As life takes its course

Wow, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I haven’t written in a few weeks, so I apologize in advance if this post comes across as rather sloppy. My mind is so creatively static from being idle so long.

As I sit here, at a fancy Starbucks sipping my fancy coffee (wot wot), trying to find some eloquent way to explain my absence from the blogosphere as of late, I find myself struggling to come up with why exactly I was absent. Looking back at the past few weeks, I can’t really pinpoint any precise reason as to why I haven’t written. I’ve been working just as much as I always have, although my schedule has primarily shifted to the wee hours of the morning…I’m generally up before the sun is. For most of my life I’ve been a night owl, so it’s been quite the kick to my internal clock. But I’ve adjusted, and I can’t tell myself I haven’t been writing because of that.

I’ve found myself being a lot more exploratory lately, going to places I normally wouldn’t. Including now, for example – I’ve just driven 45 minutes to a Starbucks straight outside of the city of Chicago, right across from where the Cubs play at Wrigley Field. It’s not that I don’t normally go to coffee shops (coffee runs through my veins more than blood), but driving a bit of a distance to explore the city as I did earlier today isn’t something I would have caught myself doing a few months prior.

So as I’m sitting here, my cup of fancy coffee a bit emptier than it was two paragraphs ago, I’m asking myself, why now? Why am I taking time where I would normally be writing, reading, or worrying to be more adventurous? Simply put, I’m not entirely sure. My best guess, my gut tells me, is that I’m feeling I’m becoming so…static. Internalized. Boring. I’ve never been an extrovert, but I’ve had times in my life where I’ve felt the need to explore and take advantage of my surroundings. I’ve lived within a short train ride to Chicago for almost three years now, and today marks only the fourth or fifth time I’ve visited, and a couple of those times I didn’t really do anything. I love hiking and exploring the outdoors, but when I lived in Washington, a beautiful, mountainous state, I never even ventured into those mountains, only the foothills close to my house. I could see the wondrous, snow-capped Mt. Rainier from my workplace, yet I never took advantage of it.

I don’t want to be static anymore. I don’t want to sit on my couch, looking at the beautiful scenery passing me by and not enjoy it. I don’t want to let my anxiety prevent me from experiencing life as I believe it’s meant to be experienced. I’m sure that I sound incredibly cliché with my whole “take life by the reins” spiel, but as I try to figure out why I haven’t been spending as much time on things as I normally would (such as writing and posting on here), my mind is telling me that’s the reason. At least, I think it’s the reason.

Like I said, I’m not even sure. Maybe I’m making up a reason to sound philosophical and wise.

I do still want to write. I still am going to write. Is it going to be less often, or will I fall out of my newly adventurous ways and revert back to posts every week or so? I don’t know, only the future will tell. If I have my way, I’ll get back to posting every week, but life is unpredictable, and so am I. I’m not leaving, I promise you that, but only the future can tell whether or not I’ll get back into the habit of writing as often as I had been.

Funny thing is, I’ve still been reading all of your posts. If I follow you, I’ve most likely read all of your posts since my last one, I just haven’t been taking the time to make posts of my own. And I’m still amazed at the creativity, wisdom, and wonderment you all convey in your posts. Bravo.

So, this short post in a nutshell: life is just that – life. Unpredictable, but I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. I hope life is going swell for you, dear reader, and I’m coming back to this habit of posting more often if I can help it. Sooner rather than later, I certainly hope!

Stay strong.

– Ryan

 

 

Cultivating Authenticity (Part One)

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young

If you’ve read or seen even a shred of motivational work in your lifetime, you’ve certainly heard the phrase “be yourself.” When I hear this, my mind goes back to the quote by E.E. Cummings I mentioned in my last post (“To be yourself in a world….is the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”). Simply “being yourself” can seem to lead to societal pushback, the whispers and murmurs behind our backs. It isn’t so much the act of authenticity that rubs some people the wrong way, it’s more so the guile of it. On one hand, we’re expected to be ourselves. On the other, we’re expected to be people-pleasers, expected to find the balance between honesty and keeping others comfortable. Tell the truth, but don’t say anything to make others too uncomfortable. Have the courage to disagree with the majority, but don’t say anything controversial. Do your best to sound informed, but don’t come across as a know-it-all.

Some may argue that it’s about finding a balance between authenticity and people-pleasing, but I disagree. When we have to courage to be ourselves and nothing but, there will be some resistance, both from others and our own minds. We may fear that others may not like us as much when they see what we truly are and believe. So much of society is expected to put on the chameleon facade, adapting to the situations as they come, even if that means altering our personality and mask we put on for others. But, if life is about connections, then the only way we can cultivate and nurture those connections is to, and I quote, “be ourselves.”

