Why I do this

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a “Why do I do this?” post. Sometimes I need reminding. Why would anyone write anything if the fear of writing was that others might see it. I think that might be the difference between people who have the compulsion to put their thoughts into print and those who would never want to express what they feel on paper, much less risk someone else reading it. A lot of people do write, and they hope that no one ever sees it. So what compels some of us to put such personal thoughts out for just anybody? Like that dusty bowl of ribbon candy at your grandparents’ house.

There have been many times in my life that I have felt alone in how I feel, and nobody else seemed to feel that way either. So, that moment when you read something that echoes how you are feeling, you find a connection with someone else, either separated by miles or even years. In some cases centuries. The truth is the people a thousand years ago are going through much the same things that we are now. With a few minor differences (more like complications) thrown in by technology.

I’m sure there was a second century farmer out there who thought that the young kids of today had it so good because they had some kind of iron bit at the end of a stick instead of just wood. We just used wood in those days, and it was good enough for us!

Today I stumbled across one of my older blog posts. It is one of my favorites. At the time I wrote it, I was feeling really raw, but I was also healing. The me from three and a half years ago is different than the me I am today. Back then, he couldn’t have known the challenges he would have faced, and maybe it would have been too much for him to bear. But he did see the natural progression of some things. Not so much a self-fulfilling prophesy, but more like just being able to read the road.

I’ve been through a lot of bullshit since then, but I have also had amazing moments, sprinkled in here and there. There will probably be more of that to come–good and bad–but I do see a break in the clouds. I see opportunity. Adventure. Contentment. Peace. My life isn’t over yet. I have only just started really living. When pathways are taken away from you, rather than sit there and stew and whine about it, you have to push ahead and find something else to live for and new pathways to make for yourself. It isn’t easy. There are days that is the last thing I want to do. Like hiking up the side of a mountain, you can stop where you are and say, “I just need to catch my breath.”

Some people just pitch their tent right there and never go any further. They are too afraid to see what is on the other side of the mountain. It’s easier just to stand on the side of a steep incline all day, because that is what they are used to doing.

I have this ringing in my ears. It comes from years of abusing my hearing with loud music, playing the drums, heavy equipment, you name it. In a quiet room, I can sit here and hear that neeeeeeeeeee just ringing in my ears. That’s the way it is sometimes. We live in a world of chaos where there is always drama or conflict or people shouting and acting bonkers. They don’t feel safe without the familiarity of so much chaos happening around them. It would be like sitting in a quiet room and just putting up with the ringing in your ears without it. So, they metaphorically crank up the stereo, vacuum the floors, turn the TV up to full blast…just so they don’t have to hear that ringing they can’t stop.

The ringing in my ears is annoying, but it isn’t hurting anyone. Not even me. It’s just a sound. It just means I have damaged my hearing and made some mistakes in my life. I can still hear. I can still feel. I can still walk and climb and drive and sing. I might not be able to hear as well as I used to, but I can still hear. And even if I couldn’t, there is a lot more to life. Focusing on the one thing that doesn’t work that well and making it your personality is exhausting.

After a while, you don’t even notice the ringing in your ears. And if you want to play loud music, play it. But only because you enjoy it, not because you are hiding from the ringing in your ears.

So, back to the original question. If you are reading this and it spoke to you, if it made sense or captured what you couldn’t put into words, I’m glad I wrote it. I do this because we are wired to communicate and this is just one more way we can do it. As people, we are flung all across the planet. Sometimes our tribe isn’t the people we are neighbors with. Sometimes they are halfway around the globe. I write because that’s how my brain has found its happy place. The peace it needs. Most nights I can’t even sleep unless I write. The noise in my head becomes too much then. Writing is like turning off something one by one until all you are left with is the quiet. Sometimes it even turns off that incessant ringing.

And since nature abhors a vacuum, that emptiness, that quiet lets good things back in. Instead of ringing, I hear music. Instead of all that weight, I feel strength. And instead of fear, I feel brave enough to keep walking ahead to see what is on the other side of the ridge.

