Talking About the Good Things

This is a post about things that are going well, and cool things that have happened lately. For at least this one post, I am going to disregard my apprehensions about coming off as obnoxious or bragging or this, that, or the other, and just talk about awesome things that are happening. Because I need to do that; we all need to do that sometimes. So here goes. Shameless excitement to follow. Also lots of sex-related things, because the last year has been nothing if not full of changes and exploration where that’s concerned.

Fair warning: many potentially obnoxiously navel-gazey, self-congratulatory paragraphs to follow. Seriously, you are under no obligation to read this.

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Mental Exercises for Negative Thoughts

I haven’t posted much here lately about the mental work I’ve been doing to combat my bad brain habits. I’ve found that I tend to discover particular conceptual tools that help with particular issues a lot. Which ones I’m actively using or even actively able to remember changes rapidly based on my attention span for each particular exercise and other factors, so I thought I should start recording them explicitly so I don’t forget useful ones. Hopefully also other people may find them interesting or useful. Here’s two I’ve been using recently.

First:

The Problem: Worrying about doing the right thing/being a good person

The Helpful Tool: Spending time focusing on the fact that you’re pretty much always doing your best

This is a hard thing for me. I’m incredibly hard on myself. I’m perfectionist about being honest, about not hurting people, about being a good, supportive person, etc, etc. I agonize when I’m not able to live up to my standards. One of the things that’s been helping me lately is focusing on a few facts:

1) That I’m pretty much always doing my best, and that’s all I can do.

2) That if I consider having done my best to still be a failure, success is impossible.

3) That the worrying itself rarely changes anything for the better, and is therefore counterproductive. In fact, it likely (to a degree) undermines my ability to do better at the things I want to do better at—VERY counterproductive.

3.5) Relaxing about all the anxiety, on the other hand, is productive. More productive for solving those very same problems I’m worrying about than the worrying itself is.

4) In spite of all the time I spend worriedly concentrating on problems, the worry-time rarely produces useful insights.


Second:

The Problem: Jealousy about other people being in relationships

The Helpful Tool: Pretending that relationship labels don’t exist.

This is an unexpected and interesting one for me. I’ve been ranting a lot lately about how I think relationship labels (e.g. friends with benefits, significant other, girlfriend, etc.) are less useful and more problematic than people think. I’m not against them in principle, but I’ve been choosing to use them less than I used to. In part because everyone seems to define them slightly differently and that creates communication issues, and in part because I want my interactions with people to be about what we, the people, want, and not about what the expectations are for people who apply the relationship label we’ve chosen to themselves.

In the course of thinking this way, I’ve realized that stepping outside of the relationship label tradition is just as useful for thinking about other people’s relationships as thinking about my own. If I see two people in a relationship, and I imagine they live in a world with no relationship labels, then they’re just two people interacting in a particular way. I’m able to remember that all interactions with all people are different, and that there are a lot of relationships (in fact probably most of the ones I see) that I, personally, would never ever want to be in. Even the ones that are good for everyone involved, I’m able to think of them in a way that acknowledges their uniqueness. In a way that take away all of the stupid, wrong assumptions that come with labels.

I think everyone, to a degree, has an image attached to the word “relationship” in their mind’s eye that’s hard to escape. Mine tends to be a vision that’s happy, carefree, effortless, hierarchically primary, and carries an implication of various restrictions placed on people lacking relationship-level status with either of the people involved.

But of course, not all relationships are happy, carefree, effortless, or hierarchically primary (or even hierarchical in any sense). And any boundaries they may involve aren’t even remotely standardized. In my brain, killing the label helps kill the assumptions. Killing the assumptions helps me see relationships more as unique combinations of personalities—like what they really are. This seems, in many cases, to have an ameliorating effect on jealousy.

Changing How You Feel About Things versus Accepting How You Feel About Things

I’ve noticed while writing, talking, and thinking about depression issues that the manner in which I talk about them can have a significant effect on my perspective on them. If I talk about them with more negative words, I feel more negative, and if I talk about them in more optimistic terms, I sometimes feel more optimistic. It’s a hard game to play, manipulating this phenomenon, because though it seems like the obvious solution is just to be as positive as possible about things, there’s a certain point past which I just feel like I’m bullshitting myself. That feeling, I’m sure, will not help.

So I’ve been trying to figure out how this thinking positive thing works. It could probably be an important tool to help in getting better, but it’s a hard tool to know when to use. I don’t want to feel like I’m bullshitting myself all the time. I also don’t want to feel like just feeling bad about some things is not okay. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes people make when talking to people who are depressed, actually. Or at least when talking to depressed me. I often don’t like it when people say “Feel better” or try to offer solutions to things when I’m just trying to vent. What they’re trying to do is nice, but it often makes me feel like the fact that I feel bad about things is not okay. Sometimes the most important thing for me to be able to feel is that just feeling bad about things for a while is okay. Sometimes being told that feeling bad is okay is the thing I need to be able to hear to start expressing and getting through the bad stuff.

