Archive | January, 2015

How do you say “crazy” in Nigeria?

31 Jan

It’s Saturday today, and so far it’s shaping up to be a day of bare minimums: putting garbage out, running the dishwasher, driving the boy (late I should add) to soccer, turning off the TV.

Continuing the trend, for my daily #just5 minutes of writing I’m taking a passage right out of the book I just finished, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a vivid and beautifully written story of love, loss, race and identity. There was much in these topics I found very relatable, but this passage struck a particular nerve:

“Depression was what happened to Americans, with their self-absolving need to turn everything into an illness…

…she refused to accept the diagnosis of panic attacks because panic attacks happened only to Americans. Nobody in Kinshasa had panic attacks. It was not even that it was called by another name, it was simply not called at all. Did things begin to exist only when they were named?”

What do you think? Are my anxieties real, or merely a luxury of my privileged (and white) Western upbringing?

Either way, look out for Americanah and other great reads for crazy people on goodreads.com or the widget on this page.

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The art of self sabotage

30 Jan

It’s 11:28 and I’m still 5 minutes away from my 11:00 dentist appointment (at the time I started writing).

I didn’t have an earlier meeting that went long. I wasn’t rushing to get something done before walking out the door. Traffic and public transit were running on time. It wasn’t fear or procrastination either.

I made myself late through my own acts of self-sabotage.

A special brand of manufactured obstacles, self-sabotage means taking deliberate but often subconscious measures to make an already pressing task unnecessarily more challenging. More than simple procrastination, acts of self-sabotage work directly in conflict with truly important priorities.

Among the crazy, self-sabotaging is a common behavioral pattern, and a frequent topic of conversation at my group therapy. Particularly when we’re in a rut, trying to pull out of one, or in the face of an imposing or unfamiliar situation, we sabotage our best interests through decisions and judgement we know to be self-defeating.  Memorable examples include…

…letting your phone ring through to voicemail because it’s someone you’re just not ready to talk to. Now you’ve got the burden of returning their call, probably anxieties about the call itself, and the shame of avoiding it in the first place.

…putting off a reply email for so long that the people expecting it have moved on.  If you do end up replying, you’ll feel it necessary to explain your absence, further complicating an already daunting task.  If you write it off completely, maybe you’ve burned a bridge in the process.

…having a drink or two before an important meeting to relieve anxieties and boost your self-esteem.  At best you’re oblivious to the fact that you smell like a brewery.  At worst you end offending the very people you were trying to impress.

…drinking or smoking to incapacitate yourself from facing an important phone call, meeting or task.  Escape and relief from short term pain lead to more in the long term; you’re going to have to get to it sometime, only now you’ll have less time and more stress to do it.

…taking on work you know you can’t complete because you don’t want to say no to someone.  At some point however, and the longer it goes unsaid the more difficult it is to say, you’re going to have to own up. You’re going let that person down far more than had you were honest from the get go.

…Waiting for your last pill to order prescription refills. This might involve an awkward (in your eyes) call to your doctor, and almost certainly means you’ll be going 2-3 days without your meds.  No big deal if we’re talking Zoloft.  Clonazepam can be a bitch though.

The pattern is obvious enough.  Each is a form of avoidance.  The cost of avoidance, a heavier workload and accompanying anxieties, was far worse than the work being avoided in the first place.  We worry so much about the inevitable that our actions make it impossible.  And yet we repeat the pattern over and over again.

Why?  What drives our acts of self-sabotage? What are we really avoiding? What are your favorite examples?  These and other exciting details to come.  Stay sane:)

Did Hemingway inspire my very own witching hour?

29 Jan

First, an answer to yesterday’s question, did I catch my inner critic, and put my own inactivity behind me, in time to keep the day from being a failure? In short, yes.

