This post starts with a new conception of sanity and then somehow drifts elsewhere only to gracefully return to the start

Warning: This post contains reference to childhood sexual abuse.

After days of hysteria and wretchedness I got back something beautiful: My sharpness. That practical, analytical state of mind where I look at problems unemotionally. Where I painlessly slice through myself and don´t shy away from anything that turns up. Where I look ugliness straight in the face and try to stare it down. Where no truth is inconvenient. It must be the specific kind of happiness reserved for me. My style of sanity.

It´s a very threatened sanity, a threatened happiness. It is threatened by fear – fear which leads to lies I tell myself (and others). Trying to live a lie is like trying to juggle too many plates at once. The underlying stress and anxiety only increase, until at some point I realize something is about to crash. I´ll have to let go of some of those plates. At least I might get to decide which ones it will be. Today I chose to tell some pen pals the truth about how well I get on with my thesis and that I consider quitting. It was a symbolic act, it felt like writing a manifesto rather than a confession. It was an act of protest, though oddly enough protest and humility exist closely together in me.

One of my pen pals replied, very sympathetically, and yet I noticed with a certain chagrin that she seemed to interpret my admission of failure and my wish to quit as an act of self-destruction. To me, it is an act of saving myself. It gives me back my sense of integrity. Doing things that have outward negative consequences for you can and often is part of maintaining your integrity, though. Actually, that´s the whole point of integrity.

My sister once did something incredibly brave. When she was working on her dissertation, she had a fight with her tutor, an influential professor. She didn´t want to let go of her concept and looked for another tutor, who was much less influential. If she had stayed with her old tutor, she´d have had to adept her concept to his, but he would have helped her find a job at a university in the US and she could have stayed together with her boyfriend. She didn´t, and now she had trouble finding a job and the two of them are living on two different continents.

Integrity can look incredibly stupid. It isn´t particularly practical to throw away the chance for a great job and a future with your boyfriend for a philosophical idea. It might even be seen as incredibly selfish. Maybe it is. Some psychologists would probably see it as a personality deficit. It is bound to lead to decisions which make you unhappy, isn´t it? It´s almost like self-sabotage. And yet, in some way, it can be the only way to breathe. The only way to not be neurotically anxious. I don´t feel much self-respect when I compare my sister´s decision to my own life.

My cold, unfazed, analytical gaze led me to believe I was somehow evil. Now I think that wasn´t true. I think I was a more loving, more helpful person when I was still the old, sharp me. At least I didn´t need so much from other people. Maybe others see it differently. That´s a harsh thought. I don´t want to make them feel unloved. It seems wrong for me to make anyone I love feel like that. I don´t think I could live with me being like that. And still I cannot breathe if I´m not myself. I have nothing to hold on to and I start to get anxious and clingy and dependent.

Maybe the loss of my integrity started with a high school friend of mine, Lola. I had analyzed and evaluated her with my cold, observant mind, and there came a point in our friendship when I emotionally separated myself from her because her behavior became too frustrating. She was sitting around, staring into the void, and, as it looked to me, letting everyone pity her. In my own, cold way I was angry at her for being like this. I still feel like on some level I have a point. That what she did was manipulative to some degree, and that she never cared very much about anyone but herself. It doesn´t mean that my reaction didn´t hurt her, though. I pretty much put her on ignore. She was still an unresolved issue, though, so after some time I wrote her asking how she was doing.

The reply might be among the worst letters I ever got, and there are actually some. She told me that one little detail I hadn´t known about: That she was an incest victim.

I´m not even sure why that threw me. I´m definitely cold-blooded enough to believe that this doesn´t oblige me to like, actively pity or spend time with her. Maybe it wasn´t this particular revelation, maybe it was just the terrible caricature she painted of me in that letter. My coldness, my bizarre interests and my cruel rationality. The things I got emotional and angsty about. And not to forget the aggression itself that radiated from the letter. I could hear it scream at me. Add to this my shame about my more or less secret sexual fantasies. Any allusions to this I made to her were now ringing back and forth in my head loud and clearly and, given the background, that sound was demolishing.

Amazingly, I did many things right following the letter. I wrote her back, apologizing, validating her view, offering her that she could talk to me anytime (which she, of course, declined). Then, knowing there was nothing any of us kids could really do, I went to the school counsellor and told her about the case. I don´t know what exact steps were taken and what the outcome was. In some ways I did more than her other friends, and in some ways I had done less. I guess I´d do better as a therapist than as a friend. It´s events like this which make me feel like I have nothing to give. Nothing on the emotional front at least.

