are capable of doing good in this world.

The John Rambo in us doesn’t have to die. He sure may want to sometimes, though.

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: 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…

Feel Anything

When most people hear the word “depression,” they equate it with sadness. If someone is depressed, the reasoning goes, they must be really sad all the time. The key, then, is to find out how to make the depressed person happy. Easy enough, right?

Well, not always.

Just type the words “I feel dead inside” into your search engine and see how many results come up. A great majority of people who experience depression report not being able to feel any emotion at all as being one of their primary symptoms. They don’t feel happy, but they don’t feel sad either. They aren’t at peace, but they can’t muster much anger about anything. They don’t feel emotional pain. They become numb to emotions.

People often wonder at the number of those among the depressed who also have various addictions. The practice of cuttingcutting is rarely understood. Researchers have often pointed out links between depression and high-risk behaviors. All of this would seem to run counter-productive to a depressive ever getting any better, since all of these behaviors usually result in making the sufferer feel guilty or ashamed and can even result in physical harm.

The obvious question, then, is, why?

There’s a line in the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” has a line in it I always found very poignant: “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel.” Sometimes the action is not intended to accomplish anything except producing a feeling of some sort. Any feeling, whether it’s pain or pleasure or a high of some kind or even some type of near-death experience. Someone with depression may make a decision that can only be described as stupid simply to experience a jolt in their emotions.

Of course, depression cannot be cited as a reason for every not-so-good decision in life. Every day, though, someone wakes up feeling absolutely numb to the world around them. Nothing brings them enjoyment. Nothing makes them grieve. Nothing makes them laugh. Nothing makes them cry. They desperately need something, but they don’t know what it is, so they fling themselves at anything they think might make them care again.

So for everyone who believes the key to conquering depression is to just figure out how to make everyone happy is missing the point. The solution is to make people excited to be alive again. To give them a purpose for getting out of bed every day. To replace whatever harmful behavior they are using to cope with something beneficial to them.

Sometimes it’s not just a matter of “taking a happy pill” and “turning that frown upside-down.” It’s about becoming a person again. There is no equation for that, and the journey will look different for everyone. Judgement will have to be replaced with mercy and understanding, because they are going to get it wrong along the way. The trick, though, won’t be to just keep going. It will be to just keep feeling.