The Lutheran Geek

The life and times of a WoW-playing, Java-programming dude in Chicago

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sin, depression, and norms, part 2

So this morning, I laid out my best understanding of what sin is. Short version: it’s bad, yo. No surprise there.  Historically, there are Seven Deadly Sins:

  • lust
  • gluttony
  • greed
  • sloth
  • wrath
  • envy
  • pride

Really, though, you can boil those Seven down to two: covetousness (lust, gluttony, greed, envy) and self-idolatry (sloth and pride). In my opinion, wrath is not so much a sin in and of itself as it is an overreaction to either covetousness or self-idolatry. What’s interesting is that these are both focused on the self and leave out the most important type of sin that I examined as part of the Ten Commandments: ungratefulness. You could say “ungratefulness towards God”, but really, you don’t even have to be a religious believer to understand that this world is a pretty darn amazing place, and to have a sense of entitlement is ruinous and leads to all other destructive behavior.

(Just so we have our taxonomy complete, here’s where I think the Ten Commandments go here (using the numbering that has the first four as the God-related ones):

  • Ungratefulness: Commandments 1-5 (the four involving honoring God, plus honoring mommy and daddy)
  • Self-idolatry: Commandment 6 (arguable, but murder seems to imply you value your life more than another) and 9 (“I’m too important to be bothered with telling the truth”)
  • Covetousness: Commandments 7 (acting on sexual coveting), 8 (acting on material coveting), and 10 (the act of coveting itself)

A stretch, but eh, I’m no theologian. 🙂 )

Where I’m going with all this is to examine why a focus on sin is harmful towards those suffering with depression, clinical or otherwise. I’ve had many brushes with depression; thankfully they’ve been relatively fleeting and not chronic. My understanding of it will, of course, be colored by my own experience, but I’ll give it a shot.

When you are depressed, everything is seen to be worthless, most of all yourself. Every action you take is surrounded by fear of the consequences of those actions, expecting the worst possible result at every turn. The outside world seems worthless to you; you want to completely unplug from it and from other people. In essence, you become a twisted mirror image of a healthy (albeit still flawed) person: where a normal person has excess pride, you have an excess of self-deprecation; your apathy overtakes any possible covetousness; worst of all, you seem to others to be utterly ungrateful for the world around you, which I proposed is the worst of the three types of sin. It’s a double-whammy: you see nothing good in the world externally or internally, and the world has a large chance of misunderstanding you as being self-centered and ungrateful.

Depression can lead to behavior that can also be seen as covetous or self-idolatrous. In my own experience, depressive thoughts do not fully overtake you, but rather you are left with a longing for normalcy, and in so doing begin to wistfully look at others, thinking their lives to be perfect and free of the same crushing doubts that you are experiencing. In so doing, you are wishing for that which you don’t have in the thinking that it will cure all your ills and return you to the land of the Normal, because it’s more important to be Normal than anything else. (Remember the third word in the title of this post, “norms”? I’ll come back to the issue of norms in my next post, but keep it in mind.) Finally, the very act of being so focused on your own well-being is a warped version of worshiping the self. Even though you are not idolizing the self, but rather demonizing and cursing it, by doing so you put yourself as the cause of all the negativity you experience in your life. You envision yourself as a sort of twisted anti-God: not a Satan, as it were, but a being who inflicts incalculable harm on everything around yourself.

Now imagine having all these burdens put on yourself by depression – seeing yourself as an unintentionally malevolent force, unable to be grateful for all that you have, and longing for a different life. Switch around the attitudes from overly dark to overly light, and you have the standard me-first Westerner: can’t do wrong, master of your own domain (no, not in the Seinfeld sense), always wanting more and more. This is the person to whom the Confession is aimed: it is a chance for a good but flawed person (i.e. most of us) to acknowledge his shortcomings and plead for forgiveness.

However, envision yourself as the depressed person reading these words. In one sense, perhaps you are reading a description of yourself that you already “know”: I fall short, I am a bad person, etc. The depressed person will not see this as cleansing, but as a further trip down that dark path of self-loathing, thinking, “wow, even God thinks I’m terrible”. The damage has been done, and all you can think is about those words you said: “I have sinned…” How hurt and confused you must feel. Once you say those words, nothing else that is said matters; the absolution will fall on deaf ears, in all likelihood, and you will spend the remainder of the time stuck in your thoughts, unable to receive anything good.

