Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Its only Pain...

This blog might be considered almost a trilogy with the past two blogs on "writing our own story" and dealing with depression or "losing hope". All enthralling stories (and lives) involve drama and anxiety of some kind or dark times dealing with PAIN.

PAIN typically is unpleasant, but often it serves a positive purpose. When we are children, it is pain that teaches us not to put our fingers close to the fire or stay out in they sun for too long. As teenagers, we learn the pain of rejection which forces us to consider how we will identify ourselves against "the crowd" and address our individuality. As young adults many of us learn the ill effects of overindulgence in recreational party activities which can bring head or body aches. As we grow older, we begin experiencing the loss of grandparents or parents which pain of loss reminds us of our own mortality.

In all these cases pain is the experience that teaches us and reminds us we are still alive and feeling. Without pain we would basically be zombies running around the planet without purpose or care...oblivious to the results of cause and effect as we make choices and pay the consequences of those choices.

Pain tells us when we have done something wrong. Pain warns us when we have stretched our physical limits beyond reason. Pain sometimes reveals to us how much we cared...often more than we consciously thought.

How we deal with or manage pain determines much of our success in this life. Some people get so caught up in their pain that they cannot think of anything beyond it while others run full blast through their literal or figurative pain as if it was not there. It is always admirable to us when we observe someone persevere or thrive on their pain. We have all witnessed the miraculous comeback of a sports figure who somehow plays and excels while injured...while others quickly crumble and give in to the pain as a debilitator. Some of us have a higher threshold than others when it comes to pain. It has been my observation...and experience...that when we decide to or are pressed to...we can accomplish a lot even during injurious periods of our lives. As the old saying goes..."mind over matter" sometimes works. Sometimes pain is a motivator...whether that is to succeed or to sometimes "get even".

Overall, pain is a good thing as long as we don't ignore it or allow it undo control in our lives. Usually we need to do something in reaction to pain. We have to rest or rehabilitate a body part that may be over-stressed by our activities. If we have a cough or unusual aches in our bodies, it is often a sign that it is time to see a doctor and find out what is wrong with us. We may need to give up some of our bad habits to escape pain.

When it comes to painful relationships, it is often times more difficult to be rationale or understanding about what is causing the pain. Sometimes we have unreasonable expectations of other people...holding them to standards they can never maintain. Other times we feel pain when someone we are attracted to do not reciprocate our interest. Like that blues ballad..."I can't make you love me if you don't...You cant make your heart feel something it won't"...

One could argue that a life without pain would be tremendously vacuous. Many sayings such as "no pain, no gain" support the concept that we cannot get ahead in life or relationships without taking risks. It is painful to lose money you risked in a business or investment. It is also painful to end up with nothing out of a relationship that you invested years in. While pain of loss in either sentiment is no can be very instructive as to what we should NOT do again. As long as we learn from pain and not let it overcome us, we will grow from it. Pain can be GOOD!

If we begin to understand and embrace pain as our lifelong instructor, we can then begin to push our boundaries either self imposed or imposed by others and push through the pain to self understanding and enlightenment. It is good to know our limits...and we will never know them until we push them and pain tells us where we are at. We will never know love or passion to any great extent until we have been through a number of relationships that helped advise us who was compatible and who was not. Some of us are gluttons for punishment, putting ourselves in the same situations or relationships time and time again. I guess that is one way of dealing with pain...but I might suggest that pain should not be a CONSTANT condition in life. There comes a time where you settle for your limits or put borders up against certain people or experiences in the future. Pain is often a choice.

After my last blog about "Losing Hope", I was instructed by a couple different people that many depressed people who are in pain have nothing to do with it. It seems to be hereditary in many cases and for some only controlled by pharmaceuticals. I accept this as fact, yet I still continue to believe in the minds potential to learn how to channel these emotions and control them to a certain extent. The pain is there...but the more we share it and try to understand it...the better chance I believe we have of dealing with and categorizing the pain. The sooner we recognize it for what it is...the sooner we can let pain do positive things for us...just as long as we don't totally succumb to an ideology that pain will always be with us...or also the opposite...that we should avoid pain at all costs. Both of those concepts can tremendously limit us in this life.

