Boredom in the Time of Coronavirus

Out of all the feelings I generally try to avoid, the one im most afraid of by a long shot must be boredom. I can’t tell if it breeds anxiety, restlessness and emptiness… if it accompanies them… results from them… or if it’s just their more manageable manifestation.

Be that as it may, boredom fills me with dread i cannot begin to explain.

It makes me think. And when I start to think, it always ends badly.

Most people will try & do something productive to stave off boredom… I wallow in it. Whereas others distract themselves from negative thoughts, and manage to actually get something done, or engage in creative pursuits, or just go for a walk or watch TV for goodness sakes — I… think.

Or at least I used to. At some point, i’m not exactly sure when, being alone with my thoughts and “sitting with my feelings” just got too much. But because the thoughts and feelings were still there, as unbearable as ever, and I was still too bloody terrified to address them, I had to tune them out.

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As I’ve said before, I don’t exactly overeat because I love it so much I cant stop myself. Quite the contrary; I eat enough to be physically uncomfortable and to hate myself… because guilt, shame, regret, self-disgust — these are more acceptable, and possibly less painful, than whatever I’m avoiding.

The problem with trying to do literally anything else — draw, read a book — is that these activities don’t distract me from my thoughts; it’s my thoughts that make it virtually impossible to focus on anything else. I would even go so far as to say that attempting to be productive when I’m alone is counterproductive, as it only intensifies the feelings of pointlessness.

My boredom is inextricably linked with my laziness. I’m “lazy” because it doesn’t matter what I do, I am simply always bored. The boredom is a complex feeling; it’s not a matter of being uninterested in whatever you’re doing…

it’s more like an inability to achieve a state of flow. I am so preoccupied with the how of things that I can’t be mindful about the what. And the “how” seems so absurd: how can I, I myself and I alone, just …. do stuff? How is it that I can engage with my environment in interesting, meaningful ways that will produce some tangible real-life results? Just, no.

I always have this fear that I’m wasting time; that I’m not doing enough. The problem is, nothing is ever “enough”. I’m simultaneously obsessed with the idea of productivity and crippled by it —

— possibly because I have no concept of being productive by your own standards. I can’t set goals for myself because I feel like i have no agency over my own actions. like they don’t truly belong to me. like im just living out somebody else’s idea of me. if i want to do something for myself, it doesn’t really matter.

The following is not my original thought, and I’m paraphrasing here, but there’s this quote about how usually it’s I think, therefore I am, but a borderline thinks more along the lines of You exist, therefore I exist. I could never quite grasp the diagnostic feature of

(…) may at times have feelings that they do not exist at all. Such experiences usually occur in situations in which the individual feels a lack of a meaningful relationship, nurturing, and support. These individuals may show worse performance in unstructured work or school situations.

DSM-5, p. 664

…oh… oh, okay. That makes sense. That’s maybe not how I would put it, but I agree that that’s the underlying assumption. I don’t exist, other than as an extra in other people’s lives.

Not to mention I also lack object permanence, so even when i do have a “meaningful relationship”, it’s not enough to sustain me in the long run. Out of sight, out of mind, and again I’m nothing.

This emptiness is now more pronounced than ever, as I find myself having to sit at home, alone with my thoughts, no job to go to or even errands to run. I have my books, my coloring books, my Netflix and my Spotify — but it’s all so… futile, so… insubstantial.

In truth, I blog to remind myself that I do exist.

a life of non-statements

I’d like to preface this by saying that I experience the world, including my own emotions, in very physical ways. which is to say that when i’m talking about food, for instance, i’m not really talking about food, you know what i mean? With that in mind, i present to you a conversation about moisturizing.

the back of my hands gotten all irritated again. I showed it to my parents and kind of laughed about it, but they didn’t seem amused one bit. Stern looks on their faces, they kept asking why i don’t do something about it, and i kind of just stood there limply, not really knowing how to respond.

They were both growing increasingly frustrated, so i thought about it for a moment and replied (let me remind you they are very right-wing), You might be relieved to learn that it’s not a feminist statement where i make myself purposely ugly or anything like that. I just… don’t care.

they looked at each other, their expressions going from blank to baffled to offended, and then my dad asked, Well is there anything you care about?

Another pause from me, then a tentative shake of the head “no”. they stared at me in disbelief. The conversation ended there, and i went to my room.

