Monday, September 28, 2015

The Years Things Might Not Get Better for Me

The post before last, I informed you all (read: maybe like three people, total) of my lofty goals for my thirty-first years. The list, which you can easily go back and see, included goals of varying kinds: personal, professional (though none specifically related to my current job, except for keeping my desk cleaner), health and fitness-related, and a few interpersonal/familial/world-at-large kinds of things, for good measure.

There's a lot I can say to update you all (read: a handful of semi-interested Facebook friends) as to how it's been going. Some things I've made considerable progress on:

  • Of the 3,000 pieces of liter I vowed to pick up, I have currently finished 1,357. (Cigarette butts count as 1/2 or a 1/3, depending on how many times I have to bend down for them)
  • I did a very thorough cleaning of my car, and since then, though it has gotten dirty again with a quickness that I think anyone would have to agree was impressive, I've kept up with some basic cleaning to the extent that it hasn't gotten nearly as bad, therefore, I think, earning the title of "cleaner-ish" so far.
  • In taking the first step of improving my credit score, which was getting my credit score, I realized that somewhere in the last ten years, I had already mostly accomplished what I set out to do this year: I now once again have good credit! I have thusly decided that, while there is room for improvement, I will be shooting to improve it by something close to 35 points, as opposed to 75.
  • I have been running quite a bit in my training for a 5k, and I can now definitively say that I can run quite a bit farther now without stopping than I ever have been before. Or...could before I got this cold. It's been maybe a week. I feel like I shouldn't be too hard on myself. I got a cold.

There are also things I haven't even started yet:

  • "Switch to capsule wardrobe." Ugh. I guess I sort of started this. It didn't go well. You're supposed to do it seasonally and summer was half over already. The goal is to start in October with my "fall capsule." Wish my luck. My closet is a wreck. I'm half-expecting to find some Korean aircraft in there.
  • "Learn Six Dance Songs Well." Oh boy. Yeah. On top of all my extra writing, running, cleaning and litter-picking-up-ing, I definitely have time to get my groove back. Thanks, July Linda. I'm sure I'll really enjoy your funky, spunky playfulness come April, when I've gotten through enough of these REAL goals to even start thinking about this. (Okay, this is judgmental. I get what you're trying to do here. It's about fitness and developing skill with a fun-loving, self-confident twist. But like...seriously. Maybe when it's too cold outside to run.)
  • "Read Le Petit Prince in French" - Well. I got the book out of my parent's basement. Seriously, it's on the coffee table right in front of me., I haven't been working on French. Which was clearly the point of this goal, to be a quantifiable measure of my having improved my french skills. Le soon.

Obviously, that brief overview didn't hit on all, or even most, of my goals. There is a lot more to say, but, damn, how these entries do get long. So let's see if I can get around to some of the bigger points.

In the first entry about my goals, I mentioned the two things that I hoped would prove to be the catalysts of the enhanced state of wellness that made these goals possible: tonsil reduction and Accelerated Response Therapy. I have now, to a certain extent, experienced both. Let' a bit more about that.

-I flew down to Dallas about ten days ago to have my tonsils reduced via laser. The actual procedure was only slightly more unpleasant than I had imagined, but I'm not sure yet how I feel about the results. There may yet be some residual swelling, and the aforementioned cold isn't helping things any, but I just have this sense that the doctor didn't reduce my tonsils as much as he said that he likely could. The marketing for the procedure led me to expect something along the lines of a 70% reduction; when I arrived in the office, the doctor told me he suspected he could do 50%. Seeing the results, my best guess is that it was closer to 30%.

What does that mean? I don't yet know. I believe that my sleep quality has been slightly better, though it's very hard to quantify and one never knows what sorts of placebo effect may be in play. As for the other effects I was hoping for-- a better quality singing voice, less sniffling and nasal congestion, and more energy through increased airflow-- they've been a bit hard to quantify so far, due to the initial swelling, and now the cold. I'll keep you updated as to how this turns out.

