29 April 2012

It gets better. ...If.

OK, it just gets better.  From adolescence, things get better even for the vast majority of those who could see no light at the end of the tunnel.  There are things that will happen totally without your effort, such as a gradual balancing of hormones.  Don't scoff: that's huge. ;-)  Environment will change.  Minds will adapt and open.  But for some, it might not happen readily, and it might not happen quickly, and it might not happen to any great degree.

But I think it will more likely get better if:

  • you don't wait around for everything around you to change and magically "get better"
  • you really work at emotional authenticity, honesty, and integrity
  • you learn to separate true criticism from blind bigotry
  • you talk with someone who can help you sort through things
  • you are honest about who you are, starting with being honest to yourself, then to others with care
  • you remove yourself, when possible and with good judgment, from abusive situations
  • you refuse to be a victim of circumstance and start planning your response to your situation
  • you carefully seek others who understand and have more than their own self interest in mind
  • you figure out your options and prepare to choose
  • you remind yourself that you have no idea what ten years from now will bring, and 50 years of happiness will be worth a few years of difficulty
  • you consider your situation to be a challenge rather than an oppression
  • you find the right medications to balance your chemical levels and bring you to a more optimal level of functioning
  • you avoid enslaving your judgment and cognitive abilities to addictive substances
  • you avoid enslaving your emotional fulfillment and stability to addictive or abusive behaviors
  • you remember that there is so much more that makes you who you are, and foster the parts that make you feel productive and strong
  • you take time to meditate, ponder, pray, or otherwise focus both inward and on something greater than yourself of which you are a part
  • you keep in mind that you are not truly alone, even if you haven't yet found those who understand
  • you make an effort to help others in their need, since you are not the only one struggling with something
  • you don't push away all unpleasant conversations or questions out of fear of having to face something
  • you work on recognizing that you are just as worthy of love and understanding as anyone
  • you let people compliment you and consider and take in their feedback at least as much as the douchebag who doesn't actually know you
  • you forgive others and know you are worthy of forgiveness
  • you just hang in there long enough to let some of this stuff work out, even if it takes years.
Meanwhile, those of us in more stable, secure places will do our part to change the environment for you.  We will reach out to build understanding both ways.  We will watch for people struggling like you are.  We will work to give you a better playing field in which to work through whatever you need to work through.  We will listen.  We will offer our ears and shoulders at times.  But it will take time, we might not yet know how to change your environment, and we may not have time and strength to personally reach out to every one.  We're working on it, but in the meantime, until the world is a safer, more understanding place for you to work through whatever you're working through, or until you find someone else who clearly 'gets it' better than I do and can offer you hope in a way I can't despite wishing I knew how, the one with the most power for you is you.

It will probably get better, but you'll make it much more likely to get better if you work at making it better.  And I attest that it's worth the effort. I don't know you, I don't know every aspect of what you're going through, and I have different brain function, chemistry, family life, life experience, social placement, religious background, personality, and coping mechanisms than you do.  But I hope something here is helpful, and I do think you can make it better by working at it if you can find the strength to just begin to do so, to begin to trust that it could conceivably get better even if you can't see how right now.  Hang in there.

8 comments:

dadsprimalscream said...

Great addition to the It Gets Better meme. It certainly can be helped along.

Trev said...

This is beautiful. Of course it's especially relevant to LGBT persons, but the advice you give here is good for _anyone_, I would say.

jimf said...

> - you remove yourself, when possible and with good judgment,
> from abusive situations
> - you refuse to be a victim of circumstance and start planning
> your response to your situation. . .
> - you figure out your options and prepare to choose. . .
> - you consider your situation to be a challenge rather than
> an oppression. . .

You know, this sounds very sensible, and take charge, and gung ho, and maybe it's possible for people blessed by fortuitous temperaments and personality types, and maybe it's also more doable today than it was in decades past (the stuff you can find on YouTube these days, for example, seems like the sort of thing that would have been of immense value to me in my youth, and must provide a good deal of relief for some young folks today, **provided** they can get unrestricted and unmonitored access to the Web -- something that is itself less likely in extremely conservative households, while the Web itself must be seen as the snare of the Devil in most conservative religious communities).

But for many people it's like telling them to just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

One unfortunate habit of mind that I cultivated in adolescence in response to the feeling that I was inherently and innately **wrong** (for reasons that I never quite understood) was a hunkered-down, defensive, and withdrawn stance toward my own personal future. Not "the future" in general -- I liked science fiction just fine. But I shied away from thinking too closely -- or at all -- about what **I'd** be doing when I "grew up". That kind of future was just a dark wall looming ahead of me that I didn't really want to see into, and didn't expect to hold anything good. My whole stance toward life became profoundly avoidant, something which has to a large degree remained with me even to this day.

Yes, this may be temperamental to a significant degree. But for those who have that particular temperament in addition to the rest of the cards they've been dealt, it doesn't bode well for being able to "seize control of one's destiny".

> - you work on recognizing that you are just as worthy of love
> and understanding as anyone. . .

Again, where is this **felt** (rather than intellectually "recognized") self-regard supposed to come from? Can people really manufacture self-confidence ex nihilo, or as developing social creatures does most of it (initially, at least) have to come from outside?

"Parental rejection was famously studied by John Bowlby, a psychoanalyst and child psychiatrist. . . in London. . .

My paraphrase of Bowlby's theory is this: What the caregiver gives their child in those first few critical years is like an **internal pot of gold**. The idea. . . is that what a parent can give his or her child by way of filling the child up with positive emotions is a gift more precious than anything material. That internal pot of gold is something the child can carry inside him or her throughout their life, even if they become a penniless refugee. . . This internal pot of gold is what gives the individual the strength to deal with challenges, the ability to bounce back from setbacks, and the ability to show affection and enjoy intimacy with others. . ."

