My Body Is My Self

dualism-2

I have a fiery hatred for Cartesian dualism. There are well documented problems with dualism, and modern neuroscience indicates a close relationship between the physical aspects of the brain and the subjective experiences of the mind. Being embodied can really suck sometimes (trust me, I have an eating disorder), but one of the important elements of being mentally healthy for me is accepting not only that I have a body but that in many ways I am my body.

I recently posed the question to a friend “if you were removed from your body and put into a robot, would you still be you?” I suggest no, as the ways that I can think of to define self nearly all rely on bodily experiences: our actions, our thoughts, our feelings, our values. These things are all highly dependent on what we sense and how we sense, and are affected by the ways that our bodies work. A well fed body acts, thinks, and feels differently than a hungry body. These experiences of being dependent on something that is changeable and fallible seem to be an essential part of being human.

Even when we think of the memories and narratives that we have, our bodies are essential to a sense of self. Memories are often sensory experiences, dependent on what we perceived and the emotions elicited in the moment. There’s evidence that smell is more connected to memory than other senses, which points towards the idea that our memories are colored by both our fallible and finite brains, and the ways that our body is capable of processing an experience. Even the stories that we tell about ourselves are highly influenced by our bodies, if only because our social position is affected by our weight and height and strength and gender presentation. It’s easy to imagine that our concept of selfhood is entirely abstract or mental, but most of our emotions are experienced physically, and things like stress or relaxation are very physical, embodied experiences.

All of this is to say that I’m firmly convinced that me, Olivia, is not simply my conscious experience, but my conscious experience as situated in this body, and that if I were to be transplanted there would be a pivotal change in my essential identity. I’m not entirely sure what this means as far as continuity of identity or whether or not we can really assert that we have an underlying self that continues to exist through all our experiences except insofar as we have memories and stories, but that’s not the focus for today.

Instead, I want to talk about sex.

Some people are totally down with casual sex, and this post is not for them. This post is about why (at least for me and probably some other people too) sex can seem so intimate and personal, why it seems so vulnerable, and why for some people it feels violating. One of the reasons that I am starting to consider labeling myself “sex-averse” is because of the highly intertwined nature of self and body. I trust very few people with the more intimate parts of myself. Sure, I’m open about the fact that I have an eating disorder, and I write about my experiences here, but in person there are many, many things I don’t talk about often. Many of these things are embodied experiences: sexual assault, self harm, purging. My experience of my body is one of pain, and more often than not it is a solitary experience because these things are shameful.

It is deeply embarrassing and terrifying to me to let that side of me be real, to actually be quiet and vulnerable in my body. My body is puke and blood and tears and snot. That is not the intimacy I want. I can grudgingly accept that those things are a part of me, but I don’t want to dwell on them or revel in them. It’s possible that at some point in the future my body will become something else to me: strength or grace. But those elements, those animal elements, the things that we cannot control will always be an essential part of having a body and of sharing that body.

For many other people, discomfort with sex is about judgment. It’s easy to write this off as the same kind of fear of judgment we have when we’re going to the beach and showing more skin than usual, or when we’re spending some serious one on one time with someone. I tend to think it’s more than that though, which is where questions of dualism come in. I’m sure some people are fairly capable of bifurcating self from body (although I also am fairly sure that this is somewhat illusory for the reasons presented above). But I think that some of us feel the “me”ness of our bodies more: we feel intimately that my body is not simply something that belongs to me or a bit of meat that carries me around, but is in fact an integral part of how I experience the world and what makes up my worldview.

I feel this quite thoroughly when I am in sexual situations, and that’s a major part of why they are so intimate to me. I am not simply sharing pleasure with someone or sharing my body with someone: I am sharing one of the most essential elements of self with another person, the part of me that is my only way of connecting to the world. This is perhaps why all physical contact is intimate to me in a way that speaking is or writing is not: it demands that I am present.

And because allowing another person to experience your body is so close to letting them experience you (just as having a serious, deep conversation is, or showing them something you care deeply about is), it becomes so much more rife with potential judgment than other situations, and when judgment occurs it is much more painful. It feels far more like a rejection of self than many other circumstances.

Perhaps all of this is overthinking things, but I think it’s too easy to write off our bodies as simple mechanisms that allow us to feel pleasure and pain, or get from point a to point b. There is so much more to them, so much that is terrifying and disgusting, but also that is intimate, vulnerable, and exciting. For the moment, the selfhood of my body makes me want to shy away from physical contact, but perhaps in the future it will make it more fulfilling. However it ends up interacting with my sexuality, I want to be aware of my body and its role in my self-identity before I gallivant off into the land of sex.