Part 3 will examine religious (at least, Christian) norms, how they conflict with the needs of the depressed, and what should change in that regard.

(As a postscript, I strongly suspect I am not the first person to pursue this line of thinking, and I’m sort of winging it right now. Suggestions on outside sources would be most welcome as I seek to explore this matter further.)

posted by Peter at 5:10 pm  

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sin, depression, and norms

It’s Lent, which means that it’s time to fire up the Sackcloth and Ashes Machine in most mainline Christian churches. Now, the Catholics have this area pretty well perfected compared to most Protestant churches (I can’t speak to Orthodox faiths and their attitude towards sin, but never mind). However, we Lutherans like to dwell on sin as well. Most long-time ELCA Lutherans can recite the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness from memory. Here’s the money paragraph:

We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you [God] in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

That’s pretty standard wordage among the various ways to do mass confessions in various churches. The church I’ve been attending, Immanuel Lutheran here in Chicago, tends not to do the Confession on most standard Sundays. However, during Lent, they’ve broken it out. It makes sense as Lent is supposed to be a more somber time, meant to encourage self-reflection on the nature of our humanity. Even still, I am uncomfortable about this sort of self-flagellation. Granted, merely confessing our shortcomings falls way short of, say, whipping your back with a chain. But my problem is that, for someone suffering mentally and thinking themselves to be a permanently defective person each and every day, a recounting of how awful we are doesn’t help. It should be noted that the Order mentioned above is for confession and forgiveness; that is, the pastor announces the absolution of all our sins. But I will hope to explain why this is unsatisfactory in my mind to say “yeah you suck, but hey, God loves you anyway”.

First, we need to define the nature of sin. There’s about 2000 years of theological thought that I would have to cover to see the evolution of thought about what sin is, but I think I’ll just stick with a definition from Luther:

…we deny to those propagated according to carnal nature not only the acts, but also the power or gifts of producing fear and trust in God. For we say that those thus born have concupiscence, and cannot produce true fear and trust in God.

“Concupiscence” basically means lust, greed; it encompasses the desire to cling to earthly things. This clinging is thought to be the root of (or at least a fairly large contributor to) all earthly sin, and is explicitly stated as such in the writings of Paul:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, in their eagerness to get rich, have wandered away from the faith and caused themselves a lot of pain.

Thus, sin is turning away from God in order to pursue earthly goods. What is frustrating to me is that most superficial investgations of sin that I have heard about in the past stop here, and assume that the reader understands that ignoring God is the worst wrong that a person can do. Let’s go a little further and understand what is meant by this, and try to make our definition of sin a little more concrete.

A good place to start, of course, is the Ten Commandments:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

These are the basic rules we are expected to live by, handed down by God to the Hebrew exiles during the exodus, and passed down to us today. We can split them into two chunks; the first through fourth Commandments which dictate our relation to God, and the remaining six which dictate interpersonal relationships. These latter Commandments are easier to understand, since they have clear social utility by laying out a basic minimal definition of justice. You could argue that honoring your parents are not strictly necessary to have justice, and while true, there is quite a bit of social utility in keeping your parents in high regard: it provides an incentive for people to have children and to raise them well, knowing that their children, if they are instilled with a sense of justice, will be able to care for them when they age and are no longer able to look after themselves. The other of these latter commandments speak for themselves: murder (premeditated or otherwise), adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness are uniformly ruinous to societies, and must be proscribed.

Let us examine the first four commandments: you shall have no god before God; you shall worship only God; you shall not misuse God’s name; you shall keep the Sabbath holy. God provides a justification for these rules; God states that it was God who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; who brought the Hebrews out of slavery; who ultimately is unwilling to tolerate those who would consider any other entity greater than God. All this presupposes the existence of God and all seems a bit harsh in the light of the Christian message of absolution, but let’s take a broader view of what God is asking here. (The first two Commandments are actually a bit redundant; in fact, the Catholic and Lutheran tradition is to combine them into the single First Commandment, and later break the sentence describing covetousness into two Commandments, first proscribing coveting your neighbor’s house, then coveting your neighbor’s possessions.)

