Shadow sides

We have all got them. The dark, hidden spots within ourselves that rear up their ugly heads every now and then; at the best of times, at the worst of times. They are what makes you doubt and despise yourself, makes you shameful, even bitter and depressive, and do and say things you are not proud of. Momentarily or for longer periods. They are, I guess, a part of life.

However, sometimes, they are so prominent, so poignant, so persistent that you start wondering if your eyes ever twinkle with joy or delight whenever you do laugh. It is strange to never see yourself this intimately. You may know the feeling of joy and recognize it in others, but to see it in yourself from an outside point of view…? Perhaps only those who have been captured in the moment by an artist or a photographer have. But even then: Is what they see who they feel? How they truly feel?

In my case, or in a general one as well, these shadow sides, as I like to call them, hide an underlying insecurity of appearing pathetic, desperate, selfish, arrogant, conceited, etc.; essentially, of not being liked. And yet, people’s thoughts of you are rarely as bad as those you have of yourself.

For one, I live with a crippling feeling of loneliness and the shame following it; when my logic brain interrupts by saying it’s pathetic since I’m so privileged and that others suffer more. It only feeds and amplifies my shame. On the other hand, we are all lonely, my logic brain counteracts (oh so annoyingly); what I feel is nothing special compared to the greater whole. ‘Thus why not just get over it and move on?’

I’ve realized what is understood of the phrase ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop’. Not from a religious point of view, but now that I’m without a job again I feel the lack of occupation in its most literal sense even more. Depression sneaks its ugly head into my rear-view mirror again. Every hint of motivation is lost just as quickly as it appears. Interests turn to obsessions which expand to the point of unhealthy before they deflate like the air from a balloon and replaced by new ones. In order to fill the void with… something, because I’m somehow unable or too much of a coward to fill it with the right ‘things’. I violently yearn for these ‘things’; events and people to install themselves in my life and vice versa. So much it hurts, and at the same time I am disgusted with this urge and I rebel against it and tell myself I am not needed, because I don’t know how else to handle it. I’m too pathetic, too inept to do anything about it. And I begin to question if I ever really worked for the good things that have occurred in my life or if I’m just lucky or too spoilt, too presumptuous to think that if I’ll only wait, good things will come – without making the true and honest effort to make them happen or head towards them.

The worst – or, at least, my worst – shadow side may just be self-pity. It encompasses all the other shadow sides, everything I’ve said so far, in a grey mass that feels inescapable. It will always be within me, somewhere. Its parasitic existence will always cast a shadow across every thought or action some time or another. I guess it’s closely related to my self-deprecation (which again stems from a lack of self-worth or belief in oneself), but it also entails a sense of resignation, of cowardice; of lacking the courage or motivation to do anything real about it.

And thus the self-pity feeds itself in an endless circle. It inhibits me from the most selfless actions because I find myself unworthy of other people’s good graces and then I berate my own selfishness; for thinking that ‘even the smallest action won’t bring any good so it’s not worth doing’, and, at the same time, I pity myself for thinking so little of myself. And I feel ashamed once again.

I feel alone again. Only I can do something about it. It’s such a lonely feeling to sit with, in every sense. Despite knowing that I’m not alone in feeling it; that many do so, I believe it can only be dealt with on your own. Then again, it’s the only way I have known.

I’m not sure I’m searching for confirmation and recognition of doing selfless acts, of being a good person; I mostly think my loneliness and insecurity further a sense of helplessness, of not being able to attract or keep people close beyond a superficial or impersonal level, anyway.

‘So, what’s the use of recognition?’ I think to myself.

Furthermore, I think this exact sentiment is what disables me from finding ambition in life; a job goal or a career. If I dismiss any future recognition beforehand, because I don’t believe in my own worth of getting it on the levels I need anyhow; if I can’t hold faith in the first-mentioned kind of recognition, how can I hold faith in a job-related kind?

And thus, I’m stuck. And I’m pitiful and selfish (or that’s what I tell myself). Because it’s not like I’ve been without any kind of recognition in my life. Far from it! But as I said, there’s a selfish need within of needing something less fleeting, less impersonal. Something deeper, steadier. And the fact that I feel so bad at giving it back (my track record tells me so, but I may be wrong), only feeds my shame of wanting it returned myself.

