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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Taking Our Space

I'm not great at blogging yet. This second paragraph showed up in my drafts folder so I don't know if I already published it or not. It's worth saying again, anyway. I wrote a middle school book about bullies called HANNER AND THE BULLIES which again takes up this simple idea. When we don't take up our rightful space we create a kind of social and psychological vacuum in the world which is immediately filled up by something that shouldn't be there--bullies for one.

Some of us feel entitled to "take our space" in life and some of us must somehow earn that entitlement for ourselves. My husband, for instance, has always pushed right ahead just as if everybody liked him. I suspect he cares somewhat whether or not people like him, but it is not necessary for him to "push ahead." I think he expects people to like him, for he is pretty satisfied with himself. Whereas I, like you, felt unsure to "push ahead" as if I was feeling already accepted. For most of my life I needed to prove myself somehow. Some of us have mild social anxiety until we risk ourselves often enough and see that it doesn't "kill us." It is possible to get to the point of "hey we're all just people here, aren't we, and I'm a people, too, so there!!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Your Little Exercise Worked for Depression

Dear AB Curtiss

I have recently been fascinated with physiology. Everything you can do to your brain you can almost literally be a superhero. I starting look up stuff to mess with myself, I started with making myself crave different things. Then I looked into depression and read an article you wrote. I have a little depression and I wanted a trick and the nursery rhythm worked!! Though the article was short it supported a few of your books("Depression is a Choice"). I can't wait to get my hands on this book. I don't like reading much so it's a lot for me to say. I just gotta get a hold of it without my mom knowing or she will freak out.... Thanks a bunch again!


Dear A

Thanks so much for your note. If you have any specific questions while reading my blog or my books I will be glad to answer them. A .B. Curtiss

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Help! I Want to Get Out of this Crazy Trap.

Dear A.B.,

I've learned so much over the years from your books, blog, and e-mails.  I find myself in a place, (perhaps, hopefully.. a turning point?) I am trying to sort out, again, how to live well and wisely, how to be a good person.  (Oh, how frustrated and annoyed you must feel when youread yet another bit of correspondence from a confused and scattered "me!").

Please realize that your gifts of wisdom and your wise and wonderful teachings have NOT been all for nothing, even for this thick-headed person. I have so appreciated your gifts!  Can we learn a lot and yet have lapses that take us further behind than where we began? That's what I feel has happened to me...but I am trying to rebuild.

As I review your writings, the essence of your teachings seems to be the supremely positive power of love, and the destructive force thatfear exercises. I know you speak about a love that is unconditional...not a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" counterfeit varietythat is really only manipulation, need gratification.

Do I have a "need," I wonder, to perpetuate a "victim role?" I seem to cling to such a mindset as though it has a narcotic effect on me, and this prevents me from truly loving.  I stay tethered to thoughts and behaviors that are fear-based and destructive. Self-absorbtion has grownlike a cancer within me in recent years. I feel small and stuck.

I know it doesn't matter the circumstances over the past years that have "lead" me here. 
I want to move in a direction guided by love instead of resentment, bitterness, sadness, and feeling "victimized."  I want to stop the madness . One can not think clearly or live well entrenched in self-absorbtion.

Indeed I have suffered from my husband's callous, insensitive treatment for years.  I have also felt "walked over" and "manipulated" by a neighbor who has been on a campaign to make me feel "less than."   But here's the rub: my belief in my goodness depends on mybelief in their "badness" doesn't it?  Ultimately, my focus on their mistreatment takes me off track from being my most loving self.  It's a petty quest indeed, for superiority and "worth!"  Where's the love?

Ugh...A.B.!  I want out!  Help me out of this crazy trap!

Would you... again, shed some light, offer some words to wake me up? 

I will be 50 this Sunday.  Is it too late?

Thank you.

Dear G

I think it is a rare individual who is wise at 50. Most people who are successful at 50 are just that—Sucessful. They are not necessarily wise. They may start to have little nuggets of wisdom that sprout up in their brains. But for the most part, 50-year-olds are focused on some kind of being-a-winner in some way. They want to improve themselves, not necessarily forgive themselves and so what is their connection to the people around them? They want to improve everybody, not necessarily forgive them.

I remember what a ninny I was at the age of 50. I was just starting to understand the limits of self-improvement and the peace that may come with forgiveness and surrender to what is. If we want to do better we always have that opportunity. If we want to be more forgiving and loving we simply need to acknowledge our unforgivingness and our unlovingness whenever it appears, accept it, and see how best to more forward from our confusion without our former judgment upon our stupidity. We can, at any moment, call ourselves a beginner and begin.

