One of my best friends, intelligent and knowledgeable when it comes to psychological stuff, went to the doctor today. Something serious happened in her family and this has obviously affected her in very real ways. We have talked about her life for years. All I asked was for the doctor to prescribe something for anxiety. She has a history of anxiety. I know her extremely well, we’ve known each other close to 20 years. We talk literally every day. Just give her the damn meds. Continue reading “I’m Sorry I’ve Been Absent So Here’s A Rant”
“and to keep me humble there was given to me a thorn in the flesh” The Bible
I’m no prophet, I think we can all agree on that. I’m not even convinced that I was “given” anything, it’s just that the verse works well with where we are headed. That’s all. No one is claiming to be Tom Cruise here.
For many of us, myself included, there are one or two things that have a tendency to hold us back from having a full life. I have a buggered knee that constantly reminds me that I am not allowed to run anymore. Or do martial arts anymore. I do it anyway and I pay. Frustrating, but really only a nuisance if I keep my head around it. Many, many people have it worse, we tell ourselves.
That particular coping mechanism, “many have it worse”, is a two-edged sword, actually. It is certainly accurate, in the logistical sense of the verbiage, many indeed have it worse. Stop complaining about little things. Appreciate what you have. Do it anyways. All those cheesy statements that we all use to get things done and keep moving forward. There is value in remembering the blessings, as they are dubbed. This is a very important psychological tool.
Occasionally, those coping mechanisms which have worked for so long have, in truth, exacted their own little emotional revenge. This is one of those statements. Humility and appreciation are foundational to good mental health. The problem is, and you probably know where I am headed, this statement can also be a reminder of how pathetic I have become. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. What I tell myself is that my particular problem is petty. It is not important, really, and I need to ignore it because I am being selfish. That’s a hard pill to swallow.
It is easy to diminish our own issues. We convince ourselves that to take time away from the many people who count on us, in order to work on our own issues or grieve or pray or cry or sleep, is selfish. Self care is selfish, although we don’t say it like that. We are too busy, too stressed, too involved and around too many whiny problems to really have time or emotional energy to go for a walk in the woods. Who has energy to walk?
In psychology we call this a cognitive distortion. Many who read this blog have come across this phrase before. Learning about cognitive distortions is probably one of the most important things you can do when seeking to become a real person. We are surrounded and obsessed with our distorted ways of thinking about life. This is not an occasional detour, every one of us uses cognitive distortions literally every day. Catastrophizing, All or Nothing Thinking, Emotional Reasoning, Should Statements, Over Generalizing, Filtering, Fairness, Blaming, the list goes on. I do this stuff all the time.
Here’s another one, a more personalized one: Other people have it worse. This may, in point of fact, be technically true, but it only tells part of the story. Contemporary journalism often does this, pulling out the letter of the law but completely missing the spirit, the story, the truth. Knowing other people have worse problems doesn’t always help me emotionally manage my grief and pain. I need to come to grips with the enormity of the issue, not diminish my own mental health issues.
This stuff is important – for me – and that is not selfishness, quite the contrary. No one knows what I am going through but me. No one understands my part of the picture. No one knows how I am really handling this life, no one but me. I must realize that there is no merit in blaming my relatives, that eventually becomes a cognitive distortion and keeps me from being honest with myself. There is no value in bitterness; I am the one eventually consumed. Damning my ex to hell may feel good for a moment, but it can affect my emotional wellbeing for a lifetime. That kind of stuff affects my grandchildren, it becomes generational. While we may be obviously linked genetically to those who came before us, their attitudes and cornucopia of craziness can be passed down as well. I simply cannot allow that to happen, if I am able.
So I have learned from people smarter than me that “other people have it worse” doesn’t always help because I am not other people. I am condemned or blessed with this one life and at the end of the day I’m not really responsible for your stuff. I need to figure out how to heal my stuff and hopefully some of that will bubble over into your life, and yours to mine. The dog didn’t eat my paper and I wasn’t holding it for a friend – this is my life and it doesn’t matter if other people have it worse.
Weird, it still feels arrogant writing that. They have programmed us very deep.
I had an interesting conversation with a colleague some time ago. We talked about the cost of trying to make a difference. It was a very cool hour. We weren’t rock stars, we were just talking about philosophy.
Both of us had been hurt, trying to try. Giving a damn seems to cost more than the advertising brochures promised. Caring forces you to give up some of your dreams of glory. You know exactly what I mean, don’t you? I’m not a hero, that is abundantly clear if you read anything I write. That ego stuff has nothing to do with what I’m writing at this moment with my counsellor hat on. I’m at work right now and “at home” Scott is hours away. And I’m a guy.
In the hard light of reality I know that I am allowed to admit that most of us really do want to make a difference. When my life is erupting and my family is cray cray I can forget that I am, at heart, an idealist. That’s easy to forget when you have scars. It’s hard to accept that caring for other people usually hurts us. I am still a kid at heart.
Any measure of wellness that I feel now I learned the hard way. I’m not as good at this as I like to portray in public. Most of us aren’t. And one of the worst lessons I have had to learn is that most of the real wins, the authentic difference, came after you have been hurt really bad. I am not confident that I learned much when everything was going my way. Pain teaches me.
That really sucks.
It isn’t fair and I don’t like that. On some level, most of us have had to face the harsh reality that doesn’t feel fair. But is it?
No. There is no Pixar ending.
