Archive for the health Category

The compulsion to entertain false beliefs

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by theweirdphilosopher

If I have any aim in my personal development (which is far from linear), it is achieving what I would call one possible definition of sanity: The absence of any internal psychological compulsion to believe something radically false.

In my view, such a compulsion would not so much stem from genuinely unconscious motives, memories and impulses, but rather from cognitive dissonance. I have had my fair share of experience with false beliefs and delusions based on cognitive dissonance, and maybe even more than my fair share. While someone who clings to an obviously deluded opinion which is completely out of line with his original ideas and his very own interests might not technically be psychotic, his reality testing is obviously impaired. Not by any traceable illness, but, as it seems, by his foolish attempts at avoiding an injury to his self-esteem. And that, for anyone with intellectual standards, is a humiliating place to be in.

It is a situation that shows me my personal limits like no other. Right from the start, there have always been times when I tried to believe the opposite of beliefs I knew to be false, and yet as soon as I stopped intentionally agonizing over how wrong I was, the false beliefs would slip back in place. Not completely, more in the sense of double bookkeeping. My previous realization that specific beliefs of mine were false would remain without consequence. I would, for example, acknowledge that my family was not actually abusive, and yet still perceive and treat them as hostile. When noticing my behavior, I would seek rationalizations for it which relied on very sinister interpretations of events that, other than my original stories, had actually taken place, thus making my explanations seemingly conform to reality as I knew it while still having the necessary exonerating effect.

From what I´ve gathered, some studies on cognitive dissonance show that people who are faced with contrary arguments or even evidence tend to cling to their opinions even more fiercely. If that is the case, then telling myself how wrong I am and agonizing over my foolishness and the embarrassment of it is actually going to predispose me for another relapse! And yet this is precisely the “cure” I´ve been administering whenever I came close enough to even seeing in which way I was ill.

The motive behind that line of action was my idea that in order to cleanse or rid myself of the past, I had to suffer for it. I still sort of sympathize with this view, but I might be overlooking the price I already payed. Fact is, most of the things I agonize over happened 10+ years ago, so my whole occupation with them doesn´t seem quite adequate in the first place. But that aside, those are 10 years which could have been productive. Productive, happy, adventurous. They were so to some extent, and I wouldn´t want to miss most of them, but there was always an element of gloom and self-loathing which wouldn´t have needed to be there.

I do need to sort out my belief system. But I´m doing myself and my connection to reality a great disservice if I try to make it intentionally painful. It is my good days, not my bad days that brought me to the point of even recognizing my errors. I said before that depression is an enemy of the truth. You have a much greater chance of looking at things objectively if you decrease the need to interpret everything in your favour. Depression, however, only makes you more sensitive towards anything that could be seen as failure.

I fear that I cannot muster up the mental strength to reality-test my beliefs. Some people in my past have hurt me a great deal with what they said, and I don´t know if I could stand coming to the conclusion that they were justified in doing so. The thought evokes a sense of despair, like: Was I right in absolutely nothing? Can´t I even rely on the notion that what hurts me cannot be alright? Unfortunately, that is pretty much what going crazy does to you.

Already we are back in the realm of self-punishment. Torturing myself with such ideas gives me a certain sense of satisfaction, at least as long as I can stand them even though I initially thought I couldn´t. It might actually be useful of sorts, but, like I said: Only if I can stand it. If I realize I can´t and stop, I have renewed the cognitive dissonance and in turn my need to entertain false beliefs.

Maybe this phenomenon can be compared to exposure therapy in the treatment of anxiety disorder. It is only effective if the patient makes the experience that he can stand the situation he was scared of. If he ends it prematurely, he makes the opposite experience. Today anxiety patients frequently receive drug treatment, too, so they have to work through less fear during the exposure in the first place, rendering success more likely. Similarly, if I was less depressed, I would probably be more tolerant towards the idea that I was wrong and that others were right telling me so and reacting negatively to it even though it was torture for me at the time. By accepting this idea, I could free myself from the need for it to not be true, which would open up the possibility of looking at the whole thing with fresh eyes.

There are still some therapists, however, who believe that drug treatment takes away from the effectiveness of exposure therapy because the patient isn´t forced to confront the real extent of his anxiety. Likewise, some have the idea that those who take antidepressants don´t want to face themselves. I´m inclined to believe, though, that a stable mood actually facilitates this task.

 

Self-destruction drive

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , on December 17, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

Something I have great trouble with when I´m in this depressive, masochistic mindset described yesterday is that I´m having a hard time keeping the rules I made up for my own protection, that is: To not read anything that could trigger more rage and humiliation or increase my inner tension.

