282. doldrums

Standard

The period in the weeks and months after school lets out have been some of the most listless recently. I am doing a practicum internship this summer, but that’s not the same as class.

As one who depends on adrenaline energy to get through the day, lacking the power of structure and urgency to propel me takes the proverbial wind out of my sails. One day is much like another.

I have one more semester and then this is real life, albeit with a master’s degree.

Thankfully I have the nonsense with the American government to distract me.


Recently I’ve been doing some more formal reading on AD/HD to get a better handle on this condition and how I can prevent it from wreaking any further havoc on my life.

  • Barkley, Russell A., and Christine M. Benton. Taking charge of adult ADHD. New York: Guilford Press, 2010.
  • Sarkis, Stephanie Moulton. Adult ADD: a guide for the newly diagnosed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2011.

As Vivian observes in Wit, “My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.

As I observed in a previous post, one theory about the cause of AD/HD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is that it is due in part to a dopamine disorder, the neurotransmitter that helps to regulate emotional responses and take action to achieve specific goals, along with feelings of reward and pleasure.

It’s thought that AD/HD may be a deficiency of dopamine receptors, meaning that although dopamine is produced at normal levels in the brain, there aren’t enough receptors to process that neurotransmitter.

There may also be higher concentrations of proteins called dopamine transporters in the brains of AD/HD people, meaning that for these individuals dopamine is prevented by that protein from moving from one cell to the next.

This helps outline three of the most prominent hallmarks of this condition in my life: namely, an inability to regulate my emotions, an inability to follow through on my goals (despite all my best intentions), and experiencing a hollowness when it comes to rewards and pleasure.

Even when I do manage to achieve a goal, or manage to do something impressive, I can’t enjoy it.

At the conclusion of my senior composition recital in college, I recall standing in front of my applauding peers and teachers just after the final notes of the last piece, and feeling as if all of it were an afterthought. I’d already moved on to the next thing, but I had to act as if I was enjoying the moment. It was awful.

I always thought this was because my parents consistently downplayed my successes lest pride go to my heart, instead attributing my efforts to Jesus’ work.

Maybe it’s simply a lack of dopamine in my brain.

Dr. Russell Barkley calls AD/HD a “blindness to the future” or “intention deficit disorder” rather than an “attention disorder.”

It’s a “nearsightedness to time.”


As I alluded to several posts ago, like most AD/HD folks, I have an easy time starting projects, but a much harder time finishing them. I have eight promising bars of different pieces of music, but quickly lost interest once I’d begun.

My computer is full of writing projects that I started but forgot about or got bored with.

Even this blog has several dozen drafts of posts I began but never finished.

Any kind of long-term planning or habit formation is dependent on the successful function dopamine in the brain.¹ For those of us with AD/HD, that dopamine dysfunction makes it incredibly difficult to follow through with long-term projects because we don’t experience any of those chemical rewards that NT² brains do as soon as we’ve begun or meet benchmarks.

For me, AD/HD is characterized by the tyranny of the “now” and the “new.” Things are interesting or important so long as they are right in front of my face, or immediately looming on the temporal horizon. Otherwise, they are a problem for the me of the future.

And the frustrating thing is that I recognize that this is a problem. I have so much field data about how I’ve fucked up by waiting until the last minute to start projects, missed deadlines, and lost out on opportunities because they just weren’t urgent enough.

Even worse, my behavior is mystifying and frustrating to those close to me. You’re very intelligent, they say, so why can you just work hard to apply yourself?

Great question. Let me get back to you on that.³


The personal ramification of AD/HD for me is that it makes long-term relationships very difficult to manage.

Like with projects, unless I see people every day, I’m going to forget about them, no matter how good of friends we are. My brain has trouble processing anything outside of the “now.”

Plus, I often test friends’ patience with my impulsiveness and short temper. A deficiency of dopamine, along with a practically inactive anterior cingulate cortex, means that before I’ve had a chance to think about the consequences of my blowing up, I’ve already done it and am horrified and perplexed by my behavior.

What this means for my dating life is that… well, nothing good.