Sitting in the old counselling office one rainy day this truth began to open up wider for me. I began to see threads, real or imagined, in many of the stories of pain and trauma that funnelled their way through my door and sometimes my life. It may be that this cognitive distortion, this need for life to “make sense”, has been responsible for a larger slice of misery than at least I ever imagined.
The stories are similar. Depression or anxiety brought on by trauma or heartbreak with a sense of cruel incongruity. We have been wronged and something needs to be put right. We simply cannot accept that there is no payback. It’s so… unfair.
As the good book says, and I proceed to steal and compare myself, albeit tongue-in-cheek, to the great Apostle Paul, “I do not come to you as one who has attained. Nonetheless I press on.” Like you I wonder why good people seem to suffer and total jerks continue to prosper. She left and it hurt and she never came back. I know that feeling. It’s bad. He died without ever getting his “just desserts”. Some of those Nazis escaped to Argentina and lived off the rewards of their raping and pillaging and genocide. As I consumed Martin Davidson’s book, The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather’s Secret Past, it was apparent that the author never was able to see his grandfather pay for his heinous crimes. There is no glass slipper ending. Gru doesn’t really adopt the cute little girls – they get thrown into the social welfare system and spend their childhood in Foster Care. They became sexually active early. Chances are they have issues with addiction and end up marrying poorly. That’s the real world and it is many things, but it is not fair.
But here’s the problem. I am DNA’d to believe in fairness. I cannot seem to get it through my dense skull that reality cares very little about my sense of injustice. It is up to me alone to move forward, and it’s very, very, hard. Years.
There are three ways, I think. There is the way I want, the way I don’t want… and the way I don’t know yet.
I have a friend, a real friend who I see in the real world, who has been working on her stuff for years. Not too long ago she came to me and uttered, “Five years. It’s been five years and I’m still not fixed.” It was heartbreaking, because she is a rock star.
As I wrote in my last post, some people go through things that are beyond coping. There isn’t a toolbox in the world that prepares you for the loss of a child. As I’ve said even recently, you get a free pass for that. I would go crazy. I cannot imagine a scenario in which I would be ok if I lost one of my kids. It’s simply not reasonable to imagine, yet in ways that are beyond my meagre understanding, some people keep going.
I just finished rereading Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, And The Art Of Battling Giants. He’s a storyteller. I like stories. In that book he points again and again to average people who, when faced with insurmountable odds, found a third way. He doesn’t call it that, but he seems to understand. Mennonites who have learned that vengeance sometimes creates more pain than it heals, even when your baby is defiled. Huguenots who stood up to the scariest dictatorship we have known and said, “We have Jews, come and get them”. Poor people and zealots and losers who came to understand that they have only one life; and the need for justice was ruining what little they had left.
There is the way I want, the way I don’t want… and the way I don’t know yet.
Five years of reading, learning, letting go, and moving forward against impossible odds. No one comes to a counsellor to sign up for that program. Most of us who are in process would happily abandon it at any time for a magic pill or a glass of good tequila.
Like most of us, it started with a broken toolbox of coping mechanisms. Imprints from childhood and generations of dysfunction, broken promises and unfulfilled expectations. Death had robbed her of a piece of her life. Choices. No role models who were not also broken. That ugliness inside. So much pain and hurt it was overwhelming. Some of you have been there… are there.
It’s hard to believe that you might be a success story. There is no pink cloud, no happy ending, no days of bliss without Xanax. But on some deep levels, people can fundamentally change. She still reads everyday because, if nothing else, she has learned that there are no shortcuts to wisdom. She needed to get started. There were days and months and years when it didn’t seem that there would ever be a good day again, but she was wrong. She knows that now. I don’t talk to her like a counsellor anymore, we just exchange information, sometimes everyday. There has to be a good reason to work this hard or I couldn’t live with myself and do what I do for a living. I’ve seen too many people find a third way to believe that my life is hopeless anymore. There must be a way from where you are to where you need to be or I quit.
Here’s the last thing I’ll say about this here. I didn’t have a clue what the third way was for years. I thought, many times, that I had this covered, but I was very wrong. I knew what I knew and I was willing to die for the cause, but the cause was flawed. No one could tell me that because I was right.
But one day I realized I wasn’t. Letting go of what I knew to be fact was exceedingly difficult.
Realizing that I had to work on this stuff every day for the rest of my life was at first disheartening, then exciting. It sure didn’t start out “exciting”. It was horrible. How do you stop believing what you have known to be true all your life? How do you “fake it until you make it” when you feel like you are lying to yourself? How do you hope again when you have been proven wrong in hundreds of ways?
Those are very good questions and this isn’t Sunday School and we have to figure this out for ourselves (with a little help). I can’t give you a slick closing sentence to make you or I feel any better. As I have often been counselled, I need to be relentless in my desire for change. There is only one game in town.
This is for you. You know who you are.
I talk a great deal in counseling about “the toolbox”. It is a psychological construct that many of us are familiar with. Talking about a toolbox is trendy now, and for good reason. Knowing what it is and how to effectively use the toolbox can be a powerful metaphor. One woman I work with told me that the toolbox doesn’t work for her. She has a sewing kit. The actual metaphor isn’t important, working it very much is.
And so, in deference to the few who have asked, I’ll tell you about my personal toolbox. Sharing this, for some reason, feels like a very intimate confession. This is not your toolbox, but it is mine. Welcome to my particular version of psychological weirdness.
