A basic self-improvement meme that's nonetheless pertinent:
I don't know what to do with this one. I listen to and read self-improvement content, I've finished a Master's in Leadership, and I still don't know what to do. I'm 37 and filled with the same angst that I sustained in my early 20s. What to do?
I've lived in fear for a lot of my life: I was afraid to take time off from school to try to make music because I was afraid that I couldn't find a job; it took me until I was 28 years old or so to finally let go of the religious faith that held me in fear for years and years; I never pursued music because I was afraid that nobody wanted to hear it and that I'd humiliate myself; I let fear of hurting people get in the way of different relationships and experiences that most people in those early 20s do; I let a fear of being taken advantage of keep me from entrepreneurship and setting off on my own; I let a fear of failure keep me from teaching ESL overseas; I let a fear of being alone lead me to choose to get married before I felt ready; I let a fear of divorce and whatnot hold me in the relationship when I probably-maybe should have just realized it was done. Essentially, I've let fear keep me in my comfort zone for practically every major decision I've made so far.
I have numerous classic fears: I fear losing my friendships or good standing with people; I fear disappointing my kids and parents; I fear breaking out of being an employee; I fear that I will lose my relationships with my kids; I fear that if I try something new I will lose my means of sustenance; I fear that I will humiliate myself in front of people and make my life even more isolated than it already is.
I have done things in the past in order to get out of my comfort zone: I took time off from university in order to go on Katimavik back in 2000; I moved to Hope BC for my first teaching job, which was still way out of my comfort zone, even if it was also a natural progression; I married a woman who was distinctly out of my comfort zone because I loved her and because I enjoyed how she pushed me out of my comfort zone; I moved out of the comfy house in Hope for a few years of transience with my family, which even included a year in Egypt; I tried out alternative relationships and activities within my marriage, even when I wasn't comfortable with them. So it's not like I have always stayed in my comfort zone. It's just that, right now, despite those decisions and steps out of my comfort zone, I feel like I have nothing to show for it for me. My kids seem happy, and that should be all that matters, but I'm still unsatisfied.
Right now, I'm rather reluctantly living in my comfort zone. I'm still in the midst of the divorce-separation process, so I can't really fiddle with things that would mess with my finances. But the angst is getting stronger and stronger. The comfort zone is getting less and less comfortable.
But I don't have a goal to get out of the comfort zone. I don't know which way to step. I don't know what to do next. And I'm afraid to take any chances to do it.
Let's take things on a small scale: last Saturday night, after my gig, I took Rosita for a walk in Harrison. I passed by some women heading to the only bar-ish thing in town. I thought, I could get out of my comfort zone and practice all these self-improvement things I've been told to do, I could actually go try to engage with new people, as if I'm worth something and as if people might think I'm worth engaging with. I am enough. I thought so much about it that I didn't go. I went to bed instead.
There's a degree of self-training that's led to this sort of thing, a degree of comfort with cognitive dissonance that I had to acquire in order to hold on to my religious faith for so long when I had so much trouble really believing it. When I was faced with a reality that didn't mesh with my faith, I always found a workaround. University's social program exacerbated that ability to achieve cognitive dissonance: if I was told something that didn't seem to match the reality I perceived around me, I'd find ways to justify it despite everything. I became a master of bending ideas and reality to make them fit... until I couldn't see myself at all. It was like being wrapped in cellophane, layer by layer, until the clear image beneath was just a silver-grey cocoon. And I felt kind-of safe in that cocoon.
Partly, it was a matter of misplaced persistence, motivated by trying to stay in my comfort zone. In Alfie Kohn's The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Kohn derides the way we can misplace our persistence in relation to the popularization of "Grit" in parenting and education. Kohn writes,
Just as the effects of displaying unqualified grit may not always be optimal, the motives for doing so raise important psychological questions. What matters isn't just how long one persists, or at what, but why one does so. Do I remain at a soul-sucking job because of a realistic concern that I won't be hired anywhere else? Or is it because I'm loath to admit defeat or afraid of being thought a failure? Do I continue trying to master French cooking or golf (in the absence of evidence that I have any gift for it) because I have a passion for the activity? Or does my persistence reflect an inability to change course, a compulsive conviction that one must always finish anything one starts? (The fear that I'd be labeled a quitter may not be unrealistic if a strong social norm supports persisting no matter what). An accumulation of declarations that "grit is good" may help to create and reinforce just such a norm, thereby contributing to unhealthy reasons for persisting.
I felt that if I "persisted no matter what" in marriage, schooling, and religion, that I 'd find the satisfaction I sought. But it never happened. Because that's just not me.
