Mini-Goals, Perceived Failures, And Running Away

It’s not often that I just come on here and discuss what I did over the course of a day without attempting to link it to some sort of profound realization or inspiring statement. Today, though, I just want to describe what I went out and did. Everybody cool with that? Okay, good.

10676177_935674526444151_1416051604518562695_nI had to attend a lunch gathering for my job today. Well, “had to” probably isn’t entirely accurate. I was invited to it, and there really wasn’t any good reason for me not to attend would be more accurate … unless a massive fear of mingling in crowds of people you’ve never met before qualifies as a “good reason.” Somehow, though, I worked up my courage enough to attend this event despite my brain working overtime to come up with every reason possible for me to not go.

As you may have noticed, I have been really into mini-goals lately. These are smaller goals I feel are more attainable than overall bigger things I want to achieve. For example, when my family and I went to Disney World last year, I set a goal for myself to start up a conversation with one random person while I was there. I could have aimed much higher than that and set a goal of saying something to every stranger I came into contact with, but that seemed too tall an order for someone who sometimes has trouble speaking to people he actually does know. I figured one person was more realistic, and I felt pretty good once I checked that goal off my list.

For today, then, I decided if I could just manage to speak to the people at my table I would be doing well. I was feeling pretty good about myself when I reached this goal after about five minutes of being there. Once the event was over, however, my slightly loftier goal of mingling around the room totally crashed and burned. The other guests started getting up and moving around, and I almost immediately bolted for the door. By the time I reached my truck, I felt that familiar feeling of shame washing over me. I had let the anxiety get the best of me again.

This event was held not too far from a local mall, so I decided that maybe if I walked around, drank some (decaf) coffee, and browsed a few stores that I might be able to forget that feeling. This actually used to work for me. I liked having the time to myself, to be alone, to look at whatever I wanted to. Today, though, the whole experience just felt hollow, mainly because I realized I was only there because I was trying to run away from something. No amount of shopping or coffee was going to replace that feeling of disappointment in myself today, so I didn’t stay too long.

In light of all this, I am trying to focus on the two smaller goals I met – attending the lunch in the first place and then talking to a couple of people while I was there – rather than the one larger one I failed miserably at. You can probably guess how well that’s going. People all the time are telling me how I’m too hard on myself, but at the same time I feel incredibly lazy and unmotivated sometimes. Or maybe feeling that way is part of being too hard on myself. I don’t know. This is making me dizzy.

So that was my day, from a psychological standpoint. How was yours?

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Hands Up

I’ve mentioned here on the blog before that I don’t particularly care for roller coasters. I just don’t get the thrill of trying to scare the crap out of yourself. “Here, I’m going to push you down this hill at a speed fast enough to make you think you might die.” Why, yes, that sounds like loads of fun. Sign me up.

One of the pitfalls of having children, though, is that they often want to do things you do not. So, of course, when my family went to the Magicseven-dwarfs-600 Kingdom last week, what was the first thing my kids wanted to do? Ride the Dumbo ride? Spin on the tea cups? Cruise through pirate-infested waters? No, of course not. Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train… Basically, anything that would drop us from a great height at an even greater velocity.

My wife actually does enjoy an occasional roller coaster ride, but it seems age or the effects of giving birth five times is catching up to her, as her stomach tends to get a little queasy with too much motion these days. So guess who that left to ride all these things? Yep, that would be me. (Actually, my wife did do the mine train and Splash Mountain. I’m just looking to garner extra sympathy here, I guess.)

I’ve gotten into this kind of odd habit of setting mini-goals for myself in certain situations these days. For example, I might challenge myself to say one ad-libbed thing to the waiter or waitress if I go out to eat. It may not sound like much, but it gives me a little sense of accomplishment here and there. In the case of Disney World, I set two: Strike up a conversation with a stranger (which I never, ever do) and raise my hands on a roller coaster.

The stranger part actually happened pretty naturally. For some reason, Disney World just seems to be conducive to striking up random conversations, and I was fortunate enough to stumble upon one waiting in line for one of the rides. The raising of the hands? Well, that was a bit more difficult. See, when I feel that first drop coming on, I apply the death grip to whatever’s in front of me. I actually had a sore back after riding Space Mountain because my body tensed up so much. I am not the dad you see in pictures with hands in the air and a smile on his face.

thunder mountainI failed on Space Mountain, the mine train, and Splash Mountain. Thunder Mountain Railroad was my last shot. I looked up and saw the big mountain and thought, “Oh, no, this isn’t going to work at all.” For some reason, though, my confidence had been building throughout the day. I guess not dying on the other three rides was giving me a boost. So, in the first turn of Thunder Mountain Railroad, I did something I had never done before: I raised my hands on a roller coaster.