Missed Opportunities: Arguments From Potential and Living Forever

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Warning: this is long and rambly and may not have a point, but there are many thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind about the question of potential and its role. Here they are.

Most human beings hate the concept of missing opportunities. It’s a sort of common wisdom that you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did do. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about lost opportunities lately as the large impending move in my future is cutting off a lot of the things that I might like to do in my current life (jobs I’d looked at, relationships that are just starting, volunteering I’d like to do). These things make me incredibly sad, especially the things that I’ve been able to dip my toe into but will have to abandon.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about living forever. He made some good arguments about all the amazing things that the world offers and the potential experiences that could come from living forever. The finitude of life means that there are always more missed opportunities than taken opportunities and having more time to take more opportunities does sound quite appealing. There may even be some moral impetus to want to live longer in order to take advantage of more of these opportunities. We certainly see that denying someone else of these opportunities (through murder) is untenable. The idea that we should or might want to live longer for the sake of potential things we could experience has a strong pull for many people.

The way that we see potential and potential selves impacts our ethics in all sorts of ways we wouldn’t expect: it’s most often applied to things like stem cell research or abortion, but it also affects how we should live our lives and whether we should want to live forever and the sadness that is appropriate to making choices. To live consistently and logically within our ethical systems, we should be aware of the fact that questions of potential reach far further than the stark examples that involve life and death.

We like to use arguments from potential: we use them against abortion and suicide, we use them for living forever. Emotionally, they speak to us: “what if” we ask ourselves. But we miss opportunities all the time. Every moment is wasted potential and there is no way to make that up. Every decision we make is choosing not to make a different decision, closing other doors. At any given point in time there is an infinite number of things we could be doing: infinite potential. Sure some infinities are larger than other infinities, and the potential of a life that goes on forever is larger than my current lifespan, but at any given moment we have an impossible number of things we could be doing (and even if we do live forever, the infinity of things we could do will always be larger than the things we will do).

If we were to be morally consistent we would have to feel intense guilt every time we choose not to do something, which would be nearly every second of every day (as an example I am currently choosing not to go do my workout because I’m blogging instead, not to go in to work because it’s my day off, and not to eat more lunch because I’m lazy. These are all good reasons, but I could be doing any number of things right now that I’m not. I don’t feel guilty about that).

Every decision we make removes potential other decisions and actions. When we suggest that we need to maximize potential we are arguing for indecisiveness. There is no way to do all the things. it implies we should feel guilty every time we make a decision that cuts off another decision. While some people have no problem with the idea of a moral obligation that is unattainable, I find the idea a bit distasteful. Beyond that, we have good reasons to be suspicious of arguments from potential through the debates on abortion. We don’t generally confer rights or moral imperatives based on potential (the potential president does not demand the same respect the actual president does), and there are all sorts of negative potentials as well.

So how do we understand the strong, visceral reactions we have to many arguments about potential (for example in the case of suicide or murder) in conjunction with the fact that most of our lives are made up of lost potential? Are there other ethical issues at play in most of the cases that we feel rely on potential? How do we understand the regret of missing potential in an ethical context? Is there any ethical impetus in our lives that should be driven by potential?

Let’s look for a moment at suicide, since questions about the end of life throw potential into the harshest light, but suicide does not have the added difficulty that abortion or murder does of one individual interfering with another individual’s choices.

One of the arguments against suicide is that it deprives society of the individual’s contributions and deprives the individual’s potential future selves of life (in the case that they would change their mind). We generally see suicide as a waste of potential, as an individual not seeing all of the things that their life could hold. Most people think that we should probably at least try to convince a suicidal individual to look at all the potential in their life, and some assert that we have a right to interfere. We see the future life and potential actions of individuals as things to be protected.

To counter that:

“Libertarianism typically asserts that the right to suicide is a right of noninterference, to wit, that others are morally barred from interfering with suicidal behavior. Some assert the stronger claim that the right to suicide is a liberty right, such that individuals have no duty not to commit suicide (i.e., that suicide violates no moral duties), or a claim right, according to which other individuals may be morally obliged not only not to interfere with a person’s suicidal behavior but to assist in that behavior. (See the entry on rights.)”

“Another rationale for a right of noninterference is the claim that we have a general right to decide those matters that are most intimately connected to our well-being, including the duration of our lives and the circumstances of our deaths