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.

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The borderline narrative is a compelling one. But what it compels me to do is not altogether productive.

First learning about the disorder was a revelation, and the more I read about it, the more convinced I became that it described me to a T. Okay… so?

Even if that were true, or possible, it’s still only part of the story. It was so validating, and satisfying, to be understood so completely. Except I wasn’t. Nobody can be.

I know it’s basically the essence of BPD to look for things to fill that void where your identity should be, so I’m in something of a catch-22: as soon as I started identifying with it, it became all there was to me. But as I’ve come to realize, I don’t want it to be this way.

Borderline traits might accurately describe parts of my personality, which may be helpful in dealing with them. But no single word can account for the giant spectrum of thoughts and behaviors that any one person will exhibit irl.

The reason I’m saying all of this is because my boss gave me a lecture the other day about my rapidly deteriorating work ethic. He didn’t tell me anything I wouldn’t already know, but I needed to hear him say it out loud. I needed to hear somebody.

It was awful. In its own gentle way, it was probably the most humiliating thing I have ever experienced.

But it was also sobering.

I got exactly what I had always tried to force out of people: I got patronized. Because that’s what you get by acting even more clueless and confused than you really are. It’s cute. In puppies, and small children. Not so cute in a 25-year-old.

I was always looking either for validation or for pity, and when I finally found them, it was equal parts satisfying and pathetic. It was such a relief, though, to find out I had some dignity left to lose.

I overshare because I need people to understand why I am the way I am. I need them to tell me it’s okay and that it explains everything and there’s no more need for me to make any effort with anything ever. But being the way I am doesn’t absolve me of trying my best…

In a lot of ways I am still a child. I am immature, I can’t control my emotions, I refuse to take responsibility for my actions or for my life.

But as much as I crave to be accepted unconditionally, just the way I am right now, I have come to realize that that acceptance can be a double-edged sword. And for all the times I have abused my Mom’s selflessness & lack of consistency in enforcing any kind of discipline, I still resent her for trapping me in my own complacency.

Nothing was ever expected of me, nor did I hold myself to a particularly high standard. I grew up having my life lived for me, so I never had to develop / discover my own internal motivation.

I don’t want “poor mental health” to become a personality trait, or my defining characteristic. To my own surprise, I don’t even want it to be an excuse. When somebody else suggests that my struggles are valid, I’m relieved, yes, but somehow also almost offended. It’s like they’re agreeing that this right here is the best i can do. And i’m like, no!!!??

There were a number of times I have violated the rules of the employer/employee dynamic. I have treated him like a parent, like a friend, like a therapist (the last of which he is btw, though not to me…). And he has put up with all of it, and I’m so so grateful for that.

Most of the relationships in my life are these weird reenactments of my past experiences. But it’s different now. I’m more aware of it.

He — in true therapist fashion — was objective and to the point. And somehow, coming from him, I survived constructive criticism.

It was the other things the said that hit a bit too close to home. Things that should be obvious to somebody my age… but it was only when he said them that they started to make sense.

Things like, everybody’s got their own issues, and I can’t let my feelings interfere with my work. Things like, if I don’t attend to my responsibilities, somebody else will have to. He wasn’t blaming me …. he was giving me credit. Recognizing that I’m not doing something that I’m very much capable of.

And so I left his office feeling not guilty but … hopeful. It wasn’t any less embarrassing having had him explain to me the complexities of adulthood, but I’ve decided that embarrassment is a valid emotion, too, and one you can learn from as much as any other.

I want to grow up.

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.

Living in the Labyrinth

I always used to think that life was made up of distinct chunks. I believed in life events: in getting over negative experiences and turning your life around, in resounding successes and monumental failures.

I took it for granted that life proceeded in a linear fashion, in one direction only, and that once you got past a certain “checkpoint”, there was no turning back. I took life to be a zero-sum game, and it was kind of bewildering when i just recently realized that the world is more like a sandbox than it is like a race track.

it’s weird being an ISTJ while having borderline traits. (And yes, I know about the five factor model and about MBTI not being legit, but it works, alright? Even some psychologists admit this much.) On the one hand you like order and routine, on the other hand you’re completely clueless and you dont know what youre doing half the time. Maybe i need structure in my life because i can’t get it in my head.

Seeing life as reducible to separate events is representative of the black and white thinking that permeates all areas of my life. I need everything to be definitive. But how do you make sense of happenings that sit somewhere in between, or those that are too trivial to be classified as “experiences”?

By being so categorical, I’m ignoring the subtleties of everyday life, and not allowing myself to take away from them everything I potentially could. I can’t even accept something that’s not uniformly good or bad, let alone learn from it.

life is neither linear nor unidirectional. it’s okay to admit that there’s no such thing as “fully processing” something that happened years ago, and that your past still influences and shapes you, and will continue to do so, in ways you’re not even aware of (You don’t need to be.).

even though im so absent-minded, the present is all that exists for me. except “the present” stretches all the way back from my childhood up until about a month into the future. That’s just about the span of time that simply always feels important.

this is because my life has always been about surviving moment to moment, one turning point to the next, gesture after dramatic gesture to manage whatever crisis im dealing with at the time.