And I’m sitting here, confused as to what it was that so exasperated my parents. and also — was my answer accurate? was it genuine? im inclined to say yes to both, because it was spontaneous, and, in a way, uncalled for. What i should have said instead was something along the lines of a dismissive “ughh you know my lazy ass & how i am about wearing gloves!”.

i don’t know why i decided to be honest when put on the spot today. probably because i had never tried to get to the bottom of my own poor decisions before. I didn’t have time to process the conclusion that i arrived at at that very moment.

But it’s really quite simple: I just… don’t care.

part of it is because i don’t feel like i deserve to feel good about myself. another part is that i’m really too lazy and lack initiative. yet another is that im too indecisive & easily overwhelmed. maybe i want someone to take care of me. maybe i need attention. but it all comes down to the same thing.

let’s extrapolate to something more serious than my 80 year old’s hands. let’s take education. work. dating. friendships. that catch-all called “personal growth”. let’s take something as basic as physical health.

I used to care. but it was all… too much. too much effort & too little payoff. too many disappointed hopes. too much stress & pain. too many… options.

I’m still in two minds about the relationship between my lack of internal motivation and lack of self-esteem: i cant decide which one caused the other. but maybe at this point it doesn’t even matter. it’s a vicious circle, anyway.

I’m empty. I sympathize with nothing. I strive for nothing. I stand for nothing.

i learned a valuable lesson today. it’s that there’s only one way to find out what i want. i need to at least perform acts of caring, if only to realize at the end that i didn’t “truly want” anything; if only to be able to say that i didn’t give up.

but it’s so hard, so scary, to allow yourself to want.

two I’s in friendship. one I in… I?

The day L left, I went into survival mode. I’ve been hanging on by a thread for going on a decade now, which is more time than we were close friends while she was still here. Of course L is her own person, and I shouldn’t be building my healing around her any more than I should have built my life. She has her own identity that goes way beyond being a signpost for my life or my recovery. Above all else, she’s a dear friend, and the last thing I want is to objectify her like that.

Regardless, in my mind, she stands for everything wrong with me. She wasn’t a person in my eyes; she was way too perfect for that. And by idealizing her, I failed to acknowledge that she, too, might have her own feelings & needs; I was too immature & superficial to meet them, though.

She went on to develop more mutually satisfying relationships, and I was hurt… now I know why: ours was a very asymmetrical one; I got emotional support, she got blind loyalty. Now she gets to be vulnerable and understood, too.

All this being said, even though I understand those dynamics in retrospect, I can’t change the past. Her departure was the catalyst for a process that had been a long time in the making: the disintegration of my own identity.

She is her own person. But, to me, she is also a stark representation of the idea of relying on someone else for your own sense of self, like I did for mine. She deserves more than being reduced to an archetype… but, again, to me she is both.

Since she left, I’ve been… getting by. Coming up with countless ways to not think for myself; to not think at all. I always had poor impulse control. I feel like it might have something to do with not using your internal monologue to its full potential. And when I shut it up altogether to avoid confronting painful feelings & ugly truths about myself, I also deprived myself of a tool that could have been incredibly helpful in regulating my behavior.

It’s not a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” kind of situation. I know I must have always gravitated towards certain types of people because of a natural inclination to follow rather than lead. It’s just that I wouldve saved myself a lot of pain if I had figured it out sooner, and perhaps taken steps to counteract it.

As things stand, I still seek that perfect relationship to lose myself in. I have this need to merge with the other person so completely that there is no more “you” or “I”, there’s just “us”. And I still believe that finding that person will solve all my problems: that they will live my life for me; that they will regulate my behavior; that they will fulfil all my needs.

I don’t (intentionally) deny the other person their right to privacy and their own complex and separate identity… As far as I’m concerned, they can even lead a life all of their own; Ill be sad and jealous, but I’ll understand that I’m not enough for them. But I need them to know & take care of me. To take the lead. Anticipate my needs. Tell me what to think. Is that mommy issues or what? 😬

In the absence of a favorite person to cling on to, and with no hope of ever finding one (because now I know it’s simply not possible in the sense in which i mean it), I am completely lost. I know I’ve discussed this before. But here I’m not talking about emptiness or idealization themselves; im talking about how they relate to impulsivity.

I always used to assume that the latter was an attempt to remedy the former, substituting compulsions and obsessions for a personality. I’m afraid the truth is much simpler than that: because I don’t think for myself, all I’m left with are my urges & no way to talk myself out of giving in to them.