To begin, all of the above can prove deterrents for potential boyfriends. Most gay men are actually pretty averse to crazy, and mine has a way of manifesting itself on its own.

A lack of emotional regulation means that, although I rarely feel attracted to a guy, when I do, holy shit.

My crushes are very intense.

If I’d been out in high school, I probably would’ve learned coping techniques to avoid verbally vomiting on guys I like as often, or to avoid my anxiety turning me into a veritable tweak-fest of awkwardness around someone.

It’s also very difficult for me to retain romantic or sexual feelings for most guys beyond an initial encounter. Without the dopamine rush of reward in a sexual experience, romantic feelings are tough to sustain.

I worry that AD/HD has ruined my chances at finding a decent guy.


References/Footnotes:

¹ Georgia Health Sciences University. “Habit formation is enabled by gateway to brain cells.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221140448.htm (accessed July 4, 2017).
² NT = Neurotypical.
³ Though I have every intention of actually getting back to you about this in the moment, in actuality I’ll have forgotten that we even had this conversation within two minutes, meaning that I won’t get back to you and you’ll think I’m a complete flake.

Advertisements

279. hiraeth

Standard

You’re unhappy. You’re isolated. You think you’re the cause of this unhappiness and are unworthy of affection so you’ve few friends… you can’t stop thinking about what you’ve lost, again, for which you blame yourself. So the cycle goes on, the snake eating its own tail.

– Dr. Seward, “The Day Tennyson Died,” in Penny Dreadful (Season 3)


I’m finally done with the spring semester of grad school, so I can write again.

This term felt harder to get through than others, maybe because I’m so close to the end of my master’s—seven months, exactly. Even though the two courses I took were interesting and the projects that I worked on intriguing, summoning the resolve to get through the last two weeks of the semester felt like scaling Everest in the middle of a storm.

By last week, it felt like I was just hanging on for dear life.

I’ve realized that in addition to depression and anxiety, there’s a third spoke to my fun wheel of mental health merriment: adult attention deficit disorder.

It’s one of those conditions that I always associated with rowdy boys, or an excuse for subpar students.

Yet what the literature has taught me is there are three types of ADD:

  • Type 1: Predominantly Inattentive
  • Type 2: Predominantly Hyperactive
  • Type 3: Combination

It’s the second type that gets the most press, while the first one most often gets missed or misdiagnosed.

Amen, Daniel. “Are There Really 7 Types of ADD?” ADDitude Magazine. April 17, 2017. https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/7-types-of-add-adhd-amen/.

Type 1 is the one I seem to have.

Had I not been homeschooled, and been fortunate to live in a district with decent in-school mental health services, I might have been diagnosed earlier, because so many of the symptoms describe things I’ve struggled with over the years, such as:

  • Poor sustained attention span for reading, paperwork, etc.
  • High susceptibility to boredom by tedious material
  • Frequent lateness for appointments/work
  • A tendency to misplace things frequently
  • Poor organization and planning
  • Procrastination until deadlines are imminent
  • Failure to listen carefully to directions
    (source)

I see evidence of this type of ADD throughout my life, in various manifestations. For example:

  • My bed growing up being covered in books as I’d read a couple of pages in one, then switch to another
  • Starting hundreds of writing and composing projects, but only completing a handful
  • Constantly losing my keys, books, belt, etc.
  • Making careless mistakes on tests or project work
  • Struggling to process verbal statements or instructions unless I take copious notes, or record audio to review later
  • Having no concept of time and constantly being late
  • Double-booking myself for appointments

What I’m learning from the literature so far is that ADD is not a matter of laziness. People with this condition lack filters most people have to block out distractions and stimuli.

For people like me, everything in an environment is a potential distraction, because everything comes in at once.

There are other characteristics of ADD, such as the ability to hyperfocus on things that interest someone, which is how I was able to practice piano for three hours a day growing up, or lose track of hours reading Pathfinder background material for a character backstory.

There are other less positive characteristics, such as fixed or inflexible thinking and an inability to shift easily from one task to another, which sounds like a contradiction until you consider that it takes neurotypicals an average of 25 minutes to refocus on a task after an interruption (Sullivan & Thompson, 2013). For people with ADD, day-to-day workplace multitasking can leave them feeling like untethered balloons in the wind.

