The Religion of Self-Worth

I think that once a child is taught to believe that he or she doesn’t matter, you can write off that life for ever having subjective worth. I am sure my friends and family tire of telling me that I’m a worthwhile, valuable person in the face of my apparently obstinate refusal to believe it. I feel sad about that, but I find myself incapable of internalizing that belief. I can’t just make myself believe something.

I wonder how I was taught that I don’t matter. During some crucial years of early childhood development, two to six years old, I lost a lot. I lost my father to death. I lost my mother to depression and then work. I lost three of my four siblings to college, and the fourth was barely present and gone only a couple of years later. I lost my home and my friends and my pets to my mother’s remarriage. For a small child, that was a pretty brutal four years. I didn’t matter in the grand scheme of the universe. I remember wishing I were dead for the first time around the end of that period. Then, of course, I lost my innocence to sex worker training.

I think about all the children who grow up in the world unwanted and badly cared for, brutalized and used. They’re probably like me. They don’t matter, either. It’s a sad state of affairs. I wish I could fix it, but I can’t even fix myself. All I can say is if you are a parent, make sure you teach your children that they matter before it’s too late.

Wild rose hips
Wild rose hips

Magical Thinking

Killing thoughts swirl in my brain. Round and round…
You’re stupid and useless.
You’re a horrible person.
I despise you.
Everyone despises you.
It’s irrational. I know it’s irrational, but I can’t make it stop.
Right. Get out the checklist. One thing at a time.
Eat. Check.
Get dressed. Oh, that’s a hard one. Try again. Check.
Shoes? Got it.
Brush teeth. Check.
Phone, keys, wallet, dog, leash…
Right. Go walk the dog. Wrong shoes? Fuck that.
So I make it out into the forest and I’m walking.
Step, step, step. Killing thoughts still spinning round and round. Stop, stop, stop!
Up the mountain through the forest, the fog lowering in the tree tops.
Step, step, step. Oh, hello, someone! Chat. Pretend to be normal. Step, step, step.

This is crazy and irrational. I’m not a horrible person. Everyone doesn’t despise me. But rationality doesn’t help against the irrational. Right. Let’s try some irrationality. I have an idea. I’m going to grab each killing thought, fold it up, and stuff it in a box. Then I’m going to leave the box out here in the forest. Grab one, fold it up. Step, step, step. Grab another, fold it up. Step, step, step.

Where am I going to put the box? Should I put it in a recognizable place? Hide it under a mushroom? I walk this trail all the time. Will they come back if I pass the place and remember it?

Grab a thought, fold it up. Step, step, step. Grab another, fold it up. Step, step, step.

The Doppler effect of an approaching jet impinges on my hearing.

Grab a thought, fold it up. Step, step, step. Grab another, fold it up. Step, step, step.

The Doppler waves intensify. I can feel the vibration in my chest.

Grab a thought, fold it up. Step, step, step. Grab another, fold it up. Step, step, step.

Suddenly, I stop, turn, and hurl my box at the approaching jet, invisible above the treetop fog. The Doppler waves crowd together and then start to stretch back out as the jet flies over and away from me.

I imagine the killing thoughts continuing to skein out of my brain like dark candle smoke, pulled after the stretching Doppler waves.

Killing thoughts, skein away. Step, step, step. Killing thoughts, skein away. Step, step, step.

I can hear the jet for a long time, and I imagine the killing thoughts trailing after it, out of my brain and away from me.

I feel…lighter maybe?

Like a tongue poking at a mouth injury, my brain pokes at the killing thoughts. I try to stop because they might start up again, but I can’t resist. Lo and behold, there is a little flutter but nothing else. I’m still not happy, but the killing thoughts have stopped their harping chorus.

An exercise in psychological manipulation sometimes works. Meet the irrationality on its own ground.

Misty, moisty Forest
Misty, moisty forest

Out of Center

I am in a tremendous amount of pain today. I have been struggling with suicidal thoughts and harsh self criticism for days. Now I am also struggling with the death of an old friend and colleague. My work-related anxiety is through the roof. Tears come easily, which is not always the case, and a battle rages inside me.

I sometimes wonder about the difference between my interior and exterior realities. On the outside I am a middle-aged woman, possibly on the eccentric side, but well-meaning and fairly competent. On the inside I am raging chaos, deafening shouts, and exhausting struggles. At the interface in between is pain — emotional, physical, real pain. It’s a difficult sort of existence.

Sometimes the chaos inside makes living on the outside extremely difficult. Those are the times when the interface threatens to tear, and that way lies madness and self-destruction. The chaos within has to be channeled and released carefully and constructively without tearing the interface. I suppose that therein lies the source of eccentricity.

