Posts tagged with "self-evaluation"

cum dignitate otium, or, les Cent Jours

At some point in my ear­ly adult­hood, I found it far more enjoy­able to par­take in some­thing for the first time when it was in the com­pa­ny of anoth­er – not only as an intro­duc­tion but a time stamp in the rela­tion­ship.

However, this habit even­tu­al­ly became a rein­force­ment (and tes­ta­ment) of a world­view that did­n’t leave room for feel­ings of inher­ent val­ue. I would deny myself any form of plea­sure unless I was with anoth­er per­son1. It’s like I need­ed some­one to val­i­date those expe­ri­ences, and did­n’t know how to give myself per­mis­sion to enjoy them oth­er­wise.

One might have believed that many painful years alone would give me the chance to devel­op a bet­ter sense of self-com­pas­sion, but a career has a way of con­ceal­ing such inad­e­qua­cies. That’s why I had as much grow­ing to do as Heather did, even though I was the one to ini­ti­ate the heal­ing sep­a­ra­tion. Three months would cer­tain­ly be far too long for me to tide myself over with chores or mind­less busy­work. An aver­sion to idle­ness would inevitably lead me to find ways of occu­py­ing my time in a more mean­ing­ful way, and I would be respon­si­ble to no one but myself.

Spending some time in exile also seemed like an effec­tive way for me to learn how to pri­or­i­tize myself, to fig­ure out my wants and needs, to dis­cov­er who I tru­ly am when the mask is down2. Unfortunately, it was­n’t prac­ti­cal for either of us to live apart, even though a com­plete break would have giv­en me a bet­ter chance to heal. As Heather was still work­ing from home3, I spent whole days with the office with the door closed and made it my goal to pass the time in enjoy­able ways.

Continue read­ing “cum dig­ni­tate otium, or, les Cent Jours”…

  1. Another rea­son los­ing L____ was so hard; she was the only oth­er per­son in my life who made it a point not to watch our shows until we were togeth­er. []
  2. How easy this is to for­get after years of cohab­i­ta­tion. []
  3. The pan­dem­ic was in the sec­ond wave. []

aporia of faith

In recent years I’ve been rumi­nat­ing on the ques­tion of whether or not humans have inher­ent val­ue, per­haps because my sui­ci­dal ideation caus­es me to won­der whether life itself is worth­less. The sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of such a idea means I don’t ask any­one for an answer, but I do probe for opin­ions. My friends have all told me that they believe peo­ple are inher­ent­ly valu­able; or, at the very least, they know they’re valu­able because they val­ue them­selves, even if they can’t say the same about any­one else.

This sur­prised me at first; I can remem­ber believ­ing that each per­son is a bur­den on soci­ety who has to earn their place, as soon as I was old enough to under­stand such a con­cept1. But a few years ago when I told this to Jesse, he expressed dis­be­lief based on the way he’s observed my treat­ment of oth­ers.

Being chal­lenged about my views by a per­son I so high­ly respect­ed cer­tain­ly gave me pause to recon­sid­er. When I thought about a stranger I might meet on the street, I felt that that life would be a ben­e­fit to the world, that that per­son deserves to be loved, hap­py, safe, and healthy as much as any­one else sim­ply because they exist. Suddenly, I real­ized that it was myself whom I believed to be worth­less, and I extend­ed this belief to oth­ers to soothe any pains I had over such a thought. I did­n’t despair about my worth­less­ness if every­one else had just as lit­tle val­ue.

I can trace this warped world­view to my child­hood, when my par­ents treat­ed me sim­ply as an exten­sion of their lives. They made it clear that their love was pure­ly con­di­tion­al, based on my obe­di­ence, achieve­ments at school/work, friends, roman­tic part­ners, and how those all com­pared to oth­ers. I was always work­ing from a deficit of love, try­ing to earn their approval and affec­tion by doing the “right” thing, which was defined as what they want­ed2.