My memories are fragmented, my past an incoherent mess, and i can’t integrate my experiences into a holistic perspective where i could either celebrate my victories or learn from my mistakes. Everything is a blur, events are superimposed on other events, things seem critically important but you have no idea why, kind of like a map you don’t have the key to, or a maze you can’t navigate.

Looking at life as a series of chapters to complete has had the opposite effect to what i was going for: instead of moving on, i dwell on the past. everything feels like the present because in my mind, it is still happening, i am still living through it, i am still trying to “get over it” and forget about it.

but i dont need to forget about it. i can treasure my memories without clinging onto them, and looking back at them at various points in my life i can take away from them whatever seems helpful or relevant.

Everything induces the same amount of dread and anxiety; everything seems equally urgent and deserving of my attention, potential challenges ahead and past defeats alike. Even distant future used to make me at least as stressed out as whatever my current dilemma happened to be… until i stopped planning for it because of how unpredictable my own emotional reactions made it. How am i supposed to know what goals and ambitions are attainable in the long run, when i don’t know if tomorrow i’ll be down in the dumps or on top of the world?

I lack foresight. im so preoccupied with alleviating the pain that im feeling right now that i neglect to consider how my impulsive decisions are going to affect me in the future.

what’s changed is that now i have no concept of “the future”. it’s more than just being stuck in a rut; i have entirely given up on planning ahead, and i can’t see myself ever doing anything other than what ive been doing for the past two years, which itself is starting to feel like a small infinity.

maybe i’ve always been like this. maybe the only difference is that back then, i always had something concrete to look forward to: the next exam, the next school. (yes, i was sold on the idea that i was “smart” because i had a good memory. so it hurt twice as bad when i started to realize how dumb i really am. the Polish educational system is seriously flawed.) Now, though, there’s no “logical next step”. No more deadlines, no more exams, no more being told what to do. If i want a future, i need to create it.

Maybe all my assumptions were wrong. Maybe while it’s not healthy to obsess over the past, it is okay to incorporate it as part of your story and accept that it has made you the person you are today. but not in the sense of somehow fundamentally altering the essence of your being, but rather as a necessary stage you needed to go through in order to become what you were always meant to be… kind of like a caterpillar becoming, well, maybe not a butterfly, but a really self-confident moth.

Oh, and life isn’t a zero-sum game or a race to the end. Other people’s success doesn’t take away from my own potential & capacity for authenticity and fulfilment. Comparing myself to others doesn’t give me any useful information about how to make myself happy. And nothing’s as clear-cut as i thought, so id better enjoy the sandbox instead of pretending it’s a race track.

I know im being vague and unrelatable while somehow managing to be obvious at the same time… and i have a penchant for mixed metaphors… but im being honest. small wonder im so shallow, considering the amount of time i have spent unable to get past thinking about anything but myself.

Maybe it’s time I reached some conclusions.

self-doubt

I don’t know why i feel this constant need to justify myself. if i started this blog for the sole purpose of venting, what do i care if other people find it interesting? why the reflex to apologize for having feelings and needing to talk about them? i have this urge to preemptively dismiss everything i do as silly and pointless, so that they don’t bother engaging with it, and i don’t have to deal with constructive criticism.

My parents were nothing if not supportive. Why, then, am I so sorry for being alive? Not for doing anything specific, but simply for being the way I am: irredeemably flawed and bothersome.

Man is supposedly a social animal. But most people seem, on the surface at least, to have a sense of self beyond the group identity. The stronger it is, the healthier their relationships with others in the community; the two feed off of each other.

I, by contrast, am socially inept, and yet still feel like i only exist in relation to other people. I need everyone not so much to like me as tolerate me, and i feel that by expressing myself, im infringing on — on what exactly? — … like im offending their delicate sensibilities; invading their personal (head)space… and risking rejection.

Incidentally, thats also why im so non-confrontational: while i’m quite argumentative & i love discussing my POV on trivial matters (though I easily get defensive), i wouldn’t dare, say, openly accuse you of anything unless i was absolutely sure you did it. im the person who, upon being told to stop apologizing, responds with “sorry”.

i act as if i’d rather be bland than for my opinions ever to be attacked or called into question. which i would, because you cant stand up for something you don’t believe in… such as yourself. I’m on the fence about my own right just to be.

im worried than if i dig any deeper, i might find out that the real reason i steal bits and pieces of other people’s personalities is because i actually don’t have one.

ha. on this positive note…

bye.

on feeling too much & showing too little

i suffer from permanent writer’s block, in all areas of my life except for writing (in the literal sense, ‘graphomania’ would be more apt).

i don’t know how people can just live their lives.

how they are not overwhelmed by all the possibilities.

maybe it’s true that i just have too much time on my hands. but if that’s the case, then it was just as true fifteen years ago as it is now. because i don’t remember ever feeling any more secure in who i was, what i felt, what i wanted, or what was right for me.

what i do remember is always trying to imitate somebody else. and wanting to do so many things. learn to do this, try that. but always stopping at “wanting”.

