Out of the Dark: Day One

Double exposureThis week I took a big step, at least for me. But I imagine it is a big step for anyone.

I have known for a long time that I have been “gifted” with this special disposition which some call a “disorder”. Somehow, I have found ways to manage or work around it. Some behaviors may not be the healthiest of coping mechanisms and other healthy skills have been developed.

I know I am not alone in this. Some have developed skills to self manage and others seek treatment.

The irony is I work in the mental health field helping others access treatment while I continue struggling. Unfortunately, it is not something which can be treated through osmosis.

Initially, I thought it might have been adult onset, until I began seeing similar traits in my son. Sometimes it is like raising myself. I am not suggesting he has the same disorder, just a few characteristics which remind me of my struggle from an early age which I somehow managed to work through.

When my dad would take me to ice cream or Bi-mart to pick out a candy bar, I would become overwhelmed by all the options. Like, seriously anxious. There were far too many choices and I would become flustered and, at times, utterly and completely ambiguous. Must I only choose one? Ambiguity plagues most of my thought processes.

For those who know me well, making a decision is one of the most difficult of challenges. My friend, Chris, still tells stories of when we worked together and I needed to see multiple options before making a decision and I still could not make a solid choice.  I lose everything. Multitasking is nearly impossible. Maintaining focus has also been a struggle. I have started so many books I’ve never finished. I interrupt my own thoughts constantly and forget what I was originally talking about. I have so many amazing and creative ideas which I can never seem to execute, and let’s not even mention the incomplete projects.

I’ve been on dates where my date would get frustrated because of my inability to concentrate on the conversation because the atmosphere was over stimulating. During which I was just jazzed to have finally found someone who I felt comfortable going on a date with and who was mutually interested in me. Friends have expressed frustration by my struggle to maintain a two way conversation and coworkers have called me out on interrupting and blurting out random thoughts. When I do have something to say, which is more often than not, I get the death stare and people will sometimes graciously prompt me to “get to the point”.

I want to believe that I’m a quality “nice guy” and one of the kindest people you would ever meet, and yet I have these behaviors which have been difficult to manage and might make me seem like someone who is rude or disconnected.

Some of you might be thinking: “don’t be too hard on yourself”, “everyone has a lot on their minds”, “everyone loses things” or “men always have difficulty listening “, etc.  And while you these things may be true for many people on occasion, this is a daily reality which has made daily life more difficult than it needs to be. It is true that some of these are just unique characteristics of my personality, which is part of what has kept me from seeking professional help. I do not necessarily want my personality and creativity to go away, but I desperately need to find a way to manage the internal chaos. This amoeba touches every area of my personal life, relationships, goals, dreams, and my work life, and I am ready to face the darkness with light.

In her book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown references a scene from The Empire Strikes Back:

“Walking into our stories of hurt is like walking into that cave in Yoda’s swamp. It can feel dangerous and foreboding, and what we must ultimately confront is our self. The most difficult part of our stories is often what we bring to them – what we make up about who we are and how we are perceived by others. Yes. maybe we lost our job or screwed up a project, but what makes that story so painful is what we tell ourselves about our own self-worth and value.”

She continues: “Owning our stories means reckoning with our feelings and rumbling with our dark emotions – our fear, anger, aggression, shame, and blame. This isn’t easy, but the alternative – denying our stories and disengaging from emotion – means choosing to live our entire lives in the dark. When we decide to own our own stories and live out our truth, bring our light to the darkness.”

I do not intend to paint a doom and gloom picture, because, as mentioned before, I have found ways to work around these and developed some healthy coping skills in the process. Most of the time I would consider myself a happy and resilient person, and other times it gets the best of me and I become anxious and depressed.  Underneath this smile is a hurting, lonely person.

All the while I am walking with others through owning their stories, I find it more difficult to face my own. I want to believe I am a decent guy with the best of intentions. I am doing the best I can with what I have, and I know I can do better.

