Sunday, December 26, 2010

Feeling Good About Feeling Bad

I’m not sure if other people experience this, but something I’ve found to be particularly frustrating about feeling bad is the way it tends to make me bad. What I mean is, I feel bad over something, then it builds on itself, and I feel bad for feeling bad. And on the downward spiral goes.

A typical example would be when I try to remember something that I feel I should know. I’m not sure if it is my imagination, but my memory seems to be a lot worse than it used to be. I don’t have any memory tests to judge it by, but given that I am gradually getting older, have been dealing with depression and anxiety for some time, and didn’t have the greatest memory to begin with, it doesn’t seem a stretch that my memory has gotten worse.

I will try to remember something from the past, sometimes in response to a question, sometimes just because I am trying to recall a name or a fact for myself. I try to remember but can’t. Then I get a bit frustrated. I try to remember. I try to force myself to remember. It generally doesn’t work, and then I often go into a self-hating spiral of thinking, something along the lines of “Why the hell can’t I remember this simple thing? I should be able to! Why do I have such a shit brain?”

The same thing happens in large social situations, where I have always felt uncomfortable. I then feel bad about feeling bad, and sometimes leave feeling exhausted, thinking something like “I’ve been dealing with people my whole life, and I suck at it! I should have figured out how to do this by now! I suck!”

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. The word “should” tends to feature prominently, along with feelings in inadequacy, stupidity, and a general sense of being a total failure.

Although I am not quite at the stage where I am feeling good about feeling bad, I am gradually reaching the stage where feeling bad doesn’t make me feel worse. When I can’t remember something, where I feel awkward in a social situation or say something stupid, I feel the annoyance, but I don’t seem to feel the need to beat myself up about it quite so much anymore.

I think that I am doing the best that I can. I think that we all are. I am increasingly coming to believe that there is no free will that exists magically independent of the million things that have led up to the current moment. I think things are the way they are, and could not be otherwise. That being the case, “should” is meaningless. The psychologist Albert Ellis used to refer to people having unhelpful mental habits of “shoulding all over themselves” or "musterbating" and making themselves feel terrible, and I think he was on to something.

I don't seem to have such a strong need to "should" myself these days. I seem to have less stress and more acceptance of the way things are. I'd like this to continue into the future, and just maybe I'll find a little more peace.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


December is here, and Christmas is just a few days away. Christmas is supposed to be the time when friends and families come together as one and enjoy one another’s company, exchange presents, and maybe go to church if they are religious.

For a long time I’ve been ambivalent towards Christmas and other holidays. They have often been the times that I have felt most miserable and most alone. When I have felt the most lacking. And the yearly rituals are a reminder that another year has gone by in which I’ve failed to achieve anything substantial, while those around me seem to be speeding towards their goals.

This year, it doesn’t bother me so much. I’m still suffering from depression and anxiety, and probably always will be. Loneliness has not gone away. But I have made a lot of progress towards accepting myself as I am, and also in being able to try different approaches to dealing with my depression. There is no magic solution, but this year I worked extremely hard to keep myself going, and it seems to have paid off.

It has been a rough ride, but I’ve made it through 2010. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that I am more capable than I have ever been of facing it. For a long time I wanted other people to reach out and save me, and that desire, while understandable, was not really helpful. I did receive help here and there, and I appreciate it greatly, but for the most part I have made it on my own. In the end, I think we all do this – or don’t, as the case may be. Despite what we might want, no one can be there for us all the time, this is the way life is.

I think embracing the way life is, the way the world really works, is the key to getting through. When it comes right down to it, I don’t think we have much choice in life at all. Most things are out of our control, and usually not the way we would like them to be. The holiday season is no different.

I won’t be having a wonderful Christmas, but I will get through it okay. Maybe next year will be different, maybe it will not. Time will tell I suppose. Until then, I’ll keep plodding along the best I can. I appreciate everyone’s visits and comments over the 6 months I have been writing this blog, and I plan to keep writing it.

