Some seriously heavy thinking

I had been prone to suicidal ideation more than a few times in my life and also prone to withdrawing from people (Mom Gail – please don’t freak out about that.  It coexists with a very strong will to live and to keep trying to put myself out there). Mostly this is due to feeling the futility of certain aspects of my life and my own disbelief in my abilities to cope and to change and grow with the demands placed upon me (not that I mind demands, just not the kinds I have been getting) and rejection or neglect of my attempts at friendship. Some (most?) of those perceived inabilities, as I’m finding out from reading a book called Creating Real Relationships:Overcoming the Power of Difference and Shame my friend recommended to me, result from many distorted-belief phrases I’ve carried around with me for a while.

From the book,

  1. Distorted-belief phrases are typically so automatic and subtle that you are unaware of them or their effect on your moods. You respond without being aware of what you told yourself.
  2. Distorted-belief phrases often appear in coded form. Our short word or image contains a whole series of thoughts, memories, or associations.
  3. Distorted-belief phrases are often irrational but almost always believed. For example, “what if”, thinking leads you to expect a negative outcome, one that is highly unlikely to occur. Yet, because of the impulse belief phrase is sent so rapidly, it goes unchallenged.
  4. Just as you can replace unhealthy behavioral habits (such as smoking or drinking excess coffee) with more positive, health-promoting behavior, so you can replace unhealthy thinking with more positive, supportive mental habits.

My internet friend has been trying to get me to understand what real relationships are and how two people interact in healthy, mutually respectful ways. The book helps bring to light his points.

In a real relationship, it is compose of two emotionally healthy partners who seriously and mutually consider each other’s basic needs. Each partner is aware of his or her needs and is able to express these to the other freely. The couple has the skills to understand and accept these needs and to negotiate and resolve conflict of needs as they arise. Specifically, both individuals in a real relationship have the capacity to:

  1. Experience a wide range of feelings deeply.
  2. Expect appropriate need satisfaction.
  3. Be assertive and self-activate
  4. Acknowledge self-esteem
  5. Soothe painful feelings
  6. Make and stick to commitments
  7. Express creativity
  8. Experience intimacy
  9. Accommodated and enjoy being alone
  10. Find the unified real self that is you in the midst of all your conflicting parts

I don’t know what my real needs are.  My husband is always asking me what I want/need…and I really don’t know what exactly that is, and why I keep thinking I don’t have it.

I keep to myself a lot, especially in the winter time, oftentimes staying at home, only going out if I have to get the kids to and from school and for groceries (unless my husband gets them).    It’s not really good for my psyche.  While I am fairly content to be at home, putzing around the house, taking care of the kids I’m more often drawn to the computer simply for mental stimulation and intellectual companionship (yes, no not real, but better than nothing). Sometimes I do get intellectual companionship. Often I get requests to become someone’s correspondence partner. It’s nice, but it takes time and energy to expend on sharing my thoughts and feelings, only to end up becoming over-dependent on that internet connection because I don’t have anything else going on.  And often, when I do start, the effort becomes difficult to maintain on their end.  I’m beginning to realize that it’s difficult to maintain a friendship with me (internet or otherwise).  That’s okay.

I’ve stopped trying to find intellectual stimulating people around here.  And I realize the more I seclude myself up in my house, reading, writing prolifically, striving to learn things I didn’t know before…I widen the gap between myself and most others.   This is not living, as my internet friend keeps telling me.

He’s right.  I know he’s right.  But I spent 3 years almost brain dead, after quitting my job in medical genetics for my kids and as my youngest daughter sucked my intelligence right through my breasts when she nursed for those three years.   I’ve spent the last year and a half sharpening my abilities again.  But to what end?  All dressed up and no where to go.

But I am pushing myself to keep trying to get out there, in the “real world”, interviewing for that job (still no word), taking the lab tour for another lab, teaching that forensics lecture to the 4th grade class, visiting my grandma and a few other old people in the hospital this week (there’s a post coming on that one too).  Going back to church, if for nothing else than because I like the message at that church of trying not to be disconnected from one another, and it’s a way to meet people and get me out of my house once in a while, away from this computer.  I wonder what my friend would say if he knew I have a tendency to make myself a hermit of sorts right in the middle of suburbia.    Sometimes I just want to stay stuck and give up trying, mostly because I have a huge emotional need deficit and I’ve been trying to fill it for years. I’m beginning to think it’s time to look at that (and find out if it’s even possible to fill it).

