Perfection is an Illusion


Today, I was thinking about a lesson from an art class I took once.  The professor asked us what color an apple was.  When we responded that it was red, she asked if a picture of a red apple looked realistic.  The answer, of course, was no.  An apple isn’t just red.  It’s black, yellow, brown, white, green, and probably many other colors.

When we say that an apple is red, we make a generalization.  Generalizations and categories make life easier for us.  If I said that this apple is black, brown, green, red, yellow, and white and that apple was black, brown, green, red, yellow, and white, they would sound like the same apple.  That’s why we say one apple is red and the another is green in order to distinguish them.

The problem is, that life doesn’t fit nicely into categories.  The world is a mushy, complex thing that doesn’t understand nor care about our crisp, clean categories.  That’s why a painting of a red apple doesn’t look realistic.  It’s a creation of our imagination.  There are no red apples.  Apples are more complex that that.

Perfection is like that apple.  Perfection is a creation of our imagination.  It is how things should  be.  It is something we create because it is easier to understand than reality.  But don’t mistake it for reality.  It is no different than that picture of a red apple.  It is a shadow of the truth.  It is false.  It lacks the complexity of life.

We are not the masters of the universe, only citizens: we don’t have the power to create perfection.

Stop trying to be so gosh darn perfect, it’s never going to happen.  You’re playing the game with the wrong set of rules!  Learn to appreciate complexity.  You are a combination of so many colors.  Study those colors, understand their complexity.  Then use them to make the beautiful picture you’ve always wanted.

Stop selling yourself short by trying to live up to your own illusion of perfection!


The Runaway Car: in Defense of Antidepressants

“You don’t need to be on antidepressants.”

The person who said this to me long ago had no idea how presumptuous it was.  He also didn’t know how dangerous such a statement could be.

There’s something people who don’t suffer from depression and anxiety (and some who do) need to know: we are very good at faking it.  If we were better at showing our true emotions in public, we’d likely not have problems in the first place.  We are terrified of people learning the truth, terrified that we’d lose control and lose that last semblance of respect that we possessed.

Many of us try to solve our problems on our own or even just surrender to the belief of hopelessness.  The second group lead a kind of living suicide; they are living, but there’s no life.  It takes great strength to expose ourselves to a health professional for therapy and, yes, for medications.

There is a great stigma in our society against therapy, especially drug therapy for depression and anxiety.  While some might benefit from this “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” approach to mental health, to those it doesn’t help, it only serves to push them further backwards.  Years ago, I would listen to these opinions and go off the medication. They would become some of the worst years of my life, fueled further by my sense of worthlessness and failure by not being able to live up to this ideal.

The truth is that I need medicine.  I take Effexor because my brain doesn’t process neurotransmitters correctly.  I also take Singulair because my lungs don’t function properly and Synthroid because my thyroid produces the wrong levels of hormones.  Does this make me a bad person?  Does this make me weak?

How ridiculous would it be for someone to tell me, “You don’t need Singulair, your lungs work just fine on their own.”?  Why do people feel it is acceptable to say that about my Effexor?

Let me use the analogy of a runaway car to show what medicine does for me.

Imagine there’s a car sitting idle on a slight slope. A gust of wind knocks something heavy that disengages the parking break and lands on the gas pedal. The car shoots off down the hill and you are unable to catch up to it.  You watch as it careens on, hoping it runs out of gas or hits something before someone gets hurt.

That’s what an emotional trigger was like for me when I wasn’t on medicine.  I was always a little on edge, but when a trigger came along, my panic center received a full burst of fuel and spun out of control.  I couldn’t do anything.  I was powerless until it ran its course.

Now, imagine the same car except there’s no fuel in the tank.  When the heavy object disengages the break, the car starts to roll, but slowly.  You’re now able to catch up to the car and park it properly.  No harm, no foul.

That’s what medicine does for me.  It drains the gas from my panic center and allows me to address the situation.  I’m still able to feel.  I’m still able to act, but now I have the ability to stop the runaway car.

That is where therapy comes in.  Therapy teaches me how to catch the car. Therapy conditions me so that I can respond quicker.  Eventually, therapy teaches me that I don’t have to leave the car in idle, that I can park it like normal people do.

Are there people taking antidepressants who don’t need them?  Sure, just like there are 20 year-olds who take Viagra just for that added effect.  Does that mean everyone does that? No, they just probably aren’t as vocal about such a private problem.

Take care of yourself.  Don’t let others’ ignorance stop you. Do what you need to do to get better, that is what is most important.

Breaking the Mountain: Achieving the Impossible

I’m staring at a mountain.  It’s huge, it’s in my way, and there’s no path around.  What am I going to do?

I need to lose 40lbs, preferably 60.

That’s the size of a standard poodle!

How am I ever going to get there?  It seems impossible.

Fortunately for me, I have done this before so I know that it is possible.  So it’s time for me to revisit the lessons I learned last time.