Poor self-image is also a characteristic of ADD since individuals with this condition tend to be hyper aware of how they differ from others. Our post-Industrial Revolution society values conformity and efficiency, so people (and children especially) with ADD are often made to feel bad, inferior, or worthless.

And for me, add all the religious bullshit on top of that about how I wasn’t living up to the ideals the Bible supposedly set for me, along with post-traumatic stress from the trauma of internalized homophobia.

Then add the fact that ADD is often comorbid with other conditions—depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, substance abuse, schizoid personality disorder, and so on.

Fun.


A few weeks ago, I had a realization that I tend to scrutinize my sexuality and sexual values with the same level of severity that I used for evaluating my spiritual life.

Growing up on the bookish side, I developed a quasi Christian Gnostic, Neoplatonic mindset in which I came to view the body as low and bestial, while the soul and intellect could remain pure and uncorrupted by physical desires with discipline.

In retrospect, I think some of that was in response to being made by my parents to feel my needs (beyond physical sustenance) were unworthy, a bother, and therefore bad. My mind did what it needed to for survival.

Basically, I learned to discount my needs and my feelings.

This stayed with me, even after I came out. There is still a part of my mind that views physical desire as base and vulgar (as well as fearing it), and emotional connection as the highest and purest form of intimacy. This is also a coping mechanism in response to realizing that, as a demisexual, I didn’t experience attraction in the same way as most other men.

So I went back to my Gnostic, Neoplatonic roots.


A while ago I was reading Rik Isensee’s 1991 book Growing Up Gay In a Dysfunctional Family. It helped put into perspective how my parents employed shame and the threat of withholding love, and how they taught me to view homosexuality as wrong. There’s a lot in there about the effects of self-hatred on sexual development, and the emergence of self-deprivation.

I still have difficulty acknowledging my physical desires as legitimate as asking for something requires believing I’m worthy.

So analyzing everything to death is a surefire way of ensuring that I never have to deal with any of it.

270. incipient

Standard

denethorIt’s about time for this monthly check-in with the blog. It has been over a month since the last one, after all.

The combination of working full-time plus the wind-up to the end of this semester has been kicking my ass recently. Perhaps it’s the research methods class I’m taking, or enduring a contentious and divisive election for almost two years, but I’m feeling pretty run-down.


What I have been planning to write about is the increasingly clearer picture of one of the dominant psychological constructs in my mind.

Let’s call him “Talos.”

He started out as a sort of mental protector figure—an internal proxy father in place of the one I didn’t entirely trust or feel safe around. He was a distant man (who himself had had a distant and sometimes physically abusive father) who tended to work a lot. He tried to do things with us: take us to parks, teach us to ride bikes. But it was clear he didn’t really know how to do any of the “traditional” things one expects from a father.

As we got older, the desire to connect with my sisters and me manifested in various ways (such as going to baseball games with my younger sister, or going to concerts with me), but so did his critical voice. While his intent was probably to help us by pointing out our mistakes, he had a way of turning compliments or feedback into backhanded insults.

Following one of my piano recitals as a teenager (which I thought went pretty well), we were driving home afterwards and after a moment of silence between us, he mentioned how some of my ornamentation had been slightly off.

In college, following the performance of one of my songs in a colleague’s recital, he said later that he thought a song I’d written previously had sounded more “true” to my style.

This was the state of things growing up. Some of that came from their theology, such as where Paul writes in Romans that “everyone among you [is] not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (12:3).

Praising or encouraging us would’ve given us big heads, I guess.


A few weeks ago I was catching up on the WTF with Marc Maron Podcast, and Julia Sweeney was on. At one point they talked about growing up with an alcoholic parent:

MARC MARON: See, I’m projecting because what I was gonna say is that the children of alcoholics either become alcoholics and drug addicts, or control freaks.
JULIA SWEENEY: Oh, really.
MM: Well, yeah.
JS: I wonder if I’m a control freak.
MM: You don’t feel like one… Usually it’s because you’re in this position with a grown person that’s completely out of control all the time, and you’re constantly—you can’t do anything about this primary situation in your life, so when you get out of that you’re like, “I’m gonna keep it tight.” You know what I mean? There’s a reaction.

