It All Comes Down to Me

My struggle with depression feels like a never ending mental tug-of-war. This chart that’s been making the rounds lately sums it up just about perfectly, because depression (or at least, my experience of depression) is a nuanced shifting of feelings that goes between numbness and detachment, to sadness and hopelessness:

I think a common analogy we can relate to depression is the image of drowning: one minute you’re there, kicking your legs and thrashing your arms, head staying above the water, even if just barely. And then suddenly your head goes under and you swallow a bunch of H2O and it feels like you’re never going to come up again. Depression often feels like you’re being swallowed up in deep, dark water that pulls you down, no matter how hard you try to get back up to the surface.

Sadly, some people never make it to the surface again. I feel lucky that I always manage to kick myself back up and out of the water. But, when I get depressed like I am now, life remains a struggle until I’ve reached the shore, so to speak.

When I’m depressed, I often fixate on my alone-ness and currently I’m spending a lot of time thinking about it. I’ve felt alone for as long as I can remember, because emotionally abusive partners don’t make you feel like you have support—they can’t offer you security or consistency—and things like depression get worse in an unhealthy relationship. Or, when you somehow manage to stand up to your abusive partner (which is, of course, the last thing they want you to do), you have to deal with the fall out that comes from sticking up for yourself. The retribution of an incensed emotional abuser is often powerfully devastating.

I have now divorced or broken up with my emotionally abusive partners, but I continue to deal with the consequences of being in those relationships. My tendency in all my relationships is to put an intense amount of effort into supporting the other person. This is a fault of mine that I continue to work very hard at changing, because it’s something that not only made me an easy target for narcissists and abusers; it also made it feel like I was alone in those relationships. When I’m really depressed, I often linger on these feelings of being alone and not having anyone in my life to share the burden of living with (FYI: when you’re depressed, life really does feel like a burden, not a privilege. It’s totally fucked up.).

Maybe I’ve romanticized the hell out of what it would be like to have a partner who isn’t a narcissistic and abusive asshole (maybe a little bit…). But what I see in the friends and family who support me so well is that they all have someone else in their lives who they prioritize more than me. And I can see that these people all have someone in their life who prioritizes them too. I’m not talking about worshiping your spouse or partner; I don’t mean that my friends and family have perfect relationships and get all their needs met all the time. What I’m talking about is how they each have that person, the one who knows the shit that’s going on in their life and who keeps a beat on their comings and goings. The person with whom they have built a secure baseline of love and trust; the person they can count on to be there for them.

Now, some of my friends and family who read this will likely want to say to me: “Of course I’m here for you! I support you in so many ways! You can always call me and I’m always here for you!” Please don’t think that I’m unappreciative of your love and support, or that I don’t see and feel the ways that you help me. I do! I’d be even more of a mess than I currently am without you! But at the end of the day (and I mean figuratively and literally), who are you coming home to? Who do you sit and watch Netflix with before heading to bed? Who do you remind about packing school lunches, or remembering to call your sister for her birthday, or ask “did you pick up your medication on your way home today”? Who do you organize your life around and make plans and set goals for a life together with? Who gets first billing in your life and offers you that same commitment back?

It’s not me.

And I don’t expect it to be, but I long for someone in my life who chooses to make me their priority and who expects and accepts that I do the same for them.

This feeling eats away at me every time I fail in another relationship, or I have another mental health relapse, or even just when I climb into my bed alone every night. It makes me feel like a failure, like I’m unworthy, and, since I’m being honest here, it makes me resent the very loving and supportive people in my life for having what I can’t seem to get.

The best way I can sum up these feelings, is to say that in times like this I can only think about how it all comes down to me.

There is a silver lining, though. It’s a tiny, glimmering ring of silvery dust hanging around what feels at the moment like an hellishly big rain cloud looming over my head. The silver lining is this: it all comes down to me.

You see I’m learning to recognize that in the end, all my failures AND all my successes, all my terrible relationships AND all my amazing ones, all my depression AND all of my happiness…every. fucking. thing. comes. down. to. me. And that includes the bad AND the good.

My depression often steals away my ability to notice the good parts of being independent. It feeds my feelings of loneliness and anger and sadness. It heightens my awareness of the hard parts of being alone. So I’m now trying to curb my thinking towards recognizing that it takes strength and courage to face the world on your own. That people like me, who don’t have a trusted partner in their lives, possess a huge amount of grit and determination for getting through every day solo. I’m telling myself that I am not giving up, even if I’m alone when I settle down on the couch for some Netflix at the end of the day.

I mean, at least I never have to argue about who gets to hold the remote.

xxJ

I think I’m the one.

Fear Part 3: Things That Have Not Yet Come to Pass

This is instalment 3 of a three-part series on fear. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them here and here. I’m looking at how fear affects life in the past, present, and future. In this final post, I’m talking about how fear affects the future and the impact fear of the future has day to day. Thanks for reading! xxJ


I’ve been dreading this post.

