My song is love unknown

These are interesting times.

If I get breathless so that I need oxygen, I have no friend with a car who could take me to hospital, so would need an ambulance. It is harder to believe I have a chance of getting one if I need it, after seeing the fresh meat shelves of Aldi almost empty. I am not that far over fifty, and my normal lifestyle is pretty much social isolation anyway, and I wonder whether the death rate percentages I read apply to a fully functioning hospital system when there is O2 and intensive care for everyone who needs it.

And others have more to worry about. If you are going for chemotherapy, you are immunocompromised, and you get it in a hospital where there are lots of sick people, including some with covid 19.

I was thinking of writing a post on if I disappear for a bit. I am extremely unlikely to disappear because I have died, though it is possible. Most people have mild symptoms from 19. I could of course have an accident. The longest time I have been off the air was a gap of ten days in March 2013, when I simply stopped having anything to write about. When I came back, four regular commenters commented, one saying Good to have you back Clare I was worried. Please, please don’t worry. With less social contact I have less to write about, and if I am even slightly more depressed I can’t see the point always: I could do yet another post summarising an article with my own take on it, but I feel more and more repetitive.

I get a lot of my self-regard from blogging. When people read me and comment positively that makes me feel good. And I keep checking the stats for a tiny dopamine hit, which is addictive. So I try to get more views for such hits, and that seems unhealthy to me: it seems more unhealthy when I feel more depressed.

My writing was going to appear in print- yes, print, not on line, how old fashioned. Now I wonder if it will be printed, if the printer will do the job or be shut down. (I am pessimistic when I am depressed.) My words being printed would not prove to the world, or even to me, that I had value; and it was one of those acknowledgments that I like. Something to look forward to that makes me feel good. In the uncertainty, when I am stripped of those, and other things to look forward to- I will meet her for lunch, I will meet him for coffee- I feel more pointless, even worthless. How can I do anything of value?

I do not know myself. Paul wrote I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Many people buy veg they will throw away uneaten, books that sit on their shelves unread. I thought of cycling about seven miles this morning, in the sunshine, and wondered what in me might not want to- some negative, depressive, heavy grey toad squatting on my life, preventing almost all activity, perhaps. Or worry: to cycle I have to make some small decisions. I need more motivation than the joy of the thing itself to get me out of bed: I need to talk myself into it and consider what might be the objections from that part of me which objects, which I refuse to see as merely a toad.

A hymn came to mind.

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh, and die?

I do not believe in God. The loving eternal creator, numbering each of my hairs and seeing me as a daughter, who created the World, makes no sense to me. Yet emotionally the words make sense, and I cling to them.

Well, I did go cycling. The sunshine is beautiful, and as I passed the church its Church Open sign was in the slot, so I went in and looked up that hymn. It is beautiful, written in 1664. It has little to trouble an atheist. There is a frank assertion of the doctrine- He came from His blest throne/ Salvation to bestow– but that is only two lines. There is also an elegant expression of the unfairness and randomness of life, and the lack of relation between suffering, luck and deservingness- A murderer they save/ the Prince of life they slay.

The Christianity I have rejected is not as poisonous as that of my blogging buddy Sirius Bizinus. I can be in that church and experience it as having the energy of Love. On that quiet country road, Love kept it open. I read the hymn aloud to the empty church, weeping. Christianity has some truth in it, for this atheist materialist: there is something in me which some call God, which has value and which I may unite with and express, something of inestimable value, which values me when I allow myself to hear it, that I might be lovely.

So I went to my Quaker meeting by Zoom, sitting by the south-facing window, with a Bible and QFP to my left. I also took my Scottish Book of Common Prayer, as I thought that hymn would be in it. It isn’t- the book has “Hymns Ancient and Modern Standard Edition” from 1916. I still held it in my hands as I sat in Meeting, one of my few objects associated with my parents. I could see it negatively- without the hymn I wanted- or positively, as a symbol of their imperfect love.

Sitting alone in my house, I can suffer deep miseries and find strange consolations.

