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.

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.

Hopes and Relapses

For the past few weeks, I have often felt on the verge of making a clean break, turning my bad habits around, making an upward spiral of positive energies out of my downward spiral of negative thoughts, fear and self-hate. I even managed to write, a couple of weeks ago. It was a short, stupid and bad poem, but right now, the action per se and its symbolic value mean more to me than what I actually write.

But then, everything is ruined all too quickly, I can never quite make it far enough, and I come down again, depressed, hopeless, lazy, scared of finding myself empty, terrified of not being good enough for anything. All it takes is a small mistake, giving up to temptation, listening to the voice of my best friend (who certainly loves me more than I do, and perhaps doesn’t entirely share my ambition and my views – but I’m not blaming her) that tells me to not be so hard on myself, to reward myself for the good things I do. I rewarded myself for managing to write, and here I am, 2 weeks later, and I have lost (and regained, and re-lost, and so on a few times) all that momentum that I had managed to build.

It’s a shame that I can’t seem to keep on a good path long enough to let some good habits stabilize; my best moments seem to be when I stare at all my hideousness, I see all my shortcomings and defects clearly, I feel them clearly; sometimes it all becomes too much, I have no hope in anything and I simply close up. But eventually, often immediately, all the negativity gives me motivation to apply my energies and my best effort in all I do. In a way, it’s either that or suicide (literal or metaphorical). I wouldn’t be here writing this, if this process hadn’t repeated itself so many times.

But linking my positive energies to the negativity I’m trying to eradicate is self-defeating. Not to mention all the obstacles that can break that surge of good will – distractions, practical problems, tiredness, sometimes it takes as little as going to sleep, and the next day it’s all gone.

I can tell something is getting better. I feel like I’m cyclically coming nearer to that turnaround I need, nearer and more often. I’m strongly attracted to putting myself through some life-changing symbolic actions, something ascetic like a spiritual retreat, something painful that lasts an extended amount of time, a couple of weeks, maybe, or a month, or as long as it needs to be, so that when I come out on the other side, the scales are tipped the other way.

Loneliness, Functioning and Human Warmth

For all the effort I put into escaping escapism, from time to time I suddenly realize how it has made its way back into my life in subtler forms, as a sort of survival instinct that is so hard to eradicate. Augustine was one of the first to realize that, the more you are self-conscious, the more your rationalizations become subtler, evil becomes thinner, hides deeper, but it never really stops.

Apathy still takes me all too easily, instead of letting me suffer like I should. Maybe that is the reason for my inability to act, to express myself.

I feel lonely. I could have said that at any time during the last several years, but these days it strikes me harder than usual. I realized I spend about 6 and a half days alone every week. Which then leads me to wonder how anyone is supposed to feel ok, how anyone is supposed to ‘work’ within circumstances like my own. At this point I turn to my Nietzschean “Higher men vs. the Herd” line of thought, and realize that I should, I should endure it, I should ‘work’ (function) despite it, I should shine through it. Not to mention those thoughts that reflect on how some truly despicable and stupid human beings have friends, which mean that I somehow don’t deserve them, either because I’m more despicable than them or because I’m clearly missing something that lets them have friends and prevents me from the same.

And so I’m left with two, almost opposite feelings: a profound wish, a crave even, to feel loved, to cuddle with someone, to have sex with someone, to share human warmth not just with words but with the body; and on the other side a mix of stoicism and self-deprecation – stuff like “I clearly don’t deserve it, so I have to earn it first”, “Maybe I don’t have it in me”, “I have to endure and make do without it, shine through it” and maybe someday, in that future that never comes and never will. And when I can’t negate either, that turns into profound dissatisfaction and a bleak outlook on the future, and inaction.

Perhaps it will always be a mystery to me, how some people tell me they struggle to understand certain things that seem so clear to me, and yet I fail to understand such a supposedly simple thing as how people get to know other people and make friends. Here’s another not-quite-contradiction: I hate and despise the vast majority of people just as I crave their company, their touch and their warmth – not of everyone, admittedly, just enough, just 2 or 3, to keep the loneliness away.

