My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.
My dog has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is my day job and I have watched literally hundreds of human clients who have struggled with GAD so I feel qualified to diagnose my dog. Human persons with mental health issues are diagnosed primarily on symptomatology; you tell the doctor what is wrong with you and he sends you to a psychiatrist who will, after talking with you for a part of an hour or two, tell you what is wrong with your head. Don’t get me started on misdiagnosis. Continue reading “My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.”
Why We Care More About Paris
The world feels like a terrifying place. People are dying in Paris while at a middle class concert. What if we are next?
Catastrophizing is normal, when we hear stories like this. Suddenly the world feels a little less safe. People in Mission, British Columbia are talking about not attending concerts in Vancouver because ISIS might attack. The world has changed.
The funny thing is, Canada is generally safer than it ever has been. Crime, thanks to DNA and technology and changing societal norms, is actually down in many areas. So why are we so afraid? Continue reading “Why We Care More About Paris”
Stupid Little Pill
In a recent conversation with a friend I accidentally referred to anxiety medication as “aspirin for the brain”. I meant it in a good way. Why is taking something for anxiety any different than taking the exact same thing for insomnia?
There is much stigma around medications and it is tempting to believe any number of ridiculous cognitive distortions we all battle, from time to time. As simple as it sounds, people generally push back when a professional prescribes a stupid little pill to cope with the uncopeable. We have been told that people with depression are emotionally weak and need to “snap out of it”. Anxious people seem skittish by nature and those panic attacks might just be a personality flaw. Taking medication for depression or anxiety or (insert name of mental health issue here) means that I have somehow failed or given in or given up. I shouldn’t need to see a counsellor to take an SSRI or go on disability. People who take meds because they cry allot are weaklings. Continue reading “Stupid Little Pill”
Here’s Your Mulligan
I stumbled into a porn recently. I am keenly aware, at this very second, of how that must sound so please allow me to explain. I was out for coffee with a friend and we decided to sit in the courtyard by a Waves Coffee. Above the courtyard were residences with balconies. On the balcony directly above us is where you are supposed to now engage your imagination. It is remarkable, the acoustics of a suburban courtyard. Loud, even. My friend is much younger than I. Much much. It felt like a nuclear explosion, “Oh look at that cool cloud formation”. Followed next by, “Wow, that cloud formation looks like a carpet coming towards us!”. Followed by screaming, things breaking, wind… silence.
At first nothing registers. Then, slowly at first but increasing in awareness, it begins to dawn on you what it is you are actually listening to. This is followed closely by growing recognition and an icky feeling you cannot quite yet identify. There it comes.
Just like a bad porno itself, our eyes meet, my friend and I, and we both have a seriously messed up expression on our faces. Screams. Things breaking. Wind. But no silence.
There are times in life for which you cannot really plan. I have seen things in the past month, bizarre things. I love my job. As random as that might sound, my life is a series of small adventures broken up by days of boredom and groceries and driving. It is precisely those ‘moments’ which give my life purpose, depth, meaning. So much of my existence is wasted trying to get out of doing things only to realize that it is those precise things I am avoiding which bring richness to the monotony. I may be going out on a limb here but I’ve probably watched enough television to ensure that I’ve milked all the wisdom it deems to spew on me. People text all the bloody time and I text them back. My Facebook is an imagination feeder but it’s still noise, noise, noise. Phone, computer, TV, radio, texting, communicating, noise.
It is time to get in your kayak, and I’ll get in mine. Screw Melanoma, get a tan. Have you ever stuck your entire face in watermelon and if not, when? Last weekend my wife and I got out-of-town because sometimes we forget what it’s like to be friends amongst the noise. I will consider it a personal failure if I don’t get into the water before the end of June. Stop being so old and jump in a puddle before you become a grouchy old fart. No one cares about your medical problems, or mine for that matter. Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere may be a figment of my imagination but I can buy a lollipop and it’s sunny out, so two out of three ain’t bad.
Here’s the thing. Sometimes you have to say “screw it” to your own mental health issues and crap life. There are days when you have paid enough, suffered enough, confessed enough, and it’s time to go out for a beer with a friend on a patio. I know life sometimes blows and I promise to spend more than sufficient time feeling miserable; but right now it’s sunny out and I’m going to give you a Mulligan. I don’t golf but I know what the word means. Golfing may be great in theory, but there is enough frustration in my life without screaming bloody murder at a small white ball. I don’t like walking and they won’t let me go off-road with the carts so I quit golfing but I’m keeping the Mulligan.
Everybody deserves a do over, a day off, and a nap. Your problems are going to be waiting for you after you get out of the boat so you needn’t worry, you won’t miss anything. One of the principles that we teach clients in counseling does an excellent job of training my brain to move on, if only for a moment. I will teach it to you now and save you $90, or $275 if you think you need a medical person to confirm what your clinical counselor told you a couple of years ago. Like most counseling techniques this one is cheesy and only works for some people; though for more people than you would think if only we practiced this stuff enough to make anything work in the first place. Just saying.
One of the fundamental counseling tools clinicians teach is a variation on what I will call STOPP Therapy. STOPP Therapy is nothing more than learning how to stop yourself from having an emotional spike such as a panic attack, anxiety, or anger. STOPP Therapy is surprisingly efficacious, in spite of sounding stupid when you practice it. Learning to say “no” to my impulses may come very close to being the meaning of life, if not the primary way to rock at it. Just like listening to an accidental porno (I have probably never written those words before), learning to control my emotions is an insanely gradual process. Wisdom is the meshing of knowledge and experience, you simply cannot grow up without giving yourself time to grow up. This may not be the 10,000 hour rule but I can tell you from experience I was pretty dumb 20 years ago and aging may take many things but it leaves you with experience. And experience, when used correctly, becomes wisdom.
You aren’t alone when you discovered that, after all those years away, you did better in college than you thought you would. Unbeknownst to you, there was still an accumulation of time and learning and experience. Granted, many of us have squandered a bit of that time but what the hell, you’re here now so let’s get going.
Once I know a little more about STOPP Therapy it’s time to move happily on to our project for today, your “screw it” moment.
There was a time when, not so long ago as I would wish, I was very broken. I have written of this before and I’m not feeling self-indulgent so let’s roll along, shall we? In that time of my life it felt impossible to move forward, and even taking a few minutes off from my grief seemed unrealistic. After many many bad days I started to practice what I preached and gave myself permission to take 10 minutes off, then 20, 30, and eventually I went an entire day without crying because I forgot I was in pain. Just 10 minutes off. I would set my clock or microwave or phone. Bliss would last approximately 7 seconds then the nightmare would come knocking and I had to learn to say “no” to myself for 10 stinking minutes. Then 20. With time it got easier but not until I had failed first.
For some of us it is a struggle to control the chaos for 10 minutes or even 10 seconds. We have work to do. For others it’s the constant demands on our time from things we spawned or married or divorced or share life with. We all feel sorry for ourselves and sometimes feeling sorry for yourself is a very healthy thing. Other times not so much. One day I realized that no one really cared about my problems as much as I did; and most people went on their merry way and got a Blizzard, in spite of my life falling apart. Just the way it is. As Kant famously pointed out, there is the way I perceive the world and the way the world really is. For many of us that could include the cold hard understanding that there is a way we want the world to be, and then there is something called reality. The real world does not care if I am the hardest working person I know. It does not care if I burn out.