I am 78 years old. I will tell you about my day today. It was a wonderful day even though it began with depression. I woke up several times during the night with that terrible feeling. When I got up it hovered over my soul, telling me how nothing was worth anything, nothing was possible and why bother anyway. Nevertheless I sang one of my old nonsense songs to myself and got up.

My husband and I had decided to pick up some wood in a nearby park which was being cleared for fire preparation and anyone could pick up what wood they wanted. We worked from 7AM  until 11AM lugging wood, piling it into my station wagon, driving home and unloading. Three huge loads. Then, after high-fiving each other, we jumped in the pool to cool off. It was a lot of hard work picking up logs for 4 hours but we did it. It was already 85 degrees—another 100 degree day predicted. 

We use wood to heat the family room in the winter and have never, in almost 30 years, turned on the central heating. Why did such a simple chore bring me such happiness? I have no idea. But all depression was gone, life was good and everything was possible.  Instead of thinking how depressed I was I was, instead, thinking What a Great Day!!

After my swim I checked my email I found I had sold 5 of my books on amazon.com this morning that I had to ship out. Hooray.  I went to the post office, came home and am now getting ready to fix a simple dinner and then watch the news on FOX. It has been a great day. I couldn’t be happier. And what has changed since this morning when I felt so depressed? My action I think is what changed my mood.

Now here’s a scene from my 49th year when I was in graduate school and stumbling and bumbling along. I’m quoting from my book Depression is a Choice.

