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Where else can you get a really good look at a train wreck of emotional dysfunction
and not be right in the middle of the thing?


Friday, September 18, 2020

Say It! Say it!

I’ve come to realize that “antici … pation” is one of my chief pleasures in life. I really enjoy anticipating things I think will be pleasurable, and a major driver of my depressive mood is when I think there’s nothing to look forward to. For example, I always experience a major letdown after returning from a trip I enjoyed or when people I like visiting from out of town return home. My thoughts turn back to the drudge of my normal life, and I feel as if there’s nothing on the horizon. In fact, I get the same intense letdown after any instance of pleasure has passed. I stay up most of the night watching a TV series or playing a video game because I’m having fun. I don’t want to stop eating sugary junk – eating it until I’m almost sick – because I don’t want the transient pleasure to stop. I get down when I’m about to finish a movie or TV series or book or video game I’ve been enjoying because I’m left wondering when and if I’ll enjoy something else. In fact, I have often stopped consuming media towards its end and moved on to something else without finishing it because I don’t want the anxiety of finding something new (though that is also driven by an aversion to finality and other fears). All of these patterns are a function of my pervasive anhedonia.

The anticipation of pleasure is itself an intense form of pleasure, often eclipsing the actual experience, and my addict’s brain finds any form of pleasure practically irresistible. I’ve wasted a lot of time and lost a lot of focus on the present and on what I was currently doing by focusing my mental energy on anticipating a future pleasure. Compounding the issue is that the actual pleasures I anticipate almost always disappoint because of my contrary, depressive nature, especially those pleasures that don’t involve base, physical, animalistic desires:  food, alcohol/drugs and sex, hence my particular weakness to those kinds of things. I’m trying to adjust my hamster wheel of pleasure-seeking behavior so I enjoy the moment more, keep myself oriented on the present more and deal with reality as it comes. It’s all right to enjoy anticipation but not to the extent that it totally consumes everything else.

Friday, September 11, 2020

And Another One Gone

A few weeks ago, I decided to part ways with my most recent therapist after only a couple of sessions. She was a decent enough woman from what I could see, but she wasn’t really able to offer me the kind of help I think I need. In her defense, I’m not really sure what I need and was resistant to her suggestions, but I also was put off when she suggested things that were counter to what I was telling her about my situation. When I tell you that I often have to use every ounce of my will to do the bare minimum in my life, sometimes even to just brush my teeth let alone the effort of showing up and producing at work every day, don’t tell me about how I need to take a cooking class and start making home-cooked meals, for example. When I tell you that I have spent decades forcing myself into new behaviors in the hopes my mood would change (but never did), don’t tell me that all I need to do is force myself to do things – some of which I have already tried repeatedly – and somehow my mood will magically fall in line. When I tell you that I have days, weeks, months where I cannot find pleasure in absolutely anything in spite of having the means and time at my disposal, don’t tell me that all I need to do to derail a spiraling mood is find something to enjoy.

And speaking of therapy, I really wonder about the current training on self-disclosure by therapists. The past three therapists I’ve seen have, by my way of thinking, overshared personal information. My understanding is that the conventional wisdom used to be that therapists would rarely, if ever, self-disclose. The benefits of therapy arise from the fact that it is a rigid relationship dynamic where one can talk things out in a safe space where the things you say don’t affect that relationship. You can tell your friend or partner about all of your thoughts and feelings but it will inevitably alter your dynamic because they are actively in your life. U.S. therapists can’t even see patients socially (much less date) until five years after therapy has ended because too much closeness can be damaging to the patient. My therapists’ sharing of personal information altered the therapeutic relationship, putting me in a situation where I was worried about the therapist personally and/or felt as if I was being told “everybody feels that way,” which is another cardinal prohibition when talking to those with mental illness. Therapy is, by definition, an egocentric and one-sided exercise. Complicating the dynamic risks reducing its effectiveness.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Confessions of a Control Freak

Everybody has met control freaks in their life, and they can be a difficult personality type to deal with. My theory of the case is that their behavior is driven by anxiety rather than a need to dominate others or maniacal demands that everything be done their way. Generalized anxiety is an unspecified worry about what might happen and the general unpredictable nature of life. Exerting as much control over your environment – as well as the behavior of others – creates a feeling of security because life seems more predictable with less surprises.

