Behind the mask

All the different aspects of me need to be pulling together. They are proud, contrary souls.

The one I am in right now is playful and filled with Love. I have no self-confidence, I go to another space to be self-confident. Sometimes I cannot speak, I have a thought so disturbing I cannot bring it to consciousness. I am tenacious: were I not, I would have been subsumed. This is the part of the whole human being which makes the decisions, even if all I can do is say No. This is the part that takes delight, in the sun as I cycled to the wee shop this morning. I am determined, to go up the steep hill without dropping another gear. I know what I want to do, day to day. I want to see her, then. Though getting out of bed to cycle to the wee shop was an effort. I would rather just read the news.

This is me without the masks, the central me
Masks are my way of interacting with the world
Masks are what I can let people see

I am glad to be speaking from this part of me. It is a relief to take off the mask. And it is a bit tiring- no stop minimising it is tiring.

Freud’s patient Bertha Pappenheim said that even when she was in a very bad condition- a clear-sighted and calm observer sat, as she put it, in a corner of her brain and looked on at all the mad business. It is such a relief to read of someone else’s double consciousness, one person looking at the other, recounted by Siri Hustvedt as if it were a useful observation rather than just more demented drivelling. Though in my double consciousness I identify with the mad bit rather than the observer, I can think with the observer, say, X is the sensible thing to do; though the chance of X seems more and more remote.

In bed this morning I was thinking how it is much warmer and I don’t need to stay in bed to keep warm, and I could get up for breakfast, even shower first. And then I had breakfast in bed, and could have got up to shower but would rather read the news than get up, even if I have to go somewhere.

-What do you get from reading the news?

That’s a good question. If I have to go somewhere I generally get up in time, but if I have to do something which I could always do later, I may put it off until later. Stimulation without responsibility: it does not matter to my day to day living what is going on in the wider world. I do not need nearly the amount of detail I have. If Mr Trump’s wickedness will make my life worse it might be better not to be reminded of it several times a day, to reduce the pressure to despair. If I am doing something which matters I might do it wrong. If I am just reading the Guardian I can’t. And my comments can get hundreds of up-votes. I like up-votes, and like writing partisan posts to fish for them or more thoughtful comments which get fewer. I might be better to write posts seeking reconciliation, as partisan conflict helps the Right not the Left, by decreasing confidence in what politics, government, and working together for the common good can achieve.

Breakfast in bed, then reading the news- an activity which I cannot possibly get wrong– are rationally chosen activities if maintaining my short term emotional equanimity is my main aim. Which it is.

“If I had to find a job locally, working in a shop or behind that bar, I would hate it,” said H empathetically- not necessarily sympathetically. “Stand in a shop all day, come home and watch television, go to bed- I would just want to die.”

“Or a factory or a warehouse,” I said.

“That would be Worse!” You’re not ill, she tells me. You’re not depressed. Well, perhaps I am, as depression comes before acceptance. She has managed to evade such jobs, at least recently. Should I just embrace malingerer status- I need to convince people I score those fifteen points? What is going on, consciously or unconsciously: it feels like there is this Behind the mask figure, making the decisions, and the sensible part ineffectually insisting that I should look for work. I need to get them working together. It could just be that I do not want to admit, even to myself, I can see nothing better and no way of getting it. There was that woman on the telly, high-functioning anorexic, still doing these apparently self-destructive things around food and yet also doing the rational things necessary to hold down a job.

I like to think she bears me no malice, and seeks to shock me into a more productive response. “Could you work in some LGBTQI whatever organisation?” I have applied, and not even got an interview. “It’s hard, isn’t it?” she says.