The other question is: From whom? There are few people in my life, and those few I am in contact with have their own lives to deal with. I don’t feel like clinging, without sense or purpose, to anyone. I never want to be a burden. And then I balk at the way I always end up making it about myself when I know I could be so much more for other people; that I can give and help instead of just making it about my own introvert needs. Somewhere, a voice says to me that I am better than this; that I can be better than this. But where do I find the courage, the motivation to do it on my own?

I end up back where I started: My own insecurity and inability in reaching out. Instead I hide away, hide inside myself. I… give up, in some way. (Too quickly, I feel, despite having spent most of my 20s like this, trying to make sense of things). Because none of these features could possibly make me anymore ‘attractive’ than I already am, I mockingly say to myself.

*sighs*

Sorry to be such a downer. I guess I’m a bit blue today.

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It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.

“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

— Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I have come past yet another self-discovery, though the revelation itself is perhaps not so strange since it has hid in the subtext of many other discoveries I have come across on my path.

Like Alice… in Wonderland.

It hit me one evening when I asked myself – for the umpteenth time – why I seem to have no life. Really. And I realized it may be because I never had a life to begin with. It has not so much to do with self-pity as it is simply an objective observation:

I have always prided myself with having an independent and original mind (obvious throughout this blog, I think), but, in reality, my independence has lived off my dependence on others, and my original personality/mind has lived off all the influences around me. (Nothing new under the sun and rather cliché. And, after all, I can never be totally without some level of uniqueness. None of us can.)

But I believe I, so far, have lived a life of a sort of parasitical child – in badly need to grow up! A child who cannot, for the life of me, express emotions maturely – hardly even objectively (I cannot seem to overcome my literal tongue-tiedness)!

In part delusional innocence and part daily-reality-phobia, I’ve fed off the experiences, feelings and stories of others – whether those people have been real-life or fictional. Thus the constant and spineless immersion in fictional narratives and music – to substitute the numb emotions within – and warding off responsibilities in real-life (mostly those to myself).

*sighs* If I indeed suffer from some sort of Peter Pan-syndrome, I’d really like to have it diagnosed for being just that. Then I have a real excuse to shed my responsibilities and go find Neverland. (Hmm. Step up from Wonderland?)… Joke aside.

I am most likely just a maladaptive daydreamer.

Have I ever felt empty and aimless when the pages run out or these ‘other people’ stop talking and showing me their lives and I can no longer immerse myself in their liveliness? Yes, perhaps I have. Perhaps I repress it by immersing myself further into something else, such as my imagination (Lewis Carroll wrote it: “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality”). Which again continues to supplant reality or what I cannot seem to have in my own daily reality. Something I am too cowardly to reach out and fully grasp myself.

Arrogantly, I have convinced myself that life is bigger than anything as ‘trivial’ as the daily, material matters of my own here and now. Bigger in a sense of metaphysics. I have a vast universe in my head that I need to discover and fill out with knowledge. Dealing with my own reality heads-on always seems so exhausting, transient and unreliable. I have no control there. I cannot predict the outcome in situations where my emotions feel most at stake, but where they are most often abandoned, even by myself, because I am no closer to understanding them.

So, of course, a subtle disappointment has run throughout every action, though I have not failed to see the benefit from most of them. Failures and flaws give life a color beyond compare, because they are what constitute you as a human; your unique you. I have learned from every action and that I have taken as a blessing, you could say. What I have learned and whether I have grown from these discoveries are a another matter entirely.

But still the disappointment, the emptiness has rung hollow within; an undercurrent settling in my gut as I have become more and more aware of life; of all the things I have lived through compared to all the things I likely or may never will. The sense of excitement and curiosity of getting to know what lies ahead has slowly been quelled by every underlying disappointment connecting; a frightening numbness setting in. Tastes turned to ashes in my mouth.

And I immerse myself in all the constructed narratives and emotions to bar out, to hush the raging numbness, silence and solitude-turned-loneliness I live in and come home to every day.

Solitude. My once so trusted friend has been possessed by loneliness; become the Babadook of my mind; a ghost haunting for the purpose of terror rather than company. And I have been its very maker. It is the Frankenstein of my creation; a ‘safe’ theory of ‘companionship’ that my mind latched on to, settled for – anything compared to the real thing; of having no companionship at all. A theory that turned into a being of its own once the egg was hatched; a being that became a monstrosity because it was still unsatisfied with its existence and blamed me. Because life isn’t easy. It was never meant to be.

