The Beauty that Surrounds Me

In the next few days, I’ll be trying to start something I should have started a long, long time ago, but never did. I’m going to write about the stories that surround me (Films, Tv Shows, Games, Music, Books etc), in a form that, ideally, should be a mix of reviewing, discussion, criticism and personal experience. I want to talk about the beauty that surrounds me, what keeps me company, what makes me think, what makes me laugh, what makes me cry. I want to spend more time looking at those things, I want to tell others about them, and I want to learn more about them myself.

It will be extremely hard for me to keep it up, despite precisely because I feel so passionate about writing and the things I want to write about, but I’ve regretted not doing anything so far, and my life is already full of regrets and missed opportunities, and it shouldn’t be this way.

I will have to learn a lot of things, I will have to try to find a good style, most of all I will have to do my best to simply keep writing and not give up like I’m always tempted to do. I’m scared, for no good reason at all, and sometimes that fear tries to make me forget what I want to do, what I’m passionate about and what I want myself and my life to look like. It wants to make me numb, and I don’t want to be numb.

I’ll try my best to keep my word.

Failed Attempt at a Post

It’s weird to write this so many months after that last post, but I haven’t forgotten. Not completely, at least.

I say this despite feeling awful, and exhausted, and empty right about now, and I’ve been wanting to cry for the best part of today. Both literally and metaphorically, not-being-able-to-let-myself-go will haunt me for a very long time. I hate this coldness, this rigidity in my words, in my syntax, but I don’t know how to break it, how to make myself more “aggressively vulnerable”.

But these thoughts are for another day.

Since the last time I posted, I moved to a different house, I applied for two (very different) journalistic positions, I have been accepted for one and I haven’t heard back from the other yet, despite the latter being my favourite one by far. At first, I didn’t even want to apply for the one I liked the most, I just didn’t feel like I could be good enough for it in a million years. In the meantime, I started writing as a freelancer for the one that did get me, and one of my first article got huge, with more than 85.000 views.

My phobia got so, so much better now. I’m having some weird side effects that make it hard to sleep sometimes, but I can’t even compare how I deal with insects now and how I dealt with them 3 months ago, let alone last year. The anxiety comes back to a certain extent, when I’m under a lot of stress, but it looks like I can deal with it.

In a week I will have to decide whether I go back to university or not, and I still don’t know. I want to go like I want few other things, but at the same time I don’t think I’m ready, at all, and I’m afraid going would only mean having the phobia come back, and another emergency return trip before the end of the school year.

This was not what I wanted to write about. And this was not how I wanted to write about it. Dammit.

On the theme of self-expression, I’ve identified with my psychologist that there are several things I tend to hide to others, and to an extent even to myself, things that I find it hard to say or show or communicate, or even simply think and put into words in my own head. Things that I tend to forget regularly, not as an act of carelessness or distraction, but aggressively, almost, I’d say, intentionally, if it wasn’t that I’m not doing it willingly, it’s all automatic, and unconscious.

My task for the next session is to make a list of these things that I hide from others, and from myself, out of fear, out of shame, out of self-hate. The list includes a variety of things, going from my gender and sexuality, my intimacy, my love for other people, my desires and aspirations all the way to things like plushies and clothes and other aesthetic preferences.

And right now I’m incredibly frustrated, because there’s this weight on my chest that I wanted to address and express by writing this post, and instead I ended up writing a report because I don’t know how to put it into words, and where to start.

This is the very process that doesn’t let me write fiction. It’s happening, right now. I have these things that I want to say, things that I hold dear and feel strongly about but I can’t unlock them, I cannot get to them anymore, I’m too clumsy and detached and apathetic and stressed and tense and scared and lonely and I don’t love and respect myself enough to let myself feel them and live them.

What I do know is that I’m sad right now. And disappointed. And frustrated, like a missed opportunity. My language is like this because my heart isn’t here. My heart won’t come out.

I won’t stop trying, but I’m not hopeful right now…

Routines and “Whisper of the heart”

A routine is a weird thing. For me, it’s at the same time an incredibly useful mental timetable and an immensely dangerous pitfall.

I have a good routine going on right now, I’d say. Every day, I set time aside to do a lot of stuff; the way I allocate time could probably better, I could push myself further, but still, what I have now is not bad. My routine is my baseline, it’s the minimum I will strive to do every day, no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. The idea would be that, once I’m used to a routine, I can then use the good days to do even more, even better, and during the bad days I can fall back on that bare minimum I’m supposed to be used to and not waste the day.

