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.”
I have voices inside my head. Not the kind where you take medications, the other one. The voice we all have, the whisper telling you to go pee right now. That constant inner conversation rattling around inside every head. Well, not all the time, I’m a guy.
There was a time in my life when my inner monologue was much more insane. Anyone who has ever gone off the deep end can tell you, things can get very scary inside that dysfunctional brain of yours. The constant feeling of tension , the weird thoughts, the nattering stressful boredom sometimes makes you nuts. Sorry to get technical there. You may become so engrossed in the internal soap opera it’s virtually impossible to remain objective. Scary thing is, it’s all so… rational.
Only it isn’t.
Did I say it was a monologue? Maybe it is more accurate to describe the experience as a wave mixed with an emotional rush; broken words and feelings all tumbling towards the unknown. I pitched this idea to one of my editors, Lori, and here’s how she responded:
I’m thinking about the movie Constantine. Cynical chain-smoking John Constantine, the weird androgynous Gabriel ~ and how Constantine went down to hell to find that girl who’d committed suicide at the psych ward. That place of monologue or trauma is a lot like hell. Constantine was loosely based on a comic called HellBlazer. I think once we know that ‘place’ we can never unknow it. Kind of like how once we become awake, we can never become asleep again. But knowing it, I think this makes it so we understand the depth of its agony. I think that’s maybe why you counsel and I feel like I need to ‘go there’ with people. I’m drawing some possibly unconnected analogy to the movie, but it makes me feel better about it all. Hell blazers.
That’s why she’s one of my editors.
The quote says it this way, “If there wasn’t a hell we would invent one”.
Here’s Lori again.
I think it’s almost reductionist to call it trauma or cognitive distortion or monologue. It’s a ‘place’. A virtual rendering of hell. In some way if I can look at it as a place, I can leave it as well as revisit it. And if I have a hell blazing friend, they can remind me it’s an imaginary place and not a reality.
Immanuel Kant spoke of dueling alternate realities. There is the world as I perceive it, and the world as it really is. They are different. Right now you may be worrying about something completely irrational. You may even know it’s cray cray but continue to worry, nonetheless. What if that worst-case scenario thingy happened? We all are young enough to believe in the worst. Very bad things can happen to very good people. Maybe that person really doesn’t like you.
There’s the rub, as they say. A lifetime of experiences, often bad ones, disappointment and heartache and pain and unrequited love and low-fat products which went to your hips have convinced most of us that we need to micromanage our internal head space and believe the madness pouring through our defences and threatening to invite us to start cutting or drinking or checking out, one more time. Lori was absolutely right – there are times when we need to be reminded that this is a fantasy and you need to wake up.
She stole my ending. And if I have a hell blazing friend, they can remind me it’s an imaginary place and not a reality. I aspire to be that person, when I am able. Chances are this is something you could also get behind. We all need someone who can take our hand when we lose our way. Thanks Steve.
Perhaps there was a time when people could bear this load alone. I am fascinated by the strength and the sheer badassness of those who served this country in war, often many years ago. The man who could survive the soaked hell-traps in the trenches of The Great War. People long dead who simply would not lie down in front of oppression and hate. Frightened teenagers who cried “We shall overcome, someday”. Children crawling through the jungles in the name of a cause they neither understood nor cared anything about. Countless women in history who were raped and decided to continue living. I am not that person.
I desperately want to be that person.
When you are crazy it doesn’t hurt to have someone in your life who is further along the journey or is in possession of knowledge they need to teach you. I have those people in my life and this is the primary reason I am so passionate about learning. Some of us need to figure this out and if it isn’t me than it sure as hell better be you.
This is going to hurt but you should probably do it anyway. Give someone permission to call you on your crap. Take the time or pay the money or scam a priest if you need to, but just do it. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who have walked through the doors I haunt. We have six counselors working today and they are all very busy. It’s trendy to have a shrink so come on, you hipster.
There are periods in our life when we no longer possess enough information to make an informed choice about something very pressing and stressful. It is at these times when some of your friends come to see me, just to punch something that doesn’t punch back. I may as well be air-freshener (and if you know me you have probably heard me refer to myself as exactly that), you just need a place to unpack a lot of poop.
Lose long enough and it becomes impossible to think clearly; when your reality is someone’s definition of purgatory. Most of us just roll with the punches and pray that our Lottery Ticket will hit big.
That may be living but that is not a life.
Talk to someone. Those who are humble enough to be taught will usually find their way.
Lori: I read a good thing, I think it was on Psychology Today. They asked people about their fondest childhood memories, and invariably they were stories about screw ups. The listeners would smile knowingly and they’d all have a good laugh and share war stories afterwards. But people really valued others who would point out where they went off.
In retrospect of course.
“The true measurement of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs,” he said. “If you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real.”
― Glenn Greenwald,
Edward Snowden changed the world, and like most revolutionaries, the machine is trying to kill him. Believe what you want about Mr. Ed, his revelation was a game-changer. I’m on holidays (because we sometimes call it that in Canada) and right now I’m looking at the lake and watching Terminal F. This is a documentary about the events around the events of Snowden’s recent life. As far as documentaries go, it’s less biased than the mainstream, and less sympathetic than my virtual friends who live in the world of anonymity would appreciate. I study subjects like cultural engineering and the other side of the web and cybersecurity for the same reason I look at most things – everything is so incredibly interesting.
One day nerds will look back on 2013 and have conferences about how the world changed that spring. They will talk about the world of 9/11 and the cultural precursors to what went on; the decline of the nuclear family, the end of religion as a cultural force, the wars and the unrest and Anonymous and the growth and power of the virtual insurgency. After literally the entire history of humanity a fifteen-year-old kid from Nairobi suddenly has a voice and a forum and potentially a gun, if she learns how to use Bitcoin. And everytime she turns on her computer or texts a friend that information is recorded by people who may not have her best interests and freedoms at heart. What are you willing to give up to live in a safe world? Are you willing to give up your freedom? These are very important and complex questions.
No one knows how this is going to shake out, but several intelligent people are fairly adamant that Snowden may have just stopped 1984. It’s entirely possible that a 29-year-old computer geek singlehandedly changed the course of human history and stopped A Brave New World. It’s every cheesy youth dystopian movie you watched in 2014. Phrases like “surveillance state” started popping up on YouTube and on Frontline. The journalists who broke the story did not work for The National Enquirer, they worked at The Guardian, a real voice that wins Pulitzers.
Edward Snowden may just be the most valuable person in the world.
Snowden smells more like a brilliant Gavrilo Princip than a rich politician. He is normal, not beautiful, maybe even an idealist. Like Gavrilo he may have changed the course of human history forever, this time with a few SD cards instead of a gun or sword or bow. Many of us are convinced that there were some very disturbing things going on in cyberspace, and I’m not talking about buying cocaine at Silk Road. We are finding out that people were watching, developing programs and advertising and spyware and it was beginning to look like those conspiracy freaks weren’t as off as we all assumed they were. With Stephen Hawking now prophesying the invasion of our robot overlords, things just got freaking weird. Terminator weird.
Not everyone thinks Edward Snowden is a messiah, however. Many people who wear blue suits and red ties believe he has put us all at risk. It is a scary world, and anyone who has ever stumbled on the Deep Web can attest that there are evil and vindictive people out there, and many of them have a platform. The internet is a potential nightmare and someone needs to stand up for what has been right for so very long. You won’t be a raging liberal after someone rapes your wife in the name of some cause they joined online. Stop screwing around. Spooks in Washington and Ottawa and redneck politicians want this man dead because he has shown all their cards to the bad people and that is bad enough; but now the Proles are waking up. It’s all bizarre and apocalyptic and even the American government freely admits that Snowden’s documents were completely legit. Strange.
Edward Snowden was subcontracted to the NSA, arguably one of the most sophisticated surveillance and intelligence networks in the world. Such agencies have, probably by their own admission, arisen as a necessary evil to combat very dark forces that will, not in theory, hurt people you love for money or power or a radical cause. This does not seem debatable and has been going on since life was mould. One little nerd brought the surveillance state and many gigantic companies to their knees and changed the world forever, for good or evil, depending on which couch you are sitting in. If you are not up to speed on this issue you owe it to yourself to become educated. This is very important stuff.
This young man is now hiding in Russia, which plays beautifully into the political narrative wherein ES has put American interests at risk and he’s working for the enemy, on purpose or not. Regardless of who is right his name will be in history books, hundreds of years from now. How weird is it if you feel just a little bit jealous?
We all want to be significant and that is not a bad thing. In counseling we talk about this all the time, the systematic devastation and crushing anonymity of this culture and it’s toll on every one of us. Many spend their entire lives looking for something that sticks out, only to die with a yearning sense of almost. I will probably never have the opportunity to engage a planet and chances are you may not either. So now to find out what is left.
We are tempted to lie to ourselves and thereby diminish our hopes; with internal conversations about how unrealistic our champagne wishes were anyway. Every time I give up a dream or lose a little more hope for a meaningful life a little piece of my idealism dies.
I know so many bitter older people. I get that. Gone are the pretty parties and the unquenchable adrenaline. Welcome prostate exams and vaginal dryness. Watching your life slip away while still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up really sucks. How many times have you wished for another kick at the can because next time you would somehow know all the lessons it has taken us a lifetime to accumulate? The truth is you will not get another kick at any can and I don’t know about you but I do not want to look back at my life and realize I wasted my one chance.
