‘Fixing OCD’ Article Is Badly Misleading

An article in The Atlantic called “5 Very Specific Ways to Fix Your OCD” blows it from the start — in the headline.

OCD sufferers know damn well that you can’t fix OCD. You can only learn to manage it and make it less of a disrupting force in your life.

Mood music:

Knowing that as I do, I’m dissapointed that the writer would give OCD sufferers false hope, followed by five pieces of advice that are not totally unhelpful, but also not very realistic.

I still write some clunkers with the best of ’em. All writers do, especially when you produce articles daily. But here, I think the author was mislead by Concordia University psychologist Adam Radomsky, who spelled out the five strategies.

What follows are portions of the article in italics and my responses in plain text.

Re-examine your responsibility. Many of the symptoms of OCD can be caused and/or exacerbated by increases in perceived responsibility. The more responsible you feel, the more you are likely to check, wash, and/or think your thoughts are especially important. Ask yourself how responsible you feel for the parts of your life associated with your OCD, then take a step back from the problem and write down all of the possible other causes. For example, someone who would likely check their appliances repeatedly might feel completely responsible to protect their family from a fire. If this person adopted a broader perspective, they would realize that other family members, neighbors, the weather, the electrician who installed the wiring in the home, the company that built the appliances, and others should actually share in the responsibility.

Radomsky misses the point — OCD sufferers usually know the reality of these situations. But our minds spin with worry anyway. Like the addict who knows he-she will eventually die from their bad habits but can’t help but continue with them anyway, the OCD sufferer knows that he-she shares responsibilities with others, but can’t help but take on all the problems of the world anyway. The brain is constantly in motion, taking small concerns and sculpting them into huge, paralyzing worries.

Repetitions make you less sure about what you’ve done. This is bizarre because we usually check and/or ask questions repeatedly to be more confident of what we’ve done. OCD researchers in the Netherlands and Canada, however, have found that when repetition increases, this usually backfires and may lead to very dramatic declines in our confidence in our memory. To fix this, try conducting an experiment. On one day, force yourself to restrict your repetition to just one time. Later that day, on a scale of 0-10, rate how confident you are in your memory of what you’ve done. The next day, repeat the same behavior but rate it a few more times throughout the day. Most people who try this experiment find later that their urges to engage in compulsive behavior decline because they learn that the more they repeat something, the less sure they become.

I appreciate what he’s trying to do here with the role-playing game, and it can be helpful to try tracking how much you repeat an action and what it does to your memory.

But he again misses the crucial point: We OCD sufferers already know these repeated actions fuck with the memory of what we have or haven’t done. One of my OCD habits has always been going over the checklist for what I need to do before leaving for work the next morning. Clothes laid out? Check. Coffee maker programmed? Check. Lunch made and in the fridge? Check. Laptop bag stuffed with all the necessary work tools? Check. Then, even though I know full well what I’ve just done, I run through that same check list over and over. I’m not as bad as I was before treatment, but it’s still in me.

Treat your thoughts as just that — thoughts. Intrusive thoughts are normal, but they become obsessions when people give them too much importance … Spend a week making this distinction between your OCD thoughts (noise) and thoughts associated with things you are actually doing or would like to be doing (signal). See what happens.

I’ll tell you what happens: Your thoughts continue to run wild despite the exercise. Not that you shouldn’t try it. For a few people, it may help. But one of the very first things we learn is that we are not our thoughts; that thoughts and reality are not the same thing. But this is like the responsibility example above. We keep thinking because we can’t help it.

Practice strategic disclosure. People with OCD fear that if or when they disclose their unwanted intrusive thoughts or compulsions, other people will judge them as harshly as they judge themselves. This sadly often leaves the individual suffering alone without knowing that more than nine in 10 people regularly experience unwanted, upsetting thoughts, images, and impulses related to OCD themes as well. Consider letting someone in your life who has been supportive during difficult times know about the thoughts and actions you’ve been struggling with. Let them know how upset you are with these and how they’re inconsistent with what you want in life. You might be pleasantly surprised by their response. If not, give it one more try with someone else. We’ve found that it never takes more than two tries.