I would imagine there are a few of you saying right now thinking, “Pfft, that’s not even a real roller coaster. Go through some loops and then pat yourself on the back.” Well, baby steps, I say. So what if I got my hands up on a small roller coaster. That’s better than I’d ever done before. There’s something about hitting those mini-goals that goes a long way for me. So when the ride ended and I was still alive, I felt pretty darn good. A bit silly, but pretty good.

Now, am I going to go back one day and hop on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster? Um, probably not. And I won’t even get into how our trip to the resort pool went (Note: I can’t swim.). But, you know, you have to claim the small victories when you can, right? Maybe I’ll even get my hands up on two roller coasters next time.

Tuneful Tuesday: Beauty & The Beast

This may get my man card revoked, but I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I love Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. I don’t mean I think of it as one of the greatest animated films of all time. No, I mean I have a ridiculous teenage girl crush on it. Two of my favorite things from our recent trip to Disney World were getting to see the musical production and getting to eat lunch in the Be Our Guest restaurant. My family was sitting there commenting on the food, and I just kept thinking, “I’m sitting in the Beast’s dining room!”

I know. It’s somewhat pathetic.

I’ve tried over the years to put my finger on why I would feel this way. I used to believe it was simply because I felt the movie was extremely well-made, with a plot that flowed nicely, excellent voice performances, and sparkling animation. There was always something deeper than that, though, even though I couldn’t verbalize what it was. Now that I’m facing up to life with depression, I think I’ve finally figured it out.

I think I’m the Beast.

1002141154The picture here was taken at the restaurant I mentioned earlier, and it sort of captures how I feel a lot of the time. There’s the person next to me, seemingly perfect, having everything together, patiently waiting for me to change. And then there’s me, an ugly mess, angry, rude sometimes, hiding secrets, but really wishing at the same time that I could get that person to like me. I love that the Beast (By the way, does anyone actually know the Prince’s name? Did he even have one? I don’t think he was “Prince Beast.”) manages to get his act together enough by the end of the film to be redeemed. Sometimes I feel as if I’ll be stuck in Beast mode forever.

There’s also the dynamic at play that everyone around the Beast – namely, the cursed castle staff – not only would like to see him improve for his own sake, but are also depending on him for their own sakes as well. I think maybe the Beast feels the pressure, and that adds to his already foul mood. He knows he’s letting those around him down, but he can’t seem to change.

Or perhaps I’m reading too much into a Disney cartoon. I’m sure there are some excellent Stockholm Theories out there as well.

The “tale as old as time” is the love story, obviously, but it could refer to the struggle people have had for years and years with feeling like, well, beasts. At the risk of over-thinking this any further, I’ll just go back to my original statement: I love Disney’s Beauty & the Beast. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some snow globes to paint and I have to complete my nightly diary entry. Hee-hee…

It’s A Big, Big World

Everyone knows the words by now. “It’s a small, small world…” I guess in a way that’s correct. We do all share many of the same hopes and its-a-small-worlddreams and fears and hangups all over the world. Go outside the ride at Disney World, though, and people watch for a little while. Here’s what you’ll see…

Tatted-up men and women wearing plastic mouse ears on their heads and pushing around baby strollers…

Some of the most brilliant, beaming smiles you will ever see…

Couples eating entire meals together without speaking two words to each other…

Moms and dads who look like they’ve never had a cross word with each other during their entire relationship…

Slumped shoulders that appear to be carrying the weight of the world on them…

One of the things I love the most about Disney World is the way everyone feels so free to talk to everyone else. For example, in the lines for one of the rides my children and I met another homeschooling family. We had talked enough by the time we reached the ride itself that my 10-year-old daughter rode it with the other family’s mother sitting next to her. And I didn’t think a thing about it. Where else in the world would I do that?

Yes, the things that link people together are common enough that the world can be called small, but there are so many of us, going through so many things both good and bad, that the human experience becomes a vast universe. The world is filled with different languages, different scenery, and different personalities. It can be overwhelming, but it can also be a beautiful tapestry, if we just realize the wonder of it all. Depression can make a person’s world so small. I’m tired of small. I want big.

