Today’s post comes from an anonymous guest writer who has figured out how to thrive after decades of being stuck in depression. I hope you enjoy these insights as much as I did.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Ways that a life living with years of depression has left me with challenges in
my new life.
When you live with depression, you spend all day everyday in your head. The only
person you talk to is yourself. The internet and tv and Netflix are your only
inputs.
The result is a state of living in fantasy. When you come out of this state of
arrested development, there are challenges that I framed as fantasy versus
reality.
In fantasy, there are no consequences. You don’t hurt anyone’s feelings if you
don’t interact with anyone real. Fantasy people say whatever you’d like them to
say. These imaginary people in your head offer no feedback and no advice. When
you talk, your words mean nothing, they’re just words. When you talk to real
people, they usually assume your words mean something. Your promises are
expected to be binding.
There’s no making plans in fantasy, you can just leap to the best part. There’s
no reason you can’t just say you’ve slain the dragon and now you’re here to
marry the princess. In reality, there are steps in between where you are and
what you want.
Like tv, fantasy has no progress. Every ‘episode’ ends happily, and the next one
starts with a new fresh start. All is forgiven and forgotten. In reality you
have to push and push and keep up the effort to reach a worthwhile goal. Only
simple goals can be finished in a half an hour. And when depression keeps you
from finishing a plan, you have to start over when you get the gumption to get
back to it, if you get back to it at all.
Fantasy is like a single play in football, where every play ends in a touchdown.
There are no ‘plays’, no strategy. In life, you have to persist over many, many
plays, struggling for every yard. You don’t shoot for a touchdown every time.
You try for a first down, and then another and then another as you creep toward
the goal. You don’t learn strategies in fantasy, they aren’t needed.
Not only are there no steps in fantasy, there are no rewards. When the fantasy
is done, that world evaporates. In reality, whether you win or lose you get a
result. You will get a lesson. Fantasy offers no lessons.
There’s no time in fantasy. Things can take as long as you want, good times last
as long as you focus on them. In reality you have to put up with movies that are
over, and ushers that tell you it’s time to leave the building.
Fantasy has no friction. The world is like a smooth sheet of glass. You can fly
and glide and teleport across time and space. In reality the rubber has to meet
the road. The road provides the friction to move you forward. You have to have
friction, it’s the grip of the tires on the road.
In fantasy you can have perfection. The princess is flawlessly beautiful. The
castle is strong and well-built. In reality perfection is not only impossible,
chasing perfection will always get in the way of getting what’s ‘good enough’.
In reality you need to get things good enough and move on to the next thing. If
you don’t, you find yourself always far behind where you want to be because
you’re waiting for the ‘perfect’ opportunity. In reality the best way to move
forward fast is to get things good enough and then ask, “what’s next?”.
Fantasy is a road trip, and reality is moving and having a life.
– Anonymous

Lying in bed sick one morning, with no other distractions, I just listened to my heartbeat for a while.

As I lay there, I pondered the nature of my heart.

It was utterly amazing to me when I seriously considered that my heart keeps beating, day after day, year after year, consistently working without a break.

My entire being depends on it, and it provides the breath of life to every part of my body.

The more I need it, the harder it works.

If I clog it with grease, it doesn’t complain, just works as hard as it can with what its got.

I would immediately die without it.

 

And then it struck me…

This is why the heart is the symbol for love.

 

 

My apologies for getting behind on blog updates. It has been a hectic month. I got a 30 day notice in September that my lease would be terminated, so I have been hunting for a new office location.

I eventually found a dream location in Bethany with the Bethany Counseling Center. They are a fantastic group of people, about 20 minutes closer to my home and with a wonderfully relaxing 5th floor view. I will officially be at this new location starting October 8th, 2017.

I have always wanted an office like this, but I was worried about how it would impact the people I visit with, many of whom live in Edmond. I was surprised and quite honored that 90% of the people I see were willing to continue seeing me, even if it meant a 20 minute longer drive each way.

