2020-12-09 Smokey – Personae

This is going to be one of those: “I’m SURE I’ve written about this before” posts. (Apparently I’ve already decided I’m posting this.)

There are two separate pieces of information that go to this idea:

  • Someone posted a tumblr screenshot that I’ve got SOMEwhere around on a server someplace but can never find of a conversation where people described assigning identities to the negative voices in their head and how it helped them box up those impulses quite handily.

“You’re worthless. That art is shit. How could you ever think anyone else would want to see that?”
“Shut up Dave.” etc.

  • Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich talked about how he ran an experiment where he’d imagine sitting in a room with a bunch of famous historical luminaries and talk out problems with them. I don’t recall the list of people, but there was a founding father or two, Lincoln, a scientist IIRC. But it got to the point quickly where they had their own mannerisms and he actually freaked himself out terribly by the practice because of the apparent reality they seemed to have in his own head. He abandoned the practice.

Now…I always thought both of those would be spectacular practices. Not…that they’re actually so different. But I never really got them to stick.

However, I do, with horrifying regularity, have arguments with people who aren’t there in my head. My parents, old bosses, ex girlfriends. They’re not replays of old arguments but me hashing through whatever. Usually something I’m frustrated about in one way or another.

And I realized a couple/few weeks ago that I was doing exactly the same thing. I just hadn’t categorized it the same. So, having not boxed these little phantom (fantasy) conversations and arguments as what they were, somewhere in my head I associated them with the people who were (not) involved.

And because they’re real people I didn’t quite realize what it was that I was doing. I never quite got the benefit of boxing up what it was I’d assigned those people to in my head.

It’s kinda fascinating really. I’ve got to do some more thinking about it. I figured I’d just post it here while I did.

2020-12-09 – Smokey – Dark to Light

Well this is a fine kettle of fucking fish I’ve … what, found myself in? What’s the whole expression? Or is it just “this is a fine kettle of fish?”

I’m sitting here suffering through a headache, a regular doctor pepper and a plugged cigar in a black fucking mood the likes of which I haven’t seen in several years…at least six.

There’s not really much of a reason for it that I can see. NOT, mind you, that I’d be likely able to see it from where I’m sitting in my own head anyway.

I noticed it starting to come on yesterday, which is kinda odd since I kinda kicked ass against the trading bot code base all day. I really got a lot of shit down and done. Of course his code has lots of cough opportunities for improvement.

115 words in and I can feel my brain, the mood itself, rebelling against the tried and true tactic of working to write myself out of it. It WANTS to be angry, put upon, a victim, righteous with fucking rage.

Getting there, ever so slowly. It’s tough to put my finger on why this kind of thing works. Though I expect I’ve written it up elsewhere (see, back to the damn “writing disappears into the past” problem.)

There’s something about the process of writing that forces me to progress through the ideas and find my way out. Though I can’t generally see the path out once I turn around and look back. Small matter, if an interesting data point.

See, normally during a black mood like this (I just felt it pop out, dispelled like a popped balloon) the same thoughts run around and around in tight little circles, just reinforcing with no resolution. They frame themselves as questions unable to be answered. But that’s not the case. It’s actually backwards. What they really are is “unanswerables phrasing themselves as questions” designed to create and sustain an emotional state.

So it runs around and around, gathering steam, making me either angrier or more depressed (though those are just shades of gray of the same thing) largely without end.

Yeah it’ll pass over time if I let it. Usually after a couple remarkably bad decisions. But sometimes not.

I…am I going here? Yeah, fuck it.

I went to a boarding high school (“The Marvelwood School” in Cornwall, Ct.) from my sophomore through senior years. It was a school for people who needed some extra attention. Unfortunately what it did was keep me like a bug under a fucking microsope. There were very few minutes of the week that weren’t scheduled. Up early. Breakfast, then 20 minutes before classes started and went until about 3:00. Sports (fucking hurl though they did have ‘non-team’ sports for those of us who were just NOT team players) for some time, then coat and tie for dinner, 2 hours of tightly supervised study hall (sit in the dining hall quiet as a mouse) then a half hour ’til light’s out. That was five days a week. Saturday classes were shorter and there was a casual dinner, sometimes they’d go get pizza and put on a movie. The whole school had about 125 kids. Sunday there was breakfast and dinner but the day was mostly free. No privacy. No solitude. Years.

So that was the structure of the week. There were “long weekends” you could take one or two of a semester when you could go home. But aside from that and holidays we were packed in these dorms for 3 semesters a year.

I get what my parents were trying to do. They couldn’t handle me so they were doing the absolute best thing they could think to do. In retrospect I probably should’ve stayed in public school, even though I’d have failed out miserably. The power of that crucible would have been better for me. But I’m 51, what am I gonna do, whine about it?

But I didn’t know how to handle myself and there was just nobody I was exposed to who had the faintest idea either. I had a supervisor one year, an Australian guy named Henry Winkler (different one 😉 ) who’d just say “Michael….get ORGANIZED.” Yeah okay asshole. Thirty five years later I don’t know wtf that means.

I think between my junior and senior years I requested the hardest ass faculty member as an advisor. But he ended up just ignoring me wholesale. Thinking about it now I realize I must have had SOME sense of what I needed, but I was too much of a neurotic beta to do much about it (which was largely the point.)

