How I ended up in therapy.

I thought I was “okay,” for years, for decades…until I realized that I wasn’t. And that had to be okay.

My grandfather had a nervous breakdown in 1962 from exposure to polishes and solvents he was working with and from badly-handled grief from losing his 18-year-old son in 1944. I was born in 1963, and I never got to know the man who raised my mother and aunt. He spent time in the state hospital and underwent electroshock therapy. Afterwards he was on drugs to manage his mental state for the rest of his life. He spent some time years later in a psych ward. I was 9 or 10, I think. Then he had to go back in for a while a few years later.

The idea I got from seeing those places was that I never wanted to end up there, and along with that, I thought that psychiatrists (I didn’t know about psychologists then) were the people who put you there. That there might be a reason for it was something that I didn’t spend a lot of time considering. As a result, my thoughts on therapy, for most of my life, were “HARD PASS.” I thought that I’d say the wrong thing and end up somewhere, and not be able to get out. So I developed the idea that I was in good shape mentally and didn’t need counseling.

Enter 1983 and Christianity, and an episode of the 700 Club (I watched this I kind of stuff early on) where Pat Robertson had some “expert” on who said that psychologists, by profession, were serving evil, and Pat threw in a 2¢ summary that a Christian psychologist was the same as a Christian witch-doctor. I now felt justified in my aversion to therapy. And that stayed with me for the rest of my time in the church.

As a Christian when I would struggle with something, people would verse-vomit and tell me to rely on dubious, and very badly explained things like the “Mind of Christ” and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. I never trusted that because I did not understand how it was supposed to work.

Being laid off from a job I had held for over 17 years placed me in some rather uncertain work situations, then selling my house and moving compounded the stress that I was dealing with. After a few episodes of rage at pretty manageable things, a friend pointed out that my problem had to do with stress and not the things in front me. So late in 2017 I found a therapist. There’s a lot to unpack, and losing my dad in June of 2018 only added more.

Your brain is an organ. It processes information. And when too much bad information overwhelms it, there are effects that you may not notice or be able to simply bounce off of like they’re of no regard. Recognizing that and seeking help for it is not a sign of weakness.

Pretending nothing is wrong is the weak move.

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Hard looks

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What is the difference between looking at something and taking a hard look at it, or between hearing something and listening intently?

-Alan Watts, Not what should be but what is, 1969

The human eye has no zoom function and yet I find myself, all the time, squinting at things as if I had such an ability. That’s me trying to focus on things, greatly influenced by years of science fiction. I always liked Steve Austin’s bionic eye whenever The Six Million Dollar Man was on TV.

Squinting is a waste of time when what you need to do is move closer to the thing you’re trying to see. Or I guess  you could take out your phone and shove it at whatever you’re wanting a close-up of. But you’re still going to have to bring it closer to your eye to see the detail in the image.

The same goes for trying to focus your hearing. The Bionic Woman had the high-tech ear and could pull in the smallest sounds from great distances. But I don’t. I can’t. I have to turn up the volume or move closer to the source of the sounds. Anything else is me going through the motions of hearing and seeing better while causing the opposite.

I  guess on one level it’d be nice to have these abilities but you’d have more things that would start to fail once the warranty runs out. It’s funny that I’ve engaged in these useless behaviors without noticing for most of my life. The other day I was at the store looking for a particular brand and size of chili powder. You all know how grocery store shelves are stocked. The spice section is rows and rows of similar-looking bottles of varying sizes and here I go trying to scan the shelves and zoom to get the label on the chili powder to pop out at me. Then I caught myself, and Alan Watts’s words came to mind. So I moved closer to inspect the chili powder section for what I was looking for. As it turns out, it wasn’t there. I don’t know how long it’ll take to break this habit. But at least I’m aware that I do it.

The Dangers of Uncertainty Aversion

I don’t like to date.

Let me clarify.

There are two activities that I refer to as “the meat grinder.” One is dating. The other is job hunting. During most of the handful of relationships I’ve had I’ve tried to hold onto them even when it was obvious to everyone but me that the overpass ahead was out and I was still driving. I’ve had to learn to get out when I see something is ultimately going to be causing more pain than not.

Job hunting is a lot like dating. However my approach has been different. I’ve been employed at the same company for the past 17 years and during that time I have only applied for jobs at other companies twice. Contrast that with a friend who is always updating and sending out resumes and going on interviews. Bosses talk of employee loyalty when hearing of someone out interviewing. Girlfriends talk about cheating. I’ve never really considered my tenure with this company as me being loyal to them. I’ve always thought of it as keeping a roof over my head, a car on the road and food on the table without the stress of wondering whether I’m going to be able to do those things.

I don’t like to date for the same reason I don’t like to interview. Dating is a series of interviews interrupted periodically with being someone’s boyfriend (the temp job) followed more interviews. In looking at all this I find that what I don’t like is uncertainty. The difference is that I’m a lot more willing to be single than I am to be unemployed. I like the idea that I’m going to be able to get the bills paid this month. I don’t always care whether I’m seeing someone.

So I keep going to work. That’s been fine since 1994, but now things at work aren’t looking all that certain. It’s been 17 years of a slippery slope. Certainty (having the job) has led to Comfort (liking having the job) which has led to Complacency (taking the job for granted). And now in 2011 I’m forced to do things I don’t like doing. So I’m dusting off the resume, making plans to buy a new suit, and getting ready for the time when I’ll have to wear it.

This time I’m going to have to be more like my friend. I’m going to have to be like those folks who say “to Hell with loyalty, I gotta eat.” Besides, the boss who calls an employee disloyal for looking for a job is a hypocrite. He or she would be doing the same thing..and probably is.