I’m generally not a control freak when it comes to other people’s behavior because it’s impossible to direct others in addition to just being ethically wrong. Sometimes when I want a certain thing or outcome that involves other people, I fret so terribly wondering how to chart the best course to achieve my goal. It’s another reason for my self-isolation. By limiting my life in this way, I can exercise more control on outcomes by not having to deal with the X factor of other people’s behavior. Also, everyone has flaws, and I have more than I can count. But when I meet someone who I might want to spend time with as a friend, I worry that a particular “flaw” might create an uncomfortable situation, especially if the character trait has to do with their interactions with others. But then I miss out on so much by ordering my life this way. The healthier attitude would be to just deal with others on an equal footing, accept that I can’t predict or influence their behavior and be adaptable so that I can enjoy social interaction on its own terms.

I’m rarely a control freak in my work life because I separate that from my personal goals and am pretty good at being adaptable in the workplace (at least since turning 40), but I do try desperately to control every aspect of my personal life. I try to make everything as predictable and calm as possible in a vain effort to leave nothing to chance. I agonize over every little thing and obsessively pursue goals. (The flaw in that is that my goals, the things I value as important and my level of motivation fluctuate so wildly depending on my mood that I rarely actually complete longer-term goals.) I work myself up into an anxious frenzy trying to make everything in my life just so and exhaust myself into unfulfilled unhappiness.

I have actually managed to avoid freaking out too much about what happened to me at the massage appointment the other day, which is frankly a little surprising as I was extremely upset after it happened. I’m now in my 50’s, and I’m trying to make real changes in my life so I might enjoy my existence a little more. I keep reminding myself that none of us can predict how things are going to turn out for us. There’s really nothing better than hoping for the best and being resilient when things go bad. In the past I’ve used my excessive anxiety as a shield in the mistaken belief that I was exerting control:  I was doing something by worrying, and worry would somehow magically protect me from the thing I feared coming true. Conversely and perversely, I believed that if I didn’t worry, the gods of irony would cause the thing to happen as some sort of punishment, the belief locked in by my OCD and the fact that this was a common plot development in stories. I can only really control my attitudes and behavior, so that will have to do for now.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Growing up in the shadow of AIDS

I have been walking around the past several days in a haze of torqued up sexual fantasies, subsisting on lust and nicotine. I came of age at the peak of the AIDS crisis, and it really scarred my psyche and instilled a dreadful fear of sex, compounded by my severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. Adding insult to injury was the blatant, unchallenged homophobia that was so pervasive at the time. If we were lucky, we were just a joke, but disparaging attitudes and contempt against LGBT people were considered normal as was real and threatened violence. AIDS was considered a just punishment against morally corrupt people, and it almost certainly doomed one to a horrifying, ignominious death. The government did not prioritize the health crisis, taking the attitude that it only targeted “those people.” 

I also had literally no one to talk about what I was experiencing as I became sexually mature. Most people are able to work through the inevitable teenage bullshit about sex and relationships with peers, family members and trusted adults so that they’re able to enter a more mature phase of understanding. I had these basic, primal, animalistic urges towards other men but never had the luxury of talking through them or getting any understanding and perspective as to what I was feeling. All of this – a lifetime of ingrained maladaptive thoughts and behaviors – prevented me from ever being able to truly enjoy the natural expression of my sexuality at any time in my 50 years.

I’ve spent more than a decade staying with my empty status quo and rarely even trying. I show up to work each day, pay all my bills, say pleasant things to everyone around me and spend my nights and weekends looking for distraction in TV and movies and sometimes video games as I stew in my quiet despair. I’m tired of living in constant fear of what might happen. I can’t honestly say that being timid and overly cautious has really benefitted me in any way over the course of my life, but it has caused me to isolate myself, avoid countless things that might have brought me joy and end up a backdrop spectator in my own existence.

