The Struggle Against Reality

First, a video for you to watch.

So the idea is we love to mock people for “struggling against reality”. Doesn’t the concept sound absolutely ridiculous? But I have an assertion to make here. We all do it all the time.

Perhaps the most iconic version of this is in the game of bowling. Has any of us ever bowled without at least slightly leaning to the left or right as if it will affect the ball? We know it won’t, but we do it anyway. Another example: currently there are a lot of politics happening. Presidential primaries are being run in both major parties, and they’re taking a long time to get through all the states. Those of you into politics, do you ever find yourself thinking so hard about the results and wanting a particular result so bad that you might even say you’re trying to will your candidate into victory? I’ve done that. Now, let’s get personal. Do you ever find yourself thinking about something that happened in the past that you desperately wish hadn’t happened or had gone differently. Maybe you fantasize about it being different, or perhaps you try to hide from it in your mind, but it hunts you down. Every last one of these situations of thinking have happened to me and I rather suspect they are fairly common to humanity as a whole (except those who have never bowled, if such people exist.)

Now I ask, how do you feel when you dodge reality like that? To be honest, even in the bowling example, it’s pretty stressful for those couple of seconds. Some of us enjoy the suspense. I on the other hand don’t care for it at all. Bowling isn’t stressful in itself, but fighting with the reality of where the ball goes is kind of like suffering. Real suffering happens when we fight against actually painful realities. Like bad memories. Having a difficult past hurts either way sometimes, but trying to will it out of existence is true suffering.

So how do we stop fighting against reality? Simple. Cut it out. I’m serious, it is that simple, but if you’re like me, that doesn’t make it easy. There’s something within us that seems to think that if we accept reality, then we must approve of it. I’ve shared this skill with people who have been very badly hurt, and some of them are simply unable to realize the difference between acceptance and approval. We have to fight this on a very deep level. Images help me in this. I picture my grip on fighting reality as a grip on some small object, like a racquetball or something that represents my pain. To symbolize my acceptance, I mentally drop that ball. When I’ve done this, I find the temptation to pick it up again, but by strong willpower, I resist the urge and leave it on the ground. Some people have developed rituals like this such as writing things on paper and burning them.

When I first practiced this skill of ending the struggle against reality, I used it on very difficult areas of my life. I remember that before I applied the skill, I felt a suffering tension all over every inch of my body. When I dropped my struggle, the tension left, but there was still a sharp pain as if stabbing through my heart. I hadn’t even noticed that before. The reason is I spent so much time avoiding that pain and put so much effort into it that I was suffering greatly from the denial. The suffering from the denial was strong enough to drown out the relatively minor pain that I was trying to avoid. The tension was unbearable, but the sharpness in my heart was totally manageable.

The Buddhists call this skill Radical Acceptance. What I described is only the very beginning of Radical Acceptance. It goes far deeper, but this is enough for the current discussion. I, of course, am a Christian, and not a Buddhist, but I think they’re on to something here.

I want to point out that Radical Acceptance is not always the best way to handle a situation. In a way, it’s really a last resort kind of skill. There are three other ways of handling extreme distress. One is to change the situation. Honestly, if you can just change what’s making you feel so bad, do it. Don’t waste time on accepting what there’s no need to accept. On the other hand, there is much we cannot change. Especially the past. The second alternative is to change how you think about the situation. I once made a comment about someone to my friends, but I worded it all wrong and it sounded as though I were making a terrible sexual comment. I was purely ashamed of it for years, despite the fact that I had not meant to say anything of the sort. Later on, I realized that, actually, what I said was a hilarious double entendre and these days it just makes me laugh, even more so because I had said it in such innocence. If neither of these two work, you always have the option of remaining miserable. It’s your choice, but failing changing the situation or thinking about it differently, I’d prefer to accept it than be miserable.

This skill is difficult. I’m curious to hear if any of you Gentle Readers have tried it or are considering giving it a try. What works for you in dealing with difficult truths?

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Thought Policing

I’m not much for police states like in 1984, but there is a value in one policing his own thoughts. I’ve quite a history with this and it goes all the way back to the ’90s when I was in grade 8.

Back in grade 8, I hit that awkward time when I started looking at girls a bit differently than I had before, and having thoughts about them that felt terrible. I knew this was wrong, but I dove into self hatred about it. The thought life of a boy going into puberty changes dramatically and I rebelled against the lustful thoughts with all my heart. This is kind of interesting because I was not religious at the time. I just knew right from wrong anyway. I listened to the radio they subjected us to on the school buses where the DJs were very inappropriate, and I knew that they were wrong, too.

