Living By Evidence
I have a friend who thinks he’s quite good at admitting when he’s wrong about something. When he stated this as a strength of his at a party, all of his friends spluttered, “You think you’re good at that? You?”
He still maintains he’s good at admitting when he’s wrong. The fact that everyone he knows sees him as an impersuadable butthead (albeit a lovable one) has not shifted his view of himself by one iota.
This is just one way of living your life wrong, to my mind.
Being a depressive is generally living in the Land of Suck, but you do have to learn one vital secret of life in order to survive: A thing can be emotionally true and factually a lie. Which is to say that I wake on certain mornings consumed by the idea that nobody in this world loves me, that everyone would be much happier if I drank the Drano, and that my funeral would be attended by no one. This is not how I feel; this is how things are, so much so that on three occasions I’ve actually tried to end my worthless life.
Then, slowly, I gather the facts around me: My wife is cuddled up next to me, evidently content. My phone contains texts from people who wanted to talk to me. My blog occasionally contains some nice comments.
And I think: Though I feel as though no one cares, the evidence around me suggests otherwise. And, gripping the facts like I would the rungs on a ladder, I haul myself back to reality.
That evidence-based technique is useful in all sorts of other circumstances. For example, there are times when my wife is being ridiculously hypersensitive, crying and withdrawing at a perfectly reasonable statement I made, and I think:Hang on. Gini is not prone to overreact like this. If she’s so upset about something I said, evidence would suggest that I’m the one being an asshole. And so I take a few minutes to reexamine what I just said, conclude objectively that I’m being a jerk, and go in and apologize to her even though internally I feeltoweringly righteous.
My legs are stitched with angry red scars where they yanked veins out of my legs to implant them in my failing heart. These scars are so ugly that sometimes I weep when I’m surprised by them, these puckered hideous reminders. And I’m convinced that no one could possibly find me attractive despite them. Then I list off the people who do find me attractive who’ve seen the scars, and despite my instinctive post-surgical terror, I conclude that I’m probably overreacting.
What all of these have in common is that I’m minimizing the shrieking interior voice and prioritizing the exterior facts. Maybe, yes, from your perspective you’re a lamb, easily persuadable when the right facts are presented, but if all your friends tell you that you’re a butthead, logic suggests that:
a) You have a group of friends who each have very poor judgment, or:
b) You’re a butthead.
And I’m not saying you use this technique to not feel this way. You just act differently based on that evidence. Like I said, I feel absolutely justified when Gini’s upset because I’m having a bad day… but I separate that emotional sensation from how I’m going to react to her, because frankly apologizing to her right now even if I can’t fully sense what I did wrong is usually the correct move.
(Likewise, you know, the whole “not drinking Drano” thing.)
This technique isn’t always usable, depending on your evidence. When I’m writing fiction, Lord knows I have the days where everything I do to fix a scene makes it worse, smearing flaw upon flaw, and eventually I feel like I’m fingerpainting messily with a dog’s turds. I’m a terrible writer. I should just give up.
And for me, I can use the past evidence of my published short stories as proof that I’m not as bad as I think I am. That wouldn’t have flown a decade ago, when I had no notable publications. I would have had to find some other way to get around that feeling.
(Though it should be noted that me not giving up is a large portion of the link between “Whatever success I have now” and “The struggling dude I was then,” proving that your internal monologue can be absolutely incorrect even if the facts seem to support it. I probably should have given up… and yet by dint of persistence, I got to a better place.)
Regardless, the point I’m making is that a lot of people would probably be better off if they could find a way to prioritize the evidence on the ground over their internal feelings. There’s tons of people like that: folks who feel persecuted by the world, when the truth is they make really poor decisions. People who act as though they’re unattractive when they have people lusting after them. People who feel disrespected when people disagree with them.
All of ’em could stand to throw a few facts in front of those surging emotions. Or at least that’s the way I feel. I’m open to evidence that I’m wrong.