Maybe it is the strange, little but significant events that have occurred to me within the last couple of years (I may have mentioned some of them here and there, but I don’t imagine you’ll know what I’m talking about and I cannot go into them right now) and likely set off my depression. If indeed my depression has been lying in wait for this – or if it really is a depression and not just an odd restlessness or lazy down-spiraling of one defense mechanism succeeding another in the wake of my growing loneliness.

And, as I said, burying myself in fiction and imaginative feelings helps me to deflect from my own lonely life as well as this perhaps/perhaps-not-depression. A sort of silly ‘coping escapism’ you are more likely to find in some (dark) children’s novel. And despite what I may have learned from these significant events, they have also left tiny, superficial scars in my heart; invisible to the naked eye; slowly accumulating over the years, forming a dark little cloud around it where the sun peeps in every now and then, desperate to emerge fully. I can empathize with others who go through something similar on a daily basis, yet I cannot begin to compare myself to what others feel on totally different levels and maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe I’m allowed to have this, to feel this, accept it and then find a way out of the fog, somehow.

(Have I become my own therapist?)

All utter nonsense, perhaps. Or, perhaps not? How can anyone answer that but myself? And how can I, when it feels like it takes several epiphanies, some life-changing experiences and a lifetime to answer that?

Again, I’m at a loss. At war in my mind. I seek immediate answers I can only gain through time. And time moves both slowly and unpredictably. And then it’s over before you know it.

And again, I haven’t dared to move and grab hold of some part of my reality and truly make it mine; claim it as mine. I have been too cowardly to do it. Perhaps because I feel, deep down, that there’s something too good about life that I do not deserve? I feel blessed and cursed at the same time, and I’m ashamed of feeling cursed; of appearing ungrateful of what I’ve been given; my inability to make better use of what I have and seize the day. I mostly just seize the day to write about life and consume others’ experiences of it, not experiencing it myself nearly as fully as I could. Imprisoned by myself or my inability to do something about it.

Is that a life of a writer? I doubt it. And yet, many people imprisoned; physically, institutionally or mentally, have written all throughout history, have they not? Some of the greatest writer have been imprisoned in some way or another, perhaps not directly enabling their writing but channeling it.

Perhaps I can make do with what I have worked myself into?

My writing may be as delusional as it may be cathartic; a circle of self-serving excuses; where fear of pity and perfection mixes in a blend as sinister as the river Styx I have to pay Charon with everything precious I possess to cross.

I return time and time again to a crossroad and I wonder if there is a me in this world and another me in another world and I wonder how often they will coincide in this harsh, bright, beautiful existence I have been given. Or if one will truly emerge with the other and – in that case – which one? And I wonder how many feels the same?

I want to override the consistent self-pity and shame, knowing how silly and unproductive these feelings are, but first I must escape the gripping loneliness from within and around. And it is not so easily overcome. My stubborn independence does not help. I still return to myself. I have scolded myself with every line possible and every tone of voice to see the effects, to self-motivate, and yet, it has not helped (unsurprisingly). I have written and drawn and opened up more to those around me, strangers even. Yet, I still come home to myself and myself alone; the loneliness waiting there.

How is something like that overcome? I cannot seem to allow myself to reach for twosomeness, perhaps because I am so conflicted by its very concept. Equally afraid and hopeful. My mind is always one step ahead; one foot in the positive scenario, another in the negative one. All I see is the 50/50 chances and I cannot predict my luck nor my misfortune. ‘That’s human’, ‘that’s life’; god don’t I know ‘it’s bloody life!’ and yet, it does nothing to answer what I am to do. To wait and let it run its course? Sure, I’ve done nothing else. But as Charlotte Brontë once stated: “The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.”

But what is life if not lonely and wild, fantastical and quiet?

Meanwhile, I’ll return to a segment of Carroll’s iconic story that speaks to something quintessential in me:

“She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; and once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet she was playing against herself, for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people. ‘But it’s no use now,’ thought poor Alice, ‘to pretend to be two people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!'”

*revised 11/02/18*

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