Time to face the strange ch-cha-changes

I’ve been waking up early in the morning lately. Partially because I’ve been going to bed at a somewhat human hour. The days are getting shorter and soon the nights will be longer than the days again. The leaves in the mountains are just beginning to change, with those fiery reds and oranges and yellows shimmering on the aspens. Soon the mountainsides will look like they are ablaze with color.

The fields have subsided again to the golden brown of autumn already and hunters are stalking elk with black powder rifles and bows until the true insanity of hunting season starts again. Orange is the new black.

Sorry I have been remiss in my posts lately. I’m still playing catchup right now and hopefully I will have a lot of good stories and such to post both here and at gettingoutmore.org. As usual, I will post the things going through my mind, the gooey emotional meanderings and thoughts I have been experiencing, all the heavy stuff.

I want to talk about chasing. And trying to find that balance in life. I know the things I talk about are hardly the discussion for polite company amongst strangers, but I feel like if you’ve been reading my posts, we’ve somehow crossed that threshold a while back. Thank you for continuing to read. I just hope my thoughts resonate with my friends and readers and you find a kind of comraderie here.

Anyway. Chasing. I don’t want to bloviate about my trainwreck of a marriage, but I will say that for a very long time, I bought into the idea that I had to put my life on hold to embrace the prescribed way that married people have to live. Instead of adventures with a companion, I was toiling away at a job, never breaking even, buying too much crap for Christmas and birthdays for kids, and watching the world pass me by year after year.

When I got out, I understood the things that I was missing. Sure I had hedge trimmers and lawnmowers and I knew how to fix an eave and replace a gutter and spackle walls and hammer in flooring to improve a house that hardly ever felt like home, but I had almost no idea or sense of place in the rest of the world. I was piped everything from cable news or the internet. I watched travel shows and took whatever bullshit Rick Steves or Tony Bourdain was feeding me for gospel. But I was still hungry.

I was also hungry for human connection. I had my kids, half the time, but that was a continuing battle, just as it was when I was married. The only difference between this battle of wills in parenting was I had about five miles distance separating the kids from their mom every other week. It was all still the same game for her.

So, I chased that ever-elusive thing called a relationship in my off weeks. In the beginning, I was myopic because anyone would have been better than the person I had left. Even if they weren’t good for me. It was hard lessons, which took years. Finding someone, trying to incorporate our lives together, looking past the fundamental differences, and then watching things fall apart, regardless of my efforts. Believe me, I was good at lost causes. I held my marriage together for years. It was my superpower. It was a talent I have since taught myself to abandon. But that chasing sure as hell beat the war of attrition I was fighting with my kids. At least at the end of the day, I had something for myself that someone who hated me so much couldn’t take away.

The kids are gone now, and so are the women I had been pursuing. What remains is almost stark in comparison. I have the rest of my life. With me in it. Just me. I’m not chasing anyone. I’m no longer participating in the Greek tradgedy of parallel-parenting with a clinical narcissist. What remains is my own ambition to build a life for myself. I have resources such as my ability to write, my desire to learn new things–like photography–and now that I no longer have these other distractions, I am trying to figure out what to do with the resources I’ve got at my disposal.

How do I make it all come together? How do I turn these things into money? I’m about 25 years late to this game. I have to say it is not easy. There are days it feels like this is exactly what I need to do. Like I am following some sort of plan and things are falling into place. And there are times I think, dear Lord, I’m going to starve to death.

But those days when I wake up and the sunrise is shining purple on the hills, igniting the clouds, and the air is cool and crisp, I think I could get used to living like this.

And even the nights these days have felt much less cold and empty and alone.

The neat thing is sometimes you glance back to where you have come from and you actually see the progress you have made. It is encouragement enough to keep going. Even if things are so much different now than they were three, five, eight years ago. In many ways, it is so much different than your expectations. And in other ways, it is more amazing than you could have dreamed.

I’ve lost a lot along the way. Friends. Family. Lovers. A whole way of life. But I’ve gathered new experiences, met really cool people along the way (you know who you are!), and learned who my true, ride or die people are.

Everytime I go someplace, it takes me further away from who I once was, and closer to becoming someone new. I can’t help but wonder if one day, I will have lost myself entirely. Maybe that’s the whole point?