Call it a rationalization if you want but it is important to realize that you do not have to make the cover of Rolling Stone to live a life that matters. You may never be in a history book but you could write your story any time you wish. While you may never be rich and famous, you could invest in a broken life and bring hope to dozens of people if you wanted to. We all choose to succumb to hopelessness, and if you decide you don’t want to be around that is entirely your choice. If you don’t want to step out on the ice quite yet it’s not too late to turn the ship around. Bitterness is a choice. Choosing to be critical of everyone who doesn’t ascribe to your very particular criteria is a choice. Pettiness and negativity and continually talking about your damn sore elbow that no one really cares about is a choice. Fixating on your problems for fifty years is entirely a choice. The desire to one day wake up with a smile and a new dream is also a choice. So is getting up one more time when you struggle to find meaning right now. So is saying no to our raging self-indulgence.
I’m looking around the table and it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to realize that people tend to end up in one of two camps; the old and beautiful and the old and bitchy. There are a million reasons to end up a smoldering hot pocket but at the end of the day no one is going to give a crap why you are still angry about that guy who ruined you fifty years ago. Please don’t think I am diminishing the incessant grind of stress and hurt and disappointment. What I am suggesting is that it is up to me how this plays out.
I will never be Edward Snowden because every one of us is dealt a different hand and mine doesn’t look like it’s going to end up with a Gucci watch. Ed may wind up in a prison cell, this world loves to crucify its prophets. I for one am grateful that he had the courage to do what was right, and the cojones to pull it off. Many people disagree with me and I for one am glad that you have the freedom to tell me off all you want. I have the freedom to not give a damn.
At the end of the day I desperately do not want to become a petty and whiny old man who spends his life complaining about how the kids of today aren’t like when I was a kid. Someone put me out of my misery first. Please. This life is screaming by, and we are all going to be dust before too long; so for the love of God don’t give up.
I remember a moment captured in time. I was making breakfast at my restaurant, The Bad Dog Grill, and I realized I hated my life. It was 7:30 am and I wanted a beer. If I cut my hand one more time, maybe I can go home today. I just knew I would never get out of that kitchen. Then one day I was.
I have spoken with people in prison, or doing time in a bad relationship, who have been convinced I was wrong. This hell is never going to end. I will never meet someone who loves me. I will never want to live again. I can never move on from this. Then you do, though rarely like on television. We sincerely need to have a conversation some time about what recovery really looks like. God never sent me a thunderbolt and one day I didn’t wake up fixed. It’s gradual and tedious and most of us have no flipping clue what “better” really should look like.
Many of us grow up believing that we are supposed to move beyond, not just move on. Somehow we are supposed to forgive that monster or forget about that loss or magically get normal. Those are wonderful motivational posters but in the real world we usually become scarred by life and I’m not just talking about table saws and missing fingers. Life beats the hell out of many of us and it is going to take a religious event or a Canadian Tire pool full of good tequila for things to feel spanky. It is tempting to pine for the innocence or the waistline or the eyebrows of our youth but, and I hate being the one to tell people this, that ship has sailed, been attacked by Somali pirates and sunk by the North Korean military. You are never going to be who you once were and when you think about it, that may be a very good thing. I know you used to be able to run for miles and jump over fences and turn everyone’s eye but chances are you were way way dumber. Do you really want to be 18 and perky again? Willing to give up all that experience and drink the Koolaid?
When I was younger I was convinced I knew the score, and I was an idiot. Sorry to get all technical on you there. I could not give up what I know now for who I was then. That is difficult to write but it rings true for me.
Someday. Someday things will be different than they are today. Before the steam engine you could be attacked by the Huns in one millenia than the Mongols in another and the tactics would be similar because both armies used horses and bows and arrows. The world was defined for centuries by a single warrior, usually on a mount. The players may have changed but the world hadn’t. Time barely moved. The vast majority of the planet never travelled beyond their district. There was no Wifi. When the Mongols used gunpowder against the Hungarians no one even understood what that sound was, and why is there a hole in me? Generations passed with little noticeable difference.
This is not that time. I cannot promise you much, but it does appear self-evident that this culture is addicted to unstoppable momentum. A woman in a bad marriage is far more apt to leave than she was four hundred years ago. Heck, forty years ago.
It may not get good but it probably won’t stay the same. Fewer of us are willing to put up with monotonous misery anymore. There is no possible way soldiers would sit in trenches today, like they did in World War One, unless there was an Xbox and free Facebook. Two months of sitting in water and rats and dysentery and I don’t know about you but I’d probably go over the hill and let them shoot me, just out of boredom and from the constant itching. I hate itching. It may be possible that we are not the strongest generation that ever lived. Those old 90-year-olds killed people and it still would not serve to piss too many of them off, especially on a cruise when they race their walkers and gave me the evil eye. My grandfather left his family for over four years to drive a gas truck to the Front. Did he even have air conditioning? The times, they are a’changing.
Someday’s coming, for all of us. To quote Mr. Smith, “that is the sound of inevitability”. Your depression may not be terminal and that kid may talk to you again, someday. Someday you will know things that you don’t right now and your situation will change just enough that you will look at life differently. What often looks like “things finally going your way” may have at least something to do with how much you change, and that is the best news I can tell you. Sure you are going through hell, but if you are keeping your head just above the waves you are undoubtedly learning important lessons that you would never understand without going through this Armageddon. You are reading a blog by a therapist, so you are probably wise enough to know you aren’t wise enough yet to handle the whole enchilada. Me too. I desperately hope I am not a finished product.
Overcoming your stuff has more to do with just getting in the ring, than it has to do with winning every round. I can’t tell you how many times I fail at almost everything, and my job is to keep getting up in the morning and giving a damn. That’s me, it may not be you. For people with ADHD just keeping your act together is often hard enough without all the gushy little rewards. The empaths suffer so very much, just being alive. Being the strong one sucks. The person who carries the weight of the world is often crushed. Most of us would self-medicate if we could get away with it, Scot(t)-free. We haven’t even discussed one of my favorite themes – the real world is often boring and relentless and stressful. Stir in a few mental health issues, and a loss or two, and you may be tempted to just give up.
Don’t do it. Someday’s coming. It may be years or it could be today (probably not) but change happens whether we like it or not. This is the one constant in the Twenty-first Century. If you are awake you may have noticed the global village is experiencing the most profound cultural revolution since the Enlightenment. The internet, combined with catastrophic cultural changes, has transformed the world forever. There is no way to put the rabbit back in the hat.
I am not going to launch into a diatribe on how we are all headed to hell in a handbasket. There is plenty of time for that. Lately I’ve wondered if there is not a pot of gold in this electronic GMO rainbow. I can remember, even in my lifetime, when you had to go to a library if you wanted to read about anything. The world was slower and if you are depressed or dealing with impossible situations, slow never feels good.
Hold on. Someday’s still coming. I just wish, sometimes, it would hurry the hell up.
All kids need is a little help, a little hope and someone who believes in them.
I’m going on vacation today. Right now that seems so far away, in the distant haze of a much later today; but by the time you read this I will be zen.
My wife keeps booking me appointments at the dentist. Like, every year. When I was single I could go forever without going to the dentist but of course I would never admit that in a forum such as this. Apparently people go to the doctor, for no apparent reason, just to check in or check up or whatever it’s called. I go to the doctor when I need something fixed, gouged, or medicated. I happen to break allot so why would I go again just to have him take my blood pressure? They don’t even give out candy at my age. My wife seems to think this will keep me alive longer so I asked her, “what makes you think I want to live longer?” So controlling. Continue reading “Check Up From The Neck Up”
I must admit, American politics baffle me. I am cognizant that many readers live in our sister to the south and it is not intention to disparage a system with which I am only acquainted because of cable television and a three-year stint in Denver. I am baffled because I am a foreigner, and as such, only possess a modicum of understanding of a culture that is not my own. Canadians like to believe we understand all about the USA. After all, we get their cable and they like our oil and water. They make sure no one screws with us and we give them Maple Syrup and Michael J. Fox.
Living in the Fraser Valley it is easy to imagine that it didn’t snow anywhere in Canada this winter. Life in the valley is more like Canada’s greenhouse than any representation of actual Hoser life. I remember the first time I came out here I was struck by how different it was than the rest of the country. People in Surrey don’t really think about gay marriage the same way they do in Camrose, Alberta or Steinback, Manitoba. Different cultures. The Left Coast is more liberal, more urbane, more frantic, more moist. We are our own little rainforest, just north of Seattle.
So when I say I do not understand American politics it is from that complete ignorance of another culture, not from any sense of disdain. I have never been a part of the strongest and richest country in the world, although they did give me a free Master’s Degree because I qualified as a foreigner. It is tempting, though wrong, to believe that Canada and The United States are like two siblings who share a quirky little border where the temperature magically changes from 72 degrees to 22 C.
The United States is a profoundly different experience and culture. Canadians have grown up in a dual world of British colonialism and the need to apologize for everything, every day. I say the word “sorry” at least ten times a day and I am just average. We are a culture forced to get along, surrounded by multiculturalism and peoples who believe they should be given expansive personal autonomy. We are hemmed in by giants, powerful neighbours to the North and South and East. Canucks have been raised on Tommy Douglas’s socialized medicine and most of us have no idea why Obamacare was even a vote. Canadians secretly believe they are superior to Americans while most Yankees simply know they are the best country in the world, even if they can’t win at hockey. Americans are good at other things, many other things. I apologize if that is even mildly offensive because I am a Canadian.
For perhaps the first time in centuries Canada may elect a Prime Minister on name recognition and looks, money, and a political machine with untold resources. We never understood how people like Arnold and Sonny Bono and Jesse the Rock Ventura could get elected to politics, and don’t get us started about Reagan. Most Canadians actually wondered if the most powerful son to ever get dad’s job of running the world was truly of average intelligence, at best. We like Clinton and think he should hook up with Geddy Lee for an album. We have tried and tried and tried to give you Celine Dion and Justin Bieber and hate the fact that you know better.