It’s hard to exercise any degree of self-control when you have no sense of self. I may or may not be capable of “self-discipline”, but I’ll never find out until I know what my goals are & what’s good for me. Without some sense of your own personhood, there’s no self-discipline; there are just random rules and restrictions. And why follow those, if going against them doesn’t seem to interfere with any of your goals?

Of course I do have goals. Hopes. Ambitions. Which is why numbing out is so frustrating: every time I engage in harmful behaviors, it takes me that one step further from what I’m too afraid to admit I want.

I

am so…

c o n f u s e d.

permission to think

there is so much i’d like to discuss, but i just can’t get the words out, can’t find the right words, can’t collect my thoughts. just as it used to with journalling, it feels like im going in circles. like im using repetition & redundancy, unnecessarily complex syntax & vocabulary, and elaborate digressions to obscure my own thought process and distract from the utter vacuity of my underlying assumptions & motivations. in short, i’m playing for time.

but, who am i really playing with? aren’t i supposed to want to gain insight, get out of my own way, and learn how to get better, how to change? but the idea seems both terrifying and overwhelming, if not downright impossible, so i steer clear of the topic altogether.

You wanna know the truth? I was in denial about this for quite some time: I never intended to change. I did hate myself for the way I behaved, and i wanted to change… i just wouldn’t accept that i actually had any control over how things turned out. in a weird way blaming myself for virtually everything … absolved me of any real responsibility for my actions.

I’ve always found it hard to operate on the assumption that something so seemingly foundational to my personality as I understood it wasn’t, in fact, integral to it. So realistically, there was nothing i could do, because i was just inherently worthless and powerless. Nice cop-out. But even if my personality was shaped by things outside of my control — my genes, my upbringing, adverse childhood experiences — that’s an explanation, not a justification. And it’s a lousy excuse to continue to do nothing about it in the future.

i’m somewhat less angry about being in the place that i am right now. it’s not ideal, but it actually makes perfect sense in the context of my life. i’m working through whatever issues i need to work through and taking things at my own pace, and if parts of my personality include laziness and procrastination, i might as well embrace them.

any pressure i have ever felt to achieve achieve achieve was always external. i took it at face value, as i take everything, never once stopping to think, why? what for?

so if i feel guilty now about 1) “not making the best of my life” and 2) leading a parasitic lifestyle and perhaps even 3) just generally being bone idle… even though i never had the motivation to do or be anything else in the first place… tell me how that makes sense.

this is not to say that i dont have the internal motivation to do/be anything; just that the standard i was holding myself to was entirely based on cues i was taking from my environment. parents, church, school, friends, media. always without, never within. again, it’s not that i didn’t want to think for myself… i just didn’t think it was an option. i never trusted my own judgment enough to know what i liked, what i wanted, what was good for me. i couldn’t believe that voice, so i stopped listening. and silenced it. and eventually, i guess it shut up.

truth is, i could be a teacher translator working on my Ph.D. and fuck knows what else right this very moment, and my life would be just as empty because i would still be doing it for the wrong reasons. it makes me think of this:

a tweet by @yellowcardigan that perfectly describes what drives 99% of my behavior
my attitude to life, basically

I’m grateful for my job. It gives me a sense of stability and a reason to get up in the morning. That’s all it ever was; all i ever needed.

I’m grateful that my parents don’t put any pressure on me to grow up too soon, that they’re patient and supportive in their own way… and that they’re responding to my clumsy attempts at open communication.

I’m grateful for the people in my life who chose to stick by me when i wouldn’t have.

and, i dunno. somebody very special once told me i was easy to please… or something along those lines. it was meant as a compliment, but i took it to mean i was complacent / an underachiever / that i settled. that, and that they were plain wrong, because i knew myself to be greedy and perfectionistic.

but maybe they had a point. maybe the only reason i think i want / need so much more than what i have or can possibly get … is because i want things that seem to work for others. but when i stop & listen to that inner voice of mine for a little while, quiet as it is at this point, i can find a way for a brief moment to be content with those things that i do have.

because that standard i was talking about, it isn’t real. it’s a sort of composite of every idea i have ever encountered in my life, filtered through my uncritical, clueless and confused mind, compounded by my natural inclination to generalize and catastrophize.

but the truth is, im happy now. things could be better, but they could also be worse. and nobody’s rushing me, and there is no final exam, and i can just do whatever i want & need.

wow. …what a relief.