How can you think too much while thinking so little?

I know that what I’m doing is unhelpful. But i cant just stop my thoughts if i can’t even identify the counterproductive ones. the worst part is, they’re not even thoughts, in the strictest sense. they aren’t informed decisions, but merely gut reactions — except i can’t tell if they’re primary to my nature, or if i was conditioned into them during my upbringing.

see, when you’re so caught up in trying to define your mental processes, it’s hard to get to the “doing” stage of things.

im self-conscious but not self-aware.

I envy people who naturally gravitate to whatever seems like fun to them, and just explore what they find interesting, without having to put a label on it. With me, it’s like there’s always something preventing me from doing shit. no matter what it is, i will always come up with a reason why I shouldnt do it.

Being low on openness to experience doesn’t have to mean you’re prejudiced against the experience in question. For me it often means wanting, but not being able to handle it.

And it’s not about lack of curiosity. It’s about being paralyzed by the multitude of options available to you, to the point where you can’t decide on any one of them. Being pathologically objective and afraid of having an opinion or a preference, possibly for fear of being judged.

This ties in with introversion. My feelings towards the few people in my life are so intense, I couldn’t manage many more relationships if I wanted to. Every conversation, every facial expression is so significant in my eyes that it stays with me for days. I turn it over in my mind, trying to guess what the person meant or didn’t mean, what they were saying or implying, trying to read between the lines.

I have a few favorite things. Arctic Monkeys, Twin Peaks, this podcast called Welcome to Night Vale. I’m bringing it up because they might come up a lot, and I wanna explain why im so attached to them.

over the course of my life, they’ve been the only things that… stuck. Most of the time when I’m interacting with something (or someone) new, I’m so overstimulated and so focused on the process that I can’t get to the content. This makes many things damn near impossible, from interpreting literature to relating to another human being on an emotional level. i’m so preoccupied with the “metadata” surrounding the conversation that I can’t actively engage in it. i can’t just lose myself in the moment and allow myself to be spontaneous, because i operate as if i had to control my every movement, or else. (which is ironic, because my behavior ends up being entirely dictated by my emotions, anyway.)

very rarely do I find something, say, a piece of art, so engaging that I forget about my reservations regarding … showing real emotion. Usually, the opposite happens: I’m so distracted and not fully there that the experience is rendered worthless. So superficial is it that I can’t so much as decide whether I liked it or not, let alone tell if it taught me anything.

Writer’s block feels like a good analogy because i don’t think most writers are short of ideas. It’s the execution that’s the issue. There are so many possible stories, but how do you choose which ones to commit to paper — and when? How do you discern between the good ones and the not so good ones? And how do you capture the essence of the story you want to tell, translate those vague concepts into concrete words, convey a perfect idea by imperfect means while preserving all its meaning intact?

a writer might feel like he has nothing new to say. or like there’s no right way to say it. or that there are so many things he wishes he could say, he doesn’t know where to begin. Or… he might be afraid of failure. criticism. being called mediocre, or, god forbid, derivative.

to me, writer’s block means focusing on how one is going to be perceived instead of on self-expression itself. Unless (somebody tells me) it is Perfect and Unique, i have no right to feel what i feel, say what i say, do what i do. This is why i decided to start a blog: to allow myself to do something imperfect for once, something shit even, and just. not. care.
Hopefully, healing starts here: doing something, anything, as long as it feels true to you… this does. I want to have some agency over my behavior instead of handing over responsibility for my life to whoever finds themselves in my immediate environment at the moment. I want to stop censoring myself way before i can even think or feel anything. In short, I want to learn to live my life instead of observing it.

Something’s been bugging me these past few days. I still can’t wrap my head around it, but apparently, im not very good at showing emotions. as a consequence, the people i love think i hate them, and the people i like think i’m indifferent. many of those who have had the greatest impact on my life don’t even realize just how much they mean to me, and im generally seen as cold and aloof.

so when i do decide to share my feelings, it comes off as pushy, needy, or just plain creepy. To whom it may concern: please know that my feelings are mine to deal with, and you don’t have to worry about the burden i may seem to have put on you. It was irresponsible of me to overshare just to get something off my chest. The weight of my world is too much for any one person to carry, and I do not expect anyone else to carry it for me, least of all you.

How do you strike a balance though between… honesty and boundaries? authenticity and… moderation?

here’s hoping i can learn.