Take care of yourself – first.

Growing up, a majority of us are taught to always put others before ourselves. This isn’t a bad thing – this mindset has the tendency to not only teach us compassion, but see it received firsthand. We’re told to treat others the way we want to be treated, and that our experiences with others will go towards shaping ourselves as individuals. In my opinion this is most certainly true – human beings are infinitely shaped by contact with other human beings (among many other things). The intent of putting others first is a great one, as it promotes compassion, acceptance, and patience. But is there a point where this becomes too much?

As crude as it may be to compare human beings to machines, hear me out for a moment: our bodies and minds are much like them. A machine for, let’s say, manufacturing, exists to manufacture goods. As such, it puts all of its energy into pumping out these products, as long as it receives some sort of energy from another source. Electricity, water, wind, etc. These pieces of metal, which are designed specifically to pour their energy into these tasks, still need that energy from somewhere. So, everything else aside, let’s say humans are “compassion machines.” Put aside your personal beliefs for a moment and pretend that humans are specifically meant to pour out compassion unto others. These “compassion machines” put every ounce of their energy into being kind to others, being selfless, being patient, and every other way of “being good” to others. However, if they don’t receive energy from elsewhere, as an actual machine does, it crashes and burns. It overheats, it smokes, it starts sleeping all day, it might start throwing back a few beers each night to help it forget…not only are humans much more complicated than machines, humans deal with their problems in many different ways than machines.

Being good to others is good. It’s great, it’s fantastic, it’s what we should all strive for each and every day we’re on this earth. But in order to do this effectively, we need to step back and realize that we aren’t some sort of “infinite-power” machine. We need rest and recuperation, we need to hit the power button at the end of the night. Plug in and recharge, however you feel it best to do that (it goes without saying that there are healthy and unhealthy ways of recharging, but that’s a different subject entirely).

Here’s the part that will make me sound selfish: make sure you’re happy before you start making sure others are happy. Again, I can’t stress enough how important I believe it is to be selfless and compassionate – but only where it’s reasonable. As admirable as it is to throw all of your energy into being good to others, if you don’t have any energy left to make sure you’re happy, it’s a lose-lose situation: you’re burnt out because you spend all your time on others’ wants and desires, and the people you’re trying so desperately to make happy often notice your weariness, and this could have the exact opposite effect of what you intended.

I’m not telling you to cut in line, eat the last cookie, or lie to your parents to get out of trouble. I’m not telling you to be selfish. I’m just telling you that you don’t always have to be selfless. We are all equals in this world – no one person deserves to feel more or less happy than another – and that includes you.

Being selfish is rude, hurtful, and discouraging, but always being selfless is simply unhealthy.

Stay strong

– Ryan

A Perverse Jealousy

Jealousy is such a powerful emotion. Whether talking about it in the sense of the Christian faith or not, it isn’t hard to see why it’s considered a sin. Personally, in times where I find myself jealous, it overtakes me in a way very few other emotions do. It clouds my judgement – I find my decision-making revolving around what I can do to achieve that goal that I’m envious of. There’s a fine line between jealousy and determination, and for me that gap is bridged when I find myself having negative feelings towards others who have achieved that goal. If I ever find myself thinking lesser of a person because they have something I do not, that’s my cue to take a step back and look at the situation from a level head.

Not that that’s always easy. In fact, it rarely is – it takes such dedication to this way of thinking that a whole form of therapy has risen up around it (mindfulness). It’s made especially hard on the occasions where the person you’re jealous of brings up their achievement or property like it’s nothing. “You bring this up so nonchalantly, but do you realize what I would do to have what you have? Achieve what you’ve achieved? Do you even realize how much of a standard I hold myself to based on what you have?”

Like so many other facets of life, for some reasons our brains often tell us that it’s easier to get bitter over these things, than it is to simply be grateful for another’s accomplishments. Scowl over smile, bitterness over contentment. It’s hard to pinpoint why this is, but there are a thousand different answers from a thousand different cultures, religions, and psychologists. Perhaps it stems from the competitive mindset of first-world countries, or maybe when Adam and Eve bit into the apple of knowledge, human sin came pre-packaged with jealousy.

I could go into the whole “this isn’t the right way to think,” and “comparison with others only leads to bad things” tangent, but I already have in some of my past posts. Make no mistake, I still very much believe in what I’ve said on that topic: comparison does only lead to destructive habits. To be the best us we can be, we needn’t hold ourselves to the standards of others. But I can talk and talk about why this isn’t the healthiest way of thinking, spouting factoids and studies supporting this hypothesis, but the fact of the matter is this: factoids and studies very rarely help us actually deal with these things. Comparison. Jealousy. Bitterness. Whilst it’s certainly important to understand why these feelings come about, in my opinion (and it’s just that), the world would be a better place if we actually focused on how to deal with these problems as opposed to just explaining their origins.