Recently I was trolling a religious forum and an American (and we don’t really think you are all like this) mentioned in a comment something to the effect of, “well we saved the world from Hitler in the Second World War and we can do this too”. As an amateur history buff whose library is 20% World War One and Two books, I find that statement profoundly hilarious. I’m sorry, I meant interesting. Why wouldn’t a country believe itself to be special when it has been raised on stories of conquest and apple pie and justice? Who wouldn’t want to be powerful and expansive and wealthy and have lots of airplanes? Canada has a beaver and a canoe and two submarines. At one time half our submarine fleet was in the West Edmonton Mall.
So we say sorry a lot.
Donald Trump symbolizes, at least for me, much of the caricature of Americans that we, your friends and foes alike, tend to adhere to if we are ignorant and believe in alien abduction. I have never met better people than the folks I hung out with in Denver. People are people and most Americans are good people. Cartoon characters like Trump portray Americans, and particularly those to the south, as racist and libertarian to a fault, with something going on in that beehive that I do not understand. There is a perception of arrogance based on the notion that money and power somehow translates to wisdom and understanding and entitlement. In Canada, most of our politicians are lawyers. I’m not saying that’s any better, but at least you can be as ugly as Chretien and still be Prime Minister.
I am basically a liberal, too lame to hunt anymore, won’t kill a worm in the garden, kind of lightweight that loves martial arts; but even I was shocked at Trump’s statements regarding John McCain’s heroism while a prisoner in Vietnam. Say what you want about the Vietnam War; but if you have spent five and half years in the hell of a Viet Cong Prisoner of War Camp, been tortured countless times, spent two years in solitary confinement with the rats and the lice, the dysentery and the constant humiliation which broke thousands of men whose shoes we are not worthy to fill, than you are a hero just for not dying. Prisoners died of starvation and flees and cholera and any manner of disgusting bowel diseases, abuse or torture. Only an idiot would pronounce judgment on something so completely removed from the experience of the rich and pampered. It is fundamentally impossible to even understand an iota of what Mr. McCain went through, in spite of his political viewpoints. If I had endured what he has I might be a little pushy too.
How can any of us even begin to understand the nightmare of Passchendaele or the sheer terror of being rounded up by Nazis and sent off to an extermination camp? How can we even pretend to relate to the absolute personal holocaust that went on inside their heads and through their starved and beaten and profoundly emaciated bodies day after day after bloody day, in soaked trenches that decimated countless hopes and lives in so many wars. To watch everything you are and everything you love stripped from you, to be violated countless times by racist pigs amusing themselves at your expense, to hear bullets blow the brains out of comrades you would have died for; we have little context for understanding what McCain endured.
How dare we demean the sacrifice of millions throughout history in the most hellish nightmares humanity could imagine. Twenty thousand young Frenchmen wiped out in a single day, Russian Roulette in a Viet Cong nightmare, millions upon millions of innocent Russians and Poles and Slavs murdered in the name of a political viewpoint. The genocide of whole races, even today. Facing gun batteries and certain heinous death in front of you and political officers behind to kill you if you dare turn back. Villages of children and innocents beheaded by ISIS. Charging blindly, if still heroically, atop your horse into machine gun beds in the name of honour. Countless youths butchered in the name of an ideology and on battlefields soaked in blood and urine and shit. You must not agree with the reasons but we cannot belittle the sacrifice. Shame on you Donald Trump.
As a clinician I deal with the unresolved and relentless fallout of PTSD and Trauma literally every day. Blaming the victims because you are a rich comedian, or downplaying the personal hell of a bona fide hero, only hurts us all because it devalues the nobility of those, people like Romeo Dallaire, who have been thrown on the trash heap of politics, maimed and scarred both emotionally and physically because their sacrifices of love, or stories of horrific abuse, have been minimized and therefore never dealt with. Every time a rape victim is belittled or a child with autism is devalued, every time someone of another race is slandered because of the colour of a pigment, every single time a rich or famous or powerful narcissist is allowed to exploit the poor or rewrite history, we are all smaller for it.
John McCain seems like just another rich conservative to many of us, but to even call into question that unspeakable horror is reprehensible; and maybe John should be allowed to spend a few minutes alone with that trumped-up idiot without the cameras running, just to remind him of the sacrifice of millions and the meaningless death of innocents.
Try and use your bone spur for that, Mr. Trump.
From my office window I can just read the bumper sticker on the back of one of my colleagues cars. It is a quote from Laurel Thatcher Ullrich, “well-behaved women seldom make history”. There may be wisdom on that Honda. History is replete with this magical tale – the misunderstood hero who, against all odds, finds true love/kills the dragon/beats the English/champions a lost cause/stands up against oppression, etc. etc. etc.
People who had never heard of Enigma or advanced mathematics now love Alan Turing because of The Imitation Game and it’s sympathetic re-creation of a maltreated genius with bonus Asperger’s diagnosis. Who among us cannot weep with the downtrodden, the marginalized and the underrated; especially if they happen to be as pretty as Benedict Cumberbatch? Everyone loves a Cinderella ending, or a sad clown, or a misunderstood genius.
David and Goliath. How To Train Your Dragon 1 and 2. Brave. Frozen. The Santa Clause. Robin Hood. Zombieland. Die Hard. The Graveyard Book. Terminator. The Princess Bride. Dracula. This Is The End. Every Tom Hanks movie except the stupid one where he played a gangster. Stop me. Such narratives are played and replayed over millennia because this is the human story, or at least the antiseptic and idealized version. Against impossible odds our everyperson throws off her library glasses, grabs an AK-47 and wastes the terrorists. A little girl finds the ruby slippers and, aided by an unlikely band of friends and against all odds, defeats the flying monkeys and finds her way home to Kansas. Gag.
In the real world people often get ahead and win the hand of the prince or princess by doing things for themselves; and usually in an office, not on a battlefield. The modern First World is virtually devoid of actual adventure and we are forced to live out our violent and voyeur fantasies in video games and at the Cineplex. If you stop to consider the fact that for thousands of years young males were off hacking limbs by the time they were in puberty; this can cause one to question the efficacy of constricting these evolutionary primates (I mean teenage males, sorry) to a classroom with a desk that you can throw, a buzzillion volts of testosterone running through their veins. I’m not a sociologist but I’m just saying.
We were raised as children to experiment with our individuality, only to grow up into a civilization which does not value non-conformity. Some of those arrogant rock anthems by rich babies bemoaning having a real job may be right. Many of us, especially once you’ve ripened a bit, wake up one day only to realize that we have not been happy in years, and are sick and tired of uncomfortable shoes and an ugly spouse. The real world’s default setting is “boring”. Fitting in is tedious and mind-numbing and soul-destroying. There is no balloon ride back home and it is interesting that in the classic Wizard of Oz her real life was monochrome and her fairytale was alive with colour. It is possible to live in incredible splendor and still be as predictable as Cream of Wheat, way down inside. Drab. Beige. Get in line. Pay that bill. Cut that lawn. Wash, rinse, repeat. By the time we hit forty most of us feel done.
We lie to kids, though innocently enough. This world does not honour its innovators, it usually rejects them until they are dead or in computers. In what I like to call the real world we were taught that to be different was wrong. You might be cool in elementary school or at the bar, but chances are you won’t make the oval office. Artists and weirdos and hippies, oh my.
Many of us found a few others in the wilderness; though often people who are outliers live a life of abject loneliness. Organizations are notorious for marginalizing the weird. In the real world the freaks rarely get to command a Mad Max Army of Liberation and Enlightenment and there is no way in hell Kirk would really get to fly the mothership unless his last name was Bush or Trudeau.
It is at this point in the narrative when we can seamlessly slip into a rant about the unappreciated genius that we all know your mom thought you were. Not this time. This is about life, not a bumper sticker or cutesy poster that you read on Facebook about believing in yourself. In reality the flying monkeys would have killed Dorothy and eaten Toto on a fire made from scarecrow using a tin pan.
Some people are just different and will probably never hire Sherlock to play them in a massive biopic. The vast majority of us had better Saran Wrap our corpse if we want anyone to remember us after we are gone. For every Justin Bieber there are a million, far more talented and intelligent artists, who will never make the cover of The Enquirer. It is no surprise to most of us, then, that millions, even billions, struggle to find meaning and value in a world of five thousand virtual friends and no one to call when you are freaking out.
We have talked about learning to play a little nicer, and we have discussed what it feels like to live with a marginal personality, but here and now I want to remind us all that every single person I know is unique and strange and broken and weird and worried and vulnerable. Some of us have a harder time than others, but no one gets out alive. You’re all weird. Welcome aboard.
By way of illustration, consider the average adult with undiagnosed ADHD. There are millions of them. People with ADHD often have difficulty looking like the rest of the citizenry. Some are prone to act in ways which are not considered normal, whatever the heck that is. Many struggle to concentrate or turn off the noise. Many, many of us struggle to turn off the noise. If you live with depression or anxiety, if your financial partner left you poor or broken, if you get handed a disease or a mental health issue, you are pretty much normal.
Imagine that, you might be normal. Most of those we deem marginal in personality have obvious and persistent character traits which piss society off; but some of us are trying to cope and cannot help it. It has taken most of my adult life to become comfortable in my own skin. The instant I write that line I begin to backpaddle in my head. My cognitive distortions are home for a visit. I can’t say that. That is rarely true. It sounds arrogant. I am so flawed. Blaah blaah blaah. I bore myself.
There are so many buts connected to that ridiculous statement. How can I become whole if I do not even allow myself the opportunity to believe it can happen? Can we ever celebrate a good day or a good week or a win? Go ahead, brag a little. It’s perfectly healthy. In the right place and with the right friend you should be able to crow away about the good things, the small victories, and the battle scars. We have been poisoned to believe that any form of self-promotion is arrogance. Total crap.
