Who Are You Working For?

“Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?”

I had never really dwelt on the question before. I just knew I felt as if I wasn’t getting the job done. All my efforts felt scattershot, pecking away a little bit here and there. I could always look back at something I did and blame that for my not finishing something important. This was particularly true in instances where I had done something of no lasting consequence, such as playing a video game or lying down for a nap. I knew I was failing … but who, exactly, was I failing?

Quotation-Stephen-Hawking-blame-guilt-human-people-Meetville-Quotes-1595I’ve written here before about dichotomous thinking. This is when a person sees nearly everything in terms of black and white. There is no gray. Something is either right or it is wrong. How does this manifest in my life? Well, one area is work. Now, “work” for me can mean a great many things, which is actually part of the problem here. Going to my job every day is work, but I also somehow manage to turn writing this recreational blog into work as well. Therefore, I am very much driven by what I am supposed to be doing.

Here’s an example: I consider myself – correctly or incorrectly – a writer. What is the pinnacle for a writer’s work? Well, writing a book, of course. I have some ideas. Heck, I probably have enough material from this blog to get a pretty good jump on a book of essays. I just can’t seem to get anywhere on it. I have several theories for this – poor time management, lack of strong material, intimidated by the process of putting everything together, etc., etc. – but the bottom line is always this: I don’t get it done, and I squander the writing ability I have in the process, thereby making me a failure.

This brings the issue full circle, though. Who exactly am I letting down by not getting this done? I mean, is it potential readers? Is it my family? Is it myself? The only answer I could come with will sound a bit lofty: God. I have these abilities that were placed in me, and I do nothing with them. At least, I don’t use them to their full capabilities, and that absolutely fills me with guilt.

Another component of my guilt is a profound feeling of selfishness, and even though several people have tried to impress upon me the fact that I really don’t do many things strictly with myself in mind, I generally view myself as an extremely selfish person. In fact, I sort of view myself as a product of the society we live in today. Everyone is trying to get theirs, and even the people giving only seem to be doing it so they can be seen by others. Our hobbies are expensive, and our universes seem to be focused almost entirely on our own orbits.

What if, though, we’re all just trying to escape our own guilt? What if we’re all chasing these ridiculous dreams and kim-kardashian-kanye-westnotions around in the hopes that one of them will eventually allow us to look in the mirror and say, “Okay, that is the one that hit the mark!”? Could there be some kind of guilt hidden in the Kardashians of the world? Could the Kanye Wests be trying to meet some mark the rest of us don’t know about? Okay, I’m stretching now, but maybe you get the point. Is it possible that we’re all just trying to please someone?

So let me finish the way I started: Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?

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Tuneful Tuesday: Long Day

Being self-analytical is both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, it is a very useful trait to possess. It keeps you very attuned to what is going on inside yourself, so when something is not quite right, you are the first to know it. With that recognition comes the opportunity to course correct and right the ship, so to speak. In some instances, it can even give you empathy for others, as you can spot behaviors in others that you have recognized in yourself countless times.

On the other hand, it can be somewhat akin to a prison cell. You desperately want to be a considerate person to the rest of the world, but 90 percent of your thoughts are consumed with yourself. You obsess over every little tic you may have, which often just serves to enslave you to them even more. You become so engulfed in your thought processes that you lose connection with the world around you.

I’ve been told more than once what a good idea it is to “step outside yourself.” The only problem with telling that to a self-analytical person is that they immediately begin to try to figure out how they can make that happen, so the whole exercise turns inward again. See, the problem with a self-analytical person is that they can’t turn themselves off. They know they can be selfish and self-centered, but they can’t away from themselves long enough to do anything about it.

Before they started turning out poppier fare, Matchbox Twenty produced one of my favorite albums on the 1990s with Yourself Or Someone Like You. It didn’t really dawn on me until recently how much frustration and aggression that project contained, and I’m not just referring to a song like “Push,” which obviously was written by someone with some, uh, issues. The album’s first single, “Long Day,” contains a couple of lines that any self-analytical person could identify with:

“And I’m so terrified of no one else but me. I’m here all the time. I won’t go away.”

That is what it can feel like for a self-analytical person. That sensation that you’re not getting things right. That nagging feeling that it’s your fault things are going so poorly. That knowledge that if you could only remove yourself from the equation, things would become clearer. And, finally, that realization that you don’t know how to do that.

