Codepen[me]

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It’s 6 o’clock in winter, so as we pull up to a dingy little church hall I can’t see much, but I can make out that its walls are mottled at the edges with grime, and the feeling of dread begins to sink in. I’m not sure why I agreed to this. Somewhat bolstered by the encouraging words of my friend, we make our way inside. My chest is flushed and I am completely out of my depth, as I approach a cluster of people speaking softly but jovially, clutching their hot drinks. I awkwardly try and avoid eye contact, the decision whether or not to go to the kitchen and make a hot beverage of my own weighing heavily on my mind. Would this make me part of the ‘in crowd’, or would this only serve to foil my already thinly veiled attempt at normality? Mercifully, I am not given long to ponder this dilemma and the tension is broken as someone slightly more official sounding leads us in to the main room. This room is very dimly lit, perhaps to alleviate the tension of the situation, perhaps I am not alone in my anxiety!? Of course I’m not. I’m not, because I have just entered a Co-Dependents Anonymous meeting.

I have been in many supposedly ‘therapeutic’ situations in my time, and this was certainly not one of them. So how did I end up there? A friend at the time, that I had met on my psychotherapy course at University (ha) was finding the literature and meetings surrounding Co-Dependents Anonymous very useful, and thought I might also benefit from embracing their values. I was skeptical at first, and remain so to this day, but there’s no denying that there were several strong and unexpected emotional responses during that one hour I spent in that meeting. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you would be forgiven for thinking ‘You, strong emotions?! Never!’, but these feelings were akin to the ones I experienced when hearing Nelson Mandela’s Make Poverty History speech at Trafalgar Square, i.e. so unutterably all-consuming that it gives you the shakes. I can’t make any further comparisons between the two, but I can speculate on what it was that invoked such a strong response within me.

I have always fluctuated between reluctant acceptance and adamant denial that I should, would, could ever need anyone else to fulfil me as a person. I wonder now, looking back, if those moments that I thought were acceptance could have ever been true, as every inch of every pore in my mind and body were trying to propel me away from the truths that the people in that meeting were speaking. I am an incredibly proud person, and assume myself to be completely independent and free, even though circumstantially I suppose I’m not right now. The worst punishment you could inflict on me would be pity. It’s the combination of this pride, and this need to present as a strong and feisty person that has kept acknowledgement of any codependent traits in me at bay. I find it hard to reconcile that the two can exist alongside one another.

I want to be the anchor of my own ship, the roots of my own tree and the stability in my own life. I am, sometimes. Interestingly, there seems to be a direct correlation between my self-worth at the time, and my desire to have another bolster me. I wonder if this isn’t true for everyone, recognised co-dependent or not. It’s a complete aberration of my personality, I hide nothing, nothing is a pretence or off-topic, I am proud and bold and free. What part of me decided that needing others is a fate worse than hell, that should be hidden and guarded at all costs? Ironically, in my semi-conscious efforts to banish those emotions completely, I have ended up with a collection of neuroses surrounding rejection that are as brittle and fragile as an osteoporosis sufferer’s bones.

I have a chronically lacking sense of self, and am on a constantly changing mission to find projects and people to help fill my identity. A scuttly little hermit crab, moving from shell, to coke can, to coral, never able to decide which one she likes the best. The projects come and go with very little emotional trauma, they can’t say no, I make the rules. People, however, are unpredictable. They are volatile, and quite irritatingly, creatures of free will. It’s a troublesome thing that once I have decided I enjoy what that person gives me, it is out of my control. I will do anything to preserve and protect that bond, I don’t doubt that this is at least to some extent exacerbated by my tendency towards splitting (a BPD term for idolising then resenting any individual, or vice versa). I’m not sure how much of this is down to my need for consistency and stability (due to my inherent lack of both), or whether I’m literally Glenn Close. In the interest of self-love, I am going to opt for the former…

There are a set of 12 steps in CoDA, borrowed and adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous, that one is expected to adhere to and keep in mind at all times. I won’t list them here, partly because I’m not sure if I’m actually allowed to, and partly because most of them are about relinquishing control to a higher power, which no matter how hard I try I just can’t take seriously. The first on the list, however, resonates somewhat.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over others – that our lives had become unmanageable.