“There’s so much that we share…” I spent a week at Disney World and probably didn’t take in half of what it had to offer. I’ve been alive for 40 years and probably experienced even less than that of what life has to offer. It’s a big, big world. Don’t let it pass you by.

Disney Week

To quote the great Samwise Gamgee, “Well, I’m back.” The week-long Disney vacation is now over, and I am faced with the difficult task of re-assimilating back into reality. Let the kicking and screaming commence…

disneyBefore anyone points out to me all the questionable things related to the Walt Disney company, let me just say this right up front: I love Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Disney feminism, Disney ties to porn, Disney greed, blah, blah, blah… I freakin’ love going to the park. Even if my family and I are running ragged by the end of the day, there’s just something about being there that makes me want to dream again.

My last trip to Disney before this one was three years ago, before I had gone through any kind of counseling for depression. I hate to admit this, but I actually cried when we arrived home after that trip. This time around was a little different, although I still had some issues to sort out as the week went on. In fact, I had quite a few insights by the end of the trip. So many, in fact…

I’m just going to declare this “Disney Week” here at the blog, meaning every entry this week will have something to do with my recent excursion to the Magic Kingdom. My theme tonight would have to be “I’m Tired and Going to Bed.” I’ll kick things off in proper fashion tomorrow. In the meantime, keep wishing on the stars…

The Big Drop

I am a total wimp when it comes to amusement park rides. Spin me around in circles, and I’m fine; plunge me off some kind drop-off, and I’m praying to God for survival. That feeling of hurtling toward potential death has never done much for me, so I tend to avoid things like roller coasters and log flumes and stick closer to the tilt-a-whirl. Occasionally, though, one of my children will talk me into riding something I almost immediately regret getting on.

This happened a couple of years ago at Disney World. Against my better judgement, I joined my wife and kids on the Splash splash mountainMountain ride. This was fairly early in our day at the park, which meant there would be other attractions to take in from there. As anyone who has ever ridden a log flume before knows, there is that moment when you’re just about to go over the edge of the falls that feels like your stomach is going into your throat and you’re going to drop into nothingness. If I could just avoid that moment, I would be fine.

A funny thing happened after we rode that ride that day. That feeling I just described continued to happen to me, even on rides that were relatively benign compared to the first one. I still remember very clearly going over the small drop-off near the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and being so nervous I was white-knuckling the metal bar in front of my seat. Even the slightest dip had me on edge the rest of the day. It was unnerving, to say the least.

I am purely speculating here, but I would imagine I experienced a very small, minuscule dose of what it would be like to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Before you think me an idiot, I am in no way comparing a jumpy day at Disney World to having to deal with a post-war or mentally traumatic experience. As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that “PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm,” though, it did offer me a tiny, tiny glimpse into what an affliction of this kind might feel like.

MemorialDayFlagI thought on this Memorial Day of that day at Disney World because there are so many military veterans struggling with this very condition. I’ve read heartbreaking accounts from celebrities such as actor Patrick Stewart and singer Sammy Hagar about how their fathers behaved incredibly erratically and irrationally after wartime experiences. I know people with spouses who have been diagnosed with PTSD. I am only a spectator looking in, however. My heart goes out to the soldiers who can’t find peace today, but I feel utterly powerless to help them.

A search of the internet today brought up a few possibilities of PTSD occurrences in the Bible. The most common citing I found was the story of Noah. Long before Darren Aronofsky’s Noah film was released, I had heard people discuss the fact that there were more than likely people outside of the ark who were screaming for help, maybe even banging on the outside of the boat, as the floodwaters rose. Noah had to hear that, but he couldn’t let them in. Following God’s commands is not always an easy task, and Noah basically had to turn his back on his dying neighbors.

Noah’s story takes sort of a nasty turn once the flood is over, as he winds up drunk and naked inside his tent. It’s an odd epilogue to an account of the only righteous man on Earth at the time. King Saul did some pretty nutty stuff later on in life, too, and David’s Psalms are an open book on his fluctuating state of mind as well. Were any of them suffering from what we now call PTSD? We’ll never know for sure, as the type of psychological analysis we employ today is not found anywhere in the Bible. What is for certain, though, is that even good men can go off the rails following traumatic experiences.

I pray today not only for military veterans suffering from this affliction, but anyone who has dealt with it for any other reason as well. Your drop was a lot steeper than mine, and you have to deal with it every day. May we all pray to find ways to ease your burdens and comfort your souls.