Tag Archives: Guilt

Self-Delighting, Self-Affrighting

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“…Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.
–from “A Prayer for My Daughter” by W.B. Yeats

These are the type of words to which I cling: words that remind me that my soul is capable of light and growth regardless of external circumstances. With the latest political catastrophes, though, I feel that such things are one of my dirty little secrets. How dare I believe that joy and peace are possible while things are turning to shit around me? How dare my soul remember anything but impending doom?

I can’t help it, though. During my life I’ve met so many people who were happier and more at peace in their lives than I can imagine being. They came from all walks of life, dealt with poverty or illness or injustice, and carried what seemed to be an independent joy about them. They cried and fought and grieved like anyone else, yet they were also able to rejoice and rest and laugh.

That’s what I want, and it doesn’t mean I want to retreat from the problems of the world and huddle beside some inner fire. It means I want that feeling of wholeness to accompany me where I need to go.

Writing this–confessing that I feel guilty for thinking about an inspiring and comforting passage of poetry–makes me aware of what a dangerous place I’m in. I already struggle to feel worthy of any space on this planet. If I let this guilt control me, I’ll fall farther and farther into the kind of place I described in On The Advice Of My Solicitor:

I just want not to be a burden anymore. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and consume resources and imagine the contempt others feel toward me.

…Take my eyes and give them to one who is blind. Take my hands and create, build, fix what is broken. Take this pretty-good soprano voice, that sings so little, and play lullabies for children fighting nightmares. Send these feet to march in the protests against racism and social injustice. Take this brain, hammer out these kinked chemical impulses, and turn its intelligence toward solving the dilemmas of our species. Take these words and craft them into speeches that will liberate, or into the right phrase at the right time for someone who needs it.

Take this neglected flesh and feed it to starved dogs in dusty fields. Take the food I’ll no longer eat and give it to the hungry. Take the phosphorus and minerals from my bones and replenish the tired soil of my planet.

The disabled are going to suffer under the new regime, whether the disabilities are physical or mental. We don’t need to be inflicting extra suffering on ourselves. How do I stop it? How do I really act upon my belief that if I harm myself, I give the enemies of love a victory?

It’s not a matter of trying to believe in the “self-delighting” part of my soul, or of understanding that the truest poison of many fears comes from the “self-affrighting” part. I know these things; they stand immutable in my psyche. It’s about giving myself permission to use the power of this truth.

On The Advice Of My Solicitor

Amplified self-loathing is one of the worst aspects of depression. It’s been vicious for me lately, and I’m feeding it with everything from news stories to Facebook. I go around in the emotional equivalent of sackcloth and ashes, dwelling on the fact that while I struggle to carry out the most basic functions others are working to change this troubled world.

Yes, I also hear the voices telling me that even my guilt and self-loathing is ultimately another sign that I’m unworthy; that it simply marks me as self-absorbed. I also know that even the more functional among us are subject to feeling as if they’re never doing enough because the world’s supply of suffering and injustice isn’t running out.

I haven’t stopped believing the things I wrote about in Are We Disposable? But the voice that’s been dominating my thoughts is a part of me too–and someone, somewhere, might need to know they’re not alone in thoughts like these. So here it is: in the darkest moments, what I want most is to believe I’m useful. And when I can’t believe it, I just want not to be a burden anymore. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and consume resources and imagine the contempt others feel toward me.

I don’t want to die–not really–but this frustration makes me want to rip myself apart. To sink claws of intention deep into my chest and tear it in opposite directions; scatter the pieces into a new configuration that might work better. I want the spirit of this world to rip me up like a worn-out quilt and make something useful out of my remnants.

Take my eyes and give them to one who is blind. Take my hands and create, build, fix what is broken. Take this pretty-good soprano voice, that sings so little, and play lullabies for children fighting nightmares. Send these feet to march in the protests against racism and social injustice. Take this brain, hammer out these kinked chemical impulses, and turn its intelligence toward solving the dilemmas of our species. Take these words and craft them into speeches that will liberate, or into the right phrase at the right time for someone who needs it.

Take this neglected flesh and feed it to starved dogs in dusty fields. Take the food I’ll no longer eat and give it to the hungry. Take the phosphorus and minerals from my bones and replenish the tired soil of my planet.