I am sure that these are all issues that I will have ample time to explore in a more general psychotherapeutic setting. I haven’t managed to achieve the above. Fortunately, I don’t feel that my life is unmanageable, but my fragile, homeless hermit crab is still doggedly clinging on to the notion that one day she’ll find the right shell. In that meeting, her notion was threatened. In that meeting, the hermit crab was forced to imagine a world where she would be happy naked, where she would need no shell. When that hour was up, I left that room. I can both joyously and definitively say that I will never return, but I’m not sure that room left me.

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Emotionally Unstable Personality (Disorder)?

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I am almost certain I will go to my grave not ever knowing the answer to The Question that arose when I received my diagnosis. Perhaps there is no answer, but it’s a painful thought to think that all the countless hours spent searching for it would’ve been in vain. I remain hopeful that one day I will awake with such a clarity of understanding, that the line between personality and disorder will be cast in stone in my mind forever more.

Can all those millions of people’s personalities be a disorder? Those more educated than I would suggest, kindly I suppose, that no, they are simply disordered. Where is the distinction? Where is the line? When you think of your best friend, or your lover, or even your pet – doesn’t their personality define them? How then, is anyone with a diagnosis meant to disentangle themselves from the ugly thicket that surrounds them?

There are some of us, like myself, who have succumbed and eventually put up pictures, redecorated, in an attempt to make that thicket, hospitable, a home. In some ways it’s as much a shield as a prison, when those DSM-identifiable traits decide it’s once more unto the breach, dear friends, it provides a valuable excuse. It’s not me, it’s my disorder. “Yes Wendy, I know I crashed your car and took all your money and went on a wild mission of self-destruction in an effort to make the outsides match the insides, but you see, I am borderline.” Sorry, not sorry.

It’s all too easy that way, I abandoned true ownership of my actions long ago and never once had to feel bad about it because according to all of the literature on personality disorders, I was supposed to be feeling that way. Conveniently self-perpetuating. I often think about whether I would have behaved and even felt entirely differently if BPD had just never existed. I’m aware my grandma has featured in one of my previous posts, but she has been of great influence in my life, and it was she that sparked the above idea. In her day, she said, there was just bad and good, selfish and not selfish, the malign and manic back then had no comfy thicket to call home. They were exposed, just personality, no disorder.

I now recognise that in those brief moments where I allowed myself to connect my emotions and behaviours to me instead of my diagnostic criteria, I felt pain like never before. In a totally ineffective attempt at a coping strategy, I had splintered myself from myself.

Borderline (or Emotionally Unstable) Personality Disorder

A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behaviour covered in Criterion 5.

(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation

(3) identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self image or sense of self

(4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behaviour covered in Criterion 5.

(5) recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior

(6) affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

(7) chronic feelings of emptiness

(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)

(9) transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

I meet 8 items of the above criteria. As of my latest session with my therapist, it would appear I meet a qualifying standard for two more personality disorders. Co-morbid is the word used in such cases, and boy isn’t that fitting. I question whether on the whole, it is beneficial to ascribe these diagnoses to anyone. To me they represent a rabbit-hole, a myriad of ways in which you can excuse yourself. As if your brain wasn’t already labyrinthine enough as it was, they proffer sly tunnels, twists and turns that will take you further and further away from self-actuality, self-knowledge and self-appreciation.

I am not a disorder. I am not disordered. I feel a lot, a lot of the time. I am beginning to know who I am, and I am grateful for it.

ASMR: The Hall of Fame for Tingles

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Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a euphoric experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine, precipitating relaxation. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia.