But it’s a risky concept. And it’s risky precisely because it sounds so safe, so foolproof. By building a routine, I’m making decisions about how to use my time beforehand, so that I don’t have to do it all the time, especially when laziness, tiredness or depression make me lose my will to do anything at all. It’s reassuring to wake up and know what you are going to do.

Routines are dangerous because they feed into all of my bad habits. They favour apathy, mental rigidity, a mechanical approach to life over enthusiasm, spur-of-the-moment decisions, following one’s feelings, being here with all of oneself. The relationship between forcing oneself to do something and following one’s whims requires delicate balancing, but there is no doubt that for me only one of these two factors exist.

Perhaps a good routine would be a flexible, minimalistic one, one that left space for variety as part of the routine, and not as the exception to it. I know I tend to fill my timetables so much I’d barely even sleep, if my actual plans could be followable. No amount of time is ever enough, I need to be infinitely good at an infinite amount of things. My actual routines are a bit more down-to-earth, but they often end up taking my entire day, when I factor in things like eating, being tired or distracted and talking to people (somehow, my routines never allow time for other people, it’s as if I was alone on the planet).

Yesterday, was an ok day. Nothing in particular happened, and so it was that I went through my checklist of things to do everyday, and I still had a few hours before sleeping. And I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.

Most of the things that fill my routine are chores, obligations, musts. Even if I want to do them on an abstract level, or I know they’re useful, they’re not really exciting on a day-to-day basis. Like studying, that’s a perfect example. What I may or may not want to do has no place in my day, it’s not a question that I get to ask myself.

So, when I did end up asking it, the answer I got was a confused, muffled sound that didn’t take the form of any one particular thing. I could feel something stirring up inside me, but I couldn’t make up my mind, I couldn’t focus my will in any one direction. I felt like my answer would be too shameful to admit, or more than I deserve, or too risky for me to try. (yes, writing did cross my mind, and then my mind recoiled). The freedom to take risks, with confidence and the assurance that you will get back up and try again, would be liberating.

Eventually, I ended up watching a film. This film, to be precise. And it hit me. It hit me in a number of ways. From the throwaway sentence “I reckon today good things will happen” (Why do I never say that? Why do I never think that? Why am I always so down?), to the girl’s fear to test herself and realize her dreams, from the likeness of talent to a raw, unrefined stone to noticing that, even in fairy tales, adventures happen only to people who are open and receptive and flexible enough, who can let themselves go with the flow of what is happening around them (I learned the importance of being Receptive from M. Nussbaum).

My best friend lent me that film, to give me hope, to show me that happiness is within my reach, I just have to allow myself to try. I got that message, and yet, in my evanescent self-esteem, after the film was over I questioned whether that hope was for me, whether I was not the (negative) exception, the black sheep to be left behind. I felt like what was being shown was not a possibility for me; rather my wishes, forever to be unrealized, were being flaunted in front of me, to provoke, to show me what I could never reach, what I had lost forever.

The film woke me up from apathy, but it made me want to kill myself…

But it’s ok.

Tomorrow I will go back to my cocoon, with its lack of feelings, and it will be as if I never even watched that film, so I can keep sleeping through my days, wrapped in my comfortable blanket of routines.

Please, tell me I’m good?

As a follow up to my “Chastised Kid Syndrome”, I was asked to think about why I do the things I do, what I look for, what is my motivation when approaching them. The answer was surprisingly simple to get at: I approach everything with the mindset that I need proof that I’m good, I want that activity or thing to tell me I’m good (Intelligent, Loved, Creative, Interesting, Skilled, Valuable etc). I work well in a school environment because grades tell me I’m good, and I play videogames a lot more than I should also because many are designed to make you feel good, to reward you for your in-game achievements. (Incidentally, as soon as I realized it, I started playing a bit less; still way more than I should, but a bit less… It’s probably why I’m writing here again, too)

There are two main problems with this approach: the first one is that “Am I good?” is not the right question to ask of many activities, or in some instances it should only be one question of many. Reading a book, or listening to music do not provide very satisfying answers to that question. More appropriate questions would be: Is this a valuable part of my life? Does it make me feel better? Do I enjoy it? Does it relax me? Does it make me grow as a person? Does it expose me to new ideas? Does it inspire me, or motivate me? Does it bring something to my life that I would be worse off not having?