About two and a half months ago I stopped reading that one psychotherapy forum I was definitely too invested in emotionally. I´d spent too much time being angry at the people there, or feeling sorry for some obvious victims of therapy and trying to formulate my answers in a way that kept me out of fights while getting my point across. Aside from the aspect of time-wasting, though, most importantly I wanted to remove myself from those peoples´ voices and opinions. I was hoping that my new real life duties and the study of science would speed up that recovery. Maybe even allow for my previous ability to think rationally to return. Instead, however, I became depressed.

I always have withdrawal symptoms when I´m online – the Internet seems boring, something seems to be missing, I don´t have any place to visit. For a while I could replace it with the NaNoWriMo forums, but that´s pretty much over now (and besides, some stuff on there made me angry, too). This kind of drama addiction really runs deep. I still feel like I was pulled away from a fight I needed to win, or from a puzzle I needed to solve, and at times I rebel against it on the inside.

On really depressed days, however, I don´t want to return in order to finally prove all my thoughts right; I want to return in order to get myself hurt. I want to read things that trigger me in the hope that finally something inside of me will break and that rock-bottom humility, that icky moral masochism will take me over and not go away again, no matter what happens.

When you support an inconsistent football team as a fairly new fan, you might find yourself always  wavering between extremes. When your team wins, you think everything is looking up, everything is going to be okay, you´re never going to lose again. When your team loses, you are convinced that you´re going to get relegated, or at least that you´re permanently a mid-table team and that all your wins were down to good luck or bad opposition.  I feel like I´m a little bit like that, and that´s exhausting. Instead of aiming to not let defeats drag me down so much, I aim for not rising so high when I win. Maybe that makes sense, it might be more economic, who knows. (But then again, is it, really? Constantly having to suppress happy thoughts and visions of success? Getting OCDish about it and knocking on wood every time I have one? That´s annoying and destracting.)

But there is more to the urge to make myself miserable. To some extent it is just very morbid curiosity. When I´m depressed I feel both more ill and more sane. I feel like I finally have the opportunity to get intimate with what I´m running from when I´m not depressed. I kind of hope that this way I don´t have to be afraid anymore in the future, that I will be free. But I´ve shown yesterday how this is an illusion, how my demons will always and forever pin the fault on me. If it doesn´t shatter me, if it doesn´t change me, I´m doing it wrong. Still, I just haven´t given up on the possibility that I could free myself if only I could make myself agree with every accusation and then see how long it really stings. If it wasn´t for that other part of me that says: “But if those accusations don´t demoralize you anymore, have you gained inner strength or have you lost your morals?”, I might just do it.

Appeasement

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , on December 17, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

Today was a very bad day depression-wise. On days like these I have this vague feeling that it should be allowed to officially distance yourself from the person you are. To say: “I acknowledge that I am a horrible, useless person and I want nothing to do with myself. Please hold that in my favor while you exorcise that person.”

The triggers for this were as trivial as it gets. Last night I whined to my mother about how difficult studying is and how I hate all my fellow students, from which I woke up feeling pathetic; and then I realized that I´m broke again, one week before Christmas, with zero presents bought. It´s not that much of a desaster, I have some money put aside which I can access easily and I´ll probably get some for Christmas, too, so I will neither have to starve nor tell my parents. It still sucks, though, because a) I´ve proven once again that I´m incapable of managing my finances and b) I´ll have to run around like a penitent for the rest of the month questioning every bloody chocolate bar I buy. Maybe part b) is actually worse.

I´m trying humour, and I´m trying hard work. Studying helps, but underneath my almost manic behavior is a steadily deepening abyss of horror. Maybe it has to do with the penitent role my depression forces me into currently. I´m play-acting that I´ve learned something from this, or that I´ve changed in some way, that I´m now the kind of person who studies hard and forgets about how pissed off she is that other students appear to have an easier time, but this is just a perversion of my real feelings. In fact, I am so crushed, frustrated and tense that I have no idea where to go from there. This moral masochism is the only way I can move into any direction; and while I´m really trying to feel what it suggests to me, I know that as soon as I feel better again, it will pass.