Ha ha…

That was funny, right??

It’s also true! The anticipation of completing this discussion about fear, and the very raw and vulnerable feelings it brings up, is not something I’m keen to face.

Which is actually why I’m doing it, ironically enough.

Today, as I’m sitting at my desk with my “Happy Light” turned on full blast, a huge stainless steel bottle full of water next to me, and a completely quiet household (my kids are away with their father for the second half of their spring break), I’m trying to muster the courage to keep talking about my fear.

In my previous posts, I shared that fear is pervasive in my life. Looking at my past and how I feel about it now, and looking at my present circumstances and how fear plays into my daily life, has been challenging and I’ve appreciated the sincere and thoughtful feedback readers of this blog have given me! It’s hard to admit when you’re afraid. It feels like a show of weakness, doesn’t it?

I’ve talked about having an anxiety disorder before and I tend to see my anxiety as an ongoing sense of fear that rises and falls depending on what’s going on in my life. Anxiety to me is about the anticipation of things that haven’t happened yet, whether that means things happening a few minutes from now, or things happening a few decades from now. If you’re not a person with anxiety, then I imagine it must be hard to relate to the idea that someone can live in constant fear, especially if outwardly it appears that they have nothing to be afraid of.

But my worry about the future…my anticipation of stress and difficulties and unmet expectations and disappointments and struggles…is something I battle against in virtually every moment of my life. Even my dreams are full of anxious moments! Unfortunately, my past experience has taught me that I can’t trust the future. And this is what brings the most fear into my life—being unable to predict and feel secure about what comes next (or not feeling secure about my ability to handle whatever comes next) is what fuels my anxiety.

Do you live with anxiety? Do you possess a constant and growing fear of the future? Does this fear drive your anxiety and perpetuate the cycle of fear in your life?

If you live in North America or another “developed” nation (ugh…that’s such a gross term!), then surely you’ve noticed how adept our society is at sensationalizing things and using fear as a tactic to achieve greater political, legal, financial, emotional, or social power. We live in a world of bullies and fearmongers who constantly shove doubt, uncertainty, and discord down our throats.

Add to that the individual experiences of people in abusive relationships, those of us with legitimate mental health issues, people with learning differences, and anyone living in poverty, hunger, or addiction…it creates a terrifying picture and all of us start (or continue) to feel unequipped to even begin to manage the fear that surrounds us.

So what do we do?

Short term? Distract ourselves. We do some yoga, or we eat a snack, or we have a cup of tea, or a beer, or we go for a walk, or watch some TV, and we push our fears about the future aside temporarily.

We need long-term strategies to cope better though! And I think the way to address fear of and in the future long term is one of those things that’s simple but complicated at the same time.

Because the way to address our fears of the future is to face them and model the kinds of behaviour that reduce insecurity and support community and communication. That sounds kind of easy to do! Just be a decent person—don’t spread fear or panic—and say what you want or need, and we can nip this in the bud!

That idea gets holes poked in it by someone like me almost immediately! Like, how the fuck am I as one person, in a sea of billions of other people, who faces significant and highly individual struggles, supposed to enact the level of change required to address our society’s ongoing addiction to keeping people afraid?

Like, how the hell am I supposed to do that? Can anyone do that??

I was talking with a good friend last night. She and I have these amazingly real and vulnerable conversations together and yesterday we talked about how difficult it is to live our best lives because of our personal struggles and what we would have to face or give up in order to “save the world” (so to speak). Trying to face my future fears often feels incredibly hopeless. Just like it feels hopeless to look at the state of our world today and see the potential for positive and responsible change.

BUT

I don’t think that means that I should stop trying.

I don’t think that means that I should give up and let my fear consume me.

I do think that if we as individuals tune into our fears, recognize, and begin to address them, we could see change on a bigger scale.

Every time I get thinking about how I can reduce fear in my life and be a positive and contributing member of society, I come back to only one reasonable course of action: take care of myself as an individual first, so that I can then offer more to those around me and in the wider world.

To me, this means speaking up about my needs and wants. It means ensuring that I have reliable support in my life when I need it. It means educating my children about being empathetic and talking about world issues and how they can be thoughtful and responsible citizens. I means putting what little money I have available into the goods and services that I think are best. It means voting. It means protesting. It means writing authentically here on head/strong!

The “Things that Have Not Yet Come to Pass” aren’t real yet. But the fear that surrounds these things, that creates the fearful anticipation of these things, IS real and has real consequences in our lives. So in the end, addressing our individual fears of the future is, I think, the best and only way to change things for ourselves and for our communities.