I’ve found myself getting overly jealous and bitter the past couple of weeks. I find myself around this entirely pleasant, enjoyable person, who has nothing but kind things to say to me. nine times out of 10, I find myself being pleasant back, but recently my depression has begun to take over and, instead of exchanging pleasantries both ways, the kindness seems to become one-sided. This individual will be kind to me, and I’m indifferent towards them. I’m passive-aggressively resentful, bitter, and simply angry. All of those negative emotions, simply because my mind tells me it’s somehow easier to resent this perfectly nice person for what they have, rather than be happy for them and realize everybody has different things at different times, as is life.

As I mentioned before, this jealousy overtakes me. I find my mind so occupied with this incredibly useless emotion that it’s difficult for me to think about much else. I’ve heard of some individuals using jealousy as a type of drive – motivation to get to a better place in their lives where they’re more content. As I feel jealousy coursing its way through me, however, I find it incredibly hard to think that some people could use this to motivate them, because for me it causes nothing but destructive thinking habits. Where one person may say, “I want what that person has, so I’m going to use this jealousy of them to push myself harder,” I generally say, “I want what that person has, but I’m not skilled or charming or innovative enough, otherwise I would have it by now.” You don’t need to tell me there are about 17 logical inconsistencies with this way of thinking – believe me, I know. But depression often overrides logic.

So, for those like me, where jealousy doesn’t motivate you, but instead breaks you, what do you do? What is the best way to deal with this poisonous mindset? Simply put, I don’t know. I practice mindfulness, and that helps to an extent, but I’m by no means a master at the craft – it takes months upon months of practice and dedication (it makes sense, though, you’re literally training your brain to subscribe to an entirely new way of thinking). For what good it does, there is one thing in particular I’ve been trying to tell myself in moments of jealousy:

Each and every person is unique. No two people accomplish the same things at the same time in the same way under the same circumstances. We all have different walks through life, regardless of how similar our circumstances may seem at first glance. In fact, I’m willing to bet someone in your own life is looking at you and saying “I wish I had that,” just as you may be with others. Do not take pride in this, but instead use it as a reminder that nobody is ever perfectly content with life – we all fall prey to wishing we have more than we already do. You aren’t alone in this.

How do you deal with jealousy? Do you have certain coping methods that help pull you through? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so comment or shoot me an email and I’d love to converse with you! All the best to you in whatever struggles you may face.

Stay strong.

  • Ryan

“Why are you so sad?”

Spoiler alert: I’m depressed, and probably for no reason.

One seemingly surefire way of determining whether or not someone suffers from depression is to figure out the root of the depressive thoughts. While depression can most certainly be amplified in times of distress, very rarely does it come about solely from outside factors, like events or people. So, if you’re a psychiatrist who has someone walk up to you and say, “My wife of 17 years left me,” or “I didn’t get the position I interviewed for that I really wanted,” they’re probably down in the dumps (understandably). However, if they follow that up with, “I think I have depression,” that’s where the scrutiny comes in.

Again, when bad things happen, we oftentimes feel bad. It’s simply human nature to react accordingly to things that happen to or around us. But clinical depression doesn’t rely on outside events to rear its ugly head – it’s going to make itself known at even good points in your life.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was having a decent week, and that wasn’t a lie. It still isn’t – nothing traumatic or ridiculously bad has happened to me lately. But this past week, my depression has been overwhelming me to no end. I’m mopey, I’m pushy, I’m antisocial and bitter and honestly, straight up pissed sometimes. What am I pissed at? Nothing. Nothing at all. There’s just some seething rage permeating a hundred of my thoughts, but for no reason.

I was raised to never say “I hate [this],” unless I truly meant it. To this day, I still scarcely use the phrase, but I can say with full certainty that I hate this. I hate feeling this way, I hate that other people also feel this way, I hate that depressive thinking is brought on by absolutely nothing at all, with next to no warning signs as to when it’s going to strike.

I understand what it’s like when other people suffer from this, so I try to encourage people in their own battles against depression where and when I can. But even so, there are times when I break, and discouragement clouds my every thought.

I feel like breaking. And I feel like breaking only because my depression says I should, regardless of who’s out there looking out for me.

