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.

Advertisements

Thank You Very Much

It has been brought to my attention lately that I have difficulty taking compliments.

I’m not really sure when this began, but at some point in life I developed a talent for dismissing nice things that were said about me. It went beyond simply having a sense of low self-esteem; it descended into a full-blown lack of trust for my fellow human beings. Of course, one could logically point out that the second point doubles back on the first, with the lack of trust actually stemming from having such low self-esteem I couldn’t believe anyone could genuinely believe such nice things about me.

It doesn’t really matter what the reason was. Even though I craved positive affirmation, I could never take a compliment cleanly.

quote-Mason-Cooley-we-are-prepared-for-insults-but-compliments-56053_1

Two instances in the past two months have made this abundantly clear about me, and the ironic thing is they both involved the one thing in life I am actually confident in – my ability as a writer. I write a short column each month for the monthly newsletter at the radio station I work for. For some reason, writing it the past two months has been nothing short of maddening. At one point, while writing last month’s column, I literally reared back in my chair and hit my head against the wall behind me. I submitted something for publication each month, but I wasn’t happy with what I had produced.

Shortly after I had submitted last month’s entry, one of my co-workers complimented me on what I had written. In fact, I think he even used the word “perfect,” and if you knew how loathe I am to mention that, you would realize I didn’t drop that word in to brag on myself. I almost immediately countered his compliment by telling him how much I hated what I had written and how much of a struggle it had been to even finish it. I also figured he was just trying to puff me up, since he and I had discussed my self-esteem issues before.

Earlier this week, another co-worker actually called me from home after getting off work to tell me he had just read what I had written for this month’s newsletter. He was very effusive in his praise, telling me how what I had written was powerful, beautiful, and poetic. He may have even used the words “nailed it” at one point. Since I wasn’t that crazy about this month’s entry either, I again launched into an explanation of how difficult it had been to write and how I wasn’t happy with it. In this instance, I figured his praise was an instance of someone trying to kiss up to me, since I am technically his boss.

We’ve had a couple of snowstorms in the past few weeks, and I have been able to spend some time at home just doing this – writing. Today was one of those days. I set up my laptop on the kitchen table and did what a great many writers spend significant amounts of time doing – staring blankly into space. For some reason, as I sat there, those compliments I described came into my head. I wondered, “What if they really meant what they were saying? What if I really did do as good a job as they were saying?”

So I’m going to try to do a better job of accepting compliments. I’m going to try to just say “thank you” more often. I’m going to try to stop questioning people’s motives when they say nice things about me. I’m going to try to not look at the floor when someone talks to me about something they think I did well. I’m going to try to not point out all the mistakes I made when someone tells me I did a good job.

Just as I didn’t realize when I stopped accepting compliments at face value, I probably won’t realize when I eventually do. That would be fine with me, though. I’ve been too self-aware for too long now anyway. And if you agree with that last statement, I will just say “thank you” and move on…

The Myths Of Me

I would consider my teenage years to be largely wasted ones. I have no way of knowing, but I believe the depression I wrestle with today had me firmly in its grip even back then. It’s not that I don’t remember any happy times at all, but I don’t remember many that weren’t overlapped by the shadows that lurked in my mind. There was lots of confusion, anger, and sadness, even more than the usual teen mind is able to muster.

As a result, I formed a lot of perceptions about myself which were almost entirely negative. My self-esteem was virtually non-existent. These beliefs about myself were so powerful that I carried a large majority of them into adulthood. In fact, most days I feel as I’ve hardly grown at all over the years. This is who I thought I was then and, on many days, who I believe I am now:

– Unattractive physically
– Shy and awkward
– Immature emotionally
– Talentless
– Unappealing to the opposite sex
– Too skinny
– Not athletic enough
– Unable to obtain what I wanted
– Unsure of what I wanted to do with my life

All of this doesn’t even take into account the fact that I had what was termed a “nervous stomach,” which caused me all kinds of embarrassment. Or that my hair curled at puberty and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to make it look like anything. Or that I had the usual teenage bad skin and acne. I did the typical fast food job all teenagers these days get, and I was a miserable failure at it. I couldn’t even work at Wendy’s.

true falseI had a chance to take a long walk by myself today. The sun was out, my schedule was clear, and I was itching to get in some kind of physical activity, so I took off. I have always struggled with what is God’s voice and what is the voice I generate with my own thoughts, so I hesitate saying God spoke to me today, but as I walked I began to think about how I still view myself in much the same way I did back then … and how much of that is wrong.

