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.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Dismissing The Positives (Dysthymia)



What is persistent depressive disorder?

Persistent depressive disorder is a form of chronic (ongoing) depression. Although symptoms of persistent depressive disorder may be less severe than other types of depression, they are longer-lasting in duration. 

A new addition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) – the standard reference manual used for the diagnosis of recognized mental illnesses in the United States – persistent depressive disorder is a consolidation of two previous diagnoses: chronic major depressive episode and dysthymic disorder. 

What are the symptoms of persistent depressive disorder?

The primary feature of persistent depressive disorder is the presence of depressed mood on most days for at least 2 years for adults (at least 1 year for children and adolescents). During this period, individuals are depression-free for no longer than 2 months at a time.

Although not as severe as those of major depression, symptoms of persistent depressive disorder also include the presence of two (or more) of the following (ones in bold are the ones that haunt me):

  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Sadness, emptiness or feeling down
  • Hopelessness
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Low self-esteem, self-criticism or feeling incapable (1st two are killers for me)
  • Trouble concentrating and trouble making decisions
  • Irritability or excessive anger (been much better with therapy)
  • Decreased activity, effectiveness and productivity
  • Avoidance of social activities (really good at this one)
  • Feelings of guilt and worries over the past
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Sleep problems

Individuals with persistent depressive disorder often maintain a negative view of themselves, their future, others around them, and general life 



Now, you might be wondering why start a blog post with such a description...

I can understand the confusion but I have been thinking of ways to convey this message for months. Starting in late August, after several months (hell all of my life) of really struggling, I decided it was time to reach out and get help. Every Thursday since late August, I have been sneaking off (well, in my mind sneaking off) for a couple hours to meet with my psychologist to discuss my issues and yes, I do have many of those.

In the past, my blog consisted mostly about my training and racing, but let's be honest, you probably found that as boring as I did. So, my blog will now go in a new direction that may in the long run serve a better purpose and help somebody get help long before I did. I know there may be many people out there dealing with the same issues who are afraid to get help, for numerous reasons, like I was but it is time to stop the stigma of depression! 

This first post will deal with just one aspect of my depression:

To most people, I can come across as somebody who is happy (maybe a bit sarcastic at times) and they see me as an accomplished coach who has experienced a lot of success over the years. You truly want to know the sad part, I have never been able to enjoy any of these moments. I have been lucky enough, with my coaching to staff, to be honored with Coach of the Year honors and to this day all 13 honors still sit in their boxes never seeing the light of day. I do have a few awards visible in the office but they are too big to hide and you do need show recruits that you have been a successful coach. I have also been lucky enough to coach 10 championship teams and before the excitement can settle among the athletes, I would already be thinking about what it would take to win the next one or how I could have better prepared the current team despite the win. In my mind, despite winning, it was not perfect and I  could find some flaw in it. The flaws I looked for were always in myself and never the efforts of the athletes or my assistant coaches.

Many also say that my running and triathlon career has been filled with a lot of success, winning numerous races and earning two trips to Hawaii to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Yet over the years of competing, none of this has been good enough. My trophies are all stored in a box in garage and the numerous medals I have received for winning or finishing are strung throughout the apartment collecting dust. I was even given a gift that I could display all these medals but never hung it as it I felt these accomplishments were not worthy of displaying.  I have come away from every race I have ever done and felt it has never been enough even if I won. I would find some fault in the race. I have downplayed my overall victories as modest efforts and I won because of the lack of competition of better triathletes.

In discussing with my psychologist, I have realized I have become an expert at dismissing the positive in everything. For some reason, everything I have ever done or accomplished in life was never good enough nor deserved the attention that people wanted to give it. To this day, i am horrible at taking compliments. I can recall recently, when a person asked me to list my positives, I gave 1 or 2 positives and quickly moved to 3-4 negatives before they cut me off. It is almost as if with each success in life, the more miserable I became or the harder I pushed myself without taking the time to enjoy the moment. I am working on it but someday soon, I do truly hope, that I can enjoy something that I achieve and realize that some happiness can be drawn from what I do as I do love what I do.

I am not sure if this will be a weekly thing but this blog will now be devoted to dealing with my issues and maybe for somebody this blog will serve as a reminder that despite outward appearances, deep down we truly don't know the inner dealings of people.

In a way, it may help people understand me and at the same time it may help me to become a better person to the many people who I have hurt, alienated or been miserable to over the years and currently.  

Working on becoming indifferent versus miserable....have to take it is small steps!

In this blog, I will cover my struggles with my depression, getting better through therapy as well as my continued ventures in triathlons and hopefully finding some happiness in it!