Thursday, April 18, 2019

To care and not to care

There has been a lot of bad news lately. On the same day, Notre Dame caught fire and we got news that Gilbert's kidney damage is continuing to progress and he will not recover.

I got that news and felt nothing. Except maybe guilt for not feeling anything. I just felt profoundly unsurprised. Why should anything good remain? Even the things that aren't currently dying or on fire will sooner or later be destroyed. Including myself.

After putting some thought into this, I started wondering if I am maybe not feeling as fine as I think I am. I used to be deeply emotional all the time. I cried a lot, but when I wasn't crying, I was often ecstatically happy. These days all of that feels kind of muffled.

It was such a relief slowly coming out of the waking nightmare that was my pregnancy with Jackie that I didn't complain too much over the lack of emotion. I'll definitely take calm over constant anxiety and intrusive thoughts.  But it's been two years and I would kind of like to get back to feeling like myself, if that's possible.

But to know how to do that, I'd have to figure out why.

One possibility is that I am too busy and distracted. I have a smartphone now and I spend way too much time on Facebook. Am I hiding there from my feelings? Do I need to spend more time simply looking around me and enjoying the present moment? That might be so.

Another possibility is that I was so traumatized by getting pregnant with Jackie that I have been disassociating from my feelings. In which case I might need to somehow recover from that and deal with those feelings. I'm not sure how to do that.

A third issue came to mind today. I was at the park and I made a point to put down my phone and enjoy the beautiful weather. There were fresh green leaves on the trees which were tossing brightly in the wind. For a moment, I felt happy.

And then I thought: this won't last. Like dogs and cathedrals and everyone I love, it will be destroyed and no one will even remember it.

It just made me realize I have never truly recovered from the death of my faith. I relied on it to a degree I never noticed while I believed in it. I assumed everything was stable, everything was good, eventually every evil thing would be destroyed and every good thing made immortal. That gave me the ability to enjoy temporary pleasures and shrug off temporary pains.

"And for all this, nature is never spent
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.
And though the last lights over the black West went,
Lo, morning, on the brown brink Eastward, springs."

I believed this, as a ground of my being. Is it possible to still believe the same if the Holy Ghost isn't brooding over it all?  What if there really isn't such a place, where all the good things are stored up for eternity?

I don't see any of this as an argument for the existence of God. Why should there be, simply because I want one? If there is none, the desires of my heart are simply glitches, and there is no guarantee they will correspond to the things it has any hope of achieving. Maybe things just suck, you know?

I try to reassure myself that wiser people than me have found joy in their lives without religion. They live with and accept the fleetingness of all good things, they love people even though they're all going to die eventually, they build and plan and hope even though the universe itself will one day collapse in on itself. Maybe I just need to find the way, read existential philosophers, meditate more. Or maybe it's a matter of practice: maybe part of the task of being human is coming to terms with the hand we're dealt, and I spent most of my life not learning how to do that because I thought I was holding a hand full of aces.

I'm recording these thoughts mainly as a way to reflect on them. And I think it's helped some, because I teared up writing the Hopkins quote. But I'm open to ideas.


Ariadne said...

For me, feeling emotionally numb, pessimistic, and being unable to feel joy are usually signs of depression. It sounds like that might be the case for you as well. Sometimes, taking an online depression test helps me to figure out what's going on inside me. Maybe that could be helpful for you?

this is the end said...

I used to have these thoughts a while ago. It's like when you're a child you see your parents as all powerful and then grow up to realize how on your own you really are. Nothing every quite brings back that sense of security. One you've peeked beyond the mountains of madness you can never come back.

But I think that after a while you no longer want to go back. In your heart you know the truth and to return would not be to return to safety but to abandon the protection and independence you've earned. Peace comes with acceptance, and learning what really matters, what affects you and you can control, and what doesn't.

etteloc said...

First, let's address your health. If you think it's depression -- and from what you're saying here, it sounds a lot like postpartum depression -- please consider talking to a doctor. Two years is a long time to feel shitty.

Second, some reading suggestions. I'd highly recommend finding a copy of "When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chodron. She's a Buddhist nun but this book is practical and nontheistic yet spiritual. It's easy to read in bits and pieces. And while it's more academic, I think you'd like "Doubt: A History" by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

Regarding the deconversion....time and separation help. I wasn't as hardcore a Catholic as you -- as a 16-year-old, I learned the term "relativism" and exclaimed "That's what I am!" only to be told that it was wrong, even after pointing out when and where the church and society took a relative stance. After that, I kind of knew my days were numbered. I switched to an Episcopal church and it still took 5 years to stop going, and 5 years after that to feel okay about not going to church. Now I'm at a place where I consider myself spiritually fluid. I see the benefits, I see the practices and teachings I like and can support/understand without the belief in a savior or an active god, and I don't have guilt about picking and choosing. People who have a problem with it can deal it with it on their own. I don't need to prove my unbelief.

Enbrethiliel said...


My faith is alive and well, as you know, and I kind of feel the way you do anyway. I took the news of the Notre Dame fire pretty calmly, getting worked up only when people started complaining that "an old building" can get more pledges for its restoration than actual starving human beings can get for basic assistance. But 24 hours later, I was back to normal and ready to defend anyone who wants to donate money to the cause of his choice and not to some supposedly "better" cause.

I first noticed what I was feeling about a year ago, and it was remarkable enough for me to want to tell others about it. And I would always have to preface my comments with: "I'm not depressed or sad, but . . ." -- because the point I was making my way to was: "I feel that I'm just waiting to die."

