#LoveMe Challenge Day 28: What Have You Learned These 28 Days

#LoveMe Challenge Day 28: What Have You Learned These 28 Days

To answer the last part of the challenge, I did some emotional mathematics. I re-read all of my #LoveMe posts and picked one or two sentences that were particularly meaningful. I asked myself, “Over the last 28 days, what was I trying to tell myself?” I read and re-read and re-read and re-read this list to add up the sentiments into one cohesive statement. It took a few days in Starbucks (gotta love free refills!) to finally crack my Da Marcus Code, but I did it.

Below are the excerpts that guided me on my way to understanding what I have learned:

Day 1:

  • “I think this 28-day Love Me Challenge will be helpful in introducing myself to myself.”

Day 5:

  • “Keep pressing on. Just know that a day will eventually come when you won’t need to hold in your tears and/or fight so hard. Holy shit, you will be pretty banged up and have immeasurable physical, emotional and spiritual damage, but the battle will end.”
  • “Don’t be afraid of who you are. Be proud of who you will become.”

Day 6:

  • “Perhaps you have evolved from simply surviving to actually living.”

Day 11:

  • “I hope that through more work in my therapy, that the spirit of 8 year-old Marcus can come through again. I want to smile like this again. And I will stick my tongue out if I want to!”

Day 12:

  • “I honestly don’t like to think of my illness as a flaw.”

Day 13:

  • “I believe that I had the strength, courage and the motivation to do well. It is just this damn depression that got in the way.”

Day 14:

  • “Allowing the truth to play a role in our lives is terrifying. We are set up for rejection. But we are also on the path for authentic living.”

Day 16:

  • “be kind, be helpful, work hard, be considerate of other people, help those who can’t help themselves, and don’t be an asshole.”

Day 21:

  • “for one moment, I was strong enough, fast enough and clever enough to beat the hell inside of me.”

Day 24:

  • “These memories remind me that I can do amazing things. They remind me that I can be physically and mentally stronger than I sometimes believe. They remind me that I don’t need to accept being a last place. When my inner voices start to tell me that I am a loser, I can correct them. I might not be doing well right now, and there may be little current evidence to the contrary, but I am not a loser.”

Of all of these, I think the most powerful statement, that I will consider the key from the challenge is simply:

  • “Don’t be afraid of who you are. Be proud of who you will become.” (Day 5)

I have spent much of my life in fear and being ashamed of who I am. So much of what I have done has been to measure up to a standard that I do not agree with. The times that I have had a moment of happiness were those when I shook free of the mental shackles and dared to be myself. There were often negative consequences for such freedom… but, for that brief moment, I was indeed free. Even when I failed, I had the solace of knowing that I tried and failed on my own terms. This is living.

What I have learned is that these mental shackles are no longer strong enough to hold me. I am older and stronger now. With the skills I am learning in my therapy, I can break free. I can be free to be myself.

*Drops mic. Walks away*

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#LoveMe Challenge Day 27: What Have You Accepted About You

#LoveMe Challenge Day 27:What Have You Accepted About You

Over the last 28 days I have repeatedly come face-to-face with the possibility that I will eventually like myself. Eventually. This is a new and strange idea.

From the beginning of treatment journey, my objective was to build up and strengthen the mean voices so that they can exist without conflict with the kinder voices. Or, alternately, but not so often, find value in the kinder internal voices so that they can make the mean voices irrelevant. My strategy was based on internal psychological warfare and domination. My solution to end the painful struggle inside of me was to subjugate and destroy the voices inside of me.

Starting with the therapy that I had most recently in Mainz, and reinforced with this 28Day project, I am reconsidering my strategy. Perhaps such an antagonistic relationship is not optimal. This strategy is painful, takes a lot energy, and generally makes a good life impossible.

When I re-read my entries from the 28Day Challenge, I see that much of my internal anger and self-directed animosity is a response to fear and insecurity. Fighting against these voices will only justify and reinforce their existence. However, another approach in which I show them that they are safe and no longer need to be afraid could be far more effective. I do not hate them, I accept their strength, intensity and protective instinct. I will show them that we have a new life now. Instead of tearing me down, they can redirect their energy to help me create something new.

If I mis-use my therapy to fight myself, my problems will never end. I will just get stronger and learn how to inflict increasingly more damage upon myself. If, however, I learn to hug myself, the internal peace that I have been seeking will finally have a chance of being realized.

I accept the possibility that I could become my friend.

