Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thinking In Absolutes



"I am covered in skin
 No one gets to come in
 Pull me out from inside
 I am folded and unfolded and unfolding
 I am colorblind
 Coffee black and egg white
 Pull me out from inside
 I am ready, I am ready, I am ready,
 I am fine"
Colorblind - Counting Crows

I was not sure where to go with this week's post but then I heard this song and I was reminded of something that my therapist and I discuss quite often...... (Never thought I would be comfortable to share what was discussed in my therapy sessions each week)

The way my mind works or better yet,  the confines in which my mind seems to work.......

Thinking in only absolutes or simply thinking in black or white. Most of the time it is either one end of the spectrum or the other and never any grey areas. 

Sometimes called Splitting, in psychology it is the failure in a person's thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is a common defense mechanism used by many people. The individual tends to think in extremes (i.e., an individual's actions and motivations are all good or all bad with no middle ground).

This is a common theme in my therapy sessions. Unfortunately, too often my thinking goes more towards the negative extreme side of things. I am not sure where this started in my life or what caused most unnecessary pressure or expectations I put on myself.

This way of thinking has effected so many aspects of my life and in some ways fulfilled my negative prophecies of myself. Worst off, this thinking has added to my depression over the years while also preventing me from seeking help and causing me to alienate people in my life.

Here are some common black or white thinking errors of the years that have possibly led to my depression or in some way made me the miserable person I was for the longest time and  yes I know some of these will seem very depressing and I am working on the way I perceive things but in my mind being able to share this is a major step in the right direction. (Please understand these are just the thoughts in my head and nobody did anything to cause these thoughts in my warped brain)

  1. Only one in immediate family that has been divorced and has no children.......feel like a failure to them and societal expectations. Unfortunately, this has caused me to alienate them and be a bad son, brother, Godfather and uncle.
  2. Won my first triathlon at age 44 and belittled it by saying the competition was weak and I was not challenged. I have won two more races since then and had the same exact thoughts. I could not be happy with winning the race,
  3. Many failed relationships & almost everybody I know is married and with children....... Maybe at age 47, soon to be 48, maybe I am just meant to be alone. This has caused me to shun people who have attempted and prevent them from getting to close. If I don"t let people close enough then there is less of a chance of rejection and adding to my thoughts of being better off alone. Unfortunately, this has led to many of those failed relationships. 
  4. Even if a race result is good, by other people's standards, if I can find even the tiniest flaw in a race, the race is a bad race.This has led me to delve deeper into my raining and pushing me harder and thus shutting me off from people.
  5. At the time, seeking help for my depression made me feel as failure as person. I hid my going to see a psychologist for 6 months before I felt comfortable enough to let it out. Even still, I have trouble facing some people, especially family, that I am in therapy.
  6. Soon after, and a topic of another blog, having to be medicated for my depression made me feel like a bigger failure! 
  7. Probably the biggest thinking error of black and white thinking....... I have been depressed for so long that I started to believe I am just a miserable person and that is who I am just am and will always be. 
I understand this thinking did not start for me overnight and it will take some time to get over this way of thinking. Hell, it has been been 30+ years of thinking this way that is ingrained in my head  and it will take a lot of practice to change some of it.

I am am hopeful that I will soon be able to find some middle ground in the way I think!

#stopthestigma

#imfine


 




Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Remedy Is What I'm Seeking



"Lately I've been feeling low
  A remedy is what I'm seeking
  I take a taste of what's below
  Come away to something better
  What I want is what I've not got
  And what I need
  Is all around me
  Reaching searching never stop
  And I'll say..."
Jimi Thing - Dave Matthews Band 

A remedy or what I call breaks from reality to help me get through this............

My remedy comes in multiple parts but this post will deal with the one remedy that has defined me to others over the years......

This remedy, training for multi-sport competitions, has been a constant in my life for decades and for better or worse has defined me in good and bad ways.........
 
Good - Motivated, Accomplished, Fit
Bad - Anti-social, Rigid, Crazy, Loner, Selfish, Boring, Withdrawn, Arrogant, Abnormal, Freak
(Surprisingly,I came up with more negatives than positives - This addition written in my best sarcastic font!)

For the better part of the past 25+ years, I have been training for multi-sport events whether it was triathlons, duathlons, running, bicycle road racing and then a return to triathlons 5 years ago.