(I’m listening to Tori Amos while writing this, and it definitely doesn’t make me feel smarter, but it’s making me more relaxed, I’m enjoying the music, and I’m relating to it on an emotional level, and there are a number of other positive reactions going on that I can’t quite define: I definitely don’t value these things enough, I don’t give them enough space)

With other things, like playing the guitar, worrying about one’s skill is a legitimate question, but it shouldn’t be the only one, and not even the main one, actually. I myself admire musicians that aren’t extremely skilled from a purely technical point of view. Again, there are several different questions to ask that are not necessarily about me being good: Do I enjoy playing? Does it allow me to express myself creatively? Do I gain or experience anything positive while playing? Does playing allow me to vent my emotions? Can it make me feel better about myself without everything being about skill, about tests, about being the best in the world at everything, in every aspect? Can it help me learn to value myself in my uniqueness, instead of judging myself according to more objective but ultimately shallow, insignificant standards? Moreover, learning to acknowledge and value all these things may actually make it easier for me to become more skilled, as I become more passionate for the right reasons and consequently train more often and more willingly.

Even in my friendships, although they are not quite as one-dimensional as they may sound, I tend to ask for a lot of positive feedback about myself, I tend to set up certain circumstances in order to force the other person to repeatedly show me that I’m wanted and loved. Obviously this is not healthy for my relationships, and I’ve actually lost or risked losing a lot of them because of it; not to mention the near-paranoid state I sometimes find myself in, when I don’t receive exactly the right signs, and I obsess over nothing for days.

The other major problem that stems from this attitude is related to my insecurity and my inability to actually absorb positive feedback. Negative feedback, on the other hand, crushes me, even as it motivates me to do better. Since primary school, I have been better than other kids at a lot of things, and yet it was the few things that I couldn’t do well that haunted me. Now things have changed a little, but asking this question about my self-worth, all the time, means that one minor mistake can turn into the merciless judge of my entire existence, who condemns me to being “bad” (Stupid, ignorant, unskilled, mediocre, insignificant, unloved) for the rest of my life.

Positive feedback isn’t actually positive for me, it’s a +0, it’s not about moving up, it’s simply about barely keeping afloat, escaping the curse, delaying its inevitable onset for just one moment. I want to be told that I’m good, but I never truly believe it when I hear it.

Chastised Kid Syndrome

Thanks to one kind commenter, who did honestly try his best to help me, I’ve been making a couple of experiments on myself, to see if I could change a few things about my attitude and my mentality. It didn’t go well, through no one’s fault really, and I did have to spend a few weeks effectively recovering, picking myself up and getting back to where I was before, for, even if it wasn’t the best place, it’s certainly a better baseline than the misery and hopelessness my experiment left me with.

Still, it wasn’t a purely negative experience. I learned a lot from it, as well as from the stimulating conversation I had with him. And perhaps the most important thing I learned concerns why I behave the way I do. I like to call it “Chastised Kid Syndrome”.

An example of what it is: Dark Souls 2 came out a few weeks ago, I’ve been waiting for it for a long time, and it’s one of the very few games I’m willing to buy on launch at full price. Not only I enjoy it in its mechanics, but I strongly relate to it on a thematic, emotional level. When it came out, I asked my father if I could buy it, and he said that I absolutely could. 10 minutes later, I asked him again. And 30 minutes after that, I asked him again, again.

Eventually I did buy it, but the whole time, even though I got permission, I didn’t feel like I actually had permission. The way I behave, the way I feel, is like a child who has been punished by an authoritative figure, and was never forgiven, never pardoned, nor I ever earned my way back into “normality”, into a state of psychological independence and control. In a way, into adulthood.

And so it is that, if I’m not worthy, if I’m not important, then everything that stems from myself equally doesn’t matter. My desires, hopes, fears, preoccupations, my thoughts and my emotions, my creativity and my uniqueness don’t deserve to be taken into consideration, nor they can function as meaningful motivations to act. I don’t deserve to be cared for and loved, I don’t deserve enjoyment, I don’t deserve to play, I should only fulfil my obligations, be a good child, behave and maybe one day I will have done enough to be set free, to be the “master of my fate, and the captain of my soul”.

This explains so much. It explains why I work so well in a school environment (the authority imposes on me), why, during the last few years, I was only able to write when someone was very close to me (almost as if I was doing it for them, instead of myself), perhaps it explains why I can’t really progress with my transition (after all, like writing, I can only do it for myself). Obviously it affects my confidence, my sense of self-worth, the way I use my money and my time, and the fact that external praise never gets to me.

