too

I’ve never been comfortable being myself. I’ve always struggled with defining my self-worth by the way I perceive that others see me. I look at myself as though I am a judgemental outside observer, constantly criticizing my faults and shortcomings. I suppose this comes from a severe lack of self-esteem, something I learned at home and had reinforced at school when I was a kid.

My hair was too messy. My braces were too geeky. My face was too dorky. I was too slow. I was too nerdy. I was too “husky”. I was too quiet, too depressed, too clingy, too intense, too creepy, too naïve, too introverted. I was too smart. I was too boring.

I wasn’t outgoing. I wasn’t down-to-earth. I wasn’t cool to be around. I wasn’t athletic enough. I wasn’t happy enough. I wasn’t interesting. I wasn’t dateable.

Ugh. Enough memories.

I still feel my flaws as much as ever, but now I suppose there is more of a reluctant acceptance of my flaws. Some of those perceived flaws are imaginary, a function of my own insecurities projected onto what I believe others see in me. Some of those shortcomings are realistic, and I just have to accept them and work around them. I don’t have much faith that therapy can fix this mindset.

I don’t like who I am on some days, but sometimes I’m okay with myself. For a perennial depressive, that’s good enough. On very few days, I get to feel more positive, and that is always welcome.

father time

It’s time for my annual episode of mixed feelings about Father’s Day.

When my son was born on Fathers Day, I had this feeling that life would never be the same, and it has been true. It seems cliché to say, but when I sat in the hospital room, holding my son while watching a baseball game, I had a feeling of unconditional love which I had never known before that day. I had similar feelings when my daughter was born, but at that time it was mixed with relief and thankfulness that I had survived a bad car accident to reach that point in life.

I have never thought I was a great parent, mostly because my bipolar disorder caused me to ruminate about mistakes, elevated my anger and emotional instability, and caused me to be mentally absent for long periods of time. Looking back though, I realize I did the best I could, that all parents make mistakes, and that the kids don’t hate me. The conversation at Thanksgiving made me feel so much better about myself, and I don’t think the kids realize it.

The negative emotions surrounding the day stem from the fact I have never had a father. I didn’t have that influence on my life, someone to play ball with, someone I could pattern myself after or enjoy being his son. Because I was adopted by a single woman who never got married, I saw poor examples shown by imperfect people with problems of their own, and I didn’t really understand how there is no such thing as the perfect dad. I knew I didn’t want to emulate those men, but I didn’t have a healthy idea of who I could emulate.

When I found my birth father’s family in 2019, I was a little bit sad to learn he had died several years previously. I also found out I have three half-brothers, but they got to spend time with my father. I wish I had been able to meet him, because he sounds like a good guy at heart, but part of me would always remember that he left me behind. I’m not good with new relationships anyway, as evidenced by how much difficulty I have had maintaining a relationship with my birth mother.

Enough rambling. If you are doing something nice for your father, maybe let him know if he was a good parent. That would make a great present.

blog soup – stir well

I have a busy week ahead. I have three field days at work this week, two of which are unnecessary; I have an appointment with both my therapist and my sleep doctor; and it’s my father-in-laws birthday. My wife has no idea what to get him other than a gift card to the hardware store. It’s difficult because his birthday and Father’s Day are so close together, and he doesn’t need anything except carpal tunnel surgery. Fortunately he will get that at the VA hospital, because it’s hard to get medical procedures from Amazon (for now).

My daughter needed to replace a broken phone, and our other two were glitchy, so we finally ditched our old prepaid cell plan and went with a major carrier (the pink one) to get discounted phones. The red carrier is too expensive even though they have better coverage; I hate the blue carrier and I think their bundling prices are predatory. I’m happy with the service, but my brand new phone has problems reading the SD card.

The thought occurred to me that everyone I went to high school with is at or near 50 years old, and their parents are getting older to the point where funerals are becoming more common. That’s depressing in several ways. Maybe seeing your parents getting older is part of the mid-life crisis experience because it makes you think about your own mortality. Nothing lasts forever, so go nuts while you still can, or something like that. My idea of going nuts is completely different, but even I fall victim to the urge to buy expensive things to make myself feel alive. For example, I bought pricey brioche buns for my grilled hamburgers instead of the cheaper plain buns. Living on the edge, that’s me.

abusive memories

I started writing a different post, and it triggered a memory. It’s really important that I write this first.

I just heard a voice from the distant past saying, “don’t get too big for your pants.” That was always a code phrase for whenever this person was telling me I was too arrogant or full of myself; in other words, she was trying to tear me down anytime I felt a little bit of confidence.

