I’ve been working my way through what I call Functional Depression for a couple of weeks now. Some high days, some low days, nothing new. And mostly it was a delaying tactic from moving into my standard “hide and heal” approach. But there was also a small niggling part of me that was wondering about trying something new. What I was calling “F*** the universe”. Ratcheting up my energy, pedal to the metal, no retreat, no surrender, get ‘er done, just do it, no quit, whatever other metaphor/slogan a sports team can come up with, blah blah blah.
Except the first part of that is the challenge. Finding the energy to do it. Most likely by tapping into my inner core of reserve plus some anger at the universe. Getting “mad” to augment my fire. Yet also worried that I would tap out at some point and have nothing left.
Clarifying the options
A couple of people sent me messages and emails asking about some of the sub-elements I put in the previous post (Choosing between three depressions).
One question in different forms was if my standards were too high. I understand the concern, but it’s a bit misleading. I was noting that I feel like I not only have to do the right thing, it has to be for the right reasons. And if I’m not sure it is the right reason, I don’t do it. The reason for that is that often it is easy to think something is the “right thing”, because of some hidden urge within me. But if I’m not clear on the reasons, it usually means I’m lying to myself about what the right thing is (rationalizing my choice). I can remember two incidents in particular from my past, but they aren’t entirely my story to tell, so I’ll be a bit vague. In both instances, I thought the right thing to do was “X”. And I could, at the time, wrap both of the things in a noble flag as to why I was doing them. In one case, I tried and it blew up; in the other, I was suspicious of my reasoning, and held off, and it could have been really bad. In both cases, I realized afterwards, I was telling myself it was the right thing to do, but I couldn’t see the reasoning as clearly. Because I was hiding it from myself; it was more selfish than noble.
So while it seems like a high standard, it isn’t so much about the standard as it is clarity of my thinking. If I can’t see how the right means are leading to the right end, and that both are justified, I’m likely better off standing down. It usually means that I know one of the two isn’t right, but I just can’t see what my psyche is hiding from myself. Which is not to say I don’t have high standards, I do, but they are not impossibly high. I’m just more aware of how the “why I do things” relates to the “outcomes I’m achieving”.
In terms of my anger management, I was also a bit misleading. I don’t “deny” it in the sense of it not being felt or expressed, I just mean that I try very hard (if I can help it) to not direct it at someone else. For me, it is quite simple. Whatever someone else does around me may push a button. Maybe intentionally. Maybe maliciously. Maybe uncaringly.
But what happens afterwards is up to me. They didn’t install the buttons, they didn’t install the software that responds when the hardware button is pushed. I am responsible for both my reaction and the strength of my reaction.
If it is mild irritation, sure, I’ll go with the flow, express it, no big deal.
If is more moderate irritation, bordering on true anger, as long as it is just about me, I can probably redirect it into less negative forms of expression than just tearing a strip off someone. Not the reaction I want to be doing, nor the strength I want to express. I find it easier with Jacob to control, harder with Andrea — partly as I figure she’s an adult, she can handle if I’m being a bit jerky. But I do think about how I respond, and particularly with Jacob, I’ll talk with him about how I responded and why I was feeling that way, plus whether it was appropriate or not, how I could have handled it better. And apologize so he knows it wasn’t about him nor did he deserve it. I’m big on taking responsibility and saying the words; Andrea prefers to just have the tiff and move on, no blood, no foul.
What I am calling true anger is more like a temper bordering on rage. A response that is out of proportion to the underlying actions. Three things will cause that to flare faster than normal.
First, if we are out somewhere, and I see someone basically being a bully in a traditional sense or trying to push someone around with their personality by being a jerk or really aggressive, I start to get irritated. Maybe because of experiences as a kid, maybe I’m just sensitive to power imbalances, but I find it really hard not to react when someone is either being outright aggressive or more passively condescending and insulting to suggest someone else is the problem, particularly when it is clear they are counting on the other person to back down. Making it uncomfortable for them, being awkward, because they’re expecting the other person will try to smooth things over and avoid a scene. To me, that is flat out abusive. And I am perfectly happy to go the opposite way and be completely blunt about how they’re the ones actually causing the problem instead of back-pedaling to make nice. That isn’t a problem that happens within the family, although it was a problem with previous family members that I have cut out of my life. They hoped that they could be assholes and I wouldn’t call them on it. For the first 30 years of my life, that was the case; after that, no dice. I won’t eat a shit sandwich no matter who is trying to feed it to me. But still, in external circumstances, I try to walk away unless it is directly tied to me or my family, or I feel the person is in actual danger.
The second is frustration or fatigue. And that is no one’s fault but my own. For example, I suck at home repairs/maintenance. And if I’ve pushed past my limitations and reservations anyway, and something goes wrong, my frustration can redirect very quickly. But that isn’t about anyone, it’s just me fighting me. And no one else really needs to be part of that. So I will TRY to walk away if I can. Sometimes I’ll grunt at the universe first (Argghhhh!).
The third area that triggers in me is if I am feeling trapped. When I was growing up, we were a bit dysfunctional. And if emotions were brewing, I didn’t want to be part of it, I just wanted to leave. But I couldn’t because I was too young to drive. Walking would only get me so far. If I’m in an emotionally-charged situation now that I’m an adult, and I can’t leave for whatever reason, my reaction is not simple irritation, I am in a fight/flight/freeze mode with no option for flight, too hyper for freeze, and so I go hard for fight. Again, that isn’t about them, it’s a fear response. The simplest response is to always have an exit plan wherever I go or if I’m in a more sensitive mood, don’t go at all.
