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.

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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.

Shame

I’m going through an abysmal phase as far as my motivation, willpower and energy are concerned. I’m somehow keeping up with some of that unending training that never seems to lead anywhere (Voice exercises, guitar exercises, a bit of studying), but apathy is devouring me, and I find myself from time to time, wondering what I used to do with all the time I have.

Of course, there’s always writing, almost a taboo by now: I keep thinking about it everyday and yet it gets farther and farther from me, and I wonder how I could have ever written anything in my whole life when it seems such an impossibility. I had a sort of glimpse of how it could all be different a few weeks ago (I believe having a vivid vision of what things should be like is a fundamental part of getting there), so maybe I should work on that, make it more real for me. Although the only thing I can do in practice, is actually to make myself sit down in front of some paper and think, make myself write whatever comes to mind, basically just hoping it works out, somehow. I’m afraid the only thing it’s going to achieve is making me feel more like a failure. Still, that’s something, right? Rather than just apathy, just nothing, just watching other people from afar and wishing I could do too…

My psychologist called it “creative depression”. It’s basically the fact that feeling bad pushes me to react, to do stuff, to create, that I can turn that negativity into some kind of energy; and obviously it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing, and better than being drained of any and all energies. Which I guess is one of the reasons why I hate escapism so much.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I feel like I’m circling around some issue without really getting there, simply repeating myself.

There’s one episode I wanted to write down, because it seemed somewhat significant: I was writing an email to my best friend, telling her how I was embarrassed to do something that required a lot of social interaction with strangers, but the word “embarrassment” didn’t feel right, and then I instinctively fell back to “I’m ashamed”, and it felt accurate. Only a small part of what I was feeling was embarrassment: the prospect of having to interact with strangers was making me feel ashamed of myself. I felt that my soul was ugly and I didn’t want to expose it, I didn’t want to go out and have others see it, I couldn’t. I couldn’t get to know people because I couldn’t let people get to know me.

That line of thought also leads very easily to escapism and apathy. If you’re so ugly on the inside, you’re going to instinctively try to avoid all the mirrors around you, you’re going to just want to forget about it all. And so, I’ve once again got to the point where the system feeds on itself and perpetuates itself, and can only be interrupted by a clean break, something strong to reverse the tendency.

Yeah, I’m definitely repeating myself.

I wish I could play with Lego

(For reference, here is where the title came from)

Today got me thinking about storytelling and my creativity more than usual. Part of it is because I finished reading The Outsider, and I’ve been thinking about it as a manual that may somehow contain the key to my salvation, to the liberation of my energies.

I am constantly haunted by the feeling that I have something to say, some purpose to fulfil, some important thing that I should be doing and I am not. Sometimes I fear that I’m actually empty and I’m just making it all up. I know I’m not, but sometimes I still do.

I know the main thing keeping me down is my own self-hate. I can’t muster even a tiny bit of self-respect, and I keep letting myself down on a daily basis. There’s other serious obstacles, like dispersal of energy, but I think my self-hate is the biggest one, as it colours everything I do. There’s always an “I’m not good enough, I’ll never be good enough” background to my actions, the more so the more they matter.

I honestly don’t know why I still try to do so many things. I guess that there’s a complementary instinct, one that asserts: “This is not how things should be, this is all wrong, I could should be so much better than this, I should be great”. It’s weak, but it’s obviously there, as a sort of standard that I always fall short of, but that I strongly feel as my own.

I wish I could play with Lego, but I can’t. My parents never bought me such toys, they always bought me toys with a very strong sense of how they should be played, the one and only way; videogames being an excellent example of it. I can lament the lack of intellectual, creative and emotional fostering I had as a kid under many angles, but today this one stroke me as particularly relevant.

Lego are more of a tool to play with, than a game in themselves. You don’t play Lego, but Lego allow you to play, to create your own game. And creation, from scratch, just based on my fancy, is something I never learned. I remember being in primary school and already thinking that I didn’t have anything to say, and if I had, no one was interested in it anyway. I knew the correct answer to most questions, but I didn’t know my answer to questions to which right and wrong didn’t really apply.

If I imagine myself playing with Lego now, I think I would fail out of lack of self-respect. Not because I’m playing a kids’ game, but out of lack of respect for myself as a narrator, as a creator of an imaginative world. I wouldn’t feel up to the task, without any instructions to follow: self expression? I’d feel nervous, scared, as if I had nothing to express, as if I was nothing.

I wish I could play with Lego, and make up a crappy story just because I can, just because that’s what the pieces allow me to do, even if it doesn’t make sense, just because it’s fun in the moment, even if it has no ulterior significance. Just because it’s for me and I’m having fun with my own imagination.

Even if it’s far from my view of art, I would just like to feel liberated.

Lost Mind, Lost Soul: A Diary Of a Sickness (Pt. 6)

I feel frustrated. I feel nervous. I feel angry, and disappointed.