If there were a magic button, or pill, or treatment that would help me stop being fearful of the future, I would be first in line to try it. But that’s not reality. Reality is that future fear affects me every day, and I suspect it affects many other people every day too. Be we can acknowledge our fear. We can talk about our fear. We can put things in place so that when we are feeling afraid we have something to fall back on. We can kick future-fear in the ass, even if it’s a fight we have to keep having until our fear is overcome by an authentic sense of security and safeness. I hope for you, as I hope for myself, that that level of security is attainable and that we can keep trying and not let fear be the ultimate winner.

xxJ


Reminder: FEAR IS A LIAR. You got this *fist bump*

Bizarro World

As I said last week, the world is kind of going to shit. And within that chaos, we each have our own pile of crap to manage. It often feels like the shit is hitting the fan and everything is falling apart in our own lives and all around us. What a time to be alive!

When my life was dangling from the shit-covered fan of a messy divorce and major mental health problems, and I was desperately trying to disentangle myself from everything I had known for the past decade and a half, I started gathering an arsenal of tools and strategies I could use to cope better. I’ve already talked about some of these strategies, but today I want to share a new one. Here’s how I learned it:

One day in a therapy session, my counsellor turned to look at me and he asked, “Do you know who ‘Bizarro Superman’ is?”

I’m not exactly a comics buff, but I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge from watching Marvel and DC movies, and from many sessions of playing superheroes with my daughters, so I looked back at him and said, “Yes.”

And my counsellor continued… “Okay, so Bizarro Superman is like the exact opposite of the actual Superman. He exists as a reflection of Superman and does things that seem strange and unexplainable to the rest of us.”

“I want you to imagine that parallel to your real life, there is a Bizarro World. It’s a place where all the crap that doesn’t make sense and isn’t rational and is completely ridiculous exists. And when you come up against something that is nonsensical and irrational and completely ridiculous, you need to stop and remind yourself that it’s all just Bizarro World crap.”

And I went, “hmm” and sat with the idea for a moment.

My counsellor went on: “So when someone says or does something hurtful, just tell yourself that this is Bizarro garbage and belongs in Bizarro World.”


Random garbage bag full of Bizarro crap, obviously.

So I learned The Bizarro World Technique, as I’m now dubbing it, and it consists of doing one simple thing: reminding yourself that irrational thoughts and behaviour (whether done by yourself or someone else) belong in Bizarro World and not in the real world. The Bizarro World Technique, or TBWT because I’m lazy and want to use an acronym, is similar to using the Positive Belief Record (or PBR, ’cause who wants to spell everything out every time? Not this girl!) I talked about back in October of 2018. What TBWT has that the PBR lacks is a sense of humour. And humour truly is great medicine. (I think someone said something like that once.)

It’s not always easy (or appropriate) to use humour when dealing with trauma, but sometimes it’s the best way to diffuse tension, open up to creativity, or just get some big emotions out in a way that leaves you feeling better instead of worse—my counsellor and I had a good chuckle on the day that he introduced TBWT to me and I absolutely left that session feeling better than when I had arrived.

As I continue to manage the crap in my own life, and think about how I can do more to help the world, I’ve had to remember this technique of referencing “Bizarro World.” It helps me sift through the mess of thoughts I’m being flooded with and deal with the crazy behaviour I’m seeing from people around me.

I want to be clear though: I’m not saying that we should ignore the alarming and destructive behaviour happening around us. Likewise, TBWT doesn’t mean you should ignore your feelings, or stop working on addressing your personal trauma and your triggers. The technique categorizes these experiences and re-frames them into a much more manageable framework so you can detach from them emotionally and then think rationally about how to handle them. Plus, it might make you laugh! Bonus!

The Bizarro World Technique also reminds us that WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S FEELINGS. EVERRRRRRRRRR.

Recognizing the shitty behaviour of others through using TBWT (or a PBR, or talking to a counsellor, or journaling, or blogging, or talking with a trusted friend…) should be an act of removing any sense of obligation you might feel to fix or change other people. Throwing that junk in Bizarro World means that you recognize that it is someone else’s shit and that your job is simply to manage how you feel and what your behaviour looks like.

Really, it’s about taking ownership of your thoughts and behaviours, so that you can think more clearly and take action with intention.

So when your ex does something typical and shitty and you start to feel crazy, remind yourself that it belongs in Bizarro World.

When you start thinking that no one could possibly be as stupid/ugly/crazy/whatever as you are, throw that garbage thinking into Bizarro World.

When you’ve had enough of the political bullshit our bigoted lawmakers keep spewing, wrap it up in a black garbage bag and toss into the Bizarro Universe.

I sometimes even literally say the words out loud: “This belongs in Bizarro World!” And I won’t think you’re crazy if I hear you saying the same thing.

We don’t need to take ownership for other people’s bad decisions; what we need is more people living authentically in order to help humanity get back to thriving! We need more people to wake up to the Bizarro bullshit they’ve become encumbered by and start putting it where it belongs. What we need are minds free of Bizarro World clutter so that we can make confident decisions and act mindfully and with intention.

xxJ


I think this is an excellent representation of how to get that Bizarro World junk where it belongs. If only I had all those muscles to help me really kick its ass!