Archive for December, 2008

Self-Esteem

People everywhere in this country are struggling with high self-esteem and inflated egoism. Overconfidence and strong self-regard run rampant. Sadly, there is a paucity of research and information from our psychologists and physicians to address this problem.

Granted, I do not have an official “medical degree” from an accredited university, but I have long suffered from what society has casually labeled a “disease” or “disorder.” As if suffering from high self-regard isn’t painful enough, I now must deal with the stigma associated with having an illness, and a mental illness at that.

Nonetheless, if I can use my experience living with this atrocious condition to help others in some small way, I may feel a minute measure of existential relief, like my existence is worth something in this cold, hard world.

One effective method for knocking down one’s ego a few notches is to peruse fashion or health magazines. Women, look through the pages of beauty magazines at the flawless, taut skin of the models. Admire their perfect (albeit airbrushed) physique and skin, the shininess of their lips, the sparkle in their eyes, and meditate on how far you fall short. Really stop to consider how dull your eyes and flesh look, how flabby your stomach feels, how jiggly your thighs are. Men, examine the musculature of the burly males in the fitness mags and spend time pontificating on the puniness of your own pectorals in comparison. Remind yourself that you can never, ever look like the models that grace the glossy pages because you are unattractive and do not have what it takes.

Another inexpensive method (you may already have the supplies at home!) for lowering your self-image is to gaze into one of those vanity mirrors that magnifies your reflection 2x. Why stop there! The higher the magnification and the brighter the lighting, the more effective this technique will be. Carefully scan for every blemish, mark, stray hair, and pimple that you can find. Tweeze and pluck, pick and pinch until you start to understand how ugly and flawed your skin really is.

Never underestimate the power of the mind. Try being honest with yourself. When you start to have confident, assured thoughts, immediately stop and tell yourself in a firm voice (aloud if you like) that you are ugly and worthless. This type of “thought-stopping” may feel awkward at first, but once you get in the habit of countering your irrational thinking, this technique will seem natural and you will wonder how you ever lived without it.

Your friends and co-workers can be an enormous source of toxicity as you struggle with this issue. When your friends are supportive and encouraging, refuse to listen to their nonsensically affirming feedback. When your co-workers advocate one of your ideas or compliment your new outfit, refuse to associate with them any further. Decline future meeting requests and business lunches on the grounds that they are being egocentric, mocking you in your difficult and very real struggle. It is important to surround yourself with people who will make you feel hopeless and helpless, folks who will undermine your happiness and belittle your successes. Choosing friends who are passive-aggressive and/or manipulative can really help you in your battle against high self-esteem.

Finally, physical activity is your enemy at a time like this. Any type of exercise in which you engage will cause your brain to release harmful endorphins that will make you feel happy and energetic. Eschew this type of behavior in favor of sitting on the couch watching TV. Watching television burns fewer calories hour-for-hour than sleeping, so try to stay awake. While you lounge around randomly clicking the selector, engorge yourself with foods that will make you feel lethargic and bloated. Choose foods that are processed and contain a high amount of salt and saturated fat. Select snacks with virtually no fiber or vitamin content. Eat plenty of refined sugar because it will cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash, and you will feel miserable.

Remember, you are not alone in your struggles. The first step in getting better is to admit you have a problem. Help is out there.

Winter Blues

Today is the shortest day of the year. Thank God because I am experiencing an inability to concentrate, low self-esteem, decreased appetite, and a loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities, and if I were able to look forward to anything, I would pleasurably anticipate the gradually increasing minutes of sunshine over the coming days and months. The winter solstice occurs at the instant when the Sun’s position in the sky is at its greatest angular distance on the other side of the equatorial plane from the observer’s hemisphere. In layman’s terms, by the time you are finished working, even if you have a cushy job in the school system where you get off work in the early afternoon, or perhaps you are off for the next two weeks altogether, it is already night time.

I refuse to admit I am depressed because of the stigma associated with depression in this society. Psychiatry looks at depression as a disease while some folks view it as a constructed state of mind that you can simply “snap out of.” Never mind the egregious use of a preposition at the end of a sentence or phrase, why would anyone choose to be depressed if shrugging it off were such a simple matter?

While we’re on the subject of our society and their harebrained views about what is normal, I’d like to opine on a strange yet popular Christmas custom. This custom entails polluting the environment, raising stress levels in the body, spending precious capital you don’t have because of the economy, exposing yourself to infection and disease, and ceaseless hours wasted racking your pea sized brain for ideas that will ultimately be foolish and temporal. I’m referring to the bizarre notion of Christmas shopping.

I protest consumerism. The pleasure of my company should be gift enough for my loved ones. Not to mention I am saving my precious friends and family from the germs I did not pick up from the coughing, sneezing rugrats at the mall, the pollution I did not create by driving around parking lots searching for the perfect slot, and the needless stress I did not create from fighting the crowds. Instead, when I encounter others, I feel fresh and rejeuvenated from the quiet time I spent reading edifying literature, the wisdom from which I can share jovially during the holidays (winter malaise notwithstanding).

Just thinking about shopping has produced a rapid heartbeat, perspiration, dizziness, trembling, and nausea. Physiological processes are much more socially acceptable than psychological dysfunction, so I refuse to admit that I am experiencing anxiety, again because of the stigma.

