Please, don’t take the people in your life for granted

To give you one of the biggest understatements of all time – life isn’t easy. Arguably, it isn’t really meant to be. Oftentimes, the most invaluable learning moments in our lives come from moments of sadness, despair, and failure. But, during those moments of sadness, despair, and failure, this is little consolation. When we’re depressed, angry, guilt-ridden, or any other one of those overpowering negative emotions life seems to enjoy throwing at us, rarely do we ask ourselves, “what can I learn from this,” or, “how can I apply this to my experiences in the future?” We just want those “valuable” experiences to be over and done with. Perhaps afterwards, when our emotions have come back into balance, we can look at those moments with a more level head and deem what we got out of those experiences, but in the moment, generally, our only thoughts are for it to be over and done with as soon as possible.

As such, during these times of duress, we try to find our comfort in certain things. Obviously, what these “things” are vary from person to person; God, friends, family, getting active, spending time with our pets, reading…the list is endless. Between individuals, however, there are generally a few constants when it comes to sources of comfort. One of these is people, whether it be family, friends, significant others, or co-workers. We may turn to others in hopes we can find some common ground in our suffering. We may hope that they can relate to our experiences and give us the keys to the kingdom: how to feel better. We may like the reassurance that we are indeed not alone in our duress, despite how often our brain can tell us that we are.

Regardless of our reasoning for turning to others, the fact remains that we do so because it oftentimes helps us get through those hard times, however it may do so. In times of emotional strain, our companions can be life-savers, telling us exactly what we need to hear exactly when we need to hear it. Even if they can’t, simply sitting there with us, simply being there for us, can do wonders for the emotional mind. Human connection is, at the root of its purpose, much of the reason for our lives. There’s a reason that solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments a human being can receive.

So, we turn to others during times of hardship, and they serve as a source of comfort, in whichever way they can, and, like all moments of emotional hardship, it passes. We go back to our lives, our tough moments happily behind us.

But what about the person (or people) who helped get you through those moments?

Do you remain eternally grateful to them, pledging to help get them through any hardships they may endure in the future? Or, as is unfortunately more likely, do they blend into the chorus of your other companions, remaining a source of comfort where you may need it, but otherwise just…there?

This isn’t to say they’re forgotten completely by any means, but all too often those who help us through this life’s hardest moments go underappreciated. Now, I’m not suggesting you shower them with praise every chance you get, lifting them up on your shoulders and parading them around the town, but I guarantee you that showing them what they’ve done for you hasn’t been forgotten will only benefit the relationship you have with them. Even small things, such as letting them know that you’re there for them in their own moments of hardship, can be just the touch of encouragement they need to get them through. Not always, but just the show of willingness to be there for them can do wonders for them emotionally.

Ask anyone born before 1950 and they’ll often tell you the same story – people these days don’t realize how lucky they are to have what they have (“I had to walk 5 miles to school uphill…BOTH WAYS!”). They didn’t have cell phones, or iPads, or Netflix, but we do, so be appreciative of it. I agree wholeheartedly, but there IS one thing they had that we do as well – relationships. Yes, we should be grateful for our cell phones and iPads and Netflix, but the same goes for the meaningful relationships we have with those in our lives. Lord knows you wouldn’t forget how Netflix (and ice cream) got you through that terrible breakup, so why would you forget your friend who convinced you there were other fish in the sea? You wouldn’t forget your phone’s texting capabilities, but who would you have to text if you didn’t have those friends who are so dear to you?

So, I write this conclusion not as a traditional one, but rather a “getting on my knees and begging you” one. Please, please, please don’t take the ones in your life that you care about for granted. Don’t let them go unnoticed. Don’t allow them to fade into the background even once your troubles have passed. Let them know you care for and appreciate them. If we can’t do a simple task such as tell the ones close to us how much they mean to us, how are we supposed to do so on a larger scale? Human beings were made to be creatures of compassion – so be compassionate.

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

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

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. -_-