Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Illumination (or letting the light in)

“Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

~ Anthem, Leonard Cohen

Perfection, the pursuit of being perfect – the desire to do everything ‘right’ – I’ll be honest, it’s exhausting!

I wrote something similar in an earlier entry back in November (On Forgiveness), and I find myself looking to remember it now.

I need to remind myself of this purely because if I don’t, I so easily (and quickly!) allow myself to believe that I am a continual failure. That I continually let down, anger and disappoint those around me.

I think that the truth is different. I think I only really let down and disappoint those who care about me, by allowing myself to spiral and create a whole (imaginary!) negative world-view.

I think it’s then a sadness from others that I have allowed myself to spoil my own experiences and memories. That I preemptively take away my own ability to find fun and joy in my day-to-day life.

What I need to continue to work on is believing that just being ‘me’ with all my imperfections is okay.  I need to keep hold of a few core facts. And I need to remember that these are facts:

  • I am liked for just being ‘me’.
  • I have value and worth to others because of who I ‘am’, not just the things I can ‘do’.
  • Those who care about me are not going to wake up tomorrow and decide they hate me after all.
    – this is a hard one to get my head round!
  • Those who care about me are not thinking about me that much!
    – I am not the topic of constant negative thought I all too frequently imagine!
  • I am not perfect, I will get things wrong and make mistakes.
    – this doesn’t make me a bad person or negate the good things about me.

The good news in all this is that, apparently, people who worry tend to be the smartest, most creative people. It takes a lot of imagination to dream up all these worries!

So, hey! If nothing else, I have that on my side!

On… forgiveness

Scared to be alone
Frightened of the dark
Everything’s too much
For a boy out of touch with his feelings

I must be to blame
I must be at fault
I believe I’m never good enough
To shine a light that lingers

~James,  Pleased to Meet You

A very wise, caring soul once told me that in order to be happy (in order to stand a chance at happiness) I first need to be able to forgive myself. They still tell me that now.

Repeatedly.

To be truthful, I’ve never really understood what that means. Forgiving yourself? What a self-serving idea!

Forgiveness is something merited to you by others as part of atoning for your wrongs, isn’t it? Forgiveness is a giving act and utterly unselfish, it cannot be expected and cannot be demanded. It can only be given, freely and unconditionally.

“When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised the Lord doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.”

~ Emo Phillips

At least that’s what I always thought. That’s why I always struggled with the idea of forgiving myself (where to start anyway – it’s such a long list!).

But I realise, if I am to stand a chance at being me again (the me I know I really am), I have to let go of some of this baggage I carry with me, I have to move on from things that haven’t worked. I can’t keep letting my past control my future.

How then does one go about forgiving themselves for their failings, their flaws, their transgressions?

1. Acknowledge your mistakes

I am very good at this. I have ‘acknowledgement of my mistakes’ down to a fine art. I’m all over this one!

Or am I?

Just because I assume fault and take on blame does not mean I’m acknowledging my mistakes. No, rather it means I’m taking on mistakes I have no legitimate ownership of. I martyr myself when I have no need to.

It also means that while I am so busy berating myself for assumed failings, I’m losing sight of the mistakes I’m actually making – such as behaving erratically, pushing people away and being hard work to be around when there is no reason to be so.

  • You will make mistakes.
  • You will get things wrong.
  • You will upset people.
  • You will fail.

Take it, and move on.

2. Accept your flaws

Like a tall building, I’ve got too many flaws…

The hardest thing about having the mind of a highly-emotional, self-doubting perfectionist trapped in the body of a slightly camp, balding thirty-something is getting used to the imperfection that I am forced to endure 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It’s exhausting!

I am not perfect. In physicality, there are many better specimens out there. In intelligence, I’m bright but I struggle to understand many things:

  • central heating (is the thermostat the temperature I want or the temperature it needs to be to start working? why does the boiler have it’s own separate timer and temperature – arrrrghhhh!!);
  • how anyone invented the first ruler without, well, a ruler to check they had a straight edge;
  • why ‘toast’ is a food in it’s own right, but burning any other cooked food just gives you ‘burnt’;
  • and so on and so forth…

In my abilities, I possess many qualities, but I know that whatever I turn my hand to, there will always be someone who is slightly better than me, and others who will be exponentially better than me.

