Monthly Archives: May 2012

When a problem can’t be overcome, it’s time to tango…

You’ve done all you can to overcome your problem.  And yet, day after day, it sits there like a faithful dog.  Waiting patiently for you to get out of bed so it can pounce on  you, lick your face, and leave hair all over your fancy work clothes.

How would you like to wake up to this guy?

Or this guy?

By definition, overcoming is the act prevailing over, overwhelming, or overpowering something.  When we overpower our emotions, we win and can keep fighting for another day.  Once we have won, we can walk away and leave the problem there.

But sometimes, something cannot be overcome.  Sometimes, we have to find a way to cope, to manage, to live with, to work with a problem.  Let me give you an example…

I have mentioned before that I have ADHD and some form of dyslexia. Brain chemistry cannot be permanently changed, it can only be managed.  I can take drugs to help reorganize, reduce, or increase the malfunctioning or missing chemicals.  However, if I stopped taking the medications, my brain would go back to the way it was before.  Medications help, but I still have to manage the emotional difficulties associated with this problem.

When two people tango, someone always leads, and it’s usually the guy.  Each partner has to “lock their frame” by making their arms strong and stiff in a semi-circle.  Like this:

Look spaghetti arms!  Lock your frame!

The leading partner gets to decide where the dancing couple is going, when they spin, or twirl, or dip.  The locked frame, the subtle pressures of the hands, certain movements indicate when the following partner is to move and where.  When managing your problem, you should be the leading partner, not the other way around.  You get to decide when you dip, and twirl, and go left.

But, you have decide that you want to lead, not follow.  You have decide that you want to make progress, not wallow in self-pity, or shame, or whatever you do with your problem.  You have to decide that you want to improve.  That’s the key.

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Tell me, do you have a problem that you have to manage?

Climbing up out of the miry pit of depression

I remember reading a book, a work of fiction, that described a battle between two kingdoms.  The good king was defeated in battle.  One of his son’s was killed.  As punishment for being defeated, he was chained to the dead body of his son front to front, and left there to die.  Sorry.  I know that’s pretty gruesome, but I wanted you to get my point.

This is how depression can be for me.  Chained to a dead part of myself, wishing release would come for me.  It’s like living with one foot in the land of the dead, and one foot in the land of the living.  It is a half-life lived in terror of truly sinking into death.

Some days, I just want to be left alone.  Scratch that.  MOST days I just want to be left alone.  I want to be left alone to think and drown in my own pool of misery.  Me, myself, and I like our little pity parties.  I can get pretty grumpy if it goes too far.  I don’t get much done.  I hid and avoid like the best of them.  I become an emotional couch potato.

But life happens all around me, whether I like it or not.  My son still comes to me in the morning for snuggles and kisses.  He looks to me to succor and support him in these tender years.  He wants me to interact on a deeper level than I’d like to sometimes.  It’s not that I don’t love him, it’s that I sometimes I feel like an empty well: I have nothing to give.  It’s not fair to him to give him my scraps, and then hope he turns out okay.  He may later resent me for “not being there.”

My husband needs support too.  At our best, we reciprocate life to one another.  We share in the deep bonds of marriage.  Empty wells have not much to give into that sort of thing.  Not to mention friends, church, commitments, and so on.  Like I said, life happens, whether I like it or  not.

Some days it’s all I can do to focus on what’s going on around me.  Some days it’s all I can do not feel utter despair and hopelessness.  Some days  it’s hard to believe that life can be better than it currently is for me.  Some days, death would be easier than taking one more step up my metaphorical mountain.

Every day is struggle.  I have to make a choice.  I  have to choose life, or choose to be half-dead, or choose to be all dead.  It’s up to me.  ‘Cause you see, I believe there’s more to life than this.  I believe it can get better.  I believe I can be free of this some day.

