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.

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Five People

I work with a gentleman who is 72 years old. He’s a rather interesting fellow. He once managed a radio station, ran his own advertising company, and now lives on a houseboat (I don’t know, there’s just something interesting about living on a boat.). He also possesses a Masters degree in Psychology, which means I pick his brain quite often concerning mental health issues.

i-wonder-how-other-people-see-meMore often than not, though, he uses his education and experience to discern different things about me. For example, after I told him this morning about the long walk I was able to take by myself this past Saturday, he said a psychiatrist once told him to not feel guilty about getting out and doing things on his own every now and then. Then he looked at me and said, “I bet when you did that (i.e., went for the walk), you felt like you were abandoning someone or letting them down.”

Ping.

As a result of instances such as this, I tend to listen very closely when this gentleman dispenses any type of psychological advice. Now, I have always shied away from the “Choose one word to describe me” types of Facebook posts or cornering people into telling me what they think of me. It just feels too much like manipulation. I mean, what person is going to write or say in plain, public view, “Yeah, you’re kind of a jerk”? After something my co-worker said this morning, however, I may have to give this a shot.

He told me someone once recommended that he go to five people – family members, friends, whatever – and ask them what they thought about him. I would have completely brushed this idea aside if not for a reaction I received from the last piece I posted here this past Saturday. After posting a link to what I wrote on Facebook, one of my best friends from school messaged me and said, “That did not sound like the guy I remember.” That made me wonder… If one person didn’t see me the way I saw me, I wonder if others didn’t either?

So I’m posting this to look for my five people. Or it could be more than that. Send me a message on Facebook. Message me privately here. Send me a message on Twitter. If you know me well, great. If you don’t know me that well, take a shot in the dark. This is my little experiment, and I may immediately regret doing it, but I thought I’d give it a try. Maybe I’ll even hear from you.

Back Again

In June of last year, I wrote a post here titled “Getting Real,” in which I described how I was going to be returning to school to study psychology.

To follow up, it is now January 2015, and I still have not returned to school to study psychology.

As much as I want to shift into my default gear and blame myself for this, I’m somehow strangely not doing that. Finances didn’t work out. Work situations changed. I actually found a better program than the one I was thinking of enrolling in. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed to not be attending classes yet, but it just wasn’t the right time. Shockingly, I’m totally at peace with saying that.

As I mentioned in that previous post, however, it is much easier to be at peace with things before the reality of them sets in upon you. College, back then, sounded like a great idea … until I received an acceptance letter and began reviewing financial aid options. All of a sudden, the dream wasn’t idealized; it was real. Not that I wouldn’t have gone through with it, because this feels like a driving passion of mine now, but the journey wasn’t going to be anxiety-free. I was going to have to stare down some old demons.

Thanks to a dear friend and co-worker, I was able to get my hands on some study materials for the GRE (Graduate IMG_0230Record Examinations) today. As I often foolishly do, instead of actually sitting down and examining the books from the beginning, I decided to randomly flip one of them open and see what was inside. Of course, I managed to open it right to a page dealing with some type of algebra. I nearly hyperventilated. Math is the enemy of the English major, which I was in college my first time around. Suddenly, passing this test didn’t seem as possible as it once did.

The trick here, obviously, is to slow down, read through the books in some type of order, re-learn how to study (since I haven’t had to do that for anything in a long, long time), and stop envisioning failure. All of this is just another reminder to me that nothing in life – be it overcoming depression or earning a degree or just getting out of bed in the morning – comes without some effort. As silly as it may sound, I didn’t always know that. Or, at least, I didn’t always want to know that. Part of me hoped there was some pill I could take or some switch that would suddenly flip on. I’m at least somewhat wiser now.

Since opening that book this afternoon, I haven’t opened it since. I have to let the initial shock wear off before I can pick it up again. I am back again, though. This feels almost like it did in June.

Things just got real.

The Drugs We Crave

You’ve heard it before. You’ve been driving somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, be it to catch an early flight or to work the ufoearly shift at your job, and started scanning the radio dial. You flipped past some music, but somehow that just didn’t seem appropriate. You wanted something more subdued, more relaxing, so you began to seek out the talk radio stations. And that’s when you found it – that program that discusses UFOs as if they are a totally real phenomenon.

For the record, I have a difficult time believing in life on other planets coming to visit ours. I just don’t think they could have done it without some type of definitive proof being captured by now. In this age of leaks and the internet and satellite technology and who knows what other means of making sure nothing ever stays a secret for very long, it’s impossible for me to believe not one concrete piece of evidence exists to prove the existence of UFOs. True believers, you may begin spamming me now at your leisure.