Today has been a collection of little failures, like most other days. Many little things, like bricks building that massive wall that has been holding me back for years, stuck in the same place, in the same apathy, in the same mediocrity.

I started by waking up late, despite my determination not to do so, and the alarm clock. Then I did that thing of studying without actually studying, your head hovering over the book and your mind elsewhere. I must have done 3 -4 pages in a couple of hours, while I wasted my time writing stupid comments on RPS about things I’ll have forgotten in a week. Then I realized I was doing this, and I told myself I’d have skipped lunch, and spent the time making up for what I didn’t study. (Not that it would matter: even if I studied 25 hours a day, I’d still probably feel that I wasn’t doing enough) Instead what I did was, eat before lunch AND eat lunch just an hour later. Then I took a shower, and I didn’t do any of the things I planned to do before that (epilation, voice feminization exercises etc) because I’m scared. I don’t know what I’m scared of, probably that I’ll take away some of the reasons why I’m miserable. I also wanted to go look for a beauty-centre to make my facial hair disappear, and I won’t do that either because I’m scared.

Failures fill my every day, and people don’t see them, because they don’t know what I’m not doing, but I see them, and they matter, and they keep me stuck, and the least I could do is feel angry. No, not angry, infuriated.

I write this here, now, in hope that it will help me be true to my word. I will not eat anything for 24 hours, counting from when I last ate, about an hour ago.

It’s punishment, but it’s not just that. It’s arbitrary discipline, and it doesn’t matter how arbitrary it is, because it is first and foremost an assertion of will. I need to prove that, if I decide to do something, I can and will do it.

I will probably be looking to systematize this kind of thing, as well as making it more severe and forcing myself to do more, in terms of concrete actions. I can’t just keep talking, I need to do things. I need to know that I’m not hopeless.

Lost Mind, Lost Soul: A Diary Of a Sickness (Pt. 3)

I have stopped hoping to be as constant as I’d like to be with this. It simply isn’t within my capabilities right now. And that’s ok, I guess. Maybe I should say, that’s not too important for now. (‘Cause, of course, it’s not ok) I’m trying to keep my diary updated more often at least. But I’d like to outline the most important things that are happening in my life right now.

I’m getting closer to the root of my phobia. I’ve found a very good psychologist, although he only sees me every other week, because I’m just not feeling sick enough. (…) Anyway, in my conversations with him, I seem to be getting to the same thought pretty quickly, no matter where I start from: I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough at/for anything, I don’t believe to be good enough at/for anything, and I don’t deserve anything. We’re still working on how and why I learned to think like this, but I do, and it’s everywhere, it affects everything, to the point that I distance myself from the only thing I’m undeniably good at (school work), or I wouldn’t be able to do it like I do. (Admitting that I’m good at it is not a possibility)

The other side of the matter is that I expect a lot from myself. I need to be “good above average” while I think I’m the worst there is. If having high expectations can put pressure on yourself, well, this way of thinking at least doubles that pressure. Failure moves from the realms of fear and possibility to that of near certainty.

There are a few things that I care a lot about.  They could be categorized as “self-expression”, or “creation”, making something that is undeniably mine, to share with others. Mostly, this means writing stories, or music, although lately the thought of making a game is starting to appeal to me. And obviously, there’s another “big thing” for me, which is gender transition. Well, everything concerning these two worlds is something I think about every day, and something I have been avoiding for years.

The avoidance is usually unconscious, while the pressure to apply myself to them comes from my rational, self-conscious and purposive side. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy those activities, but they have been so emotionally charged with expectations and fears that the thought of simply enjoying them as I should sounds impossible. In practice, it all translates to a simple formula: the more I care about something, the more I avoid it.

I mentioned that my insect phobia is caused by fears and anxieties that have been transferred, mental energy that has been redirected from its proper place because of blocks that prevented it to express itself as it should have. Well, these are the fears behind it. I have yet to be sure whether my gender transition is, in fact, part of it (I believe it is) and to what extent, but this is what the picture looks like as a whole.

About a week ago, I was feeling better, and I decided that I would try to write. I was calm, I was ok. There was no real pressure on me except the one I was putting on myself, it was a simple choice I made, to spend my time in a certain way, to try and write after a year of silence. Well, it took about 30 seconds to go from calm to extremely anxious, just with that one thought. I tried to stay with that thought for about 20 minutes, then I let it go and started worrying more about my reaction than about trying to write. But the pressure is there. It’s there, even now, only, I don’t even notice it anymore, because I’m so used to it. Pressure to do things, even trivial things, and pressure to do important things, and to recover so that I can do those things again as soon as possible.

I’m not quite sure where to go from here, though. I’ve found my block, and I felt it strongly and clearly as I took a seemingly innocent decision. How to get past it, though, is beyond me.