-I've been to several sessions of ART. I believe that there was some benefit when it came to addressing the trauma I remembered-- IE, the birth-- but when we started to attempt to address some other, less immediate traumas from my life, the benefit petered out. I took a break from therapy and will be going back early next week, to give it another try.

I would have expected that addressing the trauma from the birth would have been enough of a benefit to make a real difference in my life, but in the months since I had that session, many things have only gotten worse for me. I don't believe I still have a strong, traumatic reaction to memories directly related to the birth, but it does seem that discomfort when it comes to sexual issues is back and stronger than ever. I won't choose now to go into the details, but I will say that things are very nearly as bad now as they were at the height of my vaginismus, and this leads me to wonder if I somehow, in my therapeutic process, opened up something and then left it there, out and vulnerable. 

If I can accomplish nothing else when I go back to therapy, I hope that I can go back in stick in the oven that which has been left half-baked. Or, you know. Insert some better way of saying that here.

In my last blog post, as opposed to my second-to-last, I mentioned how I don't feel like anyone in my core group of friends has made significant gains in their lives in the last ten years. Not wanting that to just be "out there," I ended up having a conversation of that nature with Emily.

Emily was quite incredulous about my assessment. She said that I must not see things the way she does if I believe she has made no progress, and she went on to enumerate the many ways in which her life has vastly improved over the past decade or so.

The points she made were very good. She is in a better place professionally, in a more stable, loving relationship, and she's done a great deal of work in therapy that has helped her to address many of the problems that, once upon a time, defined her. On a very objective level, she is better off than she was.

She also made the point that it's possible my negative view of her life has been effected by her hesitation to share good things with me. She says that she feels she can't, much of the time, and I believe the implication was that it's based on my own depression, and occasional resulting bitterness.

This hurt, of course. Emily is, as I mentioned in my last post, my closest friend at this point; still, I keep her far more sheltered from the storms of my depression than I think she'll ever really know, mostly because I suspect-- based on her past behaviors-- that there's only so much misery she'll put up with before she will simply tire of me. I am as honest as I can be with her about what's going on in my life, but...I guess I don't feel like that's very honest, overall. I don't lie to her, certainly. But I don't feel like she has much use for me, the way I usually feel, and so I keep much of that hidden.

Probably what hurt more was the idea that she doesn't feel like she can share the good things in her life with me. Emily is the type of person who is honest-- often unpleasantly so-- about her feelings, and doesn't rank "niceness" very high on her list of desirable qualities. As such, she can be quite blunt about things, and I have, in turn, felt fairly comfortable being blunt with her about when I have, on occasion, resented her life. Most of this has everything do with her having money (access to her partner's money) and not having the burden of a child. That being said, I do think I've gone out of my way, for more than a decade now, to be incredibly supportive of everything in Emily's life. I have cheered on her relationship (though perhaps not as loudly as I often as I have acted as a sounding board when she needed to rail against its flaws), and even celebrated her previous relationship in appropriate moments, as much as I understood it to be a mistake. I have given gifts to celebrate academic tests and college acceptances. I have tried to take an interest in every job prospect, followed up on every interview, asked about every trip. I make a due diligence effort to keep straight the tertiary characters, whether they're co-workers or her girlfriend's friends or the husbands of her old high school friends.

I guess this was bothering me more than I thought.

The truth is, when her life is so glaringly better than mine in so many ways, it hurts. I resent that I can't be the one traveling all over the world, having extravagant birthday celebrations paid for by other people, and living in a vibrant city with all the time in the world to make the best of it's vibrance. I can't deny that.

But the biggest reason these things hurt is that it the distance between us-- both in the physical world and in the circumstantial realities-- leaves me lacking the best friend that I need right now. The hometown girl, always just a few minutes away, who can come over, even just for a few minutes, and sit with me and talk while the baby plays. Someone to run errands with. Someone I can go see when Dan's at his parents. Someone who could babysit for a few hours when I'm at my wit's end.