-- _The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty_,
by Simon Baron-Cohen

For some prehomosexual kids (especially the boys, of course), parental discomfort with them starts very early, and is imbibed very early by those kids.

(And see also _Love-Shyness: Shyness & Love: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment_ by Dr. Brian G. Gilmartin (1985), downloadable from http://www.love-shy.com/resources )

Original Mohomie said...

Jim, the reality of this post for me is that these very conscious intellectual reminders helped me DESPITE not "feeling" them at the time. Keeping the reminders in mind helped pull me out of some thought cycles that had begun to spiral into darkness. It took a lot more to pull me out in the long run from these occasional feelings of despair, and I was never so deep in despair that I even nearly attempted suicide, but these were starting points I needed to keep in mind. I recognize not all of these will work for everyone, so all I can do for some is implore them to hang on until their environment changes.

When I'm speaking to parents, school administrators, church leaders and teachers, and friends, I will speak very differently about what they can do to make things better for those who are not as stable and able to moderate their actions and thoughts.

I will not pretend everyone in despair is able to fully pull him- or herself into hope, and I certainly do not intend to imply that someone who doesn't just "chin-up" is choosing lazy victimhood, but I will also not pretend there is _nothing_ a person can conceivably do to make things a little better internally until the external changes.

I think if suicide is higher among a segment of the population, we really have to accept responsibility for working on making the environment better for those people. And I really get angry and disagree with people who claim suicidal or depressed people are just refusing to work a little for happiness. But I also think we can make things worse by getting too caught up in language that shifts _all_ power from the oppressed to the oppressors, even if it is partially or even mostly true in some situations.

I have not been fully suicidal, and I do not have a degree in psychology, so I'm open to input from those who have or do, but surely someone out there is a little like me in some ways and can benefit from what has worked for me. I considered wording this post in a more "I"-oriented way, sharing what worked for me, but I thought I made it clear that I don't mean this to be prescriptive for everyone.

jimf said...

> [T]hese very conscious intellectual reminders helped me
> DESPITE not "feeling" them at the time. Keeping the reminders
> in mind helped pull me out of some thought cycles that
> had begun to spiral into darkness.

Ah yes, the essence of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy ).

The idea being that you can **reason** yourself out of emotional bad habits.

Well, I guess it does work for some people -- perhaps a fortiorissimo for those who have an especially high regard for "reason". (An acquaintance of mine who is particularly big on CBT is also a fan of Ayn Rand [shudder ;-> ].)

Of course the trend nowadays (a century after Freud), even among those who call themselves "cognitive psychologists" or "cognitive linguists" (e.g., George Lakoff) has been to reaffirm the importance of the unconscious in human cognition (in the teeth of centuries of Enlightenment philosophy).

"I called these two kinds of cognition the rider (controlled processes, including 'reasoning why') and the elephant (automatic processes, including emotion [and] intuition. . .). I chose an elephant rather than a horse because elephants are so much bigger -- and smarter -- than horses. Automatic processes run the human mind, just as they have been running animal minds for 500 million years, so they're very good at what they do, like software that has been improved through thousands of product cycles. When human beings evolved the capacity for language and reasoning at some point in the last million years, the brain did not rewire itself to hand over the reins to a new and inexperienced charioteer. Rather, the rider (language-based reasoning) evolved because it did something useful for the elephant."

-- Jonathan Haidt, _The Righteous Mind_

I guess people, including young homosexuals, just have to keep their heads above water with whatever life preservers happen to float by within reach that they are also lucky enough to have the strength to grab hold of.

I certainly do not sneer at intellection. I myself may have suffered from a mismatch between my temperament and that of my parents, but at least I've been a thoroughgoing agnostic (de facto atheist) since I began to read (despite being required to go through the motions of religious observance until I was confirmed in the Episcopal church, after which I was left alone to ignore it altogether). So I've never taken the afterlife seriously (either the Good Place or the Bad Place), and never taken remotely seriously the idea that anybody's Revealed Truth takes precedence over the modern scientific version of how reality works. And I've never worried about what God thinks of queers. Thank, uh, God for that. ;->

jimf said...

> An acquaintance of mine who is particularly big on CBT. . .

In his case, it's the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy of Albert Ellis.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_emotive_behavior_therapy

JonJon said...

Lovely. Just like you.

jimf said...

> I will not pretend everyone in despair is able to fully
> pull him- or herself into hope, and I certainly do not
> intend to imply that someone who doesn't just "chin-up"
> is choosing lazy victimhood, but I will also not pretend
> there is _nothing_ a person can conceivably do to make things
> a little better internally until the external changes.

Maybe all we need is a little zap to the noggin:

http://theweek.com/article/index/226196/how-electrical-brain-stimulation-can-change-the-way-we-think/
-------------
"The experiment I underwent was accelerated marksmanship training, using a training simulation that the military uses. I spent a few hours learning how to shoot a modified M4 close-range assault rifle, first without tDCS [transcranial direct-current stimulation] and then with. Without it I was terrible, and when you're terrible at something, all you can do is obsess about how terrible you are. And how much you want to stop doing the thing you are terrible at. . .

The 20 minutes I spent hitting targets while electricity coursed through my brain. . . [felt] like I'd just had an excellent cup of coffee, but without the caffeine jitters. I felt clear-headed and like myself, just sharper. Calmer. Without fear and without doubt. . .

It was only when they turned off the current that I grasped what had just happened. Relieved of the minefield of self-doubt that constitutes my basic personality, I was a hell of a shot. And I can't tell you how stunning it was to suddenly understand just how much of a drag that inner cacophony is on my ability to navigate life and basic tasks."
-------------

Batteries not included. ;->