I hated myself bitterly. I knew I was smart. I knew homework was stupid. I could race through tests and absorb material faster than anyone was presenting it to me. I outscored the valedictorian on the SATs significantly. But my grades were for shit. I didn’t know what the fuck was wrong. My head was just a goddamned mess.

I suppose I had friends, thought I don’t really remember them, past a couple names, faces, and events. There were people I was friendly with. Guys I played D&D with. Guys who kinda used my pliable nature to boost their own egos. I’d watch them preen as I hung out with them. Now don’t confuse this with narcissism. I’m no hero of this story. I just wasn’t confused about who they were and that was somewhat reassuring. They were just shamelessly predictable, which made them stable to hang out with. I’ve always found it easy to get along with people like that. Just kinda let them wash over me while I did my own thing. Always an outsider.

It took a very long time for me to realize that I was selling myself short. I wasn’t QUITE the victim of all of this that people seem to think when they witness or hear stories about these relationships.

Most recently….well, it’s 7 years past, so it’s not MOST recently, I let it get out of hand and was being taken advantage of quite badly. I’d gotten myself into a dependency situation and it took me years of string pulling behind the scenes to get me out of it all. And that’s what precipitated my move to Nashville 5 years ago.

But this wasn’t supposed to be about that and frankly I’m not posting that story someplace where parties involved will see it. I’m not willing to deal with the whining headaches it’ll induce. Some people need to stay in the fucking past where they belong.

Back to high school.

I didn’t know what, much less who I was. Combine my prediliction for negative self-talk with god only knows what kind of hormonal nonsense and I got ALmost as low as you can go. Emotionally I was treading water on the best of days and I’d finally had enough.

So I made a move towards the cowards solution. It was a big hubub at the school and they sent me home for a week, calling my parents back from their vacation.

I spent the week with a therapist for the most part. I don’t think that really did much for me other than being able to talk with someone in some depth, which was enough of a breath of fresh air to be transformative in its own right.

It was the notebook that I used to save myself. I’d diddled around with journaling for years but I just cranked down on it.

So I found this weird thing: No matter how bad I was I would write about it and, because I was forced to stare at what I’d written, the self-reinforcing loop of nonsense couldn’t surivie. I literally couldn’t write “all work and no play makes Mikey a dull boy” over and over again. There had to be a NEXT sentence. Combine that with the center of my writing process being one that was fundamentally intellectual and the train of thought HAD to progress. Now, since the state was an emotional one, it held no power here.

It’s not so much that the issue resolves itself on the page. It just lost its hooks. I’d end up writing about something else before too long out of nothing so much as sheer emotional exaustion. So off I went.

Over the following years I found that it ALWAYS worked. I mean perfectly. If I could get myself to the pen, it was over; just a matter of time before I’d lifted myself out of whatever the crap was going on in my head.

Like this. Even going back to these horrible places in my head on the page I don’t end up dwelling on it.

To beat a dead horse: What I would expect, if I didn’t have almost 40 years of evidence to the contrary, is that if I wrote in an emotional state, that the writing would serve to anchor and strengthen that state since it would go through that state, reflecting in the words themselves. But no. It’s literally the opposite.

So I’ve done it. Here I sit. I’ve rescued (and smoked) my plugged cigar, my headache is gone. I’m 1400 words in and my mood is just fine. I’ve listened to “Astronaut in the Ocean” on repeat for about an hour.

And my mind is on to other things and a new cigar.

I don’t know who it’ll work for and who it won’t. I’ve never heard it talked about by anyone else and when I describe this process the reaction I get is usually one of scrunched up face, shading down from there. But if you’re prone to dark moods, give it a shot if you can (being willing to start is the hardest part.) Grab a notebook or open a word processor and just write to yourself about what’s going on in your head and heart. It might just help you lift yourself out of the madness.

Post? Maybe. I’ll reread.

Yeah, fuck it. Have at.

2020/12/01 – Managing Anxiety

I had a thought a couple days ago about anxiety. I’m not sure there’s enough there to warrant a post. But I can never tell with this sort of fucking thing.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I relaxed an awful lot when I heard about Big Five personality theory. Because it made it clear that my neurosis and bouts of anxiety didn’t really have an awful lot to do with whatever it was I was actually anxious about.

So, as I said, it allowed me to put that in a box and not worry so much about it. Now…That’s FAR from a perfect process and while it helped, it was more of a crate than a box and has some leaks along the sides.

But whatever day that was I happened to say something to myself that really resonated with me.

“Anxiety isn’t a reaction.”

It’s a simple little sentence, not unlimited in its applicability. But what it gave me is a tool, hell nothing short of a mantra really, for when I’m getting my boxers all twisted up about something that may or may not actually be an issue.

It FEELS, to the anxious, that anxiety is a reaction to an event with an unknown outcome we should fear for one reason or another. At this point low-neurotics are probably just shaking their heads in wonder at the madness of it all. But anxiety isn’t actually a reaction. It’s a predilection. If I’m “being anxious” then it doesn’t matter even a little what the hell it is I’m thinking about. I’m going to be anxious about whatever the hell is going on in my head.

It serves the same purpose as the initial realization but actually takes it farther and gives me that moment-to-moment tool to help me manage my state of mind in these situations (which happen…several times a day though not constantly as it used to.)

And I’m still getting the hang of this, of course. But on this short time horizon it’s thus far proven to be an extremely useful tool towards separating me from that particular fact of complete fucking madness with which I find myself afflicted. We’ll see how well it works over time.

So hell, maybe it’ll help someone else similarly afflicted.