Don’t give to beggars, says the Guardian. It locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost. Of course I apply that to me. I gave to a beggar last night who approached us as we left the pub at 10.30ish, non-threatening but insistent wanting money for food. “Where would you get food?” He indicated McDonalds, or vaguely “up there” where they give him it cheap as they know he is homeless. And for the first time in Marsby, population 9000, I saw a bloke sitting outside Tesco on one sleeping bag and wrapped in another, head down, with a cap for change. When I left Tesco his stuff was still there but he had gone.

complexity, fragility

The fascinating complexity but also the heartbreaking fragility of human existence. That phrase from the Guardian fit my thoughts today, in the strong sunshine and Siberian air. The extremes at once of the weather perhaps provoke it. The chaos of thought and passion, all confused and contradictory, is becoming clearer.

I am stubborn. I don’t give in until I am dangling on the end of a rope. The things I am most proud of are when I have dug my heels in and fought on, against discouragement. I judge myself harshly, and often see things negatively.

I fear myself more than anything else, fear my fear or anger, when these are not important, or even beneficial if I permit them. That means much of my fear is illusory, of things which don’t really matter. Things pass, and I am not dead. The fear feels existential but is trivial.

I am still alive. Weird, no? You are too- hooray! I can grimly fight on, but also-

I take things to heart. I worry. Bad stuff has an impact on me. She argued that trans women were propositioning lesbians and not taking no for an answer saying they were prejudiced for not accepting a penis as a female organ, and that Stonewall was ignoring lesbians. That is unlikely, given that Ruth Hunt is Stonewall CEO. I worried that she was persuading the others. Then I worried that one of my rhetorical flourishes in answer had completely failed, indeed perhaps been misunderstood as the opposite of what I intended. I was catastrophising.

Because everything is so important to me, everything is too difficult to face.

She will despise me! There is enough evidence to support that, in my mind, but it is not necessarily true. There is evidence against it, both in what she has seen of me and how she has reacted. My negativity paralyses me, and there is enough from outside to feed it.

I don’t know, ever, what others think. Catastrophising, thinking the worst, can be reassuring- it can’t be worse than I think.

I can grimly fight on. I cycled to Corby for the Labour Party meeting then to Kettering for the pub, down the main road in the dark. It was not too busy, because of the time of night. I nearly collided with a cyclist on a path in Kettering, who had no headlamp. It was unpleasant but bearable, and I would do it again because I was motivated to get there. I need to find out- what will motivate and encourage me? Then home, at midnight. The rear light had come off the bicycle. I will need a new one, and they are so expensive. A lot feels like grimly fighting on. People say, getting outside is good for depression.

In the Quaker meeting, though, someone quoted “Bring the whole of your life under the ordering of the Spirit of Christ”. I was thinking of my contradictions, and wanted to praise- perhaps because of the weather. Hymns and songs went in my mind-

Lord of All, to thee we raise
This our grateful hymn of praise.

I stood and said, “If Christ is the great outpouring of the Love of God, then we are loveable.” I had looked around the group, and seen strength and beauty, and also possibly some wrestling with difficulty. And now I worry that she thought I was claiming that for myself, or even trying to reassure myself I am loveable, against all the evidence.

The sunshine is beautiful. The snowdrops are beautiful. The wind turbines are majestic.

Affirmations

I was powerfully affirmed last night, speaking in public about the trans experience. I was my usual charismatic self. I did it well. I formulated a question for the audience which people found excellent. Someone commented that while the other two told of their difficulties in finding their true selves, I powered in with “In April 2002 I transitioned male to female”. I spoke positively, about  finding the courage to transition when I was accepted as a member, about my talents being used, and my hope for reconciliation with gender critical feminists through Friends. We went for a pint after, and they offered me the chance to speak again, which I took. I like these experiences.

I had a series of heart-opening experiences during the day. I went to the Tate Modern, which was hoaching with kiddies, as it is half term. The Turbine Hall is carpeted, and all the swings were occupied. The scaffold holding the swings, stretching two thirds the length of the hall and above the lower bridge, is worth seeing. A huge pendulum swings above. The Modigliani exhibition was hoaching too, and I went through it quickly. Those nudes are too close to the poses in the porn mags I looked at in my twenties, as I tried to cure myself of cross-dressing with heterosexual desires, but one picture of Jeanne Hebuterne has the most stunning, haunting blue eyes. I was walking through the galleries paying little attention, but they grabbed me.

