This post will be pretty brutal, but bear with me. I think that honesty is the most important thing that we can share with each other, and that sometimes real life is messy. Things don’t always work out for the best and bad things happen. I think it is dishonest to ignore or not share those things along with the good things. This post might not be appropriate for the younger readers at home. I promise, my next post will be something good.
I think that a lot of my struggles, both now and in the past, have been largely due to faulty assumptions on my part. I don’t remember when, but at some point in my childhood, I decided that I needed to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. Maybe it was the poor reception that I got from those around me, or possibly they didn’t understand how to help me, or maybe it was from the bullying or teasing that I received. But at some point, I realized that no one else could be trusted with my inner thought processes. I think this is a large part of the reason why I never got singled out for treatment or therapy. If you never tell anyone why you are doing weird things, then they just think you are weird and they tend to leave you alone or hate you for it. And being left alone is usually much easier for everyone involved.
I somehow began to assume that everyone thought the way that I did. There were small elements of my thoughts that I could see and recognize in other people, and I latched on to that. I would hear people mention something, usually in what I now can recognize as sarcasm, but their joke would resonate with me and I would repeat it.
Phrases like ‘it’s my way or the highway’ were so commonly used that I believed that everyone thought that way. I have always felt that way, about pretty much everything. Most things exist in a binary state, even though that stresses me out; it is an unavoidable fact of the universe. You are either alive or dead, the sun is shining or it is not, you love something or you hate it. There is no gray area. I thought for years and years that everyone thought like that and never once questioned it.
Until I got older and life got much more complicated, once you ‘grow up’ (whatever that means) then it becomes really difficult to sort things into right and wrong. Every day, there are thousands of choices that everyone makes that have no clear definite right answer. Most of the choices that we have to make are meaningless and have no consequences, so there is not a right or a wrong option. I can honestly say that that fact alone is the cause of most of my stress. I cannot stand not knowing what the right thing to do is in any situation. And most every situation is like that. Once things get complicated, you have to rely a lot more on gray areas, which is a huge problem if you don’t see the gray areas.
I think one of the first times this had a huge impact on me was when I was in my first car accident. I was 19, in my second year of college and some old lady ran a red light and hit my car. Not my fault, and not a major accident at all, but it was enough to total my beloved Kia. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was over- it being pretty much everything in my existence. I decided that I would have to drop out of college, take on a few more jobs and maybe even get a real ‘adult’ type job to be able to pay for a new car. I was of course tremendously upset by that thought because I loved college, but it just made sense. I would have to buy a new car now because that one was gone, and I had just spent all of my savings buying that one 6 months earlier. In my head, I saw no gray area where I could possibly survive in a different way. The only option was to drop out of college and give up my future so that I could repair the damage done. Luckily, my mom and grandma were wise enough to calm me down and convince me that none of that was really needed. I truly appreciate their patience, I know that I have been a very difficult person to be related to, and I am so grateful to have them in my life.
Two years later, I found myself out of college and decided to do what everyone else does and get a ‘job’. I found a job working for a bank in the ‘big city’. I knew right away that I didn’t fit in there in any way. In the interview, they asked me what I knew about mortgages and being 21 and socially inept, I brilliantly said that I listened to a lot of NPR and they talked about the mortgage crisis on there. The interviewers both laughed at that, but apparently one of them was a staunch liberal and PETA member, who respected my courage to mention that in an interview, so she decided to hire me.
Anyways, this job was great for the first few weeks. I got to sit there and listen to music while pouring over spreadsheets, which was mostly what I did in my free time already, so getting paid $12.50 an hour for it was great! But then, I got too good at that, so they promoted me. Then I got to look over financial records and find the errors, also pretty neat, but more stressful because I had to report my findings and prove it to the managers. Then I got promoted again and had to work on real bankruptcy cases. No more music, instead I had to talk on the phone all day and explain to people that they still owed money even though they had filed bankruptcy. It took me 3 days to decide I hated that job. I got so miserable there so fast. I picked up a lot of bad habits while working there, anything to get me out of the building and off the phone for a few minutes. I started drinking very heavily as well, because I had to dull the pain somehow. It was awful. I knew I had to get out of there, but I saw no way that I could do it. I felt like I was trapped inside a big machine, and the only way out was death. I could either die slowly and miserably while I wasted away inside the 13th floor or I could jump off the building and die much faster. To me, I saw no middle ground, no gray area that allowed me to do anything else. It was a perfect example of that faulty thinking, of the way that brain could not process anything other than two options: all or nothing. I became completely convinced that the only way out was the final option. I went home every day and planned things out, tried to think of reasons why I should stay and couldn’t really find very many. At that point, I had disconnected from my friends, talked to no one, had lost interest in my hobbies. I did nothing except go to work and drink till I passed out every night.
Some friends began to be worried about me and helped me to see some other options. I am extrememly grateful for their input. I finally realized that I had managed to save up about a full year of living expenses while working for that company. Turns out when your main bills are rent and a $10 bottle of whiskey every night, you tend to have a lot of extra money. Sorry, the Sarcastasaur takes over sometimes (that’s the name of my internal beast of sarcasm).
I gave my notice at that place, and started looking for new work. I managed to find a new job within 2 days from a former professor and staved off financial ruin for a few more years. I had nearly made a terrible and permanent mistake because of my faulty thinking.
That kind of thinking scares the shit out of me, even now. Because I find myself falling into that trap a lot. Basically any time some new or unexpected stress shows up, I jump immediately to the worst possible outcome and fixate on that. I have several other examples that I could share where this kind of faulty thinking nearly caused me to make a terrible mistake, but I think I have shared enough dark times for one day.
Now, I am much more aware of this kind of thing, and I can usually manage to take a step back and gain some perspective on it. That really is the key here with this faulty thinking – gaining perspective. We have a tendency to get locked up in our own heads and think that the outcomes we can immediately run through are the only ones. I know for me, I am constantly running scenarios in my ‘mind space’ or as Sherlock calls it ‘mind palace’. These scenarios mostly focus around things that I am thinking about doing or things that I know are coming up soon, and I can usually predict the outcomes fairly accurately, which leads me to put a lot of faith in those outcomes. So when I am in a bad mood, or too stressed out, then I get inaccurate outcomes, and I assume that they are true. That conclusion is horrifyingly dangerous.
It is exhausting to know that sometimes you can’t trust your own brain. I don’t really know if everyone else feels that way, I bet they also have moments like that. But for me, I feel that if I can’t trust my brain, then what can I put my trust in? I believe that we are the sum of our thoughts, which drive our actions, and if we can’t trust our thoughts, then we can’t trust our actions, which is really bad. That right there is probably another example of the faulty thinking. And a great example of why writing these out is so hard to do, I struggle with the issue while writing about the issue, and it becomes infinitely frustrating.