I am flawed. But then I guess, so are you. Which leads me neatly on to:

3. Know that you are ‘only’ human

I am flesh and blood. A brain. A heart. A soul.

I am the product of my parents, my upbringing. I am the end result; although still a work-in-progress; of every single experience (joyous and painful) that has got me to my 34 years.

If I were an omnipotent being, I would have achieved so much more. Equally, I would have caused damage on a much grander scale.

The modesty and smallness of being human, of being frail, of being time-bound and otherwise constrained should allow me to let go of the guilt that I carry around what I should have done by now, how I should have done things differently

4. Celebrate your gifts

Forgive (see what I did there?) the repetition. I wrote this back in July as a snapshot of what I viewed as being intrinsically ‘me’. I think it still holds true:

  • Quick-wit and sense of humour
  • Great cook
  • Generous host
  • Caring friend
  • Gifted artist
  • Fab personal stylist
  • Lover of fashion and glamour ;o)
  • Open mind
  • Contentment in the little things
  • Sensitive (too sensitive!!) soul

Listing positive qualities about yourself feels so arrogant, so vain. Listing failings and weaknesses feels so much more natural and obvious.

But what sort of a way to live is that? Pretty fucking miserable, let me tell you!

Celebrate your gifts, share them with your loved ones and allow your abilities and skills to be enjoyed by others.

5. Live in the moment

This is really important. I know it’s really important because everyone from my best friend Richard to the Dalai Lama tell me so, in their own ways.

It’s also the core tenet of what “forgiveness” really means, as I’ll let Oliver Burkeman explain:

Strip away the moralising, and all the most reputable psychologists seem to mean by “forgiveness” is to stop demanding that the past should be different from how it was. “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past,” runs one well-phrased motto, usually attributed to the actor/writer Lily Tomlin. That’s not just eminently reasonable; it’s the only rational way to live. It implies no moral stance, one way or the other, towards the future: it doesn’t mean staying in an abusive relationship, or not prosecuting a murderer. It just means abandoning a particularly perverse form of misplaced optimism: the notion that things that have already happened might one day change for the better. They won’t. The laws of physics don’t work that way.

If I allow myself to stop fretting about the things I can’t change (because they’re in the past), and stop projecting worst-case scenarios on those things that I can only influence (because they haven’t happened yet), then the moment – the now, the right now is the only place that makes any sense to be.

6. Shine the light that lingers

I am not always to blame. I am not always at fault. I believe I’m good enough to shine a light that lingers.

There is room in the world for me. Putting my energies into making my corner of the world that bit brighter has to be worth the effort. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate the darkness.

even jitterbug skinny legs get the blues in hot climates

My best friend Richard, who I’ve talked about previously, bought me a copy of the Tom Robbins novel “Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates”, ages ago. Richard has endless patience for my mood-swings and bouts of depression, and I know that while he finds it hard to understand the mindset, he will always be there to cheer me up, in any way he can.

In fact all my friends and loved ones:

  • Kate (who really doesn’t need my crap, yet still drops everything to help me);
  • her husband Alan (who wants me to chill and get a laid-back frame of mind);
  • Colin (who sits me down and tells me how the world is, as opposed to how I see it);
  • my wife, Verity (who has put up with this for 9 years and counting);

do their best. They do their best, even though I am at times, one of the most unpleasant and self-obsessed individuals ever to crawl on this earth.

But I digress. ‘Fierce Invalids…’ has been sat on my bookshelf ever since Richard gave it to me, another volume in my expanding pile of books to read ‘some day’. Well, Saturday became that ‘some day’. I needed a diversion, I need absorption in a novel to take me out of myself, to give me joy. I need writing and wit that would stretch my brain and nourish my soul.

