Navigating with a Broken Compass

The story of living with dysthymia may not be as bleak as it may sound. It has opened many doors for me as a child and as an adult. On one hand it has given me a very reflective outlook on life, and on another it has driven me to look for answers I may not have ever discovered if not affected by this condition. I have led a life that I am proud of, yet I think I have so much to learn and want to re-direct myself to expand outside my comfort zones personally and professionally. I would call myself an average person and have tried to do my best with what I have been given; but due to circumstances long ago I had no control over, I live with an extraordinary sense of existential bewilderment.

There are psychological details about ourselves that we are unaware of. We hold undisclosed secrets from others as well as hiding it from our own consciousness. Truths about the ways we behave, and the ways in which we think are often mistaken if little or no attention is paid to them. Traits within us have gone undetected because they are submerged deeply into our personalities and this often escapes discovery by not allowing others a glimpse inside. The circumstance that we are blind to these traits partly explains this failure of recognition from others and ourselves. We often do not know some of the reasons why we behave the ways we do, but we do know how to shield our own thoughts from others by not talking about them. We observe and interpret the world through the lens of privacy.

The psychological attributes that are part of our persona, that embed deep within us and have yet to be uncovered by ourselves or by others in their observations of us simply because we have not discovered them yet. Our family members and our friends have not revealed some of these inauspicious attributes that may have lain dormant inside our minds for many years. A fractured connection with family members at an early age is an unbearable hindrance. As for myself, the consequences of this relationship have left upon me a mark that has endured over half a century. There exists the possibility of a resulting psychogenic amnesia to past traumatic events or maybe a dissociative pattern of depersonalization that has fused itself within my earlier states of consciousness and this in turn has seized much of my life, which may explain why it resurfaces during times of duress. The fact of the parallels in observing an affective disorder going between a dysthymic to a major depressive episodic state has often diffused itself within my mind for much of my life. The endogenous nature of this connection seems likely if not apparent. Do the “bad feelings” experienced tend to be generated from within this maladaptive disorder? Does the condition become precipitated by life events that are manifested? The “cause and effect” are very hard to sort out and distinguish. We must not confuse “cause” with “correlation”, but isn’t that the million-dollar question?

I cannot say how many times as a child I’d wished for a better life, even more profoundly that I’d have never been born. That I did not want the life I was given, and that in my tears late at night, I’d wish my father would die because of the intolerable pain he would bring down upon me and the rest of my family when I was a boy. I would pray to end my suffering, as maybe I would like to die myself, than undergo another day living in that household. I think the sadistic nature of my father was possibly more hurtful to me than many of the other misbehaving things that he confronted us with. After years of growing up in a household being the object receiving random angry outbursts from our father, a narcissistic parent with low self-esteem that treated us in detest, instilling fear, and exhorting humiliation from us; has led me to question much of just what happened during those years growing up. The foundation for a faulty sense of self was framed during that time I imagine, and it has been a hell of a thing to shake all these years later. The sub-conscious thoughts that lead us to conclusions about ourselves are deeply rooted in this context.

If we were deeply injured in some way in the past, I believe that if we do not properly process this injury, or put it into a more conductive perspective, then we may again revisit those pains as they reappear in later events of our lives. To bring about a transformation when the sub-conscious becomes conscious, and the therapy may then begin to unfold the hidden toxins that enslave our opinions about ourselves. Many of these events may not trigger any responses from our friends or family until other episodes bring about something hidden deep within us. A sublimation of thoughts or behaviors experienced later on in life by those who do not put to rest the brutalities of a past time are often a truism I cannot deny.

When we somehow repress these memories, or replace them with newer ones, we may forget the misdeeds of the past. Unfortunately we can regress into a mindset that reminds us of these haunting memories from time to time. I am not sure of why I seem to bind myself to some of my former injuries but they have a presence that I cannot seem to escape from completely. Perhaps I have repressed the specific memories that upset me and I simultaneously held on to the pain that I immersed myself with from those days. However this dynamic works within me, I have subjugated myself to the damages sustained those many years ago. In a recent conversation with my brother I learned something about my struggle in words I have not thought of before after telling him of my thoughts on the matter. He asked why I seem to seek approval and acceptance from those that have treated me in an unkind way, or that those who have “f#*ked me over? I had not thought of it in that way before; using those words has not occurred to me in that I am somehow psychologically bound to those who have done an injustice to me, in that I am somehow seeking some approval despite their inhospitable treatment in dealing with me.

There is a scene in the perks of being a wallflower written by Peter Chbosky where the main character Charlie was admitted into a hospital for psychiatric care after he’d had a breakdown toward the end of the film adaptation of the book. He stated something in the film that struck me on a profound level because I can relate to the meaning of those specific words he uttered to the therapist.