I’m trying to figure out why I’ve called to mind the myth of Sisyphus- the character from Greek mythology who was condemned to push the same boulder up a hill over and over again, two or three times in the past two weeks. Probably because this calls to mind the ultimate in futility and that word has come up in a few different places.

I didn’t realize there was a philosophical essay about it from Camus, and I find it very interesting and perhaps appropriate to my situation. From Sparknotes
we find a summary of the essay. I haven’t quite figured out if this fits exactly my situation, but the more I read the summary I’m thinking it might. I have the book in the house somewhere (I think I recall seeing it anyway), and I think I’ll be reading it soon if we do have it around here.

The central concern of The Myth of Sisyphus is what Camus calls “the absurd.” Camus claims that there is a fundamental conflict between what we want from the universe (whether it be meaning, order, or reasons) and what we find in the universe (formless chaos). We will never find in life itself the meaning that we want to find. Either we will discover that meaning through a leap of faith, by placing our hopes in a God beyond this world, or we will conclude that life is meaningless. Camus opens the essay by asking if this latter conclusion that life is meaningless necessarily leads one to commit suicide. If life has no meaning, does that mean life is not worth living? If that were the case, we would have no option but to make a leap of faith or to commit suicide, says Camus. Camus is interested in pursuing a third possibility: that we can accept and live in a world devoid of meaning or purpose.

The absurd is a contradiction that cannot be reconciled, and any attempt to reconcile this contradiction is simply an attempt to escape from it: facing the absurd is struggling against it. Camus claims that existentialist philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Chestov, and Jaspers, and phenomenologists such as Husserl, all confront the contradiction of the absurd but then try to escape from it. Existentialists find no meaning or order in existence and then attempt to find some sort of transcendence or meaning in this very meaninglessness.

Living with the absurd, Camus suggests, is a matter of facing this fundamental contradiction and maintaining constant awareness of it. Facing the absurd does not entail suicide, but, on the contrary, allows us to live life to its fullest.

Camus identifies three characteristics of the absurd life: revolt (we must not accept any answer or reconciliation in our struggle), freedom (we are absolutely free to think and behave as we choose), and passion (we must pursue a life of rich and diverse experiences).

Camus gives four examples of the absurd life: the seducer, who pursues the passions of the moment; the actor, who compresses the passions of hundreds of lives into a stage career; the conqueror, or rebel, whose political struggle focuses his energies; and the artist, who creates entire worlds. Absurd art does not try to explain experience, but simply describes it. It presents a certain worldview that deals with particular matters rather than aiming for universal themes.

The book ends with a discussion of the myth of Sisyphus, who, according to the Greek myth, was punished for all eternity to roll a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he reaches the top. Camus claims that Sisyphus is the ideal absurd hero and that his punishment is representative of the human condition: Sisyphus must struggle perpetually and without hope of success. So long as he accepts that there is nothing more to life than this absurd struggle, then he can find happiness in it, says Camus.

Maybe I’m too focused on the wrong things, and not allowing myself to accept a certain amount of futility/absurdity.   To allow certain freedoms from expectation, of myself and others, “without a need to pursue life’s purpose or to create meaning”.   Perhaps I’m too busy looking for everything to mean something that I miss enjoying what just “is”.

This entry was posted in death, existentialism, intellectual stuff, Intensity, introspection, personal growth. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Some seriously heavy thinking

  1. Leah says:

    The propensity to look for purpose/meaning/expectations is a part of being gifted. And so is seeing that some of what ‘is’ has room for improvement, and trying to improve it if you can, not being easily satisfied. Apparently some less-gifted (and/or less-sensitive and/or less-mistreated) ‘gifted’ people are willing and able to just ‘turn it off’. I’m not one of them, and from our similarities, I doubt you are either.

    But I met a person like that, at work; some of her ‘advice’ could be summarized as “I used to be kinda like you, but then I decided to stop trying/caring, it’s easier”. I can force myself to not try (or imperfectly, at least try less) at doing something / improving something / helping with something, but I can’t make myself not care.

    PS: I am eager to get back to our emails as soon now as I can manage to get my thoughts in order between my frustrating job and the holidays, so I hope I’m not in the ‘rejected correspondents’ pool. 😉

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Leah –

    Thank you for the insight.

    It might be easier to stop caring, but then I wouldn’t be me anymore. I usually like me (minus the headaches I give myself from thinking too much).

    I don’t want to stop caring, but I think what I need is to learn how to meditate, maybe experiment with some brain entrainment to learn how to calm my mind down and really relax from time to time.