My toolbox is, in point of fact, an actual toolbox. Years ago, I once owned a rusty, red toolbox, with a single removable tray. I could never pull the thing apart without one corner getting stuck, and in my mind’s eye it is still that same old cranky, rusty, piece of crap. I use a version of the Loci System to stock this thing, this imaginary tool chest in my head. I complement this technique with various memory systems because I have a brain injury. There, I said it.
There are only four tools in the tray, a wrench, a yellow screwdriver, my wisdom rock, and a respirator. The second layer, the bottom of the toolbox, holds a toy black chair and a clown mask. Eventually I will replace the wrench and the screwdriver with more literal interpretations, but this works for now.
On that day when we met, I wasn’t thinking about toolboxes or wrenches. We were just having coffee when she casually hurt me with her words. They were spoken innocently enough, but they were anything but innocuous. She meant to hurt me, to teach me. Condescension is one of my buttons, stemming from my childhood. “Tuning me in” strikes me somewhere deep and dark. I am working on it.
I often forget to employ the toolbox. In the wave of emotions (anger or pain or embarrassment or a little of each) I can be caught up in the surge and forget that I am “Counselor Scott”. I forget to ask myself WWSD. I am overcome… sometimes.
I have been using the toolbox for a while now and it still only works when I remember. The methodology is still inherently flawed, and I am also researching and endeavouring to shore up that whole “forgetting” thing when I’m upset and the emotion rolls in like rain. I’ll let you know when I figure that piece out.
Back to the toolbox. I have worked very hard to recognize the rush of ugly, and approximately 50% of the time I now remember to reach for the box. I open the toolbox in my mind. I can see the clasp, one of those silver ones with a metal loop on the top; and I open it.
There is the wrench. The wrench reminds me to recognize the cognitive distortions that are raping and pillaging my brain right that moment. I don’t know why it’s a wrench – this is probably because when I started doing this thing I was much too literal about a ‘toolbox’. I am thinking of changing it to a bunny, but that’s another article. As I reach out in my mind’s eye to grab the wrench I am reminded that I am probably not completely objective right now. Maybe I am catastrophizing or taking this conversation far too personally. Perhaps I am employing “all or nothing” thinking or emotional reasoning. I often use emotional reasoning because I am hurt. Holding the wrench forces me to think rationally. If that doesn’t work I can always hit you with the wrench, so it’s all good.
There is a yellow screwdriver, don’t ask me why. The screwdriver reminds me to employ STOPP Therapy. I should probably just substitute a STOPP Therapy cue card that I give to clients… duh. STOPP therapy has saved my life. I am proficient at STOPP therapy and if I can remember, this is usually as far as I need to go in the box. If I am still not able to deescalate myself , the respirator reminds me to breathe. Two weeks ago at the movie theatre I had to breathe 7 times before I could calm myself down. Apparently I still have some growing up to do. I carry the wisdom rock as a grounding tool. Sometimes it helps.
If I have to pull out the tray I know I’m in trouble.
The bottom layer of the toolbox contains a toy black chair and a clown mask. We are getting serious now. The toy chair is an exact replica of the chair I am sitting in as I write this – my counseling chair, rips and all. It is a not-so-subtle reminder that I need to put on my “Counselor Scott” hat. Yes I built in the redundancy because I am not that smart and need more than one cue. The clown mask… well the clown mask is more controversial and I hesitate to put it in writing. Let’s just say this memory cue reminds me that people have issues and I need to remember that ofttimes the anger or resentment I am getting from someone may not be a reflection of me. We all have mental health issues. Let’s leave that at that.
I am profoundly aware of how cheesy such tools can appear to the uninitiated or critical. But here’s the rub – when I am in crisis I usually do not have time to be profound. I need something quick and simple. Just like me.
I have a wisdom stone that I carry in my front pocket. Just a cheap knockoff with the word “wisdom” engraved on the surface. It once was rough, now it is smooth. That is the point – it once was rough.
The pursuit of wisdom for others, and myself, has emerged as something that I apparently care very much about. Lately it feels like my cup cannot be filled, and I get paid to study. As I have spoken and written about elsewhere, this past five years, time spent counselling full-time, has become one of the most important “swerves” in my life. I sometimes regret that this did not happen earlier, though I understand cognitively that timing is everything. Apparently this is my time to grow up. It has taken much longer than I imagined, and along the way I truly believed that I was wise beyond my years. Turns out I was wrong. Self-awareness is a merciless thing and seems to come, at least in my direction, at a terrible price. Growing, but not yet grown up.
I rub the rock. It reminds me of what is important to me when I am so easily distracted. It is a simple therapeutic trick, an exercise I teach clients. The rock is a visual, physical, and psychological tool to recalibrate my focus. It has also become a spiritual tool; I have infused meaning into possessing it. I need all the help I can get.