I’m going to talk about mental health

I’ve been going to therapy for years. Most recently since about a year before I filed divorce and then steadily after that for the last going on eight years. There’s a lot to talk about here, so if you are an old salt at mental health or if you have questions about getting started with it, I hope I can tick some of the boxes to help. I’m not a professional, but I might be an expert at the process from a patient’s perspective. The last couple years have been rough on everyone. Mental health is very real.

It’s not just about childhood trauma

The old trope of “Tell me about your childhood” exists, but therapy isn’t limited to just this. A lot of the time they want to know how you feel about something right now. You can bring childhood trauma into it, which often plays a part, but it’s not the whole picture. Sometimes it’s your current situation. Stress about money. An abusive partner. Your own anxieties or stress. A sense of meaning or purpose you seem to be lacking. It’s not always going to be about your past, though that will come up if you think it’s important and want to talk about it.

They aren’t your friends

The crazy thing (sorry, pun not intended) about getting therapy is it is a relationship of sorts. It’s not a friendship, though you will be sharing some very personal things with someone who will listen and offer feedback. They aren’t your friend, but I don’t mean that in a menacing way, like I would say about co-workers or the police. Friends tend to…indulge us sometimes. Enable us. Therapists don’t. At least they shouldn’t, but they will often listen and empathize with us to get the full story. Let them. This is good. Our friends like to see us Happy. Sometimes that means if we are lying to ourselves about stuff. I had a therapist tell me it was her job to hold up a mirror. Sometimes we don’t like what we see in that mirror. And no, life isn’t always about being Happy. Whoever told us that probably made their fortune off selling billions of hamburgers. Or oxycontin.

It’s a relationship

Just like any relationship, you have to find the right fit. I’ve been to therapists who just didn’t listen. Or others who thought they had me figured out. Others were such a soft touch with my feelings we got nothing done, because they were afraid to ask the tough questions. Others became more like friends and too familiar, and let me get away with bullshitting them for too long. Others just weren’t very good. I’ve probably seen a dozen different therapists. This happens. People come and go. It’s weird spilling your guts to someone only to hear later that they have taken another job someplace else or are retiring. But the important thing is finding someone that you click with…and not in a way that you click with friends. Someone you trust to share with, but also trust that they will call you out and you will feel safe with that. Even if being called out is uncomfortable.

But if the relationship is working, and your treatment isn’t, you can pick a different therapist.

Don’t self diagnose

I have a friend who is a psychologist. She gets so mad about TikTok and how people are using the app to self-diagnose ADHD, BPD, Narcissism, etc. Though I get the validity of her statement, that an app designed for teenagers to show off their dance moves is NOT a therapist…the problem with this country is we don’t have a lot of resources for mental health. It’s either prohibitively expensive or like I mentioned above, our choices are limited in who will be effective in our treatment.

As much as I have been going to therapy, my personal therapist has never run a DSM-IV or DSM-V on me. I have taken the DSM twice, however. Once due to a Parental Rights Evaluation due to my divorce, and another which was done because of a CPS investigation I got sucked into. That’s a whole other story, which I’ve talked about a few times. Here’s the thing. Both evaluations said pretty much the same thing. The things I was struggling with were due to the trauma I had endured during my marriage, and were likely treatable. But I wouldn’t have ever learned this just by going to therapy once a week. And a DSM isn’t just some online test you can take, like finding your Enneagram or your horoscope. It asks over 300 questions and the answers are interpreted by the psychologist to come up with a diagnosis.

Start somewhere

So, no. You can’t tell if you have ADHD or Borderline Personality Disorder based on TikTok, but it’s a good place to start asking the right questions. Anyone who says “Only 1% of the population is a clinical narcissist! Stop saying your ex has narcissism!” The only reason the stats are that low is because you have to be diagnosed, which in and of itself is rare. So your sample size (especially for a disorder where the person thinks nothing is wrong with them) is going to be skewed.

There’s a good chance your ex is a narcissist. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… And if that is what helps you deal with their bullshit, that’s not a bad place to start either. Unless you are using it to excuse your own bullshit of course.