At any rate, I came across one of these programs on my way in to work this week, and perhaps out of a desire to be entertained or a need to shake my head in disbelief at something to stir myself awake, I began to listen to it. The program I’m referring to is Coast To Coast AM with George Noory. Noory’s guest that morning was Dr. Peter Breggin, who, according to the Coast To Coast website, is “a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and former full-time consultant with NIMH who is in private practice in Ithaca, New York.” What held my attention on this particular morning was the topic of discussion – the suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams.

dr-marvin-monroe-7Now, I know nothing about the validity of Dr. Breggin’s credentials as they are spelled out on the website. He may as well be Dr. Marvin Monroe from The Simpsons for all I know. Regardless, he was bringing up some very significant points on this particular morning concerning Williams’ death. For one, he pointed out how cruel and difficult the manner of death seemed to be. The method Williams chose to end his own life was not an easy one. He also mentioned how Williams’ years of drug and alcohol use could not have been beneficial to the activity in his brain.

And it was then, in the middle of this unusual forum at an ungodly hour of the day, Dr. Breggin said posed a question that made as much sense as anything I’ve heard in a long, long time: “Why do we always crave the drugs that are going to lead us deeper into depression?”

Dr. Breggin was referring to drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines, to name a few, but he could have been talking about a great many things we wouldn’t consider to be “drugs.” Pornography. Affairs. Excessive use of the internet. Self-pity. Hours upon hours of playing video games in darkened rooms. Promiscuous sex. Many people might look at this list and say, “Look, I don’t see anything wrong with any of that. Those things are part of my life, and I feel perfectly fine.” Maybe so. To many, though, any one of these items could have opened a portal to the dark world of depression.

The fallen part of us chases these things, though. We see sin, and we know its consequences, but so many times we charge after it anyway. Then the guilt comes pouring in, and it can only take us down, down, down. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Dr. Breggin didn’t know it, but he was describing the sin nature in all of us, the desire to do the very things we know will destroy us.

For the apostle Paul, the only deliverance from this kind of behavior was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the only deliverance for me. It’s the only deliverance for you. Cognitive therapy, counseling, psychology… These all have their place, but they cannot deal with the issue of sin. Only the grace of God can do that. I may doubt the existence of flying saucers and strange visitors from other planets, but I do not doubt that.

Broken And Beautiful

10352841_732535573459134_721578935202840472_nGuys like to fix things. This is a proven fact of nature. I’m not even necessarily talking about mechanical things either. Guys like to turn flailing businesses around, set broken bones, mow neglected lawns, tune out-of-tune instruments, point out editorial mistakes in the local newspaper, tighten loose door hinges, change their own oil, and on and on and on and on…

Another thing guys like to do is protect stuff. I’ve never shot a living thing in my life, but if some rabid animal shows up in my yard and is threatening my family, I wouldn’t hesitate to put it down. It’s not just physical protection, though; it’s defense. Guys keep tacklers away from the quarterback, scream when they block shots, throw themselves on grenades, take the rap for things they didn’t even do, try to keep the other team out of their end zone, fight for women they don’t even know, and on and on and on…

Although I wouldn’t rate myself very high on the manliness scale, I wonder if all this isn’t why I’ve become so interested in the field of psychology. After depression counseling, I felt as if someone had repaired a part of my brain that wasn’t working correctly and given me the tools to perform maintenance as needed. Then I started thinking about all the other people I knew who could benefit from something similar, and I thought, “Yeah, I want to be a part of that.” Plus, if I could head off issues before they sprouted, I would also be defending people from future danger.

Check and check!

What has been surprising, though, is how beautiful people who don’t have it all together are becoming to me. I’ll admit, I’ve spent most of my life as a judgmental hypocrite, which I believe everyone in the Bible Belt is required to become for at least a portion of their lives. “Those people need to straighten up! They need to get it together!” And then I realized those people were me. I didn’t have it all together either, and I still don’t. As singer/songwriter Derek Webb once sang, “There are things you would not believe that travel into my mind.” There wasn’t a them anymore; suddenly, it was us.

The main problem with broken people, however, is that it’s very difficult to convince them they’re beautiful. Take a beautiful youngquote-about-maybe-youre-not-perfect-but-that-doesnt-mean-youre-not-beautiful woman, for example, the kind a guy would do stupid things for. Maybe she had trouble with her family. Maybe she has marks on her face left by acne. Maybe she has a scar from some harrowing surgery she thinks will make her ugly if anyone sees it. She doesn’t want to hear about being beautiful, even when someone tells her she is. It’s heartbreaking when she won’t accept a compliment.

