All Or Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.