Another one of her greatest hits was, “you’re breeding a scab on your nose,” which to me meant that I was setting myself up for embarrassment and failure. When I heard that code phrase, I would stop what I was doing because I was afraid to be seen as a failure. If she saw me as a failure, everyone else would too. This also made me want to succeed at things to spite her, and I’ve been told that spite is an ugly emotion.

I repeat those phrases in my head, and all I feel is negative emotions from the memory: anger at her for pulling a child into her bitter negativity; sadness for myself, who never learned to shake off the power her words had over me; and frustration at how badly this damaged my psyche to the point I would rarely have confidence in anything I do.

I can’t stress enough the effect this has had on me as a child, as a teen, and as an adult. My entire life has been filled with instances where I could have tried something new, but I didn’t have the fearlessness to try whatever it was because I thought it was predetermined that I would fail. I can’t count the times I might have been really good at something, but I was afraid to give it a shot for fear of embarrassment or ridicule.

I was a really smart kid, but I had no answer for the verbal abuse that was inflicted on me every day. I was book smart, but I had no emotional intelligence. I say that as if I’m blaming myself, but how could I lean and grow emotionally when I was stifled by the pressure-cooker environment I lived in? I knew my life was messed up, but not once did it occur to me that I wasn’t at fault somehow. A lifetime of emotional depression was caused by one mentally ill person constantly abusing a child, passing that mental illness down as if it were genetic, and morphing it to fit my specific weaknesses.

Failure, shame, embarrassment, sadness, anger. It has taken me many, many years to attempt to put these thoughts behind me and move on with life. I haven’t succeeded yet.

pascal’s wager

I’m still thinking about the memorial service I went to several weeks ago, but more about the role of religion in people’s lives and how it relates to my atheistic views.

I must admit that people who believe in religion get many positive benefits. They can have comfort and hope knowing that their god has a purpose for their lives, that he cares for them and guides them through trouble, that someone is listening to their problems during prayer, and that there is an afterlife of some kind where things will be better.

It must be nice to have that source of happiness and joy, even though it makes no sense to me anymore. I understand that giving one’s life to God means that they don’t have to worry as much about problems with the faith that God will solve them.

As an atheist, I have to work a little harder to find happiness, deriving it from the pleasure of living life while I still have it. As a perennially-depressed atheist, it is really difficult for me to achieve this happiness. It is hard for me to have a hopeful or optimistic life because of my brain chemistry, and I don’t derive as much pleasure from life as other atheists might. As a result, sometimes I wish I were one of the faithful.

There is a concept called Pascal’s wager, which supposes that the existence of God cannot be determined by reasoning and logic. If you believe in God, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose; if you don’t believe in God, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. So you need to place your bets: if you wager there is no God or Heaven or Hell or any of the other trappings of religion, you risk eternal damnation. If you wager that God is real, you get all the benefits of belief without risking anything. It seems like the logical choice would be to believe.

As a former Christian, I know the benefits of believing in religion, but I just can’t bring myself to drink the Kool-Aid again. I’m betting against God. If he does exist, I’ll see some of you in Hell.

positively negative thoughts

When I start feeling too positive about myself, I look for something negative to relieve the pressure. For example, this time I thought about multiple teenage social encounters with girls who didn’t have the slightest interest in me.

There was the girl I took to the company Christmas party because I worked with her older sister, but I was told later she found me boring. There was the “wingman” incident where my friend and his girlfriend got it on in her house, and I was left for an awkward hour with her disinterested friend. Then there was the time I was trying to talk to a girl in class, while she was trying to set up a “sleepover” with another person in class.

Remembering good times. I fucking love my brain.

comfort for the atheist

I went to a graveside funeral recently. A Christian pastor led the service, and he read several passages from the bible about everlasting life with Jesus and how He has prepared a place to receive his believers after their life ends here on earth.

If you believe in the Christian faith, it must be comforting and uplifting to hear those words, to know that death is not a final end but a passage to a better place. I feel like the friends and family at the service appreciated this, and it helped them cope with the loss of a loved one.

As an atheist (or possibly an atheistic agnostic), I wonder what there is to give me peace and hope after someone close to me has died. Without the belief in an afterlife, am I to think that death is the end, hard stop? I am afraid that’s all there is; you had better enjoy life while you live it, because when the clock reads 0:00, you’re worm food, and that is it.

I believe that a person lives on in the memory of everyone they touched and everyone who loved them, but those memories are fleeting and fade over time. Some people live on through their accomplishments or inventions, but perhaps only in history books or remembered names of long-dead people. But these fragments are just temporary, and don’t imply any kind of afterlife. A person has no consciousness after death and cannot transfer from one phase of life to another one … or can they? 

