Vivisection: Deconstructing The Monster
There have been a number of times in my life where I’ve felt totally at the mercy of my various neuroses. Growing up it was being antisocial, to the point where I would avoid answering a direct question, stoic in the awkward silence, because they would “win” if I talked. I don’t understand the logic behind it now, I’m just able to explain what I was thinking then. I’ve been able to deconstruct a good number of those things over time, and once understood, I could stop following those absurd orders from some particular lump of brain-meat that probably took one too many thumps.
There are a few that still bug me, still won’t go away. Some are relatively harmless…self, why the fuck haven’t you figured out good posture yet? You’re 5-foot-fuck-two. You need every bit of that standing up straight just to get on the rollercoaster. But I don’t, unless I’m thinking about it, which gives me about twenty seconds of good posture. Damn fine posture.
But there’s two big ones I don’t seem to have made any progress on; one is life-threatening and one is merely way-of-life-threatening. They’re so similar that they’re probably driven by the same thing. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not comfortable with medicating a mental illness, I feel like that field of science is still very rough around the edges. See the number of drugs that list suicidal thoughts as a side-effect. I do have good health insurance now, where I could just talk to someone qualified, but I have this great idea that if I consult with my fucked-up self on the matter, I’m going to fix things about my fucked-up self. That sounds more defeatist than I really feel, but it is a useful reduction for me.
The less obviously dangerous problem, the way-of-life-threatening one, is easier to run through the thought process than summarize. I’ll get through setting up some new project, there’s an initial fanbase, they want new content. New code. Bugfixes. Whatever. I’ll keep it up for a while, and then it happens: I get off the schedule. I miss a weekly update. What follows is a fairly crippling anxiety. I’ll find it very hard to return to what is now, to me, the scene of the crime. Here’s an example, I ran a contest for three years on Basenotes.net as a March Madness tournament. Every year it got bigger, by year 3 I had introduced new code, I had sponsors, I had celebrity guests. I was making a mark on the fragrance industry. It’s likely I could have made a career out of it, a good friend of mine from the same site just started writing for Esquire about two months ago. He’s a tremendous writer, mind you, but I’d like to think that I am too.
What happened? I had to check the results, update the photoshop file for the brackets, and put up the new thread. It’s about 15 minutes of work. I neglected to do it one day in the early days of the tournament for some reason. I have thousands of posts in the Basenotes forums. That was five years ago. I’ve made maybe five posts in the last five years. And that was something that could’ve very easily have been fixed, but I was so afraid of having to handle their disappointment in me. I had never met any of these people!
Now extrapolate what happens when I missed a day of class in college. I’d wager I went to less than a quarter of the classes; thousands of dollars largely wasted. I never ended up getting a degree. Extrapolate what happens when I called in sick to work once. Work in this case was two floors above where I lived. The boss was also my landlord. Somehow I thought hiding from the situation was not only possible, but preferable.
I’ve avoided repeating the incident with work through sheer force of will. It evokes an outsized reaction from myself when I am legitimately sick, and then wake up the next day when I’m good enough to go in. I really, really want to never go in again, never speak to them, and just hope they understand through some medium that doesn’t realy exist. It takes an absurd amount of convincing myself that that’s not reasonable.
Shifting from way-of-life-threatening to plain old life-threatening, that anxiety after missing some easily remedied task extends to living by myself. I’m talking basic survival skills here; doing dishes, doing laundry, taking garbage out. The task gets skipped in favor of something more pleasing to me. I seem to derive little pleasure in a clean domicile. But letting the shit get as out of hand as I did back when I was living alone for the first time was probably hazardous to my health. This coincided with the work incident above. I felt like I had hit rock fucking bottom. I started doing drugs, I started smoking. Because, you know, those are way more rational habits to pick up instead of cleaning up the fucking apartment and going to work like a normal goddamn adult. It was a sweet apartment too, I’m particularly disappointed in myself that I could never make it work.
The peculiar thing about it (Oh, just the one peculiar thing, you idiot?) is that it’s not only being lazy; that same sense of anxiety is there. Even though there’s nobody around me to disappoint. That’s the nut I haven’t cracked; who am I afraid of disappointing? That’s the question I’m trying to answer by writing this, so I may identify the answer and find it unworthy of such behavior. The lazy answer would be “myself” but I don’t think that’s it, I don’t think that’s a big enough reason for me to act that way.
Perhaps it was my boss. I’ve never truly been without someone to answer to. There’s also always been something to pass the time every time; in college it was City of Heroes. The second time around with the apartment it was a private WoW server I was GMing on. Bear in mind, when these situations were really bad, I wasn’t even really familiar with what anxiety actually meant. It was the weirdest juxtaposition of telling myself that I’m a normal person and telling myself that I’m a fucking failure on pretty much every level.
Maybe it’s my dad. A lot of you know I lost my mom at 17, and when I was younger than that I wasn’t really held accountable for much of anything, nor did I have any real responsibilities at home. So my entire life where I have had someone hold me accountable, it’s been my dad. It’s as plausible as anything I’ve ever been able to come up with.
Nowadays, the person that unwittingly holds me accountable is my wife. Simply because of her presence, do I not let myself drop to that lower level of existence. I’ve been very open about much of this with her, and she supports me just the same. We’re getting closer to pulling equal weight on the chores. Sometimes she will beat me to doing the dishes and I feel like dog shit for disappointing her, even if she says it’s not a big deal or that it was something she wanted to do for me. It’s like, I don’t deserve to get treated this well, my track record sucks.
That’s something I hadn’t really considered before, this anxiety stayed around for a long time because I also didn’t want anyone to know about any of the previous times I’d let the situation get the better of me.
I feel like it’s important to note that I don’t want to be seen as looking for an excuse. I don’t want to blame some nebulous construct of the normal human condition as it relates to me. But at the same time, I don’t want it to be entirely my fault either, you know? I figure most people don’t see a few too many dishes in the sink and make the decision that burying them in the backyard, so none may know, is the wiser choice than washing them.
Calling it fear of failure is probably an overgeneralization. I’m a programmer, at least as a hobbyist. I fail plenty. It doesn’t bother me the way this does.
I feel like all I’m accomplishing here is listing ways that I have been able to live with it. I would much prefer to live without it. In much the same way that you can’t just tell a depressed person to cheer up, my own internal prodding of “Hey, it’s just crippling anxiety, you’re bigger than this” hasn’t really worked.
So I’m going to take this article, the collective result of about two hours of train rides, and give it to a mental health specialist. I need a hand, here. I hope this helps.