I feel very anxious about happy thoughts right now. To think, for example, that I can drop the act if I pass my upcoming exam, even seems to jinx me. I don´t deserve it, both morally and judging from what I learned yet (but mostly morally), it would be better for me if I failed it because if I pass that would allow me to still think of myself as superior to the other students, and therefore, I must make a pledge to stay in this masochistic mindset even if I pass. In trying to pass this test, I´m essentially fighting myself. It´s like a part of me is hell-bent on sabotaging me in order to put me to justice. I´m not going to contradict that part, as this only seems to make it stronger, and besides, it has so much power over me that I simply don´t dare make it “angry”. The only thing it approves of is rock-bottom humility.

I´m sometimes tempted to give it what it wants. It wouldn´t be difficult to figure out. But then, at some point, another part of me cries out and asks me what I´m doing here. Don´t I want to maintain some sincereity? Can I still bear looking at myself after groveling like that? Isn´t it just a cheap thrill, anyway? Am I throwing away years of defensiveness for what will probably be nothing? Do I want to compromise myself like that?

It´s true that quite possibly nothing would come from it. To every internal accusation I would say “yes, it is like that, and yes, I feel awful and pathetic for it, please help me change.” The reply would be: “Well, you´ll have to stop being like that yourself, you can´t expect someone else to sort you out. It´s your responsibility!” To which I would say: “But I don´t know what!” The reply: “Well, think harder!” – “I´m thinking as hard as I can, it´s like my head is going to explode!” – “Actually you don´t want to think of anything. You don´t really want to change, you are not sincere, you are phony, you´re every bit as bad as you were before. You have not really distanced yourself from who you are!” And there goes my peace of mind. Nothing about me is acceptable.

 

 

An enemy of the truth

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , on December 1, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

Waking up with an awful feeling. I feel like I did back then with Athena the morning after an argument. Well, maybe not all of the anxiety. But the massive feeling of worthlessness. Not so much in terms of skills and abilities. It´s a moral worthlessness. It´s a feeling of: My character, my whole personality is so massively flawed and disordered that I cannot do ordinary everyday life things. What business does a person like me have trying to study?

My priorities shift, from really urgent things (I desperately do need to study!) towards my personality. It is an almost delusional shift. My mind is fixated on my own inherent badness, though not without accusing me of trying to dodge my responsibilities that way. “What is more pleasant: Actually studying or lying around here thinking?” That kind of question could even come from Athena.

Dear madness, let me rephrase it for you: “When I feel like this, studying is indeed more painful than just lying around. Because it sucks when you cannot focus and when your inability to focus and the fact that you didn´t start studying earlier is constantly being held against you until you want to give up because you deserve failing the test anyway. But if I had the choice, I would most definitely rather study all day than feel like this.”

I guess I´m a study in depressive thought. The way things are going, I´m actually starting to consider medication. It is something I angrily refused when I was younger, but I´m starting to see that I was misguided; by prejudices, yeah, but also by my own illness. My depressive thoughts were a trial, and I was desperately fighting to be aquitted. I didn´t just want to block out the accusers. I thought “depression” was just another word for “truth”.

Maybe if I had simply taken medication as soon as I was diagnosed for the first time so much could have been avoided. Such as trying to lie to the judges. I´m coming more and more to the conclusion that depression is what makes you unable to accept the truth. And that´s human. It is impossible to accept the view of the world and the self as depression colors it. You can accept that you made a mistake, even that you acted selfishly and out of petty motivations, but you cannot accept what depression makes out of that.

I´m trying not to blame myself for that, I´m trying as much not to place the blame elsewehere. I´m not going to accuse people of not forcing on me something I adamantly refused at the time. I also, though, will not accuse 16-year-old me of being stubborn and arrogant and a horrible know-it-all. Maybe I was all that, but the primary reason why I couldn´t see how ill I was – was that I was ill. I felt like a fake when my mother took me to a psychotherapist. I couldn´t take any of it seriously, not me going there, not them for not calling me a fake right away. They had to see that I wasn´t really suffering, right? That it was my friends who should be sitting here, that I was just robbing the attention they should be getting.

I cannot help but feel that to some extent this simply was true. I did want attention rather than help. And I´d be so glad if there was any conclusion to be drawn from this, anything on the basis of which I could move on to somewhere. But there isn´t. All I can do is pointlessly judge myself. I´ve gone the way of trying to find out why I would be such a horrible person, and I ended up accusing others of being even more horrible persons – apparently that´s the sole purpose of the exercise. I´ve been considering finding other ways of getting attention, and the result was that it took the innocence out of writing and that I acted out of character. Yeah, I know. “What is more comfortable – acting like you´re a hopeless case and enjoying the pity you get, or trying again and working on yourself?”