(The only difference I see between my "canon" self and an AU self who wasn't religious is that the latter would have committed suicide by now out of sheer boredom.)

I don't think this is a bad feeling in and of itself. Elderly people feel it a lot. But that seems natural when you've had so many decades of life behind you. It's really weird to be this apathetic while I'm still in my thirties.

So far, I'd say the root of it is my acceptance (or just resignation?) that my life is just not going to be what I had thought it would be. And I'm not sure how to move on from Plan A. There was never really a Plan B.

Sheila said...

I'm sorry to hear that, E. *anhedonia solidarity hug*

I had a post planned out for My Plan to Get Back to Feeling My Feelings, or something like that. Because I feel like if I just give myself permission to feel things and not immediately try to distract myself and shut them down, I'll be emotionally healthy.

The reason I'm not writing it after all is that immediately after making that decision, I had a really sucky few days that kind of confirmed why I can't afford to feel my feelings. I need my life to be stable enough to handle emotion, and . . . it's kind of not. I am the primary support person for TWO people with mental or developmental issues and both of them rely on me being absolutely stable at all times.

So maybe at some later date I get to have feelings? Or something? Still trying to work out what it would look like to pursue my own emotional health even though I am basically required by my job to dole out smiles and hugs and emotional connection at all times.

James said...


Sorry. That sucks when one feels like that. Recently, I felt like I was sort of waiting to die, and was unexcited about anything in my life, recently, or any of the things I used to be excited about and want to do, and was drifting into doing things like reddit continually because it has the lowest activation energy.... so I quit my job, and am currently living of freelance / savings while trying to do / find things I'm excited about. Obviously not an option for you, but, yeah, I've been there at least to a small degree.

One thing that does contribute to that "nothing good lasts" feeling, for me, at least, is bodily decay. The last year I've been trying to recover from some injuries I got while exercising, which have made it tough to do... nearly all of the things I like to do, that make me really happy, like hiking, running, or climbing (or even just going on long walks). Which makes one certainly think about how one will die in the end and no one will remember you. Not sure how best to deal with it, though :/. I admit I console myself with thoughts of a (admittedly, *extremely* improbable) potential uploading. It's hard to go through life without lying to yourself a little bit -- I mean, I admit it's improbable, but whatever comfort I derive from it isn't well calibrated by the probability, if that makes sense.

Hope you feel better. It's super exhausting being the primary support person for people -- to the extent I've ever been that kind of person, I know that's true, and I'm sure I've never been nearly as intensely as you. I hope you can find a space that's your own, as it were.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Sheila! -awkwardly returns hug almost two weeks late-

There has been a small change in my life since I was last here. I shifted to a part-time schedule in my call center job so that I could take on a second part-time job as a German instructor to an A1 (absolute beginners) class. For the first week, I was tired all day. But it wasn't a bad thing. As I explained to a colleague at the call center: "I'm feeling the difference between being tired because you actually did something and being tired of life." It turns out that for the last year and a half, I had been tired of life.

Which isn't to say I've finally figured it out. I will always mourn Plan A. But at least I feel like I want to live -- and to fight -- until all my students pass the B2 exam.

Your comment reminded me of Susan Sarandon saying that after she separated from Tim Robbins and started doing a lot of things she had used to do before they became a couple, her adult children commented that she was changing. Their reaction surprised her until she remembered that they had never known her older -- or I guess that would be, her younger -- self. As you've pointed out, when you're responsible for the emotional health of others, you tend to adjust yourself to meet their needs. It doesn't mean that you're no longer yourself; you're just playing a role that makes you feel out of your element.

Lately, I've also been thinking about Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man. (If you think you feel old when you can relate to the saying "Youth is wasted on the young," well, that's nothing to when you finally realize Shakespeare was fairly accurate about the seven ages!) That and his other famous metaphor that our lives are all just roles on the stage of the world. I'm definitely acting out an older age now, which drives me a bit crazy because it's not what I consider my real "inner age." But the last thing I need at this point in life is the stigma that comes from not acting "one's age."

But there are places where the mask can still drop. I'm always reminded of marketing guru Martin Lindstrom's story of interviewing a focus group of women in their thirties who were huge fans of a then-teen idol. After he had made them feel they were in a safe space and they let their guards down, he said that it was suddenly easy to see what they had all been like at sixteen. Not because they had never "grown up," but because they were still the young girls they had always been, underneath the trappings of maturity.

And it doesn't seem to be a female thing. One of my best male friends confided in me, when he was in his sixties, that he was still about seventeen mentally. And he was one of the most mature, stable men I've ever known.

Sheila said...

E- Ah, you're reminding me of the Doctor. It's all right to change, so long as you remember all the selves you've been before.

It really does matter to have things you find worthwhile. John just got hired for a new job, and although it's less convenient in a lot of ways, he finally seems excited about something again. So it's probably worth it.

S.O., I'm glad you've been able to make in a change in your life. I certainly relate to worries about lost health and ability. Especially as my physical health isn't what it was before kids, and I'm only 32. I do get some comfort in thinking about things I can accomplish that will last after I'm gone. Writing especially. I might not be able to enjoy my posthumous royalties, but I'll at least feel like I've put something out there that wasn't a waste of time.

The same goes for anything that's done for another person, since you can make a difference in humanity and that lasts longer than your life.

But honestly, the real problem is perspective. Why do I feel compelled to zoom so far out from the present moment? Perhaps it's a habit I got into to distract myself from present moments that were unbearable - just remember all suffering will pass, and then heaven. Now it's the opposite, my present moment isn't that bad but I ruin it for myself by zooming out!

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