In dealing with my PDD now, I can see why at that time, delving into the multi-sport world would be perfect for me but I did not realize, at that time, it was a remedy as I see it now. Prior to therapy, selfishly, it was the perfect remedy as it afforded me hours of alone time when I was overwhelmed, feeling anxious or depressed.

As I look back over the past 25+ years of training, I would say the 90% of my training has been solo which probably led more people to think I was even more anti-social than I was truly was. But this alone time, while not always aware of it, was very therapeutic as well as productive in helping me achieve my goals in my races.

In hindsight, because of not seeking help for my PDD sooner, I let my training become my sole remedy and it caused a lot of friction in my life. But because it was my only outlet/escape, for what it is worth, it lead me to be rigid, anti-social, withdrawn and alone....

I knew no other way to remedy how I was feeling.....

Moving forward, in combination with my therapy and my notebook of random thoughts, training for races will continue to a remedy for me! I still have a lot of unaccomplished goals but at least, with therapy, I will be able to enjoy them! And when life gets overwhelming, that escape from reality while running, swimming or bicycling is always a perfect time to collect my thoughts, clear my mind or just be ALONE! But at least now, it won't be my only remedy.

Upcoming Races
June 3rd - Rev 3 Quassy Olympic Distance
June 11th - Ironman Eagleman 70.3
August 13th - Rev 3 Pocono Half Ironman - Mid-Atlantic Long Course Regional Championships
* the rest of the season TBA

#StopTheStigma


In my element!




Sunday, April 9, 2017

For The Most Part, A Positive Post (Thank You)


"Shell smashed, juices flowing
 Wings twitch, legs are going
 Don't get sentimental, it always ends up drivel
 One day, I am gonna grow wings
 A chemical reaction"
Let Down  - Radiohead

I am sick of being miserable......

I  still hate the way I feel..........

But at least, I am finally comfortable to talk with people about what I am going through as strange as that may sound...... 

I truly never thought I would get to that the last comment. Maybe that is the beer talking... Ha ha! Just kidding...It is only my first beer!

This post is written as a thank you to all those who have read my blog and showed a tremendous amount of support with each passing post. Like many who feel like I do, we feel as though we are the only ones who feel this way and alone in this battle. Despite what statistics might show about depression, those who feel like I do always feel as though we are not normal and there must be something wrong with ourselves. And to make it worse, we feel  if we should seek out help, there is a stigma about reaching out for help and makes us look weak. Well, the one thing I have learned, at least with all the people I know, the support has been tremendous and therapeutic! 

Thank you!
  1. Obviously my family was very supportive from the moment I messaged them. I will be honest, they are probably the group I have most alienated over the years and owe a lot too as their support never wavered. At least they now know why I was the way I was, still no excuse though.
  2. My teams have been great through this since I told them. They were the second group to know after my family. In some ways they are my second family as I have so many dealings with them everyday and maybe the closest I will get to my own kids...ha ha!!!! (I still jokingly blame them over the years for the way I am...Ha ha!) Throughout all of my crazy medical/mental issues over the past 7-8 years, there has been one constant ...incredible well rounded athletes to work with who always had my back and made life easier at times! 
  3. The group I get to work with everyday or in the past at Susquehanna University and "the Crew" of officials, who have been putting up with me for 14 years, have also made this easy as well! They all have been amazing. While many times I have felt alone throughout this, they made realize I am not alone in this and they were there to support me. Several have stopped by the office but nearly all have expressed their support in passing conversations. 
  4. Of course, my friends, both old and new, have been so understanding and supportive. The number of offers I received about being there if I ever need to just talk or vent was overwhelming.  I appreciate every single offer!
  5. I am still amazed by the number of views my blog has actually had over the past 4 weeks including the number of comments on some of the post. It might be a small audience but maybe my message is resonating with them and maybe helping me to realize I am not alone in this!
Because of this support, something happened this Thursday that I truly thought would not happen.......

I understand that everybody knows through the blog that I am seeing a psychologist but it was the first time I admitted to people where I was going and did not feel embarrassed. Most of the time I always looked for the right moment to sneak out of office my with notebook of random thoughts. And every time I returned to campus, I left the notebook in the car so nobody would see me walking in with it. 