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Many individuals already have problems with maintaining a healthy self-esteem, so to be asked to shed their safety blankets and show their true, imperfect selves can be incredibly daunting. But putting on a mask for everyone has its own risks. When we refuse to put our true ideas, talents, and opinions out into the world, they eat away at us. They fester in our minds and eat away at our worthiness. You can trade in your authenticity, but in return you may experience anxiety, depression, rage, resentment…the list goes on.

Think of authenticity not as a personality quirk, but as an active lifestyle choice. To quote Brené Brown, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” To quote her again, “Stand on your sacred ground.” Your sacred ground is your true self. Your morals, ideas, opinions, talents, all uniquely yours. Don’t let any disapproving glances or sneers from society throw you off your foundation, your “sacred ground.”

Mrs. Brown also has another invaluable piece of advice on the subject –

“I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable. If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’ If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

You were made specifically to be uniquely you. Don’t let fear of disapproval from others get in the way of what you’re meant to share with the world.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Your Imperfect Self (Introduction)

If I were to ask you to define the word courageous, what would you tell me? Would you perhaps give me some examples of individuals who, despite any fear, risk their lives for the greater good? Or, some smaller-scale examples, such as overcoming a fear of public speaking and giving a speech in front of a crowd?

The word courage is rooted from cor, the Latin word for heart. The original definition of courage was, “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Heroic acts are indeed courageous, but not all courageous acts have to be that of heroism.

Everyone wants to be courageous. We all have our own ideas of what constitutes a courageous act, but true courage lies not necessarily in risking one’s life, but in risking one’s heart. How do we risk our heart? We embrace who we are and what we’re supposed to be, and refuse to let others dictate what we should say, how we should look and, most importantly, how we should feel. To risk one’s heart is to be vulnerable at its most innate definition – we open up everything about who we are.

Our society is one of chameleons; we are experts at fitting in where we think we need to. We can alter our personalities to suit the situation we’re in, saying some things and holding others back. When we do this, we swap out one mask for another, wearing whichever one will get us through the situation with the least amount of collateral damage – without hurting others or ourselves. What’s more, this is encouraged by our society. We are told time and time again to put others before ourselves, and while this is a noble goal, the way we’re told to do this is ultimately self-destructive. Put your true self away, and bring out the you that can make it through this situation with no harm done to others. You may forget yourself in the process, but it’s okay, everyone does it.

So, if we take the concept of being vulnerable and being chameleons, they butt heads. We cannot be ourselves at every turn and please everyone. On the flipside, we cannot please everyone, but also be true to who we are as a person. E.E. Cummings once wrote,

“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

In order to truly deepen human connection and find a love for yourself, it is completely necessary to be vulnerable. It isn’t optional. To be anything less than vulnerable is to be a chameleon once more – putting on the color scheme that will please others, and “switching it up” as need be. Compared to what I’m asking you to do, being a chameleon is incredibly easy. It takes the “no harm, no foul” approach of making it through situations, quick and easy. In return, however, you sacrifice meaningful connections and a sense of peace with yourself and who you truly are.

No, being vulnerable isn’t easy. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, unnerving, and, like many good habits, is very hard to stick with. Even the word itself, vulnerable, has a stigma attached to it – to be “vulnerable” is to leave yourself open to attack. Being a chameleon, when it comes down to it, is as much about protecting yourself as it is pleasing others.

It’s tough, there’s no getting around that. But how do you learn how to ride a bike? You practice riding a bike. How do you study for a test? You look over your materials, and practice your knowledge of it. How do you learn to be vulnerable? You practice being vulnerable. You learn courage by being courageous.

Great, you say. I’d love to be vulnerable. I’d love to be courageous and my true self and all of that cheesy stuff, but there’s one thing getting in the way. One large, looming, intimidating obstacle that stands in the way of pushing against the grain:

Shame.

The very first thing that anyone needs to understand about shame is this: everyone experiences it. Shame is a real and powerful human emotion, and the only ones who can’t feel shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Shame keeps us from being vulnerable by convincing us that, when people see our true selves, they won’t like what they see. While guilt is your mind saying, “I did something bad,” shame is your mind saying, “am bad.” Our true selves aren’t enough of what other people want to see, so we fall into the chameleon mindset – “I’ll become who they want me to be.”

That isn’t what our lives are about. We don’t live our lives for others, and so we shouldn’t live our lives according to others, despite what society sees fit to tell us. But shame is the single biggest factor in preventing us from doing just that. So, the obvious answer is to combat this shame.

