At a barbecue event for a non-profit organization for whom I volunteer, I met a fellow board member who works as a psychologist for youth. We talked about her work and I thanked her for what she does.
As a kid, I could have used a bit of counseling myself. I think especially of my senior year in high school. I was the top runner on our high school team, and had won a series of dual meets and one invitational when my mother was checked into the hospital for surgery. She had problems stemming from the breach birth of my younger brother, who weighed in, as I recall, at something over 11 lbs. My mother was 5’3″. That breach-born son would grow to be 6’6″ and play Division I basketball.
She would thankfully live to see those days, but when my younger brother and I visited that dark and silent hospital bed with our mother attached to tubes and barfing into a tray, we did not know what to think about it all. It felt like she was going to die.
No one talked with us about those feelings. My dad told us she’d be okay, but words of that nature don’t erase the measure of feeling you have when the woman that raised you is so close to death.
The next few races in cross country did not go as well as the first few meets. I was distracted, to say the least. So all I did was take it out as hard as I could and hope to hang on. But the top runners from other schools waited me out and I kept getting second place. Week after week this occurred.
I was already a distracted kid. In fact I’m pretty certain my brain was subject to a form of ADD. One of my fellow teammates also struggled with schoolwork. I’d get A’s in some subjects that interested me, and D’s in classes like algebra or economics. I needed help making the connection between formulas and facts.
English was what I loved, and to some degree, science. But again, when it came to the logical order of genetics that was a study section in Advanced Biology, I could not hack it. Then I missed a test due to a cross country meet and had to make up the test. The instructor, a much-loved biology teacher who happened to be a birding buddy as well, placed me out in the hallway to take the makeup test. I’d thought that scene out ahead of time and had made a crib sheet to help me get the answers. But mid-way through the test, the teacher walked out in the hallway and caught me in the act of checking my crib sheet that was tucked so carefully under my thigh.
“Well,” he intoned. “If it isn’t the Furtive Nutscratcher.”
The fact of the matter was simple. I was running full tilt in life just trying to keep up. The pressures of being the top runner combined with the incident of illness with my mother had me struggling to cope. I could have used some counseling. Someone to sit down with me and explain that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed.
Hopefully more kids these days are getting counseling when they need it. Yet mental health management still lags in America, where our culture seems to value whaling away at our competitive pursuits rather than figuring out what might be holding us back.
Later in life, I would be faced with the illness of my wife, who in her late forties was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When my high school coach found out that she was ill, he called to offer support. “Your whole life has been a preparation for this,” he presciently stated. And he was right. Only the lessons in how to manage under pressure were learned without much support or understanding of the psychology behind the strife.
All through my 20s, I recognized there was some sort of deep-seated anxiety at work in my mind. There was anger too, stemming in part from childhood instances of near-abuse in disciplinary situations with my father. He’d lost his own mother to complications of cancer surgery when he was only seven years old. His own father then got placed in treatment for profound depression after losing his wife and his farm during the Depression.
Think about that sentence for a moment. There’s a link between the Depression and depression. It is possible for whole nations to go into a state of depression. It is both psychological and economic. In fact, one very much leads to another. When people went into anxiety over the markets, they entire economic system collapsed. It took years to heal the effects of that largely emotional crash. People suffered through the Depression in multiple ways.
And then came World War II, which demanded that Americans shed their fears in many respects, and express their rage at a world that is unjust and crazed.
The sad thing about life is that there are just and unjust fears that rule our collective psychology. Some people know how to manipulate those fears into power. They can create these fears out of real circumstances or from whole cloth. The goal is to scare the Dickens out of people, and get them to go along with whatever scheme, religion or political viewpoint is concocted to extort others for money, votes or power of populism.
Seeing clearly through the darkness
People who experience depression on a regular basis, or who know anxiety in person, are ironically less susceptible sometimes to popularly manufactured fears. Those of us that have faced depression and learn how to live life with purpose despite emotional pain are not easily fooled by those who seek to manipulate us. This is a difficult life to lead in many respects. Our own perceptions demand perpetual examination and honesty, the better to understand the real situation, and whether there are genuine reasons for fear, or simply those that are the ghosts of anxiety.