If a diagnosis is what they need to show they are a narcissist, well, good luck with that, because in order to get diagnosed, you have to be evaluated. Anyone who is a narcissist is likely going to think they are the only one in the world without a problem. So good luck getting them in for a diagnosis. Unless a court orders it.

Don’t self-diagnose, but go into it with some good questions. Ask them to test you. I was involved with a narcissist who made me feel like I was the narcissist. I have two tests showing it wasn’t me. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

It’s not just about meds

People are worried that if they go to therapy they will be medicated. Some stuff needs medication, such as bi-polar disorder or things that your tendancy to self-harm has to be regulated with controlling your bio-chemistry. Some forms of depression, insomnia, and schizophrenia are like this too. But if your life sucks and you are depressed, there’s a good chance they can’t throw a pill at that.

In all my years of going to counseling, I’ve only been offered meds once and that was because my depression was so acute they were worried that something had to be done right now. The problem is it takes weeks to regulate with meds like that, and even then your body chemistry adapts. One day it all could stop working. And if you don’t have good insurance…well, you’re up shit creek.

But they will respect your wishes to be medicated or not. I know what my problems are, and CPT and other types of therapy have worked better than pills could. Same goes for self-medication. All the booze, weed, and hard drugs you throw at a problem won’t fix it. You have to do the work.

Do the work

It’s hard work sometimes. But it is worth it. It’s like coming out of a fog, even if it’s just for short bursts sometimes. But that fog gets less frequent until you start to forget the familiarity of the fog. It can be scary at times living without that fog. It’s a whole other way to perceive the world around you. You tend to act more instead of react. And sometimes that feels like you aren’t doing anything. You’ve lived so long the other way that you might backslide into dysfunction, or gravitate towards people with problems because you know what that is all about. You just have to keep doing the work. Chaos can be cozy, but you know what is better? Not having to deal with chaos. Trust me.

What comes next?

At some point, you might feel fine. It’s not a time-share, you aren’t stuck in it forever. It’s treatment. Just like how you wouldn’t keep going back to the doctor for that leg you broke in the third grade, at some point your visits will become less frequent. You’ll start to realize that something that would have gutted you a couple years ago just ruined your day and you were able to get on with your life. You no longer spiral. You cope. You overcome. You might even thrive. Your relationships are healthier. You cut out the toxicity voluntarily.

Every day isn’t going to be sunshine and lollipops, but you no longer feel that darkness consume you over little things. You are striving for balance. Not bliss. We all have good days and bad days. Therapy helps you avoid turning those good days into shitstorms because that’s all you know. You trust that life has an ebb and flow. Today might be good. Great even. Tomorrow might be bad. Knowing that one extreme or the other isn’t going to last forever has helped me immensely. At some point, you might decide you don’t need to go anymore, because you’ve got this.

Like really actually got this this time. And if you don’t, you can always go back.

What mental health isn’t

Mental health, unlike going to church or temple, isn’t about judgement. Unless you are hurting yourself and other people. There’s a stigma attached to seeking mental health. Like you’re “crazy”. We equate sanity with morality in this world. Being crazy isn’t about good or evil. It’s more like what you do with that crazy that matters. Someone who is psychotic or sociopathic has the capability to do bad things to other people without remorse. But treating that tends to curb the damage they can do to others.

There’s nothing that bugs me more about mental health than when people use their religion as a substitute. Why? Because a pastor or whatever the hell runs the place will just tell you to pray more, and it’s your own weakness and lack of faith that has caused this. Just pray. And tithe. Don’t forget to tithe. Bring your friends. Tithe.

Some personality disorders–like the ones I have experienced by proxy–are things that if they were treated would have meant the lives of their loved ones would have been better. But when you don’t treat it, it’s the same as letting someone have access to firearms who doesn’t possess the empathy or mental maturity to not walk into a school and start shooting.

There’s a guy I follow on TikTok who is a diagnosed, self-aware narcissist. He knows what he has done, and he understands how he has hurt people. Guess what? He’s doing something about it. That’s pretty badass right there. You are not your diagnosis anyway. You get to choose how you want to live.