Seven Samaritans

I am scared of phoning the Samaritans. I have an idea of what I want to do with the conversation, which terrifies me. My judgment that I am worthless, without the most basic resilience or intelligence, is mine, and I feel that it comes from my childhood. However from the same place comes my judgment that I had an unexceptionable childhood, and that no-one would be affected negatively by it except someone who was worthless, stupid and disgustingly fragile.

“You were tortured,” Liz said, referring to how hurt I appeared in 2011.

I had the thought that I would talk about my childhood with the Samaritans. I would project my judgment on them that there was nothing wrong with my childhood, so saying it would take my courage. Then, in speaking it out loud I would advance towards believing my childhood really was difficult. I was not in this position because I was worthless. Unfortunately, I could not have the conversation I desired.

I explained to the first what I wanted, and he took control, asking questions. When in answer to a question I said I noticed I felt worthless when I was twenty, he asked “Did something happen when you were twenty?” Yes; but something to make me notice the feeling, not something to cause it for the first time. I was fed up with his questions. I was afraid of addressing the question: I would talk about my childhood, and believed he would find nothing wrong with it. As I was psyching myself up to start, he filled the silence with distracting questions. So I rang off.

The second wanted to explain his role to me in great detail. He listens because he makes mistakes himself, he said, though he should not have told me that, he said. Everyone suffers with depression and anxiety, he said. If you’ve locked your door then gone back to check it’s locked that’s obsessive-compulsive, he said. There’s no stigma here.

The third wanted to explore the fact that I might get help anywhere else? Have you had counselling? he demanded. Yes. “Has it helped with strategies?” Oh, you mean like cognitive behavioural therapy. No, I am trying to get to the root of the problem, why I feel the feeling so I can lay it to rest, not how I can tell it it’s stupid and drag it around with me. “Are you on any meds?” No. “Have you spoken with your doctor?” Erm. “How are you feeling today?” “Is it an especially bad day?”

-You’ve just asked two questions, I said. Which do you think is the most important?
-Is it an especially bad day today, he said. No.
-How do you think we can help?
-I am frightened of you, and I want to face my fear.
-Why?
-Because I am projecting judgment on to you. Does that make sense to you?
-No. We don’t judge.

I rang off again. I find women Samaritans more useful, so when the fourth to answer was the fourth man in a row, I rang off immediately. (Hello! Any Samaritans reading this?)

The fifth was a woman, called Samantha, who thought we had spoken before. I felt mild embarrassment at that, but when you phone them as often as I do it’s possible, I suppose. She said they try not to remember calls. In a brief moment, facing my fear, I thought, I want to convince them it was unbearable, but not by showing pain or distress in my voice. I want to talk rationally, as if communicating my feeling by tone of voice would not be an acceptable way of convincing them. That is, I devalue my emotions, at least for this purpose. I want to persuade by rational argument, and as I am projecting judgment it is that I need to persuade myself. As I faced my fear, she interrupted to tell me to get on with it. They have lots of callers to speak to. Have you had help?

Yes. Counselling over decades. Sorry to trouble you.

I ring off again.

With the sixth I realised I did not just fear judgment, which I was quite clear I was projecting, but also incomprehension, which was only partially projected. I needed to convince myself of the difficulties of my childhood leading to my ongoing feeling of worthlessness.

I am not just calling to confuse Samaritan volunteers. I am in need, and have nowhere else to go. My seventh call was to another Liz. I said I needed to make a declaration to another human being. I started by saying good things people have said of me, and that I believe them: in fact when someone pays me a compliment I write it down in order to squeeze every last drop of affirmation from it. Friends have called me “bold and brave and honest and open”, and see kindness, gentleness, tenderness and tenacity, courage, authenticity, insight, integrity, and concern for others in me. I do too. And I felt worthless, because of the difficulties of my childhood.

We discussed my childhood for a bit.
-Your feelings were not appreciated, she said.
-No.
-That must have been tough.