And that got me thinking about growing up in a rigidly-controlled religious household where one never felt entirely secure. Some flip out once they leave home and become totally debauched.

Others become control freaks.

Guess which direction I went.


For me, the gradual appearance and rise of Talos began as an internalization of those parental admonishments. After all, to a child, the sun rises and sets with their parents. It’s biologically wired into us to unconditionally accept what our parents tell us. Skepticism carried no survival benefits.

It started as anticipation of disapproval—of observing, learning to predict what behavior would result in a spanking, or a lecture, or a threat of burning eternally in hell.

As I got older though, Talos grew in size and scale. He was the internal eye, standing over my shoulder to criticize everything I did. And nothing was ever good enough. I’d practice piano for 3-4 hours a day to get one section of a piece just-right. I’d edit and rewrite papers until they felt perfect.

He also commented on the world around me, evaluating passing glances or turns of phrase.

“They know what a horrible person you are.”

“Nobody here likes you.”

“What a miserable disappointment.”

“You’ll never be good enough.”

This goes beyond stunted self-esteem.

It was crippled self-worth.

I was trying to come up with a face this week to put with Talos, and John Noble’s Denethor from The Lord of the Rings films came to mind. There’s this scene in particular:

It was a self-protective impulse turned inwards on itself, like a black hole. And once I became aware of my sexuality, that mechanism went into overdrive, controlling every thought and mannerism lest anything give me away to my parents, who were big fans of James Dobson and Focus on the Family.


I’ve also been considering how this has impacted my romantic life, and my attitude towards myself and my demisexuality.

Specifically, is this sexuality an inborn trait, or is it the result of this darkly controlling inner force that looms over everything?

Regarding my orientation, of only being sexually attracted to men I have a close connection with, that has always been there. The more I got to know someone, the more attractive he got.

But would I feel more comfortable being more sexually and romantically open if Talos’ shadow wasn’t everywhere? Would I feel less pressure to find romance?

Who knows. But no wonder I stopped smiling around age eight.

But even non-sexually/romantically, would I feel less anxious in social settings if Talos weren’t threatening me not to fail, to say the wrong thing, to not let everyone know how stupid I am?

Though I’m now an atheist, the pressure to be perfect is no less overwhelming. I’m constantly analyzing social situations, draining my mental CPU.

The curious thing is that I became my own jailer.

So how then to unlock my own cell?

258. somaticize

Standard

Isolation, by http://jessica-art.deviantart.com/

It is June 7. How did it get to be June 7 already? This year is moving way too fast, although not fast enough for the American electoral season to be done. That nonsense seems to be inhabiting its own putrid timestream.

School is finally over. It wrapped up just eighteen days ago, though as a group of us agreed last night, it’s seemed longer than that.

Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to figure out why this semester felt so much more difficult than others. Objectively, this was actually one of the easier terms I’ve had as a master’s student. A final paper for one class was literally a 4-5 page narrative reflection on an internship, which felt almost obscenely light. In the other class, we spent the first month trying to overcome technical glitches to get the platform we were using for a digital library to work.

In retrospect, this was a difficult semester due to several things:

  1. It really didn’t feel like that much was actually demanded of me (as per the 5-page final paper in the one class).
  2. There was a marked lack of structure and clear expectations in both classes.

Now, to the latter, I get that this whole graduate experience is, in some ways, the antithesis of the undergraduate degree. There’s a lot less hand-holding, and especially in a career-focused program like mine, one is expected to start thinking and behaving like a professional. I like this about graduate study because it’s less about the grade and more about proving that you know what you’re doing.

Of course, professors still need to lay out clear expectations for their students and communicate things like due dates, and changes to due dates and course content. Still, a major aspect of graduate-level study is directing one’s self and becoming more of a stakeholder in your education and career. In essence, graduate study asks students to set their own schedules based on what is demanded of them.

As Millennials would say, this is “adulting.”