Depression is one of the toughest things to overcome.  Depression turns in on itself and becomes an out-of-control tumbleweed of despair, loneliness, and hopelessness growing bigger and stronger day-by-day.  The more you see life through this lens, the more things look bad.  The more things look bad, the more depressed you feel.  It feeds on itself.  It grows exponentially.  One might think there is no way to overcome depression.

They would be wrong.

There are a variety of ways that to overcome depression.  My best, and first action, is get on anti-depressant when it is so bad I cannot see my way out.  I am chronically under-produce serotonin.  Prozac helps to keep serotonin in my synapses longer.  Next, is to seek out some kind of therapy.  Usually, I go to various counselors in my church for spiritual guidance and prayer.  Then, with the help of God and others, I keep working out why I am depressed in the first place.  I keep working at it till I feel good enough to come off the Prozac.  You can choose to manage your depression without medication or therapy.  But you have to be strong-willed to keep yourself at check.  You need to have a strong goal in mind.

These days, I have attempted to produce more serotonin by exercising regularly.  This method seems to be going okay, but I don’t recommend it for those who are inexperienced at managing depression.

Some people meditate.  I pray, which is a form of meditation.  I need to connect with my Divine Healer, with my Source of Life, with the Author of My Salvation.  Right now, Jesus is my Prozac.  I go to God, the same way, my son comes to me.  I seek succor and strength to keep on keeping on when the mountain seems to steep today.

Some people overeat (like me), attempting to fill their hole with food, especially food that falsely replaces the missing neurotransmitters (this is why people like chocolate so much when they are sad).  Some people drink alcohol, some do drugs.  Some have lots of sex.  These aren’t methods that I recommend.  They are false prophets that fill your mind with false goodness.  And it never lasts.  And it just reproduces negativity and despair.

Sometimes I use self-talk to snap myself out of my thick, soupy fog.  Quoting scripture to myself works for me.  Particularly Psalm 42 and the famous Psalm 23.  I literally talk myself out of depression.

Depression can be overcome.  Slowly, steadily, and surely.  Someday, I will get there.

You just have to choose to overcome…and get to work.

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How do you manage your depression?

An essential truth on fear

If you look to the left of this post you’ll see this quote (and a bunch of other worthy quotes, I might add):

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. -Nelson Mandela

I think that this one of the essential truths of humanity.  Fear is a significant daily motivator for many, many people, whether they know it or not.  Fear can define our actions, how we respond, what decisions we make.  The thing is, if most of what we are afraid is based on evidence, some would say truth.  And, we make decisions based on that truth, even if the action we take is slightly ridiculous.  For example:

  • Truth: The subway is a potentially dangerous place.  I may get hurt.
  • Action: Therefore I will walk the 6 miles to work.
  • Truth: I may get hurt on the roller coaster.
  • Action: Do not ride the roller coaster.
  • Truth: My husband beats me.
  • Action: I will lie about my feelings.
  • Truth: My mother says things that hurt my heart.
  • Action: I will keep my distance from my mother.

See what I mean?  Each thing listed is, or may be, true.  And therefore, you do what is necessary to protect yourself, even if it means compromising yourself, your principles, and/or your morals.

I am a person who has lived her life with fear.  Fear of just about anything and everything.  Even ridiculous stuff like “I might fall on the sidewalk therefore I must vigilantly stare at where I am walking, or avoid sidewalks altogether.”  Yeah, I did that.  Here’s another example: Fear would motivate me to act like a loon around people I didn’t know very well because I was afraid of being rejected.  If forced to talk to a new person, I would babble like an idiot all red in the face in sheer embarrassment at my ungainly social behavior.  For me, the safest thing was to avoid meeting new people altogether.  This fear lent itself to tension in  my marriage because my husband is rather fond of meeting new people.  Going to birthday parties of people I didn’t know would cause me a great deal of pre-festivities anxiety.  My husband has done a pretty good job being gracious with my crazy behavior.  But, I could tell he was sad because it was so hard for me.  Because of his desire to be supportive, my behavior limited his ability to be social.

