“It is a happy faculty of the mind to slough that which conscience refuses to assimilate.”
― William Faulkner, Light in August
A few weeks ago I posted about losing my grandfather and how it feels like a loss piles on top of all the others, every time, so that for a little while it’s overwhelming. The clarity with which I cope directly relates to how long I have to do so – how long I have to be in ‘coping’ mode vs. ‘living’ mode. Being able to take a step back and look at myself and my actions from a detached perspective is the only thing that allows me to be aware of how I’m feeling sometimes. For example: Let’s say I notice that I’m short-tempered at the office one day. That might mean nothing – might be a bad day. But if I step back and notice that, all right, I haven’t been eating well, my sleep is erratic, I’m not getting as much done at night as I usually do, or whatever the signs are, then I can make a concerted effort to take care of myself and be conscientious about how I’m living, rather than just rolling with whatever comes my way. I want that. I want to be as aware and conscious as possible. If I hurt someone’s feelings, it shouldn’t be because I wasn’t paying attention. (It should be because…I’m a dick?)
That’s the core of it, actually: because I don’t give a lot of thought to other people, I assume they’re not giving a lot of thought to me. This is why it throws me off when it turns out that I’m devilishly wrong. When I was in, er, early high school – whatever that is – ? Grade 7-8? I was meandering through school in a state of blissful ignorance, neither having nor missing friends, happy with my books and my school work and my family. And assuming everyone else was kind of doing the same thing. Turns out: Nope! Those years are some kind of social primer, and everyone else was busily forming creepy little pre-teen wolf packs and preying on the weak. Which I didn’t notice, until I did, and I realized that I didn’t have friends because I was the weird kid and everyone hates the weird kid.
That moment, the moment of shift between “I’m just wandering along, nobody’s bothered by me, lalalalaaaaa,” and “I am in a school full of hormonal teen wolves who have decided to pick on me”? That. Moment. Blows.
All of a sudden, you can’t trust yourself. You can’t trust your perceptions. And if you’ve been wrong about so much for so long, what else could you be wrong about? That teacher that seems to like you? She probably makes fun of you every day in the staff lounge. Oh, you have a pen pal? It’s probably someone in prison who makes creepy wallpaper out of your letters.
Well. Anyway. You get the point. Cognitive dissonance, kids: more than just buzzwords.
Obviously, it all worked out. I actually got a couple of lovely Facebook messages from the horrid wolves when I was in my early 20s, apologizing for being horrible crazy children. To which I can only think: But you were children. That’s the thing. You can’t even be tried as an adult for criminal activities, let alone perfectly normal pre-teen asshattery. It doesn’t mean it didn’t suck. It does mean that I’m largely over it.
Every now and then, I have a moment of dissonance. I believe myself to be a certain way, a certain person, and a conversation or (as inspired this post) a self-assessment will point out that I’m wrong. And it happens again: the weird, falling-into-a-tunnel-a-la-Jerry-O’Connell-in-Sliders feeling, the shift of the world around me from a friendly place to an unsure one, the realization that the way I think and the amount of thought I give to others isn’t necessarily the industry standard. And this is the amazing thing: my body remembers. It remembers every other time this has happened. It can call up all the same feelings, and all the same doubts. If I didn’t have the tools that I have and, frankly, self-esteem that you could bounce rocks off of 98% of the time, I don’t know how I’d cope. I think this is a large part of what depression feeds on: doubt. Everyone probably hates you. You think they don’t, but you’ve been wrong before. You’re always wrong.
Fucking gremlins, is all I have to say to that.
What I’m learning now is that every time an event brings up all of my past grief or moments of dissonance or whatever it may be, that’s kind of a gift. The human brain is designed to make connections; that’s pretty much what it’s good at. A smell reminds you of a day, the day connects to a feeling, the feeling connects to muscles and the muscles make a smile. A moment of dissonance connects to all the others in your past, which gives you options: you can give in to the gremlins – who are ALWAYS wrong, the dicks – or you can take that opportunity to process what you went through, to learn what you can, and to apply it to what’s happening in the here and now.
Everything that sucks in my life gives me a way to be a better person.
How annoying is that?
**A note: I think true cognitive dissonance causes a fractured psyche, is a major event, and can land people in serious facilities where they spend many years trying to reconcile real life with their internal lives. I don’t mean that. I mean the pop-psych version of the term, which I am not proud of myself for using in this way, but I don’t know what else to call it. And so I’m doing it anyway. (Being a dick on purpose! Ten points!)