God is basically commanding a sense of gratefulness here. God is saying, “Look, the world is an amazing place. You were born into it, and have all these resources at your command. The work you do is certainly important, but the very existence of the world is something you should recognize and always keep at the forefront of your mind. To that end, don’t be flip about all of this; don’t instill yourself with a sense of entitlement. Be grateful! You have been given these amazing gifts; recognize them as such and don’t take them for granted.”

Ignoring this message is the main source of what we should consider to be “sin”, and it’s very important for certain to recognize that a sense of me-first entitlement is what leads us to destructive behavior. But what is ignored in all this talk about sin, entitlement, self-destruction, and so on, is a discussion of what people with real self-hatred – that is, depression – go through. What does this talk of sin do for them to build them up? Can it do ANYTHING to build them up? That’ll be covered in my next post…

posted by Peter at 11:26 am  

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brutha, can you spare a quarter mill?

Oy, I’ve been a total slackass about blogging lately. Lots of stuff going on. Orbitz is history, and I’ve been working as a contractor for a printing middleman company called InnerWorkings. The headquarters are in the old Montgomery Ward warehouse on Chicago Ave. right on the Chicago River. This building is almost 100 years old, but you’d never know it – it’s been completely gutted and refurbished to make a brand-spanking-new office complex.

It’s also not too far from… my new condo! Well, not “mine” yet, but my offer was accepted last week, so I’ve now started down the path of having to hoard a ridiculous amount of money for the down payment, closing fees, inspections, and God-knows-whatever-else between now and the actual closing day, which is tentatively July 21. In the interim, I’m learning a ton about mortgages, short sales, and all sorts of the weird arcanery surrounding buying a home (or condo).

I’ll be honest – I’ve never been very good with money. Not that I’ve ever been in much trouble financially – I’ve done pretty well by the fact that I’m a techie guy and my skills are fairly well sought-after. So I’ve come into this whole process with a good deal of naivete. Fortunately, I’ve been working with people (my Realtor and loan agent in particular) who have been very knowledgable at telling me what I need to do, how to raise the money, and so forth. The one big thing I’ve had to do that was sort of against my will was liquidate a bunch of my Roth IRA holdings. Never a good thing to part with your retirement account, but I figured this was for a good cause since I was able to get such a good deal on this condo. Basically, it’s what is called a “short sale”, meaning the current owners are about to be foreclosed, and the bank wants to sell the property ASAP to get some sort of value on the soon-to-be-defunct mortgage. This means they’re less flexible in the terms, however, so I had to basically put in a single offer and hope it would be accepted – thankfully, it was. Now I have to spend the next 5-6 weeks scraping together every last dime to be able to show the banks that, yes, I can afford to do this and I am not totally bankrupt.

It’s all very crazy, and I’ve spent a couple recent nights lying awake in various states of panic as to how I was going to be able to pull all this together. Thankfully, it’s coming together nicely, it seems, so I’ll be able to sleep tonight, at least. 🙂 More details (and pictures) as they come in…

posted by Peter at 12:29 pm  

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Screw you, Paxil

Strictly speaking, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are not addictive, but trying to discontinue its use can result in a condition known as “discontinuation syndrome“. Of all the SSRIs, Paxil, or paroxetine hydrochloride, is the most potent, and leads to the most severe cases of this syndrome. I know this first-hand since I’ve taken it for over seven years to combat social anxiety disorder as well as mild depressive symptoms. When I started experiencing more depressive thoughts in the past month, I decided it was time to up my prescription to 40 mg from the previous low 20 mg dose I was taking before. Last night, as I went to take my dose, I discovered that the night before, I had used up the last of the Paxil I had on-hand. I knew this would probably mean bad things for me today… and I was right.

For me, even going 36 hours without a dose of Paxil can result in a great deal of extra depression and hyper-sensitivity to emotions. Just this afternoon, a simple thing caused me to spin out of control and to the point of tears. It was not a negative thing at all, not hardly, but it brought up some terrible memories, and caused me to spend an hour or so just staring blankly into space. It is incredibly frustrating to deal with these negative feelings creeping back into my life. Noone deserves this sort of mental torture I put myself through… and yet I do it.