Tom Robbins delivers all of this. In spades.

I have been a fan of Mr. Robbins’ for many years, ever since I read “Even Cowgirls get the Blues” in my late teens. I adored the writing, the sheer unalloyed joy, verbal wit and intellect. The larger than life but utterly plausible characters. The feats of plotting, the journeys of imagination, philosophising and life-affirming, dive-in-with-your-boots-on sense of fun.

“Personally, I prefer Stevie Wonder,” confessed the Chink, “but what the hell. Those cowgirls are always bitching because the only radio station in the area plays nothing but polkas, but I say you can dance to anything if you really feel like dancing.” To prove it, he got up and danced to the news.

See? I can’t read that without smiling, and loving the Chink!

Reading ‘Fierce Invalids…’ I’ve been struck by how little time Tom Robbins’ has for depression and self-absorption. To the author, it is narcissistic, unproductive and ultimately, it just gets in the way of the main event. Having fun and living.

Show your working

To wit:

“When you’re unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. And you get to take yourself oh so very seriously. Your truly happy people, which is to say, your people who truly like themselves, they don’t think about themselves very much. Your unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwellin’ on himself and start payin’ attention to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form of self-indulgence.”
— Tom Robbins (Jitterbug Perfume)

Abso-fucking-lutely.

“People tend to take everything too seriously. Especially themselves. Yep. And that’s probably what makes ’em scared and hurt so much of the time. Life is too serious to take that seriously.”
— Tom Robbins

I agree.

“Among our egocentric sad-sacks, despair is as addictive as heroin and more popular than sex, for the single reason that when one is unhappy one gets to pay a lot of attention to oneself. Misery becomes a kind of emotional masturbation.”
— Tom Robbins (Wild Ducks Flying Backward)

No comment!!!

Tom Robbins writes with such a rich, all-encompassing love of life, that it is impossible to not get carried away with his infectious enthusiasm for existence – all the ups, downs, backwards and sideways that it brings.

As Switters’ (the main protaganist) learns from his Grandmother, Maestra:

“All depression has its roots in self-pity, and all self-pity is rooted in people taking themselves too seriously.”

At the time Switters had disputed her assertion. Even at seventeen, he was aware that depression could have chemical causes.

“The key word here is roots,” Maestra had countered. “The roots of depression. For most people, self-awareness and self-pity blossom simultaneously in early adolescence. It’s about that time that we start viewing the world as something other than a whoop-de-doo playground, we start to experience personally how threatening it can be, how cruel and unjust. At the very moment when we become, for the first time, both introspective and socially conscientious, we receive the bad news that the world, by and large, doesn’t give a rat’s ass. Even an old tomato like me can recall how painful, scary, and disillusioning that realization was. So, there’s a tendency, then, to slip into rage and self-pity, which if indulged, can fester into bouts of depression.”

“Yeah but Maestra – ”

“Don’t interrupt. Now, unless someone stronger and wiser – a friend, a parent, a novelist, filmmaker, teacher, or musician – can josh us out of it, can elevate us and show us how petty and pompous and monumentally useless it is to take ourselves so seriously, then depression can become a habit, which, in turn, can produce a neurological imprint. Are you with me? Gradually, our brain chemistry becomes conditioned to react to negative stimuli in a particular, predictable way. One thing’ll go wrong and it’ll automatically switch on its blender and mix us that black cocktail, the ol’ doomsday daiquiri, and before we know it, we’re soused to the gills from the inside out. Once depression has become electrochemically integrated, it can be extremely difficult to philosophically or psychologically override it; by then it’s playing by physical rules, a whole different ball game. That’s why Switters my dearest, every time you’ve shown signs of feeling sorry for yourself, I’ve played my blues records really loud or read to you from The Horse’s Mouth. And that’s why when you’ve exhibited the slightest tendency toward self-importance, I’ve reminded you that you and me – you and I: excuse me – may be every bit as important as the President or the pope or the biggest prime-time icon in Hollywood, but none of us is much more than a pimple on the ass-end of creation, so let’s not get carried away with ourselves. Preventive medicine, boy. It’s preventive medicine.”