#LoveMe Challenge Day 26: What Makes You Feel Beautiful

#LoveMe Challenge Day 26: What Makes You Feel Beautiful

Nothing makes me feel beautiful. I am not a person who ever feels beautiful. I don’t even like mirrors because I hate to look at myself. The only time I use a mirror is when I shave. If razors didn’t need to be so sharp, I would do without this mirror too.

When I am not hating myself, I’m am wishing to disappear.

#LoveMe Challenge Day 25: What Makes You Laugh

#LoveMe Challenge Day 25: What Makes You Laugh

I laugh very easily. Even though I am tragically mean to myself, I am very quick to laugh at myself too. And I love that I can amuse myself so easily.

When I lived in Baltimore I had a great crew of friends. The core group included myself, a guy who was in advertising, a graphic designer a three teachers. Our basic rules were to never talk about work, keep drinking, and we used the “Friendship pot” to settle bar tabs so “No money” was not a valid excuse to stay home.

Our home base bar was located in the middle of the geographic circle of our various apartments. It was a great place. A really cool mix of people. Peanut shells on the floor. A little too small. But they always remembered our names and our drinks. They also had a karaoke night every week. We invented a game called “screw you karaoke”. During the evening we would secretly pick songs for each other. When your name gets called you must sing whatever song was picked for you. The fun is picking songs that are really boring and long, difficult to sing, or really cheesy.

I have sung U2, Sinead O’Conner, and Sir Mix-a-Lot (there are a lot of words in this song beyond the chorus!). But the funniest was singing “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls. Had we been in another bar, that did not have a sizable gay clientele, the song would have just been silly. But on this night, in our bar, I had a moment of celebrity. For the rest of the night, I had drinks bought for me and requests for my phone number. I think that most of the attention was just to play and to congratulate me for rocking out a very fun song that few people know. As far as bar fun impact, this song was a grand slam. This was exactly why we played “screw you karaoke”. I am not sure what is funniest:

  1. That I sang the song, or
  2. That I already knew all the words

But I always laugh to myself when I remember this night. Who needs American Idol when there is “Screw You Karaoke”?

#LoveMe Challenge Day 24: What Makes You Happy

#LoveMe Challenge Day 24: What Makes You Happy

I can easily make myself happy by remembering my years on the university rowing team. The happy feeling may only last for a fraction of a second because sometimes I have difficulty holding onto thoughts between the torrent of other thoughts spinning around. Other days I might even be able to get a full Rocky-style montage of training and race days.

My university rowing career really plays like a cheesy 80s movie. Our coach took a rag tag group of guys who knew nothing about the sport and who preferred drinking and “carrying on” and turned them into champions. In the beginning, we were the joke of the boathouse (four colleges and the city team shared our boathouse) — and maybe the region. By the time we graduated, we were the boat that other schools had to watch out for.

It was not usual for at least one of us to show up for practice still drunk from the night before. Our coach made it clear that we could keep partying, but we would lose every single race against real boats. There were some races that our coach would not even take us to because she did not to embarrass herself. It is awful to stand around getting  ready for practice when the other teams in the boathouse pack their gear for a race. Our coach finally challenged us to put our beer bottles down, do some real work and take a chance to find out what first place feels like. Maybe we’d like it.

At the end of the spring season our coach took us to Philadelphia to watch the Dad Vail Regatta. With over 100 colleges competing, this is the largest university regatta in the country. Teams from all over the country come to race. My boat mates and I were in awe. These other teams had their shit together in a way that totally highlighted how much of a joke we were. We finally understood what our coach was trying to say. Our coach gave us us the summer to decide if we would continue to keep losing, or if we would sacrifice to earn a spot with these other boats.

Before we left to go home for the summer, my boat met for a serious talk. We all agreed that we needed to win. We wanted respect. There would be no more laughing and grins from other teams. We would do everything to get stronger over the summer, then we would learn how to start winning when we returned to school in the fall. Those who could, joined rowing clubs at home. Those who couldn’t lifted weights and ran. When September came, we presented coach with a group of strong men who she could mold into champions.

The transformation was almost immediate. We came in first place in the first race of the season. For the entire fall season, we never were less than third place. Damn it felt good. In the spring season, the other clubs in the boathouse — the ones that used to laugh at us or ignore us — wanted to train with us. We even started to earn regional rivalries and invitations to invitation-only races. And the icing on the cake was when our coach announced that we would be racing at the Dad Vail Regatta. Hell yeah!