“Maybe you can tell me how to stop it?” “Stop what” the therapist asks? Charlie goes on to try and explain. …“I can’t stop it. Seeing it. Their lives all the time, just how do you stop seeing it? There is so much pain, and ah, I do not know how to not notice it…. It’s not me, its them, its everyone, it never stops; do you understand?”…

I have a very close affinity with those words spoken in this fictional account of a character that strikes me very close to home. I have yet to describe my “sensitivities” any better than what has taken place within this book and movie in reference to the existential predicament he seems to be placed in.

In another scene in the movie, Charlie asks his favorite teacher, someone he trusts, why people enter into relationships that are not mutually beneficial, why some people allow others who are not good for them, and who do not appreciate them, but still tolerate them within the relationship they hold. In his words…”Why do nice people choose the wrong people to date?” The response from Charlie’s teacher Mr. Anderson was that for many of us; we simply accept the love that we think we deserve. The data to show this inference is overwhelming when we look at the compelling correlational evidence in abusive relationships.

The character of Charlie in the book is described by Chbosky as being composite’s of people he’d known in his life, if not loosely based upon himself altogether based on interviews given. This leads us to possibly conclude that he himself has survived some trauma endured within his own life given the character of Charlie, an emotionally sensitive 15-year-old boy grappling with two very traumatic experiences form his past.
His assertion of not being able to stop seeing it seems to be a central theme in my living experience. I have had some challenges in my adult life as well. When you consecutively experience disruptions on a psychological level throughout different periods of your life, you can find evidence of patterns that may populate the world in which you live. Ever since 911 I have tended to look much deeper into things I once took for granted in the world outside myself. The conclusions are not comforting, and are indicative of a discerning case study that is not able to turn off the negative factors that filter into our lives. I have now taken into account not only my disposition in relation to the world, but that of the world itself as well. It is a weight that brings me to my knees at times.

I have kept a secret for some time now from those all around me. I have navigated the social world brilliantly not allowing anyone inside the darker parts of my mind. I have worked and related to my family, friends, and others avoiding these troubling dispositions, pretending that I am fine, that I am normal, that I live an average life. But the truth is far from that assessment. Periodically I am prone to reflect about the world, and when I have entered into this world that preoccupied much of my thinking, I have a tendency to observe the disparities. Much of what others may take for granted, as they participate in the regular social norms and lead happy lives, I seem to be on the outside looking into a world that only has me looking down the rabbit hole; the farther I look, the more I see. In matrix phraseology;…“You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” I do not think I am special, gifted or precocious, rather I am more transfixed on these disturbing themes that seem to occupy my mind and capture my attention probably more then it should which leaves me in unrest.

What is it, repressed memories, or some other troubling disturbing factor that continues to disrupt someone’s thinking? I cannot say, but to this day I struggle in my life to get beyond those days that seem to impact my disposition. I cannot seem to shake the disquietude that weaves it’s way into my present day. An unknown psychological/psychosocial factor that brings me down, and forces me to stay isolated in my own suffering and since it is hard to identify; I live with this unknown attribute of my persona that feeds a negative injurious incident when provoked. I exist only to rid myself of these troubling days, but cannot find the reason or path to forgive these unknown events that seem to scar me and pay their allegiance to my unrested soul. Abraham Lincoln once stated….”I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better it appears to me.”

I have tried to educate myself, and have sought some counseling but was disappointed with the resulting counseling treatment of my problem and to no successful avail did I retain any suitable answers.
In my education I studied everything I could get my hands on to alleviate my quandary. Ironically I am hyper aware of my problem, yet I do not control the unconscious states that haunt me in my sleep, or the other hidden language of my thoughts that precede my cognitions that probably leads to much of my oppression. The emotional factor that haunts me is sometimes subdued by the rational factors but this psychological battle being waged endures the ages and goes on.

The rational factor can be victorious for sound reasonable positive thoughts, it can result in happiness and contentment following my own internal compass, but the emotional disruptive subtext usually takes me to some very dark places and leaves me in a mental paralysis as this ping pong game continues to play out. I am smart enough to figure out what is happening, but when the damaged emotional side of me kicks in, then I tend to fall into the depressive states that are classic textbook and mismanage my health, mismanage my daily affairs.

I’ve read of some studies that coincide with my own observations. Studying my life, my background, and my beliefs about my experiences, and studying psychology as one of my undergraduate majors; I had some good direction to further my understanding of depression.
Connecting these puzzle pieces together I was able to formulate one of my own theories as to why I seem to suffer: “learned helplessness”! The psychological community does not lean towards this theory in general due to the laboratory results with animals, but I found it very interesting.

Feeling of helplessness and loss of hope have been emphasized as basic depressive reactions by investigators of differing theoretical orientations. Bibring (1953) held the basic mechanism of depression is the ego’s shocking awareness of its helplessness in regard to its aspirations…such that the depressed person…has lost his incentives and gives up, not the goals, but pursuing them, since this proves to be useless in their mind.