The insights wrought from deep and personal emotional discoveries can cause problems in the workplace, or in politics, where the demand to “go along to get along” is so strong, and so public. Who can forget the emotionally wrenching period when John Lennon emerged from the Beatles to record music that tore the world apart at the seams. Here are the lyrics from Working Class Hero:
As soon as you’re born they make you feel small,
By giving you no time instead of it all,
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all,
A working class hero is something to be,
They hurt you at home and they hit you at school,
They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool,
Till you’re so fucking crazy you can’t follow their rules,
A working class hero is something to be.
When they’ve tortured and scared you for twenty odd years,
Then they expect you to pick a career,
When you can’t really function you’re so full of fear,
A working class hero is something to be,
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you’re so clever and you’re classless and free,
But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.
There’s room at the top they are telling you still,
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the fool on the hill,
A working class hero is something to be.
A working class hero is something to be.
If you want to be a hero, well just follow me
Lennon struggled with depression and substance abuse. He immersed himself in a life of heroin use, then chronicled that manic period and withdrawal with his song Cold Turkey.
Oh I’ll be a good boy
Please make me well
I promise you anything
Get me out of this hell
There’s a lesson in these deep immersions and the doped up manner in which we’re all too often told to exist. Lennon was no perfect human being. But he was one to admit his flaws, and call others to do the same. Contrast this with political leaders who deny their flaws, and ask others to do the same. That is called dishonesty, which leads to hypocrisy, and so often leads too often to the fascist need to take over the political process in order to impose those wrongheaded worldviews on others.
And all Lennon ever pleaded was, Give Peace a Chance.
The destruction of addiction
The one thing psychologists look for in opening rounds of treatment with adults is whether they are somehow self-medicating. This is the tarsnake of addiction.
And if not that, what sorts of other behaviors are covering up the deeper problems? There can be addictions to food or sex, anger and rage and other self-indulgent distractions. All amount to self-destructive tendencies, and all are signs of deep emotional disturbance within an individual, “coping strategies” that are not helping people “cope” at all. They can be empowering in some sense of vengeance, revenge or sense of control. But just like our Concealed Carry gun laws, they habitually disguise fear and aggression as forms of self defense.
People are still animals. And like a bird on a limb frightened for its young in the nest when an intruder draws near, we engage in everyday activities such as bill-wiping to pretend that everything is okay and that we’ve only just had a really good meal. But it’s really just nervous habits showing the inner torment within. “Nothing happening here!” The bird wiping its bill wants us to think. “All is fine!”
Overcoming animal instincts
But people often sense the story is different. We see signs of trouble with our friends, and if we are true friends, we ask if there is any way that we can help.
Yet some people make a habit of turning the other way. It turns out the task and burden of accepting that there is trouble in life is simply too much trouble. One thinks of the tale of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. When the priests and other nobles walk past the wounded, dying man in the roadside, ditch the Samaritan stops and rescues the man, pays for his medical treatment and lodging. The Samaritan does not turn away like the other hypocritical religious types who claim to know the ways of God by heart, but take no action to fulfill them.
This is the “I’ve got mine” mentality that is so rampant these days in America. That selfishness has become a collective and social disease. To make matters worse, people go looking for affirmation of this brand of disengagement, and find it everywhere. They go looking for people that have chosen the same path, and there are plenty of them. So it appears “normal” when in fact selfishness, greed and anger are the hallmarks of a deeply neurotic present age. And people who wallow in this world become insular, and anyone that questions the privilege or ignorance is branded the enemy.
American anxiety and depression
America is in a state of anxiety and there is a massive shifting of blame from personal accountability to accusatory politics. Without recognizing the real source of their pain and even the actions that led to their own dissatisfaction, people find comfort and power in projecting their anger onto those they perceive or are told to perceive as the enemy. They’ve chained themselves to a source of negativity and shut out all sources of information that contradict their worldview.
The current brand of Depression that America is facing is wrought from denial. The economy is not the sole source of this pain, but is instead reflective of the denial people have chosen as their form of political self-medication. It is clear where the economic pain came to fruition. That was the years of 2007-2009 when the economy crashed. America was sunk in two wars and the mental malaise wrought by all these things was pervasive throughout society. The emotional effects of these events were the direct product of a political philosophy, not mere coincidence.
But rather than come to grips and accept the direct relationship between events and emotions, a huge chunk of America has depended instead on denial and blame as a form of self-medication in the face of addiction to a political philosophy that has repeatedly and resoundingly failed.
