Raw honesty

One of the ongoing challenges for me in my life right now is working out the balance between doing things and talking about things. I am striving to live more transparently, but it’s a process that I often find really painful. My mom tells me that even as an infant, I would practice new skills privately before I used them in public, and I still have that instinct. Add to that the 18 formative years I spent in a town where my discomfort was a prime source of entertainment for my peers, and you kind of start to get the picture of why I’m so cagey and reserved.

In particular, I have an instinct to go underground when stuff is hard. I imagine that people won’t like me when I’m down, and I hate sharing my pain, and I also hate admitting that I have uncertainty. Yeah, even though I know that other people also have plenty of uncertainty, and that they can be of help to me in my time of discernment, and also, sharing my own discomfort helps other people find comfort in their own.

Even knowing all of that, I still want to hide. But hiding isn’t an option. So here it is:

I am in a really bad mood. I am angry, frustrated, tired, and full of uncertainty. My body hurts. My heart hurts. I am the cause of most, but not all, of my problems this week, and the difficulty I am having getting out of them is also pretty much entirely my problem. I am unhappy, I am the one with agency to find my own happiness, and I cannot find the beacons to get myself back on track.

I acknowledge and believe the platitude that “happiness is a choice, not a destination,” but that doesn’t seem to help me here. I feel lost, and I don’t know what actions will get me back on track, and I deeply fear getting further afield than I already am. I already had a significant depressive episode this year, and I am fucking tired of them.

Also, I realize the irony of not wanting to share my bad mood when my whole personal brand is “Grumpy.” One of my favorite professors in college told me that I was at my best when I was grumpiest, because it was when I did the best cutting through BS. But here’s the thing: I don’t really like being mad at the world. I like being able to say “that’s nonsense,” but I feel like I lost that power somewhere along the way. What happened to me?

I feel like, at 32, I shouldn’t still be in this place where I’m struggling to find my place in the world. I’m mad about it. I am mad that I don’t know how to fix it. I am mad that I’ve let it get so sideways. I am scared that my decisions will leave my kid feeling this way as an adult. I’m scared people close to me aren’t going to like the choices I’m going to make. I’ve spent my whole life looking for approval, and it hasn’t done me very much good. I need to let go of it, and I’m scared. And mad.

Talking about Talking

You know that old saying about what happens when we assume; we make an ass out of u and me! Except, when it comes to relationships, it’s not so much “make an ass” as “make a mess.” Perhaps the most basic assumption we make is that we know how to talk to people.

The truth, though, can be a little more complicated. Even with the person I talk to most, I still run into places where my skills need sharpening, and where we have to work together to find tools that work to keep both of us on the same page. Over time, Carlos and I have come to a series of agreements about how we handle ourselves in substantive conversations.

