On Fixing Yourself

I am currently fighting through the middle of what could be charitably called a "life transition".

Heh. That phrase doesn't include any swear words. The way I'd really like to put it is at least 99% vulgarity.

I'm attempting to "un-fuck" myself.

The term "un-fuck" is very, very important. It alludes to the fact that due to how I handled my life mentally and emotionally, I managed to extremely fuck up how I handle myself and by extension, the rest of the world. Yes, there were outside circumstances; biology, culture, how I was raised, etc. Those are external factors and they strongly influenced how I dealt with my brain and my emotions.

But the reality is I still made a choice (even if the choices available weren't awesome) and fucked myself in the head and the emotions.

Accepting that I MADE those choices and CREATED the mental and emotional structure that followed does not absolve those influences from responsibility. It just emphasizes the fact that if I MADE the choices and CREATED those internal structures, I can DESTROY and REPLACE those structures that leave me mentally and emotionally fucked up.

Therefore, the quest to un-fuck myself. Could use the word normalize, but that doesn't work. No one is "normal" and no person is completely the same as everyone else. I could use the term "sanity" but that's also nebulous and open to interpretation.

No, the answer is not to chase a nebulous concept, because you'll never get there. The answer is to chase something not nebulous; something definable. So the quest is not sanity; the quest is to eradicate every way in which I internally fuck myself over.

Problem is, I do that in so many, many ways.

* * *

In order to understand what I'm doing, I need to back up a bit and explain the surface issues.

I have ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactive disorder), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and an extremely high IQ (155 or so as of last testing).

ADHD is a congenital difference in the structure of the brain that leads to difficulty managing attention and focus    (look, a shiny!) combined with several other traits. It's structural, and chemical, and treatable. However, as of yet it's not curable. Let's not get into the concept of "curable", that pisses me off as much as "normal" does.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is what it sounds like; anxiety over EVERYTHING. It's basis is a mix of structural (some people are more prone), chemical (ditto), and learned behaviors.

High IQ, once thought to be unchanging and entirely structural, is a mix of structural differences in the brain and practice using those differences. You can decrease or increase your IQ through using or not using your brain, but some people have an easier time due to being born with the structures that make it easier. For example, the kid with a naturally high IQ whose parents encourage (or don't prohibit) reading at an early age will find using that IQ easier than the kid who had no access to books at an early age. However, the kid with no access can increase their tested IQ rather rapidly once they learn to read and manage access to books themselves.

Of that mix of traits/conditions/whatever, there's a mixture of what is fixed (structural differences in the brain), what can be influenced (chemicals, neural pathways), and what I can outright change (learned behaviors).

In order to understand how I've decided to attack these issues head-on, it's useful to review my personal reading and podcast listening for the last 6 months:

Your Life Can Be Better (a book on ADD)
Believe it or not, all of these intersect.

The Get-it-Done Guy Podcast is what got me into podcasts in a major way. It also taught me the many small ways in which I can improve life, 5 minutes at a time. That's when I discovered I keep my attention better while listening to other people speak, preferably about real things. That led me to the Accidental Creative, which speaks specifically about setting up life so you can be your most creative. More Attention, Less Deficit is of course about ADHD, but less about the WHY and more about the HOW. So is Your Life Can Be Better.

Uncertainty is quite possible one of the best books ever, as it explores how to take the natural anxiety created by creative work and turn it into something useful. The Happiness Project is about exploring creating, well, happiness. 

These concepts all together can be summed up in one phrase: you can make yourself improve your life by improving yourself first.

The real kicker though was reading (actually listening to) How to Control Your Anxiety Before it Controls You back to back with Stuff.

How to Control Your Anxiety is written by Albert Ellis, who is somewhat of a well-know fixture of the psychiatric community. He is a psychiatrist who developed his own form of therapy for anxiety in order to treat himself for the condition. He came up with Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT.

REBT is based on the theory that most unrealistic anxiety is caused by what Ellis calls "irrational beliefs" and therefore most anxiety can be treated or eradicated completely by replacing irrational beliefs with rational beliefs. Unlike most anxiety treatments that focus on "why" (tell me about your mother), REBT focuses on "how" the anxiety is triggered and treats the anxiety directly.

So directly after How to Control Your Anxiety, I listened to Stuff.

Oh boy.

I'm not a hoarder, but I do have hoarding tendencies I fight with on a continual basis. Stuff is full of the extreme examples of hoarding but unlike other books of its kind, it focuses on how the hoarders talk about their hoarding and respond to their hoarding. In that way, it does focus on "why" but it also uncovers the beliefs the hoarders have about their possessions.

Light bulb.

Here they were, a whole bunch of examples of people being fucked up by irrational beliefs, all laid out in a row for me to ponder. Some of the beliefs sounded REALLY familiar.

So the intersection of all of these things looks something like this:
Irrational beliefs needing to be replaced by rational beliefs +
Strategies for dealing with anxiety +
Strategies for dealing with ADHD + 
Strategies for increasing creative energy and controlling mindset +
Concept of creating own happiness +
Look how badly you can fuck up your life with your beliefs
= maybe I can change those things in my life that make me miserable by changing myself first

Thus, the un-fucking project.

