A shameful desire

What’s that feeling? Wistfulness, or yearning.

Paul Alexander is an impressive human. Read this article about him, or possibly even his memoir. He is 74, and has been paralysed from the neck down since he had polio aged six. His diaphragm is too damaged to breathe unaided, but he mastered glossopharyngeal breathing so that he could get out of his iron lung. He went to university and worked as a lawyer. His courage and determination are inspiring.

Content: suicide. There are some tentatively positive ideas here, and I want to write about suicidal ideation. Continue reading

Anger and sadness

I am getting lots of affirmation for my anger. I wrote, “Utter contempt for human life, for the rule of law, for the truth…” of the They, the amorphous Bad, or actually “The Johnson Government”. Utter contempt for human life? Really? They don’t ever admit the slightest misstep, and their mistakes have caused deaths, and their target of 100,000 tests a day has led to some deservedly ridiculed lying, but-

And that got a Guardian pick, a coveted pat on the head from the Guardian! Woo! And 122 upvotes. Two days later it seemed like bullshit posturing. My sarcasm- “London is a small, backward place, completely without expertise in caring for an autistic four year old”- got 191 upvotes. Lots of anger is being poured out at Cummings, who despises it, and may get off on it. I face many nebulous threats, though no concrete and immediate ones demanding fight or flight action. I read righteous NYT pieces on the efforts to steal the US Presidential election, and that is a real threat I can do nothing about. So, be aware of it, but don’t read all the NYT articles. And there is Covid, and the Covid Recession, and looming Brexit…

My anger seeks an outlet. Comments can make it seem Righteous, even effective, but it is just me and hundreds or thousands of others letting off steam. Yet when there seems nothing I can do about the many horrors, letting off steam is tempting.

I wish I had not watched Suburbicon. It is George Clooney directing a Coen Brothers script, but it is a mean little film, in which a man murders his wife to shack up with her sister, and in the ensuing Coen strangeness and coincidence six people die. Also when a Black family move in to a 1950s town, protests escalate to riots. Trying to see value in it, I could put too much weight on its last scene, when the sons of the Black couple and the murderer get out their baseball mitts and play catch. “Children can adjust to anything” or something, or even “Life goes on”. Then I see it is a script from the 1980s, a misfire from their early development. The murderer threatens to kill his eleven year old son just before dying from a misunderstanding.

Here, I am bewailing my unbearable dissatisfaction, a bit like Roger Scruton: “In our polluted passions, seeking pleasure and excitement rather than respect and love, we scorn the Redeemer’s suffering and surrender to the basest form of control.”

The answer is to acknowledge the Sadness, to dive into it, drink it and swim in it. It is only a threat if dammed up. Flowing smoothly it can douse the flames of anger. The energy of anger is necessary if something may be done, but anger without outlet becomes rage, hurting the rager. There is so little I can do.

Thursday I had my dialogue, which was unexpected, after Wednesday with Tina over skype. I wanted to speak from the inner voices, and welcome them. There’s the feminine self which I strongly value with words like Authentic Self, and one that, terrified, tries to suppress that self. I am aware of what may go wrong- speaking the thought I have had before rather than from where I am now, which would be falling short of what is possible, retreating into the familiar. All of it is good, and none of it is mad.

I feel nervousness. Then I am conscious of arrogance, and then of feeling sick. Anger at expectations. That thing about “where is it in your body”- well, feelings are in my limbic system, in my head. Others insist on this, and it does not work for me. Anger. But then, on Saturday it did.

I fear creating a soap-opera. If the only meaning I can find in my life is this untwisting, then I create more bizarre stories of that. But no. It feels real. Judgment: I am my own enabler, allowing myself to fritter my life.

I am arrogant and self-effacing. Having so little money humiliates me.

It feels like things are coming to the surface, real, discrete parts of me, seeming to have separate personalities, which have been long buried. Some seem in pairs- sadness against anger, the drive to achieve and a self-protecting No, and the femininity and the terror that suppresses that.

I crave reassurance. Does this make sense? Yes, she says. Some people give their configurations names, ages, or genders. Some place them in time. Dialogue will bring integration.

They might not talk to the opposite but might to a neutral arbiter, I say. I feel my character manifests in my actions whatever stories I tell about who I am. I fear I will not get the configurations sorted in time, I need to be more functional now. All the voices have value. I have not recognised their good will, always.

Dialogue of the Inner Voices

Anxiety is fear, curdled.

