Tag: dbt

The Importance of Being Honest

Let me kick this off with some honesty: I still maintain standards for myself that are, at times, unrealistic or too exacting. When I expect myself to be flawless in my Magic gameplay, or further along in my personal goals than is realistic, I will still get incredibly frustrated with myself. It can shift those goals from being SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, for which I am Responsible, and Time-bounded) to being VAPID (Vague, Amorphous, Pie-in-the-sky, Irrelevant, and Delayed). As much as we might like to believe, they are rarely strictly one or the other. Much like ourselves, our goals can change in ways large and small based on life circumstances and shifting priorities. What is important is that we deal with these changes as they happen, accept that circumstances are changing, and make the most of the situation. That is a choice you can make. Just like choosing to be honest or not, or to do something helpful or harmful. It all comes down to choices.

Good and evil have nothing to do with inherent virtue, and everything to do with choices.

There really isn’t anything tangible to support the idea that human beings are born with a predisposition towards ‘good’ or ‘evil’. I think that brain chemistry and family history can be factors in what causes a person to make certain choices, and the environment in which one is raised inform a child as to what is permissible, expected, and taboo. These are merely factors; an individual is still responsible for the choices they make.

To be blunt: you’re going to make choices that are ineffective, and sometimes harmful to others. Even if a choice is to cut someone toxic out of your life, there could be ramifications that cause harm for others as a result. What I want to focus on, however, is the mistakes that we make. Either as a deliberate choice we make, or a snap decision that is ill informed or based on false assumptions, we make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes cost us dearly, in money or opportunities. Other times, there is emotional or even physical harm as a result. These mistakes do not mean that you are ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. If you can recognize the mistake, and make efforts in good faith not to repeat it and to correct what is possible and healthy for you to correct, that is a choice that matters far more than any judgement leveled upon you by others. The fact of the matter is this:

You are more than the sum of your mistakes.

Too often we allow the mistakes that we have made to hold us back from being who we want to be, or existing in the moment that is right in front of us. We treat situations with trepidation or even terror in spite of the evidence that is presented to us that the situation we believe exists is not reality. Yes, there are people who will cling adamantly and irrationally to the mistakes they’ve made and the opinions they hold because, tragically, those perspectives have become part of their identity as they perceive it and it will take far greater influences than our mere observations to change that, no matter how adamant we might be. The people who show up and are honest, first and foremost with themselves, and do not hide that honesty behind an artifice or use it as an abrasive bulwark against anything approaching vulnerability, are heartbreakingly rare. To aspire to be that sort of person is to fly in the face of everything modern society encourages us to be — shallow, immediate, knee-jerk reactionary consumers with myopic perspectives easily influenced by social media and broad stereotypes.

I know this is true because it is the kind of person I used to be.

It caused a lot of problems and it hurt people. I’m sorry that ever happened. To this day, it breaks my heart.

In the past, I would have wallowed in that pain and used it for one reason or another. We can’t do that to ourselves, though. It isn’t fair, to us or to those around us. I’ve had to let that behavior go because of its inherent unhealthiness. To punch down on oneself repeatedly is to inform others that you are someone who accepts being punched down upon, to at least some extent. Consciously or not, people will exploit that. If you are the kind of person who just accepts the status quo in your own life, that being lonely or marginalized or a failure is “just how things are, so I guess I’m just boned,” that is a choice you are making. And it is a dishonest one. Because it’s not true.

You can stop disasterbating.

We make progress in stages. It happens one day, one hour, one step at a time. It’s slow going. And things can often make us hesitate, and sometimes trip us up entirely. I do still punch down on myself on occasion. More often, though, I find myself disasterbating. Be it at home when all is quiet and calm, or in the midst of a social situation full of clamor and camaraderie, my brain generates questions about how I’ll act, how others will react, what the results might be or could be or should be, and the next thing I know I’m frozen in place unable to act, or so frustrated that I’m beside myself with anger or anxiety. And then, when I recognize it, I can become frustrated with that, and it takes a lot of energy and effort to course-correct and get myself back into a wise mind state.

I wish it were as easy as just saying “stop” and then stopping. I know that’s not the case. I don’t mean to be reductive in giving advice, even to myself. Rather, in a way, I’m setting a goal. I’m putting myself in situations where I’ll have a better environment in which to practice the prevention of disasterbating, and removing myself from those where it’s more difficult. And all of this — the goals, the choices, the lessons — come from a place of honesty.