I am tired of misunderstood intentions. I am tired of losing literally any object I hold onto. I am tired of my inability to focus and listen. I am tired of unmet goals and incomplete projects. I am tired of being tired. My brain is tired from racing thoughts and my body is tired from all the stress.

A couple weeks ago, I listened to a lecture by Dr. Gabor Mate’. While I struggled to focus on everything he said, I remember his sharing of his personal experience of discovering his Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. After the conference, I went to Powell’s city of books to pickup a copy of Dr. Mate’s book, Scattered. Ironically, I have not been able to focus enough energy to read more than twelve pages.

So I finally met with a psychiatrist. He completed that assessment with a smile and chuckled the words, “Yep! You definitely meet criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).” While I didn’t need a doctor to confirm my diagnosis, there was relief in learning there is something which can be done about it. He speculated adult onset, while I can look back on multiple childhood accounts where this may not be the case.

Today is my first day on a prescription stimulant. So far so good. I have been able to be remarkably more present and patient with my son, Ezra. I have managed to complete this post…almost. I’ve been able to focus for the first time since I can remember. I feel present and genuinely relaxed in this moment.

Today is day one. We’ll see how tomorrow goes. Thank you for enduring this raw and vulnerable post. Thank you to those of you who have endured patiently and loved me through these symptoms. I do not expect to be a completely different person, but hopefully a little better version of myself. If you are reading this and feel my story resonates with yours, I would welcome you to comment or reach out as we walk this journey together.

**Update: I’ve managed to read four chapters of Scattered, complete a chapter in another book I have been working through, clean and organize my place of residence and spend focused quality time with my son. I have done these things while also taking time to breathe and be present.  Also, I have yet to experience restless leg syndrome in the past 24 hours. Now off to tackle projects I have been procrastinating.

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Love is a Battlefield

alone

Courtosy of pixabay.com

This evening I had an experience worth taking time to sit here and process. I have recently decided to start my own version of a bucket list, only slightly different. This list is similar in that the name of my list rhymes with “bucket”, but is compiled of hard things which have the potential of knocking one to the ground but I overcome.  This list is compiled of big things and small things. Things which are intentionally or unintentionally presented to take you down, but you end up rising above it. Resiliency occurs when you experience something potentially crushing, but you find a way to see the light in the darkest of moments and find a way out of the predicament. Tonight was one of those nights.

I will not disclose to you the name of this list, although I am certain you can figure it out. What I will tell you is the most recent experience I can now cross off the list. Tonight I prepared myself mentally and physically for a first date with a recent match on a dating sight. This is part of my life now. Not my proudest of moments, but certainly not my worst. While I never ever thought I would be single again nor imagined experiencing the dating scene, this is where life has taken me. I am learning to be more than just okay with this season. I no longer regret nor despise this space I am in and am actually learning to enjoy it. I am learning so much more about myself, my wants, my needs and what I like and what like and what I do not. So much of my life has been about putting others first that I have forgotten about my own needs and desires. I am learning better ways to communicate. I am learning to walk wholeheartedly into vulnerability and developing resilience.

So there I stood waiting in the line at Por Que No? in the Missippi District letting people behind me pass by while I waited patiently to meet my potential match. After twenty minutes or so I was left with an internal conflict: Should I stay or should I go? For whatever reason, I was stood up by a beautiful woman who I was really looking forward to meeting. I know this happens to people all of the time, but I had yet to experience it, and I think I passed the test. Without much time to process, I made the best decision I could have. I stayed and enjoyed the best tacos with one of the best guys I know. Yours truly.

