Present Tense

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Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

Today’s featured song is “Present Tense,” by Radiohead on their album, A Moon Shaped Pool.

 

 

Do you ever feel like your life is like a dream? I don’t mean like Cinderella or some fairy tale crap, but just the mundane of everyday life cut up into oddly pieced snippets then spliced back together like an artsy foreign film? You can’t quite figure out if you are awake or if every day is just a blur of actions and reactions, then something happens.

 

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference—It is a numbness that takes over sometimes when we do the same routine over and over. Sometimes it can be when we see great things happen to other people and not us. Or worse yet, when bad things happen to us or people we care about.
It doesn’t have to be so bad, but lately I have been indulging in ennui. Maybe because I have been so busy with the everyday, I forget to dream about something interesting? Or maybe it’s because I’ve been sick with a cold this week, I don’t feel like doing anything.

 

Sometimes we need to slow down. Maybe we can bathe in the present tense? Soak our fingers until we are pruning with the day-to-day reality, which is our lives?

 
Let us not be too real. Let’s pretend for a bit.

 
If I look at my life, I see that I am underpaid immensely for my qualifications and education. Right now, I am a substitute teacher in the day and teach college courses at night. I don’t make a lot of money, but I am happier than I was with my “dream job,” which turned into a nightmare. The students I encounter when subbing were kids I knew from last year when I taught at their school. They tell me often that they wish I would be their teacher and can’t figure out why I wasn’t hired to teach at their school. After hearing it so many times, I started taking it more seriously, though I can’t fight the political machine and win every time. I can’t dwell on what isn’t.

 

A lot of us have been there.

 
My love life was on life support recently, and then I pulled the plug. I was seeing someone off and on, who is considerably younger than me. There are no harsh feelings—I would rather just be honest with myself and realize there is no hope of it going anywhere.

 
End scene.

 
This may sound like I am depressed, but I am okay with everything. People may think happiness is a constant, an object, that you have no control over, like winning the lottery. You may be lucky or you are not and there is nothing you can do about it.

 

I beg to differ.

 
I have been reading lately, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which is the novel that inspired the film, Blade Runner. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the novel, the main character, Rick Deckard is obsessed with obtaining a living animal (because animals have died due to the aftermath of a World War). Living animals are a status symbol to possess, because they are obviously so rare and cost exorbitant amounts of money. He thought if he bought a living animal, life would be so much better. It reminds me of the old adage, “money can’t buy happiness.”

 
The problem with this is not necessarily that money can’t buy you happiness, but happiness is not a tangible object or concept. We place demands on ourselves everyday: “If only I had that house or great job,” “If only I lived somewhere else,” or “If only I were married.” When we place these contingencies on ourselves, we make ourselves miserable—there will always be another contingency to replace the one that is resolved. If you place contingencies on yourself, practice reframing them into reasonable goals. If it sounds ridiculous, then it is not worth thinking about. These are reasons why I have to live in the present as to prevent myself from feeling sad or disappointment. If I start placing contingencies on myself, I will dwell in failure of a future that may never be.

 
There are ways to live in the present, but you have to be willing to try:



1. Leave the house and do something different.
You don’t have to go skydiving, another country, or a concert all of the time to be happy. The problem with indulging with social media is that we compare ourselves to others. We see their smiling faces with a bunch of their equally interesting friends doing amazing things, while we are sitting in our hypothetical (or real) Snuggies. We don’t have to be out living life the fullest every night or every weekend to be fulfilled, but maybe try something new. Travel to a nearby place you haven’t been. Do something nice for others and throw a little get together. Ask people to bring food and/or drinks if you can’t afford it. Break up your routine instead of feeling sorry for yourself after another night of Netflix and Ben and Jerry’s bingeing. Even if you are with your significant other, life gets boring when you are always locked into a bubble.

2. Find something to distract yourself.
Need to clean that closet in your house? Repair your leaking faucet? Get a paper done? Just do it already and get it over with. You will feel so much better knowing it is done and when something exciting comes your way, you will be able to join in the adventure, whether you have saved your money, time, or both. If you don’t feel like being productive or doing something you don’t want to do, write a song, read a book, paint something, or go on an adventure and take photos. If you can’t do those things at the moment or it’s more of a thought process that’s holding you back, change your mind.

In Cognitive Behavior Therapy, there are techniques which help you control your racing thoughts. If I continue to have anxiety producing thoughts, I will “thought replace,” which I will shift my attention to something else silly or something productive in order not to think negatively. Thankfully, I have an active imagination, so I will try to think of something funny or random (kind of like an inner improv). Additionally, I have been practicing meditation lately, which there is a method you can try, which is called “Noting.” Noting is not necessarily changing your thoughts, but “noting” that you have these negative thoughts and that’s okay. You can start noting when you have negative thoughts, what situations they occur, and so forth just as you would with “thought replacing.”