The relief I feel hearing that is great. I am understood. She sympathises. Perhaps in her eyes I am not worthless.

-How do you get on with your parents now?
-They are both dead.
-How did you feel about that?
-Relief. (That’s not the whole of it, but a large part of it. I can love them now they can’t hurt me any more.)

-Are there people now who make you feel worthless?
Enough to keep my old conviction simmering.

We also establish that my desires were not appreciated, such that I did not know what I wanted. I had no particular friends, and was not given choices. We ate meals together, and talked of current affairs: there was one right way to see current affairs, that Thatcher was Britain’s saviour, which is not an opinion I cleave to now. I say how devoted my father was to self-improvement, reading and treating high culture as work, which he must concentrate on to gain appreciation. I say my mother wore the trousers, and this was something we could not discuss.

Liz wants me to look in the mirror and affirm myself. She keeps mentioning this. “Look in the mirror and say, ‘I am not worthless’.” I want to say it to her, and I want to say it with my whole being, with all of me accepting and believing it. I am not there yet. However, in continuing conversation I say with a part of me, in a soft voice, “I am not worthless”. Then with a rational, conversational part of me I say “I am not worthless”.

I have faced a lot of challenges. I tell her of Dr Patel. I did not just want to be invisible, not to be noticed because it was a threat. Nor did my father. I wanted what I saw to be right. This comes from integrity.

I called the Samaritans this afternoon, and eventually had the healing conversation I had wanted. And this evening, I am not saying “I am not worthless” but, sometimes calmly and confidently, sometimes repeatedly,

I have value.

Smiling, and even believing it!

I had a dreadful childhood. I was kept warm and well-fed, and pushed to academic success, and my feelings, desires and even my very nature were so systematically devalued by my parents especially my mother that I could not value, or even perceive them. I was taught to hide my nature in terror and pretend to be normal, and not even to realise that was what I was doing. I could not have typed this paragraph yesterday, and even now it starts with the positives, reducing the weight of that word “dreadful”. The positives are there and they do not begin to mitigate the depth of the trauma. Acknowledging it is a step to healing it.

Being the Good person

I am cycling on the road slightly downhill with the wind behind me, and someone is cycling out of the park on my left, into my path. Surely he will stay on the pavement? I look, worriedly, at the back of his head and hope he will look round. I cannot evade him because of the oncoming car. I can’t stop, so I scream; he looks round and brakes.

I pedal on, and from far behind me I hear his aggrieved exclamation: The fxxk! Scream like that? And now, I am so envious of him: that reflexive self-righteousness, he resents me and my wronging him. He is the good person here. Whereas I am analysing the situation and after much thought, have decided that my conduct passes muster, though I wonder if I should have reacted sooner.

There are advantages to the worried assessment- “Am I good enough? Did I wrong him?” which seems a more feminine response. The cars I notice waiting behind me for a safe, courteous time to overtake are driven by women, the cars which breenge past far too fast and close are driven by men. The advantage is that you probably won’t be in the wrong, and won’t have a collision. It means I need approval from others, though. There are advantages to the reflexive self-righteousness: you never need to think about second-guessing yourself, and nothing bad usually happens because other people manage to clear up your messes or take evasive action before you smash into them.

I used to see S every week or so, but have not for ages; but she has been to Woodbrooke and wanted to tell me about it. At one point I state something passionately, then half-apologise for it: “That was vehement,” I say, feeling her out. Oh, she says, that’s just the normal way of speaking, for her and her family. It is not for me. My passion is usually behind a diffident manner, which can be painful for me: I am restrained by my own fears. “Like an elephant with a-” I am miming a shackle round my ankle, but do not need to, because she got the allusion immediately.

“We need to be with others to know ourselves, because we see ourselves reflected in them,” she says. Yes. Of course. I am learning, now, from my interactions. I judge myself. I always ask, “How am I wrong?” I know this from interaction, but I am a recluse because for so long I judged myself reflexively and unconsciously, so I was always wrong, all the time, and when I was hurt too much by interactions and could take it no longer I needed to hide away. Right now, I am having the interactions I can bear.

