Tag: Mental Illness

In Which I Battle Myself to Write This

“You don’t have to write anything,” I told myself. “All you have to do is to open up a new tab with Google Docs in it.”

Yesterday, I wrote something like 4-6 blog posts, which started catching me up on my goal. I figured I could probably get ahead of schedule today, without much effort. But everything has been effort today.

It hasn’t been a bad day; it’s been an inert day.

I’m not in a bad mood; I’m just effectively paralyzed by… I don’t know what. My mind, I suppose. My ADD is full throttle, so I’m constantly distracted by stuff. I’ll sit down at the computer, and three hours will have passed. What happened during that time?

It’s a mystery.
I looked up obscure shit on Wikipedia. I argued with some twat who was wrong about something stupid, and who won’t learn anything from the experience of me walking them step by step through the echoing halls of their own ignorance. I watched some pointless videos on YouTube. I pissed most of my day away, doing nothing.

And even as I told myself that there was still time to accomplish something productive today, I told myself back that I didn’t want to do anything productive. I want to do nothing. I want to do glorious nothing all day, all week, and for the rest of my life.

It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into before, and it can be hard to get out of.

So I’ve learned to fool myself into being productive. I tell myself that I can always procrastinate later, that I need to do something, just ONE thing, then I can get back to the abyss of mindless online nonsense. Or I can watch something on Netflix. Or I can pet the dogs for an hour. Or I can stare out the window, or at a wall. But I have to do one thing first: I have to open a tab with a blank Google Document in it.

This is a trick, and I know it. Fortunately, I’m stupid enough to fall for it, and I’ve been writing non-stop for over two minutes now. I’ve battled me before, and I know a lot of my weaknesses. A blank page is one of them. I’m compulsed to put something on it, and once I have that something, I’m compulsed to add to it.

My ADD, and my OCDish tendencies can cut both ways, and against my worst judgment, I use them to cut my way slowly forward, to make myself do something productive.

My doubts kick in. Is this even a good blog post?
I parry with my own laziness: it doesn’t matter if it’s good. As I learned in school, “D” means Done.
My anxiety lashes out at me. Am I saying any of this right? What if it nobody knows what I’m talking about? What if it offends people somehow? What if….
I dodge the attacks, using my own procrastination to avoid even thinking about the questions, let alone answering them.

And here I am, 511+ words down, with a minimum goal of 800.

Things are flowing faster now, and I’m getting into the zone a bit. I’m able to type out my thoughts freely. I’m in familiar territory, because I’ve fought myself this way many, many times before. I’m fighting an enemy so familiar that we might as well share the same brain, except the enemy IS my brain, or parts of it.

I spend a few minutes trying to look up an applicable quote, something somebody once said about attaching a yoke to their own lusts. It was an eloquent idea, and a sound strategy, but all I’m getting right now are Bible quotes, and I’m pretty sure none of them are close to what I have in mind.

The point of the quote–and of this blog entry, if there is one–is that when you understand that you can be your own worst enemy, and when you study this enemy, you can adapt to an extent, and you can overcome yourself. I’ve spent depressingly close to half a century analyzing my own thoughts and actions, watching myself carefully to figure out how I’ve screwed myself up in the past, and how I’ll screw myself up in the future.
I suspect that I’m not the only one who has this kind of problem, the problem of self-sabotage, the problem of being my own enemy.

I suspect that I’m not the only one who uses this kind of solution, manipulating myself coldly toward my own agenda of self-improvement and productivity.

But I also suspect that there are many people out there that don’t have it down as well. I didn’t, decades ago. I get a little better every year. And I wish somebody had told me, had shown me, many years ago how I could fool myself into being more useful in my own life.

As a writer, the first step is always to look at a blank page.

That’s often also the hardest step, because the thought of a blank page is sometimes the scariest thing in the world, something that you’d rather kill your entire day–and even eventually your lifespan–than to face head-on.
So break it down, to the basics.
Set your goals small, starting with opening up a new document.
It’s an easy goal, and you can lie to yourself that it’s the only goal, something worth doing just for itself.

But when you get there, and you’re looking at that big, white Empty, push yourself to go just one step further, just one tiny step, and
Write.

One.