I think my parents really struggled to deal with me as a kid and teenager. I wasn't fitting in much of a mould. They encouraged my brothers to go into engineering because they had a mathematical aptitude. I, on the other hand, had none. And I had no real ambition or self-confidence. As a result, anything I achieved seemed like a success, even if it didn't really make me happy or if it meshed with my character. I became a teacher, for example, and that was a success because it was something. But it's not something I've ever really connected to. And it's something that seems to be zapping my creativity on a more and more consistent basis.
And there are plenty of coulda-shoulda-wouldas in everything. I kind-of wish I put off the Master's degree, for example, and just stayed in Egypt for a while. Perhaps I could have a achieved some better success over there. Perhaps my ex would have found a place where she could succeed as well if we'd stayed there longer. But since then, despite finishing the Master's, despite all the ways we tried to work through our issues, I've been decidedly unsatisfied. The only thing I take comfort in is that my kids seem happy and kind and capable. I believe in them and believe that they will find their place. And I feel like my ex is finding her place.
But I don't feel like I am. I feel utterly... misplaced. And I want to break out of my comfort zone, but I don't know which way to go.
In this rambling entry, I've kept going back to music over and over again. Perhaps that's what I need to do. Perhaps I need to just light a fire under my musical butt and get doing what I should have done a decade or two ago, before my looks really start to fade, before the youth of my music seems incongruent with the person who's delivering it.
I can't find it, but I've talked about Imposter Syndrome on this blog before. I deal with it constantly. I feel, at almost all times of day, that I'm a fraud, that somebody's going to call me on it, and that I'll end up living up to the negative things I say to myself. And I know intellectually that I don't need to do this, but it's still hard.
This summer's been particularly bad for it. I've had a lot of time to myself. A day after my last entry, my car's motor gave in on me and I had to replace it—with my parents' gracious help. I've spent pretty-much the rest of the summer at home, or occasionally taking trips down to Vancouver, just to save money so I can get by for the summer and hopefully pay them back at some point. I don't know if I got a good replacement vehicle, but I tried. And I've spent a lot of time at home as a result of this change.
I've tried filling my time with activities: learning Hindi script, trying to write some more songs, trying to learn to read music, reading a couple books, and whatnot. But still, it's been way more time to myself than I expected. I've had way too much time to talk to myself, ruminate on the past, and ream myself out for my numerous mistakes over the last 20 years. It's been tough.
And now I see myself anticipating a new school year and I feel like more of a fraud than ever. I have no idea how to make this curriculum work. I used to be able to get the steam going, but the last two summers, nu-uh, and this summer's no better.
This leads me to the real core of all of this. I think it's safe to say that I'm a creative person. I love creating things. I love creating music, lessons, photographs, etc., but I'm just not feeling it. I can take artsy-fartsy photographs like I have this summer, but I can't really say my heart's in it. I'm going through motions, but with weak results. Same thing with songwriting... of all the songs I've written this year, they're OK, but geez they're just not enough. I'm going through the motions of a creative person while not really being creative.
*Imposter Syndrome kicking in hard there.*
I set high standards for myself. I expect to bring meaningful curriculum to my students, music to my listeners, photos to my viewers, and parenting to my children, but right now I just don't feel like I'm living up to any of them. I'm a fraud. I want to believe I'm good with money, but then how come I needed help to replace the car? I want to believe I'm good with relationships, but then why did I spend so much of my summer alone? I want to believe I'm an adequate teacher, but then why did I end the year feeling like my students learned nothing from me? I want to believe I'm a good songwriter, but then why don't I seem to want to share my songs? Because I'm a fraud, nobody cares, and...
... fricking Imposter Syndrome.
I don't know where it stems from. I'm old enough and professional enough that I shouldn't be stressing about authority figures coming through the door and yelling at me. But between the constant "You are nothing" messages I got from religion, and the "We don't really know what to do with you" messages I got from childhood, and the messages that I embraced from my marriage that lead to its demise, it's tough to break out. I keep doing the things I'm supposed to do to keep the Imposter Syndrome at bay, but it keeps coming back. And I know it shouldn't, but it keeps sneaking up on me.
That's all. I know it's stupid. And this isn't a reaching-out-to-the-void thing. I know I'm a competent, creative person. I know people care about me. I know my kids love me and that I'm not the world's worst person. I know I'm not a fraud. But deep-seated beliefs are tough to shake. And I'm getting tired of fighting a mindset that's so childish.
Enough. Here's to hoping I can get that creativity bug before the school year starts.
I think it might be time to get back on the antidepressants. I've been on them before and I haven't taken any for quite a few years, but I think it's time to get back for a bit.
