Thursday, August 07, 2008

No More Lies

All of the lines that I was going to use to start this have already been used. My identity as a liar, the tendency of psychological problems to insulate themselves from behaviors that might heal them, etc. There's a very simple reason for this. I've been trying for a long time to say what I'm going to say now, because I knew all along that until I stopped cloaking myself in deception I wouldn't ever get better. It's almost ironic that it's only now that I have gotten better that I can actually do this.

I have gotten better too. I know I've said that before, but I was lying. I know I've said that before too, but up until now this is where this circular discussion stopped. The trick I used then was to say that the simple answer was that that time you would have to trust me just because. It's a great trick. People will believe you're trying, that you're opening up to them. It's one of the most underhanded tactics I've ever used, and I used it on those I care for. Almost exclusively.

This isn't another trick. This is me cleansing myself of who I was in order to finalize myself as who I am. I know this isn't another trick because this is me giving up my tricks. In the end if I accomplish as much as I hope to this will serve as confession, absolution, apology, and an insightful guide into the art of deception.

I think this all starts back in the middle of high school. Something between an antisocial tendencies breaking point, and a full blown addiction to escapist video games. There isn't a single point, it had been coming on for a while, but that was when things began to get really bad. It all stemmed from poor self esteem. I didn't like myself, I almost hated myself, and eventually I couldn't stand being myself. This is where the miracle of the screen name came in. A false world existed, a pretend existence where I didn't have to be me. I could be Slyz instead. It didn't matter that the world wasn't real, it didn't matter that Slyz wasn't real, and it didn't matter that I would always have to go back to being Max because those moments of sweet delusion hooked me. That addiction lead to self deprecation, and that brought my esteem even lower. Eventually it got bad enough that I couldn't sleep any more. I got through most of high school on a kind of chemical dependency cycle. I would lay awake, tormented by my own self destructive thoughts until I felt that it was safe to creep across my room to my computer which offered me the morphine-esque release of a distracting repetitive game which allowed me to not think those thoughts. Somewhere around sunrise I would realize that I was going to have to face real life, and through the use of Concerta and excessive amounts of caffeine I managed to stay more or less awake all day until I could start the process over again that night. By the weekend I would have built up so much sleep deprivation that I would collapse, nearly comatose until the middle of the afternoon the next day. The divorce of my parents happened around this time too, and there's no questioning that it was a blow to my already battered ego, but the most insidious consequence of it was that the parent I was living with was distracted by her own issues. Distracted people are much more easily deceived. I learned a lot about faking sick during this time, there were days where I was too exhausted to do basically anything, and I was afraid of having my self destructive cycle exposed so I learned to fake physical illness to throw them off the trail of mental illness. I would later come to identify this state of supreme exhaustion and lack of motivation as "clinical depression." I didn't pick up that term until college though.

A brief side note, this period of my life is also almost certainly the cause of my deep set phobia of roaches. I developed out and out paranoia of being exposed during the night, which left me overly sensitive to any noise that might suggest my Mother was up and about. Nearly every time I heard a noise that made me freeze in low animal panic it ended up being a roach. That reaction of "deer in the headlights" style panic persists to this day. So does my habit of always locking my bedroom door, no matter where I am. That was also the primary reason I chose the room that I did in my current apartment. It's the only one with a lockable door.

Bad as all of this may sound this was only the first few steps. I've seen recently how improving oneself is done in small steps, but the same is true for destroying oneself. Things got worse when I went to college. Up until that point I was a wreck, but I was still marginally functional. I was going to school 90% of the time, and I hadn't gotten too crazy. Living on ones own for the first time is never easy, and the reduced parental presence that had facilitated my earlier steps into oblivion became an absence of parental presence, with no major authority figures holding me responsible for my actions. This meant all of us could indulge further in our self destructive vices. For the vast vast vast majority of us that was alcohol and drug abuse. They sought sweet release in chemical oblivion. I found mine in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, along with World of Warcraft, D&DO, and whatever else I was playing at the time. Homework slid from being something I didn't do often enough to being something I rarely did ever, and I was inevitably exposed to the idea of simply skipping class.

