The Depressodon

So I haven’t been able to write a post for a while now. I have been busy, but more importantly, the reason I haven’t been able to write for a while is that I have been feeling really depressed lately. I think I have lived most of my life in a state of mild depression. Not trying to sound dramatic or anything, because I don’t really care about drama.

Often times I feel that there is a huge creature of sadness that sits on my shoulders and holds me down to the ground. I want to be happy and free and float in the sky with the lightness of being (bonus points if you catch both references in that sentence). But I can’t do those things because I am held down by this awful ugly and lumpy thing that chains me to the ground. Since I love dinosaurs, I will call it the ‘Depressodon’. He is a beast that is constantly around me, lurking behind every happy memory and everything that will come. The Depressodon just waits, his looming presence is awful enough so he never really does much.

Life is really hard sometimes. Other people seem to be able to tune out the bad things and somehow feel happy or at least feel better for a short while. I can’t do that, I can’t just make myself happy. If there are things that are bothering me or making me upset, then they will continue to do so until I fix them or they go away of their own causes. Occasionally, I can forget about them.

A lot of what bothers me is that I never really feel like I am getting what I want out of life. Invariably, feeling that way always makes me question what exactly it is that I want out of life. And the truth is that I have no answer for that. I truly don’t know what I want, which is also a large part of the problem. Even down to small things like do I want to go to the store now or later, I have no clear picture of what I want. It is very rare that I get a strong feeling of something that I want to do or that I want to get. That feeling stretches up to bigger life things, like a ‘career’ or ‘relationship’ and that sort of thing. I have a vague sense of wanting something more than I have now, but I can’t really define it any clearer than that.

The vagueness stresses me out a lot more than not being able to get it. I know that the reason I can’t get what I want is because I don’t know what I want. Once you know what it is that you want, it is pretty easy to get started on the process to get it. But finding out what you want, that part I have no clue how to do.

So here I find myself working really hard at what I do, not really making much progress on getting a ‘career’, not really saving enough money to buy a house soon, not getting married or starting my own family, not even really getting enough time to hang out with my friends, not having enough time to enjoy life and do the random things that I think of doing (like going to kayaking on a Tuesday), and ultimately feeling at the end of every day that I have done absolutely nothing to move my own life forward and I am not any small bit closer to getting what I want out of life and I didn’t spend any time thinking of what exactly it is that I want to get out of life. See why that kind of thing can lead to feeling depressed? I hate it. I don’t really know how to fix it, which I know is a part of my autism. But knowing it’s a part of my autism doesn’t help in any way, it actually makes it a lot worse because then I know that it will not improve unless I do something about it.

But I don’t know how to improve it. So, I get stuck in that loop, and that depressing loop is why I haven’t slept for more than 4 hours in the last month. Every morning I wake up that awful thought creeps into my head within a few minutes and fixates my brain until I finally pass out from exhaustion late that night. Sure, I can distract myself with my work or a video game and feel a little better. But as soon as I stop those things, then I feel worse than I did before. Then I realize that I have wasted another day and gotten older, and still gotten nothing accomplished at the major life things that I want to do.

Writing this out is really helpful to me, I encourage everyone to write about the things that they are struggling with in life. It is a great process to explain and solidify the ambient stresses of life and confine them into the syntax and word structure required by language. Once I have tamed the Depressodon and forced it to bow to my will, then I have a sense that I can defeat it. Even if I don’t currently have the tools I need to slay it, I at least know that I can explain it to someone who might know the tools that I need and that maybe together we can take it down.

Eye Contact

I think that looking into someone’s eyes is creepy. I tend to distrust people who look into my eyes too much. If eyes are the window to your soul, as the old saying goes, then why should others be expected to look into your window? What if I want to put up some blinds? What if there are some areas of my soul that I don’t want someone else to see right away?

I feel that looking someone directly in the eyes is overpowering. There is a lot of ‘energy’ that gets sent back and forth when making eye contact with someone. I don’t really know how to describe it, I am trying my best, but a lot of these things are just so fundamental there that they are impossible to describe. It feels like if I asked you to describe what the word ‘what’ means, or asked you to describe the feeling of your ring finger as compared to the feeling of your middle finger.

