Thursday, October 26, 2006

I am a lightswitch.

It's an inelegant metaphor, but I just figured out something that I'd been struggling with in attempts to understand myself. Where the ideal functioning of the mind is kind of like a dimmer switch, mine's a plain up-and-down. Now, this isn't so much the part that's new - my ex always told me that I saw everything in black and white, that I took everything to extremes, and in some sense he was right. I always hated it when he said that, and really wished I could deny it, though, because the way he said it always carried this implication of, you don't see the shades of gray, therefore you don't understand nuances, mature minds can deal with complexity and nuance, therefore, you're immature. It always felt like a veiled insult, whether he meant all of that or not, but I knew that the surface description was accurate. So it hurt. A lot. It was just one more way in which he thought I wasn't grown-up enough to take care of myself.

But, to pun on my metaphor, a lightbulb went off for me today - a train of thought I'd been teasing out since I last talked to my counselor about not being a good enough person (I promise the connection will be explained further in) finally reached the key step - I remembered that I tend to go to extremes, but suddenly realized that this was not, in fact, indicative of an inability to understand complex nuanced ideas, but a reaction based on seeing too many shades of gray and not knowing how to process them. The more I learn about ADD, the more I hear that our issue isn't, for many, a true deficit of attention; though it appears that we aren't taking in information around us, the real problem, at least the way it looks from inside our head, is that we can't process and decide what information to pay attention to and what to discard.

It hasn't solved the problem of what to do about it, but realizing that being a lightswitch doesn't make me immature or stupid made me feel better, and made me more able to understand what's happening in there.

To give an example, I like Revenge of the Nerds. But I feel like a bad person, because I shouldn't, because there's an implied rape-by-deception scene in there that's treated as comedy. I feel like I should condemn the movie, never watch it again, reject the people who made it, and not be friends with anyone who likes it. But I'm not willing to do that, so therefore I am condoning rape. The same thing happened, only worse, when I found out that the guy who makes Girls Gone Wild is a rapist, being that my parents own those stupid things. I wasn't willing to disown my parents, and I should've. My counselor said that that was going too far, and that it was a reasonable decision to choose my longstanding loving relationship with my parents over making a statement (in my case, before people jump on her for not being enough of an activist), but I couldn't accept that, because I felt like I was just making excuses. How could I claim to oppose rape when I can't even be strong enough to cut ties with my family over their having unknowingly given money to a rapist?

Yes, I know it seems silly spelled out like that, and that's why I said it that way. My mind was telling me that the nebulous opinions of people who may not even exist - the people I would hope to prove myself to and hope to help by doing so - were worth more than my love for my family and theirs for me. She says not wanting to never speak to my family again was a good reason, but I felt like it was a weak-willed excuse coming from a person - me - who was deep down a truly hateful person, and that the excuse was just my way of covering my ass.

So since then I'd been thinking about it, especially thinking about what would motivate me to think this way. I thought about how sometimes I feel like I don't actually care, I just care about not being a bad person - kind of how there are people who have racist feelings, but don't voice them not because they care about stopping racism but because they know that saying things like that in polite society gets you ostracized. This got me thinking that maybe I worry so much because I'm afraid that if I don't keep a tight rein on myself, I won't care at all, or that I'm trying to make up for not disowning my family or whatever by CARING SO HARD!!1!1!!

But that doesn't really solve anything, does it? And as she pointed out, what would rejecting my family really do, anyway, other than make us all unhappy? It wouldn't actually make the world a better place, and one could argue that it'd make the world a slightly worse place because we'd all be miserable.

But not everything is that straightforward. And here's where the light switch fits in. Once I start seeing nuances, I see all of them, including ones that may not be there, and I don't trust my own judgment about what's real or not, and what's worth it or not. So in an attempt not to leave anything out, I just go all the way with it, and then hate myself for not being able to live up to a standard that no one's asking me to meet. But I can't tell for myself where the actual bar is, because of the cognitive overload. My default settings are that either everything's a fair reason to continue to do what I do - this is the off position, as I can't consciously not care, it only happens when I'm distracted from myself; or everything's an excuse and I'm just a horrible person. And the more I learn about liberal and feminist politics/philosophy/social work, the bigger the wattage that comes on when something flicks that switch.

I can't live in the dark, but the 3zillion watt bulb is burning my eyes out. I need to learn how to decide for myself where the bar is, and what counts and doesn't (obviously, misogyny is bad, and equality is good, but does that mean I can or cannot watch Law and Order SVU without guilt?). To flog the metaphor one last lame time, I'm hoping that the counseling can teach me how to install a dimmer switch on my brain.

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