So, hopefully once things get settled down and I have updated my address with all the insurance companies and the vast data repositories across the internet, I will try to get back to blogging a couple times a month.

In the meantime, here is a map of my old location and my new location, as well as a picture of the new building at 3908 N. Peniel, Ste 500, Bethany OK, 73008.

 

One of the many nice things about being a counselor is that I get to learn a lot from many other peoples’ experiences in addition to my own. And over my years, I have noticed that at the end of the day, many things boil down to fear. And there are a couple things I have learned about fear:

1) Fear is self-reinforcing.

This may get a little bit technical with the psychology, but the premise is fairly simple and important, so bear with me. According to Behavioral Psychology, there are two basic ways to make something happen more. Positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is the easiest to understand, as it is basically rewarding behavior with something pleasant. Give someone money, praise, candy etc. for a task and they will do it more often. It is as simple as the fact that we usually do things that give us pleasure.

Negative reinforcement has a bit of a confusing title, because it is still a way to make people do things more, but in this instance, you remove something unpleasant. Tell a teenager that they will no longer be grounded if they do an extra chore and you have rewarded the chore. Scratching a mosquito bite is negative reinforcement because it removes the itchy feeling. Basically, a behavior is reinforced if it makes something negative go away.

So, consider fear of the dark. Does the dark hurt you at all? No. But if you are afraid of it, that fear is an unpleasant feeling. And if you experience that feeling and run away, you feel relief. The avoidance is reinforced, even though there was not actually anything physically harming you.

Thus, one of the reasons fear is so pervasive and detrimental is that everytime you give in and avoid fear, you feel better and are more likely to avoid it faster next time. Each time you avoid fear, your mind reinforces the idea that the thing you feared really was nasty and aren’t you glad you didn’t deal with it. Every time this happens, you get weaker and the fear gets stronger.

That is why fear starts out small, but ends big. Perhaps you start with something as simple as embarrassment of going to school with a bad haircut. But then, if you just stay home from school, you feel relieved. But next time you feel anxious, you avoid again since you did it before. Before long, you avoid parties and people. Then you avoid grocery stores and restaurants. Then you avoid work and other responsibilities. This is the process that ends up with people not able to leave their home.

Fear could be social anxiety, the fear of failure, the fear of conflict, the fear of losing control and so on and so forth. It all follows the same process. And the efforts to protect yourself just cause your world and your ability to function in a healthy way to shrink as time goes on.

2) Acting in fear often causes what you fear to happen.

This is another one of those things that I have recognized from many repeated observations. I think it is best illustrated by examples.

Consider the scene in Jurassic Park where they are told the dinosaur sees movement so they need to stand still. The person who is so afraid of getting eaten panics and runs. Guess who gets eaten.

I’ve been told that those red buoys that lifeguards carry are specially designed to move through water to knock people unconscious. This is because when someone is so afraid of drowning that they cannot think straight, they will wrap up the lifeguard and drown both of them.

What about people who are afraid in relationships? Afraid that their significant other will leave them, or cheat on them, or betray them. The fear of losing the other person often leads people to become clingy, irritable, untrusting, needy or even self-sabotaging. All things that will make the other person likely to leave.

If you are so afraid of failure and disappointment that you do not even try, then you just guaranteed that you will never succeed.

I could go on and on, but hopefully that is enough to illustrate the premise. 

 

I think I have said it elsewhere on my blog, but I’ll say it again. The opposite of fear is love. A fantastic way to break out of the mindset of fear is to ask when you have a dilemma, which action is based in fear and which one is based in love? If you are afraid to stand up for yourself because the other person may get mad or leave, love focuses on what leads to healthier relationships, while fear focuses on how to prevent pain.

And perhaps that helps make sense of other fear. Do you love yourself and believe in yourself enough to risk some pain because you know it is good for you, or do you just do what avoids pain today, even though you know it keeps on hurting you in the long run.

I don’t think I’m alone when I suggest, you need to love yourself.