I think this is one of the most difficult lines to navigate: the line between changing the way you react to things and being not being intolerant of yourself when you inevitably react poorly to things sometimes. I’m sure this thinking and talking about the positive side of things is a useful tool, but it’s hard to know when it’s the right tool to use. When to say to myself “Reacting this way is not good and we should change it”, and when to say “Reacting this way is okay and I love you”.

Retraining My Brain

I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to plan for incrementally increasing the amount of concentration-intensive things I do during the day. In particular, I want to be programming a certain amount of time every day to prepare for doing full time work again this summer.

My issues with concentration are, I think, a problem with two different causes. The first is simply overwork: work too hard for too long and your brain just needs a break. The second is more complicated, and has to do with learned association. I find having tasks to do, even incredibly simple ones, to be overwhelming. I suspect this has a lot to do with having been in school for so long. One of the problems I’ve found in my experiences with school is that the completion of tasks is very rarely a rewarding experience. Often in school, I find that accomplishments don’t feel like accomplishments. Most of my experience of school has involved stressing out about things until they are finished and then feeling accomplished for about two seconds until I realize there’s a ton of other things I need to do. The things never end, there are always more things, and so there’s never even a day to revel in that sense of satisfied completeness that comes from finishing something and being able to take the time to be self-congratulatory about it.

Stretch this out over a long enough period of time, and your brain inevitably learns that accomplishing tasks is stressful and scary and not rewarding. That there’s nothing to be gained by, well, doing the shit you need to do.

I think it’ll be nice to be working on something without that same stress and pressure, but there’s still a certain mental block that’s making it hard to get myself to start the work. It’s also challenging because the work I’m doing–working through a tutorial for Ruby on Rails–is work that I need to finish a large amount of before I’m really going to be able to look at working results. So it’ll be a while before I’ll have results that are satisfyingly tangible to celebrate.

What I’m trying to do now is think of other ways I can reward myself for taking baby steps in the right direction. E.g. if I start out with something really, really small–say, 15 minutes of programming today–how can I reward myself in a way that will help retrain my brain from reflexively thinking “Doing things leads to stress and having to do more things” to reflexively thinking “Doing things makes me feel good”.

If anyone feels like contributing any ideas, feel free. This is harder to think of than I thought.

Scumbag Brain

It’s easy to get annoyed at people who say things like, “Just think positive”, and such with respect to depression. If it were that easy, no one would be depressed. The implication of saying that it’s that simple is that anyone who is depressed has a choice, and is choosing to be depressed, which is both insensitive and insulting to those who struggle with it. Not that learning to think more positively can’t help–it can–but it often takes a lot of work, and it’s often either not enough by itself or not possible without eliminating other contributing factors. Depression is a complicated game.

I’ve been thinking today, though. I think that, for me at least, there is a certain truth to the idea that I want to be depressed. I don’t actually consciously want to be, but I’ve been noticing in my attempts to challenge certain mental habits that there’s a part of my brain that seems absolutely determined to see things negatively–that seems to *want* to see things negatively.

I’ve been trying SuperBetter, and it’s been very interesting so far. One of the opening quests is to recruit “allies”, that is to say, to add people to your account who are willing to help out. Specifically, the quest goal is to add your first ally to the game. When I spotted this quest, I had already added a few allies ,so I went ahead to click “I did this!” and the following rough conversation went through my brain:

Scumbag Brain*: “But you didn’t know this was a quest when you recruited them, so it really shouldn’t count.”

Good Guy Brain: “It literally says ‘Add your first ally’. I have clearly already done that.”

SB: “Well, I don’t think it should count. You should add one more.”

GGB: “I’ve already added the people I want to try this to start out with. Fuck you.”

SB: “SHOULDN’T COUNT!!”

I find myself wondering why the hell part of me is so determined to be a dick about things, and find any way to look at them negatively. It’s bewildering and frustrating.

*Yes, I am a Redditor. What of it?

Food for Thought

Getting things right in life is, inevitably, a Monte Carlo sort of problem. It’s good to keep track of just how much processing power you’re using up on certain things, so that you have some left over for the rest. It’s also good to keep in mind that not always having the right answer is inevitable.

Mixed Day

The CBT seems to be going mostly well, though it’s also difficult and kind of scary. Today was a fluctuating day with respect to pain. I felt great in the morning and midday but had an uptick later in the day. Could’ve been stress, but it’s impossible to say for sure.

One of the tricky things with pain is that you tend to feel however you feel now is how you’re always feeling. If I feel good, everything’s super and getting superer. If the pain is bad, I feel like nothing ever gets better ever. Keeping perspective is a challenge.