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.

Lost Mind, Lost Soul: A Diary Of a Sickness (Pt. 4)

‘I was hoping I’d be doing better by now.’

That is my most recurrent thought. It’s been more than 3 months, but every apparent sign of me getting better was just a moment in a fluctuation, or so it seems.

Or maybe it wasn’t, and I’m just seeing everything negatively because I had different expectations. To be honest, I feel a little bit better. Sure, I have not been able to spend 24 hours by myself, but I also never had to take psych drugs again, no matter how sick I felt.

What really bothers me, I guess, is that I was hoping I could use my recovery time differently. Maybe I had underestimated what the concept of recovery implied. I was hoping I could read, study, write, publish reviews and essays, explore my opinions and ideas, and a lot more. Basically, I think I was hoping to be sane and with a lot of time on my hands. Unfortunately, my issue is deeply linked to the same things that I’d like to be doing.

So, I have to spend my days doing all those things I had always hoped to completely erase from my possibilities. It feels like I’m slowly poisoning myself and all I ever believed in. Every day, I need to entertain myself with something mindless, that would just not let me think, because if I think things start to go badly again. And every time I read that “entertain”, it seems to me like it means that I need to be numbing myself down. Anaesthesia. Videogames are my psych drug, I’m already high and taking my full dose of meds, killing my brain cells and my personality by the minute.

Surely, I always strive for a compromise, for the best within my limits. Every time I feel good enough for it, I start reading again, and my videogame choice always tries to include something intelligent. But I’d lie if I said I didn’t feel bad about myself. I would not befriend myself if I saw my own Steam profile, and I simply despise the thought of acting like I am; I despise who I am becoming, even though I can’t seem to do anything different.

My psychologist made me notice how my anxiety conveniently gets a lot worse every time I start planning to do something concrete, every time I try to cross something off my To-do list, rendering me unable to do those things. I know it now, and I have stopped trying for now, but the length of this “for now” scares me. I don’t want it to be another excuse that I’ll keep repeating over and over again.

Some days I feel so stuck, I lose all hope and I just want to kill myself.
My life right now isn’t worth living. I’m only still alive because I hope in a better future.

Steven 1: Distractions

I am going to start this study by describing the most eye-catching feature of Steven’s life: the way he spends his time. This will also allow me to mention most of the themes that I will come back to, in time.

So, how does Steven spend his time? Mainly playing videogames. And this is valid both for the summer vacation and term time (Steven is a university student): Steven spends at least about 30 hours a week (unless something prevents him from doing so) playing videogames. When he is not disturbed by many commitments and chores, or when he finds a game he is particularly interested in, that value can easily reach the 50, even 60 hours a week, with peaks of more than 20 hours of gaming in 2 days. It’s safe to say he plays videogames at least as much as he sleeps, if not more. Besides the other obvious activities, like eating, Steven’s life beside videogames consists of watching tv series and films; he reads at night, before sleeping, but almost never during the day. Sometimes he listens to music, and occasionally he plays the guitar (he has an acoustic and an electric, but doesn’t touch them more than once every 2 weeks). Every day he checks Amazon for free music and kindle books, or cheap CDs. Studying doesn’t come to more than a couple of hours a day even during exam time. In separate, appropriate sections I will focus on the kind of videogames he plays and how he relates to them; the same will be done, in brief, for films and books. An entire section will be devoted in particular to Guitar Hero, and its relationship to the real guitar. In the meantime, I would like to note the absence of any “active” or “productive” activity: no writing of any kind, no diary or journal, no form of art, no volunteer work, in short nothing brought into the world by him, or affected by his existence. He even dropped out of the gaming clan he belonged to, for lack of will to be part of something more than his little world. When this individual will die, what will remain of him will be the save files from his games.

On his desk we find his computer (with which he plays most videogames), a DVD player and a small television. There’s little place to write or read an actual book on his desk. Beside a mug full of pens and a pair of iPod speakers, there are just a lot of knick-knacks: a lava lamp, a small Newton’s cradle, a mug-holder, and other smaller things that clutter the desk, although with a vague sense of order. Sometimes, his Kindle and his Nintendo DS find their place there as well. The posters on the wall are ordinary, and sometimes generic: an optic illusion poster, a Pink Floyd one, a “suicide bunny” one, a poster with funny street signs, one with the Rolling Stone’s mouth and one with some famous rock artists’ guitars. In the kitchen, another television connected to a VHS player, an Xbox 360 (his secondary source of gaming) and a PS2.

Another important thing Steven likes to do is getting reduced stuff at supermarkets. Not only he always looks at the reduced section when he actually goes shopping, but he often goes there for the only purpose of finding items that are reduced for clearance and freezing them. He finds some kind of joy in the very act of getting things for a very low price, for, although not rich, Steven would easily be able to afford shopping normally without great concerns. Moreover, he doesn’t need them: his cupboards and freezers, both in the house we share and at his own house, are always full, but if he finds something cheap, even if he already has it, he will buy more. And, what shocked me the most, he, together with a couple of members of his family, often do the so-called “reduced runs” on Sunday; that is, they go to every supermarket and shop in the area in order of closing time to get reduced items from all of them.

Some observations that I would like to do immediately, before getting in depth in each theme: the life of this individual, it seems to me, is utterly empty. He is, of course, one of the persons that said that he may get a part-time job because he doesn’t have anything to do anyway. (Cf.: This Post) To me, that sounds like an admission that his life is empty, that he has nothing to do with the time he has been given. (Cf.: Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”) He is a “bored” individual in constant, almost physiological need of entertainment, of distractions. (It will be even clearer, further on, that his fruition of books, music, films, videogames etc. is only and purely a source of entertainment, never of art or of personal enrichment) Distractions from what, I cannot be sure. To me they look like distractions from living. From thinking and realizing and feeling the huge lack of value and meaning in his actions.

Frankly, I find it a desolate life, and even, to some extent, offensive to the dignity of human beings (to borrow Kantian terms) insofar as he has a need to anesthetize all that makes him human (his rationality, as well as his emotions) for they find themselves restless, so unused and without purpose. He doesn’t keep up with the news, and doesn’t vote, and I strongly suspect he doesn’t watch television only because, in its passivity, it’s not anesthetizing enough, it’s not as effective a drug as gaming is (or rather can be) through its active engagement of a person’s attention. (Note: Actively engaging a person’s attention is no way related to a meaningful, intelligent task; surely intelligent activities require attention, but crosswords or puzzles do so as well, and they are not meaningful tasks.)

I asked him if he ever asks himself: “After being entertained for hours on end, then what?” He answered no, and by the tone I suspect he may not even have really understood the question. Distraction has developed to the point that it is not a means to forgetting something, but an end in itself. Distraction has succeeded in distracting him from why he wanted to be distracted in the first place. Frankly, hearing him deny any kind of thought about himself, his life, purpose or meaning, scared me, for I felt as if my housemate was something different than human, maybe less than human.

PS.: As for my point of view in judging (so as to answer some possible objections concerning the fact that I may be prejudiced) I myself practice, to some extent, most of those activities as well. I read, I watch films and tv series, I play the guitar, I listen to music and I play videogames. I almost never criticize the activities themselves, but rather how they are carried out, the attitude, the thought (or lack thereof) behind them.