So one last time, please accept this Mulligan. You’ve definitely earned it. You have permission to take an hour off and go shopping or for coffee or perhaps something stronger. Play Catch with your friends or swing high at the park. I just realized that works on two levels. You may think you don’t have time for self-care but you are profoundly wrong. I’m sorry if that comes off as arrogant but on a philosophical level you can probably admit I’m right.
Screw it, I’m going kayaking. Somebody please tell my wife I was right.
I Don’t Give A Crap
The Princess Bride is, unquestionably, one of my favourite movies. I own the novel. There is something about a magical story, with giants and accents and the Dread Pirate Roberts with which we resonate. A great story can take us to places in our imagination that playing Minecraft simply cannot. Reading matters. My clients have all had the lecture – you don’t read, you don’t grow as fast as you want to. It doesn’t matter how you get your fix, I listen to 90% of my books. What matters is that you are constantly exposing yourself to good ideas.
My wife thinks I actually like Facebook. The truth is, and I’ve written of this in the past, I really do “like” Facebook, in spite of hating Facebook because I want to be a hipster. I have unsubscribed to most of your updates and I really don’t care if you take a selfie on your next trip to Red Robin. My Reader looks nothing like it once did; it’s my daily source for archeology, psychology, philosophy and spirituality and religion and English comedy and Scottish history, Brain Pickings and Cracked and Mental Floss. Most of us on this journey are reading constantly, though some have not yet discovered the thrill of an old book. A surprising number of us start thinking about science, eventually. Some begin to dream about going back to school, though most eventually convince themselves that they are too old or too stupid or too pragmatic. As usual, I digress.
Some times in our lives define us.
My boys and I communicate primarily with media quips and movie quotes; it’s hard to explain if you don’t know what I mean. I was a single dad for the majority of my children’s lives. We had a foosball table, not a dining table. Black couches. As the boys got older, quotes from The Simpsons and Family Guy found their way into many conversations. We began to communicate in prose. We tried to talk like The Boondock Saints and memorized classic children’s literature and Die Hard. People were lost in conversations when the Williams boys were around. Quotes from Descartes and Homer, Simpson. Samurai Pizza Cats and Recess and Roger Miller singing, “Robin Hood and Little John running through the forest”. My guys know history and philosophy, psychology and how to ignite methane. It was the worst time of my life. It was the best time of my life.
I would not wish a life of single-parenting on you, but cannot begin to describe how much I have learned, through it all. My kids are, if I think objectively, way better than your kids. I mean nothing by this, they’re simply amazing young men. We still talk in Simpson’s quotes and share a closeness for which I am daily thankful. We all know that we are so tight because of the tears, not in spite of.
I listen to many speakers in the course of a month or a year. I have my favourites, most of whom are dead. Great speeches, like great comedy, is usually born out of pain. When discussing a preacher or poet or prose-master I am prone to comment, “he hasn’t suffered yet”. There are lessons you can learn only from the dark side. Being a single parent for all the wrong reasons was easily the most difficult and transformational time of my life. There was before The Event and there was after, and this is definitely after. I find it difficult to listen to those who have never bled.
If I’ve learned anything, doing this for a living, it’s that most people suffer far more than they let on. Many have experienced hardship on a level we could never have imagined. People who have been broken have wisdom that others simply don’t have. Some of us have issues as well, to be perfectly honest. Becoming bitter is the easiest thing in the world, north of 40. Many describe themselves as “realists” because they like pink clouds and unicorns. Truth be told, the older I get the easier it becomes to wear my damage like a badge of honour. Being happy becomes something that I have to work on. You may not have noticed but there are some nasty folks out there. Some of us live and love very negative kin. A few of us are a tad more sarcastic than we really need to be.
Most of my readers know I love my old man. If you broke your leg he would convince you that having a cast was the best thing ever! Women feel the love, my dad totally has game. He thinks your zit is charming. You’re beautiful just the way you are, have that bagel. His nickname is Happy Howie. He inspires me to not give up on idealism, on choosing to be happy in spite of all the crap. His life has been anything but easy. Growing up as an orphan, living as an adult while still in middle school, no one handed him anything. Ever. If you visit the Home Hardware in Invermere just stop and listen for his whistle. Everything is wonderful, wonderful.
There are people in my life that cannot seem to stop complaining. Life is difficult for them. I no longer wish to live in that world. Sure Isis may attack or that damn government needs to smarten up, but frankly I am learning not to care quite as much anymore. The research is in and it all points to giving less of a fart about the daily junk that I won’t remember in a week anyway. Most of us spend the majority of our lives stressing about toothpaste and taxes and hoping we won’t die alone. So boring. I no longer care if my neighbour likes my lawn, it’s all crabgrass anyway. I don’t give a tinker’s damn about so many things that used to drive my mania, though I still have a long way to go. I have been challenged to practice this mindfulness exercise, caring less. I need to figure out how to lower my expectations of life.
As my dad always says, “If it doesn’t affect my pension or my grandchildren, I don’t give a crap.” He’s no idiot, my old man.
The Golden Ticket
There is a huge reward for all the work, I just can’t explain it to you yet. I lied all those times, there is a Golden Ticket, you just can’t have it. The Golden Ticket is curiosity. The reward is wisdom. This is an example of something called Philosophical Psychoanalysis.
For many of us, coming to the place in our life when we again embrace wonder is difficult and arduous. It usually comes from pain and loss, though not exclusively. It may happen in a person’s second-half of life and often after a divorce or death or mental health tremor. For one of my closest friends it just became, out of a lifetime of anxiety and self-medicating and living on the emotional fringe. Many of us end up there, feeling misunderstood or lonely or like a freak. I often ask clients at the beginning of this period of rediscovery, “Do you remember fun?” Look around you – few of us seem to be Jedi’s.
We talked for five years. We are still talking, but it’s different now. I don’t have as much to teach her as I once did. She is as motivated, more motivated, than I am. We talk about books and art and history, philosophy and psychology and politics. The subjects are as varied as the universe. Oh ya, we often talk about the universe as well.
If you come see me professionally I will ask you if you read. You cannot remain my client if you do not read. I’m sorry but I don’t have the time. That sounds arrogant and I don’t mean to be condescending. The simple truth is, it’s too hard to do this without continuous input; and if you aren’t filling the tank on a regular basis you are screwed. It may not be books but it should be a source that is teaching you. That glass of wine after work may help you wind down but won’t take you where you want to go. Good tequila, on the other hand… (thanks Kim!).
I gave her A Brief History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. She read about cognitive behavioural therapy and The Wisdom of Psychopaths. Paul Ekman. The Tipping Point and Heretics and Heroes. The Hunger Games. Buddha’s Brain. She learned how to place a deadly serious psychological game from the mockingjay (Real Or Not Real?). Michio Kaku. The Renaissance. Augustus and Genghis Khan. The list was endless.