This piece of advice is sound, but gets buried beneath the unhelpful material.

Observe your behavior and how it lines up with your character. Most people struggling with OCD either view themselves as mad, bad and/or dangerous or they fear that they will become such, so they often go to great lengths to prevent bad things from happening to themselves or to their loved ones. But ask yourself how an observer might judge your values based on your actions. If you spend hours each day trying to protect the people you love, are you really a bad person? If you exert incredible amounts of time and effort to show how much you care, how faithful you are, how you just want others to be safe and happy, maybe you’re not so bad or dangerous after all. And as for being crazy, there’s nothing senseless about OCD. People sometimes fail to understand how rational and logical obsessions and compulsions can be. Remember, your values and behavior are the best reflection of who you are, not those pesky unwanted noisy thoughts.

This too is sound advice. But it leaves out something incredibly important: You can’t review your character and reconcile it with your OCD habits in this simple step he lays out. It takes years of intense therapy  — and for some, like me, the added help of medication — to peel away the layers and get at the root of your obsessions.

You can learn to manage OCD and live a good life. But it’s a lot of hard, frustrating work. And that work is ALWAYS there, until the day you die.

Know that before you dive into the search for simple solutions. If it looks simple, it’s probably too good to be true.

The Monkey Will ALWAYS Be On Your Back

I’m standing at a bar in Boston with my wife and stepmom. They order wine and I order coffee. My stepmom beams and says something about how awesome it is that I beat my demons.

I appreciate the pride and the sentiment. But it’s also dangerous when someone tells a recovering addict that they’ve pulled the monkey off their back for good.

Mood music:

Here’s the thing about that monkey: You can smack him around, bloody him up and knock him out. But that little fucker is like Michael Myers from the Halloween movies. He won’t die.

Sometimes you can keep him knocked out for a long time, even years. But he always wakes up, ready to kick your ass right back to the compulsive habits that nearly destroyed you before.

That may sound a little dramatic. But it’s the truth, and recovering addicts can never be reminded of this enough.

Dr. Drew had a good segment on the subject last year, when he interviewed Nikki Sixx:

Sixx talked about his addictions and how he always has to be on guard. Dr. Drew followed that up with a line that rings so true: “Your disease is doing push ups right now.”

So painfully true.

I know that as a binge-eating addict following the 12 Steps of Recovery, I can relapse any second. That’s why I have to work my program every day.

But Sixx makes another point I can relate to: Even though he’s been sober for so many years, he still gets absorbed in addictive behavior all the time. The difference is that he gives in to the addiction of being creative. He’s just released his second book and second album with Sixx A.M. Motley Crue still tours and makes new music. He has four kids, a clothing line and so on. He’s always doing something.

I get the same way with my writing. That’s why I write something every day, whether it’s here or for the day job. I’m like a shark, either swimming or drowning. By extension, though I’ve learned to manage the most destructive elements of my OCD,I still let it run a little hot at times — sometimes on purpose. If it fuels creativity and what I create is useful to a few people, it’s worth it.

The danger is that I’ll slip my foot off the middle speed and let the creative urge overshadow things that are more important. I still fall prey to that habit.

And though it’s been well over three years since my last extended binge, my sobriety and abstinence has not been perfect. There have been times where I’ve gotten sloppy, realized it, and pulled back.

But the occasional sloppiness and full-on relapse will always be separated by a paper-thin wall.

I’ll have to keep aware of that until the day I die.

The monkey isn’t going anywhere. My job is to keep him tame most of the time.

Drawing by JUSTIN MCELROY (imaginarypeople26@yahoo.com). Click the photo to see more of his work.

Strong Too Long, Or Weak Too Often?

There’s a saying on Facebook that depression isn’t a sign of weakness, but simply the result of being strong for too long. Somewhat true — though weakness does feed the beast.

Mood music:

I’m feeling it this morning.