But the yes came with a bargain; I continued to put off my main priorities (a single job application and a handful of personal letters) for another day, and rolled more than one more joint throughout the day, but I did make a fantastic dinner and spent some quality time with the boy in Call of Duty. I even cleaned up the kitchen afterward, including hand washing the half dozen pots and bowls with various caked on messes from the meal’s preparation.

Today I find myself in a similar situation and time, not long after my own personal witching hour, 11:00 a.m.

For the last few weeks, as long as I’m up and have my first coffee and meds before 8:00, I’m usually optimistic about the day’s prospects, even anticipating my wife’s pride in recognizing my day’s accomplishments. I can sustain these feelings too, for the entire day if I do things right.

I need to put serious work into one of my top priorities, and I need to be at it before 11:00. Immediately after that, my self-confidence and optimism for the day take a nosedive. I start to minimize, then write off entirely, my prospects of touching my main priorities for the rest of the day. My thoughts shift focus from all the time I have to be productive, to the limited time I have left to myself before the boy and my wife get home.

I describe these feelings as mental momentum, something I have to keep up before I hit my witching hour. If I keep my mind in motion on my priorities, I drive through it. If not, it’s the immovable object that puts me at rest.

Oh, and why 11:00? I think it’s because there’s still time to make the morning productive, so I can see something that’s come from the day being half over. But that’s not all; I’m fairly sure I’ve heard virtually the same sentiments expressed by a famous writer. Hemingway was known for doing his full day’s writing before 11:00, at which time he’d say, “Eleven o’clock. What the hell, it’s noon in Miami. Let’s have a drink.”

Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of Hemingway, but could he be my unconscious inspiration? And if so, is he inspiring my writing…or just my lifestyle?

Bad start to the day wakes my inner critic…will I catch him in time?

28 Jan

Well today’s not off to a good start.  It’s just past noon and I’ve spent…

…45 minutes making the boy’s lunch and getting him off to school

…5 minutes tidying up the living room

…2 hours playing Call of Duty

…25 minutes fiddling with my WordPress profile

…15 minutes rolling and smoking a joint

…0 minutes on my top priority, submitting a single job application (my first in months).

Suffice to say, my inner critic is foaming at the mouth. The question is, by calling him out and writing this entry, did I catch him in time to save the day from failure?

Manufacturing Discontent: The slippery slope of familiar habits

28 Jan

I’m fresh out of church (code for my weekly group therapy) and my mind is racing with thoughts on the last week or so. Allow me to recap:

1) Last week I set an important goal for myself, to complete my first job application in months. It was an achievable goal and important more for completing the process than the actual job itself.

2) First I became distracted, then increasingly anxious as my focus drifted to what I call a manufactured obstacle, in this case the far less important task of updating my LinkedIn profile. Still, I think I caught this one early enough to keep it from derailing the job application.

3) Bolstered by my renewed focus (if not action) on the more important goal, I was caught by a surprise, but also manufactured crisis. For reasons I’ll get to another time, I am long overdue in reaching out and apologizing to a few old friends and colleagues (making amends, if you will). This week those apologies suddenly became urgent, in my mind so urgent that the job application might have to wait.

In the end what did me in was neither the job application nor the manufactured obstacles to its completion. It was a dance along the slippery slope of familiar, self-sabotaging habits: TV, Netflix, napping, Xbox, pot (marijuana) and an extra clonezepam for kicks, triggering harsh feelings of shame and self-loathing.

At first it was just one morning I took off to relax; no drugs, just some time to reflect and (ideally) reaffirm my priorities and plan for the day. The plan itself materialized…sort of, but carrying it out quickly moved to tomorrow’s plate.

Within three days, I was already dangerously close to mirroring the same (essentially stagnant) daily routine I lived right up to the end of 2014.

The lesson: Like a single cigarette to an ex-smoker, even a brief retreat to old, bad habits can quickly turn into a long term affair.

The other lesson: Again the ex-smoker knows the retreat is reversible, if you catch it in time. I sure hope I have, and I’ve already got one functioning day back under my belt (that’s today!).

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