“Getting better” may be more about wisdom than anything else. The Twelve Step people are very correct – the wisdom to know the difference. Understanding the meaning and context for my life is probably the best and surest route to emotional wholeness. Don’t take this wrong, it is as Art Williams says, I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy – I’m telling you it is going to be worth it.
She doesn’t have as much time to be depressed anymore. She has, in her fifties, four university classes to get unrealistic marks in. Her little-o-bit of self-diagnosed OCD means that every morning the Byzantine Empire comes pounding in, not her anxiety and regular panic attacks. It is all about wisdom. It is all about curiosity.
Here’s a little secret to happiness – learning is a drug. Many of us are, however, only recreational users and merrily go about our lives, most days frantically absorbed in our petty existence. I mean no disrespect, I’m a professional at petty.
We were talking and she suggested that I make up a Required Reading List. It would be the strangest list imaginable – physics, neuropsychology, science fiction (don’t get me started on Ursula K. Le Guin), obscure movies like The Razor’s Edge (Bill Murray version) and obscure books like The Myth of Certainty. Hundreds and hundreds of books. and graphic novels, movies, comedians and philosophers.
Then one day she wasn’t depressed anymore. That was years ago now. She’s going to be an art historian. The Golden Ticket is the narcotic effect of such momentum, this wonderful gift called curiosity. The more I learn, the more I thirst. The larger my understanding becomes the more I comprehend how ridiculously little I know. I am baffled by the certainty of zealots; I’ve been doing this for thirty years and I still see “through a glass darkly”. In my meagre experience I’ve found that learning about the big stuff, the thoughts that bring healing or hope or meaning, these occupations birth a feeling of awe deep within me. Wonder intoxicates. Times in seclusion become precious and thinking about your upcoming art trips to Berlin and Italy make you smile. She is not wealthy but she is passionately curious. This week she discovered, really understood, the history of Constantinople. She’s writing a philosophical play for one of her classes. That need to spin her neurological wheels is slowly becoming an asset. Perhaps some of this is about making peace with the person who is Scott or Liz or Steve or (insert name here) and not running from who I am. It’s also a bit about timing. It’s hard to be smart with three or four rugrats incessantly baying for your attention. You people have a harder job, though perhaps more dire.
If nothing else, it won’t be boring.
She gave me a few books this week from a series called Mrs. Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. It’s a wonderful tome for “young readers” so I could understand it. The tale is a mix of the X-Men for kids and fairy-tale magic. The moral of the story (for me, thus far) is to embrace your pain and turn it into a weapon. We want to run from our personal truths even though we know this will not work. Wholeness comes with something I have been preaching lately called radical acceptance. As I stop fighting my story and begin to look for grooves in which to surf, the demons from my past become a part of a powerful narrative. I relearned that today from a child’s book.
I have thousands of audiobooks and I’m not exaggerating, as some of my patient clients can attest. What started out as a distraction eventually became a passion, and it isn’t hard to read anymore. The problem is what to read, in a world of a million choices and limited time. This month I’m promoting Brain Pickings, a wonderful and profoundly insightful act of love from one smart individual.
And pick up Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, it’s a great read at any age.
“Courage is not something you have, it’s something you earn.”
Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of the bombing of London in World War Two. The Germans called it the “blitzkrieg” or just the Blitz: “In the years leading up to the Second World War, the British government was worried. If, in the event of war, the German Air Force launched a major air offensive against London, the British military command believed that there was nothing they could do to stop it. Basil Liddell Hart, one of the foremost military theorists of the day, estimated that in the first week of any German attack, London could see a quarter of a million civilian deaths and injuries. Winston Churchill described London as “the greatest target in the world, a kind of tremendous, fat, valuable cow, tied up to attract the beast of prey.” He predicted that the city would be so helpless in the face of attack that between three and four million Londoners would flee to the countryside.
In 1937, on the eve of the war, the British military command issued a report with the direst prediction of all: a sustained German bombing attack would leave six hundred thousand dead and 1.2 million wounded and create mass panic in the streets. People would refuse to go to work. Industrial production would grind to a halt. The army would be useless against the Germans because it would be preoccupied with keeping order among the millions of panicked civilians. The country’s planners briefly considered building a massive network of underground bomb shelters across London, but they abandoned the plan out of a fear that if they did, the people who took refuge there would never come out. They set up several psychiatric hospitals just outside the city limits to handle what they expected would be a flood of psychological casualties. “There is every chance,” the report stated, “that this could cost us the war.”
David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell
The government was sure that the residents of London would be shell-shocked. Everyone knew that it would be only a matter of time before Britain was boarded. Everyone was wrong. For a lot of reasons that Gladwell illustrates, people in London in World War Two gave ‘the finger’ to the Nazis and shrugged it off.
The experts are often wrong. That psychiatrist who diagnosed you might not have had a clue what was really going on. Those meds may work for some people but that does not mean they work for you. Research is changing so fast that none of us can keep up, and I do this all day. Sometimes the people we trust to know the answer are googling it while you are waiting in their office (This is, in point of fact… a fact).
The experts believed that the people would be afraid. It turned out that when people survive a bombing they begin to feel invincible, and in the end the Germans only managed to make a strong country into a very pissed-off enemy. That was one of the lessons of the story, I suppose. They were not afraid, they were afraid of being afraid. In counselling we call that catastrophizing. What was the worst that could happen if the Germans came? What if we lose? Making a mountain out of a mole hill. Come on, you know what I mean. The people who should know were convinced that the Blitz would be the beginning of the end. It turned out to be the end of the beginning. Everyone underestimated the RAF, and never have so few given so much for so many, or so the story goes. Churchill stood alone against the world, a ragged bulldog who just wouldn’t lie down. The worst didn’t happen. Not even close. And that is why history is cool.
Sometimes, often, I care way too much about crap that shouldn’t matter. I get sucked in to the drama and forget to reach for my Wisdom Rock. It’s hard to be Zen when the kids are screaming. But hear me here: It’s not about last time, it’s about sometime. Sometime you will get better than this. Sometime things will be different. ‘Sometime’ is not a cognitive distortion. Sometimes this stuff works. Sometimes. We call that hope, and without it you’re pretty much screwed.
There are moments when catastrophizing does WAY more harm than good. It can take me places where I have a hard time coping. I know there is that statistic somewhere that can prove me right, the one about how most of what we are afraid of never really happens. You know the one. But let’s be honest, it’s not about who is right and who is hurt. It has to be about me.
Try that on for size. It’s even hard to write. It has to be about me. I am no good to anyone if I am not strong. People count on me. I do this for a living and it gets inside me, infects me, for better and worse. What good am I to my wife, my kids, my partners, if I am emotionally wrecked? This is a hard lesson for a Canadian to learn. It feels selfish to my prairie ear.
Many of us are afraid of the unknown. The “what-if’s” have happened more than once. What the Germans didn’t understand, and what we all tend to forget, is that you cannot break a spirit that gets stronger every time you bomb. The Brits were prepared to gas the Germans on their own beaches, if pushed. You do not piss off the British Empire. They are stronger than they let on.