I have a really hard time making eye contact for a sustained time. Sure, I can force myself to do it when I know that I am supposed. But you can force yourself to do anything for a short amount of time. Those who have met me have probably noticed that I am not very good at eye contact. I can do the whole handshake with direct eye contact thing, mainly because I know it is an old tradition. Beyond that, I don’t like it and I usually avoid it.

I have learned that you are supposed to maintain eye contact while having a conversation, so I typically try to avoid those sorts of conversations. I usually try to have conversations while doing some activity, because then there are no expectations about eye position. If I am talking to someone while working on a project, then suddenly I can focus on the conversation rather than on trying to maintain an appropriate amount of eye contact. I know that doesn’t make much sense, because usually doing something would distract you from the conversation. But I have the opposite problem. If I am sitting and staring at someone and trying to have a conversation, then I am hopelessly distracted. I have to then focus on looking at them the acceptable amount of time, on not making weird facial expressions randomly (which is alarmingly difficult for some reason), on not fidgeting too much, and I have to focus a lot on making sure that I do not appear to be doing any of those things. You have to make it look natural and easy otherwise people think you don’t like to talk to them.

I also have noticed that when talking to other people on the spectrum, there is none of that pressure. They also do not like eye contact, and I have had entire conversations without any eye contact. Those have been some of the most beautiful conversations ever. Without eye contact, I feel free to actually say things and express things.

I like to have conversations in groups because then I can switch my eyes around and not get distracted, and it also means that I have more time to process what everyone is saying. That extra processing time is hugely important, because then I don’t say stupid things at the wrong time and sound like an idiot.

A few months ago, I went to a weekend training for work. We were in a very small group the whole weekend, so we got to spend a lot of time together. The man leading the training was interesting, a very old-fashioned kind of guy. He made direct and constant eye contact the entire time and it was horrible. I was so distracted by his intense eye contact that I could not listen to a word he said. I kept looking away from him just so that I could breathe and stay alive. It felt as though he was a monster who was draining my soul away by looking in my eyes. He was a very amiable man, but this eye contact was killing me. At the end of the weekend, he took us aside individually for a feedback session. He told me that I needed to work on focusing more and maintaining better eye contact. He said that I seemed to be bored and looked untrustworthy. I was so close to screaming and punching my way into a jail cell, I could not believe that he was going to call me out on that shit. Who does he think he is? He was not there to talk about that kind of thing at all, he was there to train us on kayak safety. I managed to leave calmly, but it took a lot of effort.

I read that not making eye contact is one of the diagnostic criteria used, and that they have studied very young kids and monitored their eye movements while showing them pictures of people. Typically, the children will gravitate quickly towards the eyes. Kids with autism will instead wander around the face, pausing at random features, and maybe eventually get to the eyes. That was one of the most painful articles I have ever read because it is depressingly accurate. Anytime that I see a picture or a movie, I do that exact same thing. I will stare at their hair, their teeth, their eyebrows, pretty much anything other than the eyes. I often look at their mouths, which is apparently also very common. I don’t really know why this one feature upsets me so much, but it does. Maybe it is because I watch a lot of TV and movies and I catch myself doing it constantly, so it serves as a constant reminder that I am different. It is enough to take me out of whatever I was watching and make me feel really sad and awful about myself. It’s probably also because I think way too much about it and that stresses me out too.

Apologies for the darker ending there. I am not really sure of any good advice to give out on this topic. Eye contact is weird and I think it is a terrible social custom that we should get rid of. I think many people on the spectrum will agree with me on that account.

Veg Days

Veg Days are a crucial survival tool for me. A Veg Day is my way of coping with the inordinate stress of life, specifically the stress that no one else seems to experience; running out of energy (or mana as I call it). I use up a lot of mana in my daily life, and it is difficult to replace. A Veg Day is a process that has taken me years to develop and refine.