One by one, counterarguments began to present themselves against what I have believed about myself for so long. I am not confident enough to say my life changed today, but I knew by the end of that walk that I needed to get to a computer or piece of paper and write down everything that had come into my mind. Here, then, are some arguments against my own perceptions of and beliefs about myself:

Unattractive physically – I found a woman who found me attractive enough to marry me, and we have been together now for 16 years. I’ve cut out most of the sugar from my diet and hardly ever drink carbonated beverages anymore, so I rarely get pimples now. I grew a beard and keep my hair cut short, so it looks neat now.
Shy and awkward – I still struggle mightily with social anxiety, but I couldn’t even count the number of people I have met over the years. I have so many friends now that I never would have dreamed of meeting. I know lots of people through my job.
Not athletic enough/Too skinny – I can ride my bicycle ten miles at a time on the road. I don’t have a gut hanging over the front of my pants like so many guys my age. An antidepressant and an occasional pill for seasonal allergies are the only medications I take, whereas I know so many of my friends already on blood pressure medication. I’m thinner now than when I graduated college.
Talentless – I can play guitar and bass fairly well. I won a Kentucky Press Award when I worked as a newspaper reporter. I have over 150 followers on this blog, and it’s only been up a few months. I’m on the radio every day. I can even sing a little.
Unsure of what I want to do with my life – After going to counseling for my depression the past couple of years, I have decided I want to pursue a Masters degree in counseling. I am currently studying to take the GRE test to get into graduate school.

I should have written all of the things I was thinking down immediately, because I’m certain there were more. I realized my stomach isn’t upset as much anymore because I realized years ago I was slightly lactose intolerant. All those cartons of milk in school were tearing my stomach to bits. And the list goes on…

I still feel as if I have so many things mentally to overcome. I still live in the same town I grew up in, so sometimes it seems as if I’ll never escape what others will always believe about me, no matter how much I change or grow. I still feel so out of place sometimes, and you probably noticed I didn’t address everything I had listed concerning how I felt about myself. I don’t want to be who I was anymore, though. I can’t ever reclaim those lost years; all I can do is make an attempt to make the ones I have left count for something. I hope and pray I can hold onto what I was thinking on that walk today. I’m so afraid I’ll forget.

Maybe I should start reading my own blog.

Someone, Sometime, Somewhere

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you didn’t matter.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you weren’t good enough. Actually, worse than that. They told you that you would never be good enough. Ever. They didn’t apply that to what you were doing; they applied it to who you were. It wasn’t a matter of your ability or your skill level of your aptitude for learning things. They made you believe you were so flawed as an individual that nothing you ever did would succeed.

Someone, sometime, somewhere made you believe you couldn’t really be worthy of love. Sure, you may have found love in different places or relationships. You may have experienced it on a deep and personal level. But you never felt like you deserved it. If anyone ever found out who you really were, they would take their love away. All of your relationships would have to be maintained by you never quite letting the other person see everything. You would always be one bad move away from being left all alone.

ImproveSelfEsteem_thumbSomeone, sometime, somewhere made you believe you would never get better. Your depression, your addiction, your sickness… You were going to have to live with those forever. You could try a lot of different things – medication, therapy, prayer – but none of them were really going to work. You might make a little progress here and there, but you would always slide back to your basic state. They may have event old you it would be better just to put an end to everything, so you could save yourself and everyone around you a lifetime of heartache.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you a lot of things. You’re ugly. You’re crazy. You think too much. You feel things too deeply. You over-analyze everything. Your feelings aren’t relevant. You’re too shy. You’re too loud. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re a hothead. God couldn’t love someone like you. You can’t change. You’re going to be the way you are forever. You might as well just give up.

Someone, sometime, somewhere also told you that you were wanted. That you were loved. That you had hope for a future and strength enough for the present. That you didn’t have to stay the way you are. That it might take years and year of work, but you could actually get better. That you were handsome enough or pretty enough. That you would never be left all alone. That you could actually win every now and then. That you had hope.

Someone, sometime, somewhere told you that you did matter.

Who do you believe?

Reblog: Learning To Love My Name Again

I am not a fan of re-posting items from other people’s blogs. It feels like cheating to me. I mean, I didn’t write the content, so I sort of feel as if I’m plagiarizing someone else’s work, particularly if I don’t know them.

Sometimes, though, a post will arise that so strikes a chord with me that I feel like everyone else should read it, too. This entry is from a blog titled Under Reconstruction. It’s written by a woman named Karen Zainal, and I will just admit now I don’t actually know her. She has been kind enough to like a few of my posts, so I started following her blog as well. I could steal more details from her site (http://karenwriteshere.com), but you should go there and read her story for yourself.