I have also been reading sports psychology lately. I work with an amazing martial art called Excel Martial Arts, serving as a sort of philosophical and psychological advisor, as weird as that sounds. People call me “Sir” there. It makes my wife laugh. Yes, she keeps me grounded. One of the things they do at Sun Hang Do is an oft mimicked sort of salute with the right hand in a fist, enclosed by the left hand, symbolizing power and control. It is a natural focus point for starting a “pattern” or a maneuver in formal martial arts training. I teach students to put a little ink dot right at the middle of that hand gesture, clearly visible when you start and then throughout their practice. Whenever that hand flashes in front of the face they have a clear and visible reminder. The dot acts like a wisdom stone. Every time I see that little black dot it reminds me to do something – in my case to take a deep breath. Deep breathing forces the heart to slow down and gives me the time I need to slow down and think, or not think, or whatever.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. As I write this I am listening to a “brain massage” that you can find on YouTube. I don’t know if it really works but it sounds nice and relaxes me… so in point of fact it does. On the way home I will listen to Blink for the third or fourth time because I love Malcolm Gladwell and his crazy hair. Audiobooks saved my life once and I am paying a debt to myself every time I strap on the phones. Gladwell isn’t heavy and he is a great storyteller. I may have a bath later because I can lock the door. I will read for three or four minutes before I fall asleep tonight. Tomorrow morning its back to Blink, but only after I read a few minutes of my toilet book. You probably shouldn’t handle that book much.
Self-care rarely happens by accident. It may not sound like it from this article but I am actually very busy, just like you. We have a bucket of responsibilities and no time for anything. Too bad. Make it work. I drive and listen. Some of us colour, others watch documentaries or Breaking Bad or paint walls. It doesn’t matter if it’s quality time or pooping time, self-care cannot be optional and I ignore it at my peril. There is no one that will take care of me if I refuse to take care of myself.
After all, what good is it if I help the world but lose my heart?
There is a great deal of philosophy in psychology. I don’t profess to be an expert at either but it feels like I am finally starting to wake up. I have come to believe that some changes are about timing, about distance, about learning. I watch clients go through this process all the time; and hopefully some of this yummy goodness has rubbed off on me along the way. I don’t do this job for the money, just ask my wife.
I get paid to be a full-time student of life. I can research to my heart’s content, as long as some of my paperwork is done. I watch the drama, the comedies and the tragedies, unfold before my eyes. Some of you know what I am talking about. I absolutely love my job. Back to our story. I have been learning recently about the events in our lives that change us. Books have been written about what I call “the event”. I have an article 80% done by that very name; I just can’t seem to end the story. Now it will probably end up being called “The Event (Redux)”. Briefly put, there are some events which are so catastrophic in their ramifications that they rip the fabric of our lives forever. These “events” have a permanent effect on our lives, our hearts, and our attitudes. They are game-changers. More later.
Our part of the story has to do with timing. As someone says somewhere, “timing is everything”. I was speaking with a friend lately about this very thing. We talked about our “events” and the ways in which life has turned out differently then we imagined. Not everyone has one, I’m sure. This isn’t something you would need to feel regret over. It’s not like a tattoo of your 14-year-old girlfriend. Some people’s lives probably go by quite swimmingly, I simply do not know too many of these. I think I know a few. This is a good thing. “Events” are rarely, in my experience, good things. I know a few people who know a few people who won the lottery, but I never will. I guess that could be a game-changer I would like to embrace. Won’t happen in the real world though.
I’ve written about this briefly in the past. I don’t want to talk about ‘the event’ right now. I want to talk about another ‘mini-event’. One day things started to change. It took years and rivers of tears and pain and pain and pain. We aren’t fooling around here. People who know what it feels like to be clinically insane. People who actually believed suicide was the best option. Lives that have been broken. You know, the big stuff. Let’s move on. Things began to change. Since that time I have come to understand that the journey back into some light was more about accumulation than about one-time events. The road back was way, way longer for most of us than we believed we could bear. It seems impossible not to be profoundly affected by the knockout punches. I often hear people say, “There are lessons I’ve learned in this process that I would never have learned otherwise. Still, it wasn’t worth it.” That seems like a reasonable assessment to me.
I have known many people who have chosen to define their lives in terms of ‘the event’. This is not the time for speaking about the potential for dysfunction here, let’s look at this from a different lens. There are those people who see these events as such deal-breakers that a very real part of them died or was altered on that day. Life is before the incident (BI) and after the incident (AI). There would be a me that thought his life was one thing (BI), only to find out it became something altogether different (AI). If you don’t think people can change… you’ll see (AI). Don’t get me wrong, not all people change for the better. These things scar you, is all (AI).
As Santayana reminds us, don’t forget the things you learned there. It may not have been worth it, but that doesn’t mean it cannot transform your life. Busy people forget to read psychology, or counseling stuff, or philosophy. We get so profoundly caught up in our crazy lives that we tend to repeat cycles without learning anything of profundity while we were in the Freak Show. Some of us remember promises that we made ourselves when we were broken; promises we made to God or our spouse or our future. I get paid to remind you of that crap. I personally recommend to my clients that they take a few months every year, for the rest of their lives, and come back for a visit for a month or three. I may get paid to research, but most of us don’t. I mean that in the most empathetic terms I can conjure. Life is nuts here too. I talk about this stuff every day and I forget. A few months a year to keep things on track cannot be a bad idea. Just think about it.
I want to dedicate this article to a bunch of you I work with who inspire me not to give up. Your capacity to triumph in suffering humbles me. I have no idea if I could endure what you are going through, I only know my story. Timing is everything. One day you’ll walk in the room and I, or someone like me, will look at you and ask if anything has changed. You look marginally better. There will probably not be any “ah ha!” moment wherein you suddenly realize your problem and phone Joel Osteen. I truly hope there is, but I never had one. Somehow, in spite of the agony, you were able to build just enough momentum, get the right meds, start eating differently and get off the couch. And it really sucks, but I couldn’t fake myself healthy.