It all started sometime in college. I was supremely busy in college. I know everyone says that, but I really was. I went to school full time, supported myself by working 2 (sometimes 3) jobs, and ran a non-profit corporation for almost 2 years. I also had a very severe coffee addiction (I still do). I loved being able to do so many things at once, so I had a great time even though I was busy for about 16 hours every.

After a few months, it started to catch up with me. I couldn’t sleep, even when I had the free time to do so. I stopped having fun, I stopped caring about things. I started getting so angry with everyone and I lost many friends in a few weeks. I finally cracked one day, and got really sick. I couldn’t do anything, so I had to lay around the house. I felt the entire time like death was hovering over me, waiting to take me away. But, I had to sleep and take a few days off.

I went back to life after that and noticed that I felt so much better. I had so much more energy, and I was so happy. It lasted for a few weeks, and then I started to feel the same miserable way I had before. I got sick again, and then spent a few days hiding away from the world. I emerged from my darkened room feeling like a beautiful butterfly again.

It took me about a year of this pattern before I finally noticed the connection. Somehow, it eluded me, but eventually I noticed the connection between taking some time off and feeling better. I did the same thing I always do, I made it into an experiment. I tried to take a ‘mental health day’, and spent a day pretending I was sick. I told everyone that I was sick and spent the day hiding away. It worked so well. Apparently, you can get more rest if you are not actually sick.

I then decided to experiment with doing this ‘day off’ on a regular basis to see if it helped me feel better. It changed my life around. I started planning these ‘days off’, and coming up with some ways to make them better. I felt so much better about life when I started incorporating these into my schedule. I slept better, I felt better, I rarely got sick, I was happier, I could think more clearly. It really seemed to fix a lot of the issues I had dealt with up to that point.

 

So, here is my system for Veg Days:

A Veg Day is a day that I set aside for ‘me time’. It is a day where I destress myself as much as I can. It is a day that I spend as far away from responsibilities as I can get.

A Veg Day consists of some important rules that are to be followed as much as possible.

  1. No work! This one is crucial, and so hard to follow. Even if I have one hour of work, then it will ruin the veg day. The way my brain works, I can’t relax if there is anything that I ‘have’ to do that day, like work. Work, in this sense, means anything that I have to force myself to do. So this means chores, laundry, actual work, anything like that.
  2. No phone calls or texting. This one is also pretty hard to follow, but I do my best. Talking to people or even sending texts is still stressful, so I keep it out of the Veg Day sanctuary.
  3. Nothing is off limits. Well, somethings are off limits I guess. But, I mean that I let myself do whatever random thing I think of without judging. I allow myself to follow anything that I feel like doing, which is a great liberty that I think we often don’t allow ourselves to experience. When I first started this step, it was difficult. I wound up laying on the grass and staring at the sky for a while, which was pretty good in itself. But then, I decided that I needed to make a hammock, which required me to make rope first, which required me to find a bunch of grass, which led me to go walk in the fields near my house and collect grass. It’s not important at all what activity I do, but it is important that I don’t ever try to control that activity.
  4. No pants! This rule is not too literal, but I used to have a rule of not putting pants on because putting pants on signifies that you are somehow more serious.

There are other rules that come and go as I see fit. Sometimes I will stay inside the house all day if I am feeling low. Sometimes, I will just sit in front of the TV all day. Sometimes I will just play video games for 14 hours. Most of the time, I work on random projects and play games in small bursts.

Some words of caution: Don’t take too many veg days in a row. I have taken up to 3 veg days before, and it gets real weird. After the 2nd day, you start to forget how to interact with people, you forget what things are acceptable to say around them, and you forget how to walk in public. These skills can be recovered pretty quickly, but just beware that you will look weird for the first few hours after returning to regular life. Plan your schedule accordingly.

Patterns

I have been obsessed with patterns for as long as I can remember. Patterns are very soothing to look at, I am not sure how else to describe it other than amazing. Patterns are anything that can be seen to repeat a few times, and it seems to add some consistency and stability to a world that lacks both of those.