My initial approach to policing my thoughts was, at the same time, quite self harming, but also approaching something very wise. The wise part, was that I simply, in my mind, yelled over the unpleasant thoughts with other thoughts to drown them out. This absolutely works and works well. The self harm part was that I spoke very nasty self hating things. This should never be done. In the mental health field, we call this self talk. My self talk was downright abusive to myself.

Later on, I learned that Christians need to hold their thoughts captive and drown out sinful thoughts. What I did not know was that sinful thoughts are by no means a reason to hate oneself. Honestly, if God loves us, how dare we hate ourselves? Are we to hate the objects of God’s affection? Further, I have always found instruction in the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The more one genuinely loves himself as a creation of God, the more he can love others in a righteous way. I would suggest that proper love for self necessarily flows into love for others, but I am not enough of a philosopher to know for sure. I do know that loving God and loving your neighbor have to go together and that one always flows into the other. Also ending one, ends the other.

After I graduated high school, and I got into recovery from my mental illness, I found instruction on self talk. That’s the little voice in your head that speaks your own thoughts for you. Obviously this one, we control. I learned to make it say nice things. I started looking for good things about myself to say and I repeated them. As I learned that I was not so bad, I came to be able to accept other people’s love for me, and then of course, God’s love for me. This is still a work in process. All truths have a balance and the balance to the truth that we are beloved, is that our sin is hated. We must hate our own sin and yet love ourselves. It’s quite the balance.

So I began to say nice things, but then I found something rather interesting. I longed to say the bad things. I missed them. I felt deprived of some sort of sick pleasure when I stopped myself from saying the bad things. When I slipped up and said them, I noticed something strange. It was like cutting.

Now I am lucky enough never to have fallen into self harm by cutting or other physical methods. I suppose there was a time when I bruised myself, but that was short lived. Many people around me did struggle with self harm using blades so I heard a lot about it. Apparently, when one does that, they feel a release from the emotional pain in a number of ways. The physical pain distracts them, but also drugs are released to address the pain when one is cut. Some cut themselves for this drug effect. I found that I seemed to get a similar effect when I said nasty things with my self talk.

Speaking kindly to myself was like quitting a drug, but it was worth it. For the first time, I began to really love myself. This enabled me to love others better. I’m currently in the process of reclaiming this ability. Previously, I could so control my thoughts that I could feel a bad thought coming and squash it before I even found out what it was going to be. I’m slowly getting there again. The LORD is an incredible healer and will bring me there once more.

Caffeine Update

My post on Caffeine was written a few days before it came out, so it’s been a while now. I wanted to give an update on how it’s going. Basically, it’s been very hard. Ultimately, I’ve been struggling to stay off the caffeine. I’ve managed to stay off the Mt. Dew, but I’ve had other forms of caffeine. I’ve had a Sunkist most days, and a couple days ago, I even had an energy drink. I just wanted to share this and say that it is not a total defeat. Like I said, I’ve not been drinking actual Mt. Dew. I’m still on less caffeine than I usually am. Conquering addiction is never easy. One nice thing is that I know I will be victorious. That is already set in stone. Ive conquered cigarettes. I know I can handle caffeine.

Quitting Caffeine

A few posts ago, I mentioned Frederick Douglass, who inspired me to quit smoking of all things. He did this by showing me that slavery takes your humanity away. I wanted to be human again. I knew from other sources that addiction is a form of slavery. Well, I suffer from another form of slavery. I am addicted to caffeine. This must end.

I remember the first time I had Mountain Dew.I saw it at a soda fountain and asked my mother what it was like. She simply suggested that I try it, so I did. I immediately loved it and would drink as much of it as possible. My mother did what she could to curtail this. She even tried getting me caffeine free Mountain Dew for a while, but I have always had a lot of determination in everything I do so I managed to get the real stuff.

Later on, I began taking medications that made me very tired. I struggled very deeply to get out of bed. I asked my mother to provide me with Mountain Dew to help me get out of bed. I don’t actually remember if she agreed to this, but either way, I was drinking Mountain Dew in the morning pretty soon thereafter. Soon, I was never to be found without a Mountain Dew nearby.

The brand started branching out into other flavors and I found that my favorite was Code Red, the first alternate flavor that ever came out. I drank it like water. In fact, I later noted that I could hardly taste Mountain Dew anymore. It really was kind of like drinking water. I’ve mentioned before that I struggle a bit with my weight, and this probably contributes to it as much as the medications do. It’s a good thing I walk as much as I do.