Before I went to meet H at the Courtauld Institute, where we had lunch together and saw their collection from the 14th to the 21st centuries. A Cezanne of a Swiss lake haunts me, the rich red-brown of the mountains. Then I walked over Waterloo Bridge to Tate Modern. I wanted to see you but you could not join me, and I am filled with misery. No, really, you could not, and sent a fairly warm text explaining, and still. After the gallery I crossed the Millennium Bridge in the sunshine, gazing up at St Pauls. I am- here, myself in the World, aware. I was not with my petty concerns but in the moment, where I was. I feel useless, incapable, unable to feed or please myself and surrounded by wonders.

In Friends House, the bookshop has Testosterone Rex, a gender-critical psychology, and Trans Britain, our journey from the shadows, together. I have the achievement and delight, the despair and feelings of worthlessness, together. I wish the affirmation penetrated deeper. I am frightened and alone.

— has in her fridge the means to end it all, when her physical ailments get too much for her, someone told me. She had to go on the Dark Web, and use cryptocurrency. He told me this in awe, as a thing he could not but share, and I share it with you, though not identifying the woman. On the train I was able to do a small kindness: a woman sat apart from her daughter, aged about ten, and I swapped seats so they could sit together. In the Tate members’ room there was a sophisticated woman, introducing a girl about the same age, speaking to her as an equal, treating her to cake and talking of the art works, inculcating similar sophistication. It is a gift.

A Quaker said, oh, you’re Clare, you write all those articles! Yes, that’s me. “You must read so much!” I don’t, actually, I said. I hardly read at all. (Opinion articles on the Guardian and NYT websites don’t count, only books count.) I had this self-image of the person who reads a lot, which led me to read Proust Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and now don’t, perhaps because of depression. I buy books and hardly touch them. It seemed reading a book might be a task to devote myself to, I decide to read because it is right for me rather than imagining I will read because it is a thing I do, then realising I don’t just do it. I buy a book as an act of faith. In St Pancras I play the piano, defiantly. This is who I am, what I can do. I looked around after, and a woman caught my eye, smiling.

The colours on this reproduction are far cooler than I remember.

Joy and terror

If you are insane, you might as well roll with it. There is beauty in my insanity. I will love it, not fear it.

Something good happened to me on Wednesday. I have been thinking of my friends- if I become homeless, which of them might let me use a spare room? It would be unsatisfactory, and possibly only one might, possibly not him; no, I could not ask her, and certainly not her…

if I become homeless-

and there has been a reprieve. I am less likely to be made homeless, at least for the moment, I will continue to be able to pay rent, I may even find a job I could do and support myself. The benefits system is not uniformly hostile, sticks not carrots, withdraw money on a whim, but might be a little, inefficiently, more concerned with appearance than reality but a little- supportive. And the support might be enough to get me supporting myself again.

I sobbed without weeping. I read that this is contemptible and hypocritical, they pretend to cry, these horrible people, but really, they produce no tears so they are OBVIOUSLY TRYING IT ON. Well, that was a politician who had been caught out, clearly a bad person who the journalist reasonably despised, but still. Sobbing without weeping is Bad. Except I was doing it when alone, so no-one to fool but myself. The pressure and terror had been too ghastly to face head on, and now it was slightly less, a reprieve but not a release.

It is not quite as bad as I had thought.

I feel depressed, and I feel I lack energy. After doing a washing in the morning, often I want to do no more than just watch TV in the afternoon. Might the GP help? Well, having let me down badly twice from a combination of arrogance and ignorance, and in one exhibiting a lack of care which I felt indicated dislike, and possible contempt for me as a trans woman (nothing could ever be proved), my GP practice is the last place I would like to discuss depression and lack of energy. I feel all they could do is prescribe an antidepressant. I feel my depression arises from my difficult circumstances, and when I have been depressed before because of circumstances antidepressants have done no good. I feel my GP would be at best useless.