That’s the foundation upon all of this is based. There is literally nothing more important than that. It begins with being honest with oneself. To see what is within oneself, no matter how ‘broken’ something might seem, and to make choices as to how to effectively address those things. Past that is to be honest with how one sees the world. Do we accept the facts that are out there? Can we honestly address the challenges the world presents? Is it possible for us to let go of viewpoints and opinions that do not fit the facts, or do we cling to what’s been said before, what the prevailing sentiment is, where the bandwagon is going? The more honestly we can answer these questions, the more effective we will be in showing up in a way that features our best self, or at least the best self we can be in a given moment.

I can’t think of a person I’d want in my life who doesn’t want that. We can be better than we were. We can treat ourselves with more compassion, and encourage others to be more honest and more present. We can get there with help, and if for no other reason than so many have been there to help me, I’m here to help others. If I’m asked, if I’m able, I’ll show up to help.

Now more than ever, and for as long as I keep moving forward on this path of honesty and love and determination, you can fucking count on that.

500 Words on Happiness

HOLY SHIT IT’S A NEW BLOG POST

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much time I’ve lost, or has been stolen from me, because I’ve been unhappy. Unhappily married, unhappily employed, unhappily living. As human beings, nobody would choose to be unhappy, save for the willfully masochistic, and I’m not one of them. I neither wish to glorify nor romanticize ‘the struggle’. I’d rather not struggle at all just to be happy for more than a couple of hours at a time.

I know that a bulk of my unhappiness is not my fault. There’s trauma in my past that has undeniable influence on my bipolar disorder. The grief I carry is fairly substantial, and with that comes a generous helping of survivor’s guilt. These things raise barriers, between me and happiness, between me and others. They alter my perceptions, deprive me of balance, and prevent me from focusing on happiness. They squat in the back of my mind, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. And I have to work to wrangle them, every single day.

Even when they don’t overwhelm me, fighting back against the tide of negativity takes focus and energy. It’s an expenditure of spell slots, to put it in D&D terms. And those are fewer spell slots I have for writing, for looking ahead, for just enjoying life and the good things and people I have in mine. Again, this isn’t anyone’s fault. I refuse to make it anyone else’s fault or responsibility. Because these damaged processes and erroneous perceptions are entirely internal, they’re mine to understand and overcome. Even if I can’t, at least I can try.

On top of that, it’s not just me they effect. It takes a toll on my relationships. It has for a very long time. I’ve built most if not all of my committed relationships, anything beyond being close friends, on some form of false assumption or premise in terms of what role I feel I need to fulfill. I know that I am able-bodied, privileged in many ways, and simply have a willingness to add value to the lives of those around me, rather than keeping it for myself. That creates in me a sense of noblesse oblige, that it’s not only my desire to use these things for those I care for with less privilege than me, but it is my duty. It’s another thing that negatively impacts my happiness.

And rather than actually adding to the happiness of others, as consistently and completely as I want to, it gets in the way of their happiness, too. Thus creating a cycle that breaks me down and wears me out.

So, what can I do about it?

I can talk to my therapist, adjust my medication if necessary, keep reaching out for resources and knowledge and guidance. I can push myself to learn more and do better. I can at least try. I can fight.

And I can write about it.

Sometimes, that’s all I’ve got.

A Pawn No Longer

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” — Denis Waitley

I know this is a long post. Thank you for reading it in its entirety.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

I was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar Disorder 14 years ago at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. This was probably a diagnosis that should have been discovered long before the point of the nervous breakdown that put me in there. There have been inciting incidents, before and since, that have caused emotional reactions within me, and it has taken me years to develop the tools to properly manage my behavior in light of those reactions. The intensity of the emotions has not changed, but as I continue to work on myself for myself, these tools become more refined, more precise, and I handle these things better.

One of the ways in which these tools can be forged is through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). A DBT instructor’s manual on emotions defines them in the following ways:

“Emotions are complex; they consist of several parts of different reactions happening at the same time.

“Emotions are automatic: they are involuntary, automatic responses to internal and external events.

“Emotions can not be changed directly; we can change the events that cause emotional experiences; but not the emotional experiences directly. We can’t make ourself ‘feel’ a particular emotion and then feel it. Willpower won’t stop an emotional experience no matter how desperately we might want it to.”