Huh. Maybe the most comfortable thing would be to be allowed to just forget things after 10+ years. If what you once did at some point stopped defining who you are, even without a pompous, official “I have now changed” moment. If crimes can become time-barred, why can´t shame? Isn´t there some point at which you have suffered enough for one single thing, regardless of who you are now?

My imaginary mentor once said something beautiful to me with regards to my self-lacerations. He said: “In the society you live in, no matter what anyone does, he is not obliged to punish himself. He might be punished by others, but if he had to punish himself we´d consider that a perversion of justice.” – “Well, what if no one else will do it?” I replied. And he: “That´s called getting away.”

What he “intended” me to take away from this last line was that, maybe, if people hadn´t turned away from me no matter what, then it was okay. Not great, maybe, but not a reason to abandon me. I tend to feel that I don´t deserve to have relationships with other people, so if I do, I either think they have to be immensly generous (that makes me feel even smaller, which makes me feel resentful), or extremely blind (which makes me lose respect), or I believe that they are on the verge of losing their patience with and about to dump me. What he also meant was that there is no higher judge who can decide whether or not I should be in a relationship – only my relationship partner can decide that (yeah, well, and me, of course), and if they decide to stay, that´s the final verdict. (Then again: How final? If they dump me five years after I did something I feel bad about, I´ll still think it´s about that.) My relationship partners should have more of  a say in how dumpworthy something makes me than the voices in my head, and yet I stubbornly keep on ignoring the evidence. (I bet I´ll be dumped five minutes after writing this, just to prove the voices right.)

I think his point was not to tell me that from now on I should let my partners decide if I´m okay or not. What he meant was that if they think I´m okay, then I am not morally obliged to tell them that they´re wrong because it is up to them to decide what is and what isn´t alright with them.

***

So, I´m feeling just a little bit better, but that mood is far from stable. I´m still scared of trying to study. In my new life, it that´s how you want to call it, I feel like an impostor. I don´t really deserve to be there, either, so how can I expect to understand anything I´m reading, or to memorize what I learn? I understand and I memorize, although my focus indeed isn´t as sharp as it could be. I already passed one test. Still, I cannot take myself fully seriously. Cannot take uni seriously for accepting me. It´s basically the same problem. The truly ironic thing is that I was accepted because of the GPA of my high school graduation, something I did years ago. And, other than with shame, this one doesn´t count. It was years ago. I told you I´m a study in depressive thought.

I´m trying to tell myself they haven´t accepted me permanently, with all those tests they are still weeding out (though the drop-out rates don´t reflect this idea). This, however, doesn´t get me motivated, it just gets me scared – and it makes me feel arrogant. Again, there seems to be no way out, no way to get it right. Either you scare and intimidate me and beat me down all the time, or I will lose respect immediately. That´s about my self-image.

The truth, however, should be different. It might be along the lines of: “You had to make a risky decision rather quickly when you went for this new path. It is allowed to make such decisions. You don´t need to make sure you know that it is the right path for you before you even walk it. That is impossible to do.”

And also: “They don´t hate you. They don´t want to kick you out. No one can look inside of you. No one looks and you and wonders what the hell you are even doing here because you are definitely not what you´re aiming to be. The others are just as scared as you are. They, too, hate some subjects or feel like they will always fail them. They´re not all working harder than you, some are actually working less; and no matter how much they do or don´t work, they all procrastinate at times or give in to bad moods.”

I´ll write you a postcard the day my depressive mind actually starts to believe in evidence that opposes its view. This fact, however, nicely illustrates what I mean when I say that depression is not a friend of truth. Where it doesn´t make the truth feel so terrible that it becomes impossible to accept, it completely ignores exculpatory facts. Depression is not the cold-blooded scientist who fearlessly names uncomfortable truths. Depression is a trial in a rogue state. It is legitimate to flee where justice is not to be expected.

Apparently me thinking I´m psychotic again, but most definitely a whole lot of confusion

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I do okay for several days, or maybe experience some moments when I´m really down, but it´s all within reason. Literally. Until suddenly my cognitive functioning breaks down.

Most of the time when I´m down I can describe how I feel and what happens. During a breakdown like this one I can´t. It´s like my mind is cannibalizing itself. I ruminate about myself, then my self ruminates about me, and written down like this it sounds like a witty pun, but in reality I am lying on the bed sobbing pointlessly, unable to put into words or even thoughts what is wrong with me and what I´d need to feel better. This, however, makes me completely helpless. It´s a mental breakdown without any real content; a breakdown of functioning. I cry and cry, and simultaneously I want to dance because there´s a song on the radio that I like; and I´m at a loss to explain where my tears are gone or why they are still streaming down my face while my mind is singing along to Waka Waka. This inability to understand myself or to stay in one emotion for thirty seconds at a time is driving me nuts. Verbalizing is the only real weapon I have against my moods and my mean inner voices, and during those breakdowns it gets knocked out completely.