I’ve always taken a certain level of satisfaction from my ability to stay standing in the face of death, illness, family dysfunction, depression and addiction. Sometimes, I get an over-inflated sense of survivor’s pride.

People love to tell you how awesome you are when you emerge from adversity stronger than before. The victor is placed on a 10-foot pedestal and life looks hunky-dory from up there. But it’s only a matter of time before the person on top loses balance and crashes to the ground.

I’ve fallen from that pedestal a bunch of times, and my ass is really starting to hurt from all those slips off the edge.

All this has me asking the question: How much can you blame depression on being strong too long when many times it comes back because the victim has been weak?

I don’t think there’s a precise answer. I only know this: I feel like I’ve been trying like a motherfucker to be strong 24-7. But I don’t seem to have the fortitude to maintain it, and I give in to weakness.

In the past, that weakness would involve indulging in food, alcohol and tobacco until I was too sick to function.

Today, the weakness involves getting angry and self-defensive and distant at the drop of a hat.

For all the progress I’ve made in managing my OCD, there are still moments where I go weak, put the blinders on and do some stupid things.

It’s the compulsion to keep staring at the laptop screen when one or both kids need me to look up and give them some attention.

It’s stopping in the middle of a conversation with my wife because the cellphone is ringing or someone has pinged me online.

It’s spending too much money on food and entertainment for the kids because it’s easier to me at the time than  cooking the food myself and playing a board game with them instead.

I’ve been working double-time at bringing my compulsive tendencies to heel, going through some intensified therapy. The short-term result is that I’m an angrier person than I normally am.

My therapist made note of that anger at our last meeting. The trigger in the room was him taking me back to my younger years in search of clues to present-day debacles. I thought I was done with sessions like that five years ago.

But I’m learning that the road to mental wellness is not linear. It goes in a circle. It’s like driving to the same place every day for work. The drive to work and back is a loop of the same landmarks, the same traffic patterns and the same behind-the-wheel thinking sessions.

I’m learning that managing my issues is going to involve frequent trips back and forth from the past to the present. This pisses me off. But I know I have to keep at it.

I guess I’ll always have my weak moments because of the events that shaped me.  But you can still be strong throughout it, learning to regain your footing more quickly  and being better at the kind of discussion with loved ones that prevents endless miscommunication from adding up to a mountain of pain.

I don’t know when I’ll truly reach that level of strength. But for now I’m leaning hard on all my coping tools, including the music and the praying.

Guilt Chestnut Number 5: ‘You Never Call’

In a dysfunctional family few are without blame for the things that go wrong. But there’s one criticism I’ve heard time and again that makes me bristle:

“You never call.”

Mood music:

It’s not just that I don’t call the person who says that. It’s that I don’t call a lot of people. I’ve never been a fan of the phone. I always feel awkward on the phone, especially when there are pockets of dead air. I feel pressure to keep the conversation going, and it all goes downhill from there.

Thanks to modern technology, I touch base with family more than I ever did before. I do it with Android texts. I do it with Facebook. To a lesser extent, I do it with email.

But sometimes the folks I’m reaching out to don’t return fire.

I tried using Facebook to communicate more with my mother, but she unfriended me. She found this blog and it pissed her off.

I tried using it to connect with an aunt I haven’t talked to in awhile. She blocked me.

I’d chalk it up to these people not being ready for Internet communications, except that they do it fine with everyone else.

I figure if I phoned, the reception would be about as icy. But like I said, the phone makes me feel awkward. Ironic, since I’ve made my living at journalism for 18 years.

But here’s the meat of the problem:

I’ve had people bitch that I don’t call this relative or that relative to check on them and let them know I care. But the very people I’m scolded for not calling don’t call me, either.

When my relationship with my mother imploded five and a half years ago, a few family members were left confused and angry that me, Erin and the kids had disappeared from family birthday parties and the like.

They talked about it to a lot of people. But no one ever called me for my side of the story. They just made assumptions.