Two of my inner voices have been diametrically opposed, struggling, both miserable, both mostly unconscious, manifested in lassitude and misery. Both want my good. Both are Welcome. My Frontal Lobe, as the conscious part of this process, this animal, this Euarchontoglire called Abigail, invites both into consciousness, to see if they could be brought into dialogue.

One is resentful, frustrated and angry. It wants me to justify my existence, to have meaning in my life. It wants to stretch me and push me to achieve. The other is resentful, frightened and hurt. It feels bullied by the Stretcher. I call it my No. No, that is unreasonable. No, I will not go out cycling and struggle up hill, being cursed as weak and useless.

Fear, unheard, slops around inside like stagnant water, like bilge water in a ship. It could have been useful. It warned of a threat. And now it has gone bad, detached from the threat it warned of, attached to anything it can slime. It becomes anxiety. It does not mean there is no real threat, just that finding that threat is more difficult, and needs patience; and anxiety may linger after I find the threat, unsure that I really have dealt with it.

So the Frontal Lobe, the Love, the Reconciler, to make this a positive sum game brings both voices into separate rooms, lavishing praise and gratitude on both for their care and labour, with a hint of a suggestion that their aims might be achieved better if a few small adjustments were made.

There is the Stretcher, which the Protector wishes to call the slave-driver. It wants me to achieve. I am competitive, and it encourages me this morning to go cycling. The Protector fears the slave-driver will get angry and frustrated, and start to bully uselessly. Harder! Faster! I cudgel myself, scourge myself, as I go up hill too slowly for my liking, not wanting to go down a gear because I should be able to do it in this gear. The Stretcher is continually bamboozled, as well as resentful, that this is not as easy as it thinks it should be.

Well, the lie it imbibed was that things are easy and its performance should be perfect. It has fixed at quite a young age, this aspect of myself. At that young age, I decided that difficult things should appear easy and require little effort, and the Stretcher, frustrated, resentful, angry and mostly unconscious, affecting me unawares, has not learned how to- drop a gear, literally and figuratively, to break the task down, take it slower, make it easier, take the time necessary to learn it, build up gradually.

With Love, the Reconciler thanks it for its determination to achieve and develop, and suggests it might achieve these worthwhile goals more easily by breaking the task down. That is a long hill, steep in places. I notice that if I drop to a gear lower than I ever use at the steepest parts, I can rotate my pedals quicker, and be in a higher gear later on when it is less steep. I have noticed that the cyclists who pass me turn their cranks much faster than I do. Possibly that is a technique which would make me more efficient. I read about it last century, I think, this idea of Cadence, around the time I found that a simple change to my breaststroke technique made me a faster swimmer.

(Last century. There’s the resentment, the self-blaming. How stupid I am, how stupid these voices! That resentment does not help. Turn it round. Here I am learning ways new to me, which will improve my performance. I will achieve the goals of both!)

Now is what matters.

I am in conscious incompetence. These are decisions to make. Gear 2.1 is much lower than 2.2. I can go up hill in 2.2 but it is a struggle. Then 2.1 feels too low. I may learn which works best by trying both, or perhaps work harder for a bit in 2.2 then go back to 2.1. Trying different combinations may help me learn. Bringing this to consciousness and putting it into words, doing something I don’t know will work in a spirit of enquiry, may help me improve.

This is the aim of the Stretcher.

The Reconciler has also been aware of the Protector, also in its room. The Protector is anxious. It has been scourged and cursed before, it will happen again! But the Stretcher does not seem so angry and frustrated. The Protector might be enticed. Sunshine is good for me. Birds and blossom are beautiful. The Protector wants me to achieve, too, just not to be bullied. Bullying is a No.

The Reconciler hears that demand. No Bullying. Well, that seems reasonable. The Stretcher does not realise it is bullying, that is the problem. Do you see it wants our Good?

Mmm. The Protector is not absolutely convinced, but willing to suspend judgment for the moment. Then its anxiety comes over it. What if my tyre punctures or Something Bad Happens? It has worked so hard to protect me, it needs my care itself.

Most of the time I was out, the Protector was grudgingly admitting that the Stretcher was behaving more sensibly, though some of the time one or the other panicked and needed reassurance. Well, I am a sensitive soul, and that is a blessing, and I need my own love and reassurance. The Reconciler worked to reassure both.

This is a work in progress. And I notice my progress, and give each of these voices, and my whole self, necessary praise and thanks.

Forgiveness and the Inner Voices

I may be too good at forgiveness, at seeing things from the other’s point of view. Self-respect requires me to see things from my own point of view at least sometimes.

