This isn’t a meandering, depressing essay about inadequacy, in case you were wondering. It’s more a surprised realization of how often I tend to sit idly by and wait for disaster to strike, and why.
My adopted brother David and I were at dinner discussing something about society, culture and politics—because that’s what we do— when we talked about the issue of mental disorders. I’m not sure what brought it up; anyway his comment was that children raised in an unpredictable environment were probably worse off than kids who just know everything’s for shit. Mind you, we’re not parents and were not child psychologists so this is all conjectural and based on our own experiences. For that reason I’m not prepared to rate one environment as categorically worse than the other but his comment clarified something for me so well that I demanded we change the topic completely. Because he loves me, he did.
What David’s idea did was put my own childhood under a different lens than I normally view it. Between my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s extreme case of bi-polar disorder, it’s safe to say that my childhood was unpredictable on a daily basis, something I had not given any thought to before. I had a roof over my head and two parents who loved me and never abused me, so I have a lot I’m grateful for. The effects of the problems that did exist, though, have a long reach.
My reaction to this life-long uncertainty has not been to buckle down and prepare for the worst, as a well-adjusted adult should. I think my ingrained expectation of “unpredictability” means that even when I know bad times are ahead, I also know that no matter what I do, I’ll never actually be prepared for them…and I’m just collateral damage anyway. This is really the key: what happens to me is not consequential to the matter of the boat hitting or not hitting an iceberg. I’m on that boat, one way or the other, and if it goes down I’m sinking with it.
This was how I handled my parents’ completely predictable, expected demises. They both suffered from fatal illnesses, and I was fully aware of that. Mother lived longer than expected and Poppa died sooner than expected but neither death was UNexpected. Yet, during that nearly four year period, I completely neglected the question of what I intended to do with my life after their deaths – professionally, academically, and financially. Because: their health was unpredictable (Mother could have died at any moment, Poppa could have kept going for another decade). I made weak overtures but nothing seriously concrete like building up a savings to live off of after the fact, or trying to set up a graduate school plan. Or even researching graduate schools. Or…you know, anything. My whole attitude was well summed up by the phrase, “why bother?” It’s not that I expected everything to work out somehow eventually (which it all did, mostly badly), but that I felt helpless to change anything, no matter what I did.
Yes, we can argue about “self fulfilling prophecies” and that applies, but isn’t the point; what I’m getting at here is the reason for my emotional feeling of helplessness and how that contributes to my (complete lack of) motivation.
It’s a current problem, not to mention a recurring one. What I do is sit around waiting for disaster to strike. I know I’m good in a crisis, but let’s face it, that’s the worst skill set to rely on in order to create a fulfilling, meaningful life. My tendency to avoid self-responsibility means I’m often sitting around not doing what I know I MUST DO simply because I don’t think it will make a difference (most noticeable when it comes to my finances; while I’m not completely irresponsible, I tend to make things worse through avoidance behaviors when times are tough). I sometimes find myself in a profound state of self-imposed ennui, semi-fugues of suspension, where I am waiting and not doing even though I know the latter would have a far more positive effect on everything in the long run. Might, even, help avert the disaster I’m so convinced is going to flatten me. (Okay, it’s hard to even type that and believe it. But I should try, right?)
So I’m trying to call myself out on this, acknowledge the behavior and accept it and do something else instead.
I’ll let you know if it works.