Bonus Levels

What are your life’s bonus levels?

I am not even close to unlocking the bonus levels on one of the mindless tablet games I play when I can’t sleep. (These are reward levels that can’t be accessed unless all of the regular levels are completed to a certain standard.)

Rewards are great. We all give ourselves rewards, or promise them to ourselves for achieving a goal.

The problem happens when we screw up the classification of rewards. I do this all of the time. One common method, of course, is to take a self-destructive act and have that masquerade as a reward. But that’s not what I am thinking of today.

Today, I’m looking at how much stuff ends up in the bonus levels when it should be part of the regular game. Stuff you wouldn’t expect to find there.

Did you know that unless my diet is going well, I am not allowed to move my body more than absolutely necessary?
Or use moisturizer?
Or apply vitamin E oil to my raw and inflamed cuticles and nail beds?

The prerequisite doesn’t have to be the diet, although that’s a common one these last months. It could be an undone task, or a worrisome situation with developments pending, or a relationship that’s feeling uncomfortable. Until I solve it, or make progress that meets some vague cutoff, I am not allowed to:

Sing, even in the shower or over dishes.
Enjoy writing (I may force some of it to happen, but it’s not fun)
Wear nice clothes
Reach out to friends

My bonus levels get more crowded if my depression or anxiety worsens. They begin to include things like washing my hair, doing laundry, taking vitamins (see Vitamin Diplomacy) or even drinking water.

I kid you not. There’s something in me that thinks I need to earn a fucking glass of water. I have the good fortune to live in a part of the world where water comes out of a tap, and I prevent myself from drinking more of it than absolutely necessary. Right now, as I type this, my lips are dry.

It’s a very different phenomenon from the apathy or paralysis that keeps me from doing things when depressed. When Bonus Levels Syndrome happens I know I could, I could do this thing that improves my well-being and mood. I could do it, and I choose not to.

Are you like me? If you experience this sometimes, I have a question for you. Just a little thing I’ve been wanting to know–

Where the FUCK did we learn to believe we’re worthless?

What taught us that life is a battle we have to fight not only alone, but without eating the rations in our packs? What locked us into a vicious circle of denying ourselves the nourishments or pleasures that would give us strength?

Some of us might have a specific answer that comes to mind. For others, it may have been a broader and more subtle process. For me, there’s already been some learning about it, and I focus on going forward–but sometimes I feel so angry.

It’s easier for my anger to flow honestly when I think about you, of course. The image of you, whoever you are, denying yourself water or a healing balm for your skin or the joy of music makes me mad. It isn’t right. It doesn’t make sense.

You deserve better. So maybe I do too.

One response to “Bonus Levels

  1. One of my keys to treating myself more kindly has been to think about whether I would treat another that way (child, student, friend). If I wouldn’t treat them that way, why treat myself that way? Your article, at the end, reminded me of that. You definitely deserve better!

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