Last week I asked my doctor to start me on Truvada, a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP). I’m planning to seek out more casual sexual encounters and try to actually enjoy myself. I intend to practice certain safer sex practices but not be so maniacal about others. I’ve been doing a lot of walking during lockdown to get myself in better shape. I’d like to get on some dating websites and focus on getting to know people and enjoying my sexuality while I still can and not desperately hunting for “the one” (though I’d be pleased as punch to find him). I’m not looking to go on Grindr because I’m not young, hung and full of cum, and I’m not going to seek casual encounters on Craigslist because I don’t want to get murdered. It would help things if my equipment actually worked better (thank you antidepressants!), but I can only address a few issues at a time. I want to train myself to unlearn decades of unhealthy, unproductive thought patterns. I don’t want to spend four weeks in a heightened state of anxiety after every sexual experience, waiting until I can take an HIV test. I don’t want to exhaust myself with the splitting I do when I think about HIV, panicking every time I hear HIV mentioned while in that waiting period and then constantly telling myself I’m glad that I’m “safe” when my status is confirmed to be negative. I want to rely on the best medical foundation and move forward while realizing that I can’t control everything.

I feel foolishly sex-obsessed like an adolescent with all this, but I also feel more drive and less like I spend all my time sitting around my place alone and feeling sorry for myself. My superstition nature – driven by my OCD – tells me that my attempt to take control will result in ironic tragedy because that’s how it works in books and movies, where tragedy strikes when all seems to go well. And so that’s how I think life works. Even writing this entry makes me believe I’m tempting fate, but I have to press on and try to undo a lifetime of damage with fear and trembling.

And then, of course, this happens…

I wrote the draft for the previous section’s screed on sexual empowerment before I was violated by a male masseur yesterday. Every blue moon I'll get an M4M massage because I’m an extremely lonely, socially isolated and extremely unhappy person that gets desperate for physical and sexual contact. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve always been just a little bit skeevy when it comes to my sexual activity (though generally pretty vanilla with my tastes). I've gotten erotic massage, and in my youth, I occasionally engaged in public sex with strangers. Living in Los Angeles for ten years also provided no shortage of venues where one might indulge in pleasures of the flesh. Because of the fear of HIV and internalized homophobia that I mentioned above, I never really had a healthy integration of my sexuality as a fundamental part of me and learned to view as something “separate” with puritanical ideas that it is inherently dirty and shameful, thus only pursued covertly at the dark fringes. If I hadn't had such hang ups around sex, I might have been able to enjoy casual dating that sometimes involved sexual activity and maybe could have found a long-term partner, which is really what I've always wanted.

Ironically, my primary motivation for scheduling the appointment yesterday was for legitimate muscle work as I’ve been having problems in my shoulders and calves, though admittedly looking forward to a beefy guy performing the massage. Most of these M4M appointments involve a little mutual touching and a “happy ending.” This one got surprisingly sexual surprisingly fast and abruptly. It went from him lightly tickling my balls with one hand as he used the other forearm to apply deep tissue strokes to my major muscles to grinding his cock on my ass. I was a little surprised since he bills his massage as therapeutic and sensual, as opposed to erotic. I didn’t mind what he was doing until he decided to top me bareback. I told him to stop, and he immediately did. While it was brief and didn’t involve orgasm, I was really upset because he unilaterally decided to perform the single riskiest sexual act without checking to see if I was O.K. with it. Younger people have a markedly different attitude about HIV and safer sex, but this guy was my age and should have known better.

I was on day four of Truvada, which should provide 95-97% reduction in risk, but it doesn’t reach full effectiveness until a week. With my OCD, that differential makes all the difference to me. Now I’m freaking out and back to the agony of having to wait four weeks before I can take an effective HIV test. I feel as if the prophetic tone I ended the previous section has come true. I let my guard down, tried to enjoy life and found myself in yet another fearful situation alone. I made the same mistakes I always do: thinking that anything I ever do actually matters or that life could ever be anything like I wanted it to be. I tried to exorcise old demons from my psyche by being as measured and rational as I could be, but I never seem to have any real control or agency about anything that happens to me. I just constantly mess things up no matter how hard I try. Other people seem to be able to plan and work towards goals that move their lives generally in the direction they want. I always seem to be like flotsam randomly moving but going nowhere regardless of what I do or don't do. 