One thing I talk to my therapist about is how I put most of the negative aspects of a relationship on myself. That is, I don’t spend a whole lot of time stewing over what others have done to me, but rather I tend to spend the time thinking of what wrong I have done to others. Even the act of apologizing doesn’t help – when it’s not received well, or outright ignored, I find myself simply befuddled and upset at myself. If only I hadn’t blown up that one time! If only I knew what to say to make it up to them. If only I wasn’t such a jerk. If only I wasn’t such an idiot. If only I wasn’t bad…

And so it goes, leaving me feeling like the worst person on earth. I’m self-centered, lazy, thoughtless, jerky. I’m terrible with people. I will always be alone.

I find that these thoughts just refuse to go away altogether, and they get amplified when I am low on my drugs. It’s just flat-out frustrating. Others have gotten through much worse thoughts and situations than me, and yet I continue to wallow and tell myself how awful I am. Others have attempted suicide, some succeeded. I have had my share of thoughts, but never had the guts to act on them. I’ve never been quite depressed enough to really be truly “depressed”, so instead, I just feel lazy. I get scared, I feel unable to interact with anyone. I am a failure of a human being.

…see, but I’m not. I cognitively know that my struggles are the same ones everyone goes through, from the shyest guy on the block to alpha-males like Donald Trump – everyone has doubts, fears, that sort of thing. Days like today, though, make it feel like I’m the worst person on earth.

posted by Peter at 3:13 pm  

Friday, December 8, 2006

An … odd … experience

Work was going fairly smoothly today – I was getting a lot done and was feeling pretty happy. I brought some nice clothes with me to work, which is a bit unusual – normally I just wear jeans and a T-shirt to work (though I was also wearing a sweatshirt since the temperature was 6 above zero this morning…) – but tonight we were having our holiday party at Orbitz! I was pretty jazzed up and feeling pretty good about the day. It all started to get a little weird in the middle of the afternoon, though…

About 3:15, as I was coding away finishing up some last-minute changes for the little product I’m working on, I started hearing a bunch of sirens. Unusual, I thought – must be a fire or something around here or in the Loop. (I work just a couple blocks west of the Loop proper – an area usually called the “West Loop”.) A few minutes later, I see a strobe light go off. Now, close by me sit the IT people who are kind of wild and like to be a bit crazy, so I thought maybe at first it was just a desk toy. I glanced up, and saw that the strobe light was actually the fire alarm system. I started to get up to prepare to evacuate when I heard a voice over the intercom: “We have an emergency situation. Please stay on your floor, lock the doors, and do not leave your suite.” Uh-oh – this sounds dangerous. My boss, when she heard that, immediately commented “Someone’s gone postal.” Unfortunately, we didn’t have the slightest clue what was going on. People started milling about, looking outside as we saw the emergency vehicles (whose sirens I had heard earlier) congregate outside the front of our building on Madison St.

Still, we had no clue what was happening. Around 4 PM, I got a message from my friend “Kavel” in Panda Attack (and like a noob, I’ve forgotten his real-life name…). He linked me to a story on NBC 5’s web site that said there had been a shooting on one of the upper floors of our very building! Details at the time were sketchy, but it seemed my boss was right. There was a report that the gunman was still at large, making us all a bit more nervous. I spent the rest of the afternoon checking the Chicago Tribune web site, which had a running story with details as they came in – some people shot, taken out on stretchers from the building to Rush, one guy shot in the head… yipe.

Finally, about 5:00, we got the all-clear that everything was under control. The party still went on, but I was kind of out of it at that point, plus, I’ve been pretty tired this week. I grabbed a beer, and kind of nursed it while walking around looking at a whole lot of people I didn’t know. I grabbed a few things to nibble on, but ultimately I just wasn’t in the partying mood, and so I slipped out at about 6 PM to grab the next train home (by that time, the Metra trains had started running again – my building is also a terminal for three of the Metra lines).

So an odd day, to say the least. Glad it’s over – I just need to relax now.

posted by Peter at 9:28 pm  

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thank you…

…to those people who’ve been sending me supportive notes lately. I appreciate it more than you’ll ever know that, wow, I actually do matter to some people! I mean, it’s not like I’ve every been totally abandoned. I have an amazing family with a mom and dad that have done nothing but love me and care for me all these years… yet I get stuck in these moments of depression. It just goes to show you that depression isn’t about whether or not you’re smart or thinking straight or whatever – it’s dictated by plain old biochemistry.