The day after classes ended, I submitted my final paper and hopped in a car with a friend of mine to embark on a five-day camping trip. This is something I’d been looking forward to for weeks leading up to it, and to finally get away from the city and my job and school, and just be in nature, was lovely.

I did encounter one brief meltdown on the trip, which was followed by a rare breakthrough moment—rare in that it occurred in close proximity to the emotional event, which is a new thing for me.

It happened over the course of one hike that involved several river and stream crossings. I’ll say in advance that I experience serious anxiety over cleanliness and hygiene issues, so just going into the hike knowing about the crossings was hackles-raising enough. My friend went first each time as he wasn’t as bothered by either getting wet or muddy, but even he was a bit surprised by some of the stream crossings.

In brief, after getting stuck briefly during the third stream crossing, I was in the grips of a full-blown anxiety attack. It might not have been so bad had the water been clear, but it was muddy and somewhat deep, and I got stuck in the muck several times.

Here are a few symptoms from AnxietyCentre.com that I experienced that afternoon:

  • A feeling of overwhelming fear
  • Feeling you are in grave danger
  • An urgency to escape
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Inability to calm yourself down
  • Nausea
  • Pounding, racing heart

For the next forty minutes or so, as we continued the hike, I just focused on breathing and bringing my heart rate down. Eventually, the calmer parts of my mind were able to start deconstructing that reaction, and the realization I had is that that anxiety attack was a concentrated version of how I feel all the time.

20160521_175249

The view on one part of the hike.

Basically, I’m afraid all the time. Not consciously, in a phobic sense. More an undercurrent of constant anxiety and fear. I’m afraid I’m a complete failure, that I’m never going to amount to anything, that I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life, that I’m a mediocrity, that I’m fundamentally worthless and unlovable…

The usual.

What I was gradually able to unpack was that this feeling stems from early childhood, where my fundamentalist Christian parents over-reacted to what otherwise normal child behavior as if it were signs of moral depravity (which, in hindsight, is likely exactly what they thought).

A few months after I became an atheist, I was having lunch with my family, including my nephew who was less than a year old and kept dropping food from his high chair onto the floor. My sister (his mother), exasperated, commented: “There’s his sin nature showing.”

That was essentially how my sisters and I were raised.

Along with this was a reluctance on my parents’ part to allow me to fail. If I struggled or faltered in a pursuit, they generally stepped in to help. Since we were homeschooled, I never developed the coping mechanisms most children do for handling failure or dealing with normal challenges. So I panic, have an anxiety attack, feel like the world’s ending.

Being cognizant of this, however, I also feel stupid for feeling so out of control, for being so irrational. I also felt like a bad friend for ruining an otherwise pleasant hike.

I also realized that this fear and anxiety was holding me back—from my career, from dating, from achieving goals, etc.

About an hour into the hike, during all of this emotional unpacking, I had a moment of clarity. An inner voice said: You have a choice. You don’t have to let this fear control you.

And for a moment, I had a vision of myself crossing the river and actually enjoying the experience without freaking out.

That’s the direction I need to head.

255. vicissitude

Standard

One man he disappoint me
He give me the gouge and he take my glee
Now every other man I see
Remind me of the one man who disappointed me
— Apple, F. (2005). Get him back. On Extraordinary machine [CD]. New York City: Epic Records.


Blue_candles_on_birthday_cakeHappy a month and a half into 2016, everyone!

So far this year has been incredibly busy with school and a new (temp) job that still isn’t in my career field but isn’t entirely horrible in its own right. That seems to be the theme of things at present: not ideal, but also doesn’t make me long for the inevitable and final release of death.

As far as a school update goes, after about a month and a half break I feel as if I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. I’ve stopped eating regularly and my sleep schedule is wacked out, but that’s the essence of grad school, right?

The things I’m working on are things that seem to finally matter, mainly because they feel connected to innate passions and talents of mine—not things that any gibbon could pick up and do for $11/hour. I get energized and excited about cataloging and archives, and concepts like metadata standards and schema. Information access is important in our world right now, especially as we’re trying to sift through more data than ever in our history, and we need clever people who can make sense of it all.