I sat in the Quaker meeting and felt my yielding softness. How hard it is to see it as a blessing, where Manliness and strength and decisiveness and leadership are praised, especially in men. It has felt that there is no room for my softness. I will give it space. This is what I need. I will give it to myself.

Three people ministered, well, I think, and at the end I had a sense of complete Joy and complete Terror, both at the same time. I have a strong will, high intelligence, and a heart full of Love, and the World I face is not as unremittingly hostile as it sometimes seems- it is beautiful, as well as implacable. Such strong, different emotions were hard to hold in, and I shook and gasped. And I had a strong sense of my loveableness and acceptableness- by God, by me- even possibly by the world. If I can accept myself, I can accept others.

I applied for a job, as usual screwing myself up to the sticking place to do it just before the closing date, and after feeling so het up I could not go to bed. It would be difficult. It might be possible, it might be the most wonderful thing in the World.

Ego states

I know what I must do. I know why. All this knowledge is eminently reasonable. It makes sense. And I don’t do it. It seems there are two ego states in me (and probably others)- the one which knows, and instructs what to do, and the one which refuses.

Ann, from the rational self, would cajole or command the feeling self. “Action,” she would say, then she would get up and go to do what she had to do.

There was that 15 year old who had to have his medication delivered overnight, by an electric motor driving a screw so that a syringe was precisely and evenly emptied into his arm through a tube. If he did not get it, he would become sick. His father had to get up twice in the night (repeated supervision, middle rate care DLA) to check that the tube was in, because if the son noticed the tube had dislodged he would not replace it. Why will you not? asked the tribunal, and the son responded with teenagerish inarticulate stubbornness. “I don’t know why he won’t”, I said, “but I do believe that he won’t”. The tribunal granted the benefit.

I do know why he wouldn’t, though. His father was completely controlling, and this was the only chance at rebellion he had.

This “feeling self” is of course rational.  I am not seeing it clearly, but trying to find conceptions which fit, and which possibly only fit it performing one kind of act; and possibly there is not one “feeling self”. And it does not precisely fit one of Eric Berne’s ego states, parent, child and adult, though I got the term “ego state” from him.

So I should get a cheaper flat. My position would be less precarious, and there are cheaper flats available. I know this, have known it for years, but I don’t do it. “This is why you should,” explains the rational self, and the feeling self is inarticulate and stubborn. It might be worth speaking from the place of the feeling self: why do you not want to? I am so sorry I have not listened to you before.

I love this place. I love its quiet and beauty. It is a huge part of my life.

There are depressive feelings too. I did not want to go to yearly meeting gathering (which was wonderful). I anticipated being cold and wet camping, not knowing what was going on. I could also anticipate joy, but that required thought. I don’t think I would like a cheaper flat. Finding it and moving there would be difficult.

I imagine bad stuff happening. That is a depressive, negative response. It stops me trying things.

For that job I need to do some preparatory work. Some part of me- the rational self, possibly- can articulate why I could do it well, and feels some pride in those assertions- so yes it’s rational but only because feelings are rational. Naming these ego-states can get in the way of understanding them. With encouragement, the feeling state can articulate reasons for apprehension or immobility. Some part of me is still not doing that preparatory work, and is not getting on with an application. I have been burned before. I would rather not try, if I might get an interview but no job. That has been just to painful.

I will be rejected. I am always rejected. I have pride, you know (though I might not see it)- even dignity, though it manifests as fear and withdrawal. You will not reject me. I will not give you the opportunity to reject or judge me. That could be a child experience manifesting in the grown organism now, the best pride- or defiance- I could manage at the time.