On Friday 22nd I found more inner conflict. I spoke on Jamie Catto’s zoom gathering of how I felt about Emma Nicholson, and the LGBT foundation letter. The way to talk about how I felt scared was to use my most feminine voice. Then I spoke about other internal voices seeking to suppress that voice: one says “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” I have quoted this voice before, and it seemed then I allowed it to speak through my vocal cords.

That was big for me. It is a voice the conscious self does not like, its desperation, its violent anger at something I see as authentic self. I saw I have to welcome that terrified voice as well. It wants my good. It affects me if I am unconscious of it, and I may become conscious and hear a more nuanced message from it if I welcome it.

On Saturday I did his zoom workshop. “Don’t push yourself,” says Jamie Catto. Um. I want Opening! That’s why I am here. He says it’s a matter of receiving, not forcing, yin not yang, and what he talks of may be the “inner light” of the Quakers. He talks of full body listening. Stop numbing feeling. Self-love means being willing to feel uncomfortable or unacceptable feelings.

Another talks of RAIN: ground yourself, then ask what you feel. Then Recognise, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. After an eye-contact thing, which does not work over Zoom, and two games to get us speaking playfully and unselfconsciously, we get the forgiveness exercise.

Pick some wrong you have suffered, then imagine a judge has found the wrongdoer guilty. Write a plea in mitigation.

Without self blaming or making yourself wrong, or changing the facts of what happened: are there any ways you co-created what happened?

What point or fact or thing do you usually leave out of the retelling of what happened that reduces their guilt and your victimhood or innocence?

I think of various things I resent, and really I can forgive or understand most of it. H has betrayed herself as well as me, and, well, I see the route she took there. With S, it is complex. I won’t get to the bottom of that here. The person I cannot forgive is myself. I should be capable of more!

Much of my plea in mitigation I have often rehearsed, about my parents. That about me, seems new. I learned of the world through them. I knew no better. I have suffered 54 years, now, I do not deserve to suffer longer. I am untwisting.

Those two voices of the day before, the terrified voice shouting “Shut Up!” and the playful child-

Who is Love-

I write that in capitals. I am surprised by my vehemence.

I am Love.

Two voices, in unended conflict. I don’t know who I am or what to do and that is unbearable
and not my fault.

There it is. Not my fault. That is a moment of forgiveness right there.

What have I missed out of the retelling? Listen for the inspiration. Don’t try to answer the question with intellect or as a problem, listen for it as the muse might inspire a poem. Missed- my gifts- my courage, my capacity for joy, the value of the journey?

What is Now matters more than any of it.
Such as is still blind and twisted will heal in time.

Yeah, yeah. Live in the Now. I have heard that so many times. I even manage it, some of the time- and it has never meant so much to me before. What I am doing, Now, matters more than all that has led up to this point.

Talking this over in pairs, I say I feel like a snake shedding old skin, and she suggests the image of a phoenix rising.

Jamie has more questions for the inner light.
1. What is the bravest, most healing action I could take regarding this story/relationship?
2. What is/was the gift or training buried within/on offer from this experience?
3. Is there anything I’ve missed or skipped?

I test possible answers out, with my intellect. Does this fit? What could I do- trust? Forgive? Live?

Surrender.

The gift? A blessing for others which will give me delight?

The ability to hear others and to be present to them.

What have I missed: I sit with Unknowing, which is so painful. I am brave. I am goodness.

The unfolding is the point.

“Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is,” Victor Frankl wrote, “but rather must recognise that it is he who is asked.” Sorry about the non-inclusive language, I don’t even know if he wrote it in English or German. For me, the meaning is (at least, right now, when I am doing it) finding those voices and bringing them from conflict to reconciliation. Sadness and Anger, the feminine and what makes it shut up.

On Sunday, I wanted to cycle before worship, and found myself delaying again. I could just do that thirteen mile run, have a shower, and be in time for worship. I go out, and then think, I could do the ten miles instead. I come up to the T junction. Should I turn right, or left? I stop, to make the decision.

There is a voice inside which wants so much to stretch me, to make me go faster and further, to make me achieve. That is a good voice. And there is another which wants to protect me from the first, when it pushes me too hard. That too is a good voice. And the two are mostly unconscious, at loggerheads, and therefore so much I do disappoints me. I Welcome both voices, and make the decision with them both.

I turn left. I take the shorter route, with less climbing. I did not think of just turning round, which would have been shorter still.

Coming down the hill on the busiest part of the route, I am angry at the cars passing so close, so I move to the centre of my lane. I am claiming my space in the most vulnerable way possible.

In worship, I think, I so want to stretch myself and I so want not to. I think of Northampton Quakers. They would probably have tolerated me as a mere nutcase supplicant, coming to meeting, it was me saying what was true and what should be done, and taking my place as an equal that they could not stand. I turn off the video camera, in case I disturb other worshippers.