I’ll be seeing my therapist again on Saturday, and we’ll work out the next steps on fighting this stuff. While I have been feeling much more cheerful (and much less sick!) these last few days, I just want to be careful and not assume that everything will be fine forever.

So again, thank you all.

posted by Peter at 10:34 am  

Sunday, November 26, 2006

It’s all but official

Well, let’s see:

  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Reduced appetite
  • Changing sleeping patterns
  • Almost complete lack of sense of humor
  • and, of course, lots of sadness

I’m no psychiatrist, but it certainly sounds like I have clinical depression. The sickness has caused me to be in isolation for a long, long time, and it’s finally starting to affect me in profound ways. I’ve been having flashes of good moments, but I can’t seem to perpetuate them. The worst part is trying to explain myself to everyone I know. My friends and family mean well, but they try to reason with me, and it’s clear that I can’t be reasoned with.

I’ve also thought about suicide more often in the past week or so than I usually do. Mind you, plans never seem to come to mind, although I did even start making plans last night. I never get any farther than thinking about it, though – it’s as if a mental block sets in preventing me from going any further, protecting myself. Believe me, I’m quite grateful for it.

Anyway, I’m going to call my therapist today and leave a message with her. If there’s anyone out there reading it, I have one favor to ask of you. Please just write me a little note or something – comment here on this blog, email, something – letting me know that you’re out there thinking of me. The largest distortion in my mind right now is that noone cares if I live or die; my life matters to noone. I know it sounds selfish, but please remind me that I matter.

posted by Peter at 11:55 am  

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A new obsession

Too often over the last few months, I’ve found myself obsessing over someone. Not in the sense of “oh god, I wish I could be with them”, even though they have invariably been women, but in the sense of “wow, they’re so amazing, I need to remain friends with them”. I meet these people and then get it in my head that, unless I remain close personal friends with them, I am somehow less of a good person. Well, I intend for that to change as of now. Whenever, I get the urge to obsess over someone, I’m going to direct my obsessions to Drew Barrymore.

Seriously, why not? She’s pretty, funny, got a great smile, and would totally date me if she knew me. I can cook up elaborate fantasies about me and her and never have it be awkward, since the probability that I will ever actually meet her is about 0. No harm done. Easy as pie.

But yeah, that’s my goal. Last night, as I was mulling this over in my head, it seemed to work out so well. A lot of clouds were lifted from my head and things seemed fairly easy to deal with now. My hope is that I can perpetuate this feeling and not have to worry about future obsessions… hopefully.

posted by Peter at 1:02 pm  

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Twenty-four scary hours

This morning, I woke up, and for the first time in a week, I didn’t cough until I was nearly choking. It was a good way to end what had to be one of the more harrowing days of my life. Funny that the simple act of coughing a lot can make you fear for your life, question your existence, and just make you want to crawl in a hole and die.

Yesterday morning I awoke to yet another of my coughing spasms. Again, I feared for my life. Perhaps I was being overdramatic, but I had never had such a coughing spasm before this past week, when I’ve had several of them. I called my doctor and tried to get in to visit, but they were totally booked. They did, however, order a chest X-ray for me, which I promptly went up and had done. They’re pretty painless these days: you throw on a robe, and you literally hug a bulky machine for one angle and hang from a bar for another angle. All in all, it took about a minute – most of my time was spent in the waiting room and trying to find the check-in counter at Evanston Hospital.

I spent the afternoon at home, playing World of Warcraft and not napping, because I knew if I laid down again, it would just bring on another spasm. The doctor’s office said they would try to get me in that afternoon, but they never called back, leaving me hanging on my fate. I trudged through a little WoW that evening, fearing the fact that I would eventually have to go to sleep. I was also becoming more and more depressed, sending messages to my friends about how sick and unhappy I was, and generally feeling completely alone. My parents were available at least, so I was able to speak to them several times during the day. Mom, being the ex-nurse, had good advice on how to deal with my coughs and such.

Inevitably, however, 11 PM came. I sat up and finished a book I was reading, then reluctantly laid down to sleep at about midnight. Not 5 minutes later, I had a return of a cough spasm, leaving me wheezing and bug-eyed. It passed, but I was left feeling spent and scared. I called my parents to tell them about it, and my mom urged me to drive to the emergency room. I was reluctant to do so, but I did. You think of an ER as a place to go when you’re having a heart attack or you’ve been shot, but my own health problems were obviously such that they needed to be tended to right away, not after a night of sleeping and a likely replay of the coughing fit.

