January 23rd, 2014

My wife once offered me a bit of constructive criticism in the form of the passionately voiced observation that I take more pictures of my cat than I do of our kids. She offered this bit of gentle wisdom while I was in the process of taking what was probably the one millionth photograph of our cat doing something cute so that I could post it on Facebook and say something about how much I love her (yes, the cat.) I was immediately crushed by the conviction that my affections were severely misallocated, and that I was a terrible person who deserved to die a horrible death in a flaming ball of twisted, melting automobiles, or being torn apart by rabid penguins in freezing salt water, foaming with blood. I guess that maybe seems like a bit much, but the point here is that I tend to beat myself up like an angry dominatrix on crystal meth every chance I get. Later (weeks later, actually), when I told a friend about this, he simply replied, “The Internet likes cats, not kids.” Immediately, I realized that I’d been too hard on myself, but the realization was fleeting and soon seemed meaningless, as I’d quickly enough find a new and different reason to feel worthless.

I relate this here and now because it illustrates the degree to which I will voluntarily take on an excruciating amount of self loathing for no reason other than because someone suggests that I should maybe consider thinking or acting differently than I have in the past, or, I mean, really, because of absolutely any kind of stimulus that could possibly be contorted to implicate me in any way at all that might be construed as particularly unfavorable, and because this is a problem. Any sort of criticism will do it, really, and if there is the slightest note of disdain whatsoever, forget about it; I’m spending, at minimum, the rest of the day on some kind of death trip. It’s absolutely insane. It is almost as though deep inside, at the core of my being, I am still convinced, as concretely as I was in that nightmare that I couldn’t seem to stop having all those years ago, that something is utterly and irreconcilably wrong with me, and thus with the entire universe, in such a way as to catalyze the very end of life and order as we know it, and that there is absolutely nothing that I can do about it. In fact, scratch the word almost, because it’s exactly like that.

<Edward Norton’s voice>

Things will happen in my life that trigger a sort of brief, desperate panic in which I am utterly convinced of this scenario (eg. irreparable mistake, impending doom) being the purest form of reality, and where I feel as though all facades of regularity and pleasant demeanors are being peeled back, my raw, undiluted defectiveness being laid bare before God, the universe, and everybody, and in those moments I am absolutely certain that there is nothing that can ever be done by me or anyone to change this. It is as though I were created for the express purpose of failing and of thus being tortured forever with the knowledge of that failure. The certainty of it is completely visceral; I feel it and know it as clearly as a crisp, bare-knuckled blow to the head.

</Edward Norton’s voice>

These metaphors are just completely on the fly so bear with me, this is something I need to get out.

See, one thing that I’ve known for awhile is that if I don’t get this stuff out,  it will somehow eat me alive. It very nearly did just that, and there was awhile there that I thought for sure that F. Scott Fitzgerald had prophesied my end when he wrote, “And then I was drunk for many years, and then I died.” I didn’t know what to do with these realizations (or rather with these vivid illusions of which I am still, at times, completely convinced, exacerbated as they have been through religion and what seems to be a rather unfortunately genetic predisposition to fear and anxiety). For years I tried to numb them with drugs, and to drown them with rum. Nothing worked.

By Ben Wolf

It's a secret!

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