Caffeine has affected my life pretty badly in other ways. Sometimes I need to get blood tests or other tests that require a bit of fasting. It’s not too hard to do this for most people. Just get the test done first thing in the morning, and skip breakfast until afterward. I needed my morning Mountain Dew like I used to need my morning cigarette. I’d usually have my first Mountain Dew of the day before even remembering that I had a test that needed to be done. The result was that years would go by without the tests being done.

But like I said before, the main motivation to quit is the slavery. I don’t like being a slave, and I certainly don’t want to be less than fully human as Douglass says is a requirement of slavery. So the caffeine must go. I’ve been tapering off of caffeine the last couple of weeks. Before I started quitting, I was on at least a couple of liters of Mountain Dew a day, probably more like three liters. To quit cold turkey can be beyond painful, maybe even dangerous, though I’m not certain of that.  Either way, I decided to start by drinking two 20oz bottles of Mountain Dew per day for a week. The following week I had only one per day. Now I have none.

I’ve been tired. The day I wrote this, I had woken up after over 18 hours of sleep. The previous day was similar to that. On top of the fatigue is, of course, the depression. As depression causes one to feel very tired, I find that in my case, it works the other way around sometimes as well. The day was a hard one.

The fatigue will not last forever, though. I’ve heard from others who have quit caffeine that they actually feel more energized off of caffeine than they ever did whilst on it. I look forward to that. My life will improve by quite a bit thanks to this move.

To be honest, I was a bit hesitant to write this before I feel that I have fully shaken the caffeine addiction. With smoking, I identify as a nonsmoker. With caffeine, I identify as someone in the process of quitting it. I am not too worried about this, though. Even if I relapse into drinking Mountain Dew, I will simply quit again. I will not be a slave. If I can quit cigarettes, I can quit caffeine and Mountain Dew.

I look forward to having more energy and less slavery. I look forward to perhaps losing some weight as my addiction to all the Mountain Dew is conquered. To be sure, I still allow myself to drink soda, but I will quit all soda the same way I am quitting caffeinated soda now. Then it will be all water. After that, who knows? I will find the different ways that I am a slave and root them out. I want to be a slave nothing other than God Himself.

Should I Take Medication?

Sometimes I think I hate my psychotropic medications. There are certainly unpleasant things about taking them: side effects, the need to remember at the right times, and the feeling of dependency. Yet, for me, there are more advantages than disadvantages. Most importantly, I would say that now, I am better off than I have been in years. I have my stability back. The reason it took years, was that I was not on medications that were working properly during that time. I had asked my doctor to switch medications around and that went badly. I even had to go to the hospital for a bit a year and a half ago.

It’s interesting that just being on less medication messed me up pretty badly. Some would say it is better for us to figure out our own coping skills. I’m not against coping skills, (I’d actually say they are entirely vital to any recovery method), but they often work better alongside medication rather than instead of medication. To be sure, I do think medication should be tried only after it is known that things like diet, exercise, coping skills, and therapy aren’t enough. But if these things really aren’t enough, why deprive oneself of something that can be a solution?

There are a few scary things about medications that I suppose I should address. One of them is side effects. There are some pretty ugly side effects that can happen, especially with older meds. Adding to this problem is that psychiatrists are often less than forthcoming about them. The worst example in my life was when I asked a doctor what the side effects of a certain medication were and he said none. I knew that couldn’t be true, and it definitely wasn’t. I reacted badly enough to it that I had to be taken off. Perhaps the key to this is finding a good doctor. That doctor wasn’t very good, but others have been. My current doctor is much better. It is also good to research medications on your own, especially by asking the pharmacist. Pharmacists are very knowledgeable and often quite willing to provide plenty of information.

Another thing to mention about side effects is that they often go away. I remember one medication I took for a while gave me the feeling of a foot falling asleep, but in my face. That was annoying. It also gave me a very dry mouth which would even wake me up in the night. Both of these side effects went away within a couple of months. My current medication caused me to feel itchy all over, but that is going away too. I’m glad I stuck it out.

Another fear is that medications are over prescribed. I imagine this is quite true, but that doesn’t mean it’s true in any particular case. Once again, education is useful here. Sometimes, doctors prescribe drugs because they assume the patient just wants a drug and not something else. It helps to find doctors that recommend other methods before going to the drugs. If you fear over prescription of drugs, do enough research to find a doctor who shares your feelings about this. I am on low to medium doses of medications and I’m fine. I appreciate the doctors that have kept my doses down. Not all of them have had that approach, but most have and I’m healthier for it. I know that I really do need those medications which I do take.

For all the alleged dangers and side effects and bad things with psychotropic medications, I know that, for me, now that I’m on the right ones, I feel OK. I haven’t felt OK in far too long. When I talk to my friends they say I sound happy, but in a stable way. Even if the wildest, craziest rumors about these drugs badly harming their patients and all that nonsense were true, I’d still have a happier life for the time that I’d have it. Without this stability, I’m fairly certain I’d be in prison or dead by now, so I’m glad for what I have.