I remember clearly a conversation I had with my father early on. I forget how the subject came up, but he mentioned that people in college would occasionally skip class. I delivered a carefully calculated "I couldn't conceive of such a thing" style response. It worked then, and it did it's job of cementing in his mind the idea that I would never do that. He referred back to my strong set principles on that more then once.

I considered, just now, writing that I felt bad about it every time he did that, but that would negate the premise of this whole exercise. I didn't feel bad then. I felt savvy. I felt safe. This is the thing about an addiction. Even though you know it's destroying you, you will go to outrageous measures to avoid having it taken away from you.

And it's a shame. I feel like the question "What could make you lie to those you love the most" should be something I have to think about. It should be a challenging question, one that you can't answer because the act is too blasphemous for you to think of anything that could justify it. But that's the thing. Lying was the easy way out. It didn't require me to face anything. It's a few years too late, but I am deeply sorry for that and every other lie I told my parents to stop them from being able to help me.

Actually, when I say I didn't feel bad then that's not entirely right. I didn't feel bad when I was lying. I felt fine most of the time, not counting the insomnia and the sleep deprivation, but I did feel bad for that and every other thing I was doing wrong. It's just that I felt bad for all of those things at once, en mass. An episode of depression would occur whenever all of the guilt and anguish and self destructive thoughts would finally rise to the surface, and they would drag me down into the pit I had buried them in. Days would pass and I wouldn't feel motivated to do anything more then what I had to do to survive. Even my escapes didn't work. The thoughts were too present, there was too much of it. In that darkness you can't even find the hollow joy of feeding an addiction. I'd lose those days, and in doing so the next episode would have even more to attack me with.

That's how basically all of my first year of college went, and then came Project Exodus.

Project Exodus is a weird one. The nominal goal was to pick a major because I wasting time at college being unfocused. The real goal was to get over my self destructive behavior, but when the chips were down the reason I did it was because I felt too guilty about how much I was wasting being enrolled in college. I could make the argument that it was beneficial, and in a lot of ways it was, but that period also marks the lowest point. I learned a lot early on about the nuances of bus travel, and the power that comes from immediate responsibility. The need for money was the only thing that kept me going to work. The threat of not having food and shelter is an amazing motivating force. That line, while amusing, leaves out the key point that if I didn't make enough money to get by then I was going to loose my addiction. The money meant that I could spend every free hour sealed in my room, dying slowly. Which brings us to another point. Moving from the Dorms to Redmond meant that I could go back to being totally isolationist, and I could do it without any authority figure stopping me. I'll grant that the people around me in the dorm certainly weren't authority figures, but their mere presence reminded me that I was human. They kept me from becoming even crazier. In Redmond nothing prevented that, but the lowest point was clearly reached after I started working at Homestead.

Working at homestead gave me access to a whole new kind of self destructive insanity. I was nocturnal in a diurnal society, and suddenly I could be isolated from almost everyone for weeks at at time. This isolation became a kind of comforting blanket to me. I could escape my self esteem issues, and there wasn't anything around to remind me that I was human. It was a new form of escapism. I wasn't burying Max the psychological wreck underneath Mobius the Archmage. I was burying it under layers and layers of obscuring blackness. I could disconnect from myself without dependence on anything else. My mind wandered into strange sometimes amazingly creative territory unbound by the concept of self. The absolute void of the night was my sanctuary where I finally found a place to hide from myself.

During this time I made sure to keep interesting stories coming. The key to deception is to know that you're not working around the truth, you're working around what people think is true. As long as I kept up the outward image of being someone who was weird, but doing okay, nobody would question it. As long as I kept finding the interesting moments, and the more interesting thoughts my mind would land on while drifting as far away from my present reality as I could get it everyone would think that I was getting by fairly well. It was around then that I started the constant upkeep of a form of double life. The C.I.A. calls this "Living your cover" and it's a damn good trick. I lived the cover of Max Willson, person on an interesting quest for meaning who is doing fairly well and is making genuine progress even though my actual identity was Max Willson person who is slowly eroding the last bits of his sanity.