For the ones where I don’t feel it is appropriate, nor proportional, I do try to walk away quickly. To remove myself from the triggering situation before I say something I don’t mean. I have a brutal tongue. There’s a pop song, can’t think of the tune right now, but it has a line about what kind of words come out when you fight. I am WAY harsher than I intend to be. The problem is that my filter disappears. I don’t want to “discuss things” at that point, I just want to drop a bomb that will end the conversation immediately. Perhaps it’s easiest to understand with exes.
I know lots of people who rant and rave, hate their ex, blah blah blah. I don’t. Which isn’t to say some of my exes haven’t done some stuff I could be angry about, and while I might actually be angry about the activities, I’m not angry with them. I am not in contact with a couple of them, yet I don’t have any ill will towards them. I don’t want to slam them in person or indirectly. I don’t want to be that person, simply put, a hater.
The challenge in current relationships with anyone (romantic or otherwise) is that when I’m in “control”, so to speak, I can make that choice; even if I’m irritated or mildly angry, I can still make that choice. But if I go past that point, if I lose my temper, I lose control of what I choose to say. I say hurtful things. Yet as much as I don’t want to be a hater, I also don’t want to be the person who says hateful things to hurt someone, particularly not someone I care about. It’s not who I want or choose to be. That doesn’t make me Gandhi, more that I am aware of reasons and outcomes for my behaviour.
But I still have to let that energy out somehow. Sometimes I’ll go for a drive, put on some music, and sing REALLY loudly while I’m driving around. Letting out both the anger and the energy. I wish I was more prone to directing it to physically working out, some people find that great. I’m good at handling it when it is semi-caused/directed/about other people. I’m not as good when it is anger at myself / frustration / fatigue / feeling trapped. Other times I have to withdraw for a day or two mentally. Put up my defences a bit more so that further “irritation” doesn’t make it worse, just because I might be hyper-sensitive. (Yes, it can look like being grumpy or moping!).
For me, in the end, it is quite simple. It is okay to feel whatever I feel; it is not however okay for me to take it out on someone else just because I feel like being a jerk today. Doesn’t make me Gandhi or Mr. Freaking Sunshine though,nor am I denying the feelings. I just choose how I am going to express it.
Last but not least, a couple of people wondered about my astronomy. Their thinking was a bit varied…why stop doing something I loved? Why be so draconian about the duration vs. short-term? The short version is that at times, there are aspects of the hobby that has felt self-abusive.
First, I took it on when I was in the middle of grief, and it is not a low-threshold learning curve. It takes energy, which was in short supply. Second, I fought with it for four years trying to figure it out mostly myself, before finally saying “Okay, either someone helps me figure this out or I have to chuck it.” Third, since then, I can’t say I have been getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. And so, I’ve been wondering why I stick with it. If I accept, somewhat unproven, that continuing is the “right thing to do”, what are the reasons for doing so that I’m following?
I certainly haven’t been having a lot of “fun” with it, so enjoyment is low on the probable reasons.
Is it because I just want to prove that I can do it, to not give up? Not a compelling reason if I’m not enjoying it. There are lots of other things I could do instead.
Is it that I want to show off to other people in an area that few people do? A bit esoteric, and people ooh and aah with it, am I doing it to please others? I do enjoy, so to speak, the reactions of others at star parties when they see something for the first time. I like answering questions and pretending to be semi-knowledgeable. But I am far from lighting up the astro world with my stardom.
Is it just a learning goal? If it was only that, I could just read books, or watch videos, I don’t have to have a scope to do it.
Is it community involvement? I tend to skip the monthly meetings as I tend to dislike the social interaction, but by contrast, I am the Star Party Coordinator. A visible and controlled role. There is a component I find satisfying, surprisingly given my analytical introvert side. Hell, I wrote a 70-page report for the Council where a 2-page email was likely the standard. So there is an itch being scratched there, but I could find other scratching posts.
Is it somehow tied to my mother? I used inheritance money to buy the scope and some eyepieces (the ones that were just stolen). I could be refusing to give up because I feel like it is a last piece she gave me, even if she never knew. Maybe, but it’s a reach. We never did it “together”, so there is not much emotional resonance there.
Is it that the frustration feeds something darker in me? Perhaps the constant battle reinforces some self-flagellation tendency in myself. If that was the case though, there are other easier ways to fail at bigger things. Home repair, for instance.
Is it the “dark night” activity? No one knows you’re a dog on the internet, but no one knows what you look like at star parties either. There is a degree of anonymity in the experience. And I am a night owl. But it’s also a lot of work to set up, drive out to the dark areas, etc.
So, I can run through another 10 to 20 “reasons”, and none of them explain why I am continuing to flog a dead horse. One that the universe just told me in no uncertain terms, from one perspective, to stop doing by taking away my tools to do it. The final trigger that started the spiral in the first place.
So what do I decide?
Functional depression is short-term only, so that’s out.
Hide and heal is always there, but it’s insufficient.
Fuck the universe takes too much energy, at least in the long-term.
Which means I need a lower-intensity FtU solution, for the short-term to get me past a hump. So I’m doing a 30-day FtU push for the month of June. Not full-scale, not hide and heal. Somewhere in the middle.
A decision which has allowed me to see through the haze and figure out why I want to continue with astronomy, and it is the only reason that matters. While all of the other stuff can look a lot like a relationship with an addict, i.e., at some point you have to quit and move on, the truth can be found in something I did when I was “cutting out” the astronomical noise from my email, Twitter and Facebook. I left one person in my FB feed. His name is Loren, and he does a lot of images of asteroids with his iPhone and a simple setup. I considered snoozing him or deleting him, severing the connection, but I didn’t.
Because his images and posts inspire me. In a dark and dreary world, his posts look a lot like something that is in short supply at times, and the same reason that I bought a new eyepiece today so I could keep doing astronomy.
Even when the universe is screaming, I follow Loren and I do astronomy because it represents hope.