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22 January, 2013

Back to Breath Again

I have been pondering how to find aspirations - a word which, again, is rooted in the concept of breath.

A friend who I was talking to when I was having my health breakdown this weekend referred to Feldenkrais phrasings of "able to fufill one's avowed dreams", and that's the place it all falls down for me, back at the beginning of everything: figuring out how to get there from here means having to find a 'there' to get to.

It was a couple months ago that I figured out that I want to be when I grow up.  I am nearly old enough to legally qualify to be President of the United States, and I only just started getting the inklings of aspirations.

Part of that is a social problem: I got a lot of "you're good at this thing" feedback and not a whole lot of help figuring out what I wanted, what mattered to me, how to pursue what I might want to do with my life.  (And while there's no way anyone could have meaningfully guided me to what I actually am doing with my life when I was a teenager, because my life is too damn weird, I could have gotten here with more productive back end stuff.)  This is a systemic problem; I wrote about it before in the very limited and specific field of sex ed, but I do think it comes down to things like critical thinking, internal development, and paying attention to the inner narratives of kids, all of which the culture I grew up in stink on ice at.

A lot of people muddle through that to finding what they want to do with their lives okay, though that doesn't seem to be the goal; as far as I can tell the actual goal is to get people who are dulled into shapes that are adequately bland so as to not argue with the demands of corporatist reality.  (People having dreams would be inconvenient when trying to coerce them into tedious jobs, after all.)  People with goals for themselves, aspirations, desires, they're hard to keep in little boxes.  They go looking for something better, more suited to them, or something eventually, if they haven't been broken.

But the social stuff is, at least from where I sit at the moment, comparatively minor.

When I was thrown out of college ("given the option to take medical leave", sorry), it was fundamentally because of the consequences of severe chronic depression at minimum.  And that's the culmination of a long stream of "does not fulfill potential" type things, wondering why I did not continue to be the eager-beaver overachiever of my childhood - a childhood where I was so overwhelmingly something that people went and built me curricula to give me something to do, which on the one hand let me learn a lot, and on the other hand left me woefully unprepared for realities where people didn't try to keep and hold my interest with shiny opportunities all the time.  And I knew damn well that the authorities of the school (or at least my godsawful dean) were mostly concerned with getting me shuffled off-campus so that if I killed myself it wouldn't reflect badly on them, because they weren't into looking after the Lesser Beings, you know, the people with mental health problems.  That was a school for the High Achievers, you know.  Not the disappointments.

Not living up to expectations means not having a college diploma, and that means having the devil of a time getting a job, by the way.  Because everyone wants a damn diploma.  I think the secretarial gig I picked up wanted a diploma but accepted me anyway.  And not having any goals, any aspirations, any clue about what I wanted to do - especially when I had Failed At Science - made it hard to figure out what jobs I might even begin to enjoy, anyway, or do well at.  (I discovered I was a pretty good secretary.)

I also discovered that I had a circadian rhythm disorder that falls brilliantly into the social model of disability.  By which I mean that when I could set my own schedule - as I did before they threw me out of school, trying to minimise my early morning classes and so on - I did fine, but being expected to keep a nine-to-five basically destroyed me.  I managed to muddle through well enough to pay the rent, but I lost any ability to do much of anything other than work, eat, and sleep, though I maintained a social life on the internet with my remaining few bits of competence, trying to hold on to some sense of self.

A major depressive episode later, and some re-aggravation of my PTSD that I didn't recognise was happening in that form at the time (I mean, I only recognised it as a thing that was relevant a few months ago and that's something like a thirteen year gap), and I was wound up in a ball of neuroses and inadequacies that was hard to comb through.  I didn't have at the time any clear sense of why I had sunk into the depths that time, which meant I had no idea how to prevent it happening again.

My understanding of myself had become that I could fail, and fail catastrophically: that I could shut down for reasons I did not understand and cease to be able to respond in a clear or meaningful way to the outside world, that I could neither maintain my commitments to others nor protect my own boundaries.  That my mental state was at best delicate, capable of collapsing, unreliable, that I was fundamentally untrustworthy because my mental health - or perhaps my moral rectitude - was not sufficient to overcome my circumstances.

I built a life around those assumptions.  The expectation that failure was implicit, inevitable, imminent: that circumstances could send my capacity for anything into a death spiral at any moment.  Futility was my watchword.  I would set myself small tasks and reward myself for them, but nothing in the sense of a long-term goal.  (The longest-term goal I accomplished was 'write a novel', which was assembled from a long sequence of goals the outer time limit of which was about three days.)

What's the point of having dreams, anyway?  When one isn't stable enough - or mature enough, or sane enough, or disciplined enough, or (some virtue or other depending on what seems appropriate for the beatings) enough - to achieve anything, why waste resources investing in an aspiration?  I marinated in my own perception of worthlessness, because I could not imagine a better world.

I would ask my doctor to check my thyroid levels regularly, and got grudging acquiescence and no help beyond that.  Eventually - and this was a long time coming - I built up the personal reserves to imagine that I might deserve a more compatible doctor, and swapped to one in the same practice who seemed plausible.

Who basically diagnosed a suspicion of my Hashimoto's in our first visit from our interview, ran the appropriate tests, and told me what it was the second visit, and got me on treatment.

And I take a little pill every night before I go to bed, and when I wake up I can do things.

All kinds of things.

I was on the little magic pill for like a week when my liege came home with a truck full of cobblestones and was unloading them in the driveway.  And I not only imagined that he would appreciate help, I managed to figure out a way of getting out there and helping him, and made the task go a whole hell of a lot more smoothly.  All of which would have been beyond my scope a week before.

I am prone to commenting now that I have four major diagnoses - chronic depression, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, delayed sleep phase syndrome, and also recently discovered a significant nutritional deficiency which we haven't tracked down an etiology for but are currently attempting to bludgeon to death with a ridiculous number of supplements - all of which boil down to, at some level, "You feel tired all the time and you can't get shit done."

And as I wrestle with starting to get all that stuff treated I find myself wondering ...

... now what?

Because I'm nearly old enough to be President.  And I have never felt able to have the luxury of dreams.  So now that I might not be a failure, now that I might be able to do something in the world... I'm at a total loss.

(While I was in the middle of writing this, I got email from the ACLU titled "You can't suppress a dream", and I just ... ... stared at it for a long time before I hit delete.  I don't even know, guys.)


Jack said...

I'm not sure what I want to be when I grow up, either. I found a job I'm pretty good at, that I don't completely hate, but I'm terrified that I'll never get past that.

(I get Relevant Emails often enough that I consider it a kind of divination, like spamancy.)

Darker said...

I don't know what dreams you will find, nor how you will find them. I think it's awesome that you're in / getting to a place where you can ask yourself that "now what?"

I've read accounts of people who withheld permission from themselves to have personal dreams because their life was subsumed by their job, who then felt totally adrift once they hit retirement and were expected to find their own dreams and aspirations. Perhaps there might be useful retiree-directed advice to be found.

(The good news is that those accounts clearly indicate that there's no "use by" date for finding your dreams - some people do it at 75, and end up feeling just as fulfilled as someone who figured things out at 55, 35, or 15.)

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