At least, enough for most people to find the information they need.


Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. This fact did not escape me, nor did I forget. I simply chose not to acknowledge it. I did see an increasing number of memes on Facebook and Twitter that were trying to recontextualize it as a day to celebrate love of all kinds, including love for your friends and for yourself. That was nice.

Earlier this month I also turned 33, something I only reluctantly called attention to about five minutes after midnight on the day after my birthday, much to the consternation of friends who did remember and would like to observe it.

My decision for now is to stop calling it a birthday because my birth was something that merely happened, brought into a world that is no longer a part of who I am.

So this year I’ve decided to start calling it my Independence Day, because, as some of you may remember, it was five years ago that Seth dumped me on my 28th birthday… or whatever you call it when someone ends a one-sided friends-with-benefits relationship because they just met someone on a blind date and aren’t really sure where that’ll go, but they don’t see a future with you or a reason to continue giving you false hope anymore.

Happy birthday, indeed.

That was also the night I officially became an atheist. I won’t rehash the whole story, so if you’re new or need a refresher, go here. It’s a fun read, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

So the short of it is that I’d rather not observe that anymore. I need a different context, and reimagining that day as the anniversary of independence from my upbringing seems much more uplifting.

As Björk cries on Volta (2007): “Declare independence! Don’t let them do that to you!”


Since we’re on the subject of dates, it’s exactly one month and nine days to the three year anniversary of the end to my last (probably final) relationship with the narcissistic fibromyalgic. On March 24th, I’ll have been single three years, without crossing paths with any realistic romantic partners in that span.

And from today, it’ll be four months and ten days to the two-year anniversary of the last time I was actually on a date.

Probably the biggest fear right now is of being alone for the rest of my life, ending up one of those people who die alone in their apartments, their absence unmarked for months until their mummified remains are finally discovered one day.

Is that likely to happen to me? Probably not. But still.


What probably bothers me is that though I want a relationship, I still don’t what I’d do with one. The only concrete associations I can picture are having a (relatively) dependable plus-one for events, and a (relatively) reliable sexual partner. But I know there has to be more to it than that, because why else (besides social convention) would couples stay together for decades if it’s merely a glorified fuck buddy arrangement?

Frankly, I haven’t met anyone who I could conceive of spending virtually every day with for the next twenty years (well, at least anyone who could also feel that way about me) , and beyond. And I’m skeptical about the chances of meeting anyone in the Midwest.

Part of the difficulty is that, after almost seven-and-a-half years “out,” I’ve come to the realization that I’m a demisexual, as described here:

Demisexuals aren’t suppressing sexual desire; it’s simply not there until a bond is formed. They can’t look at a stranger and think, “Wow, I want to f*ck him”—while they might admire a person for his or her body, the urge to have sex isn’t there until an emotional attachment is formed. The deeper the bond, the hornier they are. It’s a simple matter of the heart leading the pelvis.

It isn’t that I don’t have sexual desire. It’s just not that important without an emotional connection present… which does not appear to be how most gay men around me are wired. They’re: A) sluts and proud of it; B) already coupled (with a 75% chance of being monogamish); or C) emotionally compatible but physically not my type.

The irony is that now I almost get reverse slut-shamed for not being promiscuous, as if that’s the default “gay” mode. And I did try it for a while, but it wasn’t me.

So I’m not sure where to go from here.

Ah well. Back to library homework, I guess.

244. entelechy

Standard

SSF_Program

Still haven’t heard from my dad in response to the reply I sent last week. It could be that he’s just processing, but it’s possible that he won’t respond at all. Again, my intent wasn’t necessarily to cut off all contact with him and the family, but that’s how he might read it.

It’s tough because this is a relationship that I feel I should want to hold on to, and yet the facts indicate that it’s a relationship that can’t go anywhere, and that it’s best to let go of.

Speaking of things I’m letting go of, a year ago this past weekend I participated in the MN Song workshop as part of the Source Song Festival in Minneapolis. It’s a festival with the mission to celebrate, promote, and develop American art song:

… by empowering and inspiring a new generation of musicians—composers, performers and audience members alike—through the creation of new works, the initiating of conversation, and the fostering of relationships within Minnesota’s vibrant community.

