As many of you know, in January 2013 I transitioned this blog from a failed attempt to document my rise to cycling stardom to a tool for Internet accountability in my journey toward a happier life that hopefully still included some cycling success, even if stardom was pretty much off the table. A big part of this has been a commitment to being as honest as possible about what’s really going on in my life. The helpful thing about making my struggles public is that it forces me to process things in such a way that allows me to write something that is authentic but spun in a positive enough light that it hopefully doesn’t just come out as the rantings of a crazy person.
I put what I hope to be a realistic depiction of the internal and external work that I’ve been doing in a public place and hope that those who choose to read it do so out of support or at least neutral curiosity. For the most part, I have been surprised at the positive reaction that I have received, and I only know of one incident where someone used my words out-of-context in a malicious manner against me. It was a reminder to not get too comfortable in my writing, because not everyone reads with positive intentions, but overall I feel like the process has been helpful to me.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about when expressing negativity is useful and when it is not. An acquaintance on Facebook has also been doing his own sort of Internet accountability self-improvement project where he posts monthly updates about his progress in various areas, one of which is not engaging in negative posting. I never saw anything explaining the specific reason why this was one of the areas in which he wanted to improve, but I can definitely understand why one might decide to make such a goal for themselves. There’s plenty of research that shows that focusing on negativity only generates more of it.
So when deciding what to post about my life, I too have been trying to focus on the positive things of which I’ve had many in the past few months. I have a great relationship, a great job, and I live in a beautiful town with access to tons of great riding. However, I’m still struggling in many areas. In some ways, I feel like the depression that I was experiencing before I began this journey has come back in full force, but that I’m just better equipped to deal with it than I was before. Making all the changes didn’t fix the hole inside me; it only put me in an environment that is more conducive to healing.
Coming to that realization was disappointing, although not altogether surprising. I’m not sure at which point during the past two years I realized that fixing my circumstances wouldn’t fix me, but I kind of already knew it before I moved here. Now is the time at which I face the fact that my circumstances don’t cause my depression, my mind does.
That is where the problem with honesty versus negativity comes in. What I seem to be discovering these days is that the depression with which I’ve struggled since I was in kindergarten is essentially my mind defaulting to the most negative interpretation of almost every situation. I’m not sure if it’s my genes, my physiology, or just a coping strategy that I learned when I was too young to remember, but I do know now that it is such an essential part of my cognitive wiring that I didn’t even know it was happening until a few months ago. Until I made that realization, I took what my brain was telling me to be the truth, so honesty and negativity were often the same. However, I’ve learned that honesty and truth are not the same thing if the information my brain is giving me is incorrect, or at least incomplete.
In my previous worldview, there were basically three kinds of people: those that were lucky enough to have all the things they wanted and needed in life, those that were tough enough to get by without the things that they were missing, and weak people like me, who weren’t strong enough to tolerate their circumstances. As I got to know Frank and worked with my therapist back in Bloomington, I realized that there is in fact a category of people that are neither lucky nor tough. At least they are not lucky in the sense of having everything they want or need; they are lucky to have brains that don’t perceive unhappy feelings or circumstances to be as distressing as my brain does. It’s not that they have an incredible ability to HTFU; it’s that they just don’t need to do so that often because don’t spend their lives fighting the dragons in their own head and can save their reserve of toughness for actual crises.
Frank is one of these magical people, and most days it blows my mind. The thing is that, despite his recently acquired wizard status, it isn’t actually magic. He’s lucky in the fact that he was born with or at least grew up with healthy brain wiring, but supposedly even unhealthy brains like mine can be rewired if they are continually challenged with alternative versions of the negative “truth” that they like present. It’s not so easy as just “focusing on the positive”, because it’s hard to make yourself truly believe information that conflicts with what your brain is telling you, but I suppose that’s where one has to start. Living with a person like him helps, because he has a higher opinion of me than I do of myself. Rather than judging me as weak for having a harder time with everyday life than him, he is proud of me for doing my best, even when the dragons get the better of me.
I don’t want to gloss over the fact that I’m still struggling with depression by only telling you good things about my life, but at the same time I don’t want to feed the dragons by reporting their incomplete or inaccurate version of the truth. With that in mind I will continue to be as honest as I can in my posting, but I will strive to apply some more rigorous fact-checking to my reports.