WHY versus HOW

I'd been focusing way too much on WHY things were the way they were. Knowing why is very important; in fact most therapy focuses on why.

I'd really, really tapped WHY and had run out of its usefulness.

REBT's method is very simple:
1. Identify the situations that make you anxious
ex: public speaking
2. Identify the thought or belief that leads to the anxiety
ex: oh God I have to do this speech perfectly or they'll laugh at me and I'll be so embarrassed
3. Identify a rational belief that would better serve you and not make you as anxious
ex: I'd like to do this speech perfectly but it I don't I can handle the criticism and its no big deal
4. Replace the irrational belief with the rational belief through several methods

One of these methods is the dispute, where you show the irrational belief to be false on a logical and empirical basis, and detrimental on a utility basis.

Ah, utility. My new best friend.

Nothing, nothing has been more eye-opening than looking at my beliefs and behavior through the lens of utility. Is it useful? Does it help me or make things more difficult? Fuck right or wrong, does this FUCK ME UP?

Thus, the concept of un-fucking my mental and emotional processes. Not trying to "fix" me based on a standard. Not trying to reach "sanity" or "normal". Just am I helping myself or getting in my own way?

And if whatever I am doing doesn't work, what am I going to do instead?

* * *

So this has been my transition. Every time I come across a snag in my behavior that causes me issues, I chase that bitch down. Sometimes it's as simple as "I thought this would work better than it did. Oh well, let's look at what went wrong, why it went wrong, and develop another method".

Sometimes things don't work because I'm trying someone else's method and my mind doesn't work that way. Then I look at what the method attempts to accomplish then find another way to get to the endpoint that works for me. That means accepting the parts of my brain that I can't change and finding a way to deal. This is where understanding the creative process helps, because I'm constantly creating ways to do things that work for me.

Sometimes it's an anxiety or a bad reaction due to internal programming (once again something I did myself, therefore I can UNDO) so I chase the programming down and either replace it or toss it completely.

I've done my best to keep track. I've got tons of disputes saved on my computer. I'm trying to keep track of my work process and analyze it for what works. I'm doing my best to fix issues as they pop up. I've even created a subliminal message track on my phone (recorded by me and played at barely audible levels) in order to implant my new rational beliefs in my head (preceded by the all-important "I discard my faulty and limited framework and embrace my open and clear mind". No conflicting messages thankyouverymuch).

All of this is working. It's working to various degrees, but it's working.

I did not properly prepare myself for how much it would suck.

Why do people keep irrational beliefs and fucked up mental and emotional frameworks to begin with? Easy.

They get to be right.

Every time the self-fulfilling prophecy gets fulfilled, you get to feel justified. Whenever something is fucked up "because you're a bad person and deserve it", you get the warm feeling of being right and understanding the world. Yes, it's fucked up. It's still self-reinforcing and gives the brain a feeling of understanding the world.

Take that away, and you're adrift. There's not enough evidence to rebuild your understanding of reality (since reality actually exists somewhere other than your head now) and you no longer spend all your time being right. You now see all of the possibilities you blinded yourself to before, but now that you're not emotionally invested in how horrible or awesome you are you can see yourself for who you are. Now that you understand your every thought and action doesn't fundamentally change reality, you have to face your lack of control over the world.

Who you are right now is someone who is learning just what you are capable of, and just how far you've got to go until your competence reaches your capability and your ambitions.

Accepting that you can change your thoughts and behaviors, deal with the parts of you that won't change, influence the parts you can influence, and outright change the parts you can change, you hit a wall of realization.

There is so much you can do to improve, so much room to improve, and you are an absolute newbie with no experience.  You grasp that you can understand e=mc2, but first you need to learn to add and subtract.

That's where I am at this moment. The initial boost of understanding I can change all of these things has worn off and now I see just how much work there is to do before I see the huge gains I desperately want to see.

I'm eyeing the 200 lbs on the weight rack and knowing I can get there, but right now the 20 lbs I'm lifting is making me sore. Intellectually I know I'm doing the right thing but without the immediate reinforcement of success I need to force myself through every step.

So I've needed to rejigger my expectations and my milestones. 200 lbs is still my goal, but I've set interim goals at 30, 40, 50 and on up. I need my way-points, I need my encouragement to get over the fact that I'm sore and discouraged.

Plans are a constant part of life. I need to pull out and review my goals and processes and plans on a continual basis to remind myself why I'm working so hard and what my end goal looks like and why it will be awesome once I get there.

I'll get there. Maybe not immediately, but I'll get there.

I know this for sure: no matter how bad I feel right now, getting through this process will end much better than spending one more day gripped by depression and anxiety.

I can make my life better by starting with me.

P.S. As an aside, my dear husband is a fucking saint for putting up with this entire process, not trying to interject himself into the process, and praising my small accomplishments when he sees them. Thank you love.


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