3. Make Small Goals for Yourself
Along the lines of distracting yourself, make small goals instead of larger ones. Break your goals into chunks. What do you want out of life? Is it manageable? Can you try to make it happen? I have wanted to be a novelist since I was eight years old, but sometimes if I think about writing a novel, the process sounds daunting and impossible. If I break it down into small parts, like thinking about what kind of characters I want to develop, or what generally I would like it to be about, it makes things easier to process. Certain goals take time, possibly years or a lifetime. It takes us a while to get a degree or start a family. We don’t just obtain what we want overnight, typically. If you want to break it down further, maybe something like you adulted this week by working a bunch of overtime, so you buy something nice for yourself. Whatever your goals, you can achieve them in small parts, which add up to a bigger picture.

4. Don’t make concrete plans for the future.
When I say this, I am not referring to putting money in a retirement fund or making any attainable plans for the future (e.g. getting married, having kids). What I am referring to is to not be so rigid in your plans. Life changes and so do our plans. Be prepared to make changes or to roll with them the best you can. Again, these can be typically the contingencies we create for ourselves: “If I do this, then I will be happy.” It doesn’t always work out that way. Most of the time, it doesn’t, but what you can do is dream. As Blondie says “dreaming is free.”

5. Lastly, Dream, Dream, Dream.
The fun thing about dreaming is that it doesn’t have to be taken seriously. When I was younger, I lived in a world much like Doug Funnie, which I would imagine exaggerated situations and write about them, good and bad. 99 percent of the time these fantasies never happened, but the reality of it though is that I never worried as a kid that “my dreams won’t be realized” or that they had to be. The point was just to let my mind float and sometimes use it to cope with stress. As adults, I think we sometimes forget it’s okay to not worry about actualizing everything we dream about. When I find the dream is not fulfilling or in some cases, becoming harmful, I dream of something else and deal with that negativity in my life, typically by expelling it. For example, I would catch myself daydreaming thinking things would work out in some way with the person mentioned above. In reality, it didn’t “have to” work out, but some part of me wanted it to. When I realized it never would, it wasn’t fun anymore to dream about it. And if something keeps coming back to you, like my dream of being a novelist, maybe it’s time to make that dream into a reality or change your dream.

I hope my advice has served you well in a pressing time of ennui. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy what life brings me on another unseasonably warm October, today.

Sincerely yours,

 

A. Dawn

If you would like to listen to our playlist, you can find it here and on Spotify:  <a href=”https://open.spotify.com/user/thirtythirdwheel/playlist/1AY3MCl1GDEPm7N5uWbBCU”>thirtythirdwheel</a&gt;

 

Loser

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Photo by Patrick McManaman on Unsplash

For your listening pleasure, today’s featured song is “Loser,” by Beck on the album, Mellow Gold.  Like my life, it makes no sense and all of the sense in the world.

 

Since I last wrote, my life has been…interesting. I sit pretty and somehow drama finds me: my boyfriend and friend tried to cheat on me, together. I saw spliced evidence (broken up pieces of Facebook messages, putting my friend in a good light). Or maybe they succeeded in cheating? Who knows?

Then, to quote The Big Lebowski, “New shit has come to light.”

And it keeps coming in waves of half-assed apologies and broken promises.

Needless to say they are no longer in my life. Though I am tempted to forgive my ex, I can’t forget what happened. As our blogger Vanessa Leigh encourages us to forgive, but forgiveness doesn’t make me feel any better. It actually makes me feel worse, like throwing up. I have been trying to make sense of our seemingly great relationship and where it went wrong. As for my friend, I should have listened to the crazy things people said about her. I think my problem was that I forgave too much.

How do we prevent ourselves from being manipulated?:

1. Stop putting too much faith in people.

In spite of sounding like a Negative Nancy (by the way, why are examples of alliteration referring to depression always about women?), I need to stop believing people can and will achieve their positive goals. As a former therapist and teacher, I have faith that people can learn and do anything, but a lot of times people just don’t care, have psychological concerns, or other roadblocks. People make New Year’s Resolutions constantly and how often do they actually go to the gym or stop cheating? Probably not often. I hear people complain about how their lives suck, yet they do nothing to fix it, if they can. There is research that says when people say they are going to do something, they are less likely to do it. For example, I somehow cursed myself by telling people repeatedly I was going to finish my masters degree (the first one). I eventually did, but it took twice as long as it probably should have, most likely because I found complacency in saying it was going to be finished. It’s one thing with students, which I can get to know their interests, reward them, motivate them, and hold them accountable. As for adults, we should not have to be their mommies and daddies, which we have to nag, find ways to give them gold stars, or treat them like they are children, because they won’t own up to being responsible. Yet we do this, because we care.  We have to remember there is a difference in being supportive versus being someone’s parent.

2. Hold people accountable and stay true to your values.

When someone you care about in your life is doing something detrimental to themselves or others (including yourself), we should hold them accountable. I am not saying fighting or throwing a tantrum helps (though we might feel better at first), but you can talk to whomever it is in a calm fashion. Sometimes it is hard not to get upset, but maybe save your concerns for a later conversation: write it down. Or if you can control your mood at the moment, try to tell them right away. If we wait until later, the person might not understand or forget what they did, like punishing a toddler hours after you caught them drawing all over the walls. A lot of times, people are not even aware of what they are doing and why they are doing it.