So, without further adieu, here is Learning to Love My Name Again, by Karen Zainal. I hope it touches you as much as it touched me.

http://karenwriteshere.com/2014/12/17/learning-to-love-my-name-again/

Default Mode

buzzRemember in Toy Story 3 when Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear and his gang found that switch on the back of Buzz Lightyear that would change his settings? While that switch provided some laughs later on in the movie when it turned the space ranger into a Latin love machine, it also enabled Lotso to revert Buzz’s personality back to his original factory settings … and the change in personality was not a good one.

I believe everyone has a sort of default mode we revert back to if certain switches are activated. For some people, that default setting is one of confidence. For some, it’s one of determination. For many, flipping the switch can be a good thing, resetting the system and getting everything back in line. For others, though, what they revert back to or fall back on is a state of negativity, uncertainty, and doubt.

I’ve heard a lot of recurring themes coming from people around me lately. “Stop saying you’re sorry. You’re not allowed to apologize anymore.” “People wouldn’t notice your negative faults so much if you wouldn’t point them out.” “I know you can do this. Why do you think you can’t?” “You should learn to accept compliments.” “Stop beating yourself up so much.”

I could write all this off as a series of coincidences or just the results of a particular phase of life I godspeakinghave entered. I’m not that naive, though. I can see when God is trying to tell me something, even if I’m still trying to fight it tooth and nail. I’m being pushed to change, but I want to switch back into default mode. I’m really not good enough, I’m inadequate, I won’t get it right, I’ll be discovered as a fraud eventually. It’s where I’ve naturally gone for so long, it’s difficult to think another way.

Just like the Buzz switch, though, maybe I’ve got another setting I didn’t know about. Maybe I can actually think positively about myself and the things I can do. Maybe I can realize everyone has their own set of issues and problems they deal with, and I’m not the only one to ever struggle. Maybe the things I don’t feel I do as well as someone else are good enough for me and better than I realize. Maybe I can change after all.

Of course, the next step in the process is to remove the “maybes” from all those statements. I basically have to replace my default setting, altering the state of mind I slip into when pressure arises. I may not become a Latin dancing machine, but I do believe I can become a better person. That should take me to infinity … and beyond (Sorry, I couldn’t resist…).

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.

Missing The Signs?

(Last night, the internet service at my house was coming in and out, so I skipped posting anything and went to bed early. I had all this on my mind last night, though, and got some further reinforcement of it today. Oh, and I didn’t sleep that well, but that’s another post for another day…)

Have you ever gotten the feeling God is trying to tell you something?

Receiving positive reinforcement is sort of a Catch-22 situation for me. On the one hand, I really feed off of it. In fact, I borderline crave it. On the other hand, though, I have a tendency to either not believe people when they say nice things to me or I downplay whatever point they’re trying to make. It’s an odd state of limbo to live in, I’ll admit, longing desperately for something you’re not even entirely sure is genuine when you do get it.

One of my primary weapons of choice for making sure I never feel too good about myself is self-deprecation. Now, in the rodney-dangerfieldproper hands, self-deprecation can be really, really funny. Just look at Rodney Dangerfield. I’d like to think I wield it in the same way – as a tool for humor and relating better to those around me. Recent events, however, have led me to believe I might need to tone down the act a bit, so to speak.

Two different people yesterday told me I need to stop speaking so negatively about myself, and then another person told me the same thing today. The irony of this is that I actually thought I was doing better. If they think I’m bad now, they should have seen my in my twenties. Actually, on second thought, I’m glad they didn’t know me back then. They might have committed me to some kind of institution or something.

At any rate, it seems an unusual amount of people are coming across my path these days and telling me to lighten up on myself. Telling me I’m not such a bad guy. Trying to convince me the things I perceive as negative about myself are actually not any worse than the struggles most people wrestle with every day. I should be hoarding all this away, putting it all into some sort of self-esteem piggy bank in my soul. Instead of just accepting it, though, I seem strangely intent on batting it all down.

Backtracking to the question I began this entry with, yes, I do believe God may be trying to tell me something through all this. In fact, I can probably even pinpoint exactly what that something is. I’m fighting it, though. Fighting it every step of the way. Of course, in the maze that depression creates in the mind, I know I shouldn’t be. People probably aren’t noticing half the things I don’t like about myself anyway. I know they’re there, though, and that’s what makes believing the good things people say about me so difficult.