“But what about self-esteem?”

“Heh! Self-esteem is for sissies. Accept that you’re a pimple and try to keep a lively sense of humor about it. That way lies grace – and maybe even glory.”
— Tom Robbins (Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates)

It really gives you a sense of perspective, doesn’t it? Well, it may not to you, but it does to me.

Tom Robbins’ words hit home like daggers. He says what I imagine my friends would want to say if they felt they could. If they felt they could without upsetting me.

A thicker skin. No, scratch that. I like being thin-skinned. I like being sensitive. I like being an emotional person.

What I don’t need to keep doing is assuming that I am despised. I can’t keeping living in fear that the people I love will abandon me or dump me. Sure, they may do at some point (they have in the past). But should I let that cripple me?

What I don’t need to keep doing is assuming that I am worthless, a failure. I have achieved so much in my life. So you don’t like it? So what? I should be rightly proud of what I’ve achieved, rather than only being able to see the stuff that hasn’t quite worked.

“All a person can do in this life is gather about him his integrity, his imagination, and his individuality – and with these ever with him, out front and in sharp focus, leap into the dance of experience.”
— Tom Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues)

I’m not quite in the mood for dancing (yet!), but I will be soon

In the meantime, pick up a book by Tom Robbins, and just enjoy.

someone’s got it in for me

I don’t want your sympathy

I spend somewhere around 2 hours a day, almost every day, despising myself.

That’s 2 hours per day picking apart every aspect of my personality.

  • My thoughts, beliefs and values;
  • My attitude, behaviours and actions;
  • My decisions, choices and options.

Note: This is not reflection, or review, it is simple self-loathing.

Life just never turned out how I wanted it to

14 hours in a week, 56 hours in a month.

Whose life does? I don’t have a master plan, a ‘5 year’ list or anything like that. So without a plan, why do I get upset and depressed if I perceive that things haven’t gone how I wanted them to?

Without a view of how things should be, how can I discern what is incorrect?
Life is fluid, like a river. It’s easier to swim in the direction of flow, rather than try to swim upstream.  But still, I allow myself to believe that swimming upstream is the only way – fighting against the natural state of things, rather than accepting life for what it is.

Am I persecuting myself? Creating my own victim mentality? Am I constantly feeding an inner duality between the part of me that wants to be happy and the part that wants to bully me for every perceived failing?

The answer is: All of these things.

What a state I’m in

28 days across a year.

All of these are my failures:

  • My career has stalled and not advanced to the point I feel I should be at;
  • My earning potential, as  a consequence, is less than I feel it should be;
  • My talent(?) for art and creativity has never led to the successes and self-satisfaction that I want for it;
  • My financial management is, after 16 years of being an ‘adult’ still woefully juvenile;
  • My ability to derive pleasure and happiness from the moment deserts me as soon as the moment has gone;
  • I let my family and loved ones down, consistently and regularly;
  • My offers to look after, care for,  and help my friends always backfires and becomes a burden to them.


All of these are my successes:

The bully inside has got me, and taken everything away. It’s left me, bruised and snivelling and wishing I was home again, somewhere safe.

My self pitying

Since the age of 16, I have possibly spent around one and a half solid years of my life, hating myself.

My self pitying is tiresome. It takes away from who I am. It takes away from what I am. It takes away my potential to make my own happiness, and in so doing, bring happiness to others in turn.

This is what I aspire to:

“He is good to those who are good;
He is also good to those who are not good,
Thereby he is good.
He trusts those who are trustworthy;
He also trusts those who are not trustworthy,
Thereby he is trustworthy.
The sage lives in harmony with the world,
And his mind is the world’s mind.
So he nurtures the worlds of others
As a mother does her children.”
~ 49. People, Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu

Why does it seem so damn impossible to get there?

the lesser of two evils

Some days, a small success can make you feel invincible. It can make you feel as though all your efforts and experience have been valid. It gives you purpose, and meaning. It makes the statement:

“I give something to this world. What I do is valued.”