I told someone this week, “This may not be bullet-proof but it seems like, for many people, you just have to ride that ‘wave from hell’ for a while before it starts to cool down”. I could be wrong, I often am, but shooting from the hip I would say that I have not been able to do much for many of my clients for a seriously long time… at first. Either I’m really bad at this or something is trending. Maybe a little of both. In my little office I could feel heart-broken if I thought too often about how long it really takes for qualitative and quantitative change to happen in a life. We don’t talk to clients about this very much but sometimes my job is more about the process than the results on a weekly basis. A few of you have spent years in counseling and groups before there was significant change, and then it wasn’t all good change either. Sometimes I feel like an emotional air freshener until some of the intensity wears down. There goes my buzz…
I have some friends I’d like to introduce some day, even though they are all so very shy. They are mostly women, with a few males scattered in the mix, who could tell you their story. A few have done so already on this site. They make my job super cool. I first met some of them many years ago and they are warriors, every one of these crazy, courageous people. Some have significant mental health issues, huge personal stuff, and usually a lot of grief somewhere. There were so many issues we basically threw darts and waded in. You think I helped you, but you did 99% of the work and I had a great time hanging out with you and getting paid. These friends are the reason I can write so confidently – I watch people who overcame insurmountable odds and refused to quit and somehow, after a very long time, there was a bit of hope. And let me tell you, in the beginning – they would be the last people in the world to tell you they could do have survived and moved on… I might have just had an “ah ha” moment.
I have a very cool job.
check out this related article – The Speedo
“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.
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.
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.
Many of us have talked to someone about our painful past. Most likely you have heard the advice, “you can forgive (with help) but you probably will never forget’. This is generally good advice and is given when people ask, “how am I supposed to forget what he/she has done?” In cases of violence against persons, hurt, or abuse, unfortunately forgetting is rarely an option. Even years of intense counselling cannot erase some memories. Anyone who says otherwise is probably selling something.
But what about forgiving? We have all been taught in church or school or by a guardian that we need to forgive those who have harmed us. There are a plethora of stories of individuals who have chosen to forgive the person who has murdered a family member, or done egregious harm. Let me make this perfectly clear so there is no misunderstanding of where I am headed with this. In my experience this is the EXCEPTION, not the rule. Most of us in similar situations spend our entire lives seeking to work through such pain. There is counseling and prayer and screaming and tears and more counseling. We are taught to move forward, and many of us do. It takes time and tears and work to loosen the grip such experiences have had on our lives.
Most of us have been taught that moving forward is primarily a matter of forgiveness. This is not always good advice. Telling a patient that he or she must eventually forgive their rapist, for example, is overwhelming and inconceivable at the beginning of the journey. It may be possible for some to eventually forgive after working through much of the pain, but is this the only option?
Let me suggest a third option (as opposed to bitterness or forgiveness). Many of us will never be able to fully forgive those who have injured us. Common wisdom dictates, therefore, that we will never “truly be able to move forward.” As a result, even with counseling or prayer or whatever floats your boat, we remain in bondage to that trauma for the rest of our lives. This often has catastrophic ramifications. Untreated trauma can lead to all manner of mental health issues from depression to hoarding to constantly painting our front room, to being unable to commit to a healthy relationship, or have an orgasm, or cope with catastrophic shame and pain. “Trauma trumps all” as the saying goes and leaving it untreated is often a prescription for a haunted life.
So what is the answer?
Over the years I have worked through hurtful memories with hundreds, even thousands of people. We are taught in school that tools such as Exposure Therapy help clients to deal with such issues. Clients are often encouraged to tell their stories over and over again until they can do so without the emotional discharge. There is some wisdom in this, in spite of the fact that Exposure Therapy no longer enjoys the popularity it once did. What is good about such methodologies is that contained within is a nugget of dynamic truth.
Here’s what I often tell clients. Sometimes moving forward is more about boredom than forgiveness. Let me put this another way – Let’s deal with you story until it bores you (figuratively speaking). Let’s work through your stuff until you learn enough, hurt enough, think and feel enough, that the tragic parts of your story lose their power… until one day you realize that you want to talk about something else.
And therein, as the bard said, lies the rub. There is real power in teaching your heart to listen more to your head. Most of us are a raging bundle of hormones and emotion and tend to make decisions and have opinions based on how it “feels”. Therapy will help you gain perspective. The real message of counselling is, “change your mind and your ass will follow”. You are hurt. It often becomes virtually impossible to see beyond the pain. I often tell clients, “when you are really hurting it can feel like you are insane. You think and do things that are born out of that pain and it is almost impossible to be objective. You may not understand, in such times, what is the best for you. You may not care. Movement involves wrestling with the demons until you are able to loosen the emotional hold such memories can have on you. Until your story becomes less interesting to you. Until you are able to push ahead without being ambushed by the pain. It still hurts, but you are on the move.”
There is something to be said for encouragement. I have always tried to be that cheerleader, even when someone didn’t believe in themselves. I’m not saying this to brag, I often suck at life. It has always been my heart’s desire to help people see the future and believe in hope, idealistic dreams, dragons and heroes.