Visual patterns are the easiest to spot first. Things like buildings being in a perfect line, or a house having windows in a row are really awesome. I love symmetrical patterns of plants. I really love geometric art, like Escher. I had a book of Escher art as a kid and could stare at that stuff for hours. But that stuff is pretty typical. I think everyone can appreciate a beautiful pattern like that. Let’s get to the weird stuff.

I really love anagrams. I used to do anagrams constantly while in school because I was bored. I would try to see how many words I could make out of a longer word. I haven’t done that for a while. I read the words on signs and make anagrams out of those too.

But it gets better. I can see words as numbers, and I can see numbers as objects in my mindspace. I guess it’s a part of synesthesia and doesn’t make sense to other people, but it feels perfectly normal to me. I can’t really describe it very well, because it is the only way I have experienced those things. To me, that’s just how the universe works and I don’t have the vocabulary to explain it.

I count the number of letters in a sign and I think about that number. I really like signs are a multiple of 3 or 5. “Highland Village” is a great name because it is both a multiple of 3 and 5, “Flower Mound” is ugly because it is prime. A sign that says Exit 54 is ugly because it equals 13, but Exit 55 is a little better because it equals 14. Exit 56 is the best of that family.

I find it unsettling to go to places that have what I consider ugly names, like Walmart. It’s prime and it just sounds awful. I will often count other punctuation marks to make it into a better number. Like Rosa’s Café, it has 9, which is normally a good number, but it is not a good number for a restaurant. A restaurant needs to be solid and strong, so it needs a multiple of 5. I read Rosa’s Café as 10 because I count the apostrophe.

I read the titles of things and care a great deal about those. I was really into Lord of the Rings as a kid, notice I said “Lord of the Rings” and not “The Lord of the Rings”. The first one has 14 letters, the second 17 letters.

I will often take a title or a sign and split it in half. Take “The Legend of Zelda”, I like it because it has 16 letters. If you split it in half you get “TheLegen DofZelda”, which is useless but mildly entertaining.

I have learned to stop doing this as much now, but it used to occupy my brain a lot. I think I mostly stopped because I found better ways to fill my mind. The only time that I start doing that sort of neurotic pattern spotting is when I am really stressed out.  I don’t really talk about it much because even as a kid I realized that this would make me sound like I belonged in a padded room.

 

The Anxiousaur

The Anxiousaur is a creature that I imagine to be the embodiment of anxiety. I can’t really describe him, because it has no corporeal form to describe, it takes on the shape and texture of my deepest fears at that moment.

Anxiety is one of the hardest things to deal with for me. After all the times I have fought the Anxiousaur, I have found very few ways to conquer it. The best I can manage to push it away for a few days or a few weeks. But it’s always there in the back of my mind, waiting and growing stronger. Often, I feel certain that it will be the death of me. It grows stronger as I grow weaker. Anxiety seems completely unfair, not that anything in life is ever really fair for anyone. But it is supposed to be. Why would we have an innate concept of fairness if it is not something that is meant to be? Life is hard enough for anyone, much more so for a trapezium. Adding in the crippling mental blow of anxiety is just cruel punishment.

Anxiety feels like a violent thunderstorm raging inside my brain. Thoughts race around like the wind, pushing aside everything else. All thoughts I had are gone, I can’t focus on anything. Everything feels like it is moving and being affected by this storm, but the reality is that it is only inside my head. Nothing and no one else is affected by it, which always makes me feel even worse. If there is a storm in the real world, you can at least share your experience with someone else and feel validated and comforted by that fact. But if the storm is only something that you experience, then you are alone in your suffering and that is far worse than the storm itself.

The thoughts that race past are always bad ones. The Anxiousaur loves to throw all the scariest possibilities at me. It reminds me of all the times I have failed at anything in my life, and leaves out any and all successes I have had. These thoughts make it so difficult to focus on anything else. It feels like trying to build a house of cards in a hurricane, no matter much I try it just won’t work. The Anxiousaur thinks of all the bad things that could happen at any given moment and constantly reminds me of them.

For example, I have a truly terrifying time texting people. I hate it. The Anxiousaur tells me that if they don’t reply back fast enough then they must hate me or that I said something weird. I have heard other people joke about this kind of thing before, but I don’t imagine that they feel that way with every text they send. I do and it is horrible.