 

 

I remember watching the original Star Trek when I was a child and taking note of how often Spock and Kirk would debate logic versus emotions. In retrospect, I think they did a good job of valuing both. Inspired by those debates, the young counselor in me came up with this theory.

 

What if emotions are like a super fast computer that quickly evaluates a situation based on past experience and generalizations to warn us of danger or problems?

 

Have you ever felt angry before you even knew why you were angry, only later to process that someone had violated your boundaries or undermined your security? Have you ever felt uneasy or anxious about a situation only later to recognize all the clues and warning signs?

Anger, fear, frustration, worry, etc. come on quickly and the unpleasantness motivates us to change our behavior. They can serve as excellent warning signs and indicators that we need to take a situation seriously.

 

The problem is, because this survival mechanism needs to process things so quickly, our emotions are based on generalizations, assumptions and past experiences, which are prone to error. For example, when you have all those odd physical reactions to public speaking, it is because your body reacts to the anxiety of being judged, the same way it would react to prepare to run from a lion. It is a protective mechanism that we regard new situations and people with hesitation and care, but to the extreme this becomes racism and seclusion.

And while our logic is certainly still prone to errors, given more time we can usually discern better what is right and true and what was just a false alarm or poor judgment.

Feelings are just another way to get information about the world, but just like sight or hearing, they can be impaired or faulty. I like to think of feelings as warning lights on a car dashboard. They are indications that something might be wrong. They should be respected, not ignored. But there have been times that I had a low tire warning light, checked all my tires with a gauge to find they are fine and later found out that the pressure sensor was broken. It feels a bit odd to drive around with that warning light on afterward, but I know why it is on and that things are ok.

Society appears to be doing a better job lately of recognizing that feelings need to be validated. Too many people have been hurt and told they were wrong to be upset. And too many people have ignored their feelings when they shouldn’t. Furthermore, depression, anxiety and many other mental health issues are invisible illnesses where people appear to be fine from the outside, but have a very real internal experience of pain and distress. Consider that if someone has tinnitus and experiences painful ringing in their ears, but there is no external sound, their pain is still real. It is largely ineffective or counterproductive to tell someone their experiences are not real.

But, it is an opposite and equally problematic extreme to confuse validating a person’s experiences with saying that those experiences are reality. It is a delicate balance for both those experiencing painful emotions and those caring for such people. But it is good to first validate that feelings are real, and painful, and distressing, and confusing. People are not crazy for being angry, or scared, or stuck.

But then no one should stay at this point too long. Feelings are real, but not reality. Just because you feel scared does not mean you should run. Just because you feel hurt does not mean anyone did you wrong. Just because you feel hopeless, worthless or a failure does not mean you are.

When actions are based on feelings all kinds of things go wrong. Half my blogs are basically getting at this point. I plan to write Feelings Part 2 soon as an example of this. And many of my clients, especially people who struggle with bipolar disorder, are basically just trying to learn how to stop letting their emotions be in control of their lives because of the ongoing problems this causes.

On the other hand, many people have tried to be Spock and be purely logical, and that usually fails or has its own problems, because our emotions are valuable and a crucial part of our existence. Often the best parts of our existence come from emotions. When we are in touch with reality, including the painful parts, life becomes so much more vibrant and rewarding. I think the balance is to learn how to use feelings as clues to navigate our lives, but not let them be in charge of steering the ship.

And as many people say, the longest distance in the world is between the head and the heart. It is a very difficult challenge to act based on your will, rather than you feelings, but it is a challenge worth accepting. At the end of the day, it is not what you feel, but what you do that matters.

On the bright side, most people find that once they realize they do not have to act based on feelings, they start to do things differently, challenge their reality and have new experiences. And, as I said at the beginning, since feelings are largely based on experiences, new experiences are often the best way to eventually change our feelings.

Ok, I’m going to put my head on the chopping block today. Talking about the opposite sex is a pretty dangerous thing to do for any guy who values his peace. In fact, I have already dialed back the original post I made because some people were offended at what I thought were fairly benign observations. However, I think those that are open to this message can transform their relationships, so I’ll take one for the team.