When one understands pain, one begins to understand people's escape into alcohol, food, drugs, sex and other such activities. While these habits can be addictive, I think many find those experiences to be the only way to get temporary relief...from their pain. I find it amazing how our institutions want to put people in jail...for simply trying to escape their painful realities. It is a travesty that our modern day institutional and even religious morality is to criminalize hurting people versus helping them. Sometimes its good to take a break from pain. moderation...I recommend we eat, drink and be merry. After all...its only PAIN!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Losing Hope

I have had a couple friends over the years end their own lives at a fairly early stage in life. I have had other friends that have expressed that they went through periods...or periodically think about... ending their lives at their own discretion.

Decades ago I read some psychology books on suicide...cause and to handle signs when you see them. I think I have forgotten some of the crucial points learned back then...but having dealt with my share of death this past year within my family and friends, I realize it is probably important to get back in touch with this subject and how I feel about it.

Many people who contemplate suicide are people who are terminally ill, or terminally depressed. I guess many people in our world fight depression all their lives. Many people are "manic depressive", more commonly now known as "bipolar disorder". I have met a number of these people throughout my life. Some of them you will never recognize their struggles unless you spend a long period of time with them. Some of these people are on what I call "happy pills"...pharmaceuticals that alter the state of the mind...chemical adjustment is how I see it. While it can be amazing to see the affect of such drugs and treatment, one still has to wonder what the origin of this condition is and if it can be treated by pure "will power" and reason. I'm sure it is easier to suggest it than to do it...but somehow I still believe we have a choice over time how our mind works and what we focus on. Some of us have more strength and predetermination to fight depression or negative thinking than others. Still, I have to believe it starts at early stages in our lives of how we were brought up to think about ourselves and the world around us.

There are also probably multi-generational attributes that contribute to causing imbalanced thinking that leads to imbalanced emotions. My experience is that thought leads to emotions versus the other way theoretically we should be able to control our emotions...and actions stemming from emotions...if we have enough mind power and discipline to do so.

Of course, the other wild card when we observe these traits in others is that we often don't know their backgrounds or how they were raised. While we tend to be quick to criticize or down people with depression or mental theory has always been that we have no right to judge these people in light of the fact we haven't walked in their shoes or been through the things they have been through. And at the end of the day, one can never totally know another person's emotional content apart from that which they are willing to share with us. Some people are very outwardly bi-polar while others hide it a bit more effectively. Still...I would suggest it is much more prevalent than most of us are willing to admit.

There are a number of options to us on how we can handle people in our lives who are depressive...or even suicidal. Here are just a few options to consider...and all have their reasonable pros and cons...

Ignore it and it/they will go away...we can elect to ignore and distance ourselves from people who exhibit frequent depression or mood swings. This is probably the "safest" route if we want to insulate ourselves from dealing with the fallout from these relationships...fights, arguments, irrational conversations, or ultimately dealing with their early departure from our lives.

I'm OK, You're OK...I read a book by that title in the 70s...and basically it encouraged us to view each other as humans and deal with each other in a "transactional" sense. This approach helps us understand each other based on perceived roles within ourselves of parent, child and other traits that never leave us even as we age. Some people never escape childish reactions to life. Many of us continue to sulk or withdraw like a child when things don't go our way. Unfortunately, this can lead to extreme self destructive, anti social behaviors that can cause much duress in this life. Sometimes we may need to continue dealing with the "child" within all of us.

I SUCK, you SUCK...this was George Carlins parody spiel on the same theme. Basically his mode of thinking is that we are all ****ed up in one fashion or another. A majority of people are NOT in control of their own destinies... but maybe...just maybe...the people who end their lives at their own time and way are actually the most brave and strong...even in their weakness. I do think that people who take their end into their own hands are saying something to the rest of us. Basically, I always read it as I have had enough of you...or "I don't care anymore". The "I don't care" starts with self...and then transfers to others.

All in all, I think it extremely sad when someone takes their own life. With a terminal disease, I can definitely understand and accept the persons decision. When it is simply based on loss of hope, well, I actually feel disappointment and anger at the person.

I recently lost a friend who was younger than me who finally submitted to and ended his depression drastically. I had seen SOME signs that he was stressed and a bit out of sorts with a number of circumstances in his life, but I had no idea he was up to what he did. Upon hearing the sad news, I was at first shocked, then sad, and at the end...even at his funeral...angry with him that he would do this. His wife and family apparently had no forewarning of his intentions. This person was in my opinion an attractive man, wonderful personality, liked by everyone I knew in common with him. Yet, apparently he was struggling with some quiet demons and in the end lost all hope of overcoming them.