Try and stay strong.

  • Ryan

P.S. I know this post was a massive downer, and I’m sorry for that, it’s just that….bleeerrrggh. -_-

Caffeinated Goats – Some facts about coffee

I was considering writing a post on a technical aspect of coffee, perhaps on growing regions or something of the like. However, as I sit here drinking my own cup of coffee, I realize that most people wouldn’t necessarily want to take 10 minutes out of their day to read about technicalities. As such, I thought it best to go with a more lighthearted, easy-to-read post, particularly for those who don’t know many technical nuances of the world’s favorite pick-me-up. For those who are interested in the nuances, however, fear not – I’ll certainly work on more in-depth coffee posts for the future, but for now, I thought I’d just give a few fun facts about coffee that I find interesting, humorous, or just weird. Some of these I found while reading a book about coffee or from friends, others I already knew and thought it’d be fun to share.

  • Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in the 9th century…by goats. When a shepherd noticed his goats seemed to have more energy after consuming cherries from a certain plant, he tried them for himself, and noticed they had the same effect on him. Those cherries were coffee cherries, and as such, Ethiopia became known as the birthplace of coffee.
  • Today, the largest producer of coffee is Brazil, as it has remained for a century and a half. Vietnam and Colombia take 2nd and 3rd place, respectively.
  • The world’s most expensive coffee is made out of wildcat crap. This particular coffee is made by feeding coffee beans to a Luwak, as its called, whose stomach is unable to digest coffee beans, and using their stomachs to ferment the bean. $600 per pound. Yeah. Let that sink in. Would you try it?
  • Coffee isn’t a bean or legume – it’s a fruit. What we know as coffee beans are actually the pit of a small, red fruit (which is why they’re known as coffee cherries). They’re simply called beans because of their appearance in similarity to actual beans.
  • Darker roast coffees have less caffeine than lighter roasts. This is because darker coffees are roasted for longer, and roasting actually burns away caffeine. On that same note, decaf coffees actually aren’t decaf – at least not entirely. On average, a decaf cup of coffee has approximately 5% the amount of caffeine as a normal cup of the same size.
  • Finally, coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages, second only to water.

 

Thanks for reading! – Ryan

Depression and Friendship

“It’s hard to be a friend to someone who is depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” – Stephen Fry

There’s something to be said about being an introverted, depressed, overly-anxious individual, but still having those friends who can relate so intensely with your struggles. When you have a brain that works every day to convince itself it’s so messed up, so incredibly beyond repair, having friends who can still talk you back from the brink seems like a miracle of nature.

I bring this up for a reason. It’s easy for me to say “I’ve had a bad past few days,” and then go into details about why woe is me. But the truth is, my past few days really haven’t been terrible at all – it’s just my mind that’s trying to tell me that. Objectively, I haven’t experienced any terrible days at work, nobody has been particularly cruel or indifferent towards me…this week has been alright. But again, objectively.

Depression, which has the unfortunate ability to turn spilled milk into a flood, will over-analyze every little part of the few “bad” parts of my day, and stretch them out to last for far longer than they should. Something happened during the morning that has put me in a bad way? You can bet I’ll be dwelling on it most of the day, regardless of whether that thing is over and done with or not. As such, despite having an okay week by most peoples’ standards, my mind is telling me to be depressed.

So, my mind is in tumble-dry mode, flipping things over again and again, making sure every speck of every slightly upsetting situation has been thoroughly analyzed (and then some). There seem to be very few things that can get my mind out of this cycle, but as I’ve been reminded the past few days, good friends are one of them.

For the longest time, I was so convinced that “talking it out” was a cheesy, unhelpful way of getting through tough times. I can spill my problems to you, sure, but you don’t understand the way my mind works. I can’t just “explain” to you the way my mind goes from Point A to Point B, because there isn’t any logic behind it. It just happens. If you can’t understand where I’m coming from with these internal struggles, how can you possibly help me overcome them?

Over time, I’ve realized that there were two big flaws with this way of thinking. First, there are people who feel the way I do. No matter how I may feel on crappy days, there are millions, I repeat, millions of others out there who suffer from this depressive thinking each day, just like I do. Unfortunately, depression isn’t a rare diagnosis: over 350 million people suffer from it worldwide, I’m just one in 7 zeroes. These numbers don’t make my (or your) struggles any less real or undeserving of acknowledgement, it just shows that there are others who have minds that work incredibly similar to mine (and yours).