Eccentric: from Greek ekkentros “out of the center” from ek “out” + kentron “center”. 

Indeed. Out of center. There are so many ways to take that thought. The term is originally from Ptolemaic astronomy meaning a circle or orbit not having the Earth precisely at its center. Metaphorically it can have many other meanings. Out of the center of what is expected in society. Out of the center in the balancing act between the interior and exterior worlds. Chaos emerging out of the center of the self. All of that and more.

I imagine my self at the center between  between life inside this bony carapace and life as an actor in the world outside. In a state of constant tension I balance the push and pull from both sides. In real terms right here, right now, it means that I have external demands and expectations which must be fulfilled by a competent actor in the world, but that competent actor in the world is currently also dealing with a raging storm within of fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, and doubt.

Storms are great sources of energy. Harnessing the storm, though, is another thing entirely. Hurricane force gales will tear apart windmills. I’m searching for the trick, the balance point, the focus, to take that energy from the inside storm and channel it into the demands of the outside world.

My sister just came through and hugged me and said, “I can see you’re working.” I thought, “Well, not really. This isn’t what I should be doing.” On the other hand, perhaps it is. It’s an interim process.

I suppose that as I wander about looking for that balance point, eccentricities leak into the outside world. Things like writing a wandering blog post about mental illness, metaphorical storms, and etymology. I’m actively taking the chaos swirling inside my head and shaping it into words on a screen in an effort to calm and make sense of it. Searching for a channel into the chaos through the pain so I can control and direct it.

Line art: Sue Coccia color: gel pen, watercolor pencil
Line art: Sue Coccia
color: gel pen, watercolor pencil

The Tedium of Suicide Prevention

September is World Suicide Prevention Month. I am pondering my strategies. I find suicide prevention quite tedious. I woke up this morning wishing I were dead, as I often do. My half-waking tendency on these days is to start beating on myself to stop it. (This is an entirely an exercise in visualization, you understand.) There’s no good reason to be wishing I were dead in the present time, and I’m frankly quite tired of dealing with it. This is, of course, counter-productive. I know it, but forty years is a long time to be dealing with these unreasonable episodes of death-longing. I tend to look upon it as a character flaw – a self-indulgent bad habit caused by lack of discipline. (An analysis I would by no means wish to universalize. It’s my own private analysis of my own situation, not intended for export.)

One tends to hide or apologize for character flaws. I often try to mitigate mine by being dismissive of it. So, I woke up wishing to be dead. So what? Ignore it and get on with whatever the obligations are today. Don’t indulge it. Clean the kitchen, walk the dog, paint a chair, whatever. There are too many things that need doing to take time out for being dead today.

Problems arise, however, with the whole wishing-to-be-dead faction in my head. I think I’ll give it a name for brevity’s sake. Perkins will do. So, Perkins is sitting there in my head  being all mopey and apathetic. Why bother? In a hundred years it won’t matter. Who cares if this task or that task gets done? The world is a crazy hell-hole anyway. Why not just wash your hands of the whole stupid mess and quit? It’s all futile and it would be much better to just step out and be done with it. You can’t do anything about it, and it’s useless to try. You’re one of this horde of half-insane creatures pretending to have some significance in a vast and indifferent universe.

Some might agree that Perkins really needs a smack.

Some days I beat Perkins into submission and silence and get on with being an actor in the world. Some days Perkins refuses to be submissive and silent and I curl up in a deep, dark cave in my mind and pretend to be dead to propitiate Perkins.

It works so far in terms of suicide prevention, but one can’t help but wonder if there might be an alternative approach. On the other hand, why mess with something that seems to work?

I think I’ll go walk the dog.

DSCN2300 (600x800)

Going Home

Most days, sometimes many times during the day, I will say out loud apropos of nothing in particular, “I want to go home.” I say it even when I’m at home. What does it mean? One therapist I talked to about it said, “You know that’s a euphemism for dying.” Yes, of course I do. I grew up with the ubiquitous background noise of American Christianity, too, however much I don’t subscribe to it. I don’t think that’s what it means for me. I think I have finally figured out what it does mean. It means I want to go to bed.

It seems odd that I want to go to bed when that is where all the drama starts in my head that more often than not ends up being painful. (See this post.) Perhaps the concepts of “home” and “pain” are intimately entwined in my head. Home is where the pain is. Longing for home is longing for pain. Not the pain of random, unreasoning violence, but the pain of burning away the dross and revealing the refined substance, the better self. Transformative pain.