Returning to Philly as a competitor is a great memory. I wore my uniform as though I was a super hero. I checked and re-check all of gear countless times. I yelled at anyone who was not on our team who got too close our boats. I was so happy and I was not going to let anyone fuck up the realization of my dream or the dream of my boat mates.

When it was our chance to race, I was ready to explode with nervous excitement. Unfortunately, only the top two boats would advance to the next stage and we were edged out by two other clubs in a very close and well-fought race.

We didn’t advance through the stages of Dad Vails, but we were there. It was a great finish to an amazing year of redemption. These memories remind me that I can do amazing things. They remind me that I can be physically and mentally stronger than I sometimes believe. They remind me that I don’t need to accept being a last place. When my inner voices start to tell me that I am a loser, I can correct them. I might not be doing well right now, and there may be little current evidence to the contrary, but I am not a loser. Like the race at Dad Vail, I might not win, but I will show up and put forth a good effort that is meaningful. Even if just for a moment, I can be happy.

#LoveMe Challenge Day 23: Your Best Feature

#LoveMe Challenge Day 23: Your Best Feature

For my best feature, I will just use the feature for which I receive the most compliments. Simply because of the way I am, I cannot understand at all, why people mention this. I have spent numerous hours looking into mirrors, and I just don’t get it. If anything, I think this particular feature makes me look more weird than anything else.

I have green(ish) eyes.
Not only do I not understand why other people like my eyes, but when people compliment me, I totally freeze up and panic. I cannot comprehend what they are talking about. Text book cognitive dissonance.  Additionally, I did not grow in a culture where I got much practice with “real” compliments. Compliments were always followed by, “how can I make this better?”. How can I make my eyes better? This makes no sense. So in addition to my total incomprehension of the compliment, I have no idea how to respond. When I was younger, I my brain would explode and I would either freeze, forgetting where I was and what I was doing, or I would immediately try to run away.

As I got older, I realized that it was mostly females who complimented me, so I tried to figure out how to turn their friendly compliments into something cool, like the lyrics from a New Edition song. Of course, this was a horrible idea. An awkward teenager with anxiety and no self-esteem trying to be cool about something he does not believe is just all kinds of bad. I can’t recall any specific instances, but I’m sure I turned the well-intentioned compliments from the women in my church or the cashiers at the market into something strange and creepy.

My next strategy was to simply ignore the compliments and change the topic as quickly as possible. This was something I was very good at. Like the ninjas that block arrows that are shot at them, I was awesome at deflecting compliments. It was not until my last years of college that I learned that this was actually bad manners. When someone makes a compliment, this is their gesture to connect for whatever fraction of a moment. To deny this is to deny this connection. It can actually hurt the other person’s feelings.

I spoke with a good friend about my dilemma. She had the most brilliant answer to my problem. It was so simple that it borderlines on genius. She said… just say… “Thank you”. Problem solved. This acknowledges the compliment whether or not I agree. I don’t need to try to impress anyone with a fancy response. I don’t need to worry about making justifications to my internal dialog that hates me. Just smile and feel good because someone saw something nice about me, and leave it at that.

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#LoveMe Challenge Day 22: What Makes You Unique

#LoveMe Challenge Day 22: What Makes You Unique

Now that I have finally met so many who understand me through blogging, I am not sure what makes me unique. Whereas before I felt like I was the only person with my struggles and ways of surviving/coping, I have found a huge community of people who are living in the same way. This is awesome! Sometimes, I don’t want to be unique. It is nice to finally meet similar and like-minded people.

But, for this question, I must find find something that even distinguishes me amongst this distinguished company. I will attack with another list because I don’t think any particular item is paragraph-worthy:

  1. Even though I used to work at Starbucks and enjoy many of their drinks, I only ever order a tall regular coffee because I know exactly how much sugar and milk it needs. The idea of determining the milk and sugar for another drink or size is too stressful.
  2. I am very good at making friends and talking to new people because, after years of fear of rejection, I am very good at picking up cues for what other people like. I have so little self-value that it is easy to listen and focus on other people.
  3. When it is time for me to focus — if everything inside of me agrees — my brain can be like a laser. Time and place vanishes and I can sit for a task with freakish endurance (this was good for getting me through my stats classes).
  4. My obsessiveness makes me extremely predictable. It is very easy for friends to find me if they want to meet spontaneously (but I might not always be comfortable with this. Please call/text first. Surprises freak me out.).
  5. I am very reliable. If I say something, it becomes a universal certainty that must be achieved at all costs. It will be done. With perfect effort. On time. (Or, I will want to die)
  6. I don’t need variety. In fact, variety causes discomfort and anxiety. Shopping and/or menu planning is extremely easy. Just get the same things I got last time… and the time before that… and the time before that
  7. I miss the “sexy talk” that was ubiquitous in R&B music from the 80s and 90s. I always thought it was cool how the song was simply not enough. He needed his woman so much that he’d interrupt the song to tell her in a superhuman deep voice. (I’m looking at you, Boyz II Men and Jodeci).
  8. Speaking of music (and this is not new to some readers), I usually listen to a single song on repeat for hours or days.
  9. I hate being told what to do. In an irrationally vehement way. Most times the new suggestion goes against whatever my thoughts are already locked on. I want to comply, but I can’t. My brain simply can’t. I can’t handle contradictions very well. The dissonance is so amazingly uncomfortable and distressing that my brain flips to rage. Then it takes every ounce of energy to control myself. It’s never personal. I’m just weird. It is embarrassing. I don’t like this about myself.
  10. Bad weather generaly does not bother me. Mother Nature is nothing against my inner voices and determination to do something I already decided to do. Being wet and cold is small beans compared to the self-flagellation from changing my mind.
  11. I’m pretty easy going. I tend not to complain. I’ll make sarcastic jokes, but I generally don’t care. Compared to suicidal moments, most things aren’t that bad. Slow service in a café is nothing in comparison to trying to kill myself. Puts things in a weird perspective.
  12. I have a strangely high threshold for pain. This was very helpful during my military training and with sports. I never need to stop until it becomes just biologically impossible to continue (black outs, total muscle failure, etc). This helps with patience, too. I can sit in one place and wait forever. My internal voices are more than active enough to occupy my time.
  13. I laugh easily and a lot. I don’t even know what kinds of things make me laugh. Everything does. I like to smile. Being depressed is so awful that I try not to miss the momentary flashes that could bring a smile. This causes some problems. I don’t like to laugh at people, but I might laugh at what a person did. Is that clear?
  14. I eat my meals one food item at a time (I prefer my food not to touch). I save my drink for the end, which I drink in one gulp. Party trick: I can drink up to 1L in one gulp.
  15. I believed in Santa until I was ~13 years old. I had doubts earlier, but I was not willing to risk my gifts by not believing. 
  16. In high school, instead of paying attention in biology class, I taught myself how to raise one eye brow. Even though I failed the class, this was the right choice. Somehow, I majored in biology in college. Now I have a degree in biology AND I can raise one eyebrow. Heck yeah!

     

#LoveMe Challenge Day 21: Something You Are Proud Of

#LoveMe Challenge Day 21: Something You Are Proud Of

MpaI am pretty certain that my biggest accomplishment is the completion of my masters degree.

I finished my bachelors degree after 10 long, dismal years. The path through the my undergraduate studies was awful. I was put on “academic warning” numerous times and was eventually academically expelled. I was only readmitted with considerable petitioning and letters of faculty support. This was long before I knew anything about depression or anxiety. Without a vocabulary for mental health, I could not even begin to describe what was going on in my life. I was just a bad student without motivation and no prospects for the future.

When I finally did graduate, I had probably spent four or five times as much money on my classes than I should have. I was sad and lonely in the ceremony because I did not know — or even recognize — a single person. I remember thinking that this ceremony was less about my academic achievement, and more about surviving when everything inside of me wants to die. There was sense no of congratulations. I was simply trying to live.

In spite of my terrible undergrad experience, I decided to pursue a masters degree. It was a fair career choice, but an extremely difficult experience. I was still fighting through my undiagnosed depression and anxiety (alcohol and caffeine were my weapons of choice). But I was absolutely determined to finish my degree in two years. I wanted to graduate and walk across the stage with the same people I’d meet during orientation week. I attacked my masters studies as though I was fighting for my life… because I was. I needed a point in the win column. Overall, I was still very much of a loser, but I needed this one victory. I didn’t want to die without a shut-out. I just wanted do well in something before I died (something not a sport).

I became part of a study group that was as academically and professionally ferocious I was. We tore through our classes and projects with top grades. We worked long, hard and looked good doing it. My entire study group was even picked to be part of the school recruiting program to serve as student ambassadors and photographed for the new school catalog for prospective students. Like a good team, each of us carried the team where/when we were strong, and we could ask for help when/where we were weak. We were determined to see all of us succeed and get to that graduation stage together. THIS is what I missed as an undergraduate.