It’s easy to notice the freaks. We say that, “there is one in every crowd” or “one in every family”. If you don’t have an emotional black sheep in your clan then, as the cliché says, it’s probably you. How simple it is to marginalize those whose behaviour would not fall within what eggheads call normative. Wikipedia describes this as “normal or correct way of doing something”. You may not be normative, whatever that means.
We have things we cannot change. Try as you might, you may always be a bit of a pessimist. I know, I know, you’re a realist, I just have a cold. Trauma may have taken things that nothing can bring back. Illness can do this as well. If we are completely honest, some of us have personalities which are constantly a work in progress. We get mad too quickly and often, or are hurt far too easily, or talk too much or too little, according to someone with an opinion. There are those who have difficulty assimilating into a culture they don’t seem to understand or thrive in. If that last statement made you think of the Borg, then you may just be a nerd. Some of us are just a little strange. Let’s be ok with that, just for a moment.
You may have read my recent article entitled, This Is How I Was Made. I was cognizant, when I wrote it, that some will think it should be amended to read, “This is What Is Left After Life Kicks You In The Figurative Cojones”. Much of what we are, what we have become, has been influenced by the bucket list of experiences you have under the hood. You may look like your dad but you act like your life, that old nature/nurture dealio. Part of the reason you are always mad may be a coping mechanism to deal with an existence rife with insecurity and disappointment. People become control freaks for a reason. Perhaps you have difficulty committing to relationships, or you check out emotionally or you cry at the drop of a hat. The question is, why?
The porridge that you know as Scott is a complex and highly biased combination of amino acids, a military upbringing, education, hurt, experiences, Dr. Pepper, and mechanisms for coping with a life without a parachute. I have written of this often; our childhood may shape us, but it does not provide us with the necessary tools to emotionally and intellectually navigate our dysfunctional world. It is not unlikely that several of your most prolific coping mechanisms may no longer add value to your life. One day you wake up with twenty extra pounds and no freaking idea how to have a happy or contented life, myself included.
There is no instruction sheet for living with rape or OCD or a parent that raised you in a purple haze of good weed and bad life choices. A passive-aggressive influence, a narcissist, a predator, they all leave their scars. Neglect or poverty or a mom that freaked out at every single thing and raised her children as a fashion accessory can all lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms and a screwed up understanding of reality and maturity. So can any bad parent. The list of potential detours for which you have no prior skill set is virtually endless.
So maybe you could cut yourself some slack. While you are doing that, try to remember that every one of us is having a bad day, once in a while.
It’s really hard to make peace with who I really am. If you are still reading you may understand by now why this piece would inevitably land here. This wasn’t intended to affirm your psychosis, merely point out that it’s ok to be different; just don’t be a jerk about it. I want to affirm your uniqueness, because most of us have no idea what it is like to live with the stuff you have going on right now.
In the end we must, with Dorothy and Toto and the crew, come to grips with our own unlikely personality and pull away the curtain from the self-loathing and the lies and the constant attacks on self-esteem and personal worth. You cannot change your essential character without years of therapy so you may as well get comfortable in your own skin. If you are fat or flabby or balding or scarred, who cares! Go scare the kids at the beach and suntan a Happy Face on your back. Try bacon ice cream. Be as healthy as you can, workout if you want to, but when are you going to see beyond the flaws? How can we do this if we continue to hate ourselves?
You can do this – with a little courage, a little heart, and a brain in your head.
(I ran this past one of my readers and she commented, “lol, it take a lot more than a little courage, a little heart and a brain in your head! It’s more like being flayed and dragged through the streets naked and skinless! But I get your point. wink emoticon)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I have seen darkness in people which defies comprehension. We’ve talked about this before. There is a time in many journeys when our lives completely break. Type “swerve” into my search bar to find out more. or “The Event”.
Most of us grew up believing our lives would somehow turn out just fine. The weight of the truth can be devastating, at first. We are shocked when the ugly truths sink in.
Not many people walk through my door because they want to. Reality has punched us in the face and it stings. Few of us imagined we would have a lifelong battle with anxiety or depression or the fact that your Uncle Tom was the tomcat people said he was. A divorce or a death or the death of a dream can take you places your World of Warcraft account never could. Dark places. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
People kill themselves in this place, and call it what you want, but I could make a good argument against the notion that only a coward would take their own life. They aren’t selfish people and they are not necessarily even weak. Every rope has an end.
How could someone let it get so bad? Why would anyone kill themselves over a situation? I’ll tell you how. Come down and play at the other end of the pool for a while and watch your life and everything you value taken from you. Witness your finances and family and friends abandon you, and then tell me how bad things can get. Wait until they take your children. Sane people don’t kill themselves; and that leads invariably to the conclusion that on that day when you tried to jump into the river or overdose or whatever private version of hell you sought to inflict upon yourself, you were kind of batcrap crazy. We don’t call it that anymore but Wikipedia still does:
Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person becoming a danger to themselves or others, though not all such acts are considered insanity. In modern usage, insanity is most commonly encountered as an informal unscientific term denoting mental instability.
Any chance that sounds like someone you know? I was almost expecting my picture to show up beside the definition. Sometimes things get so absolutely beyond our capacity to cope that we crack, just a little bit. I have been to the valley, and anyone who has been there knows what I am talking about. You can take all the psychology you want but that doesn’t mean you will be prepared for the death of a child or the end of a dream. I have stated on multiple occasions that, in my book, if you lose a kid you get a free pass… forever. I don’t know if I could endure that. There are a few things that no bible verse or medication or drunken binge can heal. Some people do move on but they weren’t using any tools I can teach. That stuff is called grace.
I’m not saying you are crazy, I’m saying some of us have undoubtedly camped on Insane Island at least once, and it changes you. I want to validate that. You have learned lessons and endured pain that could and does cripple people for life. When I was in darkness no amount of therapy or Patron could touch me. What did matter was knowing that I was not somehow “less” and it was ok to drownproof in the deep end until I was able to sort shit out.
Don’t believe anyone who diminishes the gravity of the emotional battles you may face. I preach this all the time – this stuff takes years, not months, to flush out and sometimes absolutely nothing changes for a LONG time. I’ve written about his often. If you are bored check out other articles here, here, here, and here.
Fast change is usually bogus change. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who have informed me they quit smoking, drugs, yelling, medicating, and have joined a gym, all in one week. I generally label such radical intentionality a probable failure. You should probably start getting up earlier as well and stop drinking coffee and soft drinks. Throw in a few more broken hopes and live your life damaging your self-esteem as you invariably fail. Loser.
Doing a bunch of crap I didn’t want to do, with little or no motivation, didn’t really work for me. It began, slowly, when I allowed myself to do things I once loved and things I needed to do in order to get better, regardless of how I felt. I’m not even talking about therapy stuff, I’m admitting it can get so bad you can’t even get up to do the things you love. Every day sucked. I wish I could tell you it worked magnificently, but most change came unnoticed and for most of us there was not epiphany or religious experience. I’m not suggesting this isn’t possible, it just didn’t happen to me.
Here’s the thing – what do you do when you don’t even feel like getting better? It’s too much work. Change is exhausting. It’s like writing a book; great in theory. In reality, writing is often a grind with the added bonus of English 101 and days of editing. All for free.
So how do you get motivated when you aren’t motivated to be more motivated? I ate more candy and less parsnips. No parsnips. I started going to movies and laid in the sunshine and began to read. I listened to hundreds of books, many of them useless, until I cared about something enough to read on purpose. I have publicly stated, on multiple occasions, that I earnestly believe audiobooks saved my life, once a long time ago. I stopped lying to people about being too busy to hang out or talk. It took love and help and self-acceptance, and the capacity to hope once more. Like all of us, I am a work in progress, screwing up and muddling though this. I hope you are as well.
I salute the survivors, the ne’er-do-well and the battered warriors. I know some of you win just by getting up in the morning. You may never get a trophy for endurance but know that you are doing the best you can, right now. I believe the goal is for all of us, on both sides of the desk, to figure out how this life thing is done, before it’s too late. Hang in there, or as my old buddy Chris Anthony used to mock, “keep on truckin’.
(photo props to Brain Pickings)
Repeat after me, “This is how I was made”.
The word “cosmetics” is said to have a few origins but most believe it came from the Greek word “kosmos”, to make order out of chaos. A brilliant word. Eyeshadow, apparently, is intended to address an issue or enhance a feature. I guess. I’m not even sure what eyeshadow is. Which is the one where you use the Nazi torture device to pull on your eyelids? Reason number 127 why it’s great to be a guy. That peeing standing up thing is like number one through sixty-four. But I digress, as usual.
We all have parts we are not very proud of. If this hasn’t been your experience then just wait a year and get back to me. Gravity works. Even the beautiful people look like crap under fluorescent lights and north of forty. This is, sadly, referred to as reality. There are some things even Botox can’t fix.
I have worked with Fibromyalgia patients for a number of years now. Some of you who read here know me from that world. Fibromyalgia is a fascinating disease. It is literally true that, at least in my small piece of the pie, a majority of doctors still don’t believe in FM. I was once a skeptic; then did Intake for 5 years at a chronic pain clinic.
There are valid reasons why many do not believe in Fibromyalgia. We do not understand completely, and often this becomes a diagnosis of exclusion for many for whom the medical system has failed. There seems to be a myriad of causes and an internet full of “cures” which do not work. But that’s not why I am talking about FM.
I have patients, and some of you know who you are, who still struggle, often after a decade or longer, to even accept that they are sick. There is something insipid about this illness that, at least initially, seems random and normal and most undiagnosed Fibromyalgia patients tend to believe they may be “wimps”. Friends are often quick to point out that they “have pain too but still go to work so what is your excuse?”. In Canada we apologize before and after but it amounts to the same thing.