This is no more appar­ent than when try­ing to show myself com­pas­sion (or per­haps mag­na­nim­i­ty would be the bet­ter word). Imagining myself as anoth­er per­son before me, every time I say to him “You deserve to be hap­py”, my mind can’t help but fin­ish the sen­tence with “…as long as you…” as if that hap­pi­ness is con­tin­gent upon some lev­el of per­for­mance at a work­place.

Unfortunately, aware­ness does­n’t resolve the issue. Even though I had an epiphany that helped me under­stand the fal­la­cy of my world­view, try­ing to sud­den­ly believe that I have an inher­ent val­ue seems as implau­si­ble as find­ing a ran­dom peb­ble on the ground and believ­ing that it’s worth the same as a pol­ished gem­stone. No won­der the opin­ion I have of myself has been so great­ly influ­enced by oth­ers; I’ve been rely­ing on the approval of my peers to give me the val­ue I so des­per­ate­ly desire3.

So if the worth of a per­son is sub­jec­tive and there are no absolute truths, how is it pos­si­ble for me to gen­uine­ly believe that I have val­ue after a life­time of believ­ing that I don’t?

  1. I’m sure that grow­ing up in a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that views any­one who does­n’t work (includ­ing seniors) as lazy and worth­less con­tributed to this belief. []
  2. Not only would this cause me to feel like I had to con­stant­ly earn my hap­pi­ness, this would also cause me to believe any dif­fi­cul­ties I faced were my fault — that I must be to blame if some­one did­n’t find me attrac­tive, or I must have deserved any­thing I suf­fered. []
  3. I even­tu­al­ly learn that exter­nal forms of val­i­da­tion like this are unre­li­able and gen­er­al­ly unhealthy. []

hello? is this thing on?

The world still turns, even when it’s in lock­down, and there’s been much to say.

If only writ­ing came as eas­i­ly as it used to. The bulk of my entries have been a com­pul­sion, a way to sort out thoughts and feel­ings when I had no one to talk to.

Then I start­ed dat­ing Heather — my first time cohab­i­tat­ing with a roman­tic part­ner — and sud­den­ly had an out­let that was both acces­si­ble and val­i­dat­ing1. It became eas­i­er to turn to her than find the words for a screen that nev­er spoke back.

My time in ther­a­py has also giv­en me bet­ter emo­tion­al mod­er­a­tion; a skill to deal with the dis­tress that comes from depres­sion and trau­ma. Instead of spi­ral­ing into pan­ic or rage, I’ve learned to embrace dif­fi­cult feel­ings and let them pass through me. Scary thoughts and painful mem­o­ries don’t con­trol me the way they used to. A healthy trade for the loss of inspi­ra­tion.

In that sense, I hold an evolv­ing style and sub­ject mat­ter to be pos­i­tive devel­op­ments. After all, I began this blog almost 20 years ago. If I was fill­ing the space with the same things as I was back then it would be an embar­rass­ing sign I had­n’t grown at all. I imag­ine I’ll always have more things to say as long as I con­tin­ue learn­ing, even if the impe­tus is lack­ing.

It makes me won­der why oth­ers stopped blog­ging (or why they start­ed in the first place). Checking my RSS feed is still a habit, but nowa­days I’m left invari­ably dis­ap­point­ed and feel­ing more dis­con­nect­ed than ever. Social media has become too shal­low for my tastes. Medium too imper­son­al. YouTube too obnox­ious and osten­ta­tious and increas­ing­ly com­mer­cial, with Twitch being even worse on all those counts.

And yet there’s relief to be found in the fact that no one knows I’m writ­ing any­more2. This space is no longer sacred when I feel oblig­ed to or inhib­it­ed by an audi­ence. Self-imposed exile became an impor­tant step towards reclaim­ing the sense of con­trol I’d lost. My sto­ry isn’t fin­ished, and per­haps enough time away has giv­en me the dis­tance I need to be com­fort­able shar­ing myself again.