Second, understanding isn’t necessary for compassion towards others. The person I consider my best friend doesn’t suffer from depression. She isn’t overly anxious or prone to self-deprecation, she is, in a mental way, unhindered. But she gets me. She can calm me down and talk me out of my harmful mindsets better than almost anybody else I know. She understands that she will never be able to fully understand me, and that’s a helpful observation for the both of us. She knows that she won’t understand why my mind tells me the things it does, and I know that, despite my inability to be oftentimes understood, there are people out there who make an attempt to be good to me anyway. Simply put, it’s a blessing.

At the risk of getting all Disney-esque here, friendships were something I often took for granted in the past. I told myself that everyone has friends, it’s just a common thing. Even when I finish high school and college, I’ll still have friends, so there’s no need to particularly cherish them right now. But as my depression manifested and left me mentally secluded, I had friends who tried to help me, to break down the walls of my depression-addled mind and understand me to the best of their ability. By the time I realized this fact, I was too late. Many of the friends who tried to be friends to me simply gave up, because I wasn’t reciprocating. I was going through the motions of a bare-minimum friendship, but I wasn’t particularly working to keep it enjoyable. I lost so many friends as a result.

But I’m older now, hopefully wiser (or as wise as a 23-year old can be), and I understand more about my mental illnesses, and I’m grateful to live in an era where light is being shed on mental illnesses more so than the past. Despite my depression, friendship is still a two-way street. If I have friends who are willing to look past my mental health and accept and even cherish me for who I am, then the very least I can do is be there for them as they are for me. Mental illnesses or not, we all have problems. The world is a better place when we are there for each other, even when understanding evades us.

So, on this particular subject, I’m a convert. I like talking with friends. It does wonders for me – it gives me a chance to temporarily drown out the hurtful voices in my own head, and even later on, those voices are a little less convincing. Whether it’s having a meaningful, one-on-one conversation with a co-worker about something serious, or sharing some laughs over breakfast with wonderful people as I did this morning, compassion in the face of adversity is a force to be reckoned with.

Humans are, by nature, social creatures. We need food, water and shelter to survive, but we need interaction with others to live. We aren’t meant to carry our burdens alone. There’s a reason solitary confinement is for the nastiest of prison inmates – seclusion cripples us. Depression or no, we need others, and others need us.

Stay strong.

  • Ryan

Help – I think I’m selfish

There’s something that’s been on my mind for the past few months, something that has made me constantly second guess my own intentions. I’ve said many times over that I believe in the inherent good of all people, myself included. Regardless of our upbringing, our monetary income, etc., we all have the capacity to do good works. Whether we actually act on those good impulses are our own choosing, but the point is that potential is there.

So…good is directed outward, correct? To be what most consider “good,” we have to work for the benefit of others, not just ourselves. There is self-care and rest for our own bodies and minds, sure, but if someone does a “good deed” it’s meant for somebody or something other than themselves.

This is what has been discouraging me lately – I’m not entirely sure that I do what is “good.” I believe I’m a nice person, who treats everyone fairly and goes out of his way to help others quite a bit. I’d like to think that my blog posts are helping at least a few people get by, and writing words of encouragement on others’ blogs is helping them as well. I’m fairly certain I’m kind to others, whether it be at home, work, or elsewhere. But am I doing these “good” things for others, or for myself?

I feel satisfaction when I’m good to others – but not the kind of satisfaction I want to feel. It’s a perverse kind, like a mental pat on the back, saying to myself, “I’m good because I did this thing.” Almost as if…this “good” I’m doing isn’t for the benefit of others, but instead for self-validation; something to make me feel better about myself – the happiness others receive from me being good isn’t necessary, but a side-benefit to my own satisfaction. I don’t like this feeling. At all.

As a Christian, I live my life for God, and Him alone. Everything I do is in His name, I tell myself. The book of words I try my best to live my life by directly says be good to others before being good to yourself. But when I have this lurking feeling that everything I do may be for my own happiness, it’s more unnerving than you may think. Even for non-Christians, I don’t think an instinct that everything you do may be for yourself can’t feel that great, either.

I’m not saying I’m bad – I’m not bad. I know that. I’m just not sure I’m “good.” Or, if I am good, is it a “side-effect” of fulfilling my own need for self-validation? I can do all of these good things and say all of these good words, but if, in the end, it’s for my own contentment, does it really count?

Do you struggle with this, or is it just me? Or does everybody, and do I just need to suck it up and accept it for what it is? Is this some weird side-effect of my depression? I don’t know. Advice would be appreciated.

Stay strong.

  • Ryan