The Downward Spiral of Self-Deprecation

So I’m going through life, and something innocuous hits me wrong. I don’t feel like being specific, so…let’s pretend it’s an umbrella. Sure. Maybe umbrellas have never bothered me a single moment in my life, until now, this day, when my subconscious mind makes a connection between umbrellas and my deepest fears. A truly unhelpful one.

I spot an umbrella on the ground and for some reason, just seeing it sends a pang through my nerves. A Downward Spiral of Self-Deprecation begins:

  1. I feel the pang: a general fight-or-flight nervous system reaction.
  2. I think, “Alright, why did I even feel that? That doesn’t make sense.”
  3. #2 is churned a little until it becomes, “It’s just an umbrella, it shouldn’t scare me. This is stupid.”
  4. That too is churned, by sheer logic: “I shouldn’t be scared of this. I’m stupid.”
  5. I begin to feel alien: “Literally no one else in this room is afraid of that umbrella, they don’t care about it, and I am wasting my focus on it.”
  6. Hoping it will at least bring some good feelings out of this, or distract me, I make a self-deprecating joke. Maybe it can be funny that I feel some type of way about umbrellas.
  7. Repeat #5 but with more vigor.

I’m not used to using this kind of language to describe it, and I’m kind of afraid that half the people reading will close this window once I do, but…I guess the umbrella in this example is a trigger. Yeah. I guess I keep getting triggered. But I can’t stop having this predictable series of reactions just by reasoning my way through it. Because feelings don’t care about the facts. Hahahahaha.

It’s the fact that “it shouldn’t bother me” that makes it persist in bothering me. It’s the fact that I focus on not focusing on it that (as per that classic rule of reverse psychology) means I focus even harder on it. In the hermetically sealed box that is my mind, I devote still more resources to ruminating on it.

I might just feel my worst when I feel “illogical,” not only when I’ve done something wrong, but when I’ve gotten a question wrong, or draw the wrong conclusion, or even when I “experience things wrong.” Of course there’s no way that nobody on the planet is doing or feeling things as “wrongly” as me. But most people seemingly are not, and sometimes that just makes me feel Bad.

Endless Adolescence?

Well, at least I’m not feeling as bad today as I did in high school. I’d never attempted to fit in, but one day I started feeling alien in the very bad way, in ways that most asexuals will identify with, and had headaches, and felt fiercely that nobody would understand. I shared poetry about my half-formed feelings and knew when I saw people’s faces that not only did they not get it, but also, the poetry was stupid.

Then I went to college, and in many ways, that was a far more accepting environment, and it brought me closer friends, and we had cathartic moments of sobbing self-discovery, and hard laughter merging with relentless self-deprecation and, eventually, fear of the future, and we accidentally traumatized each other. (Another term I never would have thought to use back then.)

It was an exciting time. It was a strange time, and I started to define myself as “strange.” I don’t think that was healthy, but I don’t know what the best alternative is.

I picked up one of those oddly specific triggers and would flinch at generic internet memes. It would send me into that downward spiral. I said to myself, “Maybe I can un-trauma this trauma by confronting it. I can do that by writing and talking about it.” So I worked up the nerve and—in an extremely hard jump for me to make—wrote and told way too many people. But now I realize that when I did so, I did so in the framework of the Spiral of Self-Deprecation. So in the end, all that writing didn’t exactly make me feel better. My story still played things off as setup and punchline, just because I genuinely didn’t know of a healthier way to put it.

It helped to have so many people around me who sympathized, even if they didn’t exactly empathize. But the trigger didn’t end or anything, and I had no new tools to deal with it.

Meanwhile…it seems like all along, in the background of my psyche, I’ve been developing new insecurities. I say “new,” but usually these build on old garbage, or old vague desires.

The deepest insecurities are the most extremely personal and the most “fundamental.” Things that seem to be within the bedrock of my psyche or of the way I view the world, linked to all the views and thoughts that I don’t expect most people to share. Namely, I never stopped feeling insecure about sex, sexuality, bodies, and everyone who is insecure about these things probably has their own way of feeling it, their own tracks laid in their own mental landscape. One trigger will not trigger all. And one’s trigger will not trigger all the time. Browsing online on a typical day, I can plow through a pretty average amount of profanities with a conventional amount of references to genitals, but apparently if you get me on the wrong day, I start spiraling, thinking “ugh, this isn’t supposed to bother me.”