You can thank me later for saving you from that awkward moment when you’ve unwrapped my gift and now have to (1) act surprised, (2) pretend like the worthless crap in front of you is just what you needed, and (3) waste all day being fake and brainstorming ways to incorporate the gift into a useful venture.

Parent Trappings

When I was young, my main goal in life was to NOT be like my parents in any way, shape, or form. Everything they did got on my nerves, especially my mom’s pithy sayings like, “well, life’s not fair,” or “no, you can’t have dessert before dinner.” Bedtime at seven? Ludicrous! Let’s face it, parents are just weird and quirky, and they make no sense. They don’t understand anything about real life or about their children, never mind the shared genetic and environmental material.

In retrospect, my parents weren’t all bad.

One good thing about my mom was that she provided a lot of educational materials and puzzles for me as a young child. I read my first word at the age of three and was reading literature (well, children’s books) by age four. I attribute these accomplishments to my mom’s time reading to me every evening, as well as the provision of intellectually stimulating toys and games (if you could call such lofty items as a stethoscopes and chemistry sets toys!). Of course, if my parents had lobotomized me as a youngster, I would have fit in with normal society more seamlessly. Intelligence is a double-edged sword, kids.

Dad, you paid for glasses and braces, all the normal childhood vaccinations; why not toss in a little zap to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex?

Still, my mom was weirder and way more annoying than most moms. She was and still is very frugal about certain household items. For instance, plastic baggies and paper towels were rationed out cautiously, only after a four-page application and formal interview were approved. Paper towels, for instance, were absolutely not to be used to wipe up a spill. And if the paper towel was used for a minor issue, it was to be re-folded and placed next to the dispenser for re-use. If a fresh towel was utilized when a partially-used one was sitting right there, an egregious crime had been committed, subject to a lecture at the very least and probable doom.

Worse yet was her whole Gum Rationing Program. To even consider chewing a whole piece of gum was inexcusable. A half piece of gum at a time was not only sufficient but was more than generous.

My mom and I have very different personalities and communication styles. We have struggled to get along. In all seriousness, I never really felt loved by my mom. This fundamental relationship has affected every other friendship and relationship in my life, as well as my own identity and self-image. I carried around a lot of anger and resentment for many years. Depression and anxiety were staples of my existence.

After some false starts and unproductive talks sprinkled among long periods of avoidance and denial, our relationship came to an impasse last Christmas. I’ll spare the gory details, but suffice it to say that her behavior during the most depressing time of the year was a metaphor for our entire history of dysfunction. She really knows how to push my buttons. After all, she was the one who installed them in the first place. I then decided to cut her off for the better part of a year.

After this extended period of estrangement, she randomly showed up at my office one day, Christmas presents in tow (it was late summer by this point). With the power of the Holy Spirit working in both of our hearts, I spilled my guts to her that day in the hot shade of the parking lot. Only by the grace of God, she listened, and it was a profound day, as the anger and resentment have been completely removed from my heart.

We have been able to start afresh in our relationship. This reconciliation will pervade every other relationship and friendship I have.

As I write this, I ever-so-carefully tear a fresh stick of gum in half, placing one piece on my tongue as I carefully place the wrapped other half back in the pack. I just can’t stand to chew a whole stick of gum at once.

Sea of Swirly Twirly Gumdrops

As I motored up the hill in my unassuming suburban neighborhood on my way home after a long day at the office yesterday, a simple white-and-crimson sign caught my eye. Stuck in my neighbor’s lawn, looking like a pest-control advertisement, the placard guilelessly read, “Happy Birthday Jesus.” Inelegant yet frank, this sign captured my attention more than even the most outlandishly flashy displays that are so common in these affluent north metro Atlanta suburbs. And I had to wonder why this would be the case.

In our culture, there exists a perception that more is better. Supersize me. Indulge yourself. Small has become Tall and medium is Grande. The red-and-green season festooned with tinsel and garaland is a microcosm of our society’s tendency to excess. Houses flashing gaudily (I mean, “prettily”) with flashing lights in tri-color, six-foot candy canes flanking the driveway, and a plastic waving Santa Clause on the roof are so commonplace as to be unremarkable.

What do garland, candy, jingle bells, Douglas firs, and swirly twirly gumdrops have to do with Christmas?

The true reason for Christmas is the birth of Jesus, right? I mean, none of this chintzy hoopla would exist if God had not come to this planet in the form of a teeny baby who was born poor and persecuted even in his innocence. The birth of Jesus (as well as His subsequent death and resurrection thirty three years later) is the most significant and astounding event in the entire history of the universe. This little bundle of joy, complete with poopy diapers (that were not nearly as sophisticated as today’s bigger sized! dry-shield! expands-with-your-baby’s-breathing! diappies, although they were probably more environmentally friendly 2000 years ago) single-handedly saved the world from eternal damnation.

The word CHRIST-mas even contains His name!

Yet in our consumeristic overindulgent society, our Savior has been marginalized and nearly forgotten in favor of 800-watt synchronized twinkly bulbs and frolicking elves. So when I saw my neighbor’s modest sign, I was more breathless than I would have been gazing at the most elaborate and high-wattage holiday displays.