Baby Steps

Hello, internet.

Sorry I’ve disappeared for a few months. I haven’t logged in to WordPress or Twitter in quite a while. I’m always wary of being too particular in case what I reveal starts being used against me, but, perhaps ill-advisedly, I feel like trying to explain a little bit of what has been going on with me.

When I left, I mentioned I was having some issues even I didn’t quite understand. What happened is that I started having headaches and a general feeling of exhaustion that wouldn’t go away, and that prevented me from doing much of anything. It’s a shame, because I was at a good point with my games writing, and I was planning to start sending pitches to a couple of website and see if they were interested in what I had to say.

The headaches were psychological in nature. In a way, this was a repeat of the major breakdown I had about 3 years ago: on a much smaller scale, for sure, but the main underlying themes were largely identical. My mind refused to do any more work, every time something associated with a “must” came up, the headaches would also come to stop me from doing those things. And since I’m a weird and twisted human being, I had to drop pretty much everything. The only activity my mind allowed was playing videogames: my other hobbies, passions and pursuits, including reading, writing, playing the guitar, were all forbidden. (Let’s not even mention my transition, that’s been stuck for years at this point)

The problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is that it’s way too easy for me to take everything as if it was work, and in doing so, I tend to distort the things I like to do to the point that my passion for them is nowhere to be found. And since I’m impatient and I have very high standards and expectations, it’s also easy for me to create a living hell of a daily routine where I must exert myself all day every day, with next-to-non-existent spaces for relaxation, winding down and enjoyment (especially because I tend to see those things that are supposed to be relaxing either as more work, or as a weakness, a waste of time that I reluctantly accept but that I’d actually like to eliminate)

The headaches went away relatively quickly after I understood what was going on (after the message got through to me) but nonetheless I have been stuck doing nothing besides playing games for quite a while longer. My psychologist’s main suggestion has been to focus on relaxing, and giving myself space, as much as possible, but that’s very very hard for me, so it took some time. I’ve been doing a lot of meditation as well, and that took a while to kick in but now it really helps making me feel better.

I’ve been slowly improving over the past few weeks. I say slowly, but honestly any progress seems too slow to me. People with a more balanced and less demanding perspective than my own say my progress has been good and steady. I’m not quite where I was before this, but I’m not far off either.

Still, I’m trying to go slow, right now, and not feel guilty about it in the process. I’d like to do so many things, and I feel like I’m wasting so much time, but it’s obvious I’m not the best at judging these matters, and I’ve already broken down twice from over-exerting myself. I’m also not as stable as I could be. While my insect phobia got massively better, it’s still an issue, and one that is relevant right now insofar as I’ve had a few close encounters with insects in my room lately, and on bad days they can still be a significant source of anxiety and stress.

While I still don’t have the mental energy necessary for many things, I’ve nonetheless been trying to integrate some stuff back into my life where I can. On a good day, I feel like I can write a bit. Right now I’m working on a couple of posts for my games criticism blog that may or may not ever see the light of day, depending on whether I find the strength to see them through.

And it pains me to say that, it really does. I’m 23, I’ve wasted so much of my life already, and now I have to hope I have enough energy just to write a stupid essay even though I have no commitment or obligation in my life whatsoever. I’ve been saying this for several years now, but if I didn’t have at least some hope that I could get better, and more importantly, that I could become a significantly better person, I’d just kill myself. I’m so tired of having to look for baby steps, and go slowly lest I break down again.

But baby steps are all I have right now. Like this post, right here. Baby steps, right?

I’ve been thinking about my future as well. I won’t be repeating last year’s experiment of writing about games, precisely because if I can’t see it through once again I’ll have wasted another year. I wouldn’t mind writing a post or two, whenever I have the time and something interesting to say, but we’ll see. It’s definitely not a priority: if I can fit it on the side, all the better, but I’ll drop it if I have to. Instead, I’m planning to complete university. Philosophy. They will only recognise one year of my previous studies, even though I completed two, so I’ll be starting from the second year once again, but better than nothing. Once again, I can only hope I’ll find enough strength to see myself through that.

Still, I got through nearly a thousand words here. That’s a thousand more than I wrote in the last few months.

Baby steps.

I Want

Look at that title. Doesn’t it sound whiny and entitled. Like a spoiled brat who doesn’t know the value of things: “I want this, I want that”

I remember that monstrous being people identify as my biological mother, to my great displeasure: she used to make fun of me for wanting things. She wanted to teach me that I couldn’t just want things; especially skills but also material things, which at that age meant toys and videogames, mostly. It wasn’t enough to want, I needed to work for them, that was her point.

I’ve always been very ambitious.


In a way, I should be thankful. I haven’t updated this blog much, but that’s not because I’ve been worse. I’ve got better. So much better I can hardly compare where I am now with where I was a year ago. Many small things improved, but most of all, I’m regularly writing about games, which is pretty extraordinary for me.

When I think about how and why I have improved, I imagine a mental block that I have managed to dissolve, a little like solving a puzzle in a game; and as a result, I’m able to access a new area of my personality. It already existed, I could describe it and “feel” it before, but I could not access it, or act on its impulses. I have not changed, in a way, but I can now do things I wasn’t able to do before, because the block, well, it did its job. I can realize what I already was in potential to a greater extent.