That’s why, when someone tries to make me feel guilty by telling me I never call people, my first impulse is shrug and roll my eyes. Trying to guilt me is bad enough. Do it with hypocrisy and you’re even more certain not to get the response you want from me.

You’re probably reading this and thinking, “Man, he’s bitter today. That’s not like him.” I guess I am a little bit bitter.

But I broach the issue because mine isn’t a special case. Most of us get slapped with the “you never call” guilt trip from family members.

This is the kind of guilt tactic that doesn’t work. If a person isn’t inclined to use the phone much, they’re not going to change their ways. And, if you’re on Facebook and they’re on Facebook but they don’t use it back when you reach out, that’s about the same as never calling.

That said, I do want better relations with my extended family. When a family member sends me a friend request on Facebook, I’ll never turn them down. I want to use the medium to reconnect with them.

My phone line is always open, too. Those who really want to get in touch with me there know how to get the number.

I don’t believe there’s ever a point of no return when it comes to ending family estrangements. I remain willing.

But if someone chooses not to get in touch with me, they shouldn’t expect me to care when I hear they’ve been whining about me from second- and third-hand sources.

The JetBlue Captain Went Crazy

I held off on writing about the JetBlue captain who suffered an emotional breakdown in flight because the case seemed too cut and dry for my added perspective.

Mood music:

That’s because I was thinking about this from the perspective of a frequent flyer. I prefer that the guys running the cockpit of my plane are sober and of sound mind. If someone is on the mental edge, they shouldn’t be flying a plane. And if a captain unexpectedly loses it, he should be removed from the cockpit.

There’s nothing remarkable here. I think any airline passenger would echo my sentiments.

The justice system appears to have reached the same conclusions. According to a Reuters story posted this morning, a grand jury indicted the pilot and charged him with interference with a flight crew. From the article:

Pilot Clayton Osbon “moved through the aircraft and was disruptive and had to be subdued and forcibly restrained from re-entering the cockpit” during the flight from New York to Las Vegas, the federal indictment said.

The unusual indictment of an airline pilot was filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Amarillo, Texas. The JetBlue flight made an emergency landing in Amarillo on March 27 and Osbon, 49, was taken into custody at the airport.

Osbon is undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric examination to determine whether he can stand trial and his “sanity or lack thereof” at the time of the incident, according to court documents.

The FBI said Osbon began saying “things just don’t matter” while he was at the controls of the Airbus A320 about halfway into the five-hour flight, and that he told the flight’s first officer, “We’re not going to Vegas.”

After the pilot suddenly left the cockpit and started running up and down in the aisle, banging on a restroom door, and attempted to force his way back into the locked cockpit, several passengers retrained him until the plane landed, court documents say.

The FBI said that while he was being restrained, Osbon yelled “pray now for Jesus Christ,” started yelling about Iraq, Iran, and terrorists, and at one point shouted toward the cockpit, “guys, push it to full throttle!”

A detention hearing that had been set for earlier this week to determine whether Osbon should be released on bond was postponed while his psychiatric exam continued.

As dangerous as this guy was, I can’t help but feel for him. As someone who has suffered from panic attacks and emotional breakdowns, I can certainly place myself in his shoes. The inside of an airplane is THE WORST place on Earth to have an emotional breakdown. You’re trapped in a tube with nowhere to go. Anything can happen in that situation.

Some have called for heads to roll at the airline, but I think that’s pointless. We can yell until we’re blue in the face about how there should be tougher screening for pilots to ensure no one gets on a plane emotionally unhinged. But you can’t always catch these things in a screening.

I’ve had days where I woke up energized, confident and ready to take on the world. Then, somewhere in the day, without warning, my emotional equilibrium would take a dive. It has happened on the job, and at home. It has happened with me behind the wheel of a car and in the kitchen with sharp objects in my hand.

Screening beforehand might have revealed some latent depression, but that’s not enough to predict that the person is a ticking time bomb.

There are no good guys or bad guys in this tale. What happened happened and I doubt anything could have been done to avoid it.