Another sign of coming to terms with my Persistent Depressive Disorder or at least being able to let people know of dealings with it was posting a picture of my Random Thoughts notebook on Instagram. Obviously, even though it was a picture of a page with thoughts written, one could not read what I had written. Not quite ready to let that much out just yet! During the week, I will jot down my random thoughts on whatever paper or notepad is available at the moment. Every Thursday morning, I sit down in the office and collect those thoughts into my notebook and bring it to my session with my psychologist. 

By no means, do I think this coming to terms with my PDD and being able to talk about it publicly that I have been "cured" and I will be the happiest person you have ever met. Trust me, I know if I started acting that way it may worry a lot of you...Ha ha! I am positive though, that this step will be a huge positive as I move in the direction of better handling my PDD. It will also be the biggest positive for me to get over the stigma.......a stigma that maybe I put more on myself and seeing the support all of you have shown!

#StopTheStigma


The infamous notebook of Random Thoughts




Sunday, April 2, 2017

Socially Inept But Functioning







"I am the son
  and the heir
  of a shyness that is criminally vulgar

  I am the son and heir
  of nothing in particular

  You shut your mouth
  how can you say
  I go about things the wrong way
  I am human and I need to be loved
  just like everybody else does"
"How Soon Is Now" - The Smiths

Where to even begin with this one......... 

I was actually going to hold off on this topic for a little bit but after my therapy session the other day, this is fresh in my thoughts. One of the symptoms of my PDD that I struggle with the most is avoidance of social activities. Since I have waited so long to get help, it would really be difficult to figure out if my PDD caused my social anxieties or vice versa.  

As I type this, I think that most people have figured this out about me throughout the years. I have never been the most outgoing or engaging person on earth. Most people would say that I am shy or even socially inept.

To my perceptions, my social awkwardness or shyness is beyond normal (in my idea of normal) and I am very well aware of it but still I can't help myself. I have never been able to overcome this awkward shyness and it makes me feel less of a normal person. Because of this shyness or inability to truly socialize with many people, I have alienated so many people in life and often come to believe I am just better off alone. I know this flaw has ruined relationships, friendships and has distanced myself from my family at times. In some sad way, maybe this has been why I have been able to achieve some success in triathlons as I don't mind the solitude of training for hours but actually embrace it.

Trust me.....I do want a social life but my depression and anxiety won't let me. Over the years I have always tried to blame my awkwardness on the nuns and the brain washing they put the me under while I went to Catholic school for grades 1-8. It sounds like a good excuse but I know it goes deeper than that.

Here are some things to help you understand my social anxiety and what goes through my mind at times:
  1. Please, don't take it personal. Most important rule!
  2. When I say "I can't come do something" or hesitate to answer when asked to do something....It is not that I don't want to do something, it truly feels impossible at times 
  3. If I cancel plans at the last minute, which I do a lot, it is beyond my control and I can't force myself to just do it. 
  4. The more pressure I am to interact the worse it gets.
  5. A constant worry that strangers are staring and judging me.
  6. I have a tendency to plan conversations ahead of time. It is probably the reason I don't fear recruiting calls as I have my normal script for those calls.
  7. Quite often when I am quiet in group settings it is because I am afraid I will say the wrong thing. 
  8. It is a struggle for me to initiate conversations. 
  9. My laughter, sarcasm or joking around is to mask the fear that I truly feel deep inside. 
  10. It is not the same everyday. Certain situations that can cause it one day may not on another day.  
  11. I don't mean to come across as standoffish when I don’t want to talk or to give hugs to a bunch of people in succession. I get overwhelmed and overstimulated extremely easily.
This is what it is like to be in my head when my social anxiety kicks in.......kind of scary! 
 
#StopTheStigma
 
 
 

     
 
















Sunday, March 26, 2017

Struggling With The Idea Of Change


"I never learned to count my blessings
  I choose instead to dwell
  In my disasters
  I walk on down the hill
  Through grass grown tall
  And brown and still
  It's hard somehow
  To let go of my pain"
Empty - Ray LaMontagne

This may sound sad........

This may sound counterproductive..........

But I can honestly say at times, I may have been my own worst enemy in my therapy to date. 

You may ask, how can someone who is tired of being miserable and truly wants to get better be detrimental to their own treatment?????