I’m just going to let this article speak for itself. Keep in mind this is not every woman or every marriage, but it does apply to some. This is a transformative story of a wife who had a difficult realization about how she used anger in her marriage. Trust me, this is something that many husbands are desperate for their wives to understand, but are too afraid to share.

Just click the link below.

 

I Wasn’t Treating My Husband Fairly, And It Wasn’t Fair

 

I was recently given the opportunity to write an article for Arise Ministries, an organization that seeks to empower single moms. They suggested I address the following question:

How long should single divorced moms wait and get healthy before dating?

Firstly, I want to say that just asking those kind of questions is a good sign.

As far as the answer, I’m not sure I really have anything new to say. But that is perfectly ok, because I have learned that often we seek some new, life changing wisdom, when in reality we just need to do what we already know.

And chances are you have already heard this many times before:

You need to be ok alone before you can be healthy in a relationship.

So, I’m not telling you anything new, I just want to reiterate why everyone keeps saying this thing that you may so easily hear and ignore.

I believe most people have a God given desire to be in relationships. Your yearning to find someone to do life with is perfectly healthy. There are lots of benefits to being with someone and you probably think about how your kids would benefit. However, a desire can be good and healthy, but given the wrong priority it just doesn’t work. Most houses need roofs, but that doesn’t mean you build that first.

So, let’s explore why being ok alone is a necessary foundation.

If you are not ok being alone, then essentially you fear being alone. You will fear whether you can make ends meet. You will fear the pain of loneliness and the empty times where you have to face all the things you do not want to think about. You will fear the uncertainty. You will fear finding out who you really are. And so on and so forth.

Given more time, I could explain in greater detail, but just trust me on these two principles about fear:

Fear is the opposite of love.

When you act in fear, you often cause what you fear to happen.

If you are not ok being alone, then when you are with someone, fear they will leave you will prevent you from expressing that you matter. It will keep you from setting boundaries, being assertive and requiring that the relationship be healthy. Most people will treat you how you allow them to treat you.

Furthermore, even if the relationship is good and healthy, if you do not know that being alone is an option, then will you ever really know if you are in the relationship because you want to be?

Oddly enough, it was a teenage boy who said something to me once that I feel exemplifies how everyone should treat the dating process:

“I will do everything that I am ok with to keep the relationship.”

While this may seem simple and straightforward enough, it is fear that breaks the rule and causes you to do things you are not ok with. And that is how relationships are allowed to become unhealthy.

So, to answer the original question, everyone is different. I don’t believe in any set time. And even the concept of waiting until you are ok being alone is pretty gray. As you pursue that place of personal well being you will fall down, make mistakes and uncover whole new realizations about your issues and vulnerabilities. And, even when you still have work to do, exploring the dating world is ok because the bumps and bruises that come with it will just give you more experiences and insights on where you are in the process.

But first, you have to be alone until you are not afraid of it anymore. And only you can be the judge of that.

One of my favorite stories has an uncertain origin, so I don’t know who to attribute it to or even where I heard it. It has many variations from different cultures, but here is how I heard it:

 

Once upon a time, there was a man who was given the opportunity to see what Heaven and Hell looked like before he died.

First, he was taken to Hell. He expected to see fire and brimstone, along with people being tortured with pitchforks. He was surprised by what he saw.

He was taken to a giant wooden set of double doors and they opened up into an enormous banquet hall. The hall stretched beyond sight and everyone in Hell was there. All throughout the banquet hall were a series of long rectangular banquet tables and everyone was seated on either of the two long sides at a table. 

All along the tables were giant bowls of soup. Now, I’m not much of a soup fan, but when you smelled this soup you were immediately overwhelmed by the sensation that if you could just have some of that soup you would be happy for eternity.

However, everyone in Hell was lashed to the benches so that they could not get up or reach the soup bowls, which could not be moved. The only way to reach the soup was with the 3 foot long wooden spoons that were lashed to everyone’s arm such that they could not be removed. Consequently, everyone in Hell was desperately trying to get a spoonful of soup, but because they could not get up, undo the spoon or bend their arms in a successful manner, no one could do it.

