COVIDiaries Part 13: On psychotherapy and hating myself

This may be the last, or among the last, of my COVIDiaries for a while. I want to continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. But it appears America is just going to pretend the pandemic is over. While cases continue to rise in most of the country, we continue to open up as if they’re not. Not that I’ve been perfectly socially distancing.

I want to write about therapy today. I’ve been going to therapy once per week for a few months now. What got me to go was the belief that I could be doing some needless suffering. Life is suffering, and much of it is necessary and unavoidable. But some of it is needless and avoidable. And so if 45 minutes of my time and $120 per week is all it takes to do appreciably less needless suffering… well that sounds like a great deal. I didn’t exactly believe therapy would make me happier. But it seemed worthwhile to find out if it could help.

Meditation and self-help got me to the point where I started to see myself suffering.

My brain has always liked to say things like, “You should have walked today, you lazy fuck” or “You’re a bad friend for forgetting Aly is allergic to chicken.” For a long time, those were my truths. They were statements about who, what, and how I am. I would think them, and then I would feel ashamed, regretful, and embarrassed.

Meditation and self-help made me aware that those are thoughts and my emotions. They are not me. I became aware that there is a me that is separate from my thoughts and emotions when I began to observe my thoughts and emotions. I began to identify more strongly with the part of me that does the observing and less strongly with what I observe.

Yes, my thoughts and emotions are also me. I create my thoughts and feelings. But a part of my mind I don’t have control over also helps to create them. These thoughts and feelings come from a combination of my previous choices, my culture, my parents, my values, my beliefs, and other sources. They swirl together in my brain like wind and water and air and the result is weather. I am not the weather. I am the person in the weather, seeing the weather and choosing how to engage with it.

It’s helpful to me to see my thoughts and feelings as things that happen to and around me. At my best, I can see them for what they are, and choose how to respond to them.

I’ve written this before but I keep writing it because it helps me understand it better and because the writing on this stuff isn’t great.

The thing I’m working through in therapy right now is that I’m afraid that if I lose the voice that tells me I’m a piece of shit I will become a piece of shit. I was feeling frustrated that I couldn’t see my progress from therapy so asked my therapist, Joe, to put me on some kind of step-by-step program. He agreed to do some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stuff, and asked whether this desire came from a place of feeling like I’m broken and needed to be fixed. Yes! Quite so! I feel quite broken, in large part because I’m constantly reiterating to myself evidence that I’m broken. I’m constantly beating myself up for failing to meet my own standards. For not working out enough. For not working enough. For not updating my blog. For not posting to OnlyFans enough. For not being a good enough friend.

I love the Big Five Personality Test. I think there’s a fine line between neuroticism and contentiousness. How will I stay motivated to work out, work, update my blog, post to OnlyFans, and call my mother if I don’t have to worry about feeling ashamed for failing to do so? If I can love myself and be happy whether I act right or not, won’t I act worse?

For me, suffering looks like being constantly exhausted, working in some fashion for some cause I believe in until I literally can’t anymore and then getting high and watching Netflix until I’m ready to get into bed and worry about what I didn’t accomplish or fucked up lately. I work so hard for my causes in large part because I am absolutely miserable unless I am generating evidence that I’m at least trying to be a good person.

I’ve realized lately that I kind of default to believing I’m a bad person. This belief motivates me to do good things to try to redeem myself. I think it’s a holdover from growing up in Evangelical Christianity, which teaches that all people are born sinful, with a “sin nature,” and must be redeemed by Christ Jesus.

I tried following Jesus, and that didn’t make me a better person. So now I’m trying to do it on my own.

Coming to believe that people aren’t good or bad has really improved my thinking. But feeling that, deep down, is a slower process. Moral judgment is a helluva drug.

I want to believe I can be effective without feeling like a bad, broken person. I am trying to test the theory. To even see how I see myself, to think that I might have a choice in how to see myself, has been tremendous progress for me.

Maybe hating myself is necessary suffering for a cause greater than my own happiness. If so, I’ll take it. But hating myself is tiring. And perhaps I could be even more effective for my causes if I were less exhausted. Perhaps I can maintain my motivation and have more fun at the same time. I’ll keep ya posted.

One Comment

  1. brianbrianbrian

    Have you been diagnosed with anything? I have OCD and everything you’re describing is exactly what I went through. I constantly questioned whether I was a good person or not, and I separated my thoughts from myself, telling myself these thoughts were not me. I also felt that the relentless obsessing was a requirement, that I had to do it. Ultimately the treatment involved exposure therapy and changing how I respond to the thoughts. The feeling of being a bad person went away overtime. The therapy is called Exposure and Response Prevention, a kind of CBT.

    Obviously not trying to diagnose you over the Internet, just throwing some information out there in case it’s helpful, because the therapy saved my life. Take care, hope you feel better soon!

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