Broken people also don’t want to be called broken. They build up tough shells, and even though everything about them screams “I need a friend,” they do their best to keep everyone at arm’s length. They want to set the rules and the boundaries, and they don’t want protection or defense from anyone. At least, that’s what they’ll tell you. They work hard to project independence and toughness, even though they can be hurt very easily by the insensitive among us. They can be fiercely loyal, but also ready to bolt at the first sign of danger.

I used to think I had to fix broken people to make them beautiful. I used to try to protect them and act all self-sacrificing by turning myself into some type of martyr on their behalf. In actuality, I probably just made them feel worse. I don’t need to repair anyone; I need to love them, the same way God loves me even though I falter terribly every day. I hope psychology can be a vehicle for me to do that more effectively by teaching me more about how the mind works, but all that knowledge is useless without the heart. If I can’t say to someone, “I’m here. I’m not running. We’re in this for the long haul, no matter what.”, then I’m defeated before I even start.

I’m a guy, and I like to fix things. I’m a guy, and I like to offer protection. Sometimes, though, I don’t need to do either one. I just need to be there, not trying to offer up any judgments or complicating the matter. There’s a beauty in that brokenness that I can’t explain. It’s gracious and it’s grand, even when I blunder in and step all over it. I’m happy to be a part of it, and I don’t want to lose it. We shouldn’t want to lose it, since you probably saw beauty in me when I didn’t see it either.

I’m here. I’m not running. We’ll make it.

Self-Diagnosis

I must be getting old. I found out I was going to have about 30 minutes to kill at the library this afternoon while I waited for my oldest daughter to finish her summer reading program activity … and I was actually excited about that.

For someone who spent so much time studying fiction in school, I hardly ever read fiction anymore. I’m much more into biographies and educational books these days. And since my goal is still to return to college to study psychology, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to pay for said goal, I often find myself perusing the various titles written on matters such as depression or addiction or any mental behavior that is otherwise out of the ordinary.

I know, I know. It’s not exactly light reading, is it? That’s just the track my brain is on at the moment. Of course, one of the dangers of reading so much about mental disorders is that there is a very high likelihood you’ll run across at least one you think you might have. I mean, if you dig deep enough, there are all kinds of maladies we could ascribe to ourselves. For instance, one time after spending all afternoon trying to straighten one bookshelf, I was convinced I had Attention Deficit Disorder. Turns out I didn’t, but … wait, what was I talking about again? (Just kidding…)

brandon marshallSo today, as I browsed the 600 section of the library, I came across a book titled “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me,” by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus. The tagline for the book is “Understanding the Borderline Personality.” My only real knowledge of Borderline Personality Disorder was that NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall was diagnosed with it a few years ago, so I was curious what the authors had to say on the subject.

Of course, it didn’t take long for me to start ticking off the traits I identified with: Mood swings, impulsive actions, lacking identity, etc., etc. And then there was the kicker: The most common type of depression associated with BPD is Dysthymia, known now as Chronic Depressive Disorder … which I was diagnosed with. “Holy crap,” I thought to myself, “it’s worse than I thought!” I got through as much of the book as I could before my daughter was finished, and then I put it back on the shelf because if I took it home I would just obsess over the concept even more.

Now, do I actually have BPD? I don’t know. Self-diagnosis is a dangerous road to travel, and it’s not one I particularly want to go down. You almost become a sort of psychological hypochondriac, jumping at every shadow. Does it hurt to ask, though? Should we stop exploring, stop seeking out new information? How many diagnoses are too many? How many are not enough?

These are just some questions I’ve pondering since this afternoon. BPD is a subject I am definitely not qualified to tackle here, although I would love to hear some testimonies regarding it. Or you just could tell me if I should get a school loan or not. Maybe if I got back in school I’d feel younger and stop wandering around the library so much.

Facing The Freak-Out

I knew it. I just knew it. It never goes smoothly, so I don’t know why I thought it would this time. There is always something I don’t know or didn’t plan for or is more difficult than I thought it would be. I can feel my stomach tying up in knots right now just thinking about it.

I do – DO NOT – enjoy trying to get registered for college classes. At all. Whatsoever.

With that in mind, it was (of course) inevitable that I would experience at least one major freak-out in the process of pursuing a degree in the field of psychology. I would have hoped this would occur somewhere down the line, at least after I had registered for some classes. But, no, I couldn’t even get that far this time, even though if I had just used my brain for a second I would have realized what a dope I was.

