Wednesday, July 8, 2009

...or you will be taught to fly

I would like to share some poems and art friends/family have given me at least partly in response to my blog. :)

First, a poem:
When you come to the end of all the light you know,
and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown,
faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen:
Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.
--Edward Teller

I don't know what kind of faith I have, if any; I do know that I have to keep moving forward one way or another, and I very much like the idea of transforming by learning how to fly.

Second, a painting created for me by one of my best friends:

This painting, not to mention the amazing love and friendship this friend gives me, means so so much. :)

Finally, another poem:


This being human is a guest house,
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


I have found this concept to be helpful. Often when I'm feeling bad in some way or another, I start to feel bad for feeling bad--I assume that I'm doing something wrong, that my emotion is a result of some sort of failure on my part, some inadequacy, etc. If I remind myself to think of an emotion as a visitor within myself, however, I'm much more easily able to feel it without adding all this extra suffering onto it. Of course this poem is rich and has much more to offer than just that, but it's a start. :)

Thank you my dears for sharing with me; your support is deeply appreciated.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thoughts on Love of Self

I want to stay focused on the question: what does it mean to love myself?

It doesn't mean being able to acknowledge all my strengths, though I suppose that doesn't hurt. I know I have plenty of moments where I don't believe good things about myself; but I have as well many more moments where I do believe good things about myself. As my friend said, "You know you're hot shit."

But somehow knowing all the great things about myself doesn't matter. I do truly believe good things about myself, but however many good things there are, they are never enough. What is good when you could be better? What is good when along with all your strengths there are ever so many flaws?

So I am in the rather odd position of having, on the one hand, excellent self-esteem, and on the other hand, horrible feelings about myself. How do knowing that I'm great and feeling that I'm horrible add up? My friend helped me understand this: these two contradictory beliefs actually go in "different columns: being able to rationally tally up your strengths, versus viscerally loving yourself."

Ok. That helps. So I believe lots of wonderful things about myself, but somehow I am not able to relate those beliefs to actually *feeling good* about myself. Somewhere along the line, I think I lost the ability to feel good about myself.

I think--perhaps I'm wrong, but at least as far as I can see right now--I think that I have not felt good about myself in a very long time.

When I graduated from a prestigious, rigorous university with departmental and general honors, and was even selected to cross the stage with a small groups of students particularly noted for their achievements and potential....I felt nothing. I remember that day; it was gorgeous; I had family and friends; I'm standing there holding a beautiful and meaningful diploma; and I was thinking, "This is it? I don't feel any pride, any satisfaction, any joy....what did I work so hard all these years for?" Of course, my academic record gives me advantages; and the value of studying hard was that I learned a lot. But I wasn't able to feel good about myself for it, not on that auspicious day nor on any other.

At the end of the school year last year, I gave my students an evaluation form about my class. As I read their responses later in the day, I was amazed to see how much they believed they had gotten out of my class. Several (certainly not all lol) said that I had taught them to love history, that they had learned to think about race and racism differently, that they appreciated how I pushed them and believed in them and was patient with them; one student wrote, "I now know that just because someone says something doesn't mean it's true." This was immensely gratifying. After a year of hanging on by the skin of my teeth and feeling woefully inadquate at almost every moment, I was relieved. All my suffering had not been for naught. I was finally able to feel good, at least partly, about the work I had done.

But I didn't feel good about myself. Perhaps this sounds like splitting hairs; but in terms of how it affects my life, it really matters. This was one of the remarkably rare moments of my life where I did feel some satisfaction about work I'd done; but it was nothing more than that. It didn't change how I feel about myself. It didn't actually take away the shame. To this day, there is a very strong part of me that is deeply ashamed of everything that I did not manage to do for my students. My satisfaction at the end of the school year was lovely and important, but it didn't allow me to change the basic story about myself, the basic way I see myself.

Nothing I achieve, no accomplishment, will ever be sufficient to change my story about myself. I will always have flaws, and as my brain functions right now, I will always magnify those flaws so thoroughly that, no matter what my rational brain tells me about how great I am, I will feel bad about who I am.

So what does loving myself look like?

I think an important piece needs to be, accepting that I have flaws, letting go of them, forgiving myself for them. This is really, really, really, really hard to do. It is terrifying. Terrifying.

I have this deep fear that if I let up on myself, I will cease to function. In the words of my therapist, I have this idea that I constantly need "the whip at my back" in order to be able to make myself get anything done and hold my life together. I'm terrified that without my guilt holding me together, I will simply fall apart.

If I say to myself, and actually mean, and actually believe, "It's okay, Kate, that you made that mistake," then how will I stop myself from making that mistake again?

Ironically, I'm a good enough observer of myself that I've learned that it's actually easier to make myself get things done when I'm feeling good.

So doesn't it stand to reason that if I stopped beating myself up and actually accepted and stopped feeling guilty about my flaws, that I would become *more* functional, rather than less?