The sequence in which synapses fire within our brains is not within our direct control. We cannot choose to not feel something. The emotions are not something we can stop or merely turn off. We have to handle them. We can avoid them with distractions, which is not advisable. We can cope with them through various mechanisms, some of which are healthier than others. Hardest of all is to try and reason with them. It is an entirely internal process. We must apply facts and evidence to a situation in comparison to the emotions being felt by that situation in an attempt to choose the best and healthiest way to handle and express those emotions.

For a person with a mental illness, going through the process of reasoning with emotions is far more difficult than it is for someone who is neurotypical. And this is not a temporary condition. It’s not like breaking one’s leg, then needing to learn how to walk on it again. This is more along the lines of a physical chronic illness, where walking in and of itself can be challenging due to the nature of one’s body.

It is unreasonable to say to a person with such an illness, “Just get up and walk! It’s so easy, why can’t you just do it! Your inability to consistently walk is holding me back/making me feel bad, and that’s your fault.

It is just as unreasonable to say to a person with mental illness, “Just stop feeling these things! I don’t, so why do you? Your inability to handle your emotions the way I do is making me feel bad, and that’s your fault.

These are things I have been forced to learn, wrestle with, and draw conclusions from since that breakdown 14 years ago. The steps have been incremental, sometimes frustratingly small, and some have fallen on unstable ground. There have been times when it has been difficult to take these steps and use these tools entirely on my own. Others can help, be they therapists or family or friends. But, in the end, no other individual can or should be expected to do it for me.

Within the last few months I have found myself gainfully employed after a long period of searching for work that falls within a marketable and well-documented skillset I possess. My list of published and referencable writing is rather small, while my experience with web development operations and programming is better at filling out a résumé. It is with the latter that I secured employment. After over a year of not having something with this rate of pay, this sort of work environment, and this sort of support and direction, the stress caused by not being an “earner” in a post-capitalist society was removed. My significant lack of an inability to recognize self-worth, however, remained, and in the space of that removed stress, that neural pathway found new room in which to exist. It amplified, causing emotions and reactions that proved very difficult to handle.

As I said, distracting ourselves from our emotions is inadvisable. I distracted myself by spending a great deal of time not engaged with my personal space or my partner, instead choosing to be elsewhere. This was pointed out to me by them and, at first, I denied the cause. Subsequent discussions, sometimes highly emotional ones, helped me realize what I was doing. As a result, I chose to take a step back from major in-person social interactions to focus on handling this underlying problem in a more healthy and comprehensive way.

Part of that process was writing a post about that sense of self-worth, and how much I want to believe in myself, now more than ever. Writing is, and has been, my primary way of expressing myself and exploring these spaces. Rather than do so in a story, I chose to write about my real emotions and experiences, and I chose to post it publicly. I made that choice for posterity, and to provide insight into my emotions and behavior. I thought it might be useful to and for those who are in my life, and who have watched me go through these moments of emotionality that have a negative impact upon them. Others can see or even feel the effects of what my emotions do to me; they cannot always see the cause.

I have been told “it hurts me to watch you put yourself through this, to beat yourself up.” I believe that. I’ve experienced that, as well. My partner, who has chronic illnesses, cannot always do the things they wish to do. To watch them struggle against the constraints of their bodily pain, to hear them express disappointment in themselves for not being able to do what they want, is painful to me.

At no point do I hold my partner’s illness against them. They can’t simply not be sick. It’s not their fault. It’s unfair, unreasonable, even cruel and abusive, to make them feel responsible for my feelings regarding their disability.

By the same token, it is unfair, unreasonable, even cruel and abusive, to make someone with mental illness feel responsible for another person’s feelings regarding that illness.

If something said or done directly to another person causes harm, the person who said or did the thing is responsible for that. And it does not have to be direct physical or even emotional harm, either. A manipulative turn of phrase — “if you love me, you’ll do X” — is the responsibility of the person who says it, because it is delivering an ultimatum to the person in question. Words have meanings; it is through language that we communicate what we feel, what we intend, who we are.

