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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We Are

My day started off normally enough today. I got up and got ready for work without incident. I got garthinto my truck and set my iPod to the latest podcast from NBA TV’s “The Starters.” This particular podcast was what they call “The Drop,” which is a bit more informal and longer than the show’s usual podcast. The guys were riffing on Garth Brooks’ Facebook introduction video (which is simultaneously sincere, funny, and a little creepy). Life was good.

Then, in a spot I least expected it, three lovely deer bounded across the road in front of me. I tried to brake, but I clipped the last one’s hindquarters. I was still able to drive the vehicle, but I hit it just enough to do some damage to the front bumper and dislodge the driver’s side turn signal. Just to be safe, since I was only a little over a mile from my house, I drove back home and swapped vehicles with my wife.

Not the best start to the day, but as it turns out, the fun was just beginning. I got a call from my wife later in the day that our washing machine had stopped working, followed later by another call from her informing me our oldest daughter had white spots on the back of her throat, a tell-tale sign of strep throat. A trip to the doctor confirmed the diagnosis. In the meantime, I was thinking about a fairly important staff meeting I’m going to be a part of at work tomorrow.

Then the other external factors weighed in. I’m still not registered for school in the spring. It’s the end of the year, so money is a little tighter, especially with Christmas around the corner. Thoughts began to swirl at that point. Maybe I was doing something wrong. My depression is kicking up again. I always fail at everything. Nothing is going to ever get any better.

To put it bluntly, I lost control. I forgot to focus on the positives. I jumped to the worst-case scenarios. I played out everything in black-and-white. Most importantly, though, I was ready to give up on hoping things would improve. The day was not a disaster; was a disaster.

poohA verse in the book of Proverbs states, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” I had an opportunity this evening to take one of my daughters (the one without strep throat) to her basketball practice. Since there isn’t much for a dad to do at a girls’ basketball practice, I used the time to work on some notes for the work meeting tomorrow. At some point in the middle of jotting down points I wanted to cover, I scribbled down the following words: We … can … succeed.

I have had monumental problems in my life believing those three words. What always amazes me is how easily I can be swayed from them. One bad day, one rejected proposition, one stalled opportunity, one harsh word, and I am gone, spiraling down a path far too many of us who have dealt with depression know. What was in my head made its way into my heart, and it became who I was.

Life is not necessarily going to get any easier. Tomorrow may be even worse than today. I may screw up a thousand more times than I ever dreamed I would. Does that mean I have to quit, though? Does that mean I will never get it right? Does that mean nothing will ever change? Well, I guess that part is up to me.

I am someone who has to remember certain exercises and techniques to deal with depression. Who I am not, though, is someone who has to accept that as a limitation. That feels incredibly strange, almost alien, for me to say. Unless I want to have more days like today, though, it’s a reality I’m going to have to grasp.

Depression may be what we have, but it doesn’t have to be who we are.