Home is where one grows and learns to be a human being, which is often painful. Home is where first mistakes are made and corrected, more pain. Home is where pain begins; sometimes where it ends, as well. Ideally, home is where pain is safe and one learns to deal with it in a controlled, protected environment with guidance and love. There, perhaps, is the crux of what my inner self seeks when it wishes to go home. Controlled, safe pain that it can learn from in order to deal with the undomesticated pain out in the world.

Living and pain are inextricably linked. To live is to manage pain. When the pain becomes unmanageable, there is death waiting with the ultimate solace and freedom from pain. Going home, though, is something else. That is going into a place of refuge to manage the unmanageable, a place to plumb the depths of pain and learn from it.



Inner Child

I am not very good at parenting my inner child. I am abusive. I beat her every night. I don’t really know how to stop. Good thing I chose not to have any children. Awareness of and fear of the cycle of abuse are among the reasons for that choice. Someone said you should strive to be the adult that you needed as a child. I do fairly well in the external world, I think. I fail miserably in the internal world. Internalizing compassion and a sense of self-worth seems to be beyond my capabilities. It gets to the point that I fear going to sleep because of the beatings. I try to fight them off, but to no avail. This all sounds very, very crazy, but I am inured to being crazy.

I don’t know, though, whether it’s really compassion and self-worth that are lacking. I think perhaps it’s more disappointment with failure to reach a standard. Keeping an iron grip on the wild side also plays a role. I am really not very good at filling the void left by my lack of competent parenting and patching the damage left by abuse. I seem to perpetuate the abuse, if only inside my own head.

EDIT: It seems to me that my inner child is an “it”. It is not gender-static.



Sometimes I am a serious misanthrope. I despise people. Yesterday, I was despising people because some jerk dumped a load of carpet scrap in my driveway, probably some would-be, unlicensed “contractor” who didn’t want to pay disposal fees for the leftovers. As a result, I was hyper aware of any other despicable people who came to my attention, and pretty soon it looked like the entire world was one big, steaming mass of complete shitheads. I would have happily cheered on any aliens, microscopic organisms, or apocalyptic natural disasters that cared to come and wipe out humanity in its general state of stupidity. I honestly think that the world would be a much better place if at least 99% of the human population were wiped out when I’m in this frame of mind.

I don’t  like feeling this way. Thank goodness I don’t all the time. The worst part about it is it makes me wish I were dead. It doesn’t make any sense at all that other people being bastards makes me feel suicidal, but there it is. Perhaps this is another learned behavior from my childhood when I had no obvious way to escape the despicable person who was assaulting me. It’s a habit of sorts to wish I were dead when people over whom I have no control or influence do nasty things.

I had to find something somewhere to calm my inner misanthrope. I asked for help, and friends sent me distractions and wisdom and laughs. With a little effort, I found someone who needed that heap of carpet dumped in my driveway. She and her husband have been living with horrible, smelly carpet in their living room for two years that won’t get clean. They came and took it away and are very happy to get it. I also collected some dividends from being of service (see this post). At my last meeting with my fall students they gave me some overwhelming love and appreciation to bring home with me. My peace of mind is restored.

It takes two very important things for me to restore and maintain my peace of mind. The first is being mindful of doing good in the world. The second is being willing enough, brave enough, and honest enough to reach out and show my reality of the moment to the world. That is how I create a world I can thrive in. I believe in the fundamental goodness of human beings, and badness is an aberration, and being honest and brave and helpful will attract more of the same to me. A little humor doesn’t hurt, either.

kind - "friendly, deliberately doing good to others," from Old English gecynde "natural, native, innate," originally "with the feeling of relatives for each other," from Proto-Germanic *kundi- "natural, native," from *kunjam "family".
kind – “friendly, deliberately doing good to others,” from Old English gecynde “natural, native, innate,” originally “with the feeling of relatives for each other,” from Proto-Germanic *kundi- “natural, native,” from *kunjam “family”.

The Weeping Maniac

Ah, the joys of being both female and having rapid-cycling bipolar. PMS? Check. Manic? Check. I’ve been all crampy and weepy for two days. Yesterday I unearthed my dining table and washed the floor. Today I’ve loaded a month’s worth of garbage in my pickup, pruned a giant rose bush, stretched out and emptied and wound a 100 foot hose, and gone through my wreck of a kitchen like a whirlwind discovering counters that haven’t been seen in weeks. (This kitchen is going to see a lot of activity this week.) Meanwhile, I have the Rabbit of Caerbannog chewing on my uterus, and I have to sit down once in a while and wait for the tears to stop because I need to see what I’m doing. Never prune a rose while blinded. You might lose a finger.