Personally I don’t believe in any god or eternal life for the soul, but I’m open to the possibility of other outcomes that can’t be explained. There is something appealing about the concept of reincarnation. There are young people that seem truly wise beyond their age (you hear these people called “old souls”). I can accept that ghosts might exist (I think I saw one as an older child). I believe evil forces exist in this world and cause pain and suffering.

But those possibilities cannot be explained through science or logic; these are only constructs of the mind. The brain goes dark after death, and doesn’t return. People who talk about “near-death experiences” are simply confusing perception with the action of chemical reactions and electrical impulses.

None of this answers the questions at hand: what is there that gives me solace and comfort when someone has died, and what do I have to look forward to after death? I don’t think there is anything for me after death, but first I need to finish living. I can help keep alive the memory of people who are close to me. I can do good for others while I am alive. I can have a positive effect on the people around me, even if only a few. 

That’s good enough for me.

high inquisitor

I have questioned my memory of the person I was in the past. I think I was a decent person, but at the same time broken, awkward, and angry due to the years of abuse. I tend to remember the worst of who I was and how I treated people, and I remember the stupid things I did because of early-onset bipolar. These feelings happen during my depressive moods, and I have a difficult time escaping the darkness that envelops my thought processes.

I have this irrational desire to question my old friends to find out what I was like from their perspective and see how terrible a person I really was. I found something I wrote here during a depressive spiral in 2011:

I keep going back to my memory to try to find the answers on my own, but I need [old friends’] testimony as evidence to build the case against myself. I want to know if they remember everything the way I do, if their story checks out with the alleged facts in my mind. I have to know what they were thinking or feeling at the time, why they did what they did, why they cared about me in the first place, what I did to drive them away, … and why they decided they could no longer trust me. I need them to tell me how badly I hurt them, and if those scars remain, and if they think about those times with sadness or anger. I want them to confirm that I was really the monster I think I was.

I’ve had people from the past tell me they remember me as a basically good person and a good friend who seemed to have things figured out. Maybe I really fooled them, which makes me a disingenuous fraud, or they aren’t being truthful; either way, I don’t believe them. I think they are trying to protect my feelings, trying to be supportive and kind rather than honest. That’s not what I want from them; I want the unvarnished facts, don’t pull your punches, give it to me straight … I can handle the truth.

I want to know … but I don’t know if I have the right to ask these questions. I want to put people I’ve loved through this insane line of questioning even though it might hurt them now more than I ever did before. Sometimes I’m prepared to torture my friends and family to get the truth, and fuck the consequences. … I know I shouldn’t do this, to myself or my loved ones, but I’m still obsessed. I still want to know, even if I have to hurt them to get the answers.

 

I have had to accept that people from my past grew up and let go; they’ve moved on, lived their life, and made their choices … while leaving me in their past. They have forgotten the exact details of that afternoon in 1986, or that weekend in 1989, or that evening in 1993. They don’t remember what song was playing, or what cookies we shared, or where we sat in the grass. They have done what adults do, leaving the details to fade into the background, just remembering the highlights, maybe feeling a little nostalgia when looking at an old yearbook, but then closing the yearbook and coming back to the present.

Sometimes I don’t know how to do that. Sometimes I want to punish myself by examining everything in painful detail, repeatedly analyzing what went wrong and what I could have done to fix it, wishing I could go back and just make a small revision or two, and wanting to find out how the story could have ended.

glass half empty

I have had a sense of impending doom lately. I’m very pessimistic about several things right now: the election, my moods, my job, my daughter, and the coronavirus. I just get the feeling that things are about to get worse.

I don’t think the changing season is to blame; that doesn’t usually have much effect on me. I have had the California fires on my mind, because my old hometown was in danger, but the threat is less now.

I don’t claim to be psychic, just perceptive, and I see dark times ahead.

Or I’m just as crazy as Professor Trelawney, and I can’t see anything at all.

this so-called recovery

People who don’t have mental illness seem to think that you can recover from all mental illness. I suppose it’s in how you define “recovery”. If you see recovery as having no more symptoms and leading a “normal” life, I’m afraid that’s a myth for me.

I believe recovery, by this definition, is possible for some people with anxiety or depression or other disorders where therapy is the primary treatment, possibly enhanced with medication. But I think people like me who have bipolar or schizophrenia or other serious lifelong conditions have to accept that being symptom-free is nearly impossible.

I have accepted for some time that I will always be chasing stability, that I will always need a cocktail of medication to control the bipolar, and that I will fight it to a draw on most days. Some days it will win, and I won’t be able to function at all; most days the meds help me deal with it and allow me to pretend to be a functional adult.

That doesn’t sound like recovery to me. It seems more like a fight to the death, and at the moment, I’m hoping to die from something else and not the bipolar.