I've been trying to do the things I've been told to do: I've been physically active, running and hiking; I've been pursuing my interests by playing music, trying to record music & trying to take interesting pictures; I've been visiting friends and family who love me and whom I love in return; I've been trying to get out there in the world and talk with people in public; I've been trying out new activities, like camping and spending time at the gym; I've varied my responsibilities at work, even joining up with the school's Pro-D committee.
However, I'm still having trouble climbing out of this hole. Usually Spring lifts my spirits a bunch, but right now it's just not happening. Despite the list above, I'm also doing a lot of laying around, I'm barely able to focus at work, and I'm not really enjoying anything I've been doing. I haven't been calling people to chat. I think the symptoms point pretty directly to depression.
And, as much as I've tried to deal with it myself, my doctor agrees.
In such progressive circles as my own, it's not supposed to be a stigma to take antidepressants. In fact, people seem to laud those who admit to taking antidepressants. In the popular media, Mental Health Awareness Days are legion and it's supposed to be something we can talk about and articulate. On social media, people vulnerable enough to admit to taking antidepressants seem to be lauded as "brave" in their respective networks.
But the stigma's there in spite of it. I, for example, have been checking job boards while simultaneously thinking about taking antidepressants, fearing that admitting it will reflect poorly on my to prospective employers. It's a little nerve-wracking. Am I brave for taking them, or am I unstable? I can't quite tell.
But I also dislike the idea of taking antidepressants in the first place. Running, doing activities you love, visiting with friends, etc.. it should be enough. But for now it isn't. I can go for a run, but my brain still spins as soon as I stop; I can play guitar, but my sessions get shorter and shorter. My current methods, myriad as they are, haven't been working, no matter what I think. I may not like taking antidepressants, but it's probably in my best interest that I do.
There's one catch here, of course. The dominant feature of my life is my kids, and they live ever so far away right now. We're still sorting that out. And although I might be able to move closer one day, the "limbo" I'm in right now is nothing short of dominant in my mind. This separation/divorce process is exhausting to say the least. No amount of endorphins from a 10km run can distract my brain from trying to compensate for that distance, for this separation.
So perhaps it's time to get a little bit of a pick-me-up from some antidepressants. Perhaps that's a little bit fair.
When coping, we all project to some degree or another. When we empathize, we project a little bit upon others and assume that we can get into their shoes and see things from their perspective. We need to project a little bit because, ultimately, we're all alone. We do our best to make community, but ultimately we're very alone.
A few months ago I came across this infographic while navigating Pinterest. It really bothered me to discover it. However, I've learned to do my best to pay special attention to things that seem to irk me, so here it is:
My issue is that I really don't want to be the manipulator. But I read through those "red flags" and can't help but feel like I've taken part in a good portion of those.
But I've gotten to a point where I second-guess my intentions so much that I can't help but feel like I must be a manipulator, that I must be a desperate, terrible person to have the desires that I do, to have said the things I have. And then I spiral downwards, unable to even fully come to grips with my own sense of reality. And I wonder if I'm just some projection machine, blasting everyone around me with my own ego.
That's the thing about being in relationship with people: friends, intimate partners, spouses, children, etc.: context really does make a difference. All. The. Time. And we hope that our relationships can share a common reality.
And when they don't seem to share that common reality, our shared projection gets blurry and out of focus. And then we realize just how alone we can be.
So I'm astoundingly grateful for those relationships with whom I seem to be able to share a common projection, with whom it seems like we can look at the same screen and perceive a clear image. I cherish shared a clear images of the world, even if the image itself is a little unseemly.
I've tried to write about the idea of "narcissism" before. For a while there, psychological diagnoses took up a significant amount of my thinking. For the last four months or so, however, I haven't been thinking about them much at all. After all my self-directed studies, the books I read, and the podcasts I listened to, I decided to focus on what's in the heart and to try to stay away from armchair amateur psychological diagnosis. I'm not a professional in that field; I shouldn't even begin to pretend to be one.
Over the last couple days, this letter by Allen Frances found its way onto The New York Times:
And then I got to hear this articulate and pithy interview with Frances on CBC's As It Happens:
I admit it: this backs up my current prejudice to let the professionals take care of this sort of thing. I admit that it's made me very uncomfortable to hear people throw the words around because I thought it was OK to throw the words around too, despite all the warnings like the one above.
I appreciate Frances' attitude here:
And I'd say this is a good attitude to have going forward: focus on behavior, focus on democracy, and focus on what really affects people about Trump's behavior. But don't try to diagnose him; it's too contentious and speculative to be worthwhile.
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