It’s great fun when either my high point or my low point coincides with my PMS. I have a pretty hard time in the first place, and hitting either the peak or the valley of the bipolar cycle at the same time just magnifies everything. It’s generally a good idea to stay out of my way when it’s the mania. I might bite. When the depression coincides, you’ll find me under the covers in the fetal position whimpering.

Fish-Eye Ferris Wheel crushing the city.
Fish-Eye Ferris Wheel crushing the city.


Everything is absurd. That is simply the way of the universe. One might as well go with it. One of the things that happens when I embrace the absurdity is that nothing surprises me. A calmer, cooler, more unexcitable person you would be hard-pressed to find. I’m good in a crisis. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, I’ve taken them all in stride. Drowning people, injured people, panicked and angry animals, I deal with it and move on. While those about me are losing their heads, mine stays firmly in place. I think it’s because I harbor no preconceived notions of reality. I expect the world to be surprising and unpredictable, and it doesn’t faze me when it is. Until something pops up and unexpectedly kills me, I will keep dealing with whatever comes along as sensibly as possible.

I suppose it has a great deal to do with be a very cerebral person. Not that I’m unemotional. I cry easily. I laugh easily, too. I do both at the same time fairly often. I don’t get angry easily, possibly because I’m not easily frightened, either. People get angry when they’re frightened. People don’t think well when they’re frightened and angry. Perhaps that’s why I rarely indulge in either. I’m too attached to thinking. The world has an overabundance of frightened and angry people. More often than not, they’re angry and frightened because they’re ignorant. I refuse to accept their version of reality. I would prefer to ameliorate their ignorance if possible.

Geese are pretty absurd creatures. They’re comical waddlers with nothing more than a blunt beak, webbed feet, and wings, but they’ll attack humans. They’ll run at humans with their heads snaked out low to the ground and hiss. Nine times out of ten, the human will back off, sometimes even run away. It’s completely absurd, a ten pound bird with practically no offensive capability at all chasing off a human more than ten times its size. It might be  the human’s primate instinct to avoid snakes is triggered by the goose’s mimicry, but it’s completely absurd nonetheless. When geese run at me and hiss, I slap them upside the head and say, “Hey! I’m an alpha goose!” The point, if there is a point, is that hissing balls of feathers may quite possibly charge out of the bushes at any time. I would rather take charge of the encounter rather than lose my head and run away. I refuse to accept the goose’s version of reality.

Vertical panorama in a temperate rain forest
Vertical panorama in a temperate rain forest

Releasing the Maniac

I feel it creeping upon me, a subtle vibration in my solar plexus, a scurry in my brain, a tingling in my fingers. The pendulum swings to the top of the arc, the point of greatest potential energy, soon to be released into kinetic energy. I will tell you this for free: It is not easy to write a coherent narrative while manic. I can do all the laundry, the shopping, take the dog to two dog parks, and cook dinner, but sitting down to write a coherent narrative is a challenge.

It requires discipline, and discipline is what my interior world is all about. Discipline keeps me from screaming and lashing out. It also helps me direct and control the energy. “Sit down. Be still. Focus,” says the disciplinarian. “Channel the energy into the keyboard.” Getting started is the hardest part. Once I am focused, it’s like an anchor keeping me from flying apart.

One of the things that has happened to me lately is my trauma and my mania have been escalating each other, making each very hard to control. I’ve been taking care of my mother, you see. Not by myself, you understand; my siblings have been in it with me. I realize now, since her death, that the effort to refrain from lashing out at her, the effort to make her last few years comfortable, has been more than my internal discipline could handle.

I have, in fact, not been channeling, but only suppressing. The energy of the renewed trauma of her constant presence in my life and the periodic mania resulted in me putting the lid on it entirely. I put myself in a straitjacket. Instead of putting the energy into something productive, I lashed it down. Rather than lashing out, I contained it. I crawled into my cave and hid. I tied myself down so the storms wouldn’t tear me apart.

Now I’m afraid of myself. It’s a hard thing to be afraid of yourself. I need to loosen the reins and let the mania out again. There are so many things to do and so much I want to accomplish. The straitjacket has to go. It has to be done carefully and in a controlled fashion, though. I have to practice channeling the emotions and energy safely and in useful ways and learn the habits of discipline again.

Discipline is often hard. Right now I am in the habit of caging myself. I don’t want to go to the other extreme of uncontrolled wildness. I’ve been there. I have the scars to prove it. My internal disciplinarian expects a great deal more of me than that. I am a sentient, intelligent, talented, civilized creature capable of doing good and doing well in the world. I can expect nothing less.

Finding the balance point.
Finding the balance point.