The deadline I’ve set for myself in filing my paperwork to stay is fast approaching. It’s Thursday, and I have fallen behind on nearly everything else, so I don’t know how I will do it. The emotional burden of everything connected to it is so hard that it never seems to get done. I am just mostly trying to stay on an even keel so that I can teach and so that I can talk to C without behaving so much like a madwoman although I fear sometimes I still do.
I am thinking about it this morning, because it’s urgent. The emotional stuff needs to be cleared away, or I need to shut down and dissociate to get it done. One or the other. It’s kind of my last-ditch effort at doing it the former way—which feels better—and not the latter.
So I try to sit with the feelings about it. I kind of know that I don’t finish the paperwork because I feel I don’t deserve to have C in my life. Then I feel this despair when I try to take the steps that would keep her there at the center of things and the despair makes me want to give up on it all. I’m trying to stay with the feelings about this—the despair and the unworthiness—because if I can do that, then I can understand them. If I instead shut the feelings down and try to think about them without feeling them, the result is a bunch of useless speculations without any real understanding. Also, nothing inside ever shifts. I might end up with a nice-sounding theory about it, but I don’t change. You have to feel to think.
I grew up in the age of self-esteem. In the 70s, everyone began to believe you needed to feel good about yourself to achieve things. It permeated my school life. My mother was in therapy and it began to permeate my home life. So this notion that I am worthless is hard to stay with. It feels forbidden, as if the feeling of worthlessness itself is a fast pass to doom, when really it’s just a feeling. I feel hungry and sometimes I eat and sometimes I don’t. Feeling worthless does not mean I have to sabotage my own life. I might. I might not. Just like feeling hunger does not always make me eat. It’s a feeling and a perception, but it does not have to lead to action. I console myself that way.
Eventually, I can stay with feeling worthless long enough to think about it, and it’s interesting what happens. I start to realize pretty much everyone feels worthless at least some of the time. Otherwise, we would not have all these “inspirational” quotes about how no one should make you feel bad about yourself. Worthlessness is normal. My sense of worthlessness might be on steroids, but it’s fine. It’s part of the human experience. Not one of the more pleasant ones, but a survivable one.
The upside of thinking about it this way is that it relieves me from the burden of having to rigidly control my emotions and my thoughts. I don’t have to cope by trying to control the sense of worthlessness. I don’t have to make myself stop feeling it—which is actually quite impossible anyway. I can just recognize it. Because, actually, I can’t exert that kind of control over my internal world. I can’t make myself feel only some things and not others. And this is part of the despair. I can’t do what society has led me to believe I must do in order to succeed, which is to exert a high degree of control over my own internal world. I can control my actions, but I cannot control my thoughts or my feelings. They just happen. And sometimes they are shit, but I still can’t control them. It’s a losing battle.
What’s required isn’t greater control, but maybe just more response. It’s a different approach to life than what I grew up with. I grew up with control as a reaction to distress. Something is wrong? Grab power from somewhere. Control someone else. Control your feelings. Control something. The secret to happiness is authoritarianism.
It isn’t. The secret to happiness is acceptance. I feel I don’t deserve C? Well, that’s fine. I am not God, dishing out rewards and punishments. I have some papers to fill out. I have a relationship to maintain. I can focus on those things.
At the same time, people are not prizes. You don’t deserve them. Or not deserve them. That isn’t how it works. I can keep plugging along at life, and some good things are going to happen for me. Some bad things are going to happen too. I don’t have to deserve things to get them.