Word.
If you’re like me, that’s the hardest part, the biggest demon you have to slay.
It’s a deceptively complex project (but don’t let yourself catch on to that!), because in order to write that one word, you have to have a sentence or a half-sentence ready. And once you have that first word written, it’s easier to finish that sentence than not. It’s easier to finish that half-sentence than not, and if you have half a sentence, it’s usually easier to finish that sentence than to not.
And once you have that first sentence down, the second sentence will come pretty easily, as will the one after that.
And before you know it, you’re at 1056 words, and even a D means Done.

The Nature and Nurture of Pain

This is quite a few years ago, and I’m sitting in a car with girl. I was giving her a ride, but now we’re pulled over on the side of the road. It’s raining, and the windows are fogging over. The girl is thin, and so is the fabric of her dress. She has pale blonde hair, a pretty smile, and a pleasing frame. We’re talking about sex, and there is zero possibility of us having it with each other.

We both have girlfriends that we’re committed to, for starts. I don’t know if she’s flat-out gay, or if she’s bi, but it doesn’t matter. Our excitement in this conversation, the gleam in each of our eyes, isn’t about each other–it’s about sex itself. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you get two enthusiastic and informed hobbyists together, and they babble back and forth about the object of their mutual interest. Strong mutual interest in a topic doesn’t necessarily translate into strong interest in each other.
In addition to being into BDSM, she’s a cutter.

I don’t find that appealing, but I do find it fascinating. I’ve never talked to a cutter before, not about cutting. She’s explaining how it works, the physiology and psychology of it, and she really knows her shit on this topic. She’s researched the fuck out of it. I’m learning a lot.

A decade or two into the future, I’m going to strain to remember the exact things she told me, and how she phrased them. I’m going to fail, and I’m going to just say ‘fuck it’, and I’ll fake it, writing this blog post as if I have the kind of mental precision of memory required to accurately dictate something that happened so long ago.

“It’s not just about the pain,” she’s telling me. “And it’s not just about the control.”

I’d brought up the subject of control, the idea that one part of self-cutting was that the cutters were looking for a way to exert some kind of power over their own life. She’d given me the kind of physical, non-verbal response that you get when you’ve said something that’s perhaps in the right direction, but only part of the answer.

“When the body suffers trauma, when it feels pain, there are physical responses that take place. Pain lets you know that there’s an emergency going on, and the body starts responding to that emergency immediately. As soon as there is pain, the body starts pumping out painkillers to deal with it.”

She mimes cutting herself, using a single long fingernail to draw a thin line across the pleasantly pallid flesh of her forearm.

She uses the technical terms, naming the emergency hormones and what they do. The specifics will get lost with time, but the lessons remain burned into my brain. I’d read any number of things about people who were into pain, but none of them had really addressed this kind of root cause. The simple truth of it all–or of one key aspect–was that when the body experiences pain, the body produces painkillers, and people can use painkillers for recreational and/or medicinal purposes.

“These painkillers not only help numb you physically, and to give you a physical buzz, but also help do the same thing on a mental level. That’s why cutting and BDSM are popular among people who suffer from depression–they’re using the chemical results of physical pain in order to battle their mental suffering. That’s why I got into it–I have pretty severe depression.”

I haven’t yet realized that I suffer from depression, because it doesn’t generally manifest as sadness, and I haven’t realized that sadness and depression aren’t the same thing. I know at this point that I have periods of inactivity where getting out of bed in the morning seems like a horrible fate. I’ve often felt as if life was hollow, pointless, and cruel, but it hasn’t yet occurred to me at this point that the problem lies at least partially in my own brain. At this point in my life, I’m still young enough and foolish enough to think that I’m the one who sees things clearly, and all those happy people are the ones who are wrong. This outlook will change over the next decade or two, but in the moments of this particular conversation in the rain, I’m taking notes on self-medications that I naively believe are applicable to other people. I don’t consider self-medication, because I don’t yet consider that I have any form of mental illness or disorder.

Time will pass, and this will change.

I’ll remember the girl and the conversation many times in my life, particularly when I get my first tattoo. I’ll sit in the chair for an hour or so, having my flesh punctured repeatedly, enduring the pain, and I’ll ride a kind of semi-euphoric high for the next several days. I’ll feel like life is good, like things are right, and like it all makes sense. After the direct chemical high fades away, I’ll look at the tattoo from time to time, and I’ll have an echo of that high flash through my memory because there’s a Pavlovian link in my brain now between that particular piece of art and those feelings of well-being. I’ll remember this conversation, and I’ll understand what’s happening to me. I’ll wish that more people could have that kind of education into the nature and nurture of pain.