The only constant during a breakdown is a bizarre sense of guilt. I keep on wondering sincerely how it is possible to reliably do everything wrong all of the time. To be unable to even stay depressed for five minutes. On the one hand, a cheerful song can kick me straight forward into a different mood, and on the other hand, the simple fact that this is so makes me want to kill myself, so what mood am I truly in? I don´t know. It is a circle that perpetuates itself. If I´m actually still depressive, than knowing this should make the unbearable tension go away, but it doesn´t, because the song is still making me happy. I don´t even know how you can have all those affects simultaneoulsy.  And again: How emotional and desperate can I truly be, if I take the time to put the word “have” in italics? Those are questions which, to me, are absolutely condemning, and I don´t even know why. It just seems to me like I am absolutely inconsistent as a person and I cannot cope with that. Maybe according to identity theory (identity as constructs which need to be consistent in order to work) I cannot cope with being inconsistent because it makes it impossible for me to have any kind of self-conception on the basis of which I could try to understand myself or categorize my feelings, assign meaning to what happens inside of me.

I think if the Holy Inquisition still existed I´d go see them and ask if they can save my soul. Now, at the (hopefully) end of one of those breakdowns, I still feel like I desperately need to have all that falseness and absurdity in me eradicated; carved out of my body. I wouldn´t even want it to hurt, though I would want to feel something – the kind of relief you feel when you can at last scratch an itch, or when you finally breach the surface of the water and breathe.

Maybe it is single-mindedness in its literal meaning that I´m looking for. One mood, one line of thought, one emotion. Not all channels open at once. And maybe pain can grant a bit of that. Pain caused by someone else. Get my focus that sharp, fix me there, eliminate. I think my pain perception was a bit dulled during this breakdown.

Oh god, I´d better try to go to sleep now that I have a trace of my usual sarcasm back. Maybe I´m just having that breakdown because I have to study, anyway. Or well…I guess it started because I felt like I´m a complete loser and it just went on from there. Never mind. Never mind, forget it, move on or die trying. Goodnight.

 

A journey to all the dark thoughts

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , , , on November 24, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

Recently, I sent to a penpal of mine a description of my current depressive episode. She replied that she could not imagine that a psychotherapist could not immediately conclude a diagnosis from my, as she put it, lucid self-analysis, and devise an effective cure – effective provided the patient cooperates.

She knows that I have a bad history of psychotherapy attempts, and she appeared to try and empathize, telling me she didn´t want to persuade me to see a therapist again. And yet the tiny little qualification she made with regards to effectiveness speaks volumes about how many worlds we are apart. She has swallowed the blame-the-patient approach to therapy failure hook, line and sinker.

Ever since last weekend I´m struggling with what to answer. Part of me wants to be honest and tell her, without rage, in what way exactly I have been hurt and why I cannot believe anymore those were just instances of bad luck or black sheep. I can also predict, however, what is likely going to happen next: With the best intentions and in the solid belief that she is helping me she will tell me in what way she thinks my views are distorted, how she experienced her own (mostly positive) therapy and that I must have gone through some really tough shit in my family of origin if I interpret the well-meaning offers of highly ethical experts in such a self-defeating way. She might ask me if I´m sure that what I read into their words isn´t just my own depression speaking. She will assure me that of course I´m not the kind of person they made me feel like, and therefore I must have gotten them wrong, because it will go beyond her imagination that other peoples´ perception of me might differ from hers (if anything, she will add: “Of course I don´t know how you behaved towards your therapists, but the way I know you…”). And then what? What do I reply to that without at some point starting to sound defensive, paranoid or closed-minded?

When I was younger I admired proponents of the moral minority. I identified with 19th century atheists, early campaigners for women´s rights and those who fought being outcasted because of their sexual orientation. I admired their passion, their spite, their all-encompassing criticism of society and I could the intellectual sharpness of their arguments resonating inside of me, making me feel good, strong and like a pioneer. When I myself got into arguments that dealt with issues which touched upon my own, very personal conflicts with commonplace ideas and demands, I did not feel strong and in the right at all. I felt stupid, childish and impotent. For the longest time I could not win such arguments, and yet my own most personal stakes were too high for me to accept a defeat. If the others were right, I could no longer live with myself.