Remembering my undergraduate experience, I even took extra classes when my energy was good to have some room to cushion the inevitable crash that was always haunting me. From the outside, it looked I was a hard-working student. But in reality, I was a scared student. I knew that, at any moment, all the cards could come crashing down. If I had any energy to work, I was going to push at 150% because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

After two years and earning a few extra credits, I finished my program. I have graduation pictures with my study group. We did it. We helped each other do what none of us could have done alone. We did it. At the end we laughed, drank beer, smoked cigars, and talked about our dreams for the next step. We all got our first choice jobs or PhD programs. Damn, it was beautiful. Fuck you, Life!

Getting from orientation day to graduation day was hard as hell. There were so many times that depression had me in its choke hold, but someone else was there to help me loosen its grip. Even if just enough for a quick breath to buy some more time. Internally, by the end of the program I was in ruins. To finish my last seminar paper in the last week of school, someone had to literally sit in front of me for an entire weekend and kick my ass to keep me from giving up and walking away and throwing away the entire two years. There were many times that the suicidal thoughts were grabbing at me. But I really needed this graduation before I died.

Often I wonder what it is like to take a class (or go to work) and just do it. I must always wrestle with my thoughts and feelings. I wonder what it is like to live without voices whispering or shouting the most evil things. What is like to have a life that is not confined by rules and routines? What is it like to not live in fear? What is it like to like yourself? What is it like to not want to kill yourself?

Finishing my masters degree and getting that piece of paper is something that I am very proud of. It proves that, for one moment, I was strong enough, fast enough and clever enough to beat the hell inside of me. It proves that I was able to have a social network that was healthy and supportive and where I had value. Perfect strangers became my best friends for no reason other than that we were awesome together and brought out the best in each other. That degree is an emotional middle finger to the mess inside of me and all the terrible things my thoughts tell me. I may never be able have this again, but I had it once. Once is all that I need. I am proud of this.

#LoveMe Challenge Day 20: Something You Love To Wear

#LoveMe Challenge Day 20: Something You Love To Wear

I think that my favorite combination of clothes suits my personality perfectly. Super comfortable, low maintenance, and just maybe an inch or two too far across the line of what is “acceptably” casual.

I love wearing chinos or soft jeans, a loose-fitting Oxford shirt and a medium weight sweater. Generally, this is perfectly mid-Atlantic casual attire. Often, I will throw on a well-worn baseball cap, pulled down so that I can hide and discourage conversations. I know that I probably should wear leather shoes, but I wear running shoes because they are the most comfortable shoes ever invented (and you never know when you might need to hustle).

For the last 20 years or so, I have purchased the exact same shirts, pants, shoes and hats from the exact same companies/vendors. I never owned “extra” clothes. I liked everything that I had. They all felt good. And I felt good wearing them. When something was worn out or damaged, I replaced it. I simply dressed “from left to right” from my closet, so I never had to think about what to wear. In one wash cycle, I wore all of my clothes. I had just what I needed and never needed anything else. It was the perfect system. No stress. Chill.

#LoveMe Challenge Day 19: Something You Feel Strongly About

#LoveMe Challenge Day 19: Something You Feel Strongly About

From my experience as a child, I have a soft/protective spot for other children. Children are so vulnerable for abuse and so incapable of knowing how to protect themselves. Too often, the people children depend upon for safety are the very ones who are mistreating them. Even in the best cases, being a child is difficult. There is so much to learn. Children look to their parents and family for guidance and information to help comprehend this huge, complicated world. When the message they receive is intertwined with physical or emotional abuse, the child will have a difficult time growing up with the tools and knowledge  they need to function effectively. Even worse is that the grown up child may be mentally or emotionally “handicapped” without even realizing it. Consequently, they may have unnecessary struggles, or worse, pass on their experience to yet another child.

I have tried in earnest to help parents and children end this cycle. Unfortunately, the job that I had placed me too close to the families that I was serving. Consequently, in time my work effectiveness was compromised by constant flashbacks and traumatic memories of my own. This is the job that effectively triggered the incident that lead to my hospitalization and current treatment.

I know for a fact that I cannot return to that job ever again. However I would like to find a way to do something to create a positive and safe space for children. If there is something I can do, I can’t accept not doing it. However, I must do it in a way that is also safe for me. I have absolutely no idea how this will work out, but I have time.