I cannot tell you the number of times FM patients have whispered to me that they secretly wish they had any other disease, even cancer. I am fully cognizant of how politically incorrect that sounds, but I am not actually advocating this position. I am only telling you what real people say all the time. So the question for the rest of us is, why would anyone wish for cancer?
No one really wants cancer, so a few of us can unbutton our corset a tad and just think about something we may not have considered. Cancer patients have Facebook Rallies and fundraisers and are said to be “courageous” and an “inspiration”. FM clients are often labeled as lazy or whiny or in the throes of a fake illness. I am in no manner seeking to diminish the terror of cancer, I’m just telling you a story. Families rarely understand, and I have watched spouses leave, and there is often a long slide towards immobility, a briefcase full of medications with side effects, and poverty. There are no parades for someone who has chronic fatigue, pain that changes almost daily, a labido that moved to Orlando, and looming mental health issues.
So when someone tells me they aren’t sure they have Fibromyalgia even though someone with a Mercedes told them, you can begin to appreciate how difficult it must be to accept something that no one understands, doctors dismiss as depression, displays symptoms which perpetually change, all with a spouse who is constantly disappointed in you.
You should be able to do more. You should be working or helping or horny or superdad or whatever. Who needs someone else to remind you of your shortcomings when you have the list memorized?
In counseling we come across Should Statements every day. I should be doing something else, right now. You should lose weight and you should go to the gym and you should eat more vegetables and less red meat. That’s super swell but you are still going to get old and die and I will be damned if I am going to go out without eating a few more KitKat Blizzards. Screw broccoli.
Body image is a little slice of that same pie. Umm, pie. But I digress.
I was never the eye-candy. When people who will never be the prom queen hear about the objectification of beautiful people it’s natural to secretly wish that someone would look at us like a piece of meat, as horrible as that may sound. I have had multiple clients admit this horrible secret when no one is there to judge them. Humanity spends billions trying to cover up stretch marks and crows feet and cellulite and baldness and facial hair and that unibrow your sister has going on. On television the hero is always beautiful and Steve Buscemi is never the leading man unless they want someone who is Hollywood ugly.
The only thing worse than constantly getting hit on is never getting hit on.
Most of us feel unappealing, from time to time. I have a growing list of things I do not like about my physical presence and you probably have one as well. I have spent years feeling ashamed of physical characteristics over which I have virtually no control. Time to give up, but not in a bad way.
You should still shower.
Give up the guilt and the pain and the constant need to measure up to standards imposed by Photoshop and duckface selfies. Give up the perpetual micromanagement of a battle you cannot win’ that most of us chase for all the wrong reasons. Antiperspirant, do not give up. You can still love your hair and buy Saxx underwear if you can afford it, that’s not the real issue. It’s not even about body enhancement or hair plugs or spray-on tans which look like you eat too many carrots, even if no one will tell you to your face.
Let’s all repeat together, “This is how I was made”. You can’t change some illnesses, injuries, or flaws. Sure, you can spend the money and do the stuff that makes you feel good about yourself, but perhaps it’s time to recognize that this is only a shell and I need to stop basing my self-worth on whether or not I look good in Lululemons.
I do not.
This is how I was made. I repeat it in my head, “this is how I was made”. I can either deal with this or live my life wishing I someone different. This is psychology, and psychology isn’t about words like “fair” or “should” or “someday”. We don’t learn to “wish upon a star” or base our retirement on winning the lottery. This isn’t about me pretending to have it all together or telling you something you haven’t heard a hundred times. This is about doing it, finally. Many of us have spent our lives caring far too much what random strangers and intellectual car bumpers think of us.
One of the sad truths you observe, sitting in this chair, is that most people do not learn this. It is tempting to hope that one day, when your ship comes in, things will finally line up for you, and the world will make sense, and you will get your much deserved reward.
In counseling we call this bullshit.
I watch people come back, year after year, and nothing has changed and they are still waiting for the world to punch their dance card (I’m not even sure what that means). Dr. Seuss sums it up swimmingly in his classic “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. I have referred to this psychological masterpiece on another occasion but these words continue to haunt:
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come,
or a plane to go
or the mail to come,
or the rain to go
or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil,
or a better break
or a string of pearls,
or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls,
or another chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
Everyone is just waiting.
This is the way I am. Tall, balding, aging, deeply flawed, excited, passionate, unpretty, childlike in wonder, and addicted to learning. That (and my Canadian Tire pool) needs to be “enough”. Fibromyalgia or not, beautiful or not, rich or not.
Repeat after me, “This is how I was made”.
Some of my FM clients are shaking their heads “no!”.
nothing to do with drugs…
Many were surprised when Microsoft, the people who brought you the digital world you live in, announced this week that they have conducted extensive studies and to virtually no one’s surprise who has been paying attention; we now have a poorer attention span than a goldfish.
The 54-page study sought to understand what impact technology and today’s digital lives are having on attention spans. The researchers collected data from surveys of more than 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18. They played games and interacted online to help scientists determine the impact of smartphones and other digital media on everyday life. Participants’ brain activity was recorded and behaviour was filmed while they interacted with different social media platforms across .
By now you should be at least a little suspicious of media surveys but this particular study has a ring of truth to it. Many of us in the psychology game have been noticing something of this ilk for years. Society in general has become addicted to instant and now. I consider the Tap option on my credit card one of the greatest inventions since the wheel. This week a small vendor made me sign an actual Visa bill and I was almost offended. How quaint. Recently, while at an automated teller the person next to me complained that the little machine that gives you money was taking too long. This reminded me of the brilliant sketch by Louis C.K. called Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy. If you haven’t seen it, it will become a classic. I’m old enough to remember when the first debit card came out. You put your card in and apparently a monkey or one of the staff that no one liked pushed cash out of a window for you. At least that’s what I remember thinking the first time I tried this new technology.
LOUIS C.K.: Yea, because everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy. Like, in my lifetime the changes in the world have been incredible. When I was a kid we had a rotary phone. We had a phone that you had to stand next to, and you had to dial it. Do you know how primitive – you’re making sparks – in a phone. And you actually would hate people with zeros in their numbers because it was more – you’d be like “uh this guy has two zeros in his number, screw that guy, why would I want to-uh!” And then if they called and you weren’t home the phone would just ring lonely by itself. And then if you wanted money you had to go in the bank, when it was open for like three hours.
My in-laws had a “party line”.
It is impossible to foretell the devastating impact technology will have on the future. The global village has changed everything from how often I have to talk to people I thought I ditched twenty years ago to the exacerbation of cultural morality and the decline of religion in the western hemisphere. The internet has literally transformed the world forever. We take for granted technology that would have been considered witchcraft only a few generations ago. Again Louis hits it on the head.
LOUIS C.K.: Well yea ‘cause now we live in an amazing, amazing world and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care, because this is what people are like now – they’ve got their phone and they’re like “uh! It won’t…” Give it a second! Give – it’s going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space!? [laughs]
I was on an airplane and there was high-speed internet on the airplane – that’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go “open up your laptop, you can go on the internet.” And it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips – it’s amaz – I’m in an airplane!” And then it breaks down, and they apologize the internet’s not working. The guy next to me goes “phff – this is bulls%$^!” Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed ten seconds ago.
Flying is the worst one because people come back from flights and they tell you your story and it’s like a horror story – they act like their flight was like a cattle car in the forties in Germany – that’s how bad they make it sound. They’re like “it was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn’t board for twenty minutes, and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for forty minutes we had to sit there.” Oh really what happened next? Did you fly through the air incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight you non-contributing zero?! You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going “oh my God! Wow!” You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!
But it (the seat) doesn’t go back a lot. And it’s not really –
The impact of everything from texting to Facebook to your new Smart TV has yet to be determined. Society must grapple with the psychological, spiritual, and socioeconomic impact of such a monumental swerve in the history of civilization that some day historians will look at the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Nihilism and impact of Two World Wars and then the textbook will open to a chapter on what the world looked like when you were alive. It is impossible to exaggerate how different the world has become from even your grandparents time. It has been an amazing time to be alive.
Unfortunately they will not only write about all the wonderful things you could do with your smart phone. Psychologists will better understand the incredible impact that carrying around a personal computer while texting 150 times a day will have on your neural pathways. Have you not noticed that the world around you seems to have become more frantic? I don’t remember feeling the need to speak with all my friends every day when I was younger. I am uncertain as to what benefit my cell phone and laptop have brought to my life. Here’s what the article said about the conclusions they found:
The team measured their attention levels and activities to view how attention varied by screen, task, content type and structure. The findings revealed human attention span has fallen from an average of 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds today.
The decrease was seen across all age groups and genders in the study. Those in the age group of 18 to 34 had a 31% high sustained attention span compared to those age 55 and over at 35%. Meanwhile, males (33%) had a better attention span than females (31%).
Call me a Luddite but there appears to be a correlation between the increasing invasion of technology into our lives and the overwhelming stress that pounds in many of our brains. I tease many of my female clients that it must be scary to have a brain like theirs. Always going, always spinning and thinking, processing and worrying. Many, many of my clients complain that they do not know how to shut their brains down.
I am convinced that learning to wrestle back control of one’s impulses and attention span may well be one of the most important and arduous psychological disciplines that no one is teaching. Most of us are convinced that our brain is out of control and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Most of us are wrong.
Any counselor worth their paycheck can teach you how to stop that runaway train from going off the rails. There are skills, very cheesy skills, that you can practice until the demons are at bay. I’ve been using one method for six years and it works about 40% of the time. By learning one methodology I have been able to decrease my problem 40%. That is a staggering success. I learned it on the internet, in spite of the fact that I am in school and working as a professional counselor full-time. Professionals who tell you that there is nothing you can do about your mental health issue are tools.