This has been one of my greatest barriers to overcome on this journey of singleness, that is, learning to appreciate spending time with myself more. I have experienced a lot of firsts including going on dates with myself while my greatest fear stares across the table at me: the fear of loneliness. What was once as terrifying to me as looking into the dark nothingness of the grim reaper, has become a familiar friend who I am becoming more and more comfortable with hanging out with. This morning I told a coworker that I loved my rather crazy brain and how it works. In all of my eccentric tendencies and social awkward behaviors I have found someone who is kind, compassionate, and really enjoyable to be around. I need to continue enjoying these moments of solitude for several reasons. But there are a couple more specifically worth noting:

I need to face this fear of being alone. A couple years ago I went on a solo outdoors adventure for a few days in the Wallowa Mountains. The closest towns were quiet as the summer tourists had returned to their busy lives and left the locals to go back to the simple and laid back northeastern Oregon life. The sidewalks of the small town of Joseph were rolled up, so to speak, and the quietness was rather eerie and disturbing. This trip was one of the single most dark and lonely experiences I have ever encountered. It was a month after the finalization of my divorce and the beginning of a new season of self discovery. The adventure was simultaneously beautiful and incredibly lonely.

During my hike into the Eagle Cap wilderness, I did not see a single soul, neither human nor wild animal. I was sincerely hoping for a deep spiritual experience or a revelation from God. At least a word of hope and encouragement would have been appreciated, but all I heard was silence. What I encountered even more pervasively was the sound of silence and the pain of being utterly and completely alone. Some seek out solitude on purpose and can go several days without a single interaction with another person. I am not one of those people. But lately I have been taking myself on intentional solo dates. Somehow I feel the need to face my fear of being alone and, perhaps, come to appreciate this person who lives inside this body. Rejection, insecurity and shame have worked really hard to diminish the value of this incredible soul, who I am learning to appreciate.

Secondly, I am learning to love myself better. For years I have made the needs of others take precedence and have somehow managed to lose myself while catering to the needs of a partner. I am not sure I have ever really loved and valued myself , at least, not very well. It sounds incredibly selfish to talk about loving myself, but I am learning how important of a quality it is. I do not need another person for me to see my worth. I am also learning that I unknowingly train others how to treat me and if I want to be loved and respected, I must love and respect myself.

A wise man once said that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Talk about the perfect opportunity for a mic drop. Such a statement begs the question, How do we love others if we don’t really love ourselves? Whether it was religion, growing up in the ministry or generational trauma and insecurity, I never learned to love myself. It has always sounded to me the opposite of what we are supposed to be doing as humans: that is to live lives of selfless love for others. I often wonder how it was possible to love others if I am more worried about number one? However, I am learning the importance of re-framing this quandary into: How can I love others well if I do not first learn how to love myself?

Loving others like ourselves is perhaps one of the greatest social experiences of all times. To many, including this guy, it feels like an oxymoron and an impossible feat. I know some proud and egotistical people who love themselves too well. (While it is often the case that such behavior is a mask of their own insecurity or unmet need.) I do not want to be so self-absorbed, but I do have to detach from this self-loathing self and find the lovable person who is worthy of being loved.

Tonight I am grateful for the beautiful woman who stood me up. Not only can I cross the experience off my list and devour some ridiculously delicious tacos, but I wound up going on a date with one of the coolest guys I know.

Friends, if you find yourself in a moment of loneliness or loss, please know you are not exactly alone. Whether in a relationship or single, we all face this extremely real and often painful feeling. Love is certainly what the song refers to as a battlefield. What an opportunity we have to search inside ourselves to discover whatever it is we are learning from the experience and who we are created and destined to be. Could this moment be a blessing in disguise? I do not know your current situation, but I do know you are loved and never completely alone. I hope you will take care of yourself and come to know the amazing beautiful person you are. Nurture your soul and be easier on yourself. Trust the process. Give space to heal before giving away a piece of a broken heart. Trust me, I learned this one the hard way.

Love is certainly a risky battlefield, but it is not lost on broken hearts and dreams of whatever we imagined it to be like. Love and facing our fears are opportunities for hope to grow and resilience to be strengthened. You know the anecdote, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Yep. It is still true.