With the definition out of the way, I’ll begin by saying that ASMR videos have been a constant in my life for the past few years. A softly-spoken shoulder to lean on when the stresses of life (and God knows, there’s a lot of them) start to crush my spirit. I plug in the headphones, click on a friendly face, listen to the sounds and feel the tension alleviate. Even if you don’t experience the physical sensation of tingles (and sadly, some of us just can’t), I’m sure if you have ever suffered from anxiety or depression there’s an ASMRtist out there who can help soothe you, if only as a short-term fix.

Something I’ve found particularly interesting about ASMR videos is the ‘Marmite effect’ they seem to engender, and the ability they have to split the masses between those who crave their night-time dose of mouth sounds, and those who have the same reaction misophonia sufferers do when they hear someone chew sloppily on their ham and cheese sandwich in the canteen. It’s a matter of love or loathe. There is no grey area, it seems, when it comes to whispering.

It all began as a very small YouTube community around 6 years ago, where they were known at the time as simply ‘whisper videos’, which if you didn’t know the context sounds undeniably creepy. I wasn’t aware of its existence back then, so I can’t go in to too much detail about the nature of the community, but I expect it was a tiny fraction of what is now a wide and varied collection of content that garners millions of views every day.

Like most things in life, ASMR videos seem to follow a pattern of trends, which consist of mostly roleplays, and any esteemed artist should have under their belt what I’d refer to as the ‘basics’. Some of these include such classics as a spa visit, haircut, makeover, and who could forget the cranial nerve examination?! Think of these as the steady money-makers, existing in the artist’s arsenal, ready to deploy at any moment for maximum tingles and profit.

However, because of the diversity and number of people now creating content, certain individuals have been pushing the safe and familiar boundaries mentioned above with a much more creative approach. It would appear that a friendly massage is no longer enough, a standard eyebrow reshaping session a dated ideal. Instead, there are now alien abductions, kidnapping and even ‘gentler!’ torture tool tests  to look forward to. I could of course go in to how I believe this shows human nature’s inability to ever be satiated, and how the increasing trend of extremity in the microcosm of ASMR shows us a much wider picture of society’s fascination with the macabre, but I won’t bore you with that now.

I shall instead give you a rundown (consisting of entirely my own opinion of course), of my top 5 favourite artists. I might even throw in some honourable mentions for ‘creativity’ at the end… So, here goes!

Maria aka GentleWhispering aka The Queen

This woman really needs no introduction, if you’ve ever heard of ASMR, she is likely the graceful and poised figurehead of the community you will have first encountered on your journey to relaxation. Her soft Russian accent, combined with an effortless yet deliberate style of video, regardless of the type, is a heavenly cocktail that once drunk leaves you in a hazy, dazed, euphoric mess. I believe she is an artist in the truest sense of the word, with an acute sense of perfectionism and dedication to her craft that is unrivalled. Also hasn’t fallen victim to resorting to any of the more recent trends to attract a sensationalist crowd. Bravo, and thank you.

Tony Bomboni aka ASMRer

I first encountered his channel about a year ago, while searching like a fiend for new kicks. A thumbnail of a slight, elfin face imposed over a woodland background, combined with the title ‘Faerie Roleplay’ was enough to pique my curiosity. I swear, within the first ten minutes of that video I was tingling so hard I thought my head would certainly either combust or fall off. Being a simple creature, and yearning for the same high I dutifully scoured the rest of his account to achieve something akin to it. What I found was a collection of ugly, homophobic and truly imbecilic comments scattered all over his hard work. To this day I still don’t understand why Tony’s channel in particular attracts the dregs of society, but I’m glad to say it has only doubled his efforts and determination. He is also one of the pioneering characters to create entirely unique material, see puppet and caveman roleplays. A bit of fun, not terribly tingle-inducing, but more power to him for embracing the lighter side of things.