The answer to me is somewhat simple.....

I don't know any other way. Change, even if potentially for the better, is a scary thing.

How could a change for the better be scary?

For better or for worse, despite dealing with Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), I have achieved a good amount of success as a coach and a multi-sport athlete. As I mentioned in my first post, I may not have truly been able to enjoy the rewards of what I have done, but I continued to have a strong drive and desire to achieve my success.

And now the sad part..........

As I go through my therapy, in the back of my mind, I have wondered would I still be this successful if I change. Will I lose that edge or desire that has driven me to the multi-sport athlete I am today? Will I lose that edge that has helped me be a successful coach and push my athletes to get the most of their given abilities for the better part of the past two decades?

I only mention these two aspects of my life as this is how I perceive (mind read) that people only think of me or see me as these two things. To them, this is what defines me (mind reading again). And trust me, because of my social anxieties to go with PDD, I give people no other way fr people to perceive me. I guess, in a pathetic way, being a multi-sport is perfect for my social anxieties, which will be a topic of another post... the issues are endless!   

I guess, in a lot of ways, I have attributed all of my success to being miserable and depressed. Very sad, huh?

Given I have only known one way for so long, decades, the idea of change can be so tough even if for the better.

#StopTheStigma

Below is a meme of a comment Wilson made to House that my psychologist agrees with as she has seen some of my resistance to change as I cling to my ways at times.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Random Thoughts & Mind Reading


"I write everything down except what's on my mind
 Cause my greatest fear is that sucking sound
 And then I know that I will neer get back out
 And there's a bone in my hand that connects to a drink
 In a crowded room where the glasses clink
 And I'll buy you a beer and we'll drink it deep
 Because that keeps me from felling asleep
 How'd you like to be alone and drowning"
Narcolepsy - Third Eye Blind 

Aside from working on my Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) worksheets, I have also been recording, what I call random thoughts, in a black notebook since August. Not being the most open or expressive person is probably the sole reason I started this journal or what some might call a thought log. This notebook is kept in my backpack which is typically not far from me at any time whether in the office or at home on the couch. Currently, that backpack is within arm's reach as I type this post. 

You never know when one of these random thoughts will hit.......

What are these random thoughts, you might ask???? Good question........

This collection of random thoughts ranges from sayings, to song lyrics, to actual thoughts in my head at any moment that typify how I have been feeling all these years and how I feel in my process to getting better! Quite often, my personal thoughts are collected after a bit of ruminating at the end of the day as I sit alone on the couch. These random thoughts in addition to the CBT worksheets have been very helpful in starting discussions with my psychologist every week. Trust me, if not for these random thoughts or worksheets, my psychologist would be banging her head against the wall trying to get me to open up some weeks!!! Ha ha! 

Maybe a bit a surprise to some, these random thoughts have not always been negative! Since starting to work with my psychologist in August, there have been some positive thoughts showing that this process is working. In working, I mean giving me a new perspective on how to handle what has typically been my negative aspect on things!

I will say, the artist or bands that have made the lyric list is quite eclectic...........

The Smiths, Morrissey, Travis, Eddie Vedder, Sponge, Simon & Garfunkel, The Pixies, AWOL Nation, Bruce Springsteen, Matchbox 20, Tears for Fears, Third Eye Blind, John Cale, James, The National, U2, Soul Asylum, Peter Gabriel, Alexi Murdoch, Matthew Sweet, Dashboard Confessional......

I know it is a long list but we are talking about 25+ weeks of my warped mind and listening pleasures....

Probably the one lyric that typifies how I have felt all these years and my psychologist says describes me perfectly.....

"I'm scared to get close, I hate being alone
 I long for that feeling, to not feel at all
 The higher I get, The lower I sink
 I can't drown my demons, They know how to swim"
 Can You feel My Heart - Bring The Horizon

My favorite saying among this 5 month collection of random thoughts is..........

"The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what other people think"
David Icke

For better or for worse, this prison of constantly being in fear of what others think is what made the decision to blog about this so difficult. In terms of thinking errors this referred to as "mind reading". Even though I have no idea what people are thinking, I am good at convincing myself I can read their minds. And more often than not, my mind reading does not involve the other persons having positive thoughts about me or they are judging me in a negative way. As supportive as everybody has been since I have started this blog, my biggest fear of doing this was self-created and I was afraid of being judged by all as weak, crazy or unstable. Yeah, some of the stigma is a societal thing but the majority of the fear was self-driven by my mind reading.

