Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Emotional Responsibility

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that my life has historically never resembled routine. Maybe it was because I always ran fast and loose; never having much more than short-term goals and not much in the way of dreams or aspirations, I never really noticed. Indeed, up until quite recently, my life did not even remotely resemble anything like what many would call routine, predictable or stable. Since coming of age when the ownership for these responsibilities are magically transferred, I never really had anything planned; except for periods of time lasting a few weeks or maybe months at the most, some kind of upheaval was always possible and often imminent.

I have experienced depression, jubilation, hopelessness, anticipation, grief, honor, fear and even death, though only very briefly. There would seem to always be an external reason for whatever I was feeling – something that life dished out elicited the appropriate and sometimes inappropriate responses I experienced. I was always able to peg my emotional state – good or bad – on some person, circumstance or situation. In other words, it was not my responsibility how I felt. My response was never my fault.

I remember once while in the hospital recovering from a near fatal auto wreck (that brief encounter with death…), at about the two month mark with no end in sight, I was quietly sobbing in my room. It had been a tough day; they all were, but this one was particularly tough. My recovery had suffered a slight setback that triggered all these built-up emotions to come out at once. I am not a whiner and I knew who got me into this mess, however, everyone has their limit. Much to my chagrin, the night nurse heard my sobs. Suffice it to say, I was not in the mood to “talk” about it.

She wanted to know what was wrong. I thought it was patently obvious and therefore a rather stupid question and… I didn’t hesitate to tell her so. She was just doing her job and limiting the institution’s liability – they don’t need a suicide on their hands. I was not, nor have I ever been suicidal, but they had no way of knowing that. She persisted. She wanted to know if I was “depressed.” I replied incredulously, “Of course I’m depressed! Look where I am! Who wouldn’t be?” I left out some choice explicatives, but I think I’ve made my point.

Little did I know that the term she suggested and I readily seized upon, “depressed,” carries with it institutional meanings far beyond what I meant. Indeed, I was suffering from depression - situational depression. It would go away when the situation improved, which it did the very next day. However, because I expressed that I was “depressed,” I received the obligatory visit from the resident shrink. Although I had moved out of the depression, I was still plenty pissed off for a variety of reasons – and now one more got added to the list. To make a long and entirely tangential story short, I eventually got better, in all respects.

Ironically enough, that three month hospital stay was among the more predictable periods of my adult life and coincidentally enough, it was a period that I was not controlling. I had no place in the planning of my day; every aspect of it was dictated by circumstance, my doctors and/or the hospital. Everything, right down to when I ate and the quality of the food (or lack thereof) was taken care of. When it came time to take back control of my life, it found the same path as before, which was, of course, no path at all.

Today and for the past two years or so, I have been working towards a long-term goal and beyond that I have very specific dreams and aspirations. I am not locked into a routine so rigid that my every waking moment is planned, but at the same time there are certain constants that I can count on. Regular intervals are taking a prominent place in my life and instead of “tying me down,” it grants me freedom. Furthermore, it gives life purpose and that was a quality my life seriously lacked. Surprises are not less surprising, but I am better situated – better prepared to deal with them.

What this predictability has revealed is that my emotional strength is dependant on being in touch with what I feel and why. This is not as easy as it may sound, but like anything else, it takes practice and after a couple of years, I think I may actually be getting it. Lately, I have been experiencing a lack of motivation… it’s a little like being in the doldrums, but not quite. It’s just a little blah. I am not, however, depressed – experience tells me that I need to make that perfectly clear.

I surmised that perhaps this was a cycle – one that I surely must have missed in the whirlwind that was my life. However, although my intent when starting this piece was to argue for that hypothesis, I must change my tack here and perhaps delve a little deeper. Indeed, the practice of getting in touch with myself through writing has once again proven that my head tends to be somewhat blind to second opinion. It is, in a word – lazy. Why pursue a new line of analysis when I already had it all figured out? And how convenient that I just naturally settled on a theory that represents no responsibility for my own emotional state. “It’s just a cycle.” Perfect!

Without the practiced skill of thinking via the written word, thinking out loud as it were, I would have come to the same conclusion that damned near killed me – a convoluted idea that it’s not my fault. Not that everything that happens in life is my fault or responsibility (really, I’m not that important!), but my reactions to these events are. There is nothing inherently “wrong” with any feeling. It is the behavior driven by these emotions that I hold responsibility for. Vigilance is important – my head almost took me there one more time, but introspection and a willingness to go deeper shut that door – this time.


Snaggle Tooth said...

Where you were always pointin the finger elsewhere, I've always taken more than my share of blame, not afraid of it.

I learned quite awhile back, if I punched a hole in the wall, I was gonna hafta patch it up. Even if some one else punched a hole in the wall, I was still gonna hafta fix it, cause they'd claim innocence n shirk responsibility, which is a normal response.
I just decided to skip that part, n take the responsibility automatically. Been this way awhile.
That you've changed n how you've taken charge of response is interesting. (You wanted to punch the wall, didn't ya?)

Keith said...

Hey Mike,

Good to visit this new blog of yours. Thanks for not forgetting about me.


Biker Betty said...

My childhood had a lot of ups and downs growing up. My dad was an angry alcholic and eventually, when I was 10, my mom left him. I was born in 1960, and by the time I was 10, and on through my teens, I really remember the "hippi" era. Free living, free thoughts, do what YOU want, nothings your fault, etc. I grew up never taking responsibility for many things. Having a dysfunctional family helped in that. California was especially strong in those "you do what YOU want" ideas.

I grew up a confused teenager with a mom, who I knew loved me, but was never around. Life didn't start turning around for me till I left home and joined the Air Force. For me, that was the best thing I had ever done. I loved that I didn't have to choose what to wear each day (lol) and there was always a meal and job. I loved my job. I started to learn to take responsibility for my actions. It's a hard lesson, but I'm still learning it and getting better. Didn't mean to ramble, but you really made me think. Plus, growing up in our times in California (as elsewhere) there were some definite ideas allowed to going on publicly that didn't help us. It was really confusing for many people.

Biker Betty said...

Sorry, just one more thing. I, me personally, am having to learn to do some things without motivation. There are just some things in life I have to do and I have to stop always looking for the "why" and "what's in it for me" reasons. It's not easy, but I'm working on it.

michelle said...

Love your posts Mike! You are doing great!!