Worthwhile.

Some days, a set back or disappointment can make you feel like crap. It eats away inside you, stripping the heart of it’s feelings, the brain of it’s logic, the nerves of their senses. It makes you question your existence. It asks the question:

“What if I just disappeared?”

Worthless.

I define myself in no small part by what I do. The work I produce, whether creatively or in employment says a great deal about myself.

Everything I make has a part of me suffused through it.

Everything I make is the product of my skills, experience and world-view.

Everything I make is in effect, a snapshot of who I was at that point in time. It is a record of me as much as a photograph, or a memory.

How could it not be so?

Take away or diminish my work, and you take away and diminish a part of me.

The separation between ‘work’ and ‘self’ does not exist in my mind.

How can it be achieved? Is it something I want?

Or, do I come to terms with the fact that I may always feel this way, I may always have this reaction? Even if it harms my career, my creativity and ultimately pushes people away?

That is a frightening prospect, for sure. And yet the alternative is to care less, to stop fighting for what I believe in.

I genuinely do not know which ‘lesser’ evil to choose from.

On… Failure

So you find me, dishevelled, sweaty and grubby at the tail of end of what should have been a fulfilling weekend.

Instead, I feel thoroughly worthless, useless and pathetic.

I have, it would be fair to say, failed in my task to board the available floor space on the loft. I have failed in adding extra insulation (the broken insulation boards scattered around the loft are proof of that). And I knew from the get-go that doing even simple tasks like moving a light switch would be beyond me.

I have, however, screwed boards that barely Tongue and Groove. I have cut huge holes to go round beams where my measuring skills deserted me. I have left unfinished edges and awkward gaps after blunting 2 jigsaw blades and not understanding how to cut the loft boards any differently.

Failure sits heavy on the shoulders, and makes the world seem so bleak. I’m sure I’ll get over it, but how to prevent it in future?

One answer is to never try, to just get someone else to do it. That seems sad and a loss of learning opportunities. Then again, have I learnt anything? Other than that I am incompetent, that my abilities don’t even come close to the things I want to do.

This weekend, I wanted to relax, and to paint and get a sense of personal satisfaction after a couple of tough weeks at work.

Instead I am exhausted, I have wasted time, money and effort on achieving nothing. And now, I move into another week at work feeling more pathetic and pointless and stressed than I have done in a long, long time.

emotional detachment

On the back of a few bad days at work, I’m very much aware of how little difference there is between the work ‘me’ and the non-work ‘me’.

There are people at work who I’m sure are human, somewhere deep inside. Buried under the slopey-shoulders, the ‘business benefits’ and the ‘process’, there must exist thinking, breathing, feeling souls?

So why do I feel like I’m often the only one screaming at the top of their voice “this isn’t right”, “this isn’t fair“, “people deserve better than this”? Have I really got to grow-up and grow a pair to take on the world of work? Or does being cold and detached, unable to empathise and unable to do the right thing – diminish us all?

Maybe I’m just being childish, still being held hostage to my emotions. Maybe those who put on their ‘game face‘ and play the role of the workplace adult are merely guarding themselves against hurt and rejection.

My emotions run close to the skin, I’m aware of that. I take everything way too personally, I’m aware of that too. And yet, I spend 40 hours+ a week at work. I think about work issues in the evenings, at weekends. I believe strongly that the work I do can be a force for good, a force for change. My work – my job, sad as it may seem – in part defines me.

So why shouldn’t something that goes wrong at work be something that hurts? Why shouldn’t a rejection or alteration to my designs be a criticism of me? My work comes from the heart, it is an extension of myself.

The political and business landscape of my employer has changed so much in the last few years, that I no longer recognise it. That either means it’s all wrong, or I’m a relic of a bygone age.

Shape up or ship out as they say.

And I’m thinking about home
And I’m thinking about faith
And I’m thinking about work
And I’m thinking
How good it would be
To be here some day
On a ship called Dignity

Deacon Blue, Dignity