I don’t get Eric Berne. His “Adult” was the part of the human which learned and judged from its own experiences, but the “Parent” was recordings, memories, of things taught by parents and people in loco parentis. The “Child” was the child’s feelings at its experiences; but both Parent and Child were laid down before the age of about five. Berne thought these were real components of the personality, laid down in the brain: not concepts, but phenomenological realities. I am agnostic on that one. Possibly the ego states I describe are aspects of Berne’s adult, possibly they are aspects of different parts of his states, perhaps I- or even he!- misunderstand.

Showing respect to my inner No might have value. Why not? I will listen to you. You might agree one argument is depressive, but still insist on another. You might be persuaded, but I could make myself a neutral arbiter. All parts of myself must be persuaded, and agree.

I learned of Behavioural Activation years ago, and now see grime on doors as well as work surfaces. BA: I note what I do, and take pride in it. So I do more, feel more pride, in a virtuous spiral. So rather than berating myself for having a dirty house, each brief action of cleaning, each dirty square foot, is a chance to feel good about myself! At the time I learned of it, it seemed a way of getting me to do stuff. If I picture it instead as a way of feeling better about myself, it is more attractive.

Tiredness, energy, depression, motivation

I cycle badly because I am ashamed. That is, I do not want to switch down a gear because I am ashamed of needing to; so my cadence, the number of times a minute I revolve the pedals, is too low. People with a faster cadence cycle more efficiently. I rebuke myself that it is not what I see that should decide what gear I am in, but how my leg muscles feel. Wind, but also temperature, affect me, I may be feeling tired, and I can have good days when it feels like I am flying, and less good days. I am pleased to cycle up that steep hill, and glad for the work it makes my legs do, and I might do it more easily in a lower gear. I drive myself hard, and it makes me less efficient.

I feel tired all the time. That is so common it has a doctors’ abbreviation, TATT, but also is fake-reassuring: if only I got enough sleep, I would not “feel tired”, yet somehow I always feel tired despite dozing in the afternoon. And generally if I do something in the morning, I just want to watch TV in the afternoon. Today is quite a good day, actually (strike through the words I habitually use to minimise such things): I did a post this morning, I have done a washing and a little cleaning, and am not writing again. And there are bad days when I just read on the computer in the morning, and watch TV later.

I am tired, and sometimes have energy, sometimes have none; or I am depressed, and sometimes have motivation. I need to go to buy food. Maybe later, not now. I know I need it, and have no motivation to deal with that. Or, yesterday I was in the caff with R and I realised that now I feel energised and motivated enough to go to the supermarket, but soon I will not and it will be too much effort. That’s useful. I do the minimum, usually, and I need to know when I can.

I don’t tend to bully myself with the word “lazy”. I choose “useless” or “no good”, words which do not even say how I might improve, instead. “Get on with it,” I tell myself. “Action,” said Ann, and that generally seemed to work for her, but I heard little joy in it. I like the idea of behavioural motivation, that I would praise myself for the little actual amount I had done, be happy with it, and so be motivated to more, but I have not got round to that.

Perhaps sometime I will not feel tired, or will have motivation. I hope it is a carrot rather than a stick which makes me feel that. Sticks have the opposite effect, in my experience. I wonder if a different way of conceptualising it would make me feel better. Bullying myself does not. I must no should (hang it) might “come to delight in every tiny fragment of good” or something. Or face reality – no, that’s judgmental too, that is saying I don’t, now.

I am a good person.
I do my best.
This is where I am

I am frightened

Memories and reflections

Two memories from my employment tribunal practice stand out. In one, the Respondent forged three letters which, if believed, were a defence to our claim. We sought a notice payment, and he forged the contractual statement of terms and conditions, to show the notice should be less. But the Claimant had retained her T&Cs, showing the date she started work there.

He would rather go to a hearing, spending considerably more on solicitors, than pay her her due under the law. He lied and cheated. And through her responsible action, I wrote a delicious letter to his representatives- we will settle now for payment of the claim in full, but if you go to hearing we will seek costs and press for perjury to be investigated. He paid up.