The ER was pretty quiet for most of the night. I arrived at about 12:15, where I was checked out by a nurse and then sent to a room at about 1:00, where I waited… and waited… and waited. Turns out they were short-staffed that night, with only one doctor on site. I could hear babies crying, saw a person on a gurney outside my room with an IV, and realized there were several people who needed help too. Since I wasn’t dying, I assumed that meant I would have to wait… and wait I did. Finally someone came in at about 2 am to give me a cursory checkup, asked me about my symptoms and such, then left again. More waiting. Finally, a nurse came in with a breathing apparatus that had me breathe in some sort of atomized medication – I assume it was steroids or something of the sort. That felt like it helped to a small extent, but when the doctor finally came in, I told him I didn’t quite feel it yet. He assured me it would help with the cough and such, so I acquiesced and hoped for the best. They gave me some pills of a steroid and an inhaler – first time in my life that I’ve had one. I went home, propped up my head on some pillows so as not to lie flat, and went to sleep.

Like I said, I woke up this morning and didn’t have a coughing fit – in fact, I’m starting to feel the phlegm go away. It was a terrible, awful day – I was coughing a lot, I felt completely alone. Today is another day. I still live alone, but hopefully I will be in better spirits.

posted by Peter at 12:24 pm  

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Loving myself?

A couple of my more observant friends have, in the past, made a rather frank assessment of me. Basically, they say, I hate myself. This, in turn, makes it difficult for them to be around me. Frankly, they’re right. While I’m not haunted with a constant depression and hatred of my being, it’s definitely there, under the surface. Lately, over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed this feeling become a lot closer to the surface. Ironically, it seems to come out most strongly when I’m around my friends. See, I’m blessed with witty, fun friends who love to talk and have fun. I enjoy the same, usually… at least when I’m at ease and relaxed. This really hasn’t been the case of late. I’ve felt like I needed to keep up and be sharp and perfect. Every mistake I make, every misstatement that slips out of my mouth is exaggerated to the point of being an unforgivable sin. As it stands, I tend to be a fairly passive personality, so when I feel like I’m stepping on toes, it’s my tendency to back off even further, cursing myself the whole time, telling myself how awful and stupid I am, and how everyone knows it. What’s funny is how this came up while role-playing: I didn’t realize that RPers tend to be very cagy in general, not willing to reveal much about themselves, saying things like “It’s nothing”. Of course, being the polite, respectful person I am, I hear that and think “OK, I guess they don’t want to talk about it” and let it be. Turns out that “It’s nothing” is an explicit invitation to ask more – I had it exactly backwards. I felt even worse about this, realizing I blew a good opportunity to talk more with my RPing friends, and instead assumed that they wanted nothing to do with me, true to my nature of assuming the worst about peoples’ attitudes towards me.

This continues on and on; eventually, I’m left with nothing but an empty feeling of utter worthlessness. It gets to the point where I wonder if anything I do matters. My job? Frankly, there are hundreds of programmers out there who could do what I do twice as well in half the time. So it would seem, anyway. Friends? Well, while I am unique, I tell myself I’m not that important to any one friend, and everyones’ life would go on without me present – witness how I have basically three friends left in the greater Chicago area, as most have moved away and gone on quite happily with their lives. The only thing I can’t disregard, even in my deepest depression, is my family. I am dear to my parents and the rest of my family and irreplaceable to them. That, at least, means I’m not 100% worthless in this world.

This is the crap I push through my head. It comes out so easily. Witness every time I make a mistake: “God Peter, you’re so stupid,” I say to myself. I MUST break this habit. I must learn to love myself. Dropping out of grad school made that hard – while I tell myself I learned a lot from the experience, a good part of me wonders if it wasn’t because of some fundamental failure on my part – laziness, hubris, somthing of that sort. How? Well, that’s why I’m in therapy. I will keep asking this question each week, and I’m hoping the answer will come to me eventually.

Till then, I keep on trying. And failing. But hopefully soon, succeeding.

posted by Peter at 9:18 am  
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