 

Small Doses

undoingI still haven’t figured out yet if reading books on depression and low self-esteem is actually helping me or just freaking me out. I mean, it would stand to reason that someone diagnosed with depression would want to read up on and understand more about the condition, but there are just times when authors’ words hit a little too close to home and I have to take a step back to gather myself.

For example, I picked up a book at the local library this weekend titled Undoing Depression, by Richard O’Connor. Just flipping the book open at random a few minutes ago, I came across the following paragraph:

Considerable research has shown that people with depression differ from others in how we perceive the world and ourselves, how we interpret and express our feelings, and how we communicate with other people, particularly loved ones and people in authority. We think of ourselves as unable to live up to our own standards, we see the world as hostile or withholding, and we are pessimistic about things ever changing. In our relationships with others we have unrealistic expectations, are unable to communicate our own needs, misinterpret disagreement as rejection, and are self-defeating in our presentation. Finally, we are in the dark about human emotions. We don’t know what it’s like to feel normal. We fear that honest feelings will tear us apart or cause others to reject us. We need to learn to live with real feelings.

And then I closed the book, stuffed it under a pillow, and ran out of the room.

Okay, so the reaction wasn’t quite that strong, but there’s something almost unsettling to me about reading a description written by someone I’ve never met before that perfectly describes me. Even more unsettling, though, is when an author puts his or her finger right on some coping mechanism you didn’t even realizing you had been using. In a book I was recently reading on self-esteem (the name and author of which I, unfortunately, have forgotten), the author pointed out how people with low self-esteem typically imagine the worst case scenario in every situation. This often invokes the “fight-or-flight” reflex, which can, to put it bluntly, cause all kinds of hell to break loose in a person’s life.

I think I may have actually run out of the room after reading that.

After reading enough books and articles of this nature, I’m finally learning that I have to take this information in via small doses. The obvious downside of this is that it’s taking me forever to finish any of the books I’ve been trying to read. I’m 40 years old, though, and I really just started seriously addressing depression in my own life in the last couple of years. A lot of untangling has to be done, and I just can’t hammer multiple issues at the same time. So if I read a paragraph like the one I quoted above, I have to stop for a few minutes or a few hours or even a few days and let it process. I don’t know if this is the most efficient way to get things done, but it’s keeping me out of the fetal position for the moment.

So the new book is lying on the couch next to me right now, daring me to pick it up. I think I’m going in. Maybe I’ll at least manage to digest a whole page this time. I think at my current rate, I should finish reading this by 2017.

Hollow Victories

I’ve always read and heard about Olympic athletes experiencing a sort of depression after winning a gold medal. It’s as if once they reach the olympic-gold-medal-2014pinnacle of success they have difficulty figuring out what is left for them to work for. Perhaps a simpler way to view it is that the gold medal that was supposed to fill the void in their hearts left by a lack of success only amplifies it even more.

I don’t find myself in exactly that type of situation tonight, but I feel strangely hollow. The fund-raiser I wrote about in my last post is over, and we actually did pretty well with it this year. We reached about 75 percent of our pledge goal, which was much better than last year. A good friend of mine who used to work at the radio station before I ever did came back this year and really helped out with organizing things and getting some strategies in place to help improve our focus. He did an awesome job.

He did a much more awesome job than I have the past few years.

In title, I’m supposed to be the general manager. I’m supposed to be the guy at the helm. I was the guy at the helm the last two years, when we barely even reached half our goals. I had lost my motivation, lost my direction, and it showed in how things were being run. Even though I spent a lot of time on the air this year and set the direction for what we were talking about when I was, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had to come in and fix the mess I had created.

There was a measure of success this year. Once it was over, though, I couldn’t enjoy it.

I’ve always prided myself on being a realist when it comes to job performance. If I do a sucky job, then I’m the first person to stand up and say I did a sucky job. As someone who wrestles with depression and low self-esteem, however, I pretty much always believe I’m doing a sucky job, so sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish actual poor performance from the perception that everything I do is inadequate in some way. I know I didn’t do my best before. I know I lost employee trust. I’m not envious of my friend for doing a better job than me; I’m angry at myself that he had to.

This is where my cognitive thinking should kick in and I should begin listing the positive aspects of the situation. I’m tired, though, and I’m infinitely frustrated with myself at the moment. I’m hoping the opposite of the gold medal effect will happen here. Maybe all this will inspire me to do better, to focus more, to treat people better, to be more assertive. We didn’t reach the goal, so maybe this wasn’t the gold medal anyway. When we do win it, I want to be able to celebrate it.