I think that I don’t want to medically transition, but rather to do so for like five days and then instantaneously “switch back” with no money down and no risk of my body never being exactly the same as it once had been. Most people have never seriously considered this as more than a thought experiment, so by that logic, it must be “kind of a stupid thing to be bothered about.”

Maybe I want the experience of having lived “on the other side of the fence.” Maybe what I really want is the experience of having lived as many people for many years, so I could finally be as wise as truly great writers are expected to be, so I could hit an artistic high I feel I can never attain because of all the ways I feel like I’m “destined” to be on the sidelines of life, on the outside looking in.

Clawing Out of the Hole?

Eventually I got so tired of flinching at random objects that I decided to confront things and un-trauma myself with totally amateur exposure therapy. It was vastly uncomfortable and I cried at work, but at least I feel 90% better about that particular thing now.

But that will only work once. In that case, the solution was at least straightforward: if the fear is rooted in an object, confront the object. Here I’m just having intrusive or racing thoughts of the “I wonder what it’s like…I wonder what it’s like” variety.

Usually my hacked-together “therapy” technique for this would be writing a story that includes a character with a trait related to the thing I feel so touchy and neurotic about. This has been kind of helpful, even if the characters do so little boundary-breaking that these absolutely feel like baby steps. For example, if I didn’t like sex or “fanservice” at all and would prefer not to think about it, I’d make a character who had tons of se—okay, maybe one who had sex offscreen…and was not afraid to be sexy, if by that you mean “sometimes reveals that boobs exist.” Thus Nyx from The Demon Lord is Apathetic was born.

I started planning a story in the subgenre that could be reductively called “trans wish fulfillment isekai” about two years ago (Dread Daisy, you may exist someday) but not with any therapeutic thoughts in mind. If anything, I wanted the execution to be pretty darkness-to-light-style traumatic. More recently, I put that story aside and started another, softer one (tentatively titled He Offers Nothing but really I have no idea), which, now that I think about it, probably was intended to be therapeutic for the deepest pockets of my mind. It’s definitely just wish fulfillment for someone else! Totally not for me.

But instead, that might be having the opposite effect, because by getting me to think more about the subject, it seems to have quietly encouraged downward spirals.

So yeah, I guess the best solution here is standard therapy. But damn, I wish I could just reason myself out of this one.

One more thing. I have found that oddly enough, if I get into an addictive cycle multiple times in my life, that cycle seemingly gets weaker and weaker every time—because when I fulfill the addiction, it just makes me feel less and less good. I briefly cut added sugar in college, but had cravings and was desperate to hit up the local sugar-free bakery. I cut it again recently, but soon backpedaled for comfort food…then was actively disappointed when the comfort food didn’t bring me comfort. Recently my mom fed me pie, and I didn’t have the urge to follow up the pie with more pie or something else sweet that day or the next two, so maybe this time it’ll stick…though for the admittedly sad reason that the sweets are giving me so little pleasure.

So maybe that helps to explain why I felt so terrible when I ruminated in high school, but feel a little better when I do it now. I’m just so used to it that I’m tired of it and have less patience for the cycle that, by this point, I kind of understand.

Writing Accountability Corner

There is some good news on this front!

A while ago, I decided to add biweekly writing updates to this blog to keep myself accountable. Last update, I had almost nothing to report. This time, though, I have…well, a very small amount to report, but that’s more than before.

I mean, darnit, it’s still small because I got very distracted when work picked up and my mom was visiting. But I’m officially in the process of rereading and draft-tidying for Book 3. It’s not as rough as I’d feared it might be.

That said, I’ve only reread 4 out of the 37 chapter-shaped bundles that make up Book 3, so there’s work to be done.

Thank you for reading, and Patrons, thank you for Patreonning. (Someone joined recently!!)

For more fun that will make 50% of readers leave this blog, check out this post titled “Agender: Another ?Trans? Narrative.” Or to whittle that percentage down still further, read about me wondering about the autism that many of us suddenly suspect we have. You might also like to read about some beloved manga characters who nudged or pushed the boundaries of gender representation and what sort of character gets to be “cool.”

Or instead be reminded of the greatest TV romance of all time: Ned and Homer.

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