Well, that is about all for this week. I’ll leave you with what I think is the best Christmas song of all time, Fairytale of New York by Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This I Believe

For a few years I’ve been listening to the podcast This I Believe. Each episode is a statement of belief from an individual, some famous, some just everyday people like you and me. It was originally an American radio program done by Edward R Murrow in the 1950s, and was brought back by NPR in the 2000s. Some statements I nod in agreement with, others make me want to argue with the speaker. But they are all heartfelt and considered, and they all make me think.

After reading one of In the Pink’s posts, I was inspired to write my own statement of belief. If you have the time, I’d be interested to hear what you believe in too.

More than anything, I believe in the power of the truth. And I believe the best things come when the truth is spoken and acted upon. Without truth, we have nothing.

I believe that all we are is a brain in a body, in the physical universe. No souls, no gods, no angels and demons. Just the world around us. And the world around us is plenty. In a lot of ways I think we trivialize the world when we anthropomorphize it.

Contrary to what many would like to believe, there is no skydaddy, nor guardian angels or spirits of our ancestors coming to save us. It is essential to realize that any saving will be done by ourselves or by the real people in our lives.

I believe that there are many things wrong with the world, and that to be a fully satisfied human being it is necessary to stand up and be counted when wrongs are being committed. I believe that the apathy, cowardice, and selfishness that I see so often displayed in the world around me is unacceptable.

I believe in treating others as I would wish to be treated, and I do this as much as possible. I believe that ethics do not require any supernatural backing to be valid. To the contrary, I find the actions of the god of Christianity in particular to be terribly immoral. A being of infinite capacity that needs to be worshiped by his puny creations, and who tortures them for eternity if they refuse? For a long time I have failed to see how such a being would be worthy of respect, much less be capable of generating a workable moral code.

I believe that in a civilized society we all have the right to freedom of speech, association, religion, and expression. This rights have generally been gained through struggle, not given from on high. I also believe that we have the obligation to make our voices heard as citizens, and to speak truth to power. For those of us fortunate enough to live in democracies, I believe that voting is a duty, not only a right.

Finally, more than anything, I believe that action is the only thing that changes us or the world around us. Talk is cheap. Thought is even cheaper. Action is the only thing that matters in the end.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Simple Things

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the simple things in life. There are so many things that we cannot control. The weather. The economy. The actions of others. Sometimes we cannot even control ourselves.

But something I have been trying to do in recent times is trying to keep my house in order, both literally and figuratively. While there are no magic solutions, I am beginning to notice that the tidier my house is, and the better I take care of myself and my surroundings physically, the better I am mentally.

Keeping the floor clear, my books neatly on the shelf, my clothes hung in order. Keeping the dishes cleaned, dried, and put away. Having my clothes ironed, even those like t-shirts that could probably do without it. Somehow, these things seem to help.

Having things clean and organized is nice and relaxing somehow. But also, the process of doing this has something calming about it. I don’t think I’d like to spend all my time ironing or cleaning, but spending some time doing it regularly is therapeutic, and almost enjoyable.

Another thing I have been doing recently is cooking more. I am not a very good cook, but there is something nice about producing simple meals, and not simply purchasing everything ready to eat.

Writing lists is also something that I have found useful. Recently CID posted about how he tends to waste all his free time when he doesn’t plan or structure it, and I am the same way. So I’ve taken to writing to-do lists on a more regular basis, and they are very useful in getting things done. Beyond achieving the specific things on the list, they are also useful in giving purpose to my time.

Finally, although it may sound strange to write about this on a blog, I think I have been spending too much time on the internet that I could probably use in a more productive way. Obviously I haven’t stopped using the net, but I am now limiting my use a bit more, and have cut down on my aimless browsing that kills time and achieves nothing. I have been buying and reading the newspaper more often instead, and I tend to retain more of what I read in the paper than I do from browsing.

I'm managing day to day, which is good. I am not sure that I will ever beat this anxiety and depression, that it will ever really be out of my system. There are times when it has felt an integral part of me, and times when it felt like an intruder. Currently I think it is probably a part of me that will never go away.

For the moment, I think the best way to go is to take care of each day as it comes with the strength and resources that I have, and try to learn a little something each time.