  1. The fact that she’s usu­al­ly on the same intel­lec­tu­al lev­el (or high­er) is also an impor­tant fac­tor. []
  2. With a few notable excep­tions, I’m sure. []

nothing is something worth doing

When talk of COVID was hit­ting our shores and busi­ness­es were start­ing to shut down as a “tem­po­rary” mea­sure, I expect­ed the sit­u­a­tion to last a great deal longer than a month or two. Gut feel­ings sel­dom grace me, but some­thing told me the Western world was severe­ly under­es­ti­mat­ing the sit­u­a­tion. Maybe it was the mem­o­ries of my last trip to Hong Kong in 2009 — five years after the SARS out­break was declared over — when malls and streets that were once packed to the point of claus­tro­pho­bia were then lucky to see more than a hand­ful of souls each day. The ther­mal cam­eras at each bor­der cross­ing in main­land China cer­tain­ly gave me the impres­sion that a pan­dem­ic was some­thing to be tak­en seri­ous­ly.

cat on tree

A while back, the Humane Society host­ed a cat-tree build­ing work­shop, and we decid­ed to make a date of it. Percy, being a percher, is very pleased with the results (espe­cial­ly when com­bined with an emp­ty box).

It’s already been four months since Heather start­ed work­ing from home. The lit­tle space she has set up at the pub table in the liv­ing room offers her a view of the back­yard while she takes calls and makes quotes. Management has decid­ed to fol­low their own safe­ty pro­to­cols1, which means it’ll remain her office for the fore­see­able future. She com­plains to me about how Byron gets in the way of her video meet­ings every time he walks across her lap for atten­tion, but I know deep down she loves show­ing him off to any co-work­er who’ll lis­ten.

Taking lunch­es togeth­er has been an unex­pect­ed lux­u­ry2 — being avail­able for kiss­es through­out they day even more so. I no longer feel the need to fill the hours with busy­work until she can keep me com­pa­ny again. That’s prob­a­bly why the quar­an­tine has­n’t been as dif­fi­cult as expect­ed; this is noth­ing com­pared to the bouts of unbear­able lone­li­ness I’ve sur­vived with­out a fam­i­ly or part­ner on which to rely. Not that I was going out much before any­way. Depression and trau­ma had already kept me house­bound for years.

freestyle rap cypher

One of the last times I saw Jesse was at the fifth birth­day par­ty for Dominion City Brewing, where he was lead­ing the freestyle cypher.

The biggest change has cer­tain­ly been Jesse’s absence from my life. I’m thank­ful for the fact that he’s not tak­ing any risks (both for his sake and his house­mates’), even if it means I’ve gone months with­out his com­pa­ny. His inten­tions to be in bet­ter con­tact come to him when he’s falling asleep or sucked into work, and I feel strange­ly com­fort­able inhab­it­ing the space between; I know it’s not cause he does­n’t care or I’m not impor­tant, that he’s always strug­gled when it comes to man­ag­ing time and pri­or­i­ties.

Even with a life­long his­to­ry of aban­don­ment issues, I can feel secure in a rela­tion­ship where I have no idea when I’ll see the oth­er per­son again. It’s a sign that I’m not only recov­er­ing from emo­tion­al wounds, but grow­ing too. The fact that I could go this long with­out post­ing some­thing is anoth­er sign. I used to be such a goal-ori­ent­ed per­son with projects lined-up, one after anoth­er. Creativity, work, and self-improve­ment were huge parts of my life. But so much of that moti­va­tion came from the fact that I nev­er felt like a valu­able per­son unless I was mak­ing progress on some­thing, that I nev­er deserved to be hap­py unless I suf­fered a great deal for it.

After strug­gling with men­tal health for so long, I’m start­ing to under­stand that hap­pi­ness itself is a per­fect­ly rea­son­able goal. And now that the deci­sion to iso­late has been tak­en out of my hands, I’m try­ing to indulge the indo­lence. If I was ten years old, it would be a dream come true to be giv­en inter­net access, a com­put­er, and so much free time. Maybe one day I’ll fig­ure out how to live a life between the extremes of indul­gence and mor­ti­fi­ca­tion; for now I’ll stay in, try­ing to be that boy again.