This is, in essence, the big lie I've been telling all this time. It's a complicated one because I wasn't saying much that wasn't true, rather I was carefully not saying a lot of things that were. Slowly I became part of the night.

When I say "part of the night" it's not just dramatic flourish either. It's the best way I can think of to describe the root issue. At the core of all of this is the problem of self image. One that started off as undefined and destructive, then became defined into something that was even more destructive. People who are part of the night don't fit into the rest of the world. Day people, which includes basically everyone, are different. You can't know them, not properly, you can't be with them, you can't be a part of their world. Your identity becomes intrinsically tied to a form of agoraphobia. The other thing is that being a night person means there's something wrong with you. I've known many, and there isn't one of us who is without a major psychological problem.

So, that's where I was. I'm trying to pick out exactly what it was that started me on a path out of this, but it's hard to find one thing. Going back to college was an eye opener but I fell back into basically all of my old destructive habits. It did lead me to change majors which was a huge help because I actually wanted to go to classes again, but that first quarter as a psych major did not go well.

There is another thing I'm going to need to discuss, but this is going to be more difficult for me than the rest. A lot of this I don't want to talk about for a lot of reasons, and I'm not going to give full details, but it's key to the story and hence to my cleansing process.

I mentioned that I'd met other night people. Given that none of us really go out, with the exception of the wandering midnight crazies (a role I filled during winter break during the later years of high school) the way we meet up is through the net. The net offers salvation to those of us who are too crazy or broken in one way or another for real social interaction. Anyway, this community of other crazies became a key social network for me. A whole group of us acting under false names to protect our frail egos and playing the various games we would play. Over time I developed a circle of friends on this network, and I found myself falling into an interesting role that I've come to accept as being my destiny.

Remember that these are all people who are, in one way or another, damaged. They need someone to listen, they need someone who won't judge them, and for reasons I don't fully understand they come to me. I'm not saying this as though it were a bad thing, the role of counselor is one I find amazingly fulfilling, it's just odd. So over time I became a friend to them, an in character (spin bizarre relationship wheel here) to them, and I became a therapist to them by being someone that had come to them and whom they knew they could trust. It deepened my friendships with these people, and I gave legitimate help to a lot of them. Over time a clear pattern emerged though, and in my self destructive fuges I would find my own words coming back to haunt me because ultimately what everyone was trying to do was to stop being a night person. No body wants to be locked in a self destructive psychological vice. I helped them come to terms with the oddities about themselves and I helped them overcome the problems they were having. It was just always a one way deal. I wasn't dealing with the things that made me a night person.

This issue of negative identity, being a night person, was a bit of insight I can't claim as my own. That one I owe to my therapist. I tacitly resisted going to therapy at first, I didn't think it would get much done because it hadn't in the past, and the reason it hadn't in the past and most certainly wouldn't in the future is because I knew that I wasn't really going to trust them. I hadn't counted on how strong my drive to escape from the self destructive loop was though. She pointed out the issue of negative self image, and that began a series of awakenings.

By this point I was back to being Diurnal, but I was still more at home in the night. I was still addicted to it, but I was beginning to see that. I'm certain I've talked more then once about the idea of the true self, or higher self or what have you. This image of what one aspires to be, what one knows they can be. Until this breakthrough I had the ideal in place of trying to become that, but I didn't fully understand who I was to begin with. I only had the end vision, and you can't just go instantly into being your higher self. Once I understood who I was I understood what I needed to do.

