Category Archives: Psychobabble

I could never be a ‘First Responder.’

There is a part of me that would really like to believe that people can change. After three years of work in the field of psychology, often counseling others in dire situations and with much graver problems than I hope I will ever have to face, I have come to realize that at our core, we cannot change. The way our brains are wired–the thoughts we have programmed ourselves to think by engaging in a series of reinforcement and punishment scenarios throughout our childhood–, these things are fixed.

Yeah, that’s pretty depressing. I assert, after working with others in tough situations, and 26 years in my own head, that my first cognitive reaction(s) will always be what they are. In certain situations (let’s say dating, for example), I will always feel some level of competitiveness, insecurity, jealousy, and discontent. That won’t change, and in some ways, it’s freeing to say and accept it. Instead of trying to change myself, I can focus on other things.

I can focus on my reactions to my own thoughts: since I will always feel a gamut of negative emotions, I can learn to recognize them faster, sooner, and more effectively. I can learn responses to my own thoughts which help me move quickly through the negativity toward a more positive and/or realistic state of mind. After all, both Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (the big two therapy styles) don’t teach you how to stop thinking certain things; they teach you how to respond and reform the thoughts you have. It is therefore very freeing to stay that instead of fighting the negative thoughts I initially have when I start to feel connected to another person, I can instead add in a series of cognitive responses which help me not have the same negative emotions.

Similarly, I can focus on my behavior. I have come to realize quite acutely in the past year that my behavior is always within my control, no matter what emotions or thoughts I’ve got running through me. I am very freed by the fact that I can choose exactly how to display to others what I’m thinking or feeling, rather than having the perception that I am controlled by these things. I can not engage in those behaviors which reinforce my own insecurities, jealousy, competitiveness, and discontent, even as I feel them inside. Damn, that’s way easier than trying to stop myself from being who I am.

I think I’m getting older and more set in my ways, which is what makes me wonder if it is possible that I could ever change. I kind of like the person I am now: the person who admittedly has a pretty bad ‘first response’ to a situation, but has a solidly adaptive ‘second response,’ and an increasingly effective set of behaviors which help me get through the uncomfortable parts of life. I don’t think I can change, and I’m not sure I want to spend my life trying. I’d rather work where I have already been able to see results, and know that I’ll be happy–and less tired–at the end of every day (and my life!).

This is the start of Winter Depression 2013. Now there’s a hashtag.

Today, the black dog found me.

I’ve been wondering for a while about my mood. My sleep hasn’t been sufficient for me to feel rested, and I’m becoming an increasingly unpleasant people to be around. The worst part is I know that if I don’t want to spend time with myself, probably nobody else does either.

Depression, my friends, is a fucker. I can’t imagine living with it year-round, but even seasonally, it’s quite literally the worst feeling in the world.

It’s a mind-boggling, slimy and slippery, insidious creature. It feeds upon the thing my brain naturally does–thinking–and makes thinking the most dangerous thing I can do. I get thought-tunnel vision, as the dark thoughts slowly creep forward in my mind’s eye vision to obscure as many of the light thoughts as they can. I feel irritable and bitter because I am me, this person with these genetics and neurotransmitters, stuck inside this body and brain. I resent everyone around me, because I can’t see their burdens, or if they even carry any. My brain tries to convince me that I am completely and totally alone in this feeling, misunderstood and unwanted for it.

It’s bullshit of course, and after ten years of knowing I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, I know pretty well what the downhill looks like. It’s notably similar from year to year: exhaustion, irritability, weight gain, lost interest… Gosh, I’m a textbook. Even that makes me depressed.

It’s fascinating of course, to have a blog like this. To be able to go back and see previous years. In 2011 my first mention of depression was October 25, and the last mention that winter was in late January 2012. The winter of 2012 began October 21, and ran until the first weekend of February 2013. I was going to say that I thought it started at a different time each year, but clearly it doesn’t. I’d like to think that my new job, plus the prolific sunshine that has lately been gracing Seattle, maybe allowed me to skip the first six weeks of what would normally be a 12-week episode.

12-weeks! Of the 52 in the year! That’s so much time to be depressed, really. Almost a quarter of the year, and I spend it captive in my own mind.

I guess that $70,000 masters degree in clinical psychology was worth it though, because I’m trained in how to deal with exactly what I’m dealing with. They say doctors can’t treat themselves, and maybe I can’t perfectly, but there are certainly things I can try. I may not be able to change the genetics, the neurotransmitters, the temperature outside, or the amount of sunshine, but I can certainly change my thoughts and behaviors in response to that. They do call it “cognitive-behavioral therapy” for a reason.

Get off my back, depression, I’m already tired of you.

The Eighth Deadly Sin

It’s not often I find myself wallowing. In the last five or so months, I’ve seen a real turnaround in my mental state; I’m not a different person, but my attitude is very different. I find myself inexplicably capable of dealing with disappointment, setbacks, diversions, and general life. I think it’s mostly because I decided that there were battles worth fighting, and I wasn’t going to fight in the ones that weren’t worth it to me. That isn’t to say that every fight I’ve walked away from hasn’t been important, because sometimes my choice not to fight for things is what I determine the best choice for me. More than anything, I’ve become insular in the knowledge that there is little else in the world that matters than my own acceptance of my life.

This has combined to help push me in directions I never thought possible, and harder than I ever imagined. I do too much and many things don’t get done as well or as quickly as I’d like them too. Writing assignments for a few different sites go undone, and my list of Yelp reviews grows ever longer. Mostly, I find myself plagued by the fact that there aren’t enough hours in the day: I can sleep enough, workout before and after work, succeed in a full-time job, occasionally socialize, write, and read before bed. I can’t write more. I can’t spend less time on the bus. I don’t want to workout less, or socialize less, or sleep less. I have packed my days completely full. By Thursday afternoon, the weight of my life gets to me, and I usually get home from work to collapse onto my bed for a powernap before getting up to eat and write and get the mental strength together for one last day in the week.

I was walking home today–a Thursday, meaning my brain was at its most wrought–and hit by a sudden wave of doubt. Doubt that I could do it all. Doubt that I would ever amount to anything. Doubt that my exhaustion is normal, because after all, most of my peers are social butterflies out on Thursday nights or at least not needing to pass out for a few precious minutes before crawling back to consciousness for a few word-filled hours. Doubt that my ideas or good, or that my new project (plug: Valise Magazine) would ever live anywhere up to my dreams for it.

Long ago, I came to accept that doubt was an important part of life: it sheds light onto things that matter to me, just like fear. But unlike fear, which can be overcome, doubt is a parasite. It eats at your mind, and no amount of out-thinking can kill a really insidious doubt. How many relationships have died because of doubt? How many projects have failed? Who am I to overcome those odds?

See, there it is again.

At the same time, doubt is the counterpart to faith. It is what differentiates faith from knowledge. Now, I’m getting mighty close to spirituality, but it’s the same principle in life: I have faith I will get up and go to work tomorrow. Doubt is the thing which only my strength of mind can keep at bay: I must accept it’s there, carry it around, and only every once in a while, maybe on a Thursday afternoon, let it re-kindle the fires to keep me going. Otherwise, it stays as far away from me and my attempt to be successful as I can keep it.