what do some old roman philosophers (seneca, epictetus, i’m looking at you guys) have to do with pushing your way through and out of depression? oh, i don’t know, probably EVERYTHING.
my social skills have been pretty dull lately, guys.
outside of work, i barely talk to anyone, which is actually pretty perfect now that i think about it because i spend much of my work day dealing with customers who don’t know what they want, and thats all the practice i really need.
i started getting into audiobooks, and someone recommended the obstacle is the way by ryan holiday, which basically covers the philosophy and origin of stoicism and how you can apply it to some of the most difficult and trying experiences in your life.
you get a lot of rudimentary examples of famous people and their own hurdles, a few i’ve already heard, but overall, it’s a well-rounded book with a decent wealth of source material.
when people hear the word “stoic,” they probably think emotionless, stonefaced. and that’s partially right, but it stems more from one’s ability to know the difference between what they can and can’t change, and acting on logic rather than negative emotion.
it’s not about callousness or unconcern. it’s about turning a bump in the road into an opportunity to grow and learn.
and that probably sounds like a bunch of common sense, tell me something i don’t know BS you probably see on every other other instagram page you follow, but are you really paying attention?
how many times throughout the day do you find yourself a little impatient in the drive-thru, or pissed someone didn’t let you over when you needed to exit?
arent these things out of your control? if the line is taking longer than usual, is taking it out at the girl at the window going to do anything except compound the problem?
even in situations where it doesnt seem so clear, sometimes the lens you use to view the world is a little distorted.
many of the tenets of stoicism are applied to cognitive behavioral therapy.
so lemme give you a brief rundown of my history with therapy in general.
… and she lived happily ever after alone, cold, and homeless in the backseat of her car, her trusty dog at her side until she finally died of old age at the age of 72.
i mean, at least that’s what i’m crossing my fingers for.
so my earliest experience with any type of “therapy” was when i was in second grade.
i started seeing a school counselor because i guess the school was concerned that i’d missed about a month of school in the first half of the school year.
they asked me if something was going on at home, and i told them what i knew: my stepdad and mom fought a lot, so we had to often leave and go stay with some random friend of my mom’s basically just to hide from him.
he was kinda crazy. the type of guy that would beat the crap out of my mom one day and the next follow her to her doctor’s appointment and cause a scene. the staff literally had to bring my mother in and out through a back way, just to avoid a confrontation in the waiting room.
when my mom found out that i told the school what was going on, she was upset – i assume it was more because of the possibility we could be taken away from her and less about the fact that id told them in the first place.
so for almost 20 years, that was my only encounter with any form of therapy, and god knows i needed it pretty heavily during my teenage years.
the idea never even crossed my mind until my early 20s. i started to recognize that i was unhappy with being socially isolated, but instead of telling myself i maybe just needed practice and should try just talking to people, i thought, “i wonder if i can get some xanax.”
and lemme tell you, xanax is the shit. i was microdosing, taking half milligrams in the beginning, made a pact with joseph that the both of us, in our equally shitty boats, would be more social because we both knew we needed it.
for a while i was seeing a psychiatrist, but anyone who has ever gone to a psych knows that those people are not meant to help you get to the root of your issue – they are there to dispense pills to you.
the medication is just a way to mask the problem instead of helping you understand why you’re feeling the way that you are.
in my case, i knew i had some social anxiety that was stunting my growth. for example, i wanted a better job, but when i applied and received callbacks for interviews, i didn’t go. i was dropping classes that required any public speaking because i’d told myself i just wasn’t going to do it.
no wonder it took me 9 years to graduate.
and no wonder my psychiatrist recommended therapy on our initial visit, but he didn’t push it again, and i didn’t think about its benefits.
fast forward to this year.
i made an honest attempt to talk to a therapist instead of seeing a psych, and it ended in disappointment.
insurance sucks, but that’s a whole different story.
first time was like “hey i have social anxiety. lemme research what kind of drugs i can get.”
second time was like, “hey im about to kill myself because i don’t have a single person to talk to, think i can get an hour of your time?”
and oh does it suck to be told no.
i had a rough few days, but i picked myself up and started doing my own research.
“how can i help myself this time?”
i looked into what a therapist might recommend to someone in my situation. yeah, i had a thousand and one issues, but every road led back to cognitive behavioral therapy. cbt.
so back to stoicism for a second.
if you have any background in philosophy, or have dabbled in the self-improvement realm, you’ve probably come across stoicism before.
many of the world’s greatest leaders like president teddy roosevelt and admiral james stockdale studied the teachings of epictetus and undoubtedly shaped the way these people handled challenging circumstances through every aspect of their life.
i mean, james stockdale was a literal prisoner of war and was able to survive with most of his sanity by reading from a small book he was hiding – the teachings of epictetus.
when asked who didn’t make it out of vietnam, he replied, “the optimists… they died of a broken heart.” the lesson, he said, was to “never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
that was a quote by the way.
imagine yourself in a similar situation – in a small, windowless room, a prisoner who only knows the inside of four gray walls. time is moving, but you don’t really know it. you’re alive, but are you really?
are you ever going home? how would you handle a situation like that?
life can be challenging – some times more than others. but by being mindful and practicing self-control, you will be able to put things into perspective and make purposeful decisions, and in the end, you’ll be content knowing that you made the best decision you could have made in that moment instead of one based on fleeting emotions.
this is the goal of stoicism.