There have been times in my life when I have been commissioned to be the keeper of the flame. I have led organizations – some successfully, others were flaming balls of amazing failure. I grew up with parents who believed in me, but few others. I was the mouthy kid, the highly energetic kid before we knew about things like ADHD, and way before it was trendy to talk about. I had grandparents who I saw far too often who were soul-destroying alcoholics who demeaned us children and belittled our dreams and aspirations. That has molded me, somehow, into the person I am today. I can’t abide dream-killers. I am an idealist though I have much evidence to the contrary. This all sounds somewhat self-indulgent but as a Canadian I must remind you that I have faults a-plenty, just ask anyone. I have people who hate me. I know people who firmly believe I am going to hell. I’m human, like you.
You can do it. I have to believe that or I wouldn’t know how to live. I don’t really know if you can become a millionaire or get that jetski you have been dreaming about but I am firmly convinced that anyone can be whole, can find the meaning of life, can make a difference. I have to believe that.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that most of us will not live up to our potential. As I have written many times on this blog, emotional/mental/spiritual health is not a given and often requires more effort than many of us can give. We are also not taught about this stuff anywhere growing up so most of us have had to stumble around, looking for band-aids and triage kits. Most advice is, frankly, bad advice. Like any profession the worlds of psychology and religion are replete with superstars trying to tell you how to live your life. Most of them are, unfortunately, very wrong. Get happy quick solutions and fad remedies don’t tend to work in the long run. In the long run we need to run a great deal longer than we thought we would have to. Most people end up as “realists”, pessimists too afraid to admit they might be negative.
Idealists get beaten by life. Even with a multi-billion dollar movie industry spewing out feel good cartoons and love stories we still cannot convince most people to believe in the improbably after they hit 35.
We thought we could find Mr. Right and we were wrong. We believed that we would reach all our childhood dreams and we fell short. What now.
My dad is back in college. At 75 he has decided to go to university to study children’s literature. He wants to write kid’s books. You see what I am spawned from? What chance did I have? Most people are preparing to buy their burial suit at that age and he’s starting the slow route on a four year degree. I like my pop.
Most childhood dreams belong in our childhood. You may not, in point of fact, grow up to be a princess or a firetruck. As Robert Frost pointed out, “Two roads diverge in a wood…”. Life is almost like that. As I grow older I can choose to bring that trauma, that pain, the dreams dashed and the people who have hurt me… or I can choose to live in a world of children’s books and magic. I am prone to become too analytical, too rational. This has often kept me from allowing myself to believe in mystery. The older I get the more I seek hope in the midst of truth.
I suck at goalkeeping. I still want to score.
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.
Counseling is about trying to change the way we think – so that we are happy in spite of our situation, not because of it.
You Make Me So Angry.
As a counselor I often face the daunting task of helping people see that no one else can make them angry. No one else can make them sad. No one else, short of a disaster, can dictate my attitude at all. If I get angry, that’s my problem. I may think it’s someone else’s fault, but it’s still my problem. I am in control of me. So technically, you never make me angry.
We live in a society that has somehow enshrined in it’s mores the belief that it’s ok to yell. We grew up with yelling, we were taught yelling; and when my kids drive me insane or my wife gets snarky yelling is an acceptable option.
It’s time for a moratorium on yelling. When you consider it critically and objectively, yelling is an act of violence. I am exerting my will, forcing another to concede. When you are yelled at you probably feel somewhat violated. That may be because you were violated.
There is something cathartic, orgasmic about yelling. People who scream at others feel that sense of release. There is a subtle yet profound joyous release. You can kind of get off on yelling… Yelling is great for anxiety and frustration – just get it all out.
And then leave it on me.
Anger is about handing your pain and frustration to someone else. There is a significant sense of entitlement. There is a degree of selfishness, of lack of impulse control. Yelling is an act of weakness, not strength. It is also an act of violence. An act of control. We have all done it, from time to time but it’s time to look for other ways to deal with our frustration. Learn mindfulness, practice STOPP Therapy, breathe, go to a counselor, read about anger.
People learn in counseling that yelling is a very dysfunctional coping mechanism. They are apt to tell me they can’t help it. Or it’s not their fault. It’s just the way their family is and they grew up fine.
In the 12 Step program they are keen on wanting you to know that the first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that you do, in point of fact, have a problem.
Now you know.
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)
Great Article via The Huffington Post:
They aren’t pretty, but they are the kind of wake-up calls that we need to give ourselves every once in while. Columnist Leigh Newman explains.
1. Love Is Not A Stative Verb
In elementary school, we were all taught about stative verbs. Perhaps you remember them? Statives are those verbs that describe a state of being or mental condition, such as “to feel” or “to be” or “to believe.” Love, for example, is classified as one. You feel it.
Now let’s look at a few situations that have me questioning how this grammar plays out in life outside the classroom. Example #1: My friend who keeps sending his mentally unstable mother $2,000 a month even though she is young enough to still work and racks up debt on credit cards that would make a gambling addict panic. Example #2: My 42-year-old girlfriend who keeps meeting the same 42-year-old man over and over and over at 1 a.m. at which point he shyly, drunkenly, adorably reveals that she is his soul mate, only to go back to his 27-year-old fiancée at 7 a.m.
These kinds of dynamics — and others like them — have recently persuaded me that love is not a condition or a state of mind. Love is not a stative verb at all. Love is a dynamic verb. Love is action. Love is dumping the 27-year-old fiancée. Love is refusing money from your son because he’s taken on two moonlighting jobs to support you and he can’t afford his rent, much less the black Lab he’s always wanted. Love is sprinting, struggling, splatting, crawling, kick-boxing, climbing, leaping into the thick of the battle for your own — and someone else’s — happiness.