I believe it’s also one of the factors why I’m so disconnected on an emotional level. I’ve been reading Cara Ellison’s blog, her writing is always very powerful, very touching, and it reminds me of how I tried to write, but these days it’s as if I couldn’t quite remember what it feels like anymore. Not on my own, at least. My writing, like myself, tends to be clinical, cold, detached, instead of intimate, warm, I want to say, feminine. I’ve been quite upset since I noticed how I can’t seem to write more like I used to, more emotionally involved. It’s as if my brain was here, but my soul was a bit too scared to come out.

If it did, I’d finally be able to cry.

Better

My psychologist asked me to analyse the feelings of guilt that taint all my playtime and free time.

What I observed, first of all, is that there is no time when I am free of this guilt, there is no “pure” relaxing free time for me, ever. What changes is only the intensity of these feelings, whether they’re on the back of my mind or if they dominate me, whether they’re too strong for me to keep playing, or if they’re just intense enough that I am stupidly lead to play more as a way of coping with them, in the vain hope that they’ll go away and leave me free, just for a little bit, even if I am in fact simply strengthening them.

And what causes these changes is a variety of (mostly) external factors, but it all comes down to the basic reason for my guilt itself: I could be better, and I should be better. I feel guilty because I could be a better person, and I should be striving for it, doing something different, but I am not, and my playtime reinforces these feelings as much as it vainly tries to make me forget them, to make me feel better. My playtime in fact, says the opposite: I cannot be better. I want to do this because, it may be simple, it may be stupid and it may be profoundly unfulfilling, but there’s nothing better waiting for me, all the effort in the world won’t lead me anywhere.

The two opposing lines of thought – belief in my self (you’re wasting your time when you could be so much better, so much more) and self-loathing (may as well play and try to not feel too bad, because you’re not going to get where you want to be) – are always both present at all times in my mind. The latter has obviously taken over the majority of my practical life, and so there is nothing left for the former but to remind me that what I am doing is not ignoring a broken wish, but wasting real potential.

The intensity of my guilt is proportional to this belief in my potential, in what (I) could be if I tried harder; and consequently it’s fuelled by external stimuli, from awe at the dedication and effort that some people put into what they do (no matter how insignificant their achievement actually is) to inspirational talks, and a variety of often random and inconsequential things, up to Charlotte, probably the person I most hate and most admire at the same time, whose music I love and can’t listen to anymore; my guilt incarnate.

It is not secondary that the feelings I can rely on for guidance are almost exclusively negative feelings. (It usually creates a reaction so that the moment I start to get better I run out of energy to follow up and consolidate a positive change) The only emotions I can rely on to push me to make the right choices are depression, and guilt and the like; I have lost all my positive feelings (such as my drive to write) somewhere in the way, possibly when I lost the ability to play without guilt tainting it. They are still there, somewhere, occasionally they re-surface, and I’m confident I could bring them back, somehow, if I manage to ever solve this knot.

Lament

I’m slowly fading into my memories…

 

I’ve been taking steps back, getting worse.

I’ve been playing League of Legends a lot lately. And I mean, a lot. And I despise myself for every minute of it, I’m even ashamed to say it (and I haven’t admitted it for months)

I guess there are two ways of being “taken in” by something. One would be passion, and the motivation is precisely the thing you’re being taken in by. The other is escapism: you’re here not because you like it here, but because everywhere else is worse. Somehow I always fall short of the former, and end up in the latter.

I was watching the GDC talk #1ReasonToBe, and the final moments of the Laralyn McWilliams made me snap back to reality in a way. Nothing new, nothing I didn’t know or think already; it’s just been the trigger to make me wake up again. Every time it’s a different trigger. And every time I manage to fall asleep again. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in a month.

I always fall short of passion. I’m not sure why. Everything else seems overwhelming. My dreams will never come true, and I am always tired of struggling without nothing to show for it.

The reason why I’ve been playing LoL so much is that it rewards me for doing well. Putting aside all the toxicity and the stupidity of the community as well as how enjoyable the game is in itself, if you do well you win, and if you win, the game gives you points, and you go up in ranking. In a totally empty, meaningless, illusory way, when I do well I feel praised for it, and I have something to show for my effort.

Meanwhile, time passes, and I wish I could beg it to stop, because I’m 22 and I have nothing to show for it, nothing that I have done, nothing that I’m proud of and no one that believes in me. I wouldn’t even know where to start, because everything seems to be so big and impossible, and I’d just like time to stop.

Please stop.