“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” — another quote.
epictetus was born a slave in the roman empire during the middle of the first century. with his owner’s permission, he was allowed to study philosophy and was guided by musonius rufus.
after that damn tyrant nero died, he started teaching philosophy in rome, but about 30 years later, all philosophers were banished, probably because the idea of free thinkers scared the shit out of them, so epictetus went to greece.
there, he started a philosophical school and went on to teach marcus aurelius, who is arguably one of the greatest roman emperors to have ever lived.
these two, along with seneca, another roman stoic philosopher, laid the foundation for the teachings of stoicism.
cbt is very similar in that you learn how your negative thoughts contribute to your anxiety or depression, and how you react triggers or exacerbates it.
essentially, you are understanding that your thoughts, not that external event, are affecting the way you feel. whatever is happening is not the issue – it’s your own perception of it.
so with anxiety, you’re challenging your own negative feelings. you’re asking yourself questions, and engaging your inner voice in a dialogue.
when i first started meditating, i didn’t realize my inner voice talked so damn much.
being mindful of my thoughts, taking note of them, and lightly pushing them away was a struggle for me in the beginning, and honestly, still is some days.
but overcoming struggle is an essential part of stoicism and practicing misfortune is a good exercise to use now and again. experiencing whatever it is that you dread helps you better prepared to handle it.
seneca suggested practicing poverty, pulling away from the comfort of your home, so if you really wanna go that route and live like a homeless person, then at least you’ll know that if you’re ever in that situation, it won’t completely turn your world upside down.
people who have anxiety disorders, depression, or ptsd can benefit from cbt because, like with stoicism, once you’re aware that we control our own beliefs, that cognitive distortion starts to fizzle away.
exposure therapy is also a common exercise psychotherapists use on patients. the idea is that through exposure, the anxiety disappears because over time, you’ll understand that you have control over the situation.
i’m not saying everyone should go put their hand in a bowl of spiders unless you have a death wish or your name is peter parker, but me and the spiders in my bedroom have gone all kumbaya and have decided to live together in harmony. i stopped crushing them, but i do scoot a few of the bigger ones away from my bed if i remember.
ps if i die from a spider bite, now you know why.
i was watching an episode of the twilight zone the other day. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. at the end, this is what rod serling said:
i heard this, and all the dots started to connect. this crowd mentality, this political and racial atmosphere, this us versus them, and then i hear about this idiot in charlottesville yesterday and it makes me sick and angry that we live in a world where our identities, or fears, our distrust and intolerance override common sense, temperance, justice, courage – some basic fucking virtues, and for what?
to see who can yell the loudest? to see who can illicit the biggest response? to see how many stupid libtards i can run down? why? because your ego is so fragile, your feelings have been so hurt, that your finger can be on a literal button with a missile pointed at another country, and you would rather millions suffer because of an idea that isn’t even you and doesn’t make up who you are.
where does acting on emotion get us? really.
it divides us. it pits us all against each other while the rich guys on top who will own your labor and your kid’s labor watch the rat race from their private helicopter.
i mean damn society, we fuckin up. we fuckin up real bad.
i was watching some tv documentary about princess diana, and jesus christ man, the royal family, the tabloids, the paps, these people treated her like trash. and all she did was use her status to devote countless time to better the lives of the homeless, the terminally ill, those with cancer, leprosy, AIDS, and my god, what a selfless, wonderful woman. god forbid she want to be in love too.
she clearly had self-esteem issues, emotional issues, but considering the insurmountable stress placed on her, she handled herself well in public, though it does seem she maybe took some out on herself.
there was a paparazzi video where she and her sons are at the ski slopes, and she spots the paparazzo over her shoulder. she storms up the slope to where the photographer is posted up, and this woman looks like she’s on a mission.
i half expected her to sock the guy in the face. but she says:
do you fucking hear this guy? he asks if he can get a picture of her and the boys, she says no, and he asks again and says he’ll leave once he does. like, the fuck? are you listening to her?
and her, in all of her grace and poise, responds in the complete opposite manner i would have in a similar situation where i would;ve knocked someones teeth out, then sat and meditated in my car for twenty minutes over the notion of regret.
no, this woman politely asked as a parent to please respect her privacy, and he essentially said no.
and they tested her this way daily.
learning to react based on the actual situation and not on your thoughts or feelings. something i clearly still need to work on.
idk, i guess i’m so used to having to prove to people that just because i’m short doesn’t mean it’s cool to step on me. shoes hurt, man.
at any rate, you should maybe check out the obstacle is the way if you wanna. i really don’t care either way but you can find the audiobook here.
i dont really give a shit how you get it, you can pirate it for all i care – i’m just trying to look out for you.
there’s a shitload more to learn about stoicism in general, i really just kind of touched on the principles that directly related to cbt, but if you’re the introspective type, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is good a place to start and the kindle edition is free, so happy birthday to you.
also, if you suck at reading like i sometimes do, the daily stoic by ryan holiday is another good one by him. i do not recommend the audiobook since its meant to be read a day at a time, but it’s an otherwise good tool to help ingrain that habit of self-awareness into your everyday thinking.
as a challenge to myself, i booked an airbnb 170 miles away where i will probably be in close proximity to a stranger, so that should make for an interesting weekend. it’s always fun to get my palms nice and sweaty before i shake someone’s hand for the first and last time. practicing that misfortune, good grief.