It appears a classic example of suicidal people. Those who TALK about doing it probably won't. Those who quietly contemplate or secretly fantasize about doing it are the most likely to follow through. Of course, he no longer has to care or worry about what I or anyone else thinks or feels about it. I don't think he believed in a "beyond", so I don't think he had any illusions or fantasies about some life "on the other side". The way I read it is he preferred the nothingness or mystery of death over the challenges, pains and pressures of the life he knew. Even with the people closest to us, we never quite know for sure what they are thinking or feeling sometimes. Perhaps we never know when a positive or good word...even a gesture or a hug...might bring renewed meaning and hope to someone near to us. If it would be that simple, I would be glad to hug my friend for hours or days if it were to be enough to see him through whatever dark storm he was going through. But alas, he never asked me for help or a hug...and I never thought to offer it.

Ultimately, I think life is about maintaining faith and hope in a positive future. I think it is about hoping and believing in the best of people versus always looking at their dark side or weaknesses. And finally, it is about staying true to ourselves so that we never lose our self definition of goodness and positiveness that can better get us through those sometimes "dark nights".

I am glad my friend is no longer suffering...but I am still angry at the waste when I think of all the joy and meaning he brought to his friends and family...which will be no longer.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Writing our own story...

Not all of us are writers or storytellers...but all of us are living a "story" in the fabric of our daily lives and decisions. The question remains whether we are living our own story, or someone else version of OUR story.

I have been reading "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller in which the author describes his journey of reinventing himself by writing his own story through more imaginative self-inspection or analysis. He effectively describes in the book how he becomes more responsible and effective in managing his life and keeping perspective after discovering the ability to write and imagine his own story through daily life decisions and gaining perspective.

As usual, a book such as this challenges or confirms some of my own experiences in life. In a discussion with some friends yesterday, it was interesting to discuss how our lives are affected by our reactions or interactions with others. Some of us choose to live somewhat hermetical lifestyles while others live to mix it up or even compete with the people around us. Some of us compete for attention, some for accolades or praise, and some just feel an innate need to lead and influence. Many are never in touch with what makes them tick in the social order of things, but most of us have a few guesses as to what type we are and why.

Most stories, or "dramas", involve putting ourselves in extreme situations of decision, anguish or challenge. Most good stories involve elements of risk and danger. While most stories end happily in the library, we know that in real life most do NOT. At the same time, most normal people aspire to some level of higher success or affect in the world they live in and realize that it involves taking risks and "roads less traveled" to live a good story.

I have been saying in various ways over the life of this blog that I think the level we reach in life is directly proportionate to our combined efforts and our potential. Some of us are OVER achievers...going far beyond what anyone ever expected us to amount to. On the other hand, most of us live with a constant sense of remorse or disappointment with our status in life, regrets over loves or fortunes lost, and having lost any sense of zeal for changing our lives as they exist. It is much easier to make excuses or place blame than to push on towards the dreams and ambitions we have had for ourselves.

The bottom line on this theme for me is in the hands of each of us to continue writing and changing the story of our lives per the script that we envision or desire. We can either go on living according to the script OTHERS have formulated or convinced us to play within...or we can start writing and living our own "screenplay" of life.

The power of words...whether spoken or written...are that they can move others and/or ourselves to focus on change or the ideas that will bring change. If we never think or speak to each other about our dreams or ambitions, it is highly unlikely we will ever achieve them. Speaking or writing it, believing in what we said or wrote, and then acting on those ideas are key to making the most of ourselves in our relatively short existence.

I believe it is possible for us to influence or control the conversations we have in life. We can choose to spend all our time with fools...or we can pursue and seek those with active brains and ambitions that match or exceed ours. We can go into conversations with an agenda of our own, or simply follow along the often vain and empty conversations of others. I think influential people tend to pick and choose their conversations carefully...and usually lead versus follow in those conversations. THEY are writing the story...and bringing other characters into their story for their own purposes and reasons. There is a certain art to this kind of living.

It is for each of us to examine our potentials...then realistically plan and take action to reach the goals we have in life. It is a beautiful thing that these goals and ideals can be as different as the individuality we each possess. The saddest observation to me is when you see someone who was a great "writer" give up and quit writing or pushing. These people are already as dead and useless to this world as those already on the other side. Their obituary has already been written.

Epilogue...from "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years"...

...regardless how passionate the Utopianists are, I simply don't believe utopia is going to happen. I don't believe we are going to be rescued. I don't believe an act of man will make things on earth perfect, and I don't believe God will intervene before I die. or for that matter before you die. I believe instead, we will go on longing for a resolution that will not come, not within life as we know it, anyway.