Someone who will actually be there if I start to slip, the way I feel like I might start to slip. And I would't have to minimize my depression for her, because I wouldn't be afraid she'd get bored. And I wouldn't have to minimize my depression for her, because, if she existed, things wouldn't be so bad.

Emily is my best friend, my family, and she means the world to me. And she's been there with me in as many ways as she can. But, the life she lives now, it's not just far away, geographically. It's also circumstantially in a completely different universe, and maybe not a parallel one, at that.

The thing is, she's not wrong when she says she feels like she can't share "the good things" with me, I guess. But I think it's because she feels like she is leaving me behind. In truth, the reason that all of this is so sad is that, for my own good, I may need to leave her behind.

I mean, not really, not totally. I just...I need someone in my life who can be more to me than what she is now. Not emotionally more-- but someone who is just more physically there. I need a real best friend.

So, jumping back 10.5 paragraphs or so: Emily made her points that she is, objectively, better off than  she was ten years ago. And as I sorted through all the various emotional reactions I had to everything she said, I found that I was still...not unconvinced, but unsettled. I told her, all of these things are very positive, but I guess I still don't get the sense that her life has improved, as measured by the fact that, overall, I don't believe her ratio of positive feelings to negative feels has changed.

She said that she supposed I was right about that, but that that's not what's important.

The thing about that is, well, it's what I've always known, right? The whole hedonc treadmill thing. People's happiness levels really don't shift that much over the course of their lives, no matter how much their circumstances change. I've more or less always known it, and psychological studies have more or less proven it. And here is Emily, with her life so much better in so many ways than it was ten years ago, living it.

So that leads me to wonder, what's the point of all of these goals? Do any of them have any shot at all at really affecting my level of happiness? And if not, what purpose do they serve?

Is life satisfaction different than happiness? I suspect that Emily believes it is. She's more satisfied with her life now than she was ten years ago, even though she's not really any happier. As someone who doesn't value "happiness" significantly more than she does "niceness," that seems, to her, to be a perfectly okay way to be.

But what about me, am I okay with that? Am I okay with the fact that I could accomplish all of the goals I set forth for myself this year-- every single one of them-- and I'd still be unlikely to be any happier than I am?

I guess that I suspect that the point of goals, if that's the case, is so that, when you're depressed, when your feelings are either too heavy or too absent to steer you out of bed every morning, your logical mind kicks in, and in that moment, you can count the things you did, and have some shallow, hedonic pride. You can, without actually experiencing any joy, count your accomplishments one by one and come to the conclusion that you are a worthwhile person who has done the things that they said they were going to, and you can believe in yourself that you will do more. Joylessly, in that moment, but hopefully you can feel a little something about it, from time to time.

Is that enough for me? No, I suspect it's not. But there's a difference between Emily and I, when it comes to these things: she is making it. I am not.

Herein lies the reason that the goals I have are so based on these two, fundamental changes, both of which relate directly to the overall health of my brain. I do not believe a change of job makes someone significantly happier in the course of their every day lives. Nor a change of relationship, nor a change of access to money and trips and travel, nor most circumstantial realities at all. I do not believe that these things make a significant difference, and both science and anecdote appear to back me up.

But I suppose I do believe that a healthy brain could make the difference. That, were my brain more rested, healed, and less addled, that it could change the very chemical foundation that my happiness is built upon.

It's not the goals that are going to change my life, and it never was. Go back and read for yourself, that's not what I said back then, and it's not what I meant. It was the things I was going to do to treat my brain that were going to make way for these goals to happen.

The goals were aspirational. The goals were a blueprint for the kind of person I want to be. But the healthier brain-- via better sleep and some resolution to the trauma-- that was going to lay the footprint.

So, okay. I've been writing a lot, and for a long time. And I guess this post is mostly just for me, because it's meandering in the extreme, and I doubt you could really follow my train of thought. But, okay. I know what I'm shooting for.

Will this be the year that things get better for me, or just another year when they don't, not really?

It's yet to be seen, so let's get on with it.