Sometimes you just have to endure and learn. It’s not about last time, it’s about sometime. You cannot be beaten if you learn every time you are hit. You will win in the end. I have to believe that because I’ve seen it happen literally hundreds of time. I’ve felt what it feels like to be “ok” and I want more of that. A bunch more.
You can do it. You are, like the fairytale, stronger than you know. Courage is not something you have. Courage is something you learn. Malcolm is, in the end, right as rain. You’ll have it when you need it if you practice what you have learned. That isn’t rocket science but this stuff is hard and it is important. It needs to stop being “hurt enough I have to” and start becoming about “learning enough I want to”. Getting better is about learning – I will die on that hill, if necessary. You can’t get better if you aren’t getting smarter about your own particular piece of crazy. We’ve argued about this before. I get paid to research and I listen to audiobooks like a drug addict, what can you do?
I know, it’s a sweet gig.
Cue the cheesy ending – “You’re bigger than you know”.
More On Invasive Thoughts
Great article from Psychology Today on invasive thoughts. Here’s a taste:
- Your job review is scheduled in two days and, in passing, your boss says, “Well, we’ll certainly have a lot to talk about.” You try to put what he said out of your mind—what did he mean by that?—but it keeps coming back, and now you’re a nervous wreck.
- You’re sitting in the airport, ready to board, and thoughts of every plane crash you’ve ever read about keep barging into your head. You try to shake them off, reminding yourself that plane travel is safer than driving a car, but it doesn’t work.
- You’re going to the doctor next week to have that mark on your thigh looked at and you think it’s probably nothing, but worst-case scenarios float into your head 24/7 and distracting yourself doesn’t work. Why is that?
The answer is what Daniel Wegner calls “the ironic monitoring process”—your brain actually searches for whatever thought or emotion the individual is trying to suppress. Yes, your brain is actually nagging you…
Here’s To You
It happened last night. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does, it takes my breath away. Those invasive thoughts.
Lying in bed they rolled over me like a wave. One thought led to another and then I was consumed. I couldn’t stop myself from “going there”, couldn’t keep the steaming pile of shit from pouring in and taking down. It went on forever.
At the end of it, and literally the end, I got out of bed and went into the kitchen. Then it was over. Moving, changing, going into the light was enough to break that pattern of thoughts, thank God. It doesn’t always work but last night it did, and I’m thankful.
It only happens to me a few times a year. I have clients and friends who deal with this rush of hell every day. I cannot imagine the strength it would take to get up each day and do it all over again. I’m not that strong. Some of these people are. They have learned to cope. You know who you are and my hat is off to you. I’m humbled by your courage.
The tools work. They’ve been tested by fire and I can tell you first hand that there are people who are more familiar with some of the toolbox and are having a measure of success. I have seen some of my clients and friends come through things that I could have never survived. In this office I have learned that I simply cannot stay in that emotional hell or it is going to take me out. Wise sages have written words that have helped me, and probably you as well. I’ve listened to victims and I’ve listened to survivors, and I learn from the survivors. Just the way it is.
So on that ‘night of nights’, and in times when I deal with other, less intense, dysfunctions; I continue to work the program. The Wisdom Rock, the brain massage, recognizing cognitive distortions, practicing STOPP Therapy, WWSD, faith, mindfulness, taking my argument breaks to breathe and breathe and breathe until I calm down. My mantras, the crap detector, the stuff I learned from Family Systems Therapy and motivational interviewing, the self-talk, the distraction techniques, dozens and dozens of cheesy tricks that keep me from losing my mind. Like most of us I forget more than I remember, often not recognizing the danger signs until finally the wisdom of retrospect magically kicks in.
I don’t really have a “Plan B” that doesn’t involve self-medication.
71% (Or… Beating the Mental Health Odds)
In my ongoing quest to possess the world’s largest private collection of audiobooks, I am reading/listening to an amazing book called Rock Breaks Scissors.
The book is a meandering collection of scientific beauties that most of us have never heard about. How to use science to win the lottery, or at cards, or when betting on tennis, football, baseball, and especially soccer. This book is part of a genre of popular science books written to beguile the amateur. I read as many as I can get my hands on. I have names if you want in.
So let’s learn something new about soccer.
In this little known study scientists studied soccer penalty kicks between the years 1994 and 2010 during the FIFA World Cup. What they found was incredible. Scientists have studied professional soccer goalies and found that when their team is trailing they will choose to jump to their right side 71% of the time. That is a huge statistic for a game built on seconds and millimetres. It only takes 1/5 of a second for a kicker to put a ball in the net and it is statistically impossible for a goalie to know which way the kicker will kick. Or is it?
If you knew which way the goalie would jump, seven out of ten times you were faced with a penalty kick while your team had the advantage, this would be statistically important information to have. Science tells us (and here’s where they start to suck you in to their cult) that because of millennia of conditioning and probable biological predisposition, humans will look to the right when confronted with a precarious situation requiring their attention. You look to the right first when you enter unfamiliar room, for example. Test yourself if you can somehow not prejudice the experiment because now you know what is supposed to happen.
All this is to say that knowing this information may win you games. If your team plays forty games and has, say, 40 penalty kicks a year, occasionally you would be facing a goalkeeper who is wondering which corner you will pick. This may not be a frequent occurrence but consider also that in most soccer leagues there is the occasional infamous “shoot-out” where you can have up to ten penalty kicks in a single match. Knowing this information could mean three or four goals. And in soccer, 3 or 4 goals is everything.
Knowing the statistical likelihood of anything will vastly increase your ability to make good decisions. Suppose I were to tell you that 80% of people with depression got better after one year of good counselling (this is a theoretical question only). Most people who suffer with depression would surely put in this time, right? After all, 80% is a very high number and you have at least a decent shot at transforming your life.
I’m not so sure.
I have seen hundreds and hundreds of people who were only months away from radical transformation, but were simply unwilling or believed they were unable to do what needed to be done. Most mental health issues, for example, can be much better managed with a modicum of effort. Most people still do not put in the time.
Therein lies the nugget of hope. Good things come to those who don’t give up. I have had a front-row seat to many hundreds of changed lives. To a person every one of them undoubtedly told me at some point that things would never change. I have listened to them describe in great detail the impossibilities they were forced to endure. Every one wanted to give up, sometimes every day. Most though I was lying when I said that they could be whole. They were the ones who didn’t quit.
I have known more than a few people who have spent time in prison. Talking with them while they were doing time was often very difficult. I could not convince them that one day they would be free. While you are in the trenches all you can imagine is the war. It is only looking back that they believed things could change.
There was a time I believed I would always be broken. I instinctively knew I would always carry that backpack of pain. It defined me. It absorbed me. I would never be well. I could not understand how other people could go on with their lives as if nothing had happened. I cried every hour of every day. Every hour of every bloody day. Usually much much more.
Then one day I didn’t anymore. One day I had a good day. One day I didn’t feel sorry for myself. It started with a few minutes, then a few more. Little by little. Digging yourself out of depression, or anxiety, or trauma can be unimaginably hard. Some of us can barely get out of bed. People who struggle with mental health or addictions, past traumas or abuse must spend hours and years doing and thinking things that are uncomfortable, difficult to endure, and incredibly demanding of us emotionally and relationally. It is far easier to self-medicate, check out, or get bitter.