The Anxiousaur checks in to visit me a lot when I am hungry. I have yet to come to an understanding why, but anytime I go more than a few hours without a snack then my anxiety goes up. I had really impatient and angry because I know that I should not be feeling anxious. It is usually hard for me to recognize when it is happening, so I usually make a point of eating every few hours. But I often forget to do this and don’t notice anything until I have bitten a chunk of tongue off while nervously chewing or I have sprained a finger from tying my hands in knots under the table.

I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder several years ago, although I had known that I suffered from that since about the age of 12. I spent about a year on anti-anxiety medication which did nothing except make me really sleepy and gave me depression (again). I stopped taking the medicine because I couldn’t stop my suicidal thoughts.

One of the worst components of anxiety is that it completely takes away the fun of life. You can’t laugh and enjoy life while anxiety is crushing down upon you, or at least I can’t. There have been so many times when I have been struck with anxiety for some unknown reason while I was doing something fun, and suddenly I feel like I am dying. I can look at everyone else still having fun and enjoying things but I can’t do that anymore because the Anxiousaur is in control now. It hurts so much to be in that situation, to be next to friends having fun and not be able to join them, but to instead be trapped inside your mind prison of anxiety and nervousness. I get so mad at myself when that happens because it’s irrational and makes no sense. I get really depressed after that and then just feel like a pile of wet garbage because I can’t have fun.

Panic attacks are another fun side effect of the Anxiousaur. I was 15 or 16 when I had my first one. I was at the mall with someone I had a crush on, and we were holding hands and walking by Hot Topic. They leaned in to kiss me, and I felt my heart suddenly beating its way out of my chest. I started sweating immediately, and couldn’t breathe. They looked at me like I was crazy and asked if I was ok. I ran (or stumbled) to the bathroom and saw that I looked very blue and pale in the mirror. I then threw up all over the sink. My entire body was shaking, and I could no longer stand up so I crouched down under the sink and sat there for a while. It felt like about 10 years of time that my body was actively trying to kill me. My heart ached because it felt like it had bruised itself by beating so hard. My head felt like it was on fire. My feet and hands were numb for some reason. It was pretty awful. Definitely one of the worst experiences I have had. I have had 3 more of those since then, but none that bad. I learned quickly to recognize the signs of it coming on, and some strategies to help.

 

For those that might experience something like that, here’s what to do.

If you feel really stressed and you can suddenly feel your heart beat faster and your breath get shorter, take a seat immediately.

Close your eyes and start to focus on your breath.

Tap your fingers and focus on that sensation, think of feeling each fingertip hitting your legs.

Count your breaths, and try to breathe slowly. Keep doing that for a few minutes until you feel back to yourself. That should help you avoid the onset of a full panic attack.

 

 

I’m Not Okay (I Promise)

I have had a very hard time coming up with things to write lately. I think some of the problem is that I have used up most of the cute little quirks that I can write about. I am left now with the soul-crushing and depressing things that I have not yet learned how to deal with myself, and much less how to communicate effectively. So the posts will be more ‘real’ and ‘brutal’ for a while, I guess. I plan to go back and edit them later. But for now, and for my own therapy process, I am trudging onward with whatever I can write. To me, it is far more important to keep writing things than it is to have them perfected.

But anyways, back to the depressing topic at hand today. I am not okay. I don’t know if I have ever been okay, and I don’t really believe that I ever will be okay in the future. And that is okay, sometimes.

I’m not okay (I promise). If you get that reference, then we should be friends. I make a lot of music references and almost no one ever gets them. For those who aren’t musically literate, that was the title of a song from My Chemical Romance’s 2004 album Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge. One of the top albums in my teenage angst years, and was actually the very first CD that I ever bought.