If the pilot had been acting out before takeoff, the plane never would have left the ground with him on board. Not in this post-9-11 world.

That’s the problem with time bombs. You can never predict when they’ll go off. You can’t catch this type of explosive in a TSA line, especially when the TSA is preoccupied with patting down toddlers in wheelchairs.

I just hope the pilot gets the help he needs.

JetBlue Flight 191 on the ground in Amarillo, Texas. It made an emergency landing after its captain had to be restrained. Roberto Rodriguez/AP

Depression Takes Another Life: Ronnie Montrose

Depression has claimed another victim. Published reports confirm that legendary guitarist Ronnie Montrose’s March 3 death was a suicide.

Many of you are unfamiliar with him, but his playing left a lasting mark on a lot of mega-star musicians, including Eddie Van Halen, who recorded four studio albums with original Montrose singer Sammy Hagar.

Mood music:

Montrose’s wife, Leighsa Montrose, described how badly he suffered in an interview with Guitar Player magazine:

“Ronnie had a very difficult childhood, which caused him to have extremely deep and damaging feelings of inadequacy,” said Leighsa. “This is why he always drove himself so hard. He never thought he was good enough. He always feared he’d be exposed as a fraud. So he was exacting in his self criticism, and the expectations he put upon himself were tremendous. Now I see that perhaps he didn’t want to carry these burdens for very much longer.”

I’ve been ultra-sensitive on the issue of suicide ever since my best friend took his life 15-plus years ago.

I was angry with him for many years. I thought he was a coward who left behind a mess. My thinking has evolved considerably since then. I now see suicide for what it is: The act of a person so ill with depression that they’ve lost the ability to think clearly. Whenever I hear of a suicide, I feel the need to mention it here because I don’t want anyone else’s name tarnished because that’s how it ended for them.

The topic is a tough one for Catholics like me, because we were always taught that suicide is a ticket straight to Hell. These lines from the Catechism of the Catholic Church show that suicide isn’t the trip to eternal damnation many in the church would have us believe:

“2282 Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide. 

2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.”

Nothing is ever as black and white as we’d like to believe. The older I get, the clearer that point becomes.

It used to seem strange to me how depression could snuff out one life while leaving legions more intact. But it’s not so strange, really. Cancer kills a lot of people every day, but many more are left standing.

I’m no stranger to depression. I suffer the bleak feelings of it regularly, though never to the point of suicide. Mine is a brooding, curmudgeonly form of depression that I’ve learned to manage well through therapy and medication.

I’m one of the lucky ones, I suppose. I’ll just be grateful about it and leave it at that.

I hope Montrose finds the peace he couldn’t find in life.

Hey, Kids! Here’s Something For ‘When Your Brain Gets Stuck’

I just got a book in the mail called “What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid’s Guide To Overcoming OCD” by psychologist-author Dawn Huebner. I asked for a copy so I could review it, but it might warrant more than one simple review.

Mood music:

Someone I’m connected to on Facebook got a copy to help her OCD-suffering child. Since the upcoming relaunch of THE OCD DIARIES will have an expanded section for children’s mental health issues, reviewing this seemed natural.

The book, published by Magination Press with illustrations by Bonnie Matthews, guides kids and parents through cognitive-behavioral techniques used to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve learned a lot of techniques in therapy over the years, but my first impression from this book is that a few more simple tools could have helped me nip this disorder in the bud BEFORE I reached adulthood.

From the synopsis:

Did you know that people have brain sorters that keep their brains from getting cluttered with unnecessary thoughts? Sometimes these brain sorters get mixed up, though, holding onto thoughts that frighten kids. If this has happened to you, if it’s hard for you to feel safe or sure of yourself because scary thoughts have gotten stuck, this book is for you.

Two-plus years into this blog, I’ve never been able to explain it that clearly. I came closest in a post comparing the brain to a car engine.