Ultimately the need for attention and the resultant focus on self causes us to be even further alienated from our fellows. A stunt I pulled in graduate school, in my 40s I'm embarrassed to say, taught me this lesson in living color.
On Halloween, feeling very high on myself, I put on a long white formal gown that belonged to my daughter, complete with her Junior Princess Rhinestone tiara and a plastic magic wand, and went to my classes dressed as a “Fairy Godmother.” Nobody else wore so much as a pumpkin-colored T-shirt to commemorate the day. I’ll never forget the look of  pure alarm I got from my favorite professor who studiously ignored me after he put his eyes back in. I  felt “inappropriate” stamped all over me.
And I remember how much time I had spent in deciding whether or not to dress up. My tools for making such a decision were skimpy. Would this daring act show people how beautiful and unique and fun and exciting I was? Or wouldn’t it?
To my credit, I found I did have some tools for handling the awkward and embarrassing situation I created for myself. I didn't know yet that this was just another manic high gone wrong since I hadn't, at this time, accepted my manic-depressive diagnosis. But what I can say for myself is that I decided that I had committed a terrible gaffe, and I was going to sit right there in front of everybody I was hoping to impress, and stand the pain of being the immature ass that we could all now see I was. It was excruciatingly, wonderfully horrible.
The beauty of it was that I had already started to commit to some principles which gave me a sense of empowerment, such as: not to try in vain to change reality by wanting other than “what is.” That what is happening is not as important as how we are looking at it, or what we decide to do about it. These principles enabled me to be more in charge of my life, to welcome the pain of my social belly flop as a character moment. I was very aware while it was happening that the pain I felt was some kind of transcendence, and I threw myself willingly on the dagger of life.
Dressing in bizarre outfits was not the only way I went “on stage.”  I had unconsciously been jerking my friends around for years by forcing a patient-counselor script on them long before I actually became a therapist, to the tune of the latest self-help book I was reading. Succumbing to the psychologizing in these books, I was quite willing to impose upon long-term friendships for a moment of glory in “truth-telling” encounter sessions that I would initiate to everyone's discomfort.
This is what happened with one couple who were visiting houseguests, a couple who had been long-time friends of ours from college, a couple who now don't even send my husband and me a Christmas card. I had just finished reading Open Marriage. During the course of conversation, I made the observation that most marriages become stale and dishonest because people don't have the courage to communicate their real feelings.
The husband remarked that, quite to the contrary, after 20 years of marriage he was extremely happy, that he loved his wife more than when they first married, and his sex life was exciting. I turned to his wife and challenged her to admit, in the name of honest communication versus a “typical” phony relationship, that she didn't feel the same way about sex. “Well,” she hesitated, rather embarrassed, “I guess if I have to be truthful about it, I would have to say I can take it or leave it.”
It was about this same time, in my mid thirties, that I began to have some serious problems with depression just like my brother and father. I, too, began staying in bed for days at a time, with the blinds drawn. I blamed the weather, my husband, my “just-a-housewife” life. Influenced by both my mother's attitude and my father's and brother's apparent lack of success with the accepted therapy for manic depression, I was wary of medication for my own mood swings. I refused to take any drugs. Instead, for many years I chose the path of denial. As you may imagine, this was not greatly successful either.
I was depressed most of the time. I carried my pain heavily, like a pregnant woman, but I was not growing life. Every cell of my body was diminished by the thing I carried within me. I hid it from everybody pretty well I thought. I managed to keep the house presentable. I waxed the oak floors and vacuumed the Oriental rugs. I got my children off to school. Then I could sometimes spend the whole day, until the children came home, suspended in the painful extremis of a surreal gray murkiness into which I would un-focus myself and dissolve into the time spent and another day somehow “got through.” 
I would either crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head, or lie face down and flat on the floor under my bed as if I somehow could just sink down and disappear my painful self into some coffin of earthly release. I remember the first time I got under the bed. It was almost like I was choosing a theater set upon which I wanted my statement of despair to be as dramatic as possible, and lying under the covers, all of a sudden, just wasn’t enough.
Sometimes I would curl up behind the clothes hanging in my closet like the tragic little mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, a nude, silent, weeping statue. I guess for many years I was a “closet” depressive. Only my husband and children knew. Though even they didn’t know the full extent of it because I generally felt less panicky and desperate in the evening when they were home. I did not believe that I did anything to cause my depression, and I did not believe I could do anything to help it.
My husband coped with an unhappy wife by concentrating on his career, his business friends, and his drinking buddies. My little ones asked me all the time why I was mad. “I'm not mad,” I would reassure them, “What makes you think I'm mad?” I guess to a child, sad and mad look very much the same. There may be some wisdom in that!
There is a kind of sadness that occurs when we have committed a wrong we deeply regret, a sadness over a loss that we have suffered but have accepted. There is a soft, beautiful, peaceful quality about that kind of sadness.  This was not my sadness.  I remember checking myself out in the mirror once when my children said I looked mad, and I was shocked to find they were right. I was positively glowering.
There was nothing tranquil about my sadness. My sadness was eating myself up with chronic anxiety because I wasn’t happy. I felt trapped!  Denied! There was some vague longing for rescue, or was it coronation that would allow me at last to be “recognized”  by one and all as the very special and wonderful “real me” I was sure I was supposed to be--if only...? I despaired of life passing me by; I was angry about talents “wasted.” I felt bereft of some “other” life I better deserved and should have “instead.” God knows, I certainly deserved a better husband than “the one I had got stuck with.”
Somehow I always felt “prevented.” Of course, in reality, I was the perpetrator of my life, not the victim of it. That was the clue to the effect my sadness had on my family. A victim is always on the lookout, albeit unknowingly, for someone to blame. So my husband also experienced my “pain” as anger towards him. There is definitely something to be learned from the fact that at the same time I was feeling the most helpless and vulnerable victim to myself, I appeared hostile and aggressive to my family.