I eventually got over the worst of this kind of social anxiety.  Mostly because, over time, I came to realize the new people weren’t going to hurt (mostly).  I felt like my behavior was wrong and it needed to change.  I had to force myself to calm down and give it a try, over and over again.  I had to force myself to appear to be calm, and have a nice conversation with someone I didn’t know.  This is where Mr. Mandela’s quote comes in handy.  He is saying that it is likely you are never going to stop feeling afraid. If you want to triumph over fear, if you want to conquer fear then do the very thing you fear.  Despite the trembling and shaking and your imagination going into overtime.

To overcome the fear, you have to ask yourself if being afraid is worth the price you’ll pay for allowing yourself to behave in fear?  Is it right to let yourself be bullied by your spouse?  Is it right to NEVER experience a roller coaster ride (well, maybe)?  Is right to walk 6 miles to work, in the snow, uphill both ways because something MIGHT happen to you?  Is it right for me to never form new friendships because I am afraid of rejection?  I have to choose one or the other.  I have to choose fear, or courage.  In other words, it’s my choice.  Mine.  No one else’s choice.  I  have to choose to overcome my fear.  I have to choose to be brave, even if I don’t feel brave inside.  And it’s your choice too.  YOU CAN CHOOSE to do the thing you fear.  That’s right, you have a choice.  Making the choice is point A, doing the thing you fear is point B.  The process of getting from A to B may look messy, but it’s a good messy.

Recently, I walked into a Zumba class at my local YMCA.  I didn’t know a single person in the room.  Not a soul.  It would be easy for me to do my usual wallflower routine and stick to the back and not talk to anyone.  No one was making an attempt to approach me and say, “Hi!”  Which would normally be just fine with me.  But, I would be missing out on making new friends.  Just last week I looked at the woman next to me and introduced myself.  I CHOSE to overcome my fear.  And, as it turns out this person is very kind and warm.  She shook my hand warmly, held it tightly, and introduced herself.  I felt good inside.  And, next time I show up for this class, if she is there, I will probably get a warm, “Hello!” from her, even if she can’t remember my name.  Overcoming my fear was totally worth it.

So, here it is:  Do what you fear.  Then you will be fear’s master, not it’s slave.  You will have unchained yourself from that wall.

Eventually, you will live free.

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So tell me, what are you afraid of and what can YOU do to overcome your fear?

The Squishy Middle, also titled “Using your critical thinking skills to solve, or overcome, your problems”

My brain has pretty crowded the past couple of days.  Me, myself, and I are a pretty close threesome.  Me is lying the couch, while I am (using my best Freudian pose) talking to myself.

At this point, you may be staring blankly at your computer screen right now wondering if I am some kind of babbling idiot.  And I would in my best in-your-face know-it-all voice, “Yeah, so?”

Anyhow, it’s hard to write a coherent sentence in the midst of all that self-talk.  It ain’t pretty but somebody has to do it.  It’s my process.

Whether you know it or not, you also have a process when faced with problems.  Some of you might run and hide and stand in denial.  Some of you might blame, finger-point, and shout a lot.  Others, might take time to think through a problem and come up with a solution (if that’s you, you can stop here) (if that’s not you, read on).

This blog is about overcoming your problems.  This means you have to find a way to overcome.  I am here to help.  So, now to help you find the answers you seek, I am going to make up a phrase.  I will call it the “squishy middle” (a.k.a. employing critical thinking skills).  Why do I say the  middle is squishy?  Because using your critical thinking skills rarely looks like this:

Problem-solving made easy.

If it were this easy, you wouldn’t need me, or your favorite counselor, fish, dog, friend, or coffee-slinger.

The reason that problem-solving is squishy-in-the-middle is because the process  that comes between point A and point B is rarely easy.  Rather, the process in the middle of point A and point B  usually looks something like this:

Dangerous curve ahead.

Or this:

This is me on problem-solving.  Any questions?

Or this:

How many different ways can you go from A to B?

Or this:

Who says problem solving can’t be fun?

