They do say that every writer, every successful artist of any kind, exists in the sweet spot where monstrous ego and crippling self-doubt overlap.
Which might explain why I am not a successful artist. I keep missing that sweet spot. I have my moments of ego but they never last long enough to get anything I’ve created out into the world. I’ve got the crippling self-doubt thing nailed though.
This evening I’ve been pondering why I find it so easy to slip into thoughts of my own worthlessness. It’s a comfortable pattern of thought for me. Like a ratty old jumper that’s full of holes, ugly and a bit smelly but that you just keep slipping on whenever no-one else is looking. It seems odd that I’d be so comfortable thinking of myself as worthless when I don’t think that way about anyone else.
When I look back at my life I’m not sure how I ended up thinking this way about myself. Is this hard wired? Is it a feature of my personality? Did I teach myself to think this way or was it ingrained in me as I was growing up?
I know I’ve been depressed for a very long time. I first recognized that there was something wrong when I was 4 or 5 years old. I knew that I was sad far more than I should be. I hated my body. I’m not sure how old I was when I first realized that I hated my whole self but I’m sure it was before puberty.
I know I tried to be better. I know I prayed. I prayed every night that I would wake up in the morning and be thin, and have straight teeth, and graceful hands, and not have such a potato face, and be whatever it was that people wanted me to be.
I was round about 13 years old when I first gave up on the idea of changing. I realised that I could never change myself into someone that people liked. I realised that I would never be good enough.
I had been dieting. Well I thought it was a diet at the time. I now realise that it was actually a bout of Anorexia. I had lost a lot of weight but people still treated me like shit. I thought that must mean that I hadn’t lost enough weight so I kept dieting. I kept dieting after my Mum said I had reached target weight and bought me lots of new clothes. I kept dieting after my new trousers started falling down and had to be held up with a belt. I somehow convinced myself that they were falling down because the fat was pushing them down. I only stopped dieting when a middle aged man tried to chat me up at the local fair. I was so horrified at the unwanted attention that I went straight to the cake stall and spent my pocket money there.
At the time I thought that it was sign that the weight at which you got unwanted attention from men was above the weight at which people started treating you like an actual human being. I had no way of knowing how much more weight I’d have to loose to be a human being but I thought I’d probably have to put up with the unwanted attention even after I got there. I’d already tried so hard for so long to become a human being and all I’d done was to stick an even bigger target on my back. I was already being bullied by my family and my peers but by loosing weight I’d somehow added strange adult men to the list.
I thought about it for a long time. I really wanted to be treated like an actual human being. They way people treated me made me miserable. But making myself acceptable to them seemed to be out of reach, or at least to come with unwanted side effects. I decided that my only route to happiness was to train myself to stop expecting better treatment. I thought that the thing that was making me miserable was the gap between how people treated me and how I thought I ought to be treated. If I could just accept that this was how my life was meant to be then I would be ok.
I tried to lower my expectations. I don’t recommend it as a tactic. Life seems to take it as a challenge. No matter how much you lower your expectations life can always undercut it.
I tried to believe that the names they called me were true. I tried not to care when people hit me. I tried to believe that I was so unimportant that the pain didn’t really matter. I tried so hard not to react when I was shouted at or insulted or punished. I tried to keep my head down. I tried not to get angry when my father shouted at me for whatever reason he was shouting at me. I tried not to care that my clothes were ugly and everyone seemed to hate me. I thought if I could just believe that I was as worthless as everyone seemed to think then I’d stop caring how much it hurt.
It didn’t work. I think it was probably I bad idea. I think that what I did was to destroy my own defenses. I think. But what do I know? I’m an idiot. Maybe it did help. After all the world seems to prefer that people on the loosing side shut up about how badly they’re treated. Making a noise only brings attention to yourself and when you’re a looser the last thing you want is attention.
The real danger with thinking like that is it becomes a feed-back loop. It’s a hole you fall into and every iteration of “I am worthless and I deserve this” makes it harder to climb out. “I am worthless because everything I do fails” very quickly becomes “I am worthless because I do nothing” and every time you think that it becomes harder to do anything. From there it’s a very short journey to thinking about how your life would be better without you in it.
And now I must stop because I am boring myself. If anyone else is still reading I apologise for this self indulgent dross. I agree that it’s really not good enough and I’m sorry that it’s not very entertaining. Sometimes I just have to get this stuff out.