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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The Threshold And The Fear Of Flying

Several years ago, I gave up drinking caffeine. I didn’t even wean myself off it. One day I was memedrinking it; the next day I was not. Consuming caffeine was causing me some pretty scary health issues, most notably severe headaches, so I came to the conclusion that it was harmful enough to me that I had to cut it out completely. I went through three days of headaches that actually seemed worse than the headaches I was trying to get rid of, but eventually this new pain subsided. Now I feel so much better that I don’t want to drink it ever again.

It would stand to reason that I would be able to kick out everything in my life that is harmful to me with just as much resolve and swiftness. If only that were true. I have habits and hang-ups that have plagued since my teenage years that I still wrestle with today as a 40 year old. I have thought patterns that lead me down rabbit holes to nowhere. I sabotage myself on a daily basis in one way or another. It should be easy for me to want to put these things down; it isn’t.

There are certain times in our lives when we feel like we are on the threshold of a breakthrough. That if we could just step off the ledge and believe, we could fly to the places we’ve always wanted to be. These are also the times when we realize we have to surrender something to get to those places. Oftentimes the things we have to give up are so ingrained in us that they feel like a part of us. We wonder how we can even exist as a person without them.

So, instead of giving them up, we hold onto them. And we don’t fly.

It doesn’t make any sense to hang onto things that hurt us, whether they’re behaviors or thought patterns or relationships. We do it all the time, though. These things become who we are after a while, and we feel as if letting them go will be like cutting off a part of ourselves. I keep saying “we,” but I really mean “I.” I run back to unfruitful relationships. I am so afraid of failure I don’t try new things. I don’t change the habits in my life that lead me down paths of sin because, well, maybe I don’t want to change all that much.

cliffSo I’m back at the threshold again, and I’m feeling that fear of flying again. I know if I go back I’ll regret it, but the old places are comfortable and familiar. They don’t require change. At the same time, they always eventually make me feel bad. I always think they won’t, and they even deliver good feelings for a while, but they inevitably let me down. Giving them up will cause pain, but just like the post-caffeine headaches, that pain will eventually go away, and I’ll wonder why I ever tolerated them in the first place.

I’m weak, though. I need prayers. I need support. I need encouragement. I need Jesus to step in and move things supernaturally out of my way and out of my life. For what feels like the millionth time in my life, I’m standing at the edge. Will I actually want to step off it this time?

Early Snow

snowLet’s just get something out of the way up front, shall we? I don’t like snow. I’m sure at some point in my life when I was younger I might have enjoyed the white stuff and its ability to get me out of school for a few days a year, but those days are long since gone. Snow means cold. Snow means slick roads. Snow means uncertainty.

I could probably point to some key moments in life which helped shape this attitude. The time my dad drove us straight into a ditch about three-quarters of a mile from our house, which forced us to walk back home on a snow-covered road. The time I slid a car down a snowy embankment because another driver (who did not even stop to see if I was okay) cut me off. All those mornings I had to work while others “just couldn’t make it in.”

Stupid snow.

I could cite all these factors, but they wouldn’t cut to the heart of the issue for me. The bottom line for me is this: Snow scares me. It scares me because I know I’ll have to drive on it. It scares me because I know it can cause power outages. It can cause a run on gasoline and groceries. What annoys me more than anything about it, though, is the fact it causes fear in me at all.

I mean, snow is just basically water. Guys with big trucks plow through it like, well, water. Families with generators or gas logs don’t fear power failures. The better-prepared are stocked up on the essentials. I should be more like those people. Of course, in my mid, every other person on earth besides me is those people.

Now, I’m sure if I really sat down and thought about it, I could think of at least one person I know who has had an automobile accident because of snowy road conditions. I could probably name at least one other family without a generator. I could probably throw a rock and hit at least one house where the pantry isn’t fully stocked before the snowstorm hits.

But I don’t sit down and think about it. I assume I’m the only one who is nervous or scared or unprepared for what’s on the way.

Snow obviously brings out some of my worst comparison traits, but there are other triggers as well. In fact, it would probably be easier to list scenarios that don’t cause me to compare myself to others than to count up all the ones that do. Low self-esteem and comparisons add up to an endless trap. You’ll never be brave enough, prepared enough, or good enough. You’ll always be the only one not ready for winter.

You know what happened today, though? We received an early snowfall of about an inch or so. TheIMG_0099 roads were in good shape, and I drove in to work without a second thought. Then I remembered driving on the ice we had earlier in the year. Then I realized I didn’t wreck then. Then I thought, “Hey, we survived all that.” If you’ll pardon the expression, my thoughts snowballed into something pretty positive.

While snow isn’t always a killer, comparisons definitely are. The struggle to stay inside your own head and experiences and not idealize everyone else is more dangerous than any snowstorm. Snow may scare me, but it’s not nearly as scary as my own thoughts can be.

Recovery

For lack of a better way to put it, I spun out at the end of last week. Situations were pressing on my nerves, and I went to bed Thursday evening nearly nauseous. I lost my perspective, handled things poorly, covered things up, and lost my peace. I regained a little of it yesterday, and then woke up today without it again. I stood in front of the mirror and called myself names. I just wanted to be alone, which is very difficult to achieve in a house with a wife and five children. I escaped for a two-mile walk, but not before irritating pretty much every member of my family with my rotten attitude.

I’m leveling out a little this afternoon, but my stomach still feels weird, and I’m still wrestling with what upset me in the first place. I headfeel angry and stupid and foolish and hurt and weak. This isn’t exactly new for me. I’ve been here before. But I haven’t been at this level in a while. I remembered my counseling, took my medication, exercised, prayed, even poured my guts out to a friend over some burgers and fries Friday night, but I couldn’t shake that old ghost. I knew I had messed up, and the thought crept back into my head that I was always going to mess things up because that’s simply what I do. It’s in my DNA.

Thankfully, I’m slowly learning that recovery does exist when these feelings hit, but I’m also painfully discovering that I have to own blame and accept consequences when I do idiotic things. And while my grace tends to extend pretty far when it comes to other people, I have virtually zero tolerance for myself. I expect the hammer to fall on me because I deserve it, but at the same time I really don’t want it to because I’m a coward. I scheme and I plot to mitigate the damages, all while chastising myself for repeating the same old mistakes over and over again.

Recovery from depression can be a vicious and unforgiving process. Feelings have to be acknowledged before they can be dealt with. I mean, if I broke my leg but I kept insisting that the bone was intact, I would never heal properly because I would keep trying to walk around on it as if it was a healthy limb. As crappy as it feels, there is a necessity in admitting fear, anxiety, sadness, addiction, and any other number of emotions that commonly accompany depression. The key is to not wallow in them or just accept them as states that are always just going to be. A daily process and battle exists to achieve victory, but no one should ever claim it is easy.

I forgot all this over weekend and sunk into a hole. I wanted to think of myself as “cured,” when wellness is a process I’ll probably be walking out for the rest of my days on this earth. I gave wounds power over me, and I let my emotions get away from me. To be honest, I don’t feel a whole lot better today, but I have no choice but to keep pushing. It recently dawned on that in certain areas of my life, I’m not even sure what “normal” is, but I know it exists.

fergusonComedian and actor Craig Ferguson once offered a tremendously accurate description of how suffering in a disease is often what promotes healing when he said, “… What mattered was that when treated as a disease, those who suffered from it were most likely to recover.” Even though Ferguson was addressing alcoholism, I believe his words ring true for depression as well. Recovery doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes it downright sucks. It’s necessary, though, as we progress through life, whether we have a broken bone or a clouded mind. I just wish it was a faster process.