2. To Learn Is To Watch… And Ask
Like many Americans, I am a teach-it-yourselfer. So is the rest of my family. When I wanted to learn how to play tennis, my dad dropped me off at the local high school with a racket and a tube of three green balls, and told me to hit the backboard “until I got the hang of my swing.” As an adult, when I need to screw on a ski rack or create a Google spreadsheet or cook an obscure Chinese green, I figure it out via trial and error. Why? I think I’ll understand the task more profoundly by teaching myself. A recent study at the University of Louisville however, found that figuring things out yourself takes longer — with far less accurate results — than observing and communicating with others in the know. Watching the experts — and asking them for their expertise — results in a faster, richer learning curve.
3. Pig Newtons Are So Fig Newtons
Be they disempowered toddlers or exhausted parents or fed-up coworkers or confused, random, mentally unstable strangers on the street, our fellow humans sometimes make up insanely stupid points — then fight fiercely in defense of them. Only Louis C.K. can make this funny. But he does have a point. People — and not just kids — will insist Fig Newtons are actually called Pig Newtons. They will claim Mississippi has seven s’s in it. They will swear the sun covers the moon during a lunar eclipse. Your job is not to argue or present the truth to them. You will not get anywhere and you will turn into the crazy person trying to argue your case. Your job is to go to the bathroom and laugh. Or write down your insanely correct points on a piece of a paper towel — and then flush them down the toilet.
4. When Overwhelmed, Cache And Drag
During the Gold Rush days, on the famed Chilkoot Pass between Canada and Alaska, each traveler was required by the Mounties to drag one full ton of “adequate” food and supplies up the 32 miles that led over the icy summits. Some of these travelers, by the way, were women wearing corsets and long, full skirts. And yet, they succeeded. How? By caching (read: storing) 950 pounds of their supplies by the side of the path, then dragging (read: dragging) a mere 50 pounds for a half a mile forward, then returning to the cache for another 50 pounds, and so on. When it all worked out, a person might walk 80 miles for every single mile they moved their provisions — which sounds discouraging. But in this way, they were able to move — literally — a mountain of food, pots, tools, water and everything else they needed to build a new life. I’m not suggesting that any of us pack up the contents of our house and drag them in 50-pound bundles through the streets. But sometimes, it can be helpful to put an idea or dream to the side for a while and then, in full defiance of our relentlessly go-forward-at-all-costs culture, to go backward and haul the crucial supplies necessary to make it come to fruition.
5. You Don’t Have To Go To The Gym To Work Out
At home, I have a set of free weights, two yoga mats, an elliptical trainer, three yoga videos and a nifty package called OM Yoga in a Box. I haven’t touched any of it in months. The workout that I do is pushing my 35-pound 4-year-old two miles each morning over to “Super Hero Camp” in the 90-degree heat. I exercise my arms and legs. I sweat off five pounds. The news that you don’t have to go to the gym to work out should be a wonderful truth instead of a hideous one. You can run up the stairs to your office. You can pick up your husband and put him down over and over. Right now, you could be running in place while reading this article. Amazing! Wonderful! But think about it: You don’t have to go to the gym to work out. That means you can work out anywhere and anytime — which means all those lovely lies about not being able to work off your stress and take care of yourself are now officially unutterable.
6. You Already Dreamed The Dream
I’m not sure who is going to invent a machine that will inventory everything that goes through our brains, and until this is actually invented, this last truth may have to be reclassified as a hunch.
But it does seem as if so many of us worry that we don’t know the one crucial thing that we should be doing in life, the thing that will fulfill us more than any other. Even if we were given all the time and resources in the world, we still wouldn’t know what to do.
This is ridiculous. From what I have seen in life, I don’t think we need to go looking for some new “mystery” dream. The most important ones we’ve already had. Sure, at a very young age the idea of being a sea captain or ballet dancer occurred to us. But at an older, wiser age, we thought, “I should own a bookstore!” or “I love jam so much I should make it” or “Wouldn’t it be fun to be a tour guide in Italy?” We just failed to tie our lives to it. We let it float off, where it eventually ran out of air, sank and got buried by 1,000 other more practical or less scary or far less specific dreams.
It feels a little horrible to confront the truth that you knew what you wanted to do (even for .04 seconds) and didn’t do it. Then again, understanding or maybe just believing that the dream exists and that we just have to root around for it — not invent it into being — does something amazing. It calms us down. It takes away all the side worries like, “Maybe I’m not creative enough to dream” or “Maybe I’m just one of those people who don’t dream.” Looking for it becomes like looking for a missing house key while still at home; there’s no need to panic. You just have to find what’s already there.
verb – to view or talk about (an event or situation) as worse than it actually is, or as if it were a catastrophe: Stop catastrophizing and get on with your life! She tends to catastrophize her symptoms.
It’s something many of us do every day.
Some months ago I got a call from the unemployment office. Years ago I had been unemployed, had collected EI, had started a restaurant, and there was some negotiation over when my EI claim should end. Now years later a supervisor was calling for what felt like an urgent meeting.
I freaked out. I didn’t sleep well for the days leading up to the meeting. I had all my paperwork in order, I was confident I had done nothing wrong. I knew intellectually that it should be no big deal.