Ashlie aka WhispersUnicorn 

Ashlie has the best whisper to date, period. Seldom do I fall so instantly in to a trance from a voice alone. She and Maria are my immediate go-tos when I need some maternal, spirit-guide-esque comfort. I can compare the feeling of listening to her whisper only to what I would imagine is being back in the warm, safe confines of the womb. Weird, I know, but the sensation is really inexplicable. One of her most viewed videos is actually one of the first kidnapping roleplays to emerge. To my knowledge, she started that trend. I know I spoke of such things disparagingly before, but this is an exception, she has an ability to expertly inject humour and intellect (the entire video being a reference to King’s Misery) in to her work, without once detracting from the relaxing experience. Once again, thank you.

Emma aka WhispersRed

The only British whisperer with a bearable voice, in my opinion. There’s something weird about the fact that, being a Brit myself, hearing my brethren try and be relaxing is irksome to the max. She dedicates so much of her time to her channel, and the hours she puts in translates in to perfectly crafted, timed (because timing can be an issue in these videos) and acted roleplays every time. If it’s not a carefully planned roleplay, and instead a more casual whisper video, even better. The crisp yet soft articulation of her words send fireworks ricocheting through my synapses.

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‘Let’s get started..’ The only unnamed ASMRtist in this list, this is further reflected as her full face is never featured in her eating videos, only the lower half. This is supposedly to decrease distractions and allow the viewer to focus solely on her eating. Imagine mukbang (an eating ‘show’), but much quieter. I worry sometimes she’s slowly giving me an unhealthy oral fixation, as I sometimes find my gaze drifting to people’s mouth as they eat and staying there for an uncomfortably long period of time. I should really stop that. Aside from the touch of neurosis on my part, her videos have a very entertaining concept. Being a foodie, and loving to cook, her channel combines all the best things. Recipes, cooking, eating and whispering. What’s odd, is that I don’t actually have much sensory response watching her videos, and I have to be in a very specific mood – but when it’s right, it’s so very right.

As promised, here are some honorary mentions in no particular order of creepiness:

Torture Roleplay

Boyfriend Roleplay

Ghetto Dentist Roleplay

Home Invasion Relaxation Roleplay (can’t believe I’m writing that, what an oxymoron)

Though I’ve highlighted several trends that I find to be at best silly and at worst worrisome, I remain wholly grateful and in awe of the community that these artists have created, and continue to believe in their ability to reach and help so many people, whatever their situation. Thank you for your whispers.

 

 

 

Notes on needing isolation

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My id, ego and superego are constantly at each other’s throats. I mean, the entire world’s population are, if you trust in Dr Freud’s hypotheses. Since he introduced this burgeoning idea of the conscious and subconscious having their own voices and intentions, they have been given many different names by many different people in the field of psychology. For this note, and for the purposes of adequate characterisation however, I will dub mine Chloe, Sasha and Steve.

Now, their pervasive witterings may not always be immediately apparent in any of our minds. Think along the lines of a hedge trimmer buzzing away at 7am until you eventually wake to it’s irritatingly obtrusive grind. This kind of inane, niggling chatter is perfectly normal, and a very common thing. It’s when the arguments start to become heated, electrical sparks beginning to fly, that their communications become toxic. It’s when it’s closing at the Fox and Hound, and Phil and Paul, due to their many libations decide the only way forward with their harmless quibbles is flinging fists.

An issue that my very own Steve and Sasha just can never get on the same page with, is that of living the life of a part-time recluse. It’s an unending drama that I sometimes tune in for, Chloe gallantly stepping in trying to take the reigns – only to be swiftly told by the two P’s that two’s company, three’s a crowd. So I sigh, and continue absently stirring the milk in to my tea as they have it out. It’s in that vein as I now leave you with an excerpt of their day to day feud, with my cup of tea. Consider Steve as id, Chloe as ego and Sasha as superego.

Steve: you’ree as cooooold as iceeee

Sasha: Please stop your incessant singing. It’s terrib-

Steve: williiiiinggg to ssaaacriiiffiiceee

Sasha: No-one should have to suffer such a Plebeian.