    I’m not including you in the mix of rejected correspondents. There are some others that just dropped off the face of the earth. I know you to make time to reply to the blog, so I know you still care.

    There are some new others that want to start a new online friendship and while it makes me feel good for people to want to initiate contact, I really have to limit myself to how many I can respond to. I want quality in my friendships (online or otherwise), not quantity, you know? Mostly because I give a lot of myself, so it gets pretty draining on my personal resources.

    I actually told the friend I referred to on this post that I was going to unplug for a few days. This is an almost impossible task for me.

    But, I did manage to write an actual handwritten letter, I’m happy to say. It’s been a while since I wrote one. I think I might have a few more letters in me too to send via snail mail.

  3. Leah says:

    Thanks. 🙂 When I first contacted you, I had debated about waiting longer till more stuff was out of the way, but I’m glad I didn’t so I made it ‘in’ in time. 😉

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Leah – I really appreciate the sharing you’ve done. I know I have felt (many times) that you were a younger version of myself. You have given me a lot to think about as well, and have made me realize (along with another friend) the true, long-term impact of being a mis-treated gifted, highly sensitive individual.

    Prior to you, and my other “close” internet friend, I had never felt that anyone knew what it was like to have that kind of deep impact on one’s psyche. I probably should have been in therapy a long time ago…but it was something I just never got around to doing.

    I used to have very good “share partners” when I was a teenager, and one when I was working…but I hadn’t had anyone to really share with the difficulties I had transitioning into motherhood and dealing with a highly sensitive (and formerly selectively mute) daughter.

    Those early experiences I have had as a child/young adult didn’t “go away”, they just went underground, and came back when I became a mother. Those “unmet dependency needs” I had as a highly sensitive child/adolescent really wreaked havoc on my own ability to mother when I was struggling to keep my sanity intact (from giving up my career and from having 3 kids in 3.5 years).

    Eventually, I worked through that. Right now, I’m just dealing with the residual effects on my ability to communicate. I tend to snap when my resources are depleted or I’m feeling anxious, and I can’t seem to fix that – yet. But. I do want to work on that with the CRR book. I’m hoping. I have a tendency to get very defensive and try to push people away. If I keep doing that, I really will cause a rift with the people I really do care about.

  5. Leah says:

    Sadly, it’s not so simple as just “getting around to” therapy — it is difficult (not impossible, but I wouldn’t know from experience) to find a therapist who is understanding of and knowledgeable (or open to learning quickly) about giftedness and its implications, who has a positive view of giftedness, and who can be trusted not to ‘blame the victim’ etc. My appalling experience is on my list of future email topics. 😦

    So instead I decided to seek understanding from a like-minded person — it is easier on the wallet, at least. 😉

    • raisingsmartgirls says:

      I hear you on being easier on the wallet. I think I’ve gotten quite a bit from the friends I do have (the internet ones and at least one IRL friend I don’t get to see too often).

      I think that’s part of the reason I try to be transparent on my blog. Blogging about my real struggles does help me unload a bit as well as help others not feel quite so alone in theirs.

      I can see having a good friend (internet or otherwise) is far better than a bad therapist. So far, the closest unloading in real life I’d done was to cry on the phone to my friend Dan from the crime lab. He was really good about hearing me out and “holding my space” while I cried.

  6. Even the gifted can get see the convolution in our thoughts. Being periodically perplexed is a symptom. We don’t always have the answers, but we’re smart and sentient enough to seek them. This is unending.

    Emotional and mental restlessness is far worse than it’s physical counterpart. I know I get that way when I know it’s time for a mental sojourn.

    Like you, I seek meaning and symbiosis everything. There have been times quite recently, that I’ve actually felt the winds of change blow.

    I’m constantly on the lookout for that which I’m seeking. When I find it, I mark it; process it, then place it in a special folder for instant retrieval when I need it. This has always been my M.O., even when in the throes of abject depression. Serotonin might cloud perspective, but it never precludes it.

    And for that, I’m grateful.

    Strive to be happy, Casey. I have a feeling that 2010 will represent redemption for anyone honest enough to admit they need it.

    Merry Christmas,

  7. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Merry Christmas – Dear Laurie.

    You might be right on that one. At the very least, 2010 will be the first time in 28 years I’m going to see my dad and step-mom. That’s going to be a pretty significant event, so I got that going for me.

    And…come hell or high water, I’ll either have a job, or I’ll go back to school…either way, I’m not going be be sitting at home for 6 hours a day moping about while my kids are in school.

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