She had angina, and he had sacked her after six weeks’ sickness absence. Had he left her to cope with the changes, and learn how a GTN spray affected her, she could have gone back to work shortly after. The stress of the tribunal application stopped her recovery.

And the other: usually a defence to a claim would be accepted late, as it is in the interests of justice: the Claimant’s loss is only a few weeks’ delay, but if the defence were refused the Respondent loses their right to be heard. The motion to accept the defence late is usually a routine, with a pretty apology for lateness enough. I found the arguments why it should not be accepted late. I wiped the floor with them.

As I typed that paragraph I spoke two of the arguments I had used aloud into the empty room, with passion in my voice, controlled contempt suitable for the tribunal room. I remember them in detail. Eight years later these things still matter to me.

I am occupied, in my retreat, in my reclusive existence, with the nature of humanity. How do I see myself in my world? Those stories form a huge part of it. The wicked will fight like rats in a sack, without humanity, quarter, or thought of justice, for their own wrongful interest; but sometimes through luck and brilliance Right can win. A recent story I heard of a court action confirms that: a man resisting to the last moment, only caving when he saw the right must win.

I retreated from the monsters. I could create the brilliance and have the luck only intermittently, and the losses that I saw as My Failures, My Inadequacy, My Wrongness crushed me.

I am concerned above all with safety. There are monsters out there, which can hurt me. I sought safe spaces. Quakers seem nice enough, and I formed an ideal of what a Quaker meeting should be, a false view less and more than what it is really, of people conforming to an ideal humanity rather than being their whole humanity. Quakers were my safe space, then I found during the election campaign that Labour party members, campaigning, were good people too.

I am safe, day to day, retreated to my living room, but not month to month. All I have to do today is buy food, and if I do not I can do it tomorrow. And I am not providing for myself, so I am not safe. My income could be stopped any day now. And I find the safe spaces I sought are more complex than I knew, inhabited not by people following rules I thought I understood but human beings behaving in complex human ways.

I cannot predict what is going on. I can only see it. Or not see it, blinded by my understanding of what should happen.

So I look back on my experiences, and my perceptions, and try to force them into another framework of understanding. I face repeated set-backs. It could be recovering from my childhood, if I cease to see set-backs as I saw them then, as proof of my worthlessness, as the failure which kills me. The monster will get me and I shall die. Instead, I might see what I have lost, if I have lost anything. I have to see what is rather than react to what I imagine out of my complex internal illusions.

I have lost nothing. I have time, and my human gifts. Try again, fail again, fail better is the fashionable Beckett quote, now Keep calm and carry on, parodied from the beginning, is forgotten. Once more into the Breach! I am terrified, because it was so ghastly. I am depressed, which for me means seeing what I clearly must do, and having no motivation for it. Come on! I admonish myself. Action! Get on with it! I am crushed by my experiences. That was a source of judgment for me, proof of my worthlessness, though I assert- it really does not matter whether I underwent experiences which the most courageous, gifted and resilient person would find unbearable, or experiences a worthless, useless weakling should find unexceptionable- I am crushed by them. Can I create a new world?

I put the bin out this morning. It is sunny, and sunlight glistened through a long string of raindrops on the washing line. There is so much beauty outside my living room!

Conspiracy theories

Diana Windsor was not assassinated. She would not have died had she been wearing a seatbelt. She might not have died had the chauffeur not been drunk. An assassin might have mingled with the Paparazzi following her, whom the chauffeur had goaded, but the French investigation concluded they were not near her vehicle at the time of the crash. Her heart was displaced to the right during the crash, which tore her pulmonary vein.

A facebook friend shared a conspiracy theory about this yesterday, that an MI5 “hitman” had confessed to the assassination. It is two months old, debunked the day after- Snopes points out the image of the “hitman” is an Australian with a different name. The Daily Star, not the most reliable newspaper but not one to entirely make a story up, saw fit to refute it. And yet a site trawling for clicks from repeating others’ stories as their own repeated it, and my friend shared it. No stake through the heart will kill such rubbish. The original source shared a similar story about a CIA operative confessing to blowing up Building 7, which collapsed because of a fire.