From facebook: To state that zazen has a definite and particular form, and to cling to that position leads to one kind of trouble, while stating that zazen has no particular form sends one off in another confused direction. There is no logical resolution to this problem. And it is this illogical paradox with which a true practitioner of Zen must ‘sit’ both literally and spiritually. Yes. I reacted to that: it is seeking safety in rules- like I do. I am more or less happy cycling because I think I know the rules of the road, and what I am entitled to- it’s a formalised interaction. If I said, “Non-theists are not Quakers” it is an attempt to find safety in rules. In this future situation, I will act in this way, and I will be right. S said, “That’s why Quakers talk all the time”- because human situations are so complex, so making rules is difficult. She said this not because she had seen that in facebook, but a propos of something else. Perhaps I am in a computer simulation, where the same lesson comes to me repeatedly, or perhaps I am just open to it now.

Also on facebook, someone wrote,  Anyone who was abused in their formative years is likely to feel they are ‘a lesser being’ than all others and may live in fear of rejection and abuse; so they will continually seek and need the approval of others. And on-going approval will also help dispel their fears of engendering further abuse. I felt myself completely worthless, so I do need approval: developing my own grudging acceptance, just-about approval for myself is difficult. Here is David Brooks on another aspect of needing the approval of others.

A World of Women

I want a simpler world, where I might be given a task, see that it was worthwhile and that I could carry it out, and carry it out successfully achieving the desired goal, so that I would not feel so completely and entirely worthless.

Ah. “Worthless”, except for what I can achieve. This thought brings me to tears. It is an old understanding of myself- proof that merely understanding how my psyche works is not enough to heal it. A simpler world, for it is not possible in this one.

It is my feeling that this sense comes from maternal rejection in my first weeks of life, but I have no desire to debate that with anyone. I am satisfied enough of it. The inner critic does not like the idea, but it is rarely entirely right.

The NYT says one should not try not to think negative thoughts. Attempting to control them makes them more insistent. Instead, first notice that you are thinking negatively, and then challenge the thought, arguing with it. “I am worthless”- think of examples disproving this. I have achieved things. I have worthwhile qualities- I am intelligent, and kind. If a friend was so negative about herself, I would reassure her, and so should imagine the arguments I would use to another. That article recommends CBT, where it seems I am a conscious Grand Vizier with a particularly irrational, psychotic and power-crazed caliph, whom I must persuade and nudge into sane action.

I will not. Rather, I will Love myself around. The only thing I have to do, while my benefits continue, is ensure I don’t run out of food- or even, buy more before I starve. No matter of routine is essential. Managing myself into doing what external authorities or the culture or my rational self believes I ought to do will not affect that feeling of worthlessness; instead it will reinforce it.

Tina explains self-worth is not the same as self-esteem. Self-worth is unconditional acceptance: I have this weakness, and that is OK. I am not a real man. I am not capable of work. I am unreliable on Quaker obligations. All this is OK. I am testing my own self-acceptance, and will not advance those Quaker desires, unless I want to. I, the beautiful, loveable core of me, which is not worthless, not the psychotic caliph.

I recall much of childhood as not feeling good enough, being frightened and confused and feeling excluded. How did I feel when my father died? Relief. A running sore was over. There was the thing about not being able to talk to him, and him giving away all his capital, down to the last thousand pounds, to investment scammers- had he lived, they would have come back every few months and harvested any pension he had accumulated-

and that moment in the hospital, when he awoke, delighted to be helpless, managed cared for and controlled by women, the nurses. “I awoke in a world of women”, he said to me, in a delighted conspiratorial way. That is my own feeling. I understood completely. I confessed this to Tina and in that moment wanted

not to exist

I wanted a completely different person with completely different characteristics occupying my space

I felt revulsion and-

delight???

confessing this. It could just be that my kernel, seen as the caliph but in reality myself is the part that is delighted.

breslau-die-leserin