A Blog about Career Changes, Madness, and My Awful Brain

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Deserving Compassion: Why are we always the Exception?

Why is it that we often treat the one person we should love the most, the worst? I'm not talking about our best friends, our wives, or our kids. I'm talking about ourselves, about the voice in your head that wants to make you the exception to every rule.

How often does your inner voice attack you in ways it would never attack other people? When you and your friend both have an exam the next day, how many times have you turned to your friend and told them that they were going to fail because they didn't study enough? When your friend or coworker has to do a presentation at work, how often do you tell them they are stupid for being nervous, and that everyone is going to laugh at them and see how nervous they are? How many times do you say those things to yourself?

Even knowing that fear of public speaking is the greatest fear shared by the largest number of people, you feel you SHOULD be an exception to the rule. Even knowing that most people burnout if they work too much and have too much stress in their work, you feel you SHOULD be the exception to the rule. Even though many people every day deal with mental illness due to a combination of genetics and environmental stimuli, you feel YOU ARE the exception to the rule.

I came face to face with this destructive tendency in myself last Wednesday, when my counselor asked me one simple question.

"Dan, you seem to be a very compassionate person. Why don't you have any compassion for yourself?"

The question knocked me (figuratively) on my ass. The truth is, even though I've accepted that I may be dealing with some PTSD, I'm incapable of accepting that it should have any bearing on what I get done. Before she asked me the question, I had been telling her how silly it was that such a little thing like workplace bullying or an accident should be keeping me from finding a job. I kept insisting that my trauma was such a minor thing, and that I hadn't even been as badly hurt as I could have been. I kept insisting that other people had been through worse than me.

In fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like a complete fake. I feel like I'm using some negative things that happened in my life as a way to tell myself a pretty little story so I don't have to take personal responsibility. Even as I get panicky considering career searching, I tell myself how stupid I'm being, and how lame I am for ever believing that it's because of something as ridiculous as PTSD.

And my counselor listened to all this and told me that maybe I should be more compassionate with myself, like I would be if I had witnessed all the crap that happened to me happen to a friend. Then she told me something that almost left me in tears (almost...remember..I don't cry...the only time it's okay to cry is if you get mauled by a bear...and that's only to lull it into a false sense of your weakness before you uppercut it). She told me that transition periods in a person's life, whether it's work-related or divorce, is extremely difficult and can cause a lot of anxiety and depression in and of itself. Many of her clients visited her for that reason alone. To add a life-threatening accident to the mix was almost unthinkable.

And, kiddies, do you want to know what I, in all my wisdom, told her?

"Well, my accident wasn't really life threatening"

Of course she asked me if I had known that at the time. After I got hit, did I know that? Did I know that when I was laying bleeding on the concrete?

I couldn't answer her. I didn't trust my voice at that moment to tell her the truth. Because I absolutely thought, at the time, that I could die. I kept trying to feel my face, to see how bad I was hurt, and I couldn't move my arm, and I thought I might die. I thought I might die.

And at that point, I was taught an important lesson. I learned that I am a normal person, and as such, deserve compassion. When I get it from others, I should accept it, and I don't need to feel like a fake. More importantly, I deserve it from myself.

I want all of you to learn this too. You are not an exception in the universal human experience. We are all strong, and we are all weak, and you are no different. You deserve respect and dignity, and your inner voice should give it to you. You should never beat yourself up for something that you aren't willing to beat someone else up for. And finally...take it easy on yourself. Life is hard enough, without you making it harder.

And as always, if you need an ear, I am here for you. You are never alone.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Why You Should Absolutely See A Counselor

I've always had trouble sharing my feelings and emotions with other people, especially ones that I don't know. I'm working on it, and this blog has definitely been a way for me to share a lot of what's going on in my brain, but I still have difficulties. To be sure, I'm WAY better at it then I used to be, especially as of late. I used to be the kind of guy that was more comfortable getting teeth fillings without anaesthetic than saying I love you (or I hate you, for that matter). Now, I can say it fairly easy, and I'm even getting more comfortable sharing my feelings with strangers.

However, the one thing I could never see myself doing was visiting a counselor or therapist, even when people I knew suggested it. I always thought I knew my mind better than any other person, and I figured that I could do it without any help. The only thing worse than visiting some mind shrink was the horror of other people finding out that I was visiting a therapist. Knowing I was weak was barely tolerable...letting others know I was weak was unthinkable.