So when I write at length about an internal process regarding handling my self-worth, or as above regarding the nature of my mental illness, and no language is employed that makes these things the responsibility of others, to have others claim that I am making them responsible for these things or that this language is somehow problematic or abusive is absolutely baffling to me. As a person with a mental illness, I am using that terminology and language to expand upon and explore my condition. Again, I am making the choice to write this for posterity and to allow insight into my internal thoughts, emotions, and processes. That is the purpose of this writing. Nothing more.

These emotions of mine — complex, automatic, immutable — are simply that: mine. They are entirely internal. Disregarding their influence on my life, it does not impact other people when I feel something. When I feel a question or lack of self-worth, for example, that is an entirely internal process. No person outside of myself is responsible for it, nor is it my desire to somehow make it another person’s fault. That would be unfair. That would be manipulative. That would be bullshit.

When someone else, on the other hand, questions my self-worth, or validity, or integrity, that is another matter entirely.

I’ve read over my posts, this one and the previous one in this vein, several times. Others have as well. At no point in either do I directly say that a person or group of people outside of myself is somehow responsible for my feelings or my actions. These things come from a place within my self, and from no other source. These things are amorphous, difficult, and even painful. The last thing on this planet I would ever want to do is put them onto someone else. I would rather not deal with them; why make someone else do it? That is, as above, unfair, unreasonable, and even cruel and abusive.

We cannot choose when and how we feel things. We can, however, choose how to handle those feelings. And when we take action to handle a feeling, we can choose to take responsibility for those actions, or we can choose to make someone else responsible for it. We can own, or we can project. We can accept, or we can blame.

We get to choose that.

I do not agree with all of the choices I have made in the past, but I accept those are the choices I made. Some of my choices have caused me pain or loss; that, too, is my responsibility. Others have made, and will make, choices to make me responsible for things that are not mine. Those choices will attempt to manipulate me into taking responsibility for those things. In the past, my lack of self-worth and my desire to do good for and please the people around me put me in a position to simply accept what I was given, despite its absurdity or toxicity. It is a weakness of mine that has been exploited time and time again.

I cannot accept this. I will accept this no longer.

Just as how I get to choose how I handle my feelings, I get to choose who I am and who I want to be.

I am a person with bipolar disorder. And I choose to not be a pawn of my emotions, nor of anyone else’s.

Ruins

Image courtesy Wikipedia

When something comes up that causes involuntary reactions, that triggers us, we need to be able to step back from the incident and determine why it occurred. More often than not, something in our past imposes itself upon the present, and pushes us to act in defense of a perceived threat.

I mentioned in a previous journal entry that I tried to start dating again too soon. I’ve been trying to determine what it is I actually want in order to feel like I’m moving in a positive direction towards the future. I’ve had some conversations that have lent themselves to considering second dates, future encounters, and even the possibility of a match, a coupling, a relationship.

That’s when I get fucking terrified. That’s when I get triggered.

The very thought of something approaching a partnership or relationship with someone has triggered many involuntary reactions. I tense up. I feel my jaw tighten. A particular email from months ago shows up in my head, almost word for word, whispered into my ear without my consent. My instincts tell me that I’m going to cause another disaster, that I am setting myself up to fail. I get scared. Outwardly, I either push away and shut down, or I start running off at the mouth about my reactions and their causes, which is selfish and unfair to whomever happens to be speaking with me at the time. Those conversations tend to end badly for everyone involved. That, in turn, leaves me feeling broken and alone all over again.

Especially when most of your self-care and theraputic training has been in CBT (cognative behavioral therapy), you can spend a great deal of time, as I’ve put it, chasing the rabbits in your head – my head weasels, as I’ve called them. For me, a lot of them disappear down into the warrens where I keep my past, my secrets, my pain, my failures. The last few months have seen me ruminating on what went wrong before. I took the admonishments against me to heart, tried to read between the lines when information ceased or was no longer available, and looked deeply for things within myself to correct. Aware of the fact that I’ve been cast out by many, villified by others, and left to my own devices regarding my wounds, I’ve disappeared down those weasel holes under the ruins many times.

I can still see and smell the smoke from all of the burned bridges of my recent past. The water hoses near my feet lay leaking and ineffective. It’s so easy for me to fall into patterns of thought like that, and visualize what happened in such maudlin terms. I’ve spent so much time in my past all but destroying myself over my mistakes. I’ve made a ruin of many situations simply because I have been so aggressive in punishing myself. While I have worked hard to be more forgiving of myself and imagine myself complexly, at times I still fall into the unfortunate habit of seeing myself not as an individual of merit who simply has flaws, but rather as a violator of some code of conduct where punishments begin at public flogging in the square and escalate to summary execution.