What you can also do is set contingencies or ultimatums for serious infractions, such as saying something like “If we both don’t get the jobs we want, we can’t get married” (that was not my contingency by the way). Unfortunately, people may use their lack of accomplishing goals or fixing their flaws as an excuse why they can’t progress in a relationship or as a person. If you find yourself constantly making ultimatums, something is wrong. You are reinforcing their behavior in not making progress if you keep letting it slide. If not, maybe your expectations are too high. That was my mistake—hoping for a change that was never going to happen.

3. Lower your expectations or raise them.

People who have depression tend to have higher expectations. High expectations are often unfulfilled, so this makes us more depressed. My problem with relationships was that I had too high expectations of them as a whole. I thought they were a lot more meaningful than they were, because “I feel deeply” or some nonsense like that. When things didn’t go right, I blamed myself (maybe I’m not pretty enough, maybe I am always sad because he says so). I had too high of expectations for myself (and I still do with good reason), but I had lower expectations for my significant other. It’s okay if they don’t have a full-time job and still live at home. It’s okay if they don’t change their behavior, because it’s ruining the relationship. Or is it? It’s okay to have high expectations of yourself and others as long as they are not too high. Though, when you allow crap, you get crap.

4. Start reading the signs and trust your intuition.

When I look back, there were signs everywhere smacking me in the face that my boyfriend was cheater material. He ogled women when we went out, compared me to other women (“you almost weren’t the best-looking woman in the bar tonight” is my favorite), flirted with my female friends, hovered over his phone while constantly texting (towards the end of our relationship), and ignored me when he was around certain people (probably good-looking women) in public. Instead of dumping him, I blamed myself or ignored his behavior. When I didn’t ignore it and brought it to his attention, he threw a tantrum. There would be long stretches where things were good and then it would just return to its unhappy state again. I would talk to people about it, and it would just fall flat, because “he seems like such a good person” or “it’s probably is not as bad you think.” I know people are trying to be positive when they say these things, but if you have a gut feeling something is wrong, address it.

5. Stop listening to terrible suggestions.

On that note, people often give terrible advice. They may have good intentions in mind or maybe not. If I talked to my friend (the one who screwed me over) about problems, she would give negatively geared advice and occasionally laugh, which was infuriating. Stay away from these people if you can. They are soul suckers and want nothing, but people to soak in their misery with them. Even if they are not trying to ruin your life, people’s experiences don’t necessarily resonate with everything you are going through. If you are finding no solace in talking to others, even therapists (there are some awful ones out there), follow step #4.

6. Stop taking everything personal.

I know I am not a special snowflake. I am not the most beautiful woman in the world, the most understanding, intelligent, or charming every moment. We are what we are. We get moody, sad, angry, envious, or illogical. As long as those feelings are infrequent, we can focus on being positive. After every relationship I had, I learned a lesson. My ex was a kind person a lot of the times, but there were major flaws that he did not fix. I was so glad to find someone that I thought was my friend and demonstrated such kindness, except for when he didn’t. As time progressed, the kindness faded, and the negative behavior emerged more often. Few incidences became more of a regular practice. After the fact, he told me he “got scared” and felt he was holding me back. I knew some things were my fault (I ignored the signs sometimes, didn’t hold him accountable enough or emphasize the importance of my values, and was too patient and understanding), but I believe I had good intentions. It is not my fault that he is the type of person who decided to avoid responsibility and owning up to the truth. Don’t be so hard on yourself when people act like assholes.

How do you deal with the aftermath?

Did you ever have a moment when you felt you were one with your universe? You are right in the moment, not thinking of anything at all? You are happy to be lucky enough to be where you are doing what you are doing with other people? You feel you are star among billions of other stars, but that is okay? Did you ever feel that way without copious amounts of alcohol or drugs? This is an exercise of mindfulness—being aware in the moment without thinking of anything else.

These moments are few, but have been increasing over the years. I care a lot less what people think, I have a lot less expectations than I used to have as to what I “should be doing” and what my life should be. I feel we could bring about these moments by not dwelling on what people have done to us. I will leave you with this piece of advice:

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Rick and Morty memes

Yours truly,

 

A. Dawn

If you’d like to listen to our playlist, you can find it here:

Intro: Spin Me Round, Ennui

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Photo by Lee Campbell on Unsplash

“Spin Me Round, Ennui” is a quasi self-help column that covers everyday topics with the addition of a “soundtrack.”  I believe music is healing:  it gets you through tough times, entertains you on long car rides up and down the East Coast, inspires you to create stories, puts your baby (or fur baby) to sleep, makes you dance, fills the awkward silence…and ennui—is the feeling of going in circles, without purpose. Maybe that’s okay?  If we’re not going anywhere, we may as enjoy where we are and hit “Shuffle Play.”

If you would like to suggest topics and/or music, e-mail A.Dawn at: adawnpica.ttw@gmail.com or find us on Spotify at: thirtythirdwheel