This brings us to somewhere around last February. By this point I had beaten the cycle of depressive episodes, and was gradually getting better about insomnia. I was getting better, but in the face of that the addiction was becoming more and more stark. I had a circle of friends, people I was deeply attached to, one of whom I was in love with, and the only way I could see them was to remain an insomniac. As the things that had caused me to become one in the first place faded away I began engineering it. Caffeine, the water trick, setting alarms for 3 a.m. all kinds of tricks were used to hold onto that, but gradually I began to let go. Looking back through my logs, the last time I ever connected under the name I used as a night person was May 2nd. I cut myself off, and I slowly got back into a regular sleep schedule.

Now that sounds like it might be the end of the story, but it's not. Getting over depression meant coming to terms with my self esteem and my self image, and getting better meant improving my self image which meant facing the world again, and I was terrified of the world. You spend so long in the dark that the merest spark of light is blinding, and even the thought of being exposed again in the light of day can stop you in your tracks. That is, in essence, why beating depression meant acquiring anxiety.

Anxiety was an entirely different battle. When you're dealing with depression the problem is that you're not motivated to do anything. You don't even care enough to get out of bed. It's the supreme lack of energy. Anxiety is the reverse. You do care, you are motivated, you have all the energy you should have but you can't use it. I would get up to go to class. Dressed showered, packed, everything, and I would just stop at the door. The thought of going outside frightened me. I would become hyper cognizant of every tiny imperfection about myself, and I knew that the moment I stepped foot outside everyone else would be too and the thought of their inevitable judgment stopped me. Entire weeks would pass where I would be completely unable to even leave the building. Sometimes I would make it to Safeway, nervous and twitchy, awkwardly averting my gaze, or adapting some kind of desperate dissociative expression every time I passed near anyone. When I could make it to class I could only make it to the large lectures. I could sit in the back, in the shadows, safely hidden, obscured by the crowd and the darkness, but even there I found myself buzzing with nervous energy, a constant sense of worry about some unknown thing that was either going horribly wrong or would go horribly wrong, or something about me that was horribly wrong.

Anxiety came with it's own horrible cascading effect. I missed a day of Hebrew because the class was too small and I knew that I would be called on personally and the next time I would try to go I was held fast by the fear of the consequences of my actions. It wasn't long before enough of this had built up that I couldn't think of ever going again. Never mind the fact that when I did go back nothing happened. Never mind the fact that all of my fears never came to pass, they were still enough to stop me.

At first.

The thing about anxiety is that it's all about the unknown. You're fearful of things you know, but you're anxious about things you don't know. Every now and then you build up enough willpower to make yourself do something despite the anxiety and then it isn't as unknown. Over time things become familiar, things become easier, and with every little bit of victory you get your self esteem gets a little bit better, and once you have your self esteem in order again you can begin to work on your self image. Bit by bit everything comes into place, and for once the cascade is working in my favor. Leaving the apartment became easier, then getting to class became easier. I worked my way back up the slope I'd fallen down in 2006. I could get up and go to most of my classes. Then I could go to all of my classes. I could speak up in public again, I could be me without the tension of wondering who I am.

Now this sounds good, but the problem here is in the time frame. That positive cascade began somewhere around 6 weeks ago. I made it to all of my classes for the first time in years last week, and while yes I'm doing a lot better part 1 of my agenda still includes picking up a lot of pieces, and that's the thing.

I'm getting by right now entirely off the support of my parents. I'm a ranged dependent, and I have been for a while now, and one of the biggest fears that lead me to lie to them so often was that I would be exposed and cut off. I couldn't blame them, I still wouldn't blame them, but knowing that I used them I feel I have an obligation to explain to them what happened. It's only fair to them, and it's only fair to everyone else too. Everyone I've ever known that I was close to I've lied to. It was how I got by, it's what made me feel safe when I wasn't strong enough to stand in the light. Everyone who was deceived deserves to know, and by telling them I can prove that I really am a new person. Not necessarily to them, but to myself. I can know, for sure, that I've made this change, that this isn't just another flick of the whim endeavor because I'm doing the one thing I could never do before. I'm telling the truth.

That's how I know. That's how I know that this is finally over. That I'm done lying. That I'm done being a night person.

Dawn is breaking.
Greet the new day.


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