These thoughts are real, and the guilt that feeds them is a real feeling. But the melodrama and extremism associated with them is something I need to question–if I’m going to get through a dark phase, there needs to be a part of my mind that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

When I was wrestling with my need to write something and break my silence of many days, a bit of that grace came to me. An irreverent corner of my brain latched onto these “take me apart and make me into something useful” thoughts and linked them to an old Gilbert & Sullivan number: in the play Patience, a man named Bunthorne is desired by all except the one woman he wants, Patience. He decides that if he can’t have the woman he wants, he might as well do something useful with himself. He’s later found, surrounded by the group of damsels who have been pursuing him, passing out tickets:

Heart-broken at my Patience’s barbarity
On the advice of my solicitor
In aid, in aid of deserving charity
I’ve put myself up to be raffled for…

So, this bit of song got into my head and kept nattering on there…and, wouldn’t you know it, the association started to make my extreme thoughts seem a little silly. I began to see the ridiculous Bunthorne, on the stage, magnanimously waving to his simpering admirers and their bunches of tickets. The opening of the song began to beat in my head as I dragged myself from one lackluster task to another…Come walk up and purchase with avidity, overcome your diffidence and natural timidity, tickets for the raffle should be purchased with avidity, put in half a guinea and a husband you may gain!

It’s extremely hard to concentrate on dramatically self-destructive thoughts with that catchy, annoying tune going on. It’s just another example of unlikely grace in my life; the idea that anything can turn into a totem or talisman–and there’s no way to tell which of millions of experiences might do so.

I’m still quite depressed. I know I need help, both emotional and spiritual, and I’m looking into getting my meds adjusted as well. But an obscure and silly tune is, at this moment, helping me.

Guess What?

I have some new information to process, which is another way of saying I feel as if I’ve been kicked in the stomach. I did a lot to get this information, and on this Thanksgiving eve I am grateful to have it…but it’s going to take some processing.

As I wrote in Seriously?, I’ve been seeking help with finding the right schooling and services for my daughter. Part of that has been getting a detailed assessment done, the first in several years, independently of the district and the doctors who did her earlier ones. We finally got the results yesterday.

Without going into details, let me just say that they’ve come up with a theory about her issues that makes a lot of sense, feels intuitively right, honors her strengths…and means that for the last five-plus years we have been working with a completely wrong diagnosis.

Pop quiz, my friends. What’s going on with me emotionally right now?

A. I’m proud of myself for intervening the way I have, getting her into counseling, and pushing for objective assessment in response to my judgment that there was something else going on. I am aware that things would be much worse if I had not acted with courage in certain ways.

B. I’m blaming myself for taking this long to see what is needed and for all of the imperfections and delays I introduced into the process. I feel overwhelmed about finding the services she needs and am convinced that I have failed her as a mother.

Correct! We are dealing with mostly B at the moment. I’m worried and frightened and guilty about all of the same old stuff. I don’t know how I am going to manage to find the medical services she needs, and I don’t know how I’ll cope with the increased appointments and still handle schooling. I’m enraged at myself for the decisions that have us living where we are, when our old place would have been more convenient and healthier for her.

I’m afraid. And I’m ashamed. And I’m angry that I’ve internalized a view of motherhood and myself that makes it impossible to blame the people who made the wrong diagnosis, or the teachers who urged me to accept it, or the doctors who ignored her physical problems, or the school system that kept ignoring her physical needs and getting her injured: I am always ultimately to blame, because I should have seen something sooner, acted sooner, fought harder, been a different person.

It’s not constructive to blame anyone, and I don’t want to. I know in my head that everyone, including me, did the best they could with the information they had at the time. But I don’t know how to let go of it. Once again I have to struggle out of the guilt and shame that is, ultimately, a manifestation of selfish ego on my part—I can’t stay in it because it will try to make this about me and not about her.

So, I need to process, and this one may take a little time. I need to process in ways that won’t be self-destructive or sabotaging. I have hope that when I have worked through this, I’ll be able to see the positives…after all, if they are right, getting the correct treatment could gradually improve her quality of life, and that’s fantastic. But I’ve got to step up, do my best to live in the present, and trust in my program to help me do what needs to be done.