Like many of us I still bear the scars of that time. Other scars too.
Life Goes On…
“Emotion is taking me over” The Bee Gees/Destiny’s Child
“If I seem insensitive to what you’re going through, Captain, understand – it’s the way I am.” Commander Spock
Anyone old enough to have seen the original Star Trek, or young enough to have seen the recent version, knows that one of the significant sub-plots to the series involved Spock coming to grips with his half-human side, his emotional side. Like all of us, I’ve spent my life trying to figure out such things myself. We are emotional beings, even if some of us are less prone to show it off. No one teaches us how to become emotionally intelligent or even how to control ourselves when the adult world tears us a new one. Most of us come to adulthood with no idea how to grow up, if we are honest with ourselves. We struggle to keep control of emotions so powerful we wonder if we will ever find peace inside this freakshow we call our subconscious.
“I can’t stop my brain from thinking!”
Yes you can. It’s ridiculously hard but not impossible. It’s seems easier for men to do. I can turn to the wall right now and think about nothing. I know… weird. But it’s the truth.
It seems much harder to do, however, when one is stressed, or under pressure, or overwhelmed, afraid, despondent or depressed. Anxious people have a hell of a time trying to get their thoughts under control. Some of us wake up pinging and don’t come down until bed. With such a constant barrage of information, anxiety and catastrophizing it is no wonder most of us have always believed that it was not possible to get things under control. Or so we’ve been told.
“I can’t control my emotions!”
Actually you can. Anyone can. Like most things in life that matter it’s a learned skill that, one more time, anyone can learn. Impulse control is far more difficult if you are emotional by nature, but still attainable. Wait a minute, how did we suddenly start talking about impulse control? Weren’t we discussing emotional regulation?
Emotional self-control is an impulse issue. Anyone who has endeavoured to get their anger under control, for example, knows the incredible pressure to react when we believe we are threatened or demeaned. Angry people are among the most difficult to treat because their automatic responses are so immediate and violent. Yes violent. Yelling is an act of intimidation and violence. So is condescension and belittling. Anger is often really about control, about bullying. Angry people usually have no idea how violent they really do appear. Learning emotional self-regulation in this instance is not only necessary, it is transformational. If you struggle with anger, or if you are always afraid, if you cannot help being pessimistic or negative, if you are becoming bitter or depressed, you owe it to yourself to get a handle on this stuff. It will literally change your life.
“Why is everyone making me so emotional!”
Most of you already know the answer to this one. I have known for decades that no one else can make me angry if I don’t let them. I have preached the gospel of self-autonomy for years. I believe religiously that I am in charge of my own emotions and attitudes, but…
People really do piss us off. And hurt us. And demean and abuse us. Learning to remain who I really want to be in these situations requires a massive level of self-talk and personal emotional therapy. Being at peace in the midst of the battle is maybe the hardest and most amazing thing anyone can achieve. I plan on getting there someday.
We’ve all felt it. I felt it again very recently. One would think that inasmuch as I do mental health for a living I would be beyond such things, but alas. Rejection is, obviously, very personal. It’s hard to blow off because it is ultimately about a perceived flaw in our character, or a shortcoming, or a failure. Someone has chosen to treat us as “less” – usually someone we care about or whose opinion apparently matters. People have an uncanny way of finding what hurts us, don’t they? Most of us are intimately familiar with rejection. We have experienced it all our lives. We were the fat kid, or the ugly kid, the mouthy brat or the wallflower. Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me. What tool wrote that? What kind of an emotional child could actually believe that “names will never hurt me”. I understand the cliché, it speaks to that part in each of us that feels strong enough to not let disparaging comments hurt us. How is that working out for you so far? I once got hit in the face with a big rock, thrown by a much older teenager while I was riding my Pursuit 5 bike. It was a very cool bike when I was ten… but that’s another story. The scar healed and there is no longer any physical trace of the injury. Some of my emotional scars didn’t heal quite so well. Being told by my grandmother that I was “useless and nobody will ever love me”. Rejection by the love of my life, so many years ago. You have your list and we could get them out and compare. Sticks and stones… Part of wisdom is understanding that some of those voices from our past (and not so distant past) need to be dealt with and put to rest. I often do such exercises with patients – working through those horrific childhood memories until they are bored enough or healthy enough, have learned enough and cried enough, to move forward. Some of us are still haunted by messages we heard in early childhood. We were picked on at school by other children, called names, labelled and abused. “Have you ever met a five-year old?” I will say to them. “Do you know how stupid little children are? Would you believe them today if they came up to you and insulted you?” Of course not. Children are morons and their opinions about my self-worth are meaningless. But still the voices carry. Some of us were rejected by an abusive parent or lover. We understand cognitively that their opinions of us are less than stellar, and subsequently less than reliable. We wouldn’t believe a word out of their mouths, but we have. Their criticisms still bite, in spite of such an unreliable source. We are hard-wired to believe the worst, especially when the worst is about us. If you don’t believe me, do this little experiment. Think of a stressful, negative, frustrating situation you are dealing with. Spend ten minutes thinking about all the possible issues. How did things end? If you have an amygdala chances are you started catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is a great psychological word because you don’t ever need to explain it (much). It’s making a mountain out of a molehill. Few of us have the wherewithal to argue ourselves happy in a bad situation. We naturally think of all the worst-case scenarios. We think of ourselves as “realists”, when in all likelihood many are pessimists who simply cannot fathom labelling themselves something so negative. Catastrophizing is the minds natural response to stress and fear. Some of us are professionals. I wish I could end this article with a snazzy little anecdote and tell you that there will be people who will get you and not reject your love. I don’t actually know that to be true. What I have come to understand is that the more healthy I am, the better my self-esteem gets, the more I learn to accept and even appreciate myself, the less that kind of stuff hurts in the long-run. A healthy Scott is quicker able to put things in perspective, better suited to not catastrophize or feel like my world is coming apart. A healthy Scott knows that chocolate and kayaking and sunshine and self-talk can sooth, a little at a time. I have a brain injury. A few years ago I had a grand mal seizure and stopped breathing. It happens sometimes to people for no obvious reason, but I was very fortunate that this happened at the doctor’s office where I worked. I had two of the best docs I know ramming in an airway and giving me emergency triage within seconds. It undoubtedly saved my life. I have written about this before if you care to look. It has radically changed my existence, but interestingly enough not all for the bad. I have lost a great deal of my memory, which is bad. I have a difficult time staying angry or remembering slights, which is very good. It has given me the gift of forgetfulness. And the curse. I still remember things, although to a much lesser degree. I still remember the day my best friend showed up at my door and told me he didn’t want to be my friend anymore because I wasn’t spiritual enough, or at least that is how I remember it. Smaller hurts, though, I cannot recall. This, at least, was a blessing in disguise. On a related note: If you have some of my books or DVD’s I still want them back. I will look surprised when you return them but whoever has my signed Churchill book or my War of 1812 coin, you’re stealing from a mentally disabled person! But as usual I digress. I wish you peace and contentment in a world that is designed to hurt you; in a society that preys on its weak and slanders the broken. The best thing you can do for yourself is become free and strong. The only real armour against rejection is personal wholeness. And a really thick milkshake.
