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…

Advertisements

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.

The Sad Internet

Call it my pessimistic nature, but I’ve grown a little wary of distributing advice here after the last couple of blog posts. Maybe that’s because I don’t want to seem like I think I’m an expert on recovering from depression, because I am far from it. Maybe that’s because I feel as if the first day of the new year today actually took me even further away from where I want to eventually be mentally. Or maybe that’s because I’ve just run out of good ideas to write about this week.

Whatever the cause, this post will not attempt to address my own personal journey with depression, but will instead focus on something which is universal to everyone – failure. More specifically, I want to examine epic failures, how they are often played for laughs, how they must affect the person or persons who are failing, and how some people can bounce back from them while others never will.

sadinternetThe inspiration for all this comes from an article I read this morning on Yahoo! Tech titled “The Sad Internet: 2014 in Review,” written by Rob Walker. In the article, Walker describes “The Sad Internet” as “a place full of unwatched videos, unliked photographs, unheard music, tweets that no one cared about, and crowdfunding projects that nobody backed.” He goes on to describe several websites which define the spirit of this somewhat morose side of the internet today.

For example, the website Forgotify randomly presents songs featured on Spotify that have never received any listens whatsoever. Petit Tube is a French website which features YouTube videos that have never been viewed by you or anyone else, for that matter. Perhaps the saddest of all the sites mentioned in the article is Kickended, a site which features Kickstarter projects that failed to attract even a single backer.

Walker’s article sort of plays all this for laughs, and it is difficult to deny there is something funny about the idea of forgotifysomething being terrible enough it is unable to attract any attention whatsoever. Then again, maybe it’s not so difficult to deny the supposed humor of the situation. I checked out Forgotify this afternoon, and while 99 percent of the song selections that popped up featured cover art so dismal I was afraid to listen to the actual songs themselves, I felt a tinge of sympathy for these musicians and singers. As atrocious as their offerings may have been, I’m sure none of them believed while they were making their projects that they would be ignored by everyone.

This is a sad internet, indeed. Hopeful entrepreneurs who can’t get a dime to fund their projects; merry jokesters who can’t even garner a single viewing of their best video offerings; and people who are cruel enough to set up entire websites dedicated to pointing out the failures of others. The Sad Internet, though, is really just a reflection of the sometimes sad state of life. People who give it their best shots fail every day, and every day there are other people waiting to rub their noses in their failures. It may as well be called “The Real Life Internet.”

This principle of real life, however, is what makes me not quite as sad for these victims of The Sad Internet as I might have been. Because a large majority of those people who fail in life every day somehow manage to dust themselves off and get right back on the horse again. And even though some of them never produce anything much better than their last failure, I have a certain admiration for their fighting spirit. I tend to let my failures cling to me, causing me to be afraid to try again. At least these “sad” people took their shots.

Of course, the psychology of The Sad Internet could be endlessly explored. For instance, while the internet has been touted as a place to connect people and bring the world closer together, it very often causes feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and bitterness. All of that is a discussion best left for another time, however. I’m going to look for some hidden gems on Forgotify. You never know what prize someone else might have passed over.

I Gotta

Have you ever had one of those mornings where all your issues seem to just lay themselves out right before your eyes? It’s like all of a sudden you see exactly what’s going on, and you begin to get a real sense of what is going to be required for you to turn things around. And then you make a fatal mistake by uttering those two terrible words…

“I gotta…”

Think you should be writing more? “I gotta get to work on that book idea…” Should you start bookexercising again? “I gotta get to the gym more often…” Missing old friends? “I gotta start being more sociable…” Thinking about getting the band back together? “I gotta start writing songs again…” Feeling a little far from God? “I gotta start reading my Bible and praying more…”

It’s amazing how two little words can turn something you’re passionate about or something you enjoy doing or something that could truly benefit you into grueling, grinding, miserable work of the most frustrating order. Suddenly, writing becomes a pressure cooker. Staying in touch with friends seems more like a weekly requirement. A relationship with God becomes a guilt-ridden minefield of good intentions gone awry.

It’s always astounded me, the way I’m able to put pressure on myself in a way no one else can or even does. Is there an editor somewhere expecting a manuscript from me by the end of the month? No. Do I need to set a new personal best time for riding my bicycle around my neighborhood because I need to qualify for some competition? No. Most of all, do I even possess the strength within myself to be the kind of Christian I should be?

No.

The problem with being a Christian and “I gotta” is that it flips the teachings of Jesus on their heads. When God puts a motivation on our hearts, what He wants us to do is turn to Him for the strength to do what needs to be done, not to place even more demands on ourselves. Instead of praying about my issues, I begin to obsess over all the things I should be doing more of. So I start putting forth greater effort, only to find I’m almost immediately overwhelmed and utterly depressed by my lack of success.

“I can’t do it,” I say to myself. “I’ve failed … again.”

You know what the only thing I gotta do? Trust God. Rely on His strength, not mine. Stop pressing so hard. Find some joy again in the things I love and stop making everything some sort of competition or deadline. Accept that if I make the attempt He’ll meet me halfway, instead of believing I have to complete the work and then present it to Him.

None of this is optional. I gotta do it.