See?  All of these methods are messy, and, you know, squishy.  So, now, if you are still with me you might feel like this is just too much.  Well, I’m here to tell you that problem-solving, no matter how squishy-in-the-middle the  process is for  you, can be accomplished with a few easy-to-remember concepts that anyone can use regardless of style:

  1. Admit that there is a problem to overcome. (a.k.a. Point A)(This is a toughie)
  2. Decide on your goal (another toughie)
  3. Be honest with yourself about your part in this problem (yet, another tough one)
  4. Be honest about anyone else’s part on this problem (Be nice about it)(Ok, so they’re all tough)
  5. Decide on a plan of action
  6. Implement the plan (a.k.a. Point B)(this is the toughest part)

The process in between A and B is what counts.  That squishy middle is very, very important.  How  you get there doesn’t matter much, as long as you get there.  Problem-solving techniques are part of what makes each person unique.  What matters most is that you are able to overcome your problem. Period.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The squishy middle is what build character as you practice critical thinking skills.

I wanted to mention something that may occur during this process.  You may fail.  It happens.  If that happens you can either a) Take your ball and go home, sulk on the couch, eat some dirt, then go to bed, or b) try again.  And, don’t stick your fingers in your ears while singing the theme song of “Spongebob Squarepants”  as loudly and annoyingly as possible, and then keep doing the same thing over and over again (i.e. the “definition” of insanity).  That just leads to a poverty of spirit which will lead to being an emotional couch potato.

So, stick with it friend.  Try something different if the first thing didn’t work.  It’s really important that you do so.  I mean, really important.  Not so sure?  You’ll just have to trust me on that.

And the next time this problem comes around (and by God, it will), you will have the last problem-solving session to refer back to to help you overcome your problem even more quickly than before.  Because overcoming your problems is the whole point of this exercise.  Right?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++So tell me, what’s your squishy middle look like?

Some inspiration

I ain’t got nothin’ to share today.

So, I am posting a couple of inspirational videos for you to watch.

Be inspired! Don’t give up hope!

For when your bleeding on ground…

We were knee deep in discussion about faith (in God) in my home group yesterday and the question came up about who we could help in shoring up their faith (in God).  The usual comments about how we need each other came up (being challenged by others, needing support, and etc).  And I blurted out the idea that when we have other people in our lives, they can help to cover us in battle while we are down on the ground bleeding.  Those times will come, you know.  You WILL be down on the ground bleeding occasionally.  It’s just part of life.

Ready for the coming battle…

Imagine yourself out on the battlefield of life.  You’ve trained all your life for this.  In your mind, you are strong and brave and ready for a fight.  Then, out of nowhere, a strong and huge beast attacks from behind and  you are down.  You didn’t expect this.  Being attacked from behind seems unfair.  And, now,  you can’t do anything about it.  Now imagine, that you are alone.  You can’t fight back  because you severely injured.  The beast has every opportunity to devour you.  And he does.  Because he can.

This where having friends really comes in handy.

Now re-imagine the same scenario, only this time you have a fellow warrior by your side.  The beast attacks and you are down, bleeding on the ground.  Your friend takes notice and comes to your aid.  Like any good warrior, he/she knows just the right amount of field medicine to stop the bleeding and bandage the wound.  Your friend also has his/her weapon.  He/she can fight back against the beast and protect  you while you recover from  your wound.  Your friend has your back.  The beast can’t have you for lunch, because your friend says, “No!”  Your friend can beat back the beast because he/she has a sword and your best interest at heart.  This gives you the chance to recover and get back up to fight another day.

So, what does this look like in a practical sense?

  • Your fellow warrior/friend is someone you trust because you’ve spent enough time together to really know their character.
  • You can call them up at anytime and tell them your struggles.
  • They will bring you coffee, or take to Starbucks (or another coffee joint of your choice).
  • They will bring you dinner and a movie.
  • They will give  you the box of tissues if you need it.
  • They won’t hate you for being stupid.
  • They will encourage you to keep trying, even when it’s hard.
  • They will tell you to stop being so silly (or stupid, or dumb, or whatever).
  • They will pray for you.
  • Can  you think of other things your friends do for you?