What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck guides children and their parents through the cognitive-behavioral techniques used to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This interactive self-help book turns kids into super-sleuths, able to recognize and more appropriately respond to OCD’s tricks. Engaging examples, activities, and step-by-step instructions help children master the skills needed to break free from the sticky thoughts and urges of OCD, and live happier lives.

First impressions:

–The illustrations are terrific. Cheers to Bonnie Matthews. She managed to give OCD a face in the form of this little furry guy who resembles the tribbles from Star Trek — with legs. When you can put a face on your nemesis, it’s easier to fight him.

–Huebner scores points with me by setting the exploration of OCD up as a game. Right off the bat, if you can make something look like a game, dealing with it becomes less scary.

–She covers several coping techniques that deserve more attention than I could offer in one post.

I’m going to approach my study of this book from the perspective of a kid who lacked the right tools and allowed OCD to follow him into adulthood.

The author takes kids on an important journey, and it seems fitting to show their parents what happens when their little OCD cases miss out on that journey. I’m the guy who went through puberty and into adulthood with that insidious fur ball following me around. It grew up with me and got a lot uglier and menacing than the little guy in the book.

I’ll look at the different symptoms the author lays out and explain how they manifested themselves in the younger me. From there, I think I’ll be able to tell you how this book — though designed for kids — can be a life-saver for grownups, too.

Breaking Up (The Day) Is So Very Hard To Do

When you have the OCD blinders on, you can do the work of three highly-motivated people. You can go for hours and hours, your ass sinking into the seat like an anvil. The problem is that your muscles and mind are a tangled wreck when you stand up many hours later.

Mood music:

Any doctor or therapist will tell you to get up every 25 minutes or so and walk around for a bit. Maybe go eat lunch outside on a nice day instead of at the desk. They call this breaking up the day.

I suck at it. Always have.

So when I was asked to participate in a program where I would read to a second-grader at a school near the office once a week, I groaned. I didn’t want to do it. It would mean I had to stop what I was doing and go, whether I felt ready or not.

But I try to be a team player. So I signed up.

Every week, it’s the same feeling. I’m hauling ass on a project, and 11 a.m. rolls around. Time to get up and go read. I tell myself there’s a few more minutes to work. It’s usually 11:45 before I get up.

With no traffic, that would be fine. But there’s always traffic on this route because of all the traffic lights and a busy mall. So I get to the school a few minutes late.

Then I go in and meet up with the second-grader I’ve been assigned. His name is Luis. He has spiky blond hair and dark skin. He’s a very cool-headed little guy. Nothing seems to get him excitable. He lunchbox is always packed with chips, tacos and cheese in a box and something for dessert. He always eats the desert first. While he eats, I read. They call this the Power Lunch.

He likes the lighthearted stuff: The “Magic Tree House” series, the “Ricky Ricotta and His Mighty Robot” books, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “The Adventures of Captain Underpants.”

Occasionally, I get him to pick a biography. Always about a sports legend. I’d try to turn him on to bios about politicians and rock stars, but there are none in the bin.

When he can’t listen anymore, we’ll play a game or two of Tic Tac Toe.

I like the kid a lot. I always admire the people who don’t get rattled. There are other kids in the group that bounce off the walls. One of my co-workers — a young, geeky type of guy — has the rowdiest kid of the bunch, which amuses me to no end. The boy is also one of Luis’ best buddies, so he spends a lot of time looking at our table, contemplating ways to get out of his seat and come over.

The whole thing takes 30 minutes a week. It goes by fast. And I always walk out of there with a smile.

Then the next reading day rolls around, and I repeat the process.

Thing is, I’m glad I decided to do this. It’s rarely convenient, but that’s the OCD talking. As I said earlier, I don’t like having to get up when I’m engrossed in a task.

But I do it anyway. And I’m better for it.

I guess the doctors and therapists aren’t full of shit after all.

I got a reward for my efforts too. Luis made me a card thanking me for reading to him. It warms the heart.

Such A Waste To Lose One’s Mind-Fulness

A combination of OCD and ADD has given me a bitch of a handicap: Living in the moment and being present has become tough as nails. Health experts call this elusive thing I search for “mindfulness.”