Apparently, there are no grants available to post-baccalaureate students. The internet says grants may be available under certain circumstances, but I haven’t found anywhere yet that explains what those circumstances are. From the genesis of this idea to return to school, I have wanted to avoid a loan at all costs. My wife and I have worked very hard to keep our debt down, and piling up college loans would be very counterproductive to all that effort. I’m not saying I wouldn’t ever resort to a loan, but for the time being I would rather not.

now-panic-freak-out1That pretty much just leaves scholarships and grants to cover the costs of my Fall 2014 semester. Since I’ve missed most of the deadlines to apply for scholarships, however, that narrows things down to grants … which I just found out were unavailable. When I found this out yesterday, all my positive thinking, cognitive therapy, hopeful outlook went straight out the window. I felt like a fool. More accurately, I believed I was a fool. There was no way this could work. Why don’t I just give up right now?

Stepping back and looking at things today, I can see all is not lost. My main problem is I would like to obtain a degree which will take multiple semesters to complete right freaking now. The thought of having to begin with just one or two classes didn’t compute. “Do not despise these small beginnings…” I’ll definitely be out more of my own money than I was planning on if we go the route of paying for things ourselves, but it is possible to get started that way. And, really, I’m just beginning to discover what’s out there as far as areas of study and aid options go, so there may be something good waiting for me yet.

I don’t write all this to portray myself as some kind of martyr of the big, mean, expensive system of postsecondary education (although I do think it is absolutely outrageous what schools are charging for tuition these days). I’m writing it to say this: I freaked out. I thought I was moving past doing that, but I went headlong into it yesterday. Granted, in the past, I would still be freaking out today (and the next day and the next day and…), but it was a little frightening to see that side emerge again. I didn’t like it.

What I do like, though, is that I’m able to write all this down in past tense. I’m still extremely nervous and frightened and impatient when it comes to this new course (which I may never even get to), but I realize now there are going to be obstacles. There is going to be time involved. I’m going to have to what I can when I can. The main point of pressure is going to come from me, which means an occasional flip-out will be nearly certain. The real challenge will be whether I can recover from those moments.

By the way, if anyone reading this has had a similar experience with trying to get back into school to complete a post-baccalaureate degree, please contact me. Quite honestly, I have no idea what the heck I’m doing at the moment, so any and all advice would be appreciated. And feel free to share your own freak-outs as well. I’m sure we’ve all had them.

Getting Real

I do not like taking medicine. For one thing, obtaining medicine usually means making a trip to see a doctor of some sort, which usually means there’s something wrong with me, which usually makes me very unhappy. Beyond whatever is ailing me, nine times out of ten the medicine I receive causes me to feel even more off-kilter the first couple of days I take it. And then there are the time intervals that have to occur between doses of the medicine, which commonly results in my staying up odd hours to get the cycle right.

I only mention this because last night I decided that instead of blogging I would just go to bed early, simply in an attempt to line up with the schedule my latest medication requires. Even without writing, though, I still managed to spend a good chunk of the day on the computer. A significant portion of that time was spent sorting out what I would need to do to become a college student once again in the fall of 2014.

That’s right: I’m going back to school.

psych picAt least, I think I’m going back to school. I’ve been accepted, and I met with an adviser today. I’ve got an application in for financial aid, and I’ll probably be talking soon with someone about that, too. I just need to get registered for classes now.

Oh, and did I mention I’m absolutely terrified? Because things … just … got … real.

In the area of ideals, this venture seems like a no-brainer to me. I’m going back to school to take psychology classes, fueled by my own experiences with counselors, the progress I’ve made with my own depression, a desire to help others, and a drive to further explore some of the issues I’ve been writing about here. Even beyond that, my writing style has morphed over the years from fairly loose to a more analytical style, which is suited more to a field such as psychology. My wife is on board with the idea, and she has been encouraging me to follow through. For the first time in a long time, I feel as if I know what God wants me to do.

I’ve been here before, though, where everything seems be lining up perfectly … and then the bottom drops out. I’m nervous about trying to support my family and take classes at the same time. I’m afraid the extreme social anxiety I experienced the first time I went through college will be with me again. I don’t know how long all this will take, and if it will all be worth it in the end. I’m obsessive about wasting time and (especially) money on things, and the potential exists here to do both.

So I suppose I could still potentially freak out, turn tail, and run the other way from all this. Or I could follow what I feel like I’m supposed to do, walk in faith, and see what happens. Either way, I’m not going to be the same on the other side.

Here we go…