Last time, I didn’t understand that BMI was complete bunk and thought that I had to lose 100lbs.  (I would learn that I naturally have a large BMI and if I were to reach the “ideal,” I would look emaciated.) 100lbs was a very scary number. It stopped me in my tracks and I just couldn’t figure out how I would every achieve something like that.

Then, I took a deep breath and asked myself, “If I can’t lose 100lbs, what can I do?”

I know I can lose 5lbs.

So I did.  Then I lost 10.  Then 15.  Then 20.  Then 25.  I kept losing weight until I had lost 55lbs and learned that I didn’t even need to lose the full 100.  I had torn down that mountain bit by bit and discovered it wasn’t as big as I thought it was.

Setting smaller, more manageable goals makes any monumental task achievable.  Each achieved goal moves you closer to the end, boosts your confidence, and teaches you valuable lessons about the challenge in front of you.

I had a mantra I had used last time and still use when I feel overwhelmed:

Do what you can do. Then do it again. And again.  And again.  Do it enough, and you’ll find you could do the impossible all along.

Do something easy.  Do something positive. See where it takes you.  It could be the greatest achievement of your life.

The Black Prism

I’m sure everyone has come across this phenomenon in their lifetime: person A says something positive then person B acts like it was an insult.

“Have a nice day!”

-“She just can’t wait to get rid of me”

“That’s a nice dress!”

-“He thinks that I look fat.”

“You look pretty.”

-“She’s just being nice.”

What happened? What’s going on inside their head?

I like to blame something I call the Black Prism. Normal prisms produce pretty rainbows by causing different colors of light to pass through it at different speeds.  With black prisms, a similar process happens.  A comment enters the prism and gets bent and twisted by assumptions and a negative self image until it leaves mutated and only vaguely resembling the original statement.

Unfortunately, the product of a black prism isn’t something beautiful like a rainbow; it is a grotesque monster, distorted and downright hurtful to the person in possession of the prism.

The more rules, assumptions,  and filters we apply to the world, the more distorted the end result becomes.

I’ve been a victim of this prism for a very long time.  It is only recently that I have tried to remove it an attempt to see the world in the raw, unassuming truth that it is.

It saddens me to think of how many imaginary walls, how many imaginary insults I had created for myself.

“I can’t walk around the neighborhood, people will see me.”

People can see that I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t want me here.”

“I ate a whole bag of chips. I’ll never lose weight.  I’m worthless.”

This is yet another obstacle on my journey to weight loss that I must work on.  In order to forgive myself and move on, I must move past this prism and see that there was no need for forgiveness to begin with.  Too many of the sources of my shame in the world are of my own creation.

I deserve to be healthy.  I deserve to be happy.  Why? Because I am a human being.  These are basic human rights.

It was the black prism that made me think otherwise.

From now on I will question every negative reaction and ask “Is this the prism talking?”

Hopefully one day I will only have rainbows and not monsters.

Forgiving Myself

Not long ago, I stepped on the scale and saw something that I thought I’d never see again.  It was a number. A very meaningful number.  It once was a source of pride and now… now it is a dagger in the gut.

You see,  five and a half years ago, I stepped on a different scale and saw that same number.  11 months later, I had lost 55lbs.

Never again, I had thought.

But that would not be the case.

What happened?

I could give you a long explanation, but it comes down to grief, stress, anxiety, and anger.  Even more simply, negative emotions.

That’s what I do, and that’s what I think most of us do.  I eat for my emotions.  It’s like I’m pregnant and I’m eating for two.

“I’ll take a number 9 and add a milkshake for my stress baby please.”

The only problem is, I’m not going to lose the weight at 9 months.  It just hangs out and makes itself at home.

Food has this alluring quality of being something completely in my control and also able to make me feel good.  When I feel like terrible things are happening and there is nothing I can do about it, I buy a candy bar.  I know it’s bad for me, but I don’t care.  Actually, I do care, that’s why I eat it.  I’m saying that I get to choose to do this and no one can stop me.  The rebellion feels good, the chocolate feels good, and I feel good.  At least for the moment.

So here’s the question: how do you lose the weight that you gained from negative emotions when the weight itself is the source of a negative emotion (shame)?

That is where I am right now.  I know the answer to the question.  It’s pretty obvious.  Remove the negative emotion: forgive myself.

Forgiveness means having the freedom to move on.

It hasn’t always been so obvious to me.  I’ve been talking about losing weight for months but never seem to commit.  I was afraid.  Afraid that I’ll fall off the wagon again.

It has taken a long time for me to understand that the past can never change.  I will always have done what I did.  What can change is how I allow it to affect me.   Focusing on the negative has only caused me to be stuck in the same place.  I’ve chosen to instead turn it into a positive and try to learn from it.

My main weight loss goal for the present is to focus on ways of dealing with negative emotions other than overeating.

Keep an eye out for future posts where I review the self help books I’ve selected to help me with this goal.