Mood music:

Here’s what happens:

When the OCD runs hot, I develop tunnel vision. I focus in on the task I’m either doing or thinking about. That’s good if you have a major work project to complete. It’s bad when someone is trying to talk to you and your brain is weaving a hundred schemes.

When the ADD picks up steam, I lose my focus. I’ll start thinking about a song I heard that day or how good it’ll feel to get into bed with a book. All while someone is talking to me.

I thought I stabbed this problem in the heart and killed it. On further reflection, I’m finding that the same problem has simply changed bodies like Dr. Who.

That in itself is still good, since the old persona was intense fear and anxiety that often incapacitated me. I broke out of that shell and life has been so much better as a result. But my current troubles are still painful.

Dealing with this issue has become the main focus of recent therapy sessions. I started bringing up the issue with my therapist because I’ve been realizing how unfair and hurtful zoning out can be at home. I don’t want to be that guy. And yet, for the moment, I am.

It’s not just a problem at home. Anywhere I go, when people are talking to me for anything longer than five minutes, I start to enter a fog. I still capture the main points of the conversation, but it requires heavy effort — effort that can be physically painful.

In recent weeks, I’ve considered what this handicap could cost me. My first reaction was to feel scared. That has settled into a low-grade anger.

Anger that I can’t just fix my brain and be done with it.

Anger that I have to do more therapy than usual.

Anger that the whole thing is exhausting me.

But that’s life. I have a problem, and I intend to beat it. And if I can’t beat it, I intend to figure out how to manage it.

At my age, I’m really not sure how much more I can fix. But even though I haven’t achieved perfection up to this point, the journey has been a beautiful one, full of experiences I never could have had a few years ago.

What lies ahead could be unpleasant. But as with past challenges, I may find gifts buried beneath the ugliness.

Art by Bill Fennell

I’d Like To Blame My Parents, But…

I’ve been frustrated lately over my inability to balance how I express emotions. Forget balance — I suck at emotion, period.

Mood music:

With my kids I get too emotional at times, showering them with kisses and telling them I love them a lot more than they probably care to hear. Duncan’s refrain is usually, “I know already, Dad!”

With my wife I’m not emotional enough. When times get difficult — and even when they’re going well — I tend to clam up. I share my feelings in headline form or I don’t share at all. That’s pretty whacked considering all the opening up I do here.

I’ve been trying to solve this puzzle for years, but I’m no closer than where I started.

Sometimes I get really angry with my parents for this.

My mother was the smothering type. She wanted me close by at all times when I was a kid, and would get in my personal zone at the wrong times, hugging me when I wanted to be left alone. I don’t entirely blame her for this. She lost another child, and she was clinging to what she had left with everything she had. The effect was suffocating, and I ultimately rebelled.

My father, on the other hand, had no clue about expressing his feelings. Whenever I hit a milestone (in adulthood the milestones were promotions and raises at work), his response was always a detached, “That’s it?” If I expressed fatigue over life’s difficulties, the response — instead of relating his experiences and how he pulled through the tough stuff — was always, “It’s good for you.” My paternal grandmother was the same way. As the tired old saying says: The apple never falls far from the tree.

In the area of emotional balance, you could say I lacked role models — which is why I want to punch the walls a lot lately. I’m in my 40s and need to figure these things out with no prior experience. I think my trouble expressing emotions is why I started writing this blog. I can write my feelings and share just fine. But in face-to-face conversation, I flounder.

Some people would dismiss this as unimportant. No one is perfect at this, after all. Like everything else, this is life.

But I’m really starting to worry about doing to my wife what my parents did to each other. I’m worried that I’ll do to my kids what my parents did to me — ensuring that they grow up to start another generation of dysfunction.

But here’s the thing: I’m a grown man on the fast track to middle age. Too much time has passed since I left home for me to keep blaming everything on my parents. They did the best they could with the tools they had, but fucked up a lot. All parents do.

I’m a big boy now. It’s time to take ownership.