For some time I thought that the sheer monstrosity of the suffering this caused me was proof enough that the others couldn´t be right. It could not be reasonable that someone should righteously have to experience that amount of psychic destruction. This argument, however, never seemed to impress anyone other than very soft-hearted people. Whenever I encountered yet another stone-cold rejection of my passionate appeals I could feel my mind both turning dull and starting to race with torturing thoughts; and some painful, hollow feeling seemed to be eating itself through my chest, making me want to cut it out. Not to mention the wish to hurt the person who´d caused it in some way or the other.

It makes me doubt myself a great deal that many of those feelings were caused by my defending of beliefs which I now recognize as false. If much of what those “others” said back then was the truth, then my sense of humiliation related to being confronted with reality. And while the reality of ten years ago might not matter to me anymore, it still matters to me that I might have a problem with reality. I don´t want to be the kind of person who cannot bear to live her life based on what is true. So what do I do if all evidence is pointing towards just what I dread most?

There is no way out of this. I can either ignore or explain away the evidence, turning myself into precisely what I don´t want to be; or I can admit that the evidence is accurate, but unfortunately that noble act comes too late to redeem me. The damage the evidence relates to is damage I have done long ago. I´ve already become the person I never wanted to be, and admitting it won´t change it.

Some might think this is stubborn. The past is gone, and everybody deserves a second chance. Unfortunately, past and present are not so dissimilar. I still very much identify with that old sense of humiliation, I´m still having similar experiences and I can not whatsoever guarantee it won´t happen again. The thought alone of second chances scares me, the life of a penant doesn´t seem a life worth living to me. If I don´t even manage to be halfways decent without practicing a stressful amount of self-denial, how am I supposed to be able to be super good?

My thoughts sometimes work in mysterious ways. I was thinking about how much I would want to ask my former professor for his opinion on my life story and everything I had done. I would not so much ask for a moral evaluation, but rather appeal to his creativity, as he is the one person I could imagine off the top of my head who I´d trust to have a happier solution to all this than life-long penance and self-enforced toxic humility. And at some point in our imaginary conversation he, flatteringly and ever observantly, said: “I think it will be very difficult for you to really get rid of your way of torturing yourself, as this is part of what makes you so lovable.”

Imaginary as his view may be, it struck a nerve with me. First of all, I realized it reflected my own opinion of myself. I would not like myself if I wasn´t like that. Paradoxically, I can only agree with myself when I talk about myself in a harsh, critical manner. It is a paradox I tripped over quite often in my life.

Then, however, I actually encountered that view in real life, in someone else. It was Athena who told me that my ability to self-torture was the one thing she had always admired so much about me. She told me this in a very judging fashion, when I had just started to violently try and shake that fatal “ability” off, and this hit me. If my torturing and dissecting and deconstructing myself is indeed what makes me valuable, lovable, worthwhile to others, then what am I supposed to think of those whose love and appreciation I am trying to gain?! What is so different, so severely wrong with me that I have to persistently scourge myself in order to earn what others get for free? Why are others allowed to just accept themselves the way they are and somehow it doesn´t taint their honour? What am I – some kind of example? Something that isn´t likeable but useful, as long as it does what it does best?

What might have been most healing about that imaginary quote was, however, that he kind of called me out on my own neglected infatuation with my self-torture. Not in a confrontative, humiliating way, but by validating me. Since that conversation was but a figment of my imagination, I can say authoritatively that he really meant what he (didn´t) say. He finds me lovable that way, but he told me so in form of a self-critical observation about what he enjoys, not in form of a sourpuss moral demand that holds me to different standards than everyone else.

It did not come across as him telling me that I was bringing my suffering upon myself, but rather it felt like a reminder that my being like that isn´t all bad; it is nothing I have to fight with all I have. I am allowed to be this way, play with it, use it to charm others just a little bit. I don´t have to be all sourpuss myself, either – but liberating as that sounds, it is starting to conflict with my need to genuinely self-torture. Here is where imaginary conversations crash hard against their own limits. I have not really been absolved by anyone. It is something I do myself, and on my own responsiblity. As it is, there is no one out there looking at me that specific way. The conversations feel so real that it is sometimes hard to remember that. Again, I appear to have a problem with reality; and yet the conversation with Athena was real, and isn´t my anger about it somewhat righteous, too?