  1. They don’t trust the var­i­ous gov­ern­ments where their offices are locat­ed. []
  2. She gets an hour, so some days I’ll go down for an ear­ly after­noon nap and she’ll pet me to sleep. []

convalescent care

The time will come
when, with ela­tion
you will greet your­self arriv­ing
at your own door, in your own mir­ror
and each will smile at the oth­er’s wel­come,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for anoth­er, who knows you by heart

—Derek Walcott, Love After Love

I’ve start­ed going to appoint­ments on my own. Being stuck in a wait­ing room with sobri­ety on the hori­zon no longer fills me with rage; instead, I take the time as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do breath­ing exer­cis­es and prac­tice mind­ful­ness. When some­thing minor goes wrong I don’t shut down any­more. I can han­dle small amounts of stress with­out being over­whelmed. Leaning into my anx­i­ety and mak­ing peace with it has giv­en me a mod­icum of inner strength I thought was for­ev­er lost. I’m start­ing to feel less help­less, less like a vic­tim.

It’s a sign that I’m on the mend. The trau­ma of the past is start­ing to lose its effect on me. Heather does­n’t have to use a vaca­tion day to accom­pa­ny me on every check-up, and we can spend that time con­nect­ing in a more mean­ing­ful way1.

glass-blown pumpkins

Since Halloween is her favourite time of year, I sur­prised her with a glass­blow­ing work­shop where we made our own pump­kins. She now has these dec­o­rat­ing her desk at work as a reminder of a love­ly date in the Fall.

Developing resources to be self-suf­fi­cient also means learn­ing to be respon­si­ble for my own hap­pi­ness. In the past, I would save songs, shows, and movies so I could expe­ri­ence them for the first time with anoth­er per­son. This was espe­cial­ly true when ____ was still in my life; every moment was bet­ter when I could share it with her. But that meant I would con­stant­ly be deny­ing myself the plea­sure, and total­ly reliant on some­one’s com­pa­ny to be hap­py.

So I’ve start­ed enjoy­ing things on my own as a way of treat­ing myself well. Making sure I do some­thing that gives me joy every day has opened up a world of ways to be com­pas­sion­ate to myself. Poor self-esteem has his­tor­i­cal­ly made it dif­fi­cult for me to feel like I deserved to have fun unless I had done some­thing to earn it, while bad emo­tion­al habits meant I nev­er believed I was doing enough. None of that is an prob­lem when I sim­ply want myself to be hap­py.

That’s not to say I still don’t miss ____ tremen­dous­ly — even after she decid­ed to aban­don me and blame me for it — but I don’t need her like I used to. I know I’m final­ly get­ting over her after so many years when I can fin­ish the shows we start­ed with­out get­ting over­whelmed with emo­tion. Learning that I have the abil­i­ty to heal myself also comes as a huge sur­prise. I’ve been spend­ing so much effort on recov­ery, try­ing to feel like my old self again, that I for­got it’s pos­si­ble to grow in new ways and become an even bet­ter ver­sion of the per­son I used to be.

Rosie's knuckle tattoos

Rosie has the only knuck­le tat­toos I’ve ever been tempt­ed to copy.

Still; I can’t remem­ber the last time a song real­ly hit me, some­thing worth rat­ing five stars in my playlists2. Music does­n’t bring me the same man­ic rush of joy any­more. In the last few years, this was direct­ly relat­ed to the amount of trau­ma I expe­ri­enced. Hardship has a way of bring­ing per­spec­tive to one’s life, and reduc­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of things both good and bad.

Now I can tell it’s the price to pay for sta­bil­i­ty. The highs don’t seem as high any­more when I’m con­tent most of the time, but that’s okay. I’m start­ing to under­stand that the eupho­ria I would seek as relief from my suf­fer­ing isn’t sus­tain­able. That’s a drag­on I no longer need to chase when I can remem­ber that pain is part of life, and let­ting it in is an impor­tant part of heal­ing.

  1. Not that she’s ever resent­ful when look­ing after me. []
  2. A quick check of my library tells me this was Tower Song by Townes Van Zandt back in 2015. []