The Rubik’s Cube solver runs in your web browser and it finds easily the solution for your puzzle.

You Know the Tune

I had it in my head that I was going to write a post about the musical comedy TV show  phenomenon “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” today, but that’s not exactly what’s going to happen. It’s a very good show–smart, funny, sharp, and raw–and I think that it should be drawing a much, much larger audience than it has been. I wanted to write a post that would give a breakdown of the show, and maybe encourage some new viewers.

But I’m not going to do that.

The show does far too many things, far too well, for me to try to sum it up in such a way as to get the right people to understand that they not only might enjoy the show, but that they might well need to watch the show. At the same time, this show is definitely not for everybody.

If you want to know more about the series, and if you’ll like it, google around. I’m betting there are plenty of articles on it. You can also go to YouTube, and try watching any number of the musical numbers from the show, or perhaps start with Rachel Bloom’s song/video Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury.

In fact, even if you have seen that one before, I encourage you to watch it again. It’s a classic.

Initially I was too busy watching the show to really notice how good it was. The songs were funny, sweet, sad, and often were skillful parodies of songs, singers, or genres. I was just going along, watching this show, making note of good aspects here or there, minding my own business, having a good time.

Then the dangerously talented Rachel Bloom reached out of the television, grabbed me, threw my emotional self into a goddamned wall, and I was crying.

I don’t cry often.

I’m not saying that this song will make you cry. You may very well not have the same emotional buttons and triggers that I do, and you probably don’t have the same view of the same world that I have. But what set me off was a painful recognition of captured truth unleashed into my heart and my brain. I’d never seen that episode before, and I’d never heard Rachel Bloom sing that song before, but I knew it by reputation.
I knew it because I’ve seen women that I love singing their own version of it to themselves.

I knew it because men have our own versions of this song, and I’ve heard those playing in my head many times after making a horrifyingly painful mistake. The song itself is part of the pain, the self-inflicted insult to the injury.

This song “You Stupid Bitch” is about “self-indulgent self-loathing,” and takes place after the character Rebecca Bunch (played by Rachel Bloom, of course) has her zany romcom-style stalking antics blow up in her face.

This is the point where you, my readers, need to either click on that link and watch the video, or to consciously decide NOT to. I’d have some kind of trigger warning here, but I believe that the sort of people who are likely to be triggered by this song have already sung their own variations countless times, personalized versions just for them, that would hurt much more than listening to this song will.

When you’ve watched the video, come back here and scroll down to read more.

The first time I watched this song, it started off being kind of amusing. Then it became a bit uncomfortable. Then it was amusing again, then suddenly insightful into one of the largest problem in many doomed relationships (“Yes, Josh completes me, but how can that be, when there’s no me left to complete?”).

It goes right back to amusing again, as she invites the audience to sing along with her, to help heap abuse on her, because “Yes, I deserve this!”.

The part that got to me–that still gets to me, every time I listen to this song–starts with “he sees me for what I am,” as Rebecca launches into a stream of familiar words that have been weaponized against women, using those words to cut at herself the way I’ve seen far too many other women attack themselves after fucking something up somehow.
Bloom plays things perfectly, using the word “bitch”–that sharpened sword of a word–sparingly at first, then increasingly to the point of discomfort, then holding off for one final pointed stab at the end. There’s the playful kick to the side, the “and lose some weight,” the kind of pointless, gratuitous, self-hating thought that occurs to people when they’re in that kind of self-abusive mood.

With this song, she crafts the image of a demon that we’re all familiar with either first-hand or second, and by doing so she captures this demon into a less harmful form. Women will watch this song, and it might sting them, but it’ll sting less than the song that their own demon sings. And the next time their own demon starts singing to them, they’ll remember this performance, and the dark humor will undercut the damage of their own self-flagellation. By skewering this demon in painful parody, Rachel Bloom is creating a tool that countless people will be able to use in their real lives, to help survive and endure some very harsh moments.

And she does this while singing beautifully, looking stunning in her glamorous dress.
Rachel Bloom is a force to be reckoned with, and she’s spend three years attacking some of the biggest chains and torture implements that women are subjected to, both by themselves and by society at large.

This show deserves more attention.