I had a wolf. Well, not really; I should back up. There was a huge grey wolf at the end of my drive.
I would see him, I assume it’s a him, every few months. He would suddenly appear in the culvert, at the end of my lane, as I drove by. One day I stopped. One day I got out. The big grey wolf at the end of my lane.
I have never shared this tale before, and I’m not entirely sure why not. Perhaps it is because such a claim is impossible to verify and reeks of hyperbole. It may not have even really been the same wolf. But I know what I remember, and since no money is changing hands and I will never be famous, let me tell you a true story.
Before coming to the Left Coast of Canada I lived in the north, Fort McMurray Alberta, to be precise. It’s a weird place where welders make $150,000 a year and everyone wishes they were somewhere else. I lived on a ranch.
It appears that 25 minutes from the downtown of a northern city is too far for most commuters so we lived on 85 acres, in a beautiful cedar home with 22 feet floor-to-ceiling windows. We paid a little less than the cost of an apartment in town.
People in Fort McMurray buy toys, but I’m not talking about the dirty thought you just had. Snowmobiles and boats for a lake that is only tolerable for six weeks in the summer. Big trucks and expensive trips to the West Edmonton Mall and debt that staggers the imagination. My old town. The thing about toys are, they take up space. I had a ranch and someone needed a place for four horses. I had a barn and a friend wanted a dry place for three snowmobiles, including the keys. Someone else needed a home for a motorcycle, then a minibike, then a tractor, then more and more things with motors. Not bad for the price of a condo.
In the winter I would come home most days and take out one of the snowmobiles for a run, just so it would not rust. I am very considerate that way. I forgot to mention that I lived off a lake, but not near the beach. By January you could drive a Semi on any lake in northern Alberta and have a trucker hoedown with little fear. I loved to surf the powder on the lake at the end of a day listening to people’s problems. I was practicing mindfulness, or at least that’s what I told my wife.
One afternoon after work, as the sun was already beginning to set, I nearly drove into a pack of wolves running across the lake. Though we came from different directions we seemed to be aiming for the same destination. As I neared the pack there was my wolf, staring at me as he ran, not a care in the world. Maybe it was the shock of seeing that very wolf, or maybe it was the meds, but I didn’t drive away that afternoon. Almost naturally I came alongside this group of predators and on that day they let me run with the pack. I slowed, and we ran, and it was… glorious.
Into every life a little karma must fall and on that day someone was looking out for me. I was given a gift and a casual nod and, in spite of the artificial cacophony of the machine, permission to play. I felt something that day – something old. The wolf at the end of the lane knew me. To run with wolves, that is something out of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander.
I wish I could still run.
It appears my body is breaking down. Years of sports and abuse and frozen pizzas have left their tan lines; and all the colon cleansers in the world can’t stop the march of time. It’s the game everyone gets to lose.
Some of you have been pretty all your life. This was never a cross I was called to bear. People who are good-looking may seem to be getting a better deal on everything because chances are they do. As a general rule pretty people get preferential treatment and tall people make more money; there is science to verify this. Some of you still haven’t yet paid for a drink in a bar but hold on, your time is coming. You are getting uglier. Ya, me too.
As a Canadian I feel compelled to wrap that comment up in a beautiful bow and deliver it to you in a passive-aggressive little pile of bullshit, but I will leave that sentence alone (I deleted the line with “uglier” three times because at heart I really just want you to like me). We are all aging, at varying rates. Television shows seem more and more to feature children who barely shave and yet have somehow had time to learn eight languages, get a black belt in Karate, and a doctorate in neuropsych.
Anyone who reads this drivel knows that I frequently write about philosophy, along with the regular psychology menu. I am currently on the slowtrack to a doctorate in my own particular weird blend of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Existentialism. I was fortunate that in my undergraduate degree I met people like Dave and Dan who delighted in daily jettisoning my preconceptions about virtually everything. They were my educational mentors and I am in their debt. I was given permission to think, and this has had a profound and ofttimes negative impact on my life to this day.
Few of us get healthy by accident. There is simply too much going on in the Twenty-first Century for most of us to stay emotionally well and positive in outlook. The promised future, replete with free-time and pastel jumpsuits, never materialized and most of my friends are stressed out of their minds and one Koolaid spill from taking out the village. Everyone has mental health issues and if you don’t just wait a week.
I have mentioned this before but I find it hard to even listen to a client who isn’t learning. I’ll put that more gently. I cannot think of one client who is really rocking this mental health thing who is not either a student or a reader or a serious life-learner. Last week I spoke at a martial art and ranted, “if you don’t read, you don’t lead”. That may sound narrow-minded or condescending but consider for a moment the world we find ourselves in. We no longer have the luxury of being ignorant about a host of things we never gave a crap about before the internet and media age. For thousands of years people had no idea what was happening and seemed to survive quite swimmingly. Our lives are a bombardment of manic media sources, Facebook and texting and Google and Xbox and our friends informing us that they arrived safely at the Red Lobster on 38th Street like I should give a damn. Our world is complex and dysfunctional and we were not given the tools to understand the how, let alone the why. I honestly have no idea why people who are not learning don’t lose their mind. Some days I wonder if I am too stupid and I do this for a living.
I could be wrong but I know what works for me. I have convinced myself that I want to be smart and I fell back in love with learning, and so have my Jedi friends who put me to shame. My life was once filled with music and noise and traffic. Today I was listening to “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief” on the drive to work. I drove slower than usual because I was on the part where they talk about the Sea Org and I have a sick fascination with cults. I had coffee with a friend this week and as she left she put on her earbuds. She was listening to “The Wisdom of Psychopaths“. I can virtually guarantee you that she is growing and moving forward.
Those who embrace the experience, rock the experience.
Few of us realize, that first month of counseling, that becoming a wise person requires tens of years of work, not weeks. In time the discipline no longer feels like drudgery and you begin to surf a little more consistently. In time this stuff changes your entire world and everyone around you if you let it.
Living with someone who is always angry can be one of the most difficult relationship entanglements one could endure. Few problems in this life have as immediate and devastating an impact as anger. If rage is your thing you are probably hell to live with. Just saying.
As pedestrian as it may sound, I often compare anger to an orgasm. There is a point of no return and the house can burn down, you are going to finish. I have witnessed angry persons spewing hate while screaming with astonishingly high degrees of emotion and intentionality. Most angry people feel better after they have “gotten it out”. They have just ejaculated their negative energy and mental health problems on everyone around them and it’s time for a nap. I have written about this before, and graphic this may be, but I’ve known many angry people. Anger is often violent and it’s far easier for the object of wrath to check out than try to match that energy. Some people are much too emotionally invested in obviously trivial matters. You get insanely pissed about tomatoes and I’m not committed enough to vegetables to ruin our relationship over root veg, but apparently you are. Yes I know it’s technically a fruit but as David Mitchell says, don’t get me started. If you put it in a fruit salad it’s a fruit. Next thing you know someone is going to tell me that cucumbers are a fruit. Maddening, but I just remembered that I don’t care about that kind of thing anymore. Mostly.
It is very difficult for me to exaggerate how important it is to deal with unrealistic anger. If you are a person who is easily angered and would admit, after a few shots of tequila, that you might have an “anger issue”, than as a therapist I want to encourage you not to beat yourself up or give up hope. Rage is an extremely palpable emotion that slams you with all manner of intense brain chemicals. Anger is intoxicating, orgasmic. There is an instant and physical reward for such emotions and as an added bonus you get to feel like a real badass. Angry people win arguments and get what they want, at least right now. Cut me off in traffic and I’ll follow you home and wave a chainsaw at your children, or something like that.
There are a few people I would like to talk with about their anger but they are scary when they get mad. We owe it to ourselves to be brutally honest and recognize that life really really really isn’t fair and it’s not my job to go Punisher on that moron who didn’t wait at the 4-way stop.
If you are living life with someone who is angry, the bad news is there is very little you can do about it. You can never love enough or give enough or sacrifice enough to fix that cancer in someone else. Chances are, living with someone with this issue has changed how you cope or even who you are becoming. The angry person is always willing to take the argument beyond where you are comfortable. The only recourse that gives lasting results is fixing myself first, until that person can no longer drive me crazy or they die from an aneurysm they so justly deserve.
This always sounds like bad news when we first hear it. We want that other person to change, they are the problem. There is no way you can cope with them as they are. They literally have to win every argument. They are willing to hurt me in places where people who love us should never wander. It is impossible to cope with what is going on around me right now… I hear the words almost every day.
You might be right. There is no way you will ever be able to cope until you do it on purpose. I’ve counselled hundreds of couples and I know the smell of abuse when I hear it. Fear is a powerful emotion as well. For some reason where there is anger, there is usually fear not far behind. Why else would she stay with him or he with her after what that person has done? Fear. Anger is a very useful tool if you wish to control. Violence has always worked, for a while. That’s what that outburst was, when you consider the options. Angry people seem violent, in spite of their constant protestations to the contrary. Screaming is violent control-seeking and is never ok unless you are yelling at a puck or a racist.
I have recorded couples fighting and most are clearly shocked when they watch themselves give in to anger and blow their load on someone else. It happens almost every time; they will turn in their chair and ask their partner, “Am I really like that?”
“Do you really think of me as a violent person?” Pretty much, but none of us are going to tell you, it’s just not worth the fight. See how that works there?
Spouses of angry people are often passive-agressive, or struggle with anxiety or depression or cutting or fatalism. They are often the sweetest among us, those who find their fulfillment in giving everything to a man or a woman that they believed charming and passionate. Passion is a wonderful thing when they are amorous, it’s another thing altogether when they get mad. Violent people tend to be attracted to nice people who will take it and tell their friends, “He just had a really stressful week” for the four-hundredth time.