I made a mistake
I should have never tried
I took the cake
Finished every slice
...
Looking through my eyes
I move at a pace
That I cannot survive
I'm hauling away
I do it all the time
Let love age
I stare at the face
And watch it burn out and die
{Grizzly Bear, "Mourning Sound"}

Monday, August 24, 2020

Thought Journal

I had been seeing a counselor for several months, but she had to take an unanticipated medical leave. Blah Blah Blah "... for my physical health and safety ..." Blah Blah Blah (Take care and stay safe, T.!)

Anyway, I had my first Zoom with a new therapist last week, and she asked that I make a record of the symphony of negative thoughts that plays endlessly in my head. The following is a list of things that ran through my brain, representing a pretty typical week and often a typical day:
  • There is a near constant thrum of unhappiness casting a ubiquitous shadow over my mood that I have to fight against: there is nothing for me to enjoy, nothing to look forward to and no hope of achieving a fulfilling life. I just force myself to go through the motions to keep my life at its bare minimum status quo.
  • I feel imprisoned in my anhedonia, convinced that I will never find anything enjoyable ever again. I feel free-floating anxiety when something I’ve enjoyed is about to end because I’m sure there will never be anything else or at least I'm panicked to desperately find the next thing I might get some pleasure out of.
  • I’ll be doing all right and then the bottom drops out of my mood, especially when I end a task and try to transition to another, and I feel a vague panic that nothing is worth doing and I‘ll never enjoy anything again.
  • I’m frequently gripped by a powerful malaise where I find it impossible to do literally anything, even move. It takes all of my will to perform any action whatsoever and break out of this profound disinclination to activity.
  • I sometimes have an existential panic over the implications of consciousness and inevitably of death.
  • I have random crying fits over absolutely nothing and ridiculous things, such as during the happy ending of Zoolander 2, a silly comedy movie, and even Fred 3: Camp Fred, an even dumber movie I'm embarrassed to admit watching let alone crying over.
  • I have episodes of explosive rage over the smallest and most pedestrian setbacks and inconveniences.
  • I’m convinced that it’s too late for fulfillment. I sustained my hopes and dreams, the crux of my raison d’ ĂȘtre, in fantasies that propped me up and kept me going with false hope for for all those years I found my actual life unfulfilled, but now those hopes have flown as fulfillment seems impossible. I don't often indulge in fantasy anymore, but when I do, I can lose myself in my imagined reality for literally hours at a time.
  • I have a paralyzing fear of failure: What if I finally get it together to write, and no one wants to read or publish it? My entire life would truly, definitively be a waste.
  • I’ve tried so many times to make changes and told myself countless times, “This is it, a new beginning” that it feels foolish to ever tell myself that again. How can I ignore my own experience where I’ve failed to realize significant change?
  • I waste so much time, mental energy and will on just not doing things: drinking, spending money, overeating, pursuing ill-advised sexual activity. I wrestle with a constantly churning inner debate about making better choices, especially when I wonder why I bother when nothing seems to change regardless of the decisions I make. My experience belies a causal link between my behavior and how I feel or what goes on with me.
  • I have bouts where it's impossible to concentrate or perform higher mental functions. I'm often unable to face any complex or complicated task. I'm overwhelmed by what it would take to make real improvements in my life, especially organizing decades of notes, ideas and half-started writing projects.
  • I’m constantly disappointed that friends and families don’t fulfill my emotional needs or appreciate me in ways I crave, and I yet hate myself putting that burden on them, especially given my truly insatiable need that no one could ever fulfill. How have I fulfilled others' emotional needs?
  • I feel obsessive guilt over things I did or said or didn’t do or say, even with events that literally happened over 40 years ago. I can guilt myself into tears over those times I lost my patience with a couple of (now dead) cats and yelled at them, ignoring all of the times I was caring, extremely patient and providing a secure home. All that matters are the times I failed. Not all the times I didn’t or even went above and beyond. This is the same in my relationships with people as well.
  • No matter how hard I try to try, I’ll never be anything close to what I’ve always wanted to be since I was a child. And now it’s too late.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Accomplishments

Once again this week, my only significant personal achievement today was not getting drunk. Or doing bear whores or cocaine, for that matter. So zero out of three for the evening despite an inordinate amount of consideration.