How? The same way we open ourselves to being vulnerable: we practice. We build ourselves up to be shame-resilient, and work to convince our mind as best we can that those feelings won’t have nearly as much as an effect on us and how we live our own lives. In order to do this, we need to let go of certain mindsets that have been ingrained in our society to further support the chameleon mindset. And, in my upcoming posts, that’s what I hope to elaborate on.

To love ourselves and others is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be courageous. To be courageous is to be vulnerable, despite the fear of shame threatening to push us back to our chameleon ways. If we combat shame, the rest will fall into place. Over the next ten-or-so posts, I want to go into more detail about certain things that invite shame into our lives and therefore, discourage being our true selves.

All of these concepts are things that I struggle with, and I know too well that many, many others do as well. I would love for you to join me on this journey of reaching a point of self compassion and love. As always, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or anything else, feel free to post a comment or use the contact form on my site to send me an email and I will always get back to you. Ideally, my next post on the subject will be up in a few days’ time, but life is unpredictable, so if it takes a bit longer, I apologize! I always look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, and hearing some of your own.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this upcoming series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

I think I’m a mean person, and it’s incredibly discouraging

Hoo, boy, this one’s gonna be a doozy…

I’ve said many times over that I believe in the inherent good of all people, myself included. Regardless of our individual approaches, we’re all working towards some sort of happiness. It’s a whole ‘nother conversation about what methods are “acceptable” and whatnot, but I digress…

Inherently, I’m good, like I believe everyone on this earth is. As I’ve gone through these past few weeks, though, I’ve gotten to wondering: “is my inherent good making me outwardly good?” I’ve had proof the last few weeks to argue against that point. And I hate it. I’m sorry, but I do. There’s no getting around that fact.

I have clinical depression and anxiety, which means my mind and the conclusions it comes to are a bit different from those people who don’t have either illness. Long ago I accepted the fact that these mental illnesses will not only change the way I view myself, but also change the way I view others and their actions and words towards me. I dwell on things, I take things personally, I analyze every little detail of every little action, and, nine times out of 10, I come to bad conclusions. Whether they’re simply flawed in logic or straight-up insane conclusions to jump to, my mind tells me to, regardless.

So, in response to these terrible things my mind is telling me might happen, or in response to things I take personally and then WAY out of proportion, my wonky mind, despite being the reason I reached these conclusions in the first place, tries to pat me on the back and say “Don’t worry, Ryan, I’ll help you deal with this!”

“No!” my logical mind says. “Absolutely not, your ridiculous overthinking and fear-mongering is what got me to this mental state in the first place! I’ll deal with this logically, calmly, and with a level-head.”

Then my emotionally-overridden mind takes over. It pins me to a wall with nails. “I don’t think so, logic. We’re dealing with this MY way. Over-emotionally, overthinking, fearfully dealing with it.” And so it begins.

I’m mean to people.

I snap at them, I ignore them out of spite, I assume every little action is something in spite against me, I try to make my problems their problems, I scowl at them behind their backs, cut and dry, I’m a straight-up jerk to them, all to cope with my own messed-up way of thinking. So, I suppose that makes me selfish, as well. Great.

I won’t hide behind my depression and anxiety for all of this here – maybe this is just part of my personality, as well. I’d like to think not, because before either one of these illnesses manifested itself in me, I was actually a very pleasant person to be around. Regardless, even if I can attribute all of my “meanness” to my depression and anxiety, that isn’t an excuse.

I’m being 100% honest when I say it feels like these illnesses are pinning me against a wall with nails, telling my to deal with personal problems in unsavory ways. There are things I could do to deal with that, but even if there weren’t, what does it matter? I can certainly talk the talk –  I can tell you to be good to others, love yourself, understand you’re only human. But if I can’t walk the walk, what really matters, what good is it? I’ll say you should to be nice to an individual, and maybe the next day I go and snap at someone else for something that isn’t even their fault. I’ll say you should always be accepting of someone regardless of personal differences, but then later on put down someone’s viewpoint simply because it doesn’t line up with my own.

My point is this – I don’t think I’m a nice person. I can spout nice things left and right, and I can passionately believe them in my head and heart, but if I can’t apply what I “passionately believe” to my actions and attitude towards others, what good is it? It isn’t any good, I’ve found.

Maybe I’m inherently good. But I’m not good. I’m not sure I can convince myself otherwise.

– Ryan

 

Clinical Depression, broken down

Depression is known for its unfortunate ability to “override” any good thought that decides to come our way. Even if there is evidence in our lives supporting the fact that we shouldn’t be having depressive thoughts, our minds still find a way to push that logic to the side. With major depression affecting so many aspects of our lives from sleeping all day, to being reclusive, to suicidal thoughts, it’s almost hard to believe that all of these symptoms stem from a simple glitch in brain chemistry.