In short, you need friends. And, so do I.  We need each other on our word to a better life.  How else will we take that hill?

Go on.  Get out there.  Find some friends!

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So tell me,  got any friends that got your back?

You can stay in your little self-imposed prison, or not.

I was going to write something further about isolation, but that has fizzled out.  Sorry for the sudden left turn, but I have to go where there is  inspiration.  I was preening my ego (hey, when you  have an audience of 1, don’t tell me you don’t need an ego boost to keep on keeping on) by reading over my previous 7 posts.

As promised, I am going to beat you with my “Tough Love” bat for just a little while.

I went back to my first post and found the term “your little self-imposed prison.”

As in, “YOU chained YOURSELF to this wall.”

As in, “You have the key to get out of there you silly person, so use it.”

As in, “It’s time to move on.”

As in, “Enough is enough.”

As in, “Your only kidding yourself that this is a good idea.”

Let me explain.

Stuff happens.  People hurt us.  We hurt people.  We learn from previous experiences to react in a certain way  to a set of circumstances that have familiar features.  For example, I have always had a tough time trusting men.  I sometimes feel threatened by men who seem to be flirting with me, especially if they are significantly older men.  I would give them dirty looks, I would feel the “fight or flight” hormones coursing through my veins, my stomach would hurt, my thoughts would swirl out of control, I would feel fear.  I learned not to trust older men because my father sexually abused me.  He could not be trusted in so many ways.  I learned to fear him because he caused me significant pain.  As a child, it is normal and natural to feel fear in these sorts of circumstances.  God  made our brains to cope with painful events in particularly helpful ways (i.e. dissociation).  But what about when I became an adult?  Was feeling fear actually helpful?  Did I need to worry about being hurt EVERY single time? Every flirting, older man does not mean to harm me.  Reacting with anger and fear every, single time this occurs is not helpful to me now.  Being cautious is good, but I don’t need to overreact.

At some point, I had a choice.   I could stay chained to this emotional response, if I wanted to.  After all, I am an adult and have the right to choose (you did know that, right?).  What are the ramifications to reacting with fear and anger in this situation? Well, let’s start with the physical:

  • Production of the feel good hormone “serotonin” is disrupted leading to depression.
  • The heart is strained and leads to heart disease
  • There is an increased risk for stroke
  • The immune system is suppressed and prone to causing an inflammatory response
  • The risk of cancer is increased
  • Gastrointestinal issues arise such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Peptic Ulcers, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Eating disorders can develop which leads to weight gain, anorexia, or bulimia
  • Diabetes can develop
  • Body aches can develop
  • Sleep can be disturbed
  • Normal sexual function is disrupted
  • Memory, concentration, and learning is affected
  • Alopecia, eczema, psoriasis, and other skin disorders can get worse
  • Substance abuse can develop

(Information taken from an article located at University of Maryland Medical Center’s website)

Relationally, men in my life would constantly feel challenged and uncomfortable around me.  I would not develop any normal or healthy relationships with men.  Emotionally,  I would constantly pay the price for my poor choices.  I would be in constant state of turmoil.  I would always be uptight.

Out of an intense need for self-preservation, I could choose to live my life this way.

I could choose to be chained to my little prison of fear and anger.

Or, I could choose to take my key, unlock my fetters, and walk out of there.

I could choose change.

Change in how I approach relationships with the men in my life.

Work on being calmer around men in general.

Not give dirty looks to men.

Not overreact.

Not feel an adrenaline rush every single time.

How does one do this?

  • First you start by believing that you can change.
  • Decide that change is what you want.
  • Talk to yourself about this.
  • Talk to others.
  • Talk to God (if you believe in a helping God, like me).
  • Look for resources.
  • Work at it.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Understand the truth of the situation.
  • Use your critical thinking skills.
  • Remind yourself you wanted this change…

Believe me, unchaining yourself and moving on is the best thing for you!