Throughout the hall, everyone was in agony as they strained their arms and necks and groaned in desperate pain to get the thing they so desired but was just barely out of reach.

The man quickly realized that this was a psychological torture and he could not bear to watch the faces contorted in agony or hear their groans. He asked to be taken away.

 

And so he was. He was promptly taken to Heaven where he expected to see clouds, streets of gold and people playing harps. But yet again, he was surprised at what he saw.

It was the exact same scenario. Giant wooden double doors opened up to a banquet hall as far as the eye could see. It had the same tables and the same soup that would bring eternal happiness. And yet again, the people were all lashed to the benches and had 3 foot long wooden spoons strapped to their arms.

The circumstances were exactly the same in Heaven as they were in Hell. So what was different?

In Heaven, each person reached their spoon out, got a spoonful and fed the person across from them. And in return, that person fed them back.

 

 

I love telling this story, especially when people are surprised at the ending or don’t try to find loopholes in the premise. Often people will say, couldn’t the people in Hell have done the same thing?

Well, of course it is just a fable, but I would imagine if it were true that human nature easily explains the situation. I figure that in Hell, maybe people did try that idea. But then someone spills a spoonful and burns someone, or tries to take two turns, or doesn’t give a fair amount or that they just insist that the other person trusts first before they return the favor. Bitterness, selfishness and distrust would probably be long forgotten reasons why sharing is not even an option after a while. And really, that explanation makes the story all the more relevant.

And I have found the originally intended moral equally accurate. Different people have different circumstances, but trust and taking care of each other is how we make Heaven on earth. On the flip side, people who are always looking out for number one usually create their own personal Hell.

Many people will quickly jump to saying they try to be selfless but others take advantage of them. On one hand it is true that this does not really work if others do not cooperate, so surrounding yourself with the right people is important, and a long lesson in itself. But also, getting angry when others do not return the favor is contractual thinking. That kind of thinking usually leads to resentment and revenge, as opposed to forgiveness and restoration, which are yet again good explanations of how one place becomes Hell and the other becomes Heaven.

“Get wisdom, get understanding;

do not forget my words or turn away from them.

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;

love her, and she will watch over you.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.

Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”

Proverbs 4:5-7 NIV

 

This blog post has been a long time coming. In some ways it is the foundation for everything else I write and do. On almost every post I make, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer, which is this:

I do not always know the sources of what I say. Sometimes it is something I heard decades ago, sometimes it is a basic idea I have expanded upon and sometimes it is all me. But the thing is, I ultimately do not feel any of what I say belongs to me.

Wisdom is wisdom. We do not create it, we only discover it and pass it on, therefore I believe no one can really claim it. 

Sure, you can copyright a quote, but a quote would be of no value if it did not highlight a truth far beyond the author.

And as the scripture above shows, people have been seeking wisdom and passing it on for thousands of years. Wisdom is different than knowledge and intelligence. Wisdom is about how to live life well. Wisdom is proven right in action. I have seen many extremely intelligent people who can accomplish great tasks and understand complex ideas, but struggle to make wise decisions or live well.

Some people would say that wisdom is the integration of intelligence and experience, but I have often seen the simple and the young able to understand a problem better than those who have a lifetime of complicated theories and baggage cluttering their minds.

 

I have been fascinated with wisdom since childhood when I read about King Solomon who, when granted one wish from God, requested wisdom to serve his people better. Pleased with the heart of the request, God gladly granted it and Solomon additionally received riches, honor and life as a result of his wisdom.

I imagine I may be a bit annoying at times when I have a saying or cliche that has been passed down for ages to apply to most any situation. But I believe those sayings have been handed down for generations because they have proven true. Often wisdom teaches lessons that are contrary to what we would expect or hard for us to accept. Some people insist on learning these lessons for themselves, but there is an enormous wealth of experience from everyone who came before us, and they usually hand it out generously only to find it rejected. I for one figured it was smart to learn from others so that I could stand on their shoulders and add to the collection.