I'm so scared to lose my framework. But perhaps I can remind myself that there are actually reasons to do things other than duty and guilt. You clean your house because you want to live in a nice space; you study because you enjoy learning and want to get a degree; you treat people well because you believe in compassion; you eat healthy because you want to feel good and be healthy. Even activities without intrinsic pay your bills because you know it will make you happier in the long run. All these activities don't have to be lined up on a good/bad scale; they can be thought of in terms of the actual value they bring to your life.

So what is it that I'm afraid of? Am I afraid that I value my own well-being so little that without the whip of guilt at my back, I won't actually take care of myself? I must be. Because I imagine what it would be like if I just let it all down, right this moment, said, ok Kate, you're really ok, you don't have to feel bad anymore....and immediately I'm scared, thinking, but what would happen next, do I actually go on living my life?

I guess that's what courage is, stepping into the unknown.

Another piece of loving myself, I think, would be allowing myself to feel satisfaction much more often for my accomplishments, and, perhaps more fundamentally, turning my knowledge that I am a good person into permission to actually feel good about who I am. I think perhaps these may come easier as I learn to forgive myself for my flaws and thus stop focusing so intently on how I don't deserve to feel good/how it's "dangerous" to feel good. To feel good about myself...what a delight that would be.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Long Days

I have too much time. Yes, I try to keep busy; I work on job applications; I tutor; I (gasp! haha) cook; I play the violin; I make art; I read; I walk; I spend a lot of time with friends....but at the end of it all, I just have too much time. Some days stretch on and on and on....I ache when I try to think of how to fill the hours. Even after spending several hours on job applications, there are just so many hours left in a day! Dreadful, empty hours.

I used to watch a lot of TV to distract myself, but I've reached a point where it is so painful to watch TV that I'm actually beginning to break the habit.

The actual problem is not time, because when I've been employed in the past I still felt like this...all too empty at the end of the work day, beginning to dread the task of filling the evening hours. I remember nights where I felt so desperate that I actually looked forward to being at a job I hated just to escape the unbearable limbo. In this emotional state, motivation becomes a real struggle. I lose my motivation because I have such a hard time imagining myself deriving real satisfaction from any particular activity I could pick up. Often, of course, after I finally actually do something, I do feel better. Not always, though, a fact which I am all too quick to remember the next time around. My depression-brain oft repeats this chorus: "No matter what you do, you cannot ultimately escape the emptiness." Boy does that sound cheesy, but no one ever said depression-brain-voices were profound, lol. This fear, that nothing I do will actually make me feel better, paralyzes me. When I get too deep into that fear--when I lose hope that things could actually improve--I lose my motivation.

Hell, I know I'm a week late on this blog post, and I've had ideas to write about for a while. It took me this long to finally say, Kate, you have to do something, writing does actually make you feel good; go work on your blog. Or rather, I've been saying that all along; it took me this long to actually heed my own advice and take the steps of opening a window and starting to type. I literally have had my blog page open for many hours almost every day of the past week with the intention of writing.

It's a crazy thing, motivation. Growing up I had such a good handle on it. I did my homework, practiced my violin because the thought of not doing it, and of receiving dissaproval from a teacher or a bad grade, was so unbearable (brought up such intense guilt) I wouldn't even let it cross my mind. I enjoyed the work too, definitely; I often had the thought that I was grateful I was being assigned to do certain things because I really enjoyed them but couldn't imagine finding the motivation to do them if there weren't an external impetus.

This system of motivation began to unravel when I got to college; when I began to realize that no amoung--NO amount!--of approval from others would ever actually make me feel better about myself. Somehow I kept it together enough to graduate with a strong academic record--I think perhaps the specter of a bad grade was still just enough to keep me from falling off the edge.

How messed up is that! I didn't do the work for the joy of it--even though I found joy in it! I could only force myself to work with an immediate deadline hanging over my head, even though I knew that working made me feel better and not working made me feel worse.

Somewhere along the path of my life some wires in my head got majorly crossed, and I came to believe that anything under the label of "work" was undesirable and anything not under the label of "work" was desirable. Thus have I spent so many hours of my life miserably watching TV instead of doing things that took just a little more effort (thus earning the title of "work") but which would bring so much more satisfaction.

I see this picture so clearly, and it seems so obvious what I could do about it; spend less time with screens, more time with books, writing, music, art, outdoors. But any grand plan brings terror for me because I have made SO many resolutions in my life that I have not kept, and I dread another "failure." And the idea of increasing the "evidence" of how little control I seem to have over myself is...again, terrifying.

A compromise then? I read something in a cognitive therapy book about keeping track of how different activities make you feel; so I will make the very modest commitment of keeping a log of how different activities make me feel. Perhaps I will gather enough evidence to convince my depression-brain that I can actually find some sort of satisfaction out of doing? We shall see.

Activity: Writing
Feeling: After feeling empty and hopeless all day, I finally feel *something*, some sort of vitality that was lacking before. Mmmmm, thank goodness. :)