People Are Scared To Talk About Mental Health
Waiting for Change
I remember hearing the song, “Waiting On The World To Change” and thinking, that’s not going to happen anytime soon! Things tend to get worse before they get better, or so the maxim goes. What I have found is that things get ridiculously old before they change. Most of us spend day after day, month after month, even year after year desperately praying for change, until things slowly move. And we’re talking slowly. I don’t have any recollection of when I got out of my all-pervading, soul-stealing, life-draining, ‘who gives a crap about anyone or anything’ depression. There was no “ah ha!” moment, no prayer meeting that turned the corner, no epiphany, no medication, no counselling appointment that finally turned the tide. No conversation seemed to help at the time, though later it was obvious looking back that small change was beginning.
I remember, when I was grieving, going to see a really terrible religious counsellor. I went religious because I could get it cheaper. Mistake. Some religious counsellors are undoubtedly fabulous, but they never met this guy. I should have saved the money and bought a milkshake. NOTHING he said helped. But then again, nothing anyone could say at that point made much of a difference. He was extra pathetic inasmuch as he couldn’t keep confidences and literally ratted me out, exacerbating the situation exponentially. Long story short… he sucked. Sadly, many counsellors do. They go into this occupation to save the world and somehow fix their own dysfunction. They are rarely successful. By way of example, hundreds of addicts I have worked with, and we’re talking hundreds, are convinced six weeks into sobriety that they want to be a drug and alcohol counsellor, or work with youth. People love love love theoretically working with youth… until they work with one and realize that adults actually listen, most youth in counselling have no longer than five minutes of attention span (thank you every adolescent male for the stimulating conversation), and adults won’t attempt to give you a wedgie during your coffee time or fart out loud and blame you at Starbucks. These are, of course, only theoretical examples and I’m not really upset with that little puke who blamed me at the coffee shop I frequent almost daily by yelling and holding his nose, pointing and gagging. Completely theoretical.
Anyway… what were we talking about? Oh right, depression. Happy times.
Coming out the other side of depression seems to take forever. By the time someone lands in my office to actually deal with such things they usually are so far gone it can take months just to talk them into getting up in the morning. I never start by asking a depressed person to do much of anything. The key problem with depression, as I oft recite, is the lack of motivation. The number one thing you need to get out of depression is… motivation. So how do you get motivated to get motivated? Certainly not by going to a doctor who prescribes an hour or walking, journaling, or going out socially on dates. Such goals are laughable, in the beginning. Unfortunately doctors are left to diagnose and prescribe such maladies on a daily basis, while having little understanding of psychology or mental health in general. It simply isn’t really covered all that much in medical school. But again I digress.
I cannot point to a day when I felt better because there wasn’t one. Coming back from the living dead took years of reading and crying and praying and talking and talking and talking… and not a little bit of drinking, much to my chagrin. I don’t recommend taking a depressant for depression. It’s similar to smoking pot for your anxiety – short-term gain, long-term pain. Doctors recommend that too!
It is the same with trauma, anxiety, and much of the mental health spectrum. There is no fad diet or cleansing that really can make you whole again; no magic pill or medication that will solve your problems. Some of us desperately need to be medicated, but with an understanding that medication alone is rarely sufficient. What really needs to happen is time. Time to move beyond the raw beginning. Time to let all that good stuff you are learning congeal and begin to take effect. Healing takes time. Real healing always does.
I tell this to patients all the time. Even with the best counsellor change rarely happens overnight. I find, and this is not even remotely scientific, that my clients usually take about three months of intense therapy before stuff starts to vibrate. Six months to a couple of years to deal with trauma, or anxiety, or serious depression. Sorry to say but a combination of co-morbidities could require longer than that. Some of us know this, though it’s counselling suicide to speak of it out loud. “Short term interventions” that we were all teethed on in college are only relatively short, when compared with how long it takes to not get better. Consider then, if you will, that most extended health plans cover 5 or 6 counselling sessions. So why aren’t you better yet?
Depression is not necessarily a terminal illness. Neither is anxiety or trauma. What is true, is that they are not easy to overcome. It took me years, and I still bear the scars even today.
I like doing groups. Usually, at the beginning, I dread losing another night of my week for something that resembles work. I wonder why I volunteered again. Here we go… again.
But something happens after a few weeks. People begin to open up. The group starts to jelly. Friendships are born and confidences given. One by one the participants let us into their pain, their dysfunction, and their beauty. I begin to count the weeks differently – now I’m counting down the days until the group is over. I’m not sure what will happen, this time. What if we decide it shouldn’t end?
One of the groups I created, that I do from time to time, it called “Welcome to Normie Land”. I hold it at the Addictions Centre where I spend some of my week, usually for a room full of people who are living in transitional housing, trying to swim their way back to what they once lost. They are good people, wounded people. I walk well with this part of the population, having spent most of my adult life working with the poor, the oppressed, the addicted. The lowly. They are my people now, for better or worse. But back to the story…
She had been coming to groups where I work for over a year, a long time to be in transition. She had a hungry mind and loved to talk about neurochemistry, among other things. I loved hanging out with her.
In one part particular group, while we were talking about relationships, she began talking about her new romantic interest. With eyes twinkling she sheepishly admitted that she was struggling with dating ‘clean and sober’. She was embarrassed. Without her “buffer” she had depended on for so many years to deaden the emotions she was suddenly shy, emotional, even “girly” around one particular cute guy at church. She went on and on about how mortified she had been after letting her emotions get the best of her whenever he was around. She told the group that she felt like a loser. As she continued speaking I couldn’t help it, I blurted out, “That’s so amazing. That’s absolutely wonderful!”
What I had realized, what nearly everyone in the room except for this person knew, was how amazingly alive she sounded. She was falling in love, living in a storybook, most likely for the first time in her life. What years of abuse and pain had taken, time had begun to restore. A return to innocence.
That’s what can happen, if you want it bad enough and the stars manage to align. One of the greatest perks in my job is the front row seat I get when people discover who they really are. Every once in a while someone wakes up, having hurt enough and striven enough, won and lost and gotten up again. After what seems like years and years, change comes to those who don’t quit. Actually, those who have probably quit a hundred times and still are in the fight. Over a matter of weeks I watch things radically change, from the way you dress to what you now believe. You have done what you said you would never do, you have moved on. It was impossible those many days ago, unimaginable. You laughed when I suggested that things could be different. I remember but it’s ok, everyone seems to in the beginning.
And that’s the good news at the end of the fairy tale, or is it at the beginning? I was always a firm believer that good things happened to other people. Then I grew up a little. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get better, but I did. Much slower than I thought, but it did. People who are reborn know that when your parts go back together again they fit differently, somehow. You are changed and you know it. Happiness means something different now than it once did. You have finally said goodbye to your emotional youth, though not without a fight.