Mostly, I’ve gone back to where I was before my breakdown, almost 2 years ago, when I was a highly flawed, but mostly functioning human being. Perhaps I improved a little, but I’m roughly there.

And I can tell because there’s another block I’m dealing with, the same I was dealing with back then, the one that caused my breakdown. It’s huge, and heavy, and solid. It shows no signs of fragility, no cracks I might infiltrate, no weaknesses. I believe if I can dissolve it, everything else will fall into place, and the vast majority of my issues will solve themselves. I’m not saying I’d be completely fine and happy, I’m still very isolated for instance, but I think things would improve even more than they did when I overcame the other, smaller block

This bigger block manifests itself in a variety of ways. It’s in everything I do. Mostly, it’s limiting the ways I am able to express myself; it can be partially summed up in that expression, “I want”, or rather in my inability to act on what I want, but here language gets tricky, and I don’t have the proper terminology to explain how I understand this in a simple way.

On an abstract level, I know what I want, and, relatedly, what I like. I want to transition. I want to be creative. I like videogames, literature, philosophy, and I like engaging with those things. Just to mention a few examples. If I started my gaming blog, it’s because I enjoy reading about games that way, and I genuinely want to write about games myself.

But when it comes down to it, to doing things in practice, I don’t know how to approach anything as a “want”, but only as a “must”, as an obligation, as a chore, as homework, as an assignment. Which can be useful, occasionally, no doubt about it. But for me, for how I work, and for how this attitude pollutes my life, it has sucked the joy out of everything I do. (Except videogames, to an extent, and even they are affected by it, but that’s another story)

And then, there’s my guilt. Omnipresent, soul-crushing guilt. It’s everywhere. It’s the emotion I feel the most, together with frustration directed at myself.

It’s as if everything I do has to have a use, a purpose, an ‘objective justification’. Every minute has to be productive, which is why I tend to make mental timetables. Not that I would like to waste time, but I tend to think of my days in time blocks, all of which have to be filled with ‘meaningful’ activity, all of them of the utmost importance, all of them to be performed to the best of my abilities, and with the utmost concentration. Of course I regularly fail, because that’s not humanly possible, and then I feel guilty for “wasting time”

This abstract description is not even half of the picture, but let’s make some concrete examples.

Take writing, for instance. I know I want to write. Over the years I doubted myself, I decided to quit it, and I did a lot of soul-searching, but I always went back to it in the end, so I know writing is important to me. But it’s been years since I genuinely enjoyed writing anything. You’ll see me complaining about my writing style on my gaming blog: I hate it. It’s dry, arid, lifeless, excessively academic, it’s the opposite of what I’d like to achieve (one of my biggest inspirations is Cara Ellison, whose style is lively, personal, “aggressively vulnerable”), but it’s a necessity for now. If I try to write like that, I freeze up. I want to write articles for my gaming blog, I really do. But never for a second I approached writing an article with an attitude of wanting to write. Only ever with the attitude that I must write.

When I try to do creative writing, most of the time I’m just blocked, and when I’m not I almost have to beat the words out of myself. Again, they’re dry, they lack any kind of passion or liveliness. And the problem is that I never ‘want’ to write, but I always ‘must’, because it’s so important to me. And when I want to get serious about creative writing, well, it’s not just writing that is affected. Because if I want to be any good, then I must read a lot, right? So, if I really want to write, perhaps I should read a minimum of 2 hours a day, and write an hour a day. The keyword is ‘should’. I took another activity I enjoy doing, reading, and turned into a chore. I still enjoy reading, occasionally, but that’s almost an accident. I’m not reading because I want, I’m reading because I must.

My day-to-day life is filled with chores that are supposed to be my hobbies and my passions, only emptied of that quality that made them so in the first place. And working pretty much every waking moment is exhausting. Well, not working, exactly, but being in the working mindset, in that “must” attitude. Incidentally, that’s why I waste a lot of time: it’s the only way I have to escape all this mental construction. And even then, it’s not like I won’t feel guilt afterwards, but at least my mind has got a moment of respite.

Aside from stress, frustration and guilt, I’m apathetic all the time, which is in my opinion another effect of that same block. Just like I can’t do something simply because I want to do it, my emotions have been suppressed too. I cannot express myself in any genuine way. In the case of my emotions, they are replaced by constant conceptualization and rationalization. If my writing style is what it is, it’s because those things are all I have to work with.

It’s as if what I want and what I feel don’t matter. They have been suppressed, removed, replaced. I don’t want to say that those two things are the most important, relevant or “true” expressions of one’s personality, but in a way they’re the most spontaneous and un-mediated. In my day-to-day, I’m missing an entire area of my personality, I lack two important motivations to act, two fundamental sources of energy.

And I think that if they aren’t coming out to play, it’s because they are scared of being hurt, and maybe someone didn’t teach them to believe in themselves and stand up for themselves.

It’s clear to me that if I manage to open the lock, to overcome this block, everything will be affected. I wouldn’t solve all my problems, but I would solve so many.

Most importantly, I’d recover an important part of who I am, and I’d be able to realize much more of my potential.

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.