Steve: no but seriously though mate, don’t you think it’s about time our main gal had a bit of bants with the lads

Sasha: I think your short-sighted, desire-seeking idiocy is exactly the reason why she ought to refrain from such activities.

Steve: dunno why you’re always so mean to me, like, just trying to have a bit of fun innit

Sasha: How many times do I need to explain this to you?

Steve: i know, i know, the longer she stays away the less noticeable she is, n the less noticeable she is the less trouble she can get in to

Steve: just dnt see why it has to be that way

Sasha: You wouldn’t. That’s why I’m here. To do the thinking for you. Leave you to your basal ideals.

Steve: u shut up i’m sick of hearing your hard words and why dnt i ever get to be in charge, its my turn

Steve: she loves people, she wants to try, she’s scared because of YOU

Sasha: I’m clearly the only one here who understands the notion of the past repeating itself. I am protector, I pick up the pieces. When have you ever rebuilt a shattered mirror? WHEN?

Chloe: Listen, guys, let’s try and cool it a bit here. Can we not come to a compromise?

Sasha: Oh my dear girl, I know you’re always blathering on about a harmonious union, and I just wish that could be the case, but this is between Steve and I. Right, Steve?

Steve: chlo n i is closer than you’ll ever be mate n dont you forget it

Chloe: Don’t throw me under the bus like that Steve, you know I can’t take sides.

Steve: whatever dnt know why i bovver, should jst leave you and Sasha to it

Sasha: Quite right.

Steve: ill win one day, i have my victories

Sasha: My friend, this is not about winning.

Chloe: … back to bed it is.

Notes on a trope

Nathan Rabin, a film critic, defined the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and such characters never grow up; thus, their men never grow up.

My grandmother, the former EFL teacher and orator of wisdom, taught me that nifty trick. “Begin any story or argue any point by first defining the main word in contention, and you are seldom misunderstood”, she said. Therefore, I find it only right and proper to begin this particular story with her metaphorical seal of approval.

The idea of tropes is certainly not a new one, in fact these common themes are arguably the nectar that, like bees to flowers, have us inexplicably drawn to the films and books we love. However, the MPDG, as she shall now be known, has received an unusual amount of attention in the last few years.

I was first introduced to her by an American chap, who had a very long beard and a fascination with cacti. Arguably an ideal candidate for which an MPDG to cast her whimsical spells upon. We had met through a dating site, and he also introduced me to the fascinating, totally legal drug called oxytocin. Needless to say, the brief encounter went nowhere, advanced us as individuals not at all but provided one hell of a mysterious adventure.

After doing my own (preliminary, totally non-invasive) research, I found countless articles profiling her as this ditzy yet deep, fragile yet focused siren calling all drifting souls in to her chaotic energy with high-pitched yet dulcet screeches. I even found this amusing skit.  How could this be relatable to anyone, I hear you ask? Doesn’t she exist only in the minds of the drifting souls who christened her? The answer, as I see it, is no. I would wager she is either lying dormant or ferociously active in millions of women, real women, who crave the same symbiosis she does.

Truth is, she is me and I am her, I am so much more than her but she is there, whispering silently in my ear as I pick up the tumbler of whiskey, fire in my eyes, trying to engage and entertain and fill his world with whimsy, because I don’t know why. She is there, stirring in my chest as I try to muster up her protection and drive to see the world in Technicolor again, and again. Without her it’s so easy for it all to go monochrome.

I will always hold a bizarre gratitude for him planting that sapling of recognition and curiosity that there could be an underlying device in my own narrative, and in my own psyche that has at least a semblance of an already existing identity. If it weren’t for his input, I might well still be here, in bed, cogitating and churning over the fact that not ever choosing ’someone suitable’, giving away all the daisies and music and late night breaths to those who don’t deserve it, who will never be able to play on the same plane, is completely my fault.

I guess you could say it’s a good job I grew up.