But it’s not really a fairytale, is it? I hope. Normal people who don’t look good under florescent lights can relate to this story. Even the almost happy ending. Don’t give up, it always seems impossible at the beginning. Even if that beginning is the sixtieth beginning. And while we’re talking about it I give you permission to let go of some of the shame and guilt. Seriously, haven’t you done enough penance? Sure you screwed it up, welcome to the real world. I keep screwing it up and I get paid to know this stuff. Time after time clients complain that they constantly fail. They have broken self-esteem. Some people even stop coming to see me because they are so embarrassed that they screwed up again. Please, don’t think like that. It doesn’t matter if you fell down again. Don’t listen to the critics, especially if you are one of them. When people come to me and sheepishly confess that they are abysmal losers all I ask is, “So what lessons have you learned?”. No guilt, no shaming. I might be an idiot but even I know that you have beaten yourself up enough.
I learned that I was usually more vulnerable that I wanted to admit. I realized that my issue was a lot stronger than I wanted to believe and I needed to respect my opponent. I finally learned that each and every one of my failures taught me something about myself that I needed to know. And one day, that last day, I walked away. I don’t why it was that time but I must have been ready. And many, many of us can testify that they finally healed.
How Long Can This Take?
It’s very sad. I have watched it happen for years but it continues to haunt me, just a little bit. She quit. She had been coming for just over two months and she was frustrated. The change that she was promised has not happened and probably never will. Something inside of her suspected this would happen but she thought she owed it to herself to at least give counseling “a shot”. Two and a half months.
I’m very weird. When I want to unwind I love to strap on my ear buds and listen to cosmology or physics or history. Atoms fascinate me. So does the universe. Like most of us who endured Physics in high school I learned that Physics is boring; and the only people who became physicists were the kind of people who would never have to worry about things like having a girlfriend or being popular. Physics was cylinders and math and radiuses..es. Bill Bryson was the guy who introduced me to this alternate reality. There was a book I once read about a journalist who was on an airplane flight and he realized that he didn’t know why the airplane was in the air, didn’t know anything about geography or science or the stars so wrote a book about a bunch of cool things I had never really taken the time to appreciate. I can’t remember the name of that book but if anyone has read it, let me know.
It was Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” that really rocked my world. I have read it cover to cover four times and will probably destroy it when I eventually read it again and again. Bryson helped me imagine 10,000 billion billion stars. He wrote about how on the very smallest level, far tinier than atoms, the basis of life is music. I am naturally a storyteller and this book has provided hours of fodder. It has helped me understand how precarious and unlikely life is, while showing me that there could possibly be a million worlds that could support intelligent life, though probably nothing like us for many reasons that I have learned from books like this. I met people like Michio Kaku and actually read Hawking. I am listening to “The Magic Of Reality” by Richard Dawkins but he is bitter and is killing my fascination with the magic of reality so I may listen to the original BBC radio dramas of Sherlock Holmes next to cleanse my palate.
So what do trilobites and neutrons and anxiety have to do with each other? I almost forgot… quitting.
I never took that second Physics class that Bryson talks about, the one that introduced you to real physics – the universe, the atom, the amazing. I was stuck with the volume of a cylinder and boredom and the pledge to never read physics again the rest of my life, so help me God. So close.
Apparently the next year you were introduced to the meaning of life, the beginnings of the universe and the mysteries of existence, so all-in-all I probably didn’t miss much.
I have mentioned in other articles here, here, and here that most people do not really change, especially if they are dealing with anxiety or trauma, because change is very hard and takes a long time. We have been sold the lies that promise to transform us with little or no effort. We are in love with shortcuts and our brain in neurochemically wired from an amygdala level on up for novelty. Many of us have also helped evolution along through our excessive use of drugs or alcohol, maybe our parents drank a bit when we were in the womb, perhaps we have inherited the douche bag gene, etc. Whatever the situation you can bet your 1984 Klondike Days Commemorative Coin Collection that you won’t be over your mental health issues in two months… or six months… or probably a year or two. It just takes however long it takes. There is no epiphany day for most of us. After three months of intense introspection (literally a few weeks after she quit) most people begin to notice something happening, though they are hard-pressed to describe it or even understand what “it” is.
We meet and something about you is different. Maybe you decided to go for a walk this week after ten years of depression and guilt because your psychiatrist, who never took the time to meet you, told you that you needed to walk for an hour, every day. What an idiot. Don’t even get me started…
Don’t quit. You only have one shot at this and contrary to what I really, really really want I probably won’t find a time machine so that I can go back to high school with all I know now and rule! Being free of those demons that haunt us is something that must be earned, and comes at a terrible price for some. All I can say is, I know personally that it is worth any price. I’m not there yet, but to paraphrase Martin, I can see the mountain top.
Some of you know what i mean.
The Myth of Feeling Good
I’ve confessed before on this website that I work part-time at a drug and alcohol counseling service on the west coast. Over the years there I have learned a few things, and nothing more important than this – many of us choose to spend our lives chasing a feeling of “good” or “better”. We are convinced that there must be something more to life We have been taught that if we could just change our situation, or take a certain pill, or find someone to love us, then we will feel magically feel “good”.
It’s a trap.
Real life has very little to do with feeling good. There are obviously other, much more important things than feeling something that is fleeting and ultimately deceptive. If you don’t believe me just ask anyone who has struggled with addiction.
Quitting drugs and alcohol is relatively easy, seen in perspective. There is the initial detoxification, usually 5-6 days of discomfort and sick. Depending on any number of factors you may experience sweating, restless-leg syndrome, diarrhea, upset stomach, itchiness, and usually insomnia. Five or six very, very long days that seem to go on forever, then they end. This is traditionally followed by a period of general wellbeing, unless you are coming off of opiates. These little babies have an added bonus – you may have a week or more of absolute exhaustion. What the opiates giveth the opiates taketh away…
Quitting a destructive habit is relatively doable. Unfortunately this is, contrary to some 12-step nazis you may know, only a small part of the issue. The real battle is your life, the other 95% of addiction that is often not mentioned. Your life is your problem, not the meth (take that in context).
After the initial bad stuff addicts often experience a period of months wherein things go much better – they are excited about new possibilities and feelings, they actually have feelings that they allow themselves to enjoy. Food starts tasting better, activities that were once arduous become enjoyable again. You begin to believe that things can change, can really change. This period is rarely long-lasting and usually sets up a person in recovery for a fall.
That’s the thing about addiction. If there is an evil, it is addiction. It’s that old Bugs Bunny cartoon with the good angel and the evil angel speaking into your ear. Drugs are amazing, that’s why people do them. For a while. Ever after you remember the good times and it’s convenient to forget that this is the same voice that took your joy, your relationships, and stole your soul. That’s the thing about evil, if it sounded like evil we wouldn’t be tempted. In the movies the best Satan is the one that is cool, not creepy. Did you see Constantine? Sexy, french, white Armani suit. Very “satan-y”. Evil doesn’t look like that guy in the alley wearing the trench coat. Evil feels right at the time – it tells us what we want to hear, it speaks only good things into that void that is desperately looking for happy. It’s like… dating!