If you know that you struggle with anger in an unhealthy way, it’s completely appropriate to talk to someone. Tell your partner and family that you acknowledge you have an issue and wish to do something about it. Don’t shut this down; don’t miss out on the good stuff because you can’t free yourself from this impulse-control issue. I do not seek to make light of this problem, quite the contrary. We all need help, from time to time. Anger is nothing more or less than one of the dysfunctional coping mechanisms many of us learn in childhood, or in our first marriage, in order to help us cope with a crazy and dangerous world. We have done the best we knew how but it is important to keep morphing. The more I learn the more light I am given. This is a critical psychological principle which most people will never understand. We must not stay ignorant, or broken, or miserable. Yes I acknowledge that there are times when such thinking not only seems foolish, it feels dangerous. It is in those times, when I was convinced that the situation was hopeless, that I learned the most. I was stronger than I imagined.
If you are living with someone who is angry, you are not alone. Many of us are seeking to understand the sheer magnitude of our addiction to coping mechanisms which have not worked in years. I need to stop trying to change my partner and learn to invest more diligently in my own reality and the need to unlearn my past.
I hate that I can only change myself, but I no longer live in Narnia.
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 most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
So I was sitting in the tub this past week (cue disturbing visual image) and reading an article about “fun with semi-colons”. I’m not really a tub guy but I had a busted wing and it was either that or stink. If I had a dime for every time I’ve started an article with the line, “so I was sitting in the tub”. I have become a nerd who reads psychology and philosophy and Mental Floss. I can live with that.
My wife walked in the bathroom and upon hearing what I was reading, sardonically announced, “I have never been less attracted to you.” If I had a dime for every time…
Making fun of myself is easy. I have plenty of ammunition. I’m an expert at self-abasing, most of us are. I was birthed in Canada, where false humility is a national preoccupation. Growing up we all believed that self-promotion was sin, and bragging was something you only did if you were an American (it’s not you, it’s us) or hung out with people who had really good hair. In grade ten I had an afro so had little reason to brag. Ok, I was prone to self-promotion and I secretly miss the Fro.
It is common, although often incorrect, to assume that people are arrogant when they brag about themselves. This seems to have little foundation in any real psychology once you exclude the narcissists and the psycho/sociopaths and your Uncle Bert. For the rest of us, isn’t it true that (I got that line from a lawyer who kept putting words in my mouth during a trial I was called to testify as a counsellor at)… Isn’t it true that for most of us we tend to brag because we are actually insecure and generally feel bad about ourselves? I can sense, somewhere deep inside me, that when I lean towards self-promotion I am usually trying to convince myself and others that I am not the secondhand turd that some people believe me to be. I’m just saying, for me.
Insecure people brag. Secure people rarely feel the need. To be candid, the more I learn to accept myself the less my detractors matter. It is a testimony to this problem that at this point in the article I feel obligated to include the detraction, “I don’t mean that in an arrogant way”.
There is a measure of psychological sense to the religious confessional. When clients are trapped in the cycle of emotional self-abuse I often ask them, “Do you feel you have done enough penance yet?” There is something in most of us that is prone to continue the self-blame cycle forever. When will the day come when I have punished myself enough? Shame is a powerful and pervasive sickness that can trap a person and convince them that they do not deserve a rich life. At some point in the journey it is time to say enough is enough, forgive ourselves one day at a time, and scratch a little happiness out of life.
“Your problem is you’re… too busy holding onto your unworthiness.” Ram Dass
This is not a self-help piece that ends with a parade and hot chocolate, although I highly recommend both with a splash of irish cream. In the real world, it is up to me alone to learn how to move beyond my own insecurities and learn to become comfortable with who I am right at this particular time. I will never be “good enough” until I learn to settle for good enough. Many of us can agree that we are sick and tired of feeling bad about ourselves.
Bragging can be a very healing and affirming thing, when done with someone who is safe and gets it. I have a few friends who really encourage me to feel good about myself. You know who you are and thank you. There is a time and a place for everything, apparently, and when was the last time you really bragged about something that matters to you? We need to be cheerleaders for our friends. In a world that constantly reminds us how we do not measure up we all need someone who is wise enough to give us a chance to crow. Everyday and in every way we are given the message that we do not measure up, we’re too ugly, too fat, or too old, or too whatever. And always not enough – not enough education or maturity, not enough love or health or understanding from a world that appears to take delight when you wipe out and they can get it on tape.
So go ahead, brag a little. You’re pretty awesome.
My friend Lori the art nerd, that’s her legal name, has to critique another student’s play. I would stink at that. As a psychology geek I would be all like, “but there’s too much criticism in the world already and I have no idea what kind of hell this person has gone through. How old is she, 30? That means she’s a senior student. Good for her! But wait a minute. A senior student, what went wrong? Why is she back at school now. Some bastard broke her heart! Good for her! How can I criticize Cheryl, she’s a hero!”
You probably don’t really need someone like me to remind you of your problems. You know your problems. You didn’t just pay me to tell you what is obvious to you, did you? You have a bead on your problems, what is missing are solutions.
Or am I wrong?
Granted, someone like me gets paid to help you look through another lens. Trust me on this one, you want that. I tell people who are going through something like grief or depression, addiction or anxiety, that they should think of themselves as insane. You heard me. We simply need to put some heavy limits on our application of the word. When you are depressed you cannot think rationally because your frontal cortex is getting slammed by three greasy hippies on cocaine driving a Vega (I especially like the mini wagon with fake wood) spraying warm tapioca from your primal and basically cray cray brain. I like to impress readers with my technical know-how.
When things were bad in my hemisphere I am completely certain that I was absolutely and coldly nuts, much of the time. I was so entirely broken that it framed every decision in my life. Some of you know of what I speak. So yes, I was a little insane, thank you very much. Probably a great deal more than a little. You would never want someone in that mindset to walk your pet, let alone make decisions of any import. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have remortgaged the house twice because I “didn’t give a damn”. You feel me?
(What does that mean, anyway, “you feel me?”. I would, frankly, prefer that very few people actually “feel me” so I guess I should say, “please stay appropriately behind the yellow line and I’ll greet you with a firm hand shake”)
It’s easy to wear our failures like a hairshirt. If you want a list of my shortcomings just ask me. Either I figured it out or it was driven into me a few hundred thousand times. Pointing out your obvious flaw may make you think I’m Kreskin, but chances are it will simply reinforce how useless you already feel. Thanks for that, best friend! I know I have problems, I made them.
Hey listen. You’re coping the best you know how, right now. Most of us live our whole lives never living up to our own expectations, much less everybody else’s. Sometimes you need to be a little easier on yourself. You are on a journey and you are making this up as you go along. Few of us figure this out at the same rate. Life is profoundly more complex than the poster promised. I am virtually a full-time student and I am keenly aware how stupid I was only a few years ago. Will I say that again in five years?
Wisdom takes time, unfortunately. No one gets a free pass and that means no one. My goal is to figure this out in my current decade and it is taking far longer than any of us imagined. We can only do the best we can with the light we have right now. That’s as good as it can get, short of a scholarship to Cambridge. What is important is to play the hand given me well and eat as much candy as I can. If you need a kick in the butt feel free with my compliments, but don’t forget to eat some KitKat ice cream and listen to a comedy. I just watched Trevor Noah: African-American on Netflix and finally learned how to correctly pronounce Zebra (it sounds like Debra).
I can be hard on myself tomorrow.
*warning – Adult Content*
I talk with clients about sex all the time. It’s a cool job. You cannot live in my world very long without someone telling you the juicy bits. People who wonder if I can keep a secret assume I hear an average amount of gossip, and they would be wrong. I get paid to listen to your secrets. I gave up finding happiness through selling you out a long time ago.
It’s usually uncomfortable to tell me your story, at first. We have been conditioned to feel ashamed of our private functions, if not a little embarrassed. When it comes to sex, it is easy to feel like you are dirty, or kinky, or just different. This week, slightly tongue-in-cheek, news agencies released the stats on average penis length (5.17 inches). Reports called attention to the stigma around even having such conversations. It may sound disgusting but every boy has measured. Someone should have said it. We are products of repression.
It won’t as too much of a surprise to you that, looking out from my chair, there are a lot of problems in the bedroom. I hear the lists everyday, and it can be fun to be a fly on the wall of my office. You would be surprised how many couples, for example, don’t feel sexually compatible. That is a heavy thing to admit to a stranger. Lots of couples have issues with technique and I get paid to research that kind of stuff. Many people have plumbing problems, use your dirty imagination. Lubrication and miscommunication and a lack of vacations add to the discomfort. Couples often have a great deal of difficulty telling each other that this “doesn’t feel nice” because there is usually so much “water-under-the-bridge” and feelings are easily wounded.
Here’s one for free. No one taught me how to satisfy a woman except my occasional exposure to pornography. Talk about what you like, it can be a huge turn-on. I love learning.
Selfishness is largely a Math issue. When I critically analyze my Giddy-Up time, what percentage of my efforts go into helping my partner feel loved? Then subtract my selfishness. Disregard anything that is potentially selfish but mutually enjoyable. The Math works the other way as well. Do you feel loved? Safe? Living with selfishness can be a prison sentence. It can become difficult to remain emotionally healthy while living life with someone consumed with their personal satisfaction.
Now add the intriguing little tidbit that some of us find our sense of self-worth through helping other people. Those people attract selfishness and narcissism like catnip. I’m not saying it’s your fault, just the reverse. This does not negate the fact that predators seek out the vulnerable and if you live to serve others they are going to use that to use you. The spouses of narcissists, psycho or sociopaths, of the raging and the ragingly selfish, are some of the nicest people I have ever met. It says something of a society when selflessness becomes a liability.