Denial is a reliable yet ultimately destructive tool of conscience for those addicted to a destructive worldview. It is highly common for people in positions of emotional exposure to deny, deny and deny the true source of their pain. One can turn to the lyrics of the Amy Winehouse song “Rehab” to illustrate this point:
They tried to make me go to rehab
I said, no, no, no
Yes, I been black
But when I come back, you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time
And if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab
I won’t go, go, go
Amy Winehouse later died from the effects of her addiction to drugs. Her denial resulted in her demise.
America needs to go to rehab
And this illustration holds true on a broader level as well. America needs to go to rehab for its addiction to imperial notions of its self-worth. Our history as a nation rather sucks if you study it with any rational measure of conscience. As Michelle Obama aptly pointed out in her DNC speech, we built the “white house” as it were on the back of slaves. She was using a literal house to illustrate a broader context.
We also committed genocide against the people that had lived on the North American continent for 10,000 years before European settlers arrived. We call these people Native Americans now, rather than Indians, which was a misnomer accredited by the ignorance of the white settlers who figured they’d gotten much farther around the globe than they realy had. We both imprisoned and slaughtered these people in competition for resources.
America has in many ways made the very earth and water upon which we depend for life into prisoners of our consumptive habits.The Nestle Corporation executive who claimed in some sense that “water is not a right” and might do better as a privatized commodity communicates this brand of corporate ownership.
Those who question the sustainability of these mindsets and the pursuant psychology of “I’ve got mine” thinking, are ridiculed by the same selfish interests, both political and commercial, who profit from exploitation of natural resources. This is the exact same dynamic as a drug user defending a drug dealer.
It’s clear that America has gotten fat in the head from its consumptive habits. America therefore needs to get out and exercise, and breath the fresh air of open consideration.
Those of us who run, ride and swim may not be perfect in our approach to doing this, and we even may be a bit obsessive, narcissistic and selfish at times, but we do know the benefits of perpetually shaking off our denial to find out what lies beneath.
We try not to lie to ourselves as a matter of course. But there is still the problem of acting out or lives in a state of denial. We do this when we get injured or sick and keep training. We do this when relationships break up because we spend too much time training, or shift our attentions to others as a result of common interests.
Understand, some of this is inevitable. Many times our actions are the results of genuine dissatisfaction and a form of self-fulfilling prophecy takes place. People in bad marriages may find love somewhere else before making the request for a divorce. It’s known to happen in triathlon circles. But ultimately this is more an example of acceptance rather than denial. It can be hard to break off a relationship that does not work. This is true whether you are married or not. Some people find themselves in a repeating cycle of bad relationships. Only through fortune or acknowledgement (not denial) do people move into new emotional territory.
But the harm that can be caused by avoiding or denying broken relationships is real. That’s why it is important to move past the denial and acknowledge either the self-indulgence or the need to move away from it. Only then can we move into healthier circumstances.
Kings of Denial
The tendency to cling to bad relationships or choose someone of an even more powerful manifestation of our worst relationship tendencies is all to real. We see it in the children of alcholics. We see it in patterns of sexual or child abuse. We see it in serial marriages and we hear it expressed in the despotic denial of these personal tendencies in people who are in chronic denial of their own flaws. One thinks of Rush Limbaugh lecturing women about their morality when he has torn through four marriages. And one thinks of Rush who lectures people about personal responsibility while addicted to Oxycontin. Hypocrites and zealots make a grand practice of accusing others of the things they most hate in themselves.
And that brings us to the King of All Deniers, one Donald Trump. It’s a genuinely depressing prospect that he could be elected President. Here is a man who lives his life in a perpetual state of denial. He makes ugly statements and denies he ever said them. He expresses prejudice and denies he meant it. He invites Russia to hack America and calls it a joke. This is denial writ in grandiose terms. And yet some people think he can’t be denied.
Trump the Addict
Donald Trump is addicted to his sense of self. His worldview of “I’ve Got Mine” is appealing to all those who either already think that way or want the Gravy Train he keeps promising them. It’s a denial of the fact that it was the economic trade, military and domestic policies of the party he now represents that got us into trouble, and which Obama worked eight long years to correct. But the damage was so bad it could not be fixed overnight. And the GOP loves to blame him for that, and deny their Congressional obfuscation, racial prejudice and financial responsibility in the process. How convenient. Now they’re doing the same thing to Hillary Clinton, branding her a liar when the new chief of their own party has been proven to be lying 91% of the time in everything he says.