I expressed contempt first, then debated the matter- why the story was clearly false, why this mattered- and ended up in exchanges of abuse.
-You’re rude.
-You’re stupid.
Sometimes this is fun, but it does little good.

My friend said assassination was a matter of opinion, and possible.

Why should this matter to me, or indeed to anyone? The world is filled with conspiracy theories. The most pernicious group lie, climate change denial, need not be a true conspiracy, or a plot, only various people with an interest in others believing a lie telling that lie, and paying others to tell it. They nod and wink at each other, and produce articles and reports, but don’t particularly plan. An amoral expert can get money by showing willing to tell the lie. Lots of people believe stuff that is not true. It takes away energy from dealing with real problems, and may enervate people from seeing the things they can change, or reduce their trust in common action through government, which they imagine is corrupt.

I got angry, and wasted a lot of time on back-and-forth. But then, I have a lot of time.

I am depressed, and want to give you an idea of my thought processes. Why would I be angry? Because it is Wrong to share lies like that? Well, no, there is too much wrong in the world to get angry about. So it must be some flaw in me. I am a controlling person, who seeks illusory safety in an illusion of control and gets angry when people near me don’t play by my script. I find other people being independent of my fantasies extremely threatening, and this arises from being completely powerless and under threat as a small child.

Or, I need to understand myself and my world so try to fit this into one clear story of myself. But that thought is not clearly right, in fact could be completely adrift from The Truth. I speculate like this because I Respect the Truth (good) or scrabble around for illusory safety (bad). Or, a moment of irritation at something stupid led me to comment “FFS” and it all went downhill from there.

I cannot know myself, and so will never be safe! I am drowning in illusion!

I am depressed, more than usual. Often, depressed, I have thought I was being rational, seeing clearly, and thought of a post on how controlling I am. Well, I am: I stay indoors, because I can be just about in control here. I don’t know how useful my speculations are- normally more useful than now, I hope-

but I know this spell of depression will end.

This will end.

Knowing that is an improvement.

Looking to the future

Why think about the past? It won’t change. Think about the future! Memories of the past are only of use to help predict the future. In the New York Times, psychologists advance the theory of “Prospective psychology”- the brain is focussed on predicting the future, and thinks about it three times more than the past. Memory is a tool for predicting: three different parts of the brain recall, when, where and what happened, and are rewritten- even altered- each time you remember them. A memory might be made happier if you have more trust in the future, or harsher otherwise. It is amended to make it more relevant to now.

They describe a problem- should you accept an invitation from a colleague? You could think it through methodically, but instead you intuitively empathise with him and your future self if you accept or reject it, and decide quickly. This is fast and slow thinking.

They say depression does not come from past trauma and present stress, but from skewed visions of what lies ahead. You overestimate risk, predict failure and rejection, and fail to imagine positive outcomes. “Depressed people”- I- withdraw socially and become paralyzed by exaggerated self-doubt. It is always eerie to read about yourself.

We consider the information which will be useful to us. Animals were more interested in unfamiliar experiences than familiar ones, because they want to understand future options and possibilities. Considering the future is the brain’s “default” mode, and in breaks in current tasks, we shift to working on that. We will all die, but few spend time thinking about that because we can’t do anything about it.

I learned very young that I am worthless, and that all my instincts are wrong. I then had years of ghastly experiences at work, where I was under threat I could not combat, and in fights I could not win. I was bullied, made to doubt myself even more, and then trashed, repeatedly.

So what I have been doing here is a patient re-evaluation of myself. I am a good person. I like myself. I mean well. My desires are good, and their fulfilment worthwhile. My desires and characteristics are not what I have been taught they ought to be. I am loveable. This patient reimagining- This, not That, will make me happy, This is who I am, This is how people see me- is necessary as a foundation for going out into the World, imagining a worthwhile goal and a route to its achievement, and taking that route. And my fast thinking often leads to wrong, over-pessimistic conclusions, because it is based on false understandings- they hate and despise me therefore I had better not go there.