As the good book says, there is a wide road, a way that seems right at the time, but the end is destruction. That voice that has been breathing on you is wrong. It’s the voice that tells you that you have been ripped off by life. It’s the same voice that tells you that if you can find someone else to love you, then you will be happy. It’s the noise telling you that the real world is boring (which it is) and you need to feel better, or feel something, or just feel different. Many of us spend our entire life chasing the dragon, trying to feel something different, something better, something “good”. It is, after all, a wide road.
We’ve been raised on Coke commercials and beer ads telling us that life is about spiking volleyballs, being young and thin, and partying in Jamaica. It’s very intoxicating, this quest for feeling good. It often reflects a deep sense of dis-ease with our lives and a pervading sense that life isn’t turning out the way we imagined when we were young and dumb. There has been far more disappointment and hurt than was advertised. This is often coupled with some intrinsic understanding of our own mortality, of missed opportunities, and of a life that seems to be steaming forward faster and faster. Add the hurt of others, the pain of failed relationships, the boredom of the routine, the lack of money to live the rock star dream, and the horrific struggles with self-worth that most of us battle all our lives and you have a potent cocktail that is screaming out for something more. Some of us drink or take Percocets. Others of us do a variety of more socially acceptable forms of self-abuse and soul crushing.
Here’s one more interesting fact about addiction. The very thing that you are looking for with addiction is the very thing that gets taken away from you. Ask a opiate user and most will admit to you that they started abusing their meds because they felt a sense of energy or a ‘warm hug’ that opioids initially provide. You can get an enormous amount of work done high on meth or Oxys, or even some strands of pot. You are amazed by the general feeling of “good” you have been missing for so long out in Normieland. Everything about the up-front experience with drugs is awesome – more happy, more energy, a great sense of focus, being stoned. Months later when you can not get out of bed because you are exhausted after sleeping twelve hours you still wonder if taking another pill or whatever will give you back the happy it has so subtly taken away from you. One of the single hardest things to do with an addict in counseling is help them enjoy things that were once fun but no longer hold any thrill. Their whole life has become deadened. What the drug giveth…
The thing is, the real world doesn’t make you happy, so get over it. My job may be amazing but it can still suck if I decide it will. I have an amazing family that I can choose to abuse or ignore if I want. I have been able to experience more than many people in this life and I can easily decide to live a life of bitterness or regret or jealousy or fear. Life in the real world involves lowering your expectations – sorry but it’s true. It’s only once we change our mind that our life truly begins to change. Anyone can quit smoking, given enough help. Not wanting to smoke is a different kettle of fish, as they say. People who constantly battle with weight, or smoking, or pretty much any issue in this arena understand implicitly that “just stopping” doesn’t really work. You may white-knuckle yourself out of eating that Whopper but nothing has changed. It’s no surprise, then, that counselors will tell you “change your mind and your butt will follow” (ok, not all counselors but ones that sound exactly like me). Changing what you do rarely is enough.
Changing how you think about what you do is everything.
Many years ago someone told me to “Imagine that I was setting up two lines to snort. One line would be cocaine, my drug of choice. The other line is Drano”. Now the someone asked me, “Which one is worse for you?” Well, the answer was obvious, wasn’t it? Of course the Drano is worse for you, it’s a horrific poison. The cocaine, on the other hand, makes you high (which is good) and then doesn’t kill you (which is also good). The choice is obvious.
“Wrong!” he said.
“If you snort the Drano you are only going to snort the Drano one time. In fact, you may not even snort much of this Drano. The experience is going to be intense, real, and relatively short. You will learn some valuable lessons about Drano. You will be able, after little prodding, to convince yourself that you will never snort Drano again.”
Obviously you see my point.
There is a way that seems right…
It’s one thing to live, it’s another thing altogether to have a life. Spending your whole life looking for something outside yourself to give your life meaning is an invitation to heartache. Many of us are learning that no one else is going to take responsibility for making me whole and I have only one short life to figure out how to be happy.
I can blame the world for my life but in the end no one but me loses.
I wish I could say I have learned all these lessons. I can’t even say I came up with all this rant. What I have learned, however, is that I need to keep thinking about this stuff until something rubs off on me. I am constantly tempted to do what is cheap and feels good at the expense of something better. The more I learn about myself and my demons the more I change, and that has to be a good thing. Learning to sign a peace treaty with my insecurity and poor self-image can’t help but make a difference in my life.
It’s easy to pontificate like this to a bunch of strangers. It’s another thing altogether to have to live this stuff out in front of people who I can hurt.
Jealousy And Obsession
I work a great deal with people who are in the throes of an obsession. It may be a love or a love lost, a new hobby or a destructive coping mechanism. No matter what the cause, obsession can be a powerful and consuming thing. The longer I work with clients the more apparent it becomes that a manic state is in many ways as destructive as a depressed state. Some of that emotional energy I have seen during a relational breakup, for example, is very destructive. Checking your email or Facebook every two minutes, writing out dozens of extensive apology or spite letters, overdoing it at the gym or at the bar or even at your church – manic obsession is not healthy.
Jealousy is a great example of how manic behaviour and thinking can get out of control. It can be insipid, especially if it appears justified. Sometimes we are jealous of another for good reason, at least we think so. This often leads to excessive passive-aggressive behaviour, incredible neediness, controlling and manipulative relationships, and eventual emotional ruin.
I know a little bit about jealousy. There was a time in my life when I was convinced that someone I cared about was attracted to another. The fact that I was eventually proven right actually was worse than if I had been mistaken. Fuel for the fire, so they say.
I have come to realize that most often jealously is actually about me, not the other person. If I am insecure, or envious, if I am needy or convinced that I am unworthy, this has a tendency to exacerbate any legitimate feelings I may possess. Finding out your spouse is enamored with some other guy or girl is bad enough when you are healthy. If you are an emotional train-wreck it can absolutely devastate you and those you are in community with.
Jealousy, like rage or fear, is an exceedingly powerful and consuming emotion. It turns otherwise rational people into psychotic idiots, passive people into tyrants, happy people into pathetic messes. Some of you know what I am talking about. Objective thinking goes right out the window. Like other obsessions jealousy takes up most, if not all, of your head time and thoughts. You start to catastrophize everything, think with your heart and not your head, live in a constant escalated state of pain and anxiety. Jealousy is almost impossible to talk someone down from.
Those racing thoughts are not healthy. Letting yourself dwell on the possibilities only makes you sicker. Trust me, you don’t need to feel all your feelings. You don’t need to process your pain twenty-four hours a day. What you do need is to put the brakes on the insanity and eat some chocolate, get laid, go to a movie, take a nap, or spend some time in prayer or meditation. Find out about mindfulness. Look into distraction. Talk to a doctor about Ativan. Read or listen to a book. Get sleeping pills. Give other people permission to tell you to shut up every now and then. Dwelling constantly on what may or may not be is a great way to go insane. Talk to a professional. Learn STOPP Therapy. Work on those racing and irrational thoughts. Deal with your self-esteem and insecurity and childhood issues. Stop the train wreck.
Realize that no one else can make you happy forever.
- Coping Mechanisms (scott-williams.ca)