Unlike some mental illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease, clinical depression affects multiple areas of the brain as opposed to just one. In a nutshell, depression stems from abnormalities in the interactions between hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, such as the ones controlling serotonin and dopamine regulation. In order to understand why brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine are important in the diagnosis of clinical depression, it’s important to understand what they actually do.

Serotonin is thought to regulate sleep, pain sensitivity, sexual function, and appetite. Looking at some of the symptoms of depression, including sleeping for long periods of time (or not at all), overeating, or loss of ability to perform sexually, it’s no surprise that serotonin plays a big role in regulating depression. However, depression symptoms are not caused by a serotonin deficiency, but rather by the neurotransmitters in the brain being hypo responsive (under-responsive) to the serotonin provided to them.

Dopamine is known as being the “happy” chemical. It’s responsible for regulating motor function, reward and motivation centers, memory, and attention. Even more symptoms of depression include loss of motivation, loss of interest in things that once excited you, and a feeling of sluggishness. On the flipside of serotonin receptors, the neurotransmitters responsible for receiving dopamine are hyper responsive, basically overreacting to stress and fear stimuli.

neurotransmitters depressionThese hypo and hyper reactive receptors can be caused by a multitude of reasons, from excess stress to overeating. While genetics can certainly play a role in the risk of developing depression, it’s only about half that of the risk stemming from individual lifestyle factors. Of course, depression can stem from a combination of the two as well.

anatomy of depressionThis is another fact that makes clinical depression unique among many illnesses. While many diseases are purely genetic (you have to be born with the right makeup of genes, chemicals, etc.), depression affects us physiologically even if we aren’t born with it. Regardless of the cause, chemicals in the brain are put all out of whack.

So…why does any of this even matter? If you’re sad, you’re sad, who cares about the brain chemistry, right? It matters, because understanding the brain chemistry has played a big part in recent years in our understanding and treatment of depression. If you were to go back in time 50 years and tell someone that you’re depressed, chances are you’d get a response somewhere along the lines of “you’ll get over it soon.” 50 years ago, most people weren’t worried about the causes of depression, simply because most people weren’t worried about depression. Depression has been “diagnosed” in many individuals since the time of Mesopotamia (its original name is melancholia), but understanding it as an actual medical problem didn’t come until much later. If an individual was feeling depressed, it was considered nothing more than “being in a funk.” Everyone feels sad sometimes, why should we pay any more attention to people who feel sad a bit more often? Now, knowing what we know about brain chemistry and physiology, we’ve finally come to the realization that depression is an actual, medical problem, and it is worthy of our time and attention. Through our new understanding, we are more equipped than ever to deal with it.

depression wheel
A small correction to this graph: under Situations, as aforementioned, a bullet point should say “genetics.”

For me, nothing says it better: “Depression is a flaw in chemistry, not character.” Flaw is such a key word here, as depression has the ability to make anybody dealing with it feel like a flaw of life. I’m dumb, I’m ugly, I’m sad, I’m flawed. No, you are not flawed. You are as much of a person as anyone else, worthy of feeling happiness, joy, and love; a slight mix-up of brain chemicals doesn’t change that simple (yet irrefutable) fact.

We live in a time where we’re lucky enough to have, at the very least, a rudimentary understanding of clinical depression and its causes. By understanding the root of depression, we’re that much closer to finding a way to cut the stem before it sprouts. If we do nothing with the information we’ve learned, combating depression (and mental health in general) will be at a standstill for far too long. As someone who suffers from clinical depression, I feel a responsibility to use what power I have to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Some words of encouragement

I want you to know that you’re worth something.

I want you to realize that, whatever problems you may be dealing with, you are never alone.

I want you to understand that people, even those you may not realize or talk to every day, are here for you.

I want you to know that whatever may have happened yesterday, last month, last year, last decade, doesn’t affect how wonderful you can make the future.

I want you to realize that you can overcome anything that comes your way, no matter who or what tells you otherwise, including your own mind.

need you to understand that there are good people in this world, around every corner, who won’t judge you, or abuse you, or put you in a place you have no desire to be in.

need you to understand that you are stronger than any self-deprecating thought that crosses your mind.

I want you to know that I know being strong isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.

I want you to know that no outside opinion of you matters, only the light you view yourself in.

need you to know that people care. I need you to know that I care. He cares. She cares. They care.

I want you to know that there are people out there who, when they look at you, see the sun.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

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