The fucked up thing about it is that I honestly never considered OTHER people who visited therapists weak. I may have felt sad for them, and empathy for them, but I didn't think LESS of them as people. Like usual, the stupid voice in my head criticizes me way more than it does other people. Stupid brain.

Of course, I was completely wrong about visiting my counsellor. Although I still think I'm the best person for the job at dealing with some of my mental issues, accepting help from someone with experience is absolutely vital for my well being. If you feel like you have any issues that are getting in the way of you being the best person you can be, I recommend that you talk to a trained professional. I'm going to give you some reasons why you should, and hopefully help you with your doubts.

Mental Problems are Physical Problems

Your brain is a physical organ, just like your liver, your muscles, or your heart. Your thoughts and feelings are made up of neural pathways, and like any other organ, can be "damaged". If you go to the gym and do dangerous exercises with bad form, you hurt yourself. Fixing the damage requires proper guidance, and in the worst cases, medical help. Similarly, depression, anxiety, etc are all "bad forms" of thinking, that reinforce neural pathways which are not good for you. The good news is, the brain has plasticity and you can change the way you think, learn and feel if you have someone help you. If there is no shame going to the doctor for a torn muscle, there should be no shame in going to a mental health specialist.

Family and Friends are helpful, but are not necessarily a suitable replacement

Yes, we all turn to our families and friends in our time of need. They can be there to support you mentally, financially, spiritually, etc. The problem is that sometimes our loved ones have biases or ideas that prevent them from helping us to the best of our abilities. For example, as much as I love my family and use them for support, they were unable to give me help I needed when I was going through the worst of my depression. I was getting help for how to deal with my boss, and advice on "sticking it out", because my family and friends believed that making money was important and leaving without another job would be a mistake. Part of the problem, of course, was that I was not completely open and honest about what was going on in my job. Nor was I completely honest about how difficult a time I was having after my accident. But that's part of the problem; your friends and family will give you advice without delving deeper into your mind and situation. A counsellor is a lot more careful, and listens a lot better. Even after I left the job and recovered from my accident, most of the advice I was getting was "get off your ass and do something" advice that wasn't dealing with the core of my problem and wasn't very helpful. I know that I need to "get off my ass". I'm trying to "get off my ass". It's just that I'm having a terrible time doing it. Going to see a counselor gave me an understanding of why it is so hard, and gave me resources so "getting of my ass" can become a possibility, instead of something I beat me self up over everyday.

You will Eventually Deal with Your Issues: A therapist can make sure you do so constructively instead of destructively.

When mental pain becomes to much to bear, we as organisms will find a way to get through it. The problem is, most times we are not equipped to deal with it in a constructive manner. How many people do you know who find the solutions to their problems at the bottom of a bottle? I find it funny (but not ha-ha funny) that some of the most macho guys out there will insist they don't need a shrink or emotional pansy shit, and then go home and beat the crap out of their wives. Or get into street fights. Or drink and do drugs. Or buy a gun and blow their brains out. There are better ways; you at least owe it to your friends and family to think about counselling.

Talking to Someone Can Crystallize your Problems in a way Thinking Can't

Often times, the solutions that you need for your problems is in your head. Speaking with a counsellor isn't always about getting advice; it's also about having someone listen as you deal with your own problems. When we write and speak, we open up and use parts of our brain that we aren't using when we are using "the voice" in our head, that niggling little jerk who leads you astray. In the same way that making a list on paper can help you organize your day, talking to someone and bouncing ideas off them can make you aware of solutions or give you new insight into what may really going on in your life. Speaking with a counselor allows you to talk openly and honestly in a confidential setting, with someone whose feelings you can not hurt.

It's not as expensive as you may think.

There are plenty of organizations such as Family Services or Catholic Family Services that have a tiered payment structure that allows you to pay based on your economic situation. Since I'm unemployed, I pay only 10 dollars per visit. You may have to pay a little more if you make more money, but it's absolutely worth it.

I've been seeing a counsellor for a little over a month, and it's been absolutely an eye opening experience for me. I hope I've given you some good reasons why visiting a mental health professional can be a rewarding activity. If you have any questions or comments for me, feel free to ask. Also, please feel free to link to this post if you have any friends or family that could benefit from it.

Thanks for listening.