Selfishness can be a much larger issue than just a problem with Mattress Polka. Many of us know the sting of life with a selfish and miserable spouse, or the narcissist, or the Drama Queen or King. It always seems to be about them, and not just in the bedroom. Some narcissists are great lovers, but for all the wrong reasons. Use your imagination. Living with someone who is self-absorbed is maddening.
I wish I could tell you there is a fairytale ending, but I would be lying. Convincing someone to live more unselfishly, someone who has spent their entire life developing a value system with only their photo in the room, is an affront to their reality. The only solution that works begins and ends with me. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to change you but it won’t work. I hate that but the article isn’t over yet.
There is a mighty hope that we tend to forget in the drama.We can become more and more whole. As Victor Frankl and others have illustrated far better than I, no one can take away your ability to grow. That is very deep once you get yourself around it. Even in the most abusive of scenarios (and I’ve heard at least as many stories as you), some people learn to hope in spite of it all. I have to believe that anyone can learn, one minuscule step at a time. I have known that soul-crushing despair and wish for death but somehow, over years and years, things have changed. No, it wasn’t worth it, but life has a way of changing my paradigm whether I feel like it or not.
Then the day arrives when we talk about your dysfunction. We need to learn about next time. As the man said, if I keeping doing things the same way I can expect the same results. Most of us believe we learn from our mistakes. Most of us are wrong. It’s shocking, isn’t it, that both your current guy and your ex both like the History Channel? Huh. You’ve come from the bottom but it may happen again. Some of that hurt didn’t just float away. We have all learned entirely screwed up coping mechanisms, unless your parents were perfect, as mine are (Hi Dad). I have long whined that we graduate into adulthood with little or no emotional skills. I didn’t understand my feelings, much less my history, my dysfunction, and my unresolved issues. We were just big and dumb kids, more firmly convinced than ever of our own moral and intellectual certitude.
But that’s another article. I want to conclude by encouraging all of us, myself included, to keep looking after our mental health, and not just with gluten and working out. I work in an industry where everyday people spend thousands of dollars fighting off the end; but who give little or no thought to the only thing that really matters, my inside. And not just your bowel problems. We are all getting uglier, deal with it. But don’t forget to work on the stuff that will define and dictate the rest of your existence.
You may not prevent decay, but we all need to fight Stupid.
I was given a small piece of a backbone recently by a new friend. The backbone of a Triceratops. Wicked. You can see the marrow, or so I choose to think. It looks like a bone, a 68 million-year-old bone. For an amateur history enthusiast, this is very cool. I am becoming more of a geek all the time.
History is something I care very much about. It has been, along with a few other diversions, one of the passions of my adult life. I endeavour to read history almost every day. One of the reasons I love this so much is because it teaches me lessons that others have had to learn the hard way. The other reason is because I fancy myself a bit of a storyteller and I can mine history forever. There are literally millions of great stories I have not heard yet. Billions. Many are lost to antiquity and most, the vast majority, were never remembered in the first place. Life is story.
When Brian Williams got incinerated by the media recently for embellishing on his war correspondence I understood what he was doing. I try to never let the absolute truth ruin a great story. I still tell a few stories I know are not true, simply because they are amazing. I will often even start with, “This story is not true.” I don’t care, I’m interested in hearing a story, this isn’t church. Williams is guilty of losing himself in his own story. He forgot that he was supposed to report on the action, not be the action. He has told that story so many times he probably could convince himself that it’s probably half-true. I’ve done that. Once, while on a whitewater canoe trip with The No Tan-line Annual (NTLA) crew, my canoeing partner Don Hand caught a huge lake trout on a lake called Trout Lake. I told that story so many times I started to believe I was the one who caught the fish. I still prefer to tell it my way.
Stories have enriched my life in ways I cannot begin to fathom. By now anyone who reads this rag knows that I am a strong proponent of audiobooks. I have gone on record, many times, alleging that audiobooks may have saved my life. Every day, many times a day, I lose myself in a story. I have a tiny hint of ADHD in my psyche and audiobooks keep me placid and awake. They keep my mind from going places that it should never go. When I used to cry every day audiobooks gave me a break from the grief. See, I can’t stop preaching about audiobooks.
Where were we? Oh right, the Triceratops. Looking at that horn connects me with something far bigger than myself. That’s why I collect old books and newspapers and coins. Touching those French Francs from the 18th Century gives me a deep sense of connectedness with the bigger story. Yesterday, while on Lori’s blog, I looked at a picture of Napoleon’s gloves. That makes him alive to me, somehow.
I have a deep connection with my own story as well. Even with my memory I can feel a connection with my past. I can enter again into 15-year-old Scott. I can remember how it felt to paddle into that secret bird sanctuary on the Clearwater River. If I think hard enough I can develop a sense of mindfulness with my younger me and see how he felt and what he believed. Sitting here, I can connect with Scott on stage at the Clarke Theatre in 1999. He was ridiculously naive and immature but I can also see his heart and I know the truth. Try that on yourself, sometime soon. Get in that chair or that bed and spend 15 minutes intentionally going back. Remember how she felt that day, you know the one. I did this mindfulness exercise just before I started this article and it is powerful once you figure it out. Try it six times before you give it up. I learn new things about myself every time I wander.
There is a profound wisdom to be found in your own story if you allow yourself to look at it in a more objective fashion. The more you can develop a third-person relationship with your past, the more you can learn. As I recently wrote about, it’s again about radical acceptance. Radical acceptance of the truth about my personal journey. I desperately want to whitewash my own immaturity but that takes away, profoundly, from the story. As Kant said, you have two worlds. There is the world as you wish it to be and the world as it really is. It’s like a bad remake of The Matrix and it’s true. My failure to cope often defines the story. My ability to accept my own part in the dysfunction is crucial if you want to learn the truth. You were there too. Don’t worry, I’m not blame-shifting. It really may not have been your fault but we aren’t talking about blame. I have learned to deal with life in certain ways and some of these are dysfunctional. It may have been as a result of abuse or just because that’s the way things turned out with your particular strange porridge of DNA and family weirdos. The story is, after all, about me.
As Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember (learn from) the past are condemned to repeat it”.
…is not really a word. If you look it up on Wikipedia someone spits at you as you read the definition. Regardless, or irregardless, it is a powerful idea. Most of us like to live our lives responding to our world. It is tempting to drink the koolaid and let your dysfunctional world dictate the directions for dying of bitterness. Other people make us mad. It’s their fault I am this way.
“In spite of” is a very powerful saying. In spite of chronic pain, in spite of horrific abuse, in spite of a lack of parenting, or too much cocaine, or a mother-in-law from hell. In spite of all that, you did it anyway. Irregardless of the cost (I have no idea how to use this word in a sentence). Many have overcome immense trials and have strangled out a life in spite of. I am firmly convinced that we need to celebrate this, to brag about this so much more. There is nothing unhealthy in taking a few minutes to acknowledge the truth that you accomplished something which took an immense effort. Many have experienced moments when they prayed for death, or more likely for the death of someone else. You made it – survived. You are hereby given permission to crow. Brilliant.
It’s interesting, if you think about things in the same weird ways I do (god forbid), how often my in spite of has actually turned out to be my because of. Most of us have realized by now that it is exactly those experiences that we would not wish on our worst enemy which have defined and taught us. There have been situations in my life which have forced truth upon me precisely because of the misfortune, or the pain, or the lack of, or whatever. It is one of the truths of humanity that we are often defined by the hurt, not the happy. Adversity has burned in lessons about fairness and hardship and attitude that sitting by the ocean never will. I have come to the end of my rope and realized that I am still alive. You probably have as well. I had to be much broken before some lessons started to sink in. My capacity for self-delusion is epic and should be a marketable skill. At every point in my life I believed I was more self-aware than my friends. At every point I was unquestionably wrong. None of us realizes the depth of our own self-deception for a long time, often a lifetime.
Irregardless of the scars we choose to make our own lives. In spite of abuse, or neglect, even those other things that shall not be named, some people find hope. For some of you there is a freedom that only comes with completely losing your shit. You know how bad it can get, and that lesson I cannot teach you. Some wisdom is not for sale, it must be earned.
I am not sure, as I write this, that we can learn to be thankful for some of the tragedy in our journey. Most of us have a few demons that we will not learn to like, no matter how many Margaritas we consume. Some things become a part of our story, even if it isn’t a good part. What I am learning is that sometimes, eventually, a few of the nightmares lose their teeth and we can begin to see how we have become stronger… irregardless.
The race is not always to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor satisfaction to the wise,
Nor riches to the smart,
Nor grace to the learned.
Sooner or later bad luck hits us all. Ecclesiastes 9:11
You had a bad day. Chances are, you’ve had more than a few. We all have. Sometimes I just crumble under the weight of stuff and responsibility and stress and money and traffic and things my friends are going through and insomnia and the grind and more stuff. Sometimes I’m not as tough as I pretend to be on the internet.
The text message goes something like this: “Can you believe ______________ did that again? I don’t think I can take it anymore! Things are never going to change and things are not getting better (like you promised). How much longer can this go on?” I average, if I am honest, a few of those messages a day – life seems to be hard for many people.
So I tell clients to take a few deep breaths. Now might be a good time to try that. Take a step back. Mindfulness. I open my toolbox of tricks and get to work. I am learning how to understand the emotions charging through my system. I have a wisdom rock. I try to change my perspective. More breathing. I need a plan.
The best time to prepare, we all know, is before the battle, not during it. It goes without saying, almost, that I should prepare for bad days. This seems like a no-brainer, we would never take a driving test without preparing. We would not want to take a university test without studying first. Why is it, then, that so many of us keep getting ambushed by our daily lives?