Sunday, August 31, 2014

Taming the Doomer

After a difficult summer, I've achieved some sense of emotional security and stability. But still the Doomer insists that I'm surrounded by fools. I walked through the Augsburg campus today and saw a large circle of college-aged kids. (I'm guessing they were college-aged, because nowadays college kids look like high school kids to me, high school kids look like middle school kids and so on, although infants still don't look like fetuses, thank God.) The Doomer just wanted to point at them and shout, "You're all doomed! DOOMED!"

I've come to accept the Doomer as an aspect of my personality, an incorrigible child of the Dark Side who must be kept in his corner. He acts out every now and then, and that's when he needs a timeout. This taming of my Doomer has been instrumental in my emotional recovery. I've had to learn to look on the bright side and not wallow in pessimism. It has helped me recognize the subjectivity of my perspective and realize that happy people aren't oblivious; they just have a different, arguably better perspective.

In my solitary wandering, I've often seen happy people and thought them stupid. My mind would ask, "How can you be happy in this vale of tears?" I usually diagnose this reaction, correctly, as envy. I'm lonely and resent their apparently happy, friend-filled lives. But the persistence with which I've discredited happiness as ignorance imprinted that equation on my psyche. I came to distrust happiness in others and myself as a symptom of naivete or willful blindness.

In order to climb out of a hole of anxiety and depression, I had to re-program my brain to accept happiness as a legitimate response to the world, even with all its injustice, pain and suffering. The things that had previously supported my sense of self-worth (living in a hip neighborhood, working a job that paid the bills, hanging out with friends with whom I felt strong emotional bonds) were lost.

I was forced to expand my emotional aperture to accept support from sources I'd been rejecting, most notably my parents. The friends I have now aren't as artistic or sensitive as my old friends, but I've learned to focus on their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. I've also tried to reciprocate their loyalty, no longer expecting the relationships to be one-way streets of encouragement. Once I pulled back the curtains to let in more light, the Doomer had fewer places to hide.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Li'l World

At least a year after my 2005 breakdown, the world began to appear small to me. The rooms of my apartment, the houses that I walked past, the skyscrapers that filed past the window of the buses and cars I rode in. They all suddenly looked small. For some reason, my visual perception of the size of the world had changed. It was as if the world had been warped and shrunken to fit inside my anxiety-addled brain.

It was a depressing development. Formerly, the world had intimidated and fascinated me with its size. I loved to gaze up at skyscrapers in Minneapolis, Chicago or New York and stare across the vast expanses of flat farmland while driving through the Midwest. I was usually nervous when in public, and being in the presence of a large feature, like Times Square, increased my nerves. At the same time, though, it excited me. 

But I could no longer lose myself in the world's labyrinth. I walked the city streets, but really I was only walking the streets of my own mind. There was no interaction to take me out of my head. The strangers passed wordlessly, reinforcing the sense that this world was just a figment of my imagination, an illusion meant to torment me with the unfulfilled promise of connection.

This shift in perception was later supplemented with increased confidence and a lack of interest in taking part in the world. Even though I had a new-found serenity, I had no desire to put it to use by making friends, dating or pursuing my artistic aspirations. I just wanted to keep watching TV in my apartment and hang out with my roommates. This seems to have been another symptom of depression, the sense that the outside world had nothing to offer me.

I recovered from the apathy, but that feeling of living in a diminished world still crops up on a regular basis. The key to fighting the depression seems to be engaging with people socially, especially strangers. It takes guts for me to venture outside my Minnesota comfort zone, but it's good for me and hopefully my sociability will "go viral," as the kids say.

I think it would be good for most Minnesotans to adopt this habit. Here are some ideas I came up with for a Minnesota PSA: "Friendliness: Pass It On!"  Or "You're an Adult. It's OK to Talk to Strangers Now." Or "Talking to Strangers: It's not just for at-risk youth anymore!" One of those should do the trick.