There’s one thing I know for sure: in these years characterized by failure to reach one’s goals, dissatisfaction, depression, self-hate and “not-enoughness”, my best friend – the owner of that o.5 day per week of my life – is the only thing that keeps me alive, sane, and sometimes happy and thankful. She makes me feel loved, and yes, I still think I don’t deserve it, but somehow she sees through that and she still does make me feel that way. She’s the only one who does.

But the feeling leaves soon, about a day after her, and I go back to normal. Still, those few hours that she gives me, they feel like freedom. They feel like hope. And I wonder whether, if I had a bit more of that, I couldn’t then overcome so many of the difficulties that keep me down, that keep me from going from though to action, that keep me listening to that voice that says “You’re not good enough, you don’t deserve anything”. I wonder…

Lost Mind, Lost Soul: A Diary Of a Sickness (Pt. 5)

More than 3 months after my last post, I come back to dust off this blog, with the same old hope that I may be more constant with it. Actually, I have to admit the recent increase in likes and comments has helped setting my mind on it again, although I never really forgotten about it.

Things are definitely better. Better, not good. I think this is how I was hoping to feel by July, on my way to recovering for university. That year is gone, and the only thing I can do is make these months count the way they are.

The phobia is mostly gone. The sensation I have is that it’s only temporarily gone, because there are next to no insects with the winter’s cold. I’m doing my best to use this anxiety-free time I have to work on everything. The depression that was hidden beyond the anxiety is showing itself, though, with all its charge of sadness, self-contempt, lack of will, feeling of absolute, universal loneliness.

I’m noticing a few things, as I’m writing. One is that I’m not used to writing anymore. For some reason, I lost all my e-pen friends, so I haven’t written a word (besides some simple IM chatting, and note-taking – more on that later) effectively since my last post. But it’s not just rustiness in word-choice or syntax: I have trouble identifying my intents, thoughts and desires with lexicon and then organizing them in sentences. It’s not simply a linguistic problem, it’s psychological confusion (see the title of this diary), although I’m sure more writing would certainly help with it. It’s a subtle feeling in everyday life, at the same time a sense of many contrasting thoughts and a lack of a clear dominant direction.

I’m also noticing how I repeated twice in two paragraphs that I’m doing my best with what I have; which feels a lot like compensation for feeling guilty that I’m not, and afraid that I will not. With my main psychologist, it always feels like every session is very productive and useful, like I’m always making some kind of progress. (I may try to write short follow-ups to those sessions, as a way to encourage more regular posting) But, I’ve started seeing a psychologist specialized in gender identity in September, and I can’t recall one question she asked me that is somehow related to gender identity. Still, while that may be her fault, I haven’t made any progress in that area by myself either. I tried, at times, but everything scares me so much. For instance, I had started studying voice feminization techniques, but they look so hard, and I get discouraged easily these days. I’m sure I would start seeing some results if I just tried an hour a day for a couple of weeks, but when, at day 2, I start thinking I’m worthless and I’ll never get anywhere with it, or with anything else, I just get depressed. I know I should endure it. I feel so damn guilty.

Other things are better, though. The last couple of weeks I’ve studied almost every day, played the guitar often and read as much. I’ve been exposed to some interesting ideas, from Colin Wilson’s The Outsider to the plot of Metal Gear Solid 2, just to mention the very last ones, and it’s exciting, nothing less. This is definitely the side of my life that is progressing better. It was also the only part of my life that was remotely successful, before all this happened. Feels like ages ago, honestly. One of my major problems, though, was that I had this, and nothing else.

I’m still incredibly lonely. My best friend is also my only friend,¬† and she does her best by seeing me every week, and it’s not her fault, but for me it’s not enough. I still have no satisfying outlet to discuss ideas, exchange thoughts, comments on random stuff, jokes, or simply to give and receive affection in any way that feels meaningful. Even if I started posting more, I feel it would be just a second rate solution to only a few of these problems. I spend 6 and a half days every week in my room, mostly alone, so much so that when my father is around it feels a bit awkward.

My impression is that I’m recovering from the major crisis, and in doing so I’m going back to how I was before everything happened. Which was, tautologically, the same situation that made me develop the phobia as a defence in the first place. The true process of getting better has yet to start.