In my arrogance, I must have been thinking that the members of my family were some kind of indestructible Roman columns that “by rights” were supposed to support my self-esteem no matter how I might push or rail against them. In those days I couldn’t see my family as the gift of some kind of divine grace, the butterfly-fragile consignments to my continuing care and responsibility. I saw only myself as being fragile.
Depression, once I learned its name, served as a very convenient catch-all for the whole mess of whatever confusion and terribleness was going on in my life. And since I didn’t know anything to do about my depression except to suffer it grossly, I didn’t do anything substantial about my life’s real problems either. Although I didn’t seem to mind dumping it all over my family,  I tried to hide my depression from anybody else so that it wouldn’t hurt my “image.”
On one level I was afraid of being thought crazy. But on a deeper level, I was terrified that I might really be crazy or go crazy; that the difference between me and the empty-eyed souls in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital might be only the ticking of some clock of fate that had not yet struck the hour of my doom.
At first I both feared and venerated psychiatrists because they knew! They alone had the power to stamp a CERTIFIED SANE on my forehead if only I could prove myself to them. But at the same time I had a terror of being “found out” by them too. Suppose I was unknowingly guilty of some shameful horror that would somehow “come out?”  The monster hiding in my brain might suddenly reveal itself and blow my cover.
Now, I realize that all these fears are simply the paranoia strategies of the ordinary human mind which is, at the source, a defense mechanism. Now, I realize that sane and insane are not something that we are or aren’t. Sane and insane are modes of behavior that we use or don’t use. We can become habituated to one mode or the other, but both modes, in the form of choice, are simultaneously available to us at all times. In my early years I didn’t know that. I thought my real self was some kind of a crime I needed to hide from everybody.
My mania passed for eccentricity and cleverness, and was often a social attribute because I was such a high risk taker. I was always shocking people with my controversial ideas and off-beat solutions to problems. I had some credibility even with my more emotionally stable husband because some of my “crazy” ideas actually succeeded. He has always thought of me as a can-do kind of person in a crisis, the one who says confidently, “This will work!”
When the toilet floods or the water heater goes out, he yells for me. There is hardly anything I can't repair temporarily with a hammer, duct tape, Elmer's glue, wire, or solder. Mainly, I think, because I believe I can do it.  There is a little mantra I use when I get stumped. I say to myself, “I know it is humanly possible to fix this so I must, somehow, be able to do it.”
Too bad I didn't have the same “I can-fix-it” attitude about depression. I understand, now, that it is possible to save myself from depression because I have done it, over and over again, for years. I can see, now, that I didn't have to live half my life at the mercy of wild mood swings which propelled me from the depths of despair, when I spent whole days on the floor of my bedroom closet in the fetal position, to heady heights of god-like euphoria that burned themselves out in wild shopping sprees for expensive clothes I never wore. I believed I was the victim of depression. I did not understand that I was really the victim of my ignorance about depression.
I was equally uneducated about mania and it caused a great deal of trouble  with my relationships. The problem with the person who is in the grip of self-importance caused by manic ecstasy is that they are continually alienated because they relegate all the people in their life to a supporting role. And it is how well the other people play this supporting role that is always under scrutiny, not the mania!
It is very hard for those of us who get stuck in me-me-me, either the manic Great Me or the depressive Poor Me, to get out of it. The reason it is hard to get out of Great Me is that we don't think we are being selfish, rude, and bizarre; we think we are being independent, honest, and unique. We don't think we are being critical, unloving and cold. We think our significant others are boring or inadequate, and therefore not good enough for us. Although we can see clearly the folly of such thinking as it occurs in other people lives, it is almost impossible to see in our own. We can always “yes, but” our own situation as being “unusual” and “different.”
The reason it is so hard to get out of Poor Me is that we don't think we are being defensive; we think people have short-changed us. We don't think we are demanding; we think people don’t give us our fair share. When we are really lost in hopelessness we don't think we are slothful and resistant; we think life is futile, so we dive into another depression. There is just no easy way to see ourselves objectively. It is more painful to see ourselves than whatever trouble we make to avoid seeing ourselves.
But learning to see ourselves objectively by studying the constructs of victimhood, fear, habit, blame or wonderfulness by which we may question ourselves is a necessary component of brainswitching. Because, for a person who will not question themselves, nothing can be done.
Great Me and Poor Me are manic-depressive, mood-exaggerated self-constructs that die hard. Beside the above-mentioned psychological rationalizations (“I’ve been short-changed,” “I can’t help it”) that keep us in our narcissistic coping mode, there are neuroscientific reasons that make it hard to get out of narcissism or, for that matter, any other defense mechanism.
As I learned from my hypnosis studies, the mind and its defense mechanisms are all “go” processes5 and neuroscience shows us why. There is no “stop” component that is an inherent part of any mind process. Even walking has no “stop” to it. Walking has to be countermanded by some other “go” process. So in this sense, even “stop” is a go process. There is no “stop walking” that is a component part of walking.6
This is both the good news and the bad news. The bad news is that if we don't realize that mind processes are all “go” processes, we will not make any effort to countermand, by will, those mind processes that are getting us into trouble. Without directing our thinking to initiate another “go process,” there will simply be a random change of passive thinking (as a result of learned association) that decides what defense mechanism will bubble up next to determine our feeling, behavior, or Halloween costume!.
That's why we can't really just stop a bad habit. The way we stop a bad habit is to substitute a good habit. Instead of giving up coffee, we can switch to light tea, or hot water with a dash of lemon. Not even those stalwart souls who give up coffee, cold, with no substitutions, really manage with no substitutions. They simply make “I want no cup of coffee” the positive substitution.
It is great good news really, once we realize that all mind processes are “go” processes. When we find ourselves stuck in some bizarre, unpleasant, or negative thinking or behavior, we can direct another process to begin simply by willing it. If all else fails, instead of continuing to do what we hate we are doing, or thinking what we hate we are thinking, we can take a walk and look at the sky, or sing an old nursery rhyme. Any positive or neutral thought repetitively chosen works. This is eminently doable.