I feel like I´m, in a way, on to something when I say that there was a certain tendency in people in my life towards reinforcing a specific trait of mine more positively than good for me. This positive feedback created a certain pressure to remain that way, but also, I was held by standards set by my best self-critical behavior and those cannot be met at all times without cutting oneself off from life and emotions. “You can be so mature oftentimes, why can´t you be so mature now?”  My maturity, maturity in general became my nemesis; the very thing that made me feel like a failure in comparison. I was mistaken to believe it was the maturity of others I that pathologically envied and raged at; it was my own former behavior others measured me against that I could no longer live up to. Most of the people who confronted me back then were a lot older than me, and yet I feel like a failure for having been less mature than them – and, essentially, they, too, treated me like one because they were expecting me to act differently. Much of my immature behavior back then, however, did not so much consist in trying to get my way in ordinary teenage matters (going out, allowances etc.), but it was solely about the right to be immature, stupid and unreasonable. Maybe that explains some of the more outrageous things I said back then, things I cannot and couldn´t really agree with but which to defend seemed necessary.

My mother seemed to admire me in many ways, and that can be scary. When I think of her – sometimes almost shy – smiles and looks, I feel both lonely and awful, like I´m a person who intimidates others. It is difficult when you feel that a person really wants you to like her. My mother keeps on saying that I imagine her to be more vulnerable than she really is, and maybe that is true, but that doesn´t change my feeling of uncanny omnipotence. I do have a way of feeling responsible for too many things, too many peoples´ moods, and for believing that my own thoughts and feelings can cause terrible things to happen.

As I think these thoughts, I´m torn between two ideas:

1) I´m not really that important, my mother didn´t really admire me, she was just wisely humouring me because I was a demanding child with a terrible temper. My belief that my thoughts can make things happen shows that on a deeper level I´m narcissistic to the point of delusion.

2) I should have recognized the power I have earlier and used it more wisely, I must have caused so many terrible injuries, and most of all, my helpless, loving mother.

Neither idea does me any favours. They merely offer me the choice between a sense of guilt and a sense of ridicule. Neither idea takes into consideration what I want, or that I even am a being of my own with personal feelings that can just as easily be damaged as anyone else´s.

I´m not sure where all this takes me in terms of my original question. Maybe towards the conclusion that I´ve been so conflicted for so long that I really don´t need to try and resolve my issues now by telling my penpal what psychotherapy does to me. Or that I cannot trust myself at all, so that I should better not ever say anything about anything.

Or, of course, that I have no obligation to always be wiser and more mature than everyone else, although there was a certain pressure to do so that did not originate in myself. I can respond emotionally and take this risk that I make a fool of myself, and it will be no more of a shame if I do it than if anyone else does it. I´m afraid, however, this remains a very theoretical option, as my penpal, too, has an ever so slight tendency towards idealizing me – and that never ends well. When someone idealizes you for being something they value, they will never forgive you for managing to convince them that you are not like that, and their admiration will turn into vitriolic disdain if you try to tell them this is actually okay. In their eyes, it will make you weak – weaker than they themselves think they are for not fulfilling their own ideal.

Some people seem to understand themselves as the helpers of “genuises”. They enjoy the thought that they might be able to understand a genuis better than he understands himself. Instead of climbing all those other social prestige ladders that all too slowly lead up to the “genius” and trying to earn themselves a place of their own, they jump to the top of the invisible hierarchy and merely try to get one up on the person up there. All they need is someone who is clearly bright and creative, but just as clearly suffering and somewhat dysfunctional. What could prove their own, the helpers´ intelligence more convincingly than their ability to understand the mental workings of a misunderstood, outcast genius? It seems to indicate an intelligence that is superior not just to oh-so-ignorant society, but even to that of the object it studies. I feel a certain sense of caution towards people who call me a genius without a trace of sarcasm or hostility in their voice. It seems perfectly natural to me to have a great problem with the idea that someone else might be more intelligent than oneself, so those who have no problem whatsoever with that appear to be unnaturally superior to average people in at least one department: Self-confidence and how to display it. And it seems like a good idea to be just a little bit wary of such people. Clever, convincing displays of self-confidence are, after all, key to social dominance. Maybe it´s the sum of my experience, maybe it is sheer envy of the pure, selfless souls of somehow more mature people – I don´t know. If I dare trust my gut, however, I´ll remain cautious to spill my guts when people assure me one time too often that they think I´m brilliant and wise. I´m quite sure that their respect and adoration don´t go far enough to a) change their minds on things and b) not use everything I said against me should I develop a will of my own.