Other symptoms include the possibility of being characterized with an “Anhedonic” problem of affect, which has come across my studies into this difficulty. In my case Anhedonia is the inability to experience joy or pleasure, and “blunting” of affect; or the lack of emotional reactivity. It is manifest as a failure to express feelings either verbally or non-verbally, especially when talking about issues that would normally engage the emotions. Also notable is a decrease of volition, or goal-directed activities initiated by the individual that is disrupted and is seen in maintaining a minimal standard of personal hygiene.

After searching the literature to find the most prevalent patterns of this affliction I found that they seem to stem from psychosocial factors in early childhood such as:
Early psychic trauma and increased vulnerability
This often leads to the development of defense mechanisms to cover-up the injuries, but what lies underneath this façade is an unresolved conflict of tension and anxiety, strong feelings of bitterness, resentment, and hate toward those offenders due to the inability or inexperience to fend off the emotional attacks.
Pathogenic parent-child and family interactions
Pseudo-mutuality and role inflexibility, faulty communication, and the undermining of personal authenticity are tantamount in the maladaptive behaviors learned in the establishment of affect disorders. Destructive marital interactions is a particular malignant feature of chronic undermining of the worth of a marital parent by the other makes it clear to the children that the parents did not respect or value each other. Considerable rigidity in the family role structure, which tended to depersonalize the children and block their growth toward maturity and self-direction, can be observed. Parental modeling of behavior to the children ideas, feelings, and demands that are mutually incompatible are examples of faulty communications. Amorphous patterns of thinking are characterized by failures in differentiation; here attention towards feelings objects, or persons is loosely organized, vague, and drifting. Fragmented thinking involves greater differentiation but lowered integration, with erratic and disruptive shifts in communication. Undermining personal authenticity such that no matter how a person feels or how they act, no matter what meaning they give their situation, their feelings are denuded of validity, their acts are stripped of their motives, intentions, and consequences, thus the situation is robbed of its meaning for them, so that they are totally mystified and alienated. In general, if parents create a family milieu inappropriate for training a child in the cognitive abilities essential for categorizing experience, thinking coherently, and communicating meaningfully, then if coupled with feelings of inadequacy and other damages to the child’s emerging self-concept, this may help explain the challenges of later cognitive distortions, communication failures, and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
Faulty learning and coping
A confused sense of self-identity coupled with basic feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and self-devaluation tend to be prominent. Emotional insulation protects these individuals from the hurt of disappointment and frustration, but their regression enables them to lower their level of aspiration and accept a position of dependence. Projection helps them maintain feelings of adequacy and worth by displacement of blame.

The possibility of anxiety disorder in that of withdrawal disorders share common characteristics such as oversensitivity, unrealistic fears, shyness and timidity, pervasive feeling of inadequacy, and sleep disturbances. These symptoms often stem from the failure of an indifferent or detached parent to provide adequate guidance for the child’s development. Although the child is not necessarily rejected, neither is he adequately supported in mastering essential competencies and in gaining a positive self-concept.

Hurt, resentment, and guilt are closely related. When something is taken away from us, or something we want is not made available to us, we can feel hurt. Hurt is difficult for people to feel and express. So, some people avoid it by turning to anger. If we get angry with someone or something outside ourselves, it’s called resentment. If we get angry with ourselves, it’s called guilt. Anytime we feel anger – whether it’s expressed as guilt or resentment – there’s hurt underneath it. Since we usually don’t hurt over things that we do not care about, then finding the way to transition out of hurt has to do with the attachment we assign our care to! If this does not work then the usual forgive and forget often imparted to us is a fundamental teaching.

I will not go into the biological treatments often using Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) because I do not give attention to methods that merely medicate for a treatment that is in need of so much more understanding, even though they may restore typical brain functioning with the manipulation of these neurotransmitters. I still see the genesis of problems for myself created more in the behavioral and cognitive learning adaptations that can thus to be corrected in similar manner. The multi-disciplinary approach of therapy using behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, gestalt, existential, and stress-inoculation along with the power of the will is my prescription to clarify this adversity.

Some people who have battled Depression:

King Solomon
John Adams
William Blake
Ludwig von Beethoven
Hans Christian Anderson
Isaac Asimov
Truman Capote
Jim Carrey
Johnny Carson
Dick Cavett
Ray Charles
Winston Churchill
Frederic Chopin
Rodney Dangerfield
Charles Darwin
John Denver
Johnny Depp
Charles Dickens
Emily Dickinson
Bob Dylan
F. Scott Fitzgerald
William Faulkner
Marvin Gaye
Ernest Hemingway
William James
Franz Kafka
John Keats
John Lennon
Abraham Lincoln
John Stuart Mill
Claude Monet
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Isaac Newton
Friedrich Nietzsche
Brad Pitt
Edgar Allan Poe
James Taylor
Leo Tolstoy
Mark Twain
Vincent van Gogh
Walt Whitman
Oscar Wilde