Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Furiously Happy Suicide


I'm doing a "combination", yes, I know the title is odd ... so was the book!

I read the book "Furiously Happy" by Jenny Lawson a while back and was torn about how to review it. I know WAY more about suicide than I would like to from experiences that are WAY too personal as well as reading a good deal about it as a result of those experiences.

Here are some things from Furiously Happy that spoke to me:

I feel successful 3-4 days a month. The other days I feel like I'm barely accomplishing the minimum or that I'm a loser. I have imposter syndrome so that even when I get compliments they are difficult to take and I feel like I'm a bigger fraud than before" ....  
.... "I'm hoping that by writing this and posting this it will make me face this head-on and make some changes in forcing myself to change the way I see success, or in forcing myself to get shit done and stop feeling such dread anxiety every day." ... 
Life passes. Then comes the depression. That feeling that you'll never be right again. That fear that these outbreaks will become more familiar, or worse, never go away. You're so tired from fighting that your start to listen to all the little lies your brain tells you. The ones that say that you're a drain to your family. The ones that say that it's all in your head. The ones that say that if you were stronger or better this wouldn't be happening to you. The ones that say that there is a reason your body is trying to kill you, and that you should just stop all the injections and steroids and drugs and therapies.  
Last month, as Victor drove me home so I could rest, I told him that sometimes I feel like his life would be easier without me. He paused a moment in thought and then said, "It might be easier. But it wouldn't be better"  
I remind myself of that sentence on days when the darkness seems like it will never end. But I know it will pass. I know that tomorrow things will seem a little brighter. I know that next week I'll look back on this sentence and think, "I should stop listening to my brain when it's trying to kill me".  
Mostly the book was not my cup of tea -- too madcap and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), lots of disjointed but semi-related thoughts and activities that seemed just "too much" for me. My guess is that much of it might appeal to women more than men (PROOF that I'm a sexist!)

Oh, I DID like her names for her cats "Hunter S Thomcat" (Hunter S Thompson), and "Ferris Mewler". I also liked her discussion of "how many spoons" relative to energy. If each thing you do takes a "spoon", how many are you going to have for that day? One of the major questions for people that have depression issues for sure is "how many spoons today"? Complicated with "what is depression and what is just laziness". As I get older, there is also the question of "What is just being older"?

My Dad always had a TON more spoons than nearly anyone, while my Mom had "less than average". My wife generally has like "more than my Dad in his younger years" and I'd like to think that when things are going OK for me I'm maybe "average" to just possibly a tiny tweak above for a 59 year old guy.  The issue is often HOW DO WE FEEL about our "spoon allotment"? As in the quotes above ... and in the quotes below from the article, are we able to "come to peace" with the "spoon allotment", or do we just continually beat ourselves with "gotta do more, get better, I'm lazy,  etc"?

I especially like her "my brain is trying to kill me". Most people with anxiety and depression have brains that "don't shut off well" -- they have a very hard time "compartmentalizing" ("Just quit thinking about it!"). My personal brain model is SUPERB at running many, many, many scenarios on LOTS of things, most of which run toward the negative, but not all. This can be superb in doing design or writing, although it can also very easily cause personal "analysis paralysis" where a "combinatorial explosion" of thought stops all progress. Or writing / blogging for "a few minutes" becomes HOURS.

From the Federalist article, which purports to be about people with "absolutely no mental illness" here is the core meat ...

Adaptability seems to be the outstanding difference in the link between perfectionism and suicide. As was mentioned earlier, four defining characteristics emerged from Kiamanesh’s research: 1) success-driven personality, 2) fear of failure, 3) keeping up false appearances, and 4) rigidity.
The author does a summary of sorts in this paragraph.
While knowing the four features of maladaptive perfectionism is not a guarantee you’ll stop someone in time, it is a start. Hopefully it will at the very least increase your awareness. We all have perfectionists in our lives, and though I’m not advocating we interrogate them with our newfound knowledge, I am saying we should start paying attention for signs of unhealthy expectations, rigidness, fear of failure, etc.
At this point I feel duty bound to point out that she is all wrong about the Hemingway suicide ... if you care, you can see that here.  I think the four characteristics are useful, but I'm not sure I buy the "no mental illness" -- it is kind of like physically "perfectly healthy", or possibly even MORE rare than that! The human brain is the most complex thing in the universe that we know of -- by definition it would seem to be at "the limits of possible". A top fuel dragster is ALWAYS running on the razor edge of complete destruction. The fact they do runs WITHOUT blowing up is miraculous.

Our brains were not built for the modern world -- by design or by chance. The fact that there is WAY too much mental illness, suicide, unhappiness, loneliness, etc is actually EASY to understand -- the miracle is that there isn't MORE. (and sadly, with the decline of religion, loss of close families and communities, lack of even any interest in meaning or philosophy of life, etc, all those bad brain problems ARE getting worse!).

To the extent that any of this can be simplified, my current advice would be to read "Happiness Is a Serious Problem" -- it covers these issues extremely well.  If you are VERY low on time, read "Man's Search For Meaning" -- it gives the underlying philosophy very well, and next to the life described in a Concentration Camp, maybe we don't really have it as bad as we think.

My short and stolen wisdom in the interim:

  • Acknowledge and seek a "higher power". IMHO, Christ is the only one that REALLY matters ... but if you feel he is a step too far, just accept that there is a power beyond yourself! 
  • Be grateful for any "spoons" you have -- just the energy to draw breath if need be. 
  • As hard as it is when times are bad, ANYTHING is better to ruminate on than yourself! 
  • REACH OUT ... or at least "get out". Go sit in a coffee shop or a bar rather than your place alone if things are really bad. Even being AROUND people is worth something. 
  • MOVE!!! For me, exercise is critical ... I'm still big and fat, but moving around makes me FEEL a lot better. 
  • Get a cat -- or a dog I suppose, if that is the kind of person you REALLY are ;-) 

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