Unfortunately bad experiences in the present reinforce my pessimism. Getting kicked out of Wellingborough Quaker meeting makes me think everyone hates me and I will never work out how to be winsome. And the news is dreadful: the Tories are likely to win the next election, and continue attacking out-groups- immigrants, benefit claimants, queers may be next- as a way of consolidating their power. They are enthusiastically working to damage the economy and the 99% with Brexit and job prospects get poorer.

The future has never seemed real to me. If I can survive the next couple of months, I am happy as I can be. “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” has always been meaningless. I remember looking at a welfare rights worker, older than me, with the council, and thinking, it will be like now, but slightly worse. I can accept intellectually that a pension is a good thing to have, say, or imagine myself as an old person- seeing them walking unsteadily, seeming so weak, creeps me out- but it does not seem real to me. I don’t know how this is for others. For me it is all about surviving now.

And still, there are possibilities, and trust and respect for myself might help me see them.

New York Times, We aren’t built to live in the moment.

Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of the strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom.

National Pantsuit Day

These women are angry.

There are stories of buying cars. A woman tells that she went with her husband to the car showroom. The salesman asked her husband how he could help.

-My wife is here to buy a car.
-How nice. (To the husband) What kind of car is she looking for?

-Nothing here, it seems, she said, and walked out.

Not just cars, but sledgehammers- “What size is he looking for?” the assistant asks the lone woman; drills- “Is it a gift?” “No, it’s for me”; and jack posts to raise up floor joists, to work in the crawl space: her husband told the clerk, “Hey, ask her. It’s her project, I have no idea.”

There are stories of pantsuits. (Trouser suits, in case you didn’t know.) A woman’s boss asked her to wear skirts to work. She said her trousers are more expensive, more fashionable and more professional than the skirts in the office.

There are stories of sexual harassment. In some cases, the man could have ruined the woman’s career, like the judge who wrote a scathing, clearly personal opinion about a prosecutor in a legal proceeding, which might have led her to appear before the bar council, because she had resisted his advances. She had sat beside him on a plane for five hours, while he insisted on talking, and repeatedly asked her out.

There are work discrimination stories- getting lower paid jobs than male graduates with poorer degrees, asked “Can you type?” and being given admin tasks, being called by the husband’s name- “Mrs John Doe”!-  why should a woman change her name?

One woman has been working with a therapist for two years to recognise and allow her anger. She saw a Trump sign in her street, and felt extreme rage towards it, like her anger in her marriage. Trump is the archetypal narcissistic abusive male, but she says your anger may be inspired by others. Women here are supportive: one quotes “Now is your time to lean”, to turn to those who love you and will support you. “You deserve to be loved and respected.” It’s good to recognise and express that anger: men’s anger is allowed to transform, but women’s anger is repressed, one says. It turns inward and becomes depression, and women can struggle with anger and depression for years. (As do I.) Anger at Trump helped one to connect to her anger at her husband, who quoted St Paul to demand her obedience. Recognising the necessity of repression frees her from self-judgment.

Trump, despicable himself, is a symbol for women of their outrage at male abusers. This is the obverse of voting for the qualified, committed, principled woman likely to become president. One says this abominable man could bring women together to express our anger at how we have been treated all our lives.

Pantsuit Day is 8 November. I hope it will be pantsuit day on 9th November too, and thereafter.

Anger and depression I know well, and would like to get beyond them. In the fifth circle of Dante’s Inferno, At the surface of the foul Stygian marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers writes, “the active hatreds rend and snarl at one another; at the bottom, the sullen hatreds lie gurgling, unable even to express themselves for the rage that chokes them.”

Right now I am choked like that.

It is not a good way to be.