Okay, I’m done beating you now.  Feel better?

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Be honest, are your chained up in your own little prison?

Under construction

I didn’t post yesterday because I went on a field trip with my son.

I didn’t post anything today because I went to visit a friend.

I know, excuses, excuses.  But I promise I am working on something about isolation, loneliness, and other such pleasantries.

See you tomorrow (my muchly put upon audience of 1)(thanks sis!)

 

Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto…

Who else would roll his eyes, make comments, and point out the obvious if Tonto wasn’t there?

Even the Lone Ranger needed someone.

Yesterday I wrote about community and the need for being in the right community.  Today, I want to talk about the evil stepbrother of community: Isolation.

Isolation is a nasty, four-letter word in counseling.  Here is it’s definition (according to the American Oxford Dictionary):

isolation |ˌīsəˈlā sh ən|noun

  • the process or fact of isolating or being isolated : the isolation of older people.
  •  an instance of isolating something, esp. a compound or microorganism.
  •  [as adj. ] denoting a hospital or ward for patients with contagious or infectious diseases.
  • PHRASESin isolation without relation to other people or things; separately : environmental problems must not be seen in isolation from social ones.
  • ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from isolate , partly on the pattern of French isolation.

I want to pay particular attention to the first meaning, “the process or fact of isolating, or being isolated…”  There is some action implied in that meaning.  In fact, the definition points two separate process “isolating” and “being isolated”.  The first one we do to ourselves, the second, others do to us.

Just recently, I entertained the idea of isolating myself from my community about a particularly painful problem in my life.  I have felt judged (in my opinion unfairly), I have felt like people didn’t get my pain, I have felt like people were too eager to move me from my grief into a “happier” place without considering the cost of such a move.  I just haven’t felt supported in my struggle the way I feel I need support.  I love these people so I have no desire to separate from them in any significant way, but I just didn’t want to talk about this particular problem anymore because it is too painful to feel about the people I love.  It is easier to withdraw and go off by my lonesome on this subject.

Or is it?

Let’s consider the cost of isolating myself.  Even though I feel like I have been failed by my community on this problem, withdrawing entirely means that I have absolutely no support at all.  Nothing.  NO one can pray for me.  I WILL not have an ear from anyone.  I WILL struggle alone (for you Christians out there, I know I am not truly alone.  But I am without people which runs contrary to God’s desire for all of us).  I will have no one.  And, I have to ask myself if isolating myself from my friends is worth the price of not feeling the pain of relationship?  Because even the best of relationships are sometimes painful, especially when people disagree.  In all honesty, I have to say, “No.”  Being alone has never been nor never will be a great idea.

Isolating allows you to lie to yourself.  You have nothing to compare your point of view to.  Isolating means never having contact with another person.  Never feeling the warmth of their presence and care.  Always feeling alone and depressed.  No one will be there to throw you a rope when you most need one.  Isolating sometimes means death.

Being in relationships with people is a good thing.  And,  I’m not talking about just  surface relationships.  I talking about down-in-the-mud, helping-you-fight-the-good-fight kind of relationship.  These kinds of people  have your back when you are weak.  They tell you the truths you need to hear, but maybe don’t want to.  They bring you casseroles during traumas, and take you to Starbuck’s and listen to you drone on and on about this, that, or the other thing.  They pray for you.  They tell you to stop whining and act like a grown-up.  They can be there for you.

In my case, it is my responsibility to speak up and say how I feel about other’s behavior.  It is my responsibility to set boundaries with other people.  It is no one else’s responsibility but mine.

We need other people.  We need truth-tellers in our lives.  We need fellow mountain climbers.  We need someone to hand us tissues when we cry.  We need people to shine a little light in our darkness.

So reach out find your Tonto…

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So tell me, do you have a Tonto?