I do feel a bit better about the blog being out there as if somebody lifted a burden off my back, but I would not say I have completely escaped the prison........ I think for now, I would say I am on parole!

That is two thinking errors down with several more to go.

 #StopTheStigma #ImFine





Sunday, March 12, 2017

Working On Changing My Perspective




"When I stand, my back to the sea
  A big white cloud, looking right down on me
  Sound of sun, missing my eyes
  Everything's clear, everything's bright"
Big White Cloud - John Cale

Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel. It is used to help treat a wide range of issues in a person’s life, from sleeping difficulties or relationship problems, to drug and alcohol abuse or anxiety and depression. 

CBT works by changing people’s attitudes and their behavior by focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that are held (a person’s cognitive processes) and how these processes relate to the way a person behaves, as a way of dealing with emotional problems.
________________________________________________________________________________

My first two sessions with my therapist consisted of her asking a few questions, me talking and her taking notes. She explained, when we first met, that she would use the first two sessions to get a better sense of where I was in my mindset and  what method of treatment would serve best. In the end, we decided that the best method at this time would be Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (description above).

To help with the CBT process, I was given homework. Yes, you read that correctly.....Homework! 

I was given a worksheet where I was to record situations that seemed to set me off in a negative way. After explaining the situation, I was to write my initial thoughts or reactions given my current ways of erred thinking. From these reactions, I could assign my thinking errors (topic of another post) to them. Of the list of potential thinking errors,  I seem to have a fondness for 2-3 of them. After assigning the thinking errors, I was to work through a better way to react to the situation and write it down. The premise was that by working on a positive/better way to have reacted to the situation it would help to change my current attitudes or feelings as these situations happened in the future.

Taking my wanting to get better very seriously and yes I am tired of being miserable, I was very consistent in completing these worksheets each week.The hardest part of completing the worksheets was keeping them hidden at work as I was embarrassed about having to complete them. I should say I was more concerned about the potential embarrassment if I should have someone catch me completing one. Yeah, that stigma can be tough to fight!  

The biggest difference I noticed after a few weeks was the drastic decrease in my anger outburst for what many people would think are silly or trivial. As much as it was making feel better about  myself as a person and my ability to interact with others, I could feel make a difference in my coaching as it improved my ability to interact in a more positive manner with my athletes especially if performances did not match expectations. 

Despite this improvement, I was still miserable or perceived myself to be miserable. What was I doing wrong in my treatment? Am I just supposed to be this way? Will I ever be happy? What happened in my past that has me so screwed up?

In talking with my psychologist about these questions, she quickly taught me the error of my thinking.

I has become fixated on what caused me to be the way I am, instead of focusing on changing the way I perceived or dealt with things that typically set me off. But at that time, it went against my nature as a coach and athlete. 

How can I move on without knowing the cause?  That does not solve the puzzle!!!

But my quest for knowing the cause or solving the puzzle was actually making it harder for me  to move forward. My obsession for knowing the cause or root of my depression was defeating the purpose of the treatment we were pursuing and led to many nights of ruminating. While searching for the cause and ruminating many nights, I never realized that I was just living a never ending loop of miserableness making me feel even more depressed...go figure!!!!

Through her help, I realized, that knowing a potential cause was never going to solve my current state or my state of mind for the past 30+ years. After I presented these questions to her, we did spend one session on them to help me understand her point. To pander to my nature of being a coach, she presented many scientific theories about depression and we discussed them fully. She even gave me several books (with parts I needed to read highlighted) to help me understand. We then came to a conclusion that there does not seem to be one underlying event that would lend me to be the way I have been  for so long but our focus would be better suited change how I perceive things and respond to things. Maybe the puzzle was not fully solved but who knows maybe it is not supposed to be for me to get better! 

Until this blog, anybody who knows me knows I am not the most open or emotional person as I probably hide behind the biggest wall anybody can erect. I can never express how thankful I am to find a psychologist who has it made it so easy for me to open up and be honest! It has been a great gateway to getting better.

#StopTheStigma