Another key facet of wisdom is the deep understanding and acceptance of how much you do not know. The usual lack of this understanding is one of the main reasons why teenagers can be so infuriating. Children know there is a vast world of things they need to know that they do not. Adults eventually come back to this awareness. Teenagers are in a sweet spot of being exposed to vast amounts of new information, often knowing things that others do not, and mistaking this for being more enlightened than they really are.

Awareness of how much you do not know is very humbling. I would expect any purveyor of wisdom worth their salt to walk a fine line between knowing the value of the wisdom they have accumulated, while being modest about their own accomplishment.

I mentioned earlier that I often spout trite sayings to apply to various situations. Please bear in mind that I am fully aware that every situation is more complicated, real and heartfelt than some of those sayings may imply. Also, if you pay attention, almost every clever piece of wisdom has a counterpoint. 

There are sayings about persistence and sayings about knowing when to quit.

There are sayings about breaking from tradition and reasons to respect it.

There are times to speak out and times to bite your tongue.

…And a time to every purpose under heaven. Turn, turn, turn.

Wisdom is also all about understanding balance and discernment. Because those little tidbits are often one sided, they are excellent for highlighting and simplifying the priorities for decision making, but knowing when they apply and when they don’t is a further role of wisdom.

As you can see, wisdom is complicated. I have been daunted from writing this for a while for many of the reasons above. To write about wisdom is inherently a bit arrogant. To that I say, go ahead and take my words with a grain of salt. If they are valuable it is only because they are true. Wisdom is also a multifaceted and difficult thing to express, so I’m fairly certain I will fail to fully capture all I would want to say on the subject. Oh well, wisdom has recently taught me it is often better to do something that may have flaws than to do nothing at all.

And lastly, I am sure I will not be able to fully convey just how valuable wisdom is, yet I will try.

Above all else, gain wisdom. It will guard your life. Though it may help you gain fame and fortune, it will also teach you those things are not the most important. It will allow you to find happiness and peace, yet give you courage and guidance to give up those things for even greater treasures. If you want a life worth living, my first and simplest advice to you is to seek wisdom.

I saw a meme on Facebook not long ago mocking teenagers for complaining about how hard their life is when they do not realize how hard adults work and how much adults have to put up with. This is not an uncommon sentiment, and honestly, I’ve thought something similar on occasion.

But a fairly insightful teenager recently made a very good point. It is easy for adults to look at what what a teenager has to do and mock them because adults have so much more responsibility. But the difficulty of a situation is not simply how heavy the burden is, but how heavy the burden is based on the strength that you have.

Would it make any sense for an adult to mock a toddler for struggling to carry 50 lb weight? Of course not. We know the adult is stronger and can carry more weight. That 50 lb burden weighs the same for both, but it may be a fourth of the body weight of the adult and double the body weight of the toddler. The challenge is relative to the strength.

Therefore, the insightful teen pointed out, while teenagers may struggle with the responsibilities of school and peer drama and chores, which may be easier than adult responsibilities, have you considered that they do not have all the life experiences, wisdom and skills that the adults possess which make those tasks seem easy? It is common knowledge that teen brains and bodies are developing rapidly at that age, while their emotions are running rampant and difficult to control. There are so many fundamental questions about life that they are still trying to figure out, and this means that they do not have a stable foundation to make sense of the world. Furthermore, did the previous generation have to worry about 24/7 cyber bullying or the threat of school shootings and terrorists?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am by no means trying to make excuses for teenagers to justify not doing things. Doing hard things is crucial to their development and ability to gain those skills to rise to the challenges of adulthood. But, as I have said before, we can seek to understand people, without excusing bad behavior. Looking only at their burden and talking about how it is easy it is compared to yours only serves to puff yourself up and tear them down. But recognizing the true challenge of being a teenager will improve the ability to connect, empathize and encourage them to do those hard things.