Sunday, August 22, 2010

Falling Into a Negative State

When I look back I realize how often I’ve been overwhelmed, sometimes by trivial things. Last week I left my cell phone at the cigarette shop. Fortunately the man at the shop called one of the recent numbers I had dialed and was able to get a message to me. I was 30 kilometers away, home already, by the time I received the call. I began to fall into that state of self-recrimination as I got into the car to go retrieve my cell phone. I’m predisposed to being intensely critical of myself. I’ve always done that. If I lose my keys, wallet, credit card I feel like I’ve committed a gross sin. All of me feels ashamed, guilty and untrustworthy. Why? It was a simple lack of concentration in a moment, not a crime.

If someone betrays me I am devastated. If I oversleep and realize I’m going to be late I become so worked up I cannot function properly. I call this “falling totally into a negative state” I use “totally” because ALL of me becomes that negative state. There’s nothing else, just the terrible thing that I’ve done or omitted to do. All of me is forgetful, unworthy, unreliable. I sometimes don’t even label myself; I just feel awful.

In a recent discussion a friend complained about being depressed. I said, it’s okay to be depressed; it’s only a part of you that’s depressed, the rest is functioning well. I did not fully realize the impact this would have on me. Slowly, over the next few days, I began to realize, I don’t have to fall totally into that compartment of my life that may be negative at any particular time. I began to realize I’m much more than my depression, more than my forgetfulness, even more than my unworthiness. I’m an alcoholic, but I’m also a brother, a husband, a father and grandparent. I’m a taxpayer, a technician, a mechanic, a woodworker. Losing my credit card does not invalidate all the good and acceptable things I am. If I’m depressed I can accept my depression and go and live in one of my not-depressed states.

It has taught me balance. I don’t get it right all the time, but I’m beginning to apply this principle. I can more readily step back from a situation and see the bigger picture; give the incident due consideration but don’t become the negative state.

Dale Carnegie, way back in the 40-s somewhere, defined the concept of “day-tight compartments.” The concept is to not let yesterday contaminate today, or be so worried about tomorrow that you only part-live today. One can shorten the period into half days or hours—being in the moment. But being in the moment is very hackneyed. Day-tight compartments is something I can get my arms around, visualize and live.