Saturday, April 12, 2014

Cultivating Desire

This one is going to get a little rough. But this blog is part of my therapeutic process, and I need to put this up for my own sake. So quit reading if it’s going to make you unhappy.

I’m coming to realize that as complicated as my mental health issues are, there is one specific problem that if addressed could radically improve my quality of life. My needs and desires do not motivate me to action. This is the case to a genuinely pathological degree; it is a life-threatening condition. Anorexia, dehydration, apnea — “I guess I should breathe,” was a thought that ran through my mind early this morning — there are very real physical risks I face on a regular basis. It took me a long time to recognize this because I’ve become habituated to this kind of self-abuse…

… but then I noticed that the concern the missus expresses over my well-being when she’s out of town included a component of real fear. And my therapist had the same reaction. It was pointed out that when I haven’t had a woman monitoring my food intake, my hundred-and-forty-five pound steady weight was the result of chronic malnutrition. When people ask me, “What do you want?” I almost never respond in an appropriate fashion. I always find a way to defer to someone else. A few months into therapy, my shrink said, “You aren’t motivated by desire, you’re motivated by principle.” I asked the missus, my dad, my closest friends, and they all confirmed that opinion.

But it isn’t principle so much as compulsion. From time to time, I’ll run across someone who will raise a corrective forefinger when I say, “I have to —“ and then they’ll wag it at me and say, “No, you don’t have to. You choose to.”

People who can think that way are incapable of understanding me. Dealing with them is like dealing with someone from another planet. (Are they even people?) I only act when I feel as though my choices have been reduced to necessities. This is a big part of my cycle of extended periods of depressive passivity broken by productive phases of hypomania.

I am fortunate to be achieving an interesting position as a cultural figure. And every success has had its roots in someone else’s desires. People ask me to do stuff and I try to do what I’m told.

Because I try to be a good boy.

But that is not the same as having a drive to succeed. In many ways, I’m still trying to hide from the world.

The missus is out of town now, and is going out of town again. So this stuff has been a subject of discussion. And in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a few realizations.

One is that I do not feel lonely when I work for other people, while pursuing my own ends makes me feel panicky and abandoned. Not to go into the details, but that comes from a shabby old set of Mommy issues.

The other came after a day of eating no, drinking yes. The next morning, the calm, reasonable voice in my head said, “You do understand that you’re a public concern now, and what you did yesterday was vandalism. That’s not what a good boy does.” I swear, that bastard is starting to play dirty. 

And something big and hopeful has entered the picture. Over the course of this last year, I’ve had three discrete periods of real happiness that lasted for weeks or months. It seems that when I get a certain amount of what I want in life, I’m basically happy. And some of what I want is to be of service to others, and some of it is to feel pride in what I do. Sex, cooking for others, beautiful scenery, exercise, intimate conversation, the praise of knowledgable people, the exercise of mastery in my skills, the rough edge of learning a new skill, proudly displaying myself in public, the option of getting something fresh to read or look at or listen to, going out every once in a while, nice clothes, access to media gadgetry and musical instruments, the company of animals. I know what I want, and I know what’s good for me.

But it just doesn’t motivate me. I can regard any level of physical and emotional discomfort with a certain cool, unsympathetic distance. I am made out of poverty consciousness and self-denial. I am entirely capable of laying down and never moving again.

Which would make me a bad boy. Which is why I’m dependent on the people around me to keep me from simply winding down like a cheap toy. I’m lucky that most people in my life don’t regard this as a burden, and there are enough of ‘em so that nobody feels responsible for the burden.

But I want to change this. I know I’m never going to be conventionally healthy in this sense, but when you’re nuts, it’s important to watch your margins. So I’m going to try guilting myself with the whole, “You are public property,” thing and see how that works.

I strongly suspect that if I become more widely known, the presence of an audience for my work will also give me more impetus to take care of myself. And I am working on developing something resembling real affection for myself. Things are getting better. But they’re still a long way from good.

I’ll go eat something now. At least it will be a step in the right direction.