I Hurt,

I think, and immediately another voice says, “Your lifestyle is completely unchallenging”. I know this is untrue, and I

Welcome

the voice. I tell it “Do what you like. Say what you need,” in an accepting, curious tone, rather than the angrily sarcastic one I would use to reject it.

I felt utter misery a few moments ago, and now I feel playfulness. Might I dance?

Someone ministers about how exciting his first Quaker meeting had been, and he wanted that recreated.

Another ministers that early Friends talked of the spirit moving within as Quickening, the same word used for a mother feeling her baby move within.

I minister, that I have been broken open, so I switched off my camera in case I disturbed others, but perhaps it is hard to damage the meeting.

Another quotes 1 John 1:5:

God is Light, and in God there is no darkness at all.

We become who we are, dealing with our issues, integrating them. Another quotes QFP:

The art of living must be studied, as must every art. It calls for imagination, so that every advance, every change, is not merely a difference, but a creative act. Achievement, at any level above the lowest, calls for courage to hold on, in spite of current moods, and for exacting self-discipline. The art of Christian living calls for the same self-preparation; but its reward is not merely aesthetic satisfactions. The soul, hungry for God, is fed. Life itself takes on new meaning. Thus it is that we break from the confines of the prisons we have built about ourselves. Thus it is we are brought into the freedom of the Kingdom of God which, every day, through the wide world, is being realised in the hearts of men.

The inner dialogue

The mental health support sees me for six weeks, and at the start and end give a questionnaire, asking how often I feel in particular ways- depressed and hopeless, lacking motivation, that sort of thing; not at all, hardly ever, up to every day. At the end, you could whizz me into a temporary state of optimism and I would give better numbers. The numbers make it look objective and patient led, but it is not, really. So there has been no improvement, but the records show that there has, and that’s a win.

Why would you think of the meanness and negativity yesterday, and perhaps in the above paragraph (it seems rational when I’m there) as a distinct inner voice? Why not as a mood?

Possibly it would be a different neuronal circuit, but I could not know. It feels like the different “moods” can be in dialogue, or at least argument, or manifesting together. And thinking of them as different voices, I imagine balance may be possible. If it is simply a bad mood, simply negative, I have to snap out of it. If it is an inner voice, it has its part in the dialogue, I can listen to it and gain from it and even be led by it where appropriate.

Why would suppressing it be a bad thing, denying a voice to part of me, using my energy to self-suppress not self-express, rather than managing my mood to stop me spiralling into darkness?

I need to at least investigate that possibility. It is a way of seeing aspects of the truth which I might not see from another perspective/inner voice/mood. Possibly it just demotivates and gets in the way of seeing opportunities. At worst, investigating it, I would be feeding it so that it had more control in me. This article says the positive and negative are separate circuits in the brain- distinct, they could indeed be in dialogue- citing this, whose abstract does not confirm it but the article might.

But I do not run from threats. I seek understanding. That is important to me, and when something is important to me and I see a way forward I seek it, wholeheartedly. This is an affirmation of my gifts which I believe, and find easier to say now than before. Rather than plunging into darkness, I feel I am rebalancing. Parts of me I suppress I am bringing out, to get a better equilibrium, a more integrated self.

Being in a low mood, because of that email- “our friendship has run its course”- I noticed the inner critic being hysterical. I did something unimportant, then wondered if I had made a mistake with it- “another idiotic failure”. Well, I hadn’t made that mistake, and if I had it would not have mattered much, and so the inner critic was clearly wrong.

I could have maintained that friendship, perhaps, if I had gone full-on campaigner against trans rights. I really cannot afford to lose friends, but that would have been too much.

I do not feel I am achieving enough, but that may be too great self-criticism. Not working can be a good thing.

I will be away for the Quaker Diversity weekend. Queers, Blacks and the working classes, getting together for a moan, with perhaps a few cis white heterosexual educated prosperous males agonising about their privilege. The way to deal with my own privilege may be (irony ALERT!) to think that, even though this person is in a wheelchair, they may have something worthwhile to say.

-It sounds like there’s motivation to go to that, she said. Which parts of you-? And I answered a different question, about why I wanted to go somewhere else. It’s interesting to see the question I dodged. Well, I anticipate the joy of meeting other people with similar concerns and talking about them, with infectious enthusiasm building insight together. I anticipate learning and thinking, increasing my understanding and possibly changing my mind. I anticipate joking and saying wise loving things and having them appreciated. I anticipate connection.