Then again, I guess being self-analytical can make one a better blogger. Theoretically speaking, of course…

An Open Letter To You

openletterThis is for you.

I owe you a giant apology.

I have lied to you. I have hidden things from you.

I have stolen from you. I have taken things that did not belong to me.

I have denied the truth when it suited me. I have hidden because I did not want to face reality.

I have hurt you beyond measure. I have no excuse for this.

Why have I done all these things? Simple: I am selfish. I am so absorbed in my own head and my own life that I failed to see beyond the parameters of my own existence. I loved you, but it was within the confines of my own space. I wanted to help you, but it was always with an eye on what I could get out of it. Even now, as I type this, notice how many times I refer to myself.

And who are you? You are the person who trusted me. You are the person who believed in me. You are the person who loved me. You are the person who encouraged me. You could be a great number of people. You know who you are.

I say this to you: I am sorry.

I realize that you have absolutely no reason to forgive me for any of this. I was even so bold as to point out the splinter in your eye when there was a huge plank in mine. I can only beg your forgiveness and try to remind you that beneath all this ugliness is a person you once cared for. He is still here. I ask you to give him another chance.

Much of what I did, I thought I did for you. It was always through the lens of me, though. For us to work, it has to be us. I cannot be untruthful with you anymore. I cannot place my needs above yours. I cannot doubt myself and throw up walls to distract from the real issues at hand. In short, I can never benefit you so long as I am so wrapped up in me.

I am writing this to you because whether you were aware of it or not, I damaged something between us. I hope it can be repaired, but I have to accept that it may never be what it was before. I can only move on now and attempt to regain your trust. You are what is important to me now. I have seen the damage I can inflict. I am sick of me.

This is for you.

Tuneful Tuesday: Don’t Fade

Depression is a selfish disease. It makes those who suffer from it focus nearly entirely on themselves and their pain. That’s why counselors will often suggest doing things for others as an activity to bring people out of depression. It takes a person’s focus and turns in inward, where there is nothing but the heaviness of the affliction.

This type of selfishness can manifest itself even in relationships between depressed people. Let’s say two depressives meet and form a relationship. They may initially be very encouraging of one another, rooting for the other to improve. It is a very beautiful type of relationship … until one of them actually starts to get better. Feelings of jealousy and abandonment can follow.

No one wants to be alone, no matter how inwardly focused they are.

The song “Don’t Fade,” by Toad the Wet Sprocket, seems to be dealing with a few different things. There is obviously a struggle of some sort between a couple. Any song with the lyric “How could you forsake the love of God that way is clearly dealing with some heavy subject matter. One particular line of the chorus always stood out to me, though.

“Don’t fade. Stay in here with me.”

The selfish part of the depressive in me has thought these words more than once. I have seen friends shed stress and anxiety and unhappiness and felt the sting of feeling as if I will never get any better and that they are leaving me. I have been jealous of their new-found happiness and comforted by their setbacks. I have not been a good friend because I could not – or would not – take the focus off myself. I wanted them all to stay in here with me.

I’m working to become a better cheerleader for people I know who are struggling. I’m trying to share in their joy and applaud their successes. I really do want them to get better. I really want to get better.

I still want you to stay in here with me. Maybe we should move where “here” is, though.

The Dangers Of Self-Analysis

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. – Ecclesiastes 1:18 (ESV)

I gotta get outta here.

More than one counselor has told me how self-aware I am. One even told me I was more well-read on some of the topics we were covering than he was. My analysis of what is going in my brain is nearly non-stop. I examine every intention, weigh every decision, process every movement. No one knows me better than me.

Unfortunately, this is not always a good thing.

quote-Anita-Brookner-what-is-interesting-about-self-analysis-is-that-63428For one thing, being so aware of myself does not always leave a lot of capacity to think about others. In my nearly constant striving to figure out what’s going on in my own head, I sometimes forget to consider what other people might be thinking. Or I filter everything about them through the lens of me. Worst of all, I can transform into a completely selfish jerk who can only think of himself.

There is also a certain paralyzing effect to thinking this way. Every decision comes under such scrutiny that it takes much longer to make them than it should. Every interaction is so carefully broken down that they lose any sense of spontaneity or casualness. The fear of getting things wrong comes into play. Sometimes no decision at all gets made and no interaction takes place. The internal machinations become too much to overcome.

