The cool thing about hating yourself is that it’s really easy to convince yourself that it’s justified. If I break a plate while I’m doing the dishes, I’m an inept piece of shit who can’t manage the most basic domestic tasks. If a student fails my class, I failed them even harder as a teacher and this is clear evidence that I should be fired, flogged, and left in the street to bleed. If I do not look and act in a way that blends in with the common preferences of people I don’t even like, then I am deserving of exile to an island a la Napoleon, except I won’t come back and start another revolution.
I hate myself efficiently. I pick up on everything I do that could possibly be perceived as a flaw or a misstep or some kind of demonstration of my total, relentless inadequacy as a person, and even if nobody else beyond the most exacting, exhaustive nitpicker would ever read it as a flaw, oh you better fucking believe I will anyway. I am really good at hating myself. I’ve had a lot of time to learn how.
What I’m only more recently learning is how to examine all the sources of my self-loathing and undermine them. I think my therapist is still getting to know just how tangled and awful I am as a person because she had the optimistic suggestion of being kinder to myself. For example, I said something along the lines of “if it goes bad, I’ll have just thrown a brick into a blender and made everything a lot worse.” I think I cussed a bit more, but that was the gist. In response, Dr. School said she noticed I was using rather negative language, that maybe just saying “there would be new room for improvement” would be a little more optimistic and less self-defeating. I see the merit there. It sounds like a really good idea, and I actually know people for whom this has done a lot to improve how they see themselves and the world around them. However, I am kind of a relentless engine of self-hate. I’ve practiced this shit, and I am astonishingly good at it.
During my undergrad, the English department was pretty small. Most of the English majors got to know each other because we share classes constantly. One guy I had a lot of classes was named Jack. I’d give him a fake name, but if he ever reads this, I want him to know I’m about to talk some shit. I would characterize Jack as all the most obnoxious qualities of a slam poet with the restraint of an alcoholic, the social acumen of a wildebeest, and a face I constantly imagined smacking with a shovel.
He thought we were friends. We were not. I hated him. I hated how loud he was, how he yelled his shitty poetry at every opportunity, how he seemed totally oblivious to how much I disliked him. It got to the point where anything he did, whether inherently annoying or not, just confirmed for me how deserving he was of my disdain. He could be sitting quietly taking notes, and I’d want to throw a rock at him for using silence to call attention to all the times he was unnecessarily loud. He could be saving a box of kittens from a collapsing kitten hospital, and I’d hope the kittens to scratch him to show him that everybody, even tiny baby cats, knows there’s nothing he can do to absolve himself of how annoying he is. There was nothing he could do that I would not have hated.
That’s about how I feel about myself most of the time. I’m in too deep for a change in feelings. I’ve gotten too good at this way of thinking to carve some room for optimism. I am a delicate baby bird in terms of self-acceptance: all it takes is, like, a chubby, trash pigeon knock me back down. So just learning to change how I feel won’t work. But there is hope, or rather, there isn’t hope. Hope is a feeling, and my feelings are what need help changing. I don’t have hope.
But I do I have evidence.
I don’t want to change how I feel to be more optimistic. I want to be able to prove with sources that optimism is actually a valid direction to go in. I’m neurotic and overeducated, and something that contributed to making me this way was learning that I needed sources for everything, and I’ve got sources that argue I’m not, as I tell myself while lying face-down in bed, a total failure.
The sources of this relentless sense of my own inadequacy are multiple and pretty exhausting, but learning there is evidence against the validity of these feelings has been useful. I have that lovely and common deep-seated insecurity that I’m not doing enough with my life, but it helps to remember that I got a Master’s degree, an apartment, enough food in the house to make several kinds of burrito, and that I’m doing more; the fact that I am not actively waiting to do something important is better evidence than anything else. I may think in my sad lizard heart that I am a shit teacher, but I’ve got good reviews, some really nice cards and emails from past students, and that bullshit rate my professor pepper.
One of my favorite things in grad school was getting to clearly and precisely show an argument of someone I disagreed with and then slowly and efficiently tear that argument apart because essays are like kindergarten and sometimes you have to take another kid down.
On that note, depression argues that I am worthless and has taken some control over my emotions to make that point, however, I argue that depression is operating on a series of baseless assumptions, confirmation biases, and upon any deep investigation does not have credibility beyond its own circular reasoning. While I have the overwhelming sense that I am worthless, there is little evidence to suggest it and actually more to suggest otherwise. Though I do make mistakes, one fumble for the keys or misstep with a student does not immediately suggest I am, as depression would posit, basically an anthropomorphic collection of gelatinous failure. And though I feel worthless, arguing that I feel worthless because I should feel worthless is a circular logic that has no credibility beyond the boundary of its own little circle. The argument is flawed, and I’ve got evidence that says I’m not exactly the trash I believe I am. I may not be able to fully convince myself that I am a good or worthy or even adequate, but if I’ve got the evidence, I can work on convincing myself I’m not a total fuckup, maybe just mostly adequate.