I have had a very difficult life so far for a lot of reasons. My childhood was very far from typical, and I faced a lot of things that most kids don’t have to deal with. My parents divorced when I was three, and I grew up never knowing my father. My mom was a struggling teacher, and we never had a lot of money. My mom was severely injured when I was in middle school and I had to take care of her for a while. We lost our house because my mom couldn’t pay the bills. We had to depend on the food pantry to survive while I was in high school. My mom was and still is a hoarder and that has affected me a huge amount. I had to get a job at 17 to help pay the bills so that we didn’t get evicted again. I paid my own way through college by working and getting scholarships, I never got any money from my parents to help with college. I have had to be completely independent since I was 17, and have no fallback options because neither one of my parents can really support me.

That is a short summary of some of the bigger things that I have had to deal with in my life. I am not looking for pity, I really don’t care about that stuff. All of those things are horrible yes, but they have also taught me an enormous amount about life and how to avoid those things in the future. I listed those out to help myself, but also to illustrate that life happens and it sucks for a lot of the time. I have had to deal with all of those things, and also being a trapezium. No wonder I have so much anxiety and stress. No wonder that now that I am a ‘grown up’, I spend my time mostly playing video games. Now I am at a point in my life, for really the first time, where I am stable and comfortable. I know that I have enough money to cover everything and don’t need to worry about where my food or rent money will come from next month. That is a luxury that I never experienced earlier in my life. So, I take advantage of that and spend a lot of time relaxing now!

I have always had huge life problems to deal with, for as long as I can remember. Big overarching things that seemed like huge demons and towering monsters that I had no way of fighting or coping with. These things threatened the very foundation of my life, and I saw no chance to overcome them. So when faced with that kind of thing, I ignored everything else in my life and lived out of fear. Most of my life has been spent in terror of those huge monsters killing me. I have never felt that I had the freedom or the ability to do simple things like have friends and have fun and go on dates and things like that. I am too busy fighting for my survival. I can remember as early as 5th grade seeing my classmates running around and playing and thinking that they were so carefree and happy and wondering what that felt like as I went home to deal with my life. I would look at everyone else and think that one day I will figure out how to beat these huge demons and then I too can begin my life and be free.

But there is always another and bigger monster to replace the one that you beat. Life gives you no freedom, you must take it for yourself. It has taken me my entire life to learn that lesson. There will never be a time when I feel that I am ‘okay’. Life is relentless in its assault. One problem grows into another and so on. You have to still go out and do things, because if you don’t then you never will. I have spent years waiting for the right time and the right feeling to happen, but that is impossible. At some point you have to make the leap.

All through high school, I spent every day thinking that the next day will be better, and that the next year will be better. It never was. I kept thinking that once I get to May then things will suddenly be better, or once I get to college suddenly everything will be fixed. I thought that when I graduated I would suddenly not have to deal with crushing anxiety and low self-esteem, that somehow I could be the person I felt I was on the inside.

But that never once happened. Things don’t usually change for the better, and when they do change for the better, you can always find something else to feel upset about.

See, I know that some of this thinking is due to mild depression. I have struggled with that demon for my entire life. I think that the “depressasaur” also lives deep inside me and will never go away, he will only grow stronger and my only hope is to grow stronger and faster than he does. I have beaten depression several times, or just moved on past it. Most of my depression stems from unfortunate life circumstances (see the earlier paragraphs) because any one of those is enough to make someone depressed.

But I have never really cared much for feelings. For as long as I can remember, I have always told myself that feelings don’t matter, actions matter. I realize now that is completely false, but it is the only way I got through so many difficult times. If I had let myself wallow in pity, I truly do not think I would have survived most of my childhood. I had to pull myself out and do things in order to get out of those awful situations. So that mindset of ignoring feelings, was mostly a survival tactic, and a pretty good one. Until I got out of those situations and suddenly was unable to function without being a robot. I am still recovering from that one today.

All of this is to say that life is a struggle, and most often a mental struggle. I can know that I am doing okay at something, but still not believe it. I can know that I am doing really well at life compared to other people my age, but still feel like a complete wet fart of a person. I always feel like there is some big demon shadowing over me and my life, and it prevents me from being happy. If I ever figure out how to deal with it, I will gladly write my instructions on here. If anyone else knows, please let me know.

 

Faulty Thinking

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.