Even the National Review, one of the leading voices for conservatism in America, accuses Donald Trump of being a total liar.
And yet people buy his lies because they are in complete denial of what’s really happening in America. They can’t accept blame for their own bad habits in voting for Bush twice, and going along with the lies that led to the war in Iraq and the debt and death and torture those lies produced. That is the legacy people so want to deny in voting for Donald Trump, who has disavowed the Bush policies and the corrective measures taken by Obama to set the country back on track. To Trump’s supporters, denial is the closest thing they can find to liberation from responsiblity. They’re hoping like heck he can save them from the private hell of their own denial. Rather than go to rehab, Trump supporters are mainlining the political heroin of angry, racist, fascist politics.
So that’s where we stand. America is denying its own problems by support for that man and an authoritarian running mate who seems to ooze quiet hate. It’s a profile in sociopathic force.
And what about Hillary?
And for those who say they could never vote for Hillary, I have a few words for you too. At least she’s dealt with life, and learned to forgive. She held her marriage together in the face of things that would crush the best of rest. That’s true character. The accusations against her have been many and frequent over the last 30 years, but none of them has proven of any consequence or merit. In an attempt to equate the mistake of security in Benghazi, much has been made of the event, and millions have been spent investigating her actions. And no fault was found over multiple years of engagement. Meanwhile, the same party that investigages Hillary Clinton for the loss of four lives refuses to admit that the $3T war in Iraq cost the lives of 4,000 American soldiers and maimed tens of thousands more. This is denial of the highest (or lowest) order. And it deserves to be smacked down. Hard.
And by no coincidence, Donald Trump denies that he has ever been moved to apologize to anyone. All this in the fact of multiple lawsuits, refusal to pay vendors and a legacy built on the horrific brand of management he advocates in proudly proclaiming, “You’re fired!”
Don’t you get it yet? Trump symbolizes the people that fired American manufacturing employees and moved their operations overseas. All those jobs that used to depend on a sector of the economy that represented 49% of America’s GDP are now held in China and Korea and other Asian nations from which America now buys what it consumes. Trump promises to bring all that work back home. What a joke. And yet those same disenfranchised workers see him as their hero.
Donald Trump has no personal or professional loyalty at all. He has exchanged women in his life like they were pretty pieces of cattle, and talks about women as if they were hunks of meat. His business dealings are the stuff of bad fiction, burning one after another vendor and going bankrupt four times. And his dismissive brand of economic and racial prejudice shines like the dark heart of the devil himself. And the hateful segment of society that still believes slavery would be a virtue and that whites are superior loves him even though he’s orange. And a big, fucking phony at that.
It all comes home to roost
And you can deny all of that, but it will say more about you than you might ever care to admit. Some of us recognize that brand of thinking for what it truly is, weakness of soul and adoption of a brand of fear that you simply refuse to admit.
But you can change. It can start today when you got out for your run, ride or swim. Take time to consider what you’re doing. You’re taking responsibility for your own health and your own thoughts. By engaging in endurance sports, you’re not turning yourself over to the anxiety, fear or depression that society throws at you, or that you’re wired to endure. You’ve chosen a lifestyle that is affirmative, progressive and focused on liberating yourself from bad or lazy habits of mind. You’re looking to the future, not letting the past define or defend you.
So do yourself a favor right now: First read the italic statement below, and see if you agree with it in principle. Then, cut and paste the following definition into your browser and see what comes up. Because there has been a considerable and depressing amount of brainwashing that has gone about issues of mindset these last 20 years, and an accordant denial of the truth behind what really makes society great.
If you open your mind, that is progress. That’s what progressive believe in. And yes, there is some forms of intolerance and denial on that Left as well. But it’s not based on denying facts about our origins, or denying the science of evolution, or climate change, no the source of prosperity in our politics. Even Donald Trump says the economy does better under Democrats.
So cut and paste this into your browers, and start to make the connection between real freedom and liberality:
Surprising, isn’t it, that the very things we are often told are evil are the things that stand the most chance of liberating our souls and spirits?
Now go out and run, ride or swim and think about all that. Because your very life and happiness depend on not living a life in denial of the truth and in understanding the true source of fulfillment in the human spirit and its liberality. That’s true when it comes disguised as a woman, a black man, a Muslim or a gay person. Because the person shrouded next to in a wetsuit and a swimcap and goggles and about to embark in an open water swim somehow looks exactly the same as you .
We all have to swim together in the end.