Then there is the nearly constant comparison which goes on. That person seems normal and happy. Why can’t I be like that? I should be able to do what they do. They’re getting ahead of me. I need to be happy for them, but I’m not. I don’t measure up. I know because, well, I just know.

One of the keys, obviously, to overcoming these obstacles to a normal life is to get outside of myself. Even that is not as easy as it sounds, though, because when someone like me realizes that, it becomes another goal to attain. It becomes less about others and more about doing it for me. The benefits of being able to so adequately assess myself and what makes me tick essentially becomes a prison cell. I am the only one with the key, but I swallowed it.

Recovering from depression can be a tricky line to walk. On the one hand, you’re striving to establish or re-establish your assertiveness, but on the other hand you’re attempting to refocus your thoughts on others and what’s going on outside of yourself. Which is more important – taking care of yourself or forgetting about yourself? Some people walk the line well, while others like me stumble along.

To even admit all this seems extremely selfish and shallow. All of the times I’ve acted only for my own interests are racing through my mind. Of course, those may not be many (if any) more times than the average human being, but I process it differently. I want out of this cell, but I can’t figure out how to break free. I have all the knowledge in the world, but I can’t figure out how to use it to fix myself.

I gotta get outta here.

Preventive Measures

I’m sitting on my couch right now, with a sleeve of saltines on my left and a bottle of Gatorade on IMG_0207my right. I’m wearing pajama pants, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, a bathrobe, a Snuggie, and slippers, and I’m still cold. I’m intermittently stretching my legs because of random muscle spasms which are causing my toes to literally curl, a sure sign my body is running low on fluids.

Yes, dear reader, this is the onset of a stomach bug.

I’ve had many of these throughout my life, and I feel as if in 40 years I’ve learned a thing or two about what I need to do when I feel one coming on. Hence, the saltines and Gatorade. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I’m taking things extra-easy this evening and not tempting fate by chowing down on, say, a pizza or a cheeseburger. Will it stave off the worst? Eh, maybe, maybe not. It’s at least worth a shot, though.

It’s amazing the things I am willing to give up to avoid a negative physical outcome for myself. It is also quite astounding the things I am unwilling to give up on a daily basis which can drag down my mood. It’s as if I’ve elevated my body to a greater stature than my mind, which really doesn’t make much sense since I am a relatively healthy person physically who has been diagnosed with a type of depression. You’d think I would at least be willing to give them equal importance.

Just look at me right now (Well, imagine me right now.). I’m pulling out at least most of the stops to avoid getting sick. In addition, I take a multivitamin and a fish oil pill every day. I exercise when I can, although I’ve been slacking a little in that department lately. I try to avoid sugar as much as I can. I don’t exactly treat my body like a shrine, but I at least try to take care of myself.

coffee1Perhaps the most radical thing I’ve ever done in this regard is cutting out drinking caffeine several years ago. I was having severe headaches and having to get up several times a night to go to the bathroom. I eventually traced the cause of both to drinking caffeine, so I knew I needed to stop drinking beverages which contained high amounts of it. Instead of doing the logical thing and scaling back, however, I just quit cold turkey. And it hurt. Basically three days of intense caffeine withdrawal and headaches … but I made it, and I haven’t looked back since.

Consider, though, all the things I have not been that diligent about concerning my mental upkeep. I am very spotty with my thought journals. I stay on the internet too much. I jump to the worst case scenario too often. I don’t get as much sunlight as I should. I complain more than I ought to, sometimes because I fall in line with complaints brought to me and sometimes because I originate them. All those cognitive thinking exercises I’ve learned? They get tossed out the window on a regular basis.

Why, then, don’t I start treating my mind like my body?

It makes all kinds of sense, when you think about it. If I had a heart disease, I’d alter my diet, keep an eye on my cholesterol, and do whatever else it took to keep it at bay. So I have a form of depression known as Chronic Depressive Disorder. Why wouldn’t I take any measure necessary to reduce its effects as well? I have my theories, but that’s another discussion for another time. I have a tremendous fear of being seen as selfish, but no one else is going to do this for me. Just like what I put into my body is my decision, what I put into my brain falls along the same lines.

Will I be sick in the morning? I don’t know. I did my best tonight to not be, though. Can I say the same for my mind?