An Early Confessional: Living with myself
I confess from time to time to resenting not being able to get away from myself. This is a problem I’m surprised I haven’t read about more. The fact that I am subjected constantly to whatever damn thought my brain happens across. I cannot escape it. Not only can I not escape it, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to even talk about it. I’ve sniffed around the edges of it with people, but just the edges.
“Do you ever have thoughts where you feel like if they ever surfaced, you’d never be seen in the same way again?”
We can ask questions like that and feel pretty comfortable that the person we’re having the conversation will laugh a little, probably nervously, confirm they do and quickly change the subject. That’s always a little comforting, but it doesn’t really get at the problem. The nature of the problem prevents us from getting into specifics. Not many people are – I certainly wouldn’t be – willing to press further.
“One time this [horrific idea] popped into my head. Have you ever had thoughts that bad?” In that situation, I’d hope I had chosen the right person to trust with this information but who wants to be there when we’re wrong and the other person’s face recoils in horror? “Good lord! No! You monster!” I guess for this reason I shouldn’t be surprised to not read about this problem more often.
I think most of us deal with this by assuming it’s normal and trying not to dwell on it. I don’t want to weird anybody out here by leaving this open-ended. I’m not Dexter. I’m not constantly fending off ideas to kill. But I will say the problem isn’t just the twisted thoughts that are easy to dismiss as wacky. The mundane things can work you over, too. Sometimes the thoughts I wish I could escape aren’t bad things at all and that’s one of the hardest things to live with.
It will sometimes occur to me that I could do something very generous for somebody else and for one of a variety of reasons, I decide against doing it. Usually, I just move on because it was an idea I didn’t want to act on. Those happen all the time. Sometimes, though, I can’t help but linger on it. Why didn’t I do it? Obviously, I didn’t want to badly enough. Why didn’t I want to? What does that say about me? Add up enough guilt from these omissions and it can add up.
One day, I found a release from these internal dialogs in a most unexpected place. I queued up a Louis CK special on Netflix and I don’t remember the specific joke – it may have been one in which he was saying his daughters were assholes – but I was laughing out loud at it. I was surprised to find myself not only laughing but filled with a bit of euphoria, even relief.
This feeling reminded me of the most common explanation I’d heard for why people listen to the Blues. When they felt down, they liked to listen to music approximating similar experiences or emotions. It made them feel better. I never understood that idea. When I was down, I typically turned to uplifting pop music to drag me out of my doldrums.
This experience I had with Louis CK’s comedy, though, brought light to that reasoning behind listening to the Blues. If I understand it correctly, the idea is to listen to this music that’s getting at how you’re feeling. It lets you wallow in those Blues for a while, cover yourself in them, and take comfort in the fact that other people have had to work through similar things. This is actually a much more mature approach than how I had always used music when I was down. It’s acknowledging the depths and trying to work through them, where my turning to uplifting music was really just a distraction, a refusal to deal with the root of the problem and just trying to move away from it.
Compare that Blues approach with Louis CK’s comedy. I’m sitting here as a person who’s been dragged down with some of this dark shit my brain subjects me to. This comedian, though, lays out his equivalent of these thoughts in a way that’s funny. He owns up to these thoughts and literally thousands of people find them laugh out loud funny.
Not only are they laughing, but they get to realize part of the humor is that this is a shared experience. We all think our kids are assholes from time to time. If we don’t have kids, we have a parallel thought we guard just as closely and we’re happy to see it doesn’t make us a monster.
This epiphany actually made me feel very grateful toward Louis CK. I devoured all his standup I could find and when Season 3 of his show, Louie, went down paths I was disappointed in, my gratitude allowed me to still shrug it off and look forward to Season 4.
There’s only so much salvation, though, in knowing other people have to deal with similar problems. At some point, you have to find a personal way to deal with them. Since I’m writing this, it’s obviously a struggle I’m still trying to deal with and I assume I always will. I think I’ve made progress, though.
It recently occurred to me to pay a little more attention to the infinite little things that pop into my head and to try to do more of the good ones. On the one hand, it feels very good. I’m amazed at the satisfaction that builds from tying up the garbage when it’s full rather than cramming it down for another time. From just going ahead and emptying the dishwasher instead of hoping my wife will realize it hasn’t been done yet. From just deciding that no, there’s no reason you can’t go to your nephew’s Christmas concert.
On the other hand, it makes me feel like a piece of shit that doing these little things more feels like such an accomplishment and such a big change. The sheer amount of laziness, indifference and inertia I had surrendered to is astounding. Knowing how much I still choose to set aside, how much room still remains to improve, it makes me wonder if that internal storm would have eventually pulled me under. I’m not even sure what that would look like, but it’s a scary thought nonetheless. And if it’s a possibility, have I done enough to avoid some eventual plunge or just delayed it? It’s a question that sometimes leaves me wishing I could get away from myself.
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