Dealing With Mania

Recently, I had an interesting day. I came across a member of a church whose other members hurt me very deeply a few years ago. This brought up many feelings of pain and anger. It was interesting how bothered I was, given that I don’t think this man, in particular, was involved in the rotten things that happened back then.

The event threw me into my form of mania. I have Bipolar Disorder, and my manias are not the pleasant, enjoyable kind that many have. When I get manic, I get incredibly irritable. Just about anything at all will anger me. I become very difficult to talk to. When I get like this, I generally try to have nothing to do with my housemates, because I know that if I speak, I won’t be very nice. I was afraid that I’d be like this all day, but I didn’t know what to do.

Eventually, I decided to just try to be productive. I sat and worked on my budget and paying bills for a bit. Rather quickly, I began calming down. I was slightly irritable after getting those things sorted out, but I was mostly better. Coming down from the mania, I got very tired and took a nap. When I woke up, I felt all better. I was happy again and visited my parents who live in my city and had a pleasant dinner with them and went with my dad to take the dog for a walk. By now, I was all excited about learning the C# programming language and talked about it extensively. I shared a bit about the struggles of being a landlord, but I didn’t get too down about it.

I share all this to say that even just a little bit of productivity is good for the soul. It’s especially interesting because it works for depression as well as mania. either extreme can be made milder by productivity.

This leads to a greater truth. All virtue is linked together and all vice is linked together opposing it. Aristotle said that all virtue lies between two vices, one excessive and one deficient. Basically everything good is more than too little and less than too much. Take generosity, for example. You don’t want to be a miser and hoard all your money for yourself, but on the other hand, you don’t want to give so much that you starve to death either. Instead, the virtue is generosity. The church’s standard is 10% of your earnings should go to the church. The church then distributes that to serve the world. You can, of course, donate more than that to whatever you like. A very rich man should probably donate much of his money to charity, while a poor man might give only the 10% to the church.

I picture virtue as a ball in the center of a space. The virtue is everything within God. Outside of virtue, in every direction are vices. Virtue is the ultimate balance. When one finds himself on one side of the ball of virtue, he needs only drag himself to the other side to find balance. So if someone spends too much money, he may try to be a miser about things. If his nature is to be a spendthrift, then moving in the direction of hoarding may put him near the balance of generosity.

Both depression and mania take me away from being productive. They are on the opposite side of that virtue. So productivity brings me into that virtue. Being within virtue makes me happier by nature. Of course, if I were careless, I could go too far into being a workaholic. I tend to be lazy enough that that isn’t much of a concern most of the time, but it has happened. I’ve worn myself out by too much work in the past.

To be honest, my church isn’t much for Aristotelian thinking, as they prefer Plato. I’m not really sure what Plato said about it, but now I kind of want to know. Perhaps a future post will be an update on this kind of thinking. For now, though, it’s worth noting that virtue pulls us out of pain.

Musings

I have a couple of minor thoughts to share today. This will be a more lighthearted post than recent ones.

Star Wars

There exists on the internet a fan edit of Star Wars that undoes all the changes that Lucas made in his Special Edition of the original Star Wars trilogy. (This is necessary because Lucas (and now Disney) has done everything in his power to stop people from viewing the original. It’s not even available on DVD as far as I know.) I’m not a fan of the special edition. To be honest, I’m pretty much in the group of people who would shout out “Han shot first!” When I heard of this fan edit, I was excited to download it. But there’s a problem. Due to rather silly copyright laws in the States, it is actually technically illegal to watch it under any circumstances. Perhaps copyright laws need to change, but either way, I cannot view this film without sin. I deeply wrestled with this, and last week, a friend of mine helped me illegally acquire a copy of it to watch. I later got a conscience and deleted it without even watching it first. I gotta say though, this may be the geekiest confession my priest has heard in a long time.

Colors

Light and dark have powerful effects on me. Light rooms and even light colors make me happier and darkness makes me unhappy. Oddly, I like to be awake at night, but I also like to have bright lights on at that time. During the day, a sunny day will make me very happy and a cloudy day can put a burden on everything. (Perhaps, I should move away from Michigan!) Now this information can be valuable. Just recently, I changed my desktop wallpaper to show a beautiful church in the snow on a sunny day. The moment I changed my wallpaper to that, I was happier. Previously, due to a lost image file, I had no desktop wallpaper, only a black screen. Now with the brighter colors, my computer is a happier thing to look at. Good thing, because I look at it a lot.