After all, that’s what I did to Josh-that-was.

I’m trying to push myself through this. I’m on the right medication for my bipolar, and I’m trying to work with therapists on my borderline. I’ve had some give me recommendations of books to read and basic exercises to follow. But this in and of itself is fraught with obstacles. Group DBT therapy is prohibitively expensive and, as far as I’ve discovered, not covered by most insurances. The path to establishing one-on-one work with the right therapist is labyrinthine and tangled in red tape to a degree that would make a shibari enthusiast blush. And as patient as I can be, I tend to have more impatience with myself and my emotional progress. This leads to frustration, which in turn can lead to irrational anger, itself part and parcel of borderline personality disorder.

At least CBT allows me to recognize those things.

The thing I am trying to keep in mind is that we are as defined by our failures as we are by success. In fact, we learn more when we lose than when we win. As Bastille says, we need our flaws “to be who we are, without them we’d be doomed”. What isn’t letting me fully embrace that concept and move forward into a future that I feel can be a happy one for me is the fact that my flaws are rooted in so many failures in my past. I want to make sure I do not repeat my mistakes, hurt anyone else I care about, or put myself in a worse position than the one I already occupy (which is difficult to imagine at times). To do that, I need to study the past. I feel I need to step away from good things I’m trying to cultivate and foster, and turn towards the ruins, covering my hands in cold ash rather than warm topsoil.

I don’t want to romanticize any of this. I’m not plunging into forgotten tombs in a weather-beaten fedora cracking a bullwhip. I’m not deciphering hidden messages that were left behind as some sort of treasure map. I’m not putting together something shared between myself and another individual in the hopes it’ll be like it was before.

I’m sifting through these ruins to understand why everything was destroyed, and why everyone is dead.

My only real hope is that the dead have something to teach the living.


I’m once again being forced to move and that’s brought along with it a whole lot of tension and fear and doubt and bad memories. It’s really fucked with me. Add a computer crash to that and you have a recipe for a wonderful environment for nothing creative to happen.

I hope to start writing and vlogging regularly again soon. Thank you all for your patience.

‘The Fix Is In’

This week I talk about one of my pet peeve turns of phrase. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I won’t reiterate my take on it here, because I already discussed it in the vlog (which you should totally go watch, plug plug). Instead, let me turn my attention to a very different one that is still related. “The fix is in.”

This is a sports term. It has to do with the outcome of a contest being ‘fixed’ or rigged. And in the context of those contests, and any betting associated with it, it’s a bad thing. But let’s think about it in terms of storytelling. A fictional tale always has a fixed ending. While characters grow and change, their arcs are also fixed, at least in terms of their anchors throughout the tale. Authors set their characters up for either success or failure, pretty much from the beginning.

I think, as individuals, we owe it to ourselves to set ourselves up, too.

Setting yourself up for success takes a conscious effort. It’s an idea I’ve heard more and more about as I’ve worked as a barista. Beans, pitchers of milk, sleeves for cups – these are all things that can be stocked or prepared to make future work easy for co-workers. As individuals, we can, and probably should, sort our thoughts, emotions, and internal processes into helpful patterns. This takes time, and often external help, but it’s setting ourselves up for success. It’s putting in the fix. It’s giving you a sure thing on which to bet – yourself.

The alternative is setting yourself up for failure.

I don’t necessarily mean failure in an immediate, dramatic sense. Failing yourself doesn’t always take a catastrophic form. In some cases, failure is a state of being. It’s not a failure in acting, it’s a failure to act. If we do not challenge ourselves to change, to look at ourselves as complex beings and seek improvement as well as the correction of mistakes, we fail ourselves. It requires honesty. It requires being proactive. It requires deep breaths, introspection, and more than a couple hard conversations. Where did I go wrong? What mistakes did I make? How did my failures come across to others? Can I make amends? Will I be able to learn from my downfalls, rather than repeating them?

Are you up for it? Are you willing to take an active role in your own progress towards a better version of yourself?

Can you make yourself a sure thing for yourself and others to bet on?

© 2019 Blue Ink Alchemy

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