I think it is ironic that on the one hand I was able to imagine Lola´s state of mind very well once I knew what was going on, and yet on the other hand I was completely unable to feel any closeness to her while she was feeling so bad and in a way it even seemed fake to me. I was very careful not to disclose her real name to the school counsellor at first because I thought that Lola wouldn´t want a secret she kept so long to spread like wildfire all of a sudden. Before I decided to see the counsellor I actually came up with the plan of killing the man responsible for her abuse, but, besides being realistic enough to know I wouldn´t do it anyway, I figured that Lola might not even want this, or at least that she wouldn´t want things to be taken out of her hands. And yet before I knew what was wrong I was unable to react to her behavior the way a friend would. Even afterwards, I was to some extent glad I didn´t have to be around her. I was glad I could try to help her from a distance.

I don´t know what to make of my reaction to her depressive behavior. Was there really something deliberate to it, something passive-aggressive, and did I notice and respond to something the others missed? Or am I simply an incredibly bad friend? (To my defense, Lola never was the best friend, either. For a couple of months, she practically bullied me.) You could probably argue for both. They´re not necessarily mutually exclusive. It depends on how you define friendship duties. Do you have to put up with months of “I´m the queen of darkness and nobody else´s problems matter! Everybody watch me stare into space and try to make me talk!”, even when the background is tragic? And what are you supposed to think when you´ve asked a million times what is wrong, you get told “I can´t tell you”, and when you finally turn away all of her other, not-as-close friends start telling you “you´d look at her behavior completely differently if only you knew her story, but we really can´t tell you!”? She could tell them, apparently. Even my own fucking boyfriend knew before I did, and even he played this bullshit on me, in his uniquely condescending way! He wasn´t even on our school! He barely knew Lola, so how did he learn about it, other than through the rumor mill? Which could apparently supply anyone but me! And did any of those self-righteous fuckers do anything other than pat her on the head and tell me how ignorant I was and how I´d totally forgive all the bullying if only I knew? Nah! It was me, the designated asshole friend, who had to get an adult involved! Because apparently everybody else was just sitting back and enjoying their goose-bumps!

As much as I did for her in the aftermath of this letter, as much did I maltreat myself. The vague thoughts of suicide I´d harbored at the time turned into a definite death sentence. I. Should. Not. Live. I felt like I neither had a right to be happy, nor did I have a right to be unhappy. Unhappiness inspires sympathy and attention and I deserved neither. I was still analyzing my growing depression the way I analyzed everything else, but analysis didn´t show me a way out, though sometimes I believed to have recognized the problem. My mother kept on bugging me what was wrong, but I, following Lola´s pattern now, refused to tell her. It didn´t seem right to let just anybody know what had happened to her. It was something I could only tell a professional who was bound to a vow of silence. Not my mother. It would have been insensitive towards Lola. My mother knew her, after all. Also – could I rely on my mother´s silence? If it made me feel so bad, she´d probably want to discuss it with my father. And who would he talk to? Thus, it took weeks until I finally let my mother in on why I wanted to die.

I realize that, other than self-hatred, my most prominent emotion when I think of all this is anger. I used to think that I´m only angry to ward off shame, but reading what I wrote I wonder to what extent my anger was actually justified. Maybe it doesn´t really matter. Maybe the belated lesson I should take from this is that conventional friendship behaviors are not my strong side. It doesn´t mean that I´m not helpful, or necessarily more harmful than others. Conventional friendship behaviors seem to include gossip, after all. Or maybe the lesson is that I´m a different kind of friend. I´m not emotionally there when you need me, but I´m the kind of friend who still tries to get you help after you call me an indifferent, disloyal asshole caught up in her ridiculous teenage problems. Being able to emotionally detach at the right time has its benefits. It doesn´t mean the rage isn´t there somewhere.

If the emotionally detached analytical state of mind is my style of sanity, though, I should go into a direction where I get to help people rather than emotionally support them. I´m not completely incapable of emotionally supporting people, I´ve actually learned a thing or two, but other than helping, fixing, looking for the right thing to do, that is something which exhausts me emotionally. It eats up resources, whereas analyzing humans and their problems revitalizes me.

I see a connection between my urge to analyze people and my sadism. It is a similar state of mind. In some ways, though, it is also different. I love the feeling that my mind, or, in the case of sadism, my voice, is like a very sharp scalpel which I drag through humanity´s flesh. In the case of analysis, this is typically the only pleasure, whereas in sadism, there is the added kick of the other person´s reaction. Which, in order to have that effect, ought to waver between pleasure and voluntary suffering. It is kind of reassuring to realize that I actually don´t get anything out of analyzing people who react with anger and protest. I don´t react with triumph to that, but with self-doubt. Good to know. So maybe this whole analysis-thing is not as evil as I thought it was. What both experiences have in common, though, is that if successful, they end with a high. I´m feeling righteously tired, nicely relaxed, and I have a hunch that ultimately everything will be alright.


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