The Mirror, Crack’d

I’m caught in an infinite loop of self-love and self-harm, and it needs to stop because the pain it’s causing me is dangerous.

In the post “All the Right Cooks in the Kitchen” I wrote about seeing everything that you do good for yourself as an act of self-love. In other words, running five miles isn’t a punishment for whatever hijinks I was up to the night before. Running five miles, at any time, is a standalone act of self-love. So between biking and running and cooking for myself, I do a lot of acts of self-love recently.

But I also actively practice self-loathing. I have a very hard time sitting with myself and my own thoughts, and as a result I invariably turn to forms of escapism to cope.

Sometimes I write, which is also an act of self love and a method for getting what’s in my head out on a page. Many of the posts I write don’t get published here, because sometimes I have to do deep, embarrassing dives that require utter transparency, something I’m not always able to share with the world. I think this is a good coping mechanism, and one I employ often.

But sometimes I don’t feel like writing, and the stew in my head seethes and heaves and bubbles over. That’s when I feel the urge to run away. Sometimes I cope by binge-watching a show, or listening to podcasts, or reading books, or wallowing in Instagram and online games. Sometimes I go out, because alcohol is the great mind-eraser and I like to have people around, even if they’re not talking to me. Alcohol is also the great problem-exacerbater, so care has to be taken there.

For the last six months or so I’ve also been hanging out once a week with someone who ultimately isn’t meant for me, who magnifies some of the tendencies I strongly dislike, but is simultaneously really great for me in some respects. He’s an ego booster and is kind and considerate, but also drinks too much and has a tenuous hold on his financial situation and emotional maturity. But I’ll examine that relationship more closely in a different place. In any case, he’s another welcome, but not necessarily healthy, distraction from the work that desperately needs doing.

It’s so much easier to NOT put in the work. My therapist tells me I need to notice and “sit with” my feelings, but I don’t know what that really entails. That means I have to sit here, in the utter stillness of my apartment, and listen to the maddening loop in my head in which I question every decision I’ve ever made and miss my old life and worry about my stupid parents and berate myself for going out the night before and panic about money and question how well I’m doing at work and then start over again with my poor decisionmaking? Because that’s the loop. There’s no exit.

I once read a book when I was about 11 years old called “The Language of Goldfish”, which tells The Bell Jar-esque story of a teenage girl going through a mental crisis as she learns to leave childhood behind. At one point in the book she swallows a handful of pills in a botched suicide attempt. While reading the book, I remember thinking to myself “Why can’t she change her thought patterns? Why can’t she go in a different direction? Why can’t she see things this way or that way instead?” That’s how I feel now, sometimes, like an outsider reading my own book who is powerless to change the thought-spiral. Maybe that’s why writing helps me a little bit, possibly? Because I can observe my own story from the outside?

Also, when I was a child I went through a phase where I narrated my own life in the third person in real time. All day long, I’d think things like: “She climbed aboard the bus and looked out the window at the snow, sighing heavily.” Or, “she frowned and wrinkled her nose in disgust.” Growing up in a household where there was a lot of conflict, it may have helped me escape myself (I was also a voracious reader, and narrating in that way was a practical exercise in the creation of colorful descriptions). While I’m not actively narrating my own life in my head anymore, I am doing it here, in this series of posts.

Perhaps outside observation is the key to breaking the cycle. Maybe in future posts I’ll address each of the things I described in the loop and break it down, try to see it in a different way, try to find solutions and change the thought patterns. Maybe introducing new things into the loop could also derail the thought train. What if I also consciously tried to incorporate things that are positive, so that the loop doesn’t always spiral downward?

Something needs to change. While I’ve had minor progress over the past year, I’m tired of this dichotomy. The self-love/self-hate messages I send myself are confusing. Dissonance causes pain, and harm, and sadness. The work needs to be done, and the escapism has to stop.

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