Catastrophizing. Making a mountain out of a molehill. Jumping to the wrong conclusions. Expecting the worse. Ever happened to you?
Catastrophizing is one of the classical cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are those emotional coping mechanisms we employ in order to cope with stress and issues in our life. They are things like emotional reasoning – letting our heart make decisions that should be made with our head; or “should” statements – I should be a better person, I should be over anxiety by now, I should not eat that bagel (ok that one may be the right thing to think…). Cognitive distortions keep us sick. We develop these ways of thinking because they work, or at least they used to. It’s tempting to “filter” out positives and believe the worst. Anyone over thirty knows that life will hand you enough manure to convince you that the worst-case scenario is often the right one to believe. Thinking all men are pigs can keep you from ending up in pig crap. Catastrophizing prepares you for the worst, and the worst sometimes happens.
Letting go of our own distorted ways of thinking takes a bucket of work. Being willing to set aside feelings and beliefs that have served us, sometimes for generations, is no simple task. Letting yourself forgive, or trust again, let someone love you, or work through your abuse can be the most daunting thing you ever do. Most of us are tempted to change our actions and hope we will eventually fake our mind into someday playing along. While this can bring limited success, growth happens when we change the way we think, not just the way we act.
Religious people may recall the Bible verse which says that “as a person thinks, so are they”. In therapy we say it this way, “Change your mind and your butt will follow”.
- The Real World (scott-williams.ca)
- 7 Psychology Experts Reveal Their Own Cognitive Distortions (psychologytoday.com)
- Tips for Talking To Men And Attracting Them Like Crazy (scott-williams.ca)
- You Have Herpes (scott-williams.ca)
- Living with An Emotionally Closed-off Spouse (scott-williams.ca)
Reality can be cruel. Sometime ago I was handed the inglorious task of telling a beautiful young woman that she had herpes. She was sure it was a bladder infection, but ultimately the science didn’t lie. There is a stigma that comes with something that is sexually transmitted, especially if you have a partner that does not have an STI.
The thing is, you can deny the reality all you wish, it will not change the facts. It’s like being pregnant, there is no “sort of”. Such it is with life. There are certain realities that come screaming your way no matter if you are willing or not, ready or not, believe it or not. Immanuel Kant believed that there were essentially two different worlds – the noumenal and the phenomenal. The phenomenal world is the world as we perceive it. The noumenal world is the world as it really is. They are rarely the same thing. For those of us raised on The Matrix it is the difference between the blue and the red pill. The real world is seldom as we perceive it.
We put on our sunglasses and filter everything to fit our view on the world. We have been raised to believe certain things, use certain coping mechanisms, employ certain cognitive interpretations and distortions. There is something in all of us that wants to believe we are the exception to the rule. Other people cheat on their partner and get caught but I am too smart, too slick, the exception. I can cheat on my taxes and get away with it. I can cut corners, take shortcuts, skim relationally, and do whatever the hell I want because, although other people get caught, I am not going to be held accountable. Sometimes we are even right.
Sometimes we can get away with enough that it actually reaffirms our excuses and entrenches this belief in our psyche. I see this often in counseling. People want to have their cake and eat it too. On a regular basis an individual will seek me out in order to get permission to do something cheap or immoral, or just a bad idea. They are looking for a professional to condone their desires. Often they leave disappointed.
Although it is not my job to judge others, I do recognize a bad idea when I see one. And I see many. Day after day people walk through my life and describe how they are trying to take a shortcut, convinced that they will not be held accountable. After doing this job for years I am often tempted to stop them mid-sentence and tell them how things are going to turn out in six months or a year. To quote Agent Smith from The Matrix, “That is the sound of inevitability.”
I am guilty of occasionally telling my clients who are vulnerable, in recovery, or in the midst of crisis, “If it feels good, don’t do it”. If you are still with me at this point you undoubtedly understand what I am trying to teach them. Of course it is good to do good things. The problem is, however, that many things that are instantly gratifying are in fact horrible options. Snorting cocaine is instantly gratifying, so is cheating on my wife. The surge of chemicals in my brain overwhelms me with yummy goodness. It seems like a good idea at the time. That’s my phenomenal world talking, and it’s lying to me. Wisdom rarely whispers to easiest route to success.
Real growth has little to do with taking shortcuts. You can get your black belt in martial arts online if you mail ten dollars to some spurious Do Jang but that doesn’t mean you know how to fight. There are no shortcuts to a real black belt, or a real degree, or actual wisdom… or healing. One of the screensavers that pops up on my computer at the office says, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” That’s reality. – If it seems to good to be true, it is. – If anyone tells you that you can be whole in eight sessions of anything, they’re wrong. – You can’t change anyone else, just yourself. – Guilt/feeling bad is not the same as doing anything – No one else is to blame for your life – Trauma doesn’t usually just go away – Prayer doesn’t fix everything.
Sometimes you have to get off your ass and do something – No one cares as much about your problems as you do – The real world is boring, make friends with that – Everyone is as screwed up as you are… trust me on that … and to repeat – If you aren’t enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it (Cool Runnings)
- The Real World (scott-williams.ca)
- Dreams (scott-williams.ca)
- Obsession (scott-williams.ca)
- Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason (scott-williams.ca)
- 7 Psychology Experts Reveal Their Own Cognitive Distortions (psychologytoday.com)