I think with those last bits I´m being horribly unfair towards my penpal. That was more directed towards a long-time friend who managed to both put me on a pedestal and look down upon me. It is amazing, though, to understand where so much of my paranoia is coming from. I discount many of my thoughts and perceptions as narcissistic and judgemental, but once I try to understand how I reached those conclusions, I find that they were formed based on observations and experiences which are perfectly valid.

I still don´t know what to write my penpal, but I think I´ll have an easier time figuring it out now.

Fear of illness

Posted in health, morbid, personal with tags , , , , on November 9, 2013 by theweirdphilosopher

I´m constantly worried about my health lately. I feel like I´m losing too much hair, I´m not happy with my teeth and my stomach troubles me, too. It is making me anxious as it appears to crush an image I always had of the life I would live one day. Going bald, being ill and feeling like I can´t maintain sufficient dental hygiene no matter what I do was never part of that image – and so I cling to the hope that somehow miraculously everything will be okay again and life doesn´t have to end yet.

My anxiety got worse and worse over the last few weeks until today I finally realized something of value: That life isn´t over until it´s over. Few people whose actions we still remember were perfect the way I envision it. I guess if we admire someone for something our brain irrationally completes our picture of that person in a misguiding way. We admire someone´s poetry and assume that he or she must have been beautiful; but by today´s standards, no one from one or two centuries back above the age of 15 and below the highest income class could have been regarded as anything other than a tramp. So we either have to assume that people can create something of value despite being gross and ugly, or we have to quite ignorantly trash all of our cultural history whenever a widespread increase in health and hygiene comes along.

Mind you, I´m not trying to give myself permission to completely let myself go. I´m trying to give myself permission for existing in a society whose beauty standards are devised in photoshop and in which illness becomes more and more a matter of moral failure. I´m trying to break free from the idea that if I was diagnosed with a chronic, life-shortening and gross illness today (like anything intestine-related) I am not allowed to have dreams anymore. And should I continue to lose as much hair I don´t want to feel like I need to adjust my self-esteem and my expectations for life to my dropped levels of attractiveness. If this sounds perverse, here´s a story from a forum I used to read: A woman suffering from severe hair loss kept on beating herself up over having preferences with regard to the looks of others! She felt she no longer had a right to find some types of men unattractive because she, having nearly no hair left, needed to take whoever would take her! At the same time she complained that her relationships never seemed to be symmetrical. Well, guess why! She basically defined herself as inferior to everyone with hair (and even without hair).

Does it make her a hypocrite to have standards even though she has hair loss? No. If anything, what is hypocritical about her having standards is that she desires the company of someone she perceives as valuable while offering something in return that she perceives as worthless: Herself. I still don´t think, however, that´s a particularly humane approach to her predicament. Since she wrongly perceives herself as worthless, she´s not actually ripping anyone off. And if she isn´t, then what´s the point in making her feel bad for wanting a relationship with someone she feels attracted to?

So, yeah. What I´m trying to drum into my head is that I don´t lose my right to feel really, really awesome if I should get ill or otherwise damaged. One thing I really dislike about many writings by and for people affected by one condition or another is that they don´t talk about happiness, they talk about life quality. That in itself is something I find scary. That for people with chronic illnesses, there is a separate term, a separate thing that can never be as good as the real deal. It increases my feeling that should I really have a serious illness I´m somehow no longer part of the ordinary human population. That absolutely everything has to change and no part of my life, my self and my psyche can remain unaffected, and that I will never able to experience the folly of believing I´m the king of the world again. Which is really sad. Since that feeling is never justified, there is no reason why being ill should exclude you from it, right?

It seems like the adequate emotions for a chronically ill person are gratitude, humility and the infamous seeking of pleasure in small things. Wow, no surprise people fear diseases! Come to think of it, this kind of mindset is characteristic for people who have lost all their hopes. Sure, you might think, hope for healing or getting better would be misguided in many cases. That is true, but given that everyone is mortal, isn´t all hope misguided eventually? What separates ill people from us is not the fact that they´re going to die, but the fact that they know how they´re going to die (minus the occasional ironic accident). And yet we carry around all kinds of silly hopes: That we´ll meet the love of our life, that we´ll get a nobel prize, that we´ll get to buy a luxurious house. Why are we entitled to aiming for that level of happiness and gratification, while ill people are expected to content themselves with  the dubious and often artificial pleasures of “small things”? It does happen that people are so miserable that a day with no or less pain is like a miracle, but that´s completely different from expecting people to stop being hungry for life.