I’d entered one of my songs, a setting of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet IX, “If poysonous mineralls, and if that tree,”  in the festival and was selected as one of the composers whose works would be workshopped and performed over the weekend.

In retrospect, this was a last-ditch effort to hold on to my identity as a musician and art song composer.

However, it quickly became clear that I was simply out of place among the other composers and musicians there—even the youngest one there. This is the curse of having enough talent to recognize when you don’t have the same gift and seeming facile ability of the others around you. It was an uncomfortable weekend overall, and was basically the final nail in the coffin of my career as a composer.

Towards the end of high school, my dad finally convinced me to major in music composition. It was obvious that I didn’t have the talent for piano performance, and for a while I was planning to major in English (which would’ve been about as useful as a music performance degree), but I assumed that my dad knew what he was talking about as a professional-level musician.

And that’s what I did.

In hindsight, that was one of many pieces of what other people were telling my about myself that I attempted to make fit, never questioning whether those things were true or accurate. For a while it seemed that I was a talented composer. My music was complex and challenging, and that set me apart in the music department at Northwestern College. However, as I came to realize after graduating, that was a very small tidal pool in a very large pond.

And on this side of atheism, that musical identity belongs to someone else, to a person who existed only as a mirror for others’ expectations—people I looked to as authority figures to tell me who I was.

There’s a quote of Julia Sweeney’s from her show Letting Go of God that I’m particularly fond of: “If I look over my life, every single step of maturing for me has had the exact same common denominator: and that’s accepting what was true over what I wished were true.”


As I’ve been delving more into learning about philosophy and the different schools of thought, I’ve come across the views of English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott.

This video triggered a number of things from my upbringing that probably won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog. While my childhood wasn’t the living nightmare of physical or sexual abuse that occasionally makes press, as I’ve come to realize over the last few years it was still incredibly toxic on account of my parents’ theology and the theology of our churches.

Like most children raised in fundamentalist religions, I grew up experiencing conditional love and acceptance. My parents preached the importance of showing unconditional love, yet their behavior taught something of the opposite. Compliance and adherence to Biblical rules (as they interpreted them) was heavily stressed. In order for our parents to be happy with us (or at least to avoid punishment), we had to exhibit good Christian behavior.

If we didn’t, it was a sign that we didn’t belong to God and were in danger of the fires of hell.

Of course, my parents had no idea what they were doing. They admitted to making mistakes along the way, but they ultimately believed that this was the right thing, that it was the godly was to bring up spiritually healthy children.

They didn’t know how psychologically fragile and impressionable children are; that teaching a child that they’re inherently sinful could translate to the belief that they’re inherently bad; that these lessons were shaping how their child would relate to other human beings later in life, and to their sense of self-worth or security.

Neither could they have expected that this way of bringing me up would lead to the developing of a sense of false self, to the reflexive repressing of my self, to shutting down, to going out of my way to please everyone out of a fear of disapproval and rejection.

So while I may have had two parents, a roof over my head, and my physical needs met, I lacked real security and the freedom to grow up at a normal pace.

It’s ultimately why I ended up majoring in music composition, why I tried so hard for so long to be a composer, why I applied to grad school for music composition, why I spent countless hours practicing piano as a teenager, why I entered that piece in the Source Song Festival.

 

This is why I’m focusing on being with people who I do feel accepted by/secure with, why I’m pursuing things that make me truly happy and that feel authentic, and why I’m stopping myself doing things for the approval of others.

It’s daunting, but my inner child deserves better than what he got.

241. duffer

Standard

Chain_expressing_freedomWhat a month so far.

I finished the month of June in San Francisco at the American Library Association convention, which was my first time in that city, at a professional convention, and marching in a Pride parade other than in the Twin Cities. The latter is less important than the others, but suffice to say that going to ALA was a confirmation that librarianship is truly where I belong.

During the five days I was there, I heard from and met people passionate about keeping information free and accessible for all, and about getting that information into the hands of patrons where it can go out and change the world.