  • Assume best intentions. We have a partnership; the end goal is always to make things better, for ourselves, our kid, our marriage, the people around us. We’re human and we make mistakes, but we don’t work to actively hurt one another. Even when what we’re talking about isn’t “an important issue,” we still try to work under the assumption that the goal is better understanding, not just arguing.
  • We are on the same team. When we sit down to work out an issue, we make an effort to remember that we are working together. It’s not about winning, or proving a point. The purpose is to work out an issue together. Yes, we get into knitty-gritty stuff, and it’s hard. It can be especially hard when the issue at hand is something that one of us is doing; it can be easy to feel personally defensive. In this case, it’s good to remember that it’s being discussed because we care about one another; we’d probably let it slide if we weren’t committed to making our partnership work.
  • A person’s feelings are not up for debate. When someone says they have a feeling, that is to be taken as an inarguable fact. What is done with that feeling is a different matter. Actions can be right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. How we feel is not to be argued with, or asked to change. It’s fair to say “I don’t understand that feeling,” or to ask for more explanation. We’re not always going to understand what’s at the root of feelings, but talking about them can give us insight. And then we can talk about actions.
  • Keep it relevant. Talk about the issue at hand. Don’t change the subject or look for a place where you can “gain back ground” by being right. On this note: don’t make personal attacks, or bring up “old shit.” If something comes up that needs another discussion, set aside some time for it.
  • Be aware of yourself. Learn to read your own physical state, and how it can affect your communication. Body language, facial expressions, even breathing can be a signal. Sometimes, they’re saying more to your partner than they are to you. Learn to take a moment to check your own state – maybe you didn’t realize that you were making a face that looks like a scowl, or that your voice was rising in volume. Taking a moment to calm your breathing or slow down can be give the conversation a minute to relax as well.
  • Know when to take a break. Some conversations just aren’t going anywhere. It’s ok to take a short break, or a long one. When discussing an “important issue” with a partner, walking away forever is not a good option, but taking a step back can make a huge difference. Have a specific place, outlet, or time. For example: walk different directions around the block, go to different rooms for 5 minutes, or do some dishes–something that enforces separation and has a clear return point. Come back together and leave the petty stuff behind.
  • Say what you mean. This can take practice. You’re going to say the wrong thing sometimes, and that creates an opportunity to be better the next time. You can practice on your own, or with a third party. Say it outloud, so you can hear it. Write it down before you bring it up. I know I can get caught up in my head, and wrong ideas start making sense. Get some sunshine on them.
  • Examine your own position. If something is a hot button issue for you, try to understand why. It’s better for you and your conversation partners if you know where you’re coming from, and spending time examining your own beliefs will make you better able to articulate them, and to choose which ones are actually of use to you.
  • Be aware of your audience. Think about who you’re talking to, what you know about them, how your interactions with them have gone in the past. If you want to make actual progress, keep your conversational partner in mind when putting your thoughts into words. If you’re just looking for someone to yell at, try not to aim it at your partner.

Of course, neither of us always lives up to the standards that we shoot for, but that doesn’t mean that the goal is any less worthy. When we talk to people outside our relationship, these same guidelines apply. Conversation and learning are good, arguing for no reason is not. Unless given reason to do otherwise, we assume that people are coming to a conversation with good intentions, and we treat them with respect. My goal is still to work toward making things better, to find common ground and create more space for love.

photo credit: sachmanns.dk

The Depression To-Do List

Depression is like having a to-do list where almost everything is marked “Lowest Priority.” It’s not so much that you don’t want to fix things so much as you just don’t ever get around to doing anything because literally everything else gets in the way. So, by the time you get home from work you just flop down into a pile of unfolded laundry and contemplate which episode of Archer will make you laugh enough to dull the crushing weight of the fact that you still haven’t folded your laundry and it is almost time to stick it all back in the washing machine to make it clean again. Lucky for me I only own two pairs of pants, so the cycle is pretty short.

I think one of the most difficult parts of depression is that for most people it goes away pretty quickly. They have a bad day, they feel like some alone time, and then they get back to the regularly scheduled program. It’s a commercial break of depression. But, for others it is like everyday everything gets an ounce heavier or an inch further away until the door is a mile from your bed, your toothbrush weighs five pounds, and you have to squat-press your laundry basket. At some point you need to start taking medication, which is like a mental weight belt that makes sure you don’t blow out your metaphorical colon while doing your household chores.

And to make it just that little bit harder, no one is ever congratulatory of your accomplishments, because you are the only one that sees the invisible weight and distance–it’s like being the kid from The Sixth Sense and all of the ghosts are sitting on top of your stuff and trying to trip you while you walk.

Having a community is incredibly important when you find yourself pinned under this massively mixed metaphor I have created. You need to kill your pride and show your love for someone by confiding in them your dark secret.

Get a depression buddy (or buddies):

  1. Text them when you take your meds.
  2. Tell them the thing that you did today.
  3. Tell them what you eat.

If you eat well, hold yourself responsible for taking at least one productive step a day, and you take your meds, you can dust of the ounces and push back the inches. It might not be fast, but it will be real, and it will become a habit. Even if it has to be cultivated as a rote habit, eating well and taking your meds is crucial to winning your battle.

Ultimately, depression is a very personal experience. Your mileage may vary; this works for me, and if nothing else, it’s a place where you can start.

I want to thank my buddies that help me with my PTSD.

I don't know who to credit for this image. YAY DEPRESSION. Thanks Loading Artist!