I got to hear the incredible Gloria Steinem speak on the transformative importance of feminism in librarianship.

Heard a (rather cute) guy from the South Carolina Lowcountry Digital History Initiative gloriously nerd out in a session on the technical nuances of making a software program do exactly what they needed it to do.

Was introduced to people in the #critlib movement who are actively taking a critical look at librarianship through the lens of feminism, queer/gender theory, multiculturalism, and so on.

It was truly inspiring.

However…


On Monday I finally got back with my therapist after a nearly three-and-a-half month break. She moved offices, and in the madness of finishing the semester, going on vacation for two weeks, and then going to San Francisco, I hadn’t made an appointment.

And I was also kinda wearing my victim hat. I wasn’t sure if she was going to get in touch with me to set up an appointment, and when I didn’t hear from her, I took it as a conformation that my issues are too fucked up for her to handle, and that she was abandoning me.

Ahh, depression.

As I got her caught up on the latest developments, I shared some of what happened in San Francisco, particularly about feeling alone in a literal sea of humanity. There were over 25,000 attendees at ALA, so for an introvert it was especially overwhelming.

There was the usual sense I have of not knowing how to interact with people, which is especially frustrating at an event where networking and connection-making could happen. Of course, that sort of activity is better suited to a smaller conference organized around a specific discipline or area.

However, that’s how I feel most of the time—trapped in my head with negative thoughts. Why even bother talking to anyone? The minute you open your mouth they’ll figure out what an idiot you are. You’re such a failure as an adult. How old are you? 32. You should be more competent by now.

That’s nothing new, but I shared all of that with my therapist, of having the sense of needing a personality overhaul, because how I’ve been going up until now is not working—for my career, for my personal life, or for my romantic life.

I also shared a major meltdown I had on vacation in Big Bend National Park in Texas last month. In short, the inciting event was having to cross a stream to enter a canyon, something I wasn’t expecting. My friend Matt just went with it and waded through, and I think seeing his seeming carefree attitude set off something in my mind.

Now, granted, I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s minds. Their stories are their own. But it seems to me that most people know how to have a good time. They aren’t caught up in their own thoughts, in insecurities, in a negative self-image from a toxic belief system.

So my meltdown in the canyon was really about my frustration over feeling rigid and stuck and not knowing what to do about that, while most everyone else seems to know how to flow.


Okay, brief diversion.

I’ve discovered a new YouTube channel, The School of Life. Came across it by accident when I saw a link to the video:

My own philosophy education was pretty abysmal. Along with psychology, we were discouraged from thinking too much about philosophy. After all, they were worldly. But I was really struck by some of his ideas here, such as Geworfenheit, or “throwness”—as Heidegger described it, the “attendant frustrations, sufferings, and demands [of life] that one does not choose, such as social conventions or ties of kinship and duty” (Wikipedia).

In Heideggerian terminology, since 2008 I’ve been moving way from a state of Uneigentlichkeit (inauthenticity) towards Eigentlichkeit (authenticity); of becoming more aware recently of the distracting das Gerede (chatter, or idle talk) and how intensely I dislike it; and of wanting to live in a greater state of freedom in keeping with the knowledge of my own mortality—das Nichts.

As Camus would say, I have enough freedom to know that I’m in a cage, but not quite enough freedom to escape it.


A friend observed that it’s not that I think about these things, but that most people don’t.

This is the trouble that comes with thinking too much, and as I watched some of these videos last night, it seems most philosophers are unhappy for that reason. It’s one reason why Camus sticks out. Even in the undeniable face of mortality, he found reasons to live.

And it’s this reason that drove me towards librarianship and grad school, of embracing my sexuality and atheism—my own Eigentlichkeit—and why it’s so troubling that I have difficulty connecting with even people I value most. Life is a brief candle, and even though I know it’s all ephemeral, like how we used to build theater sets only to tear them down, I want to spend mine adding whatever value to my communities.

The realization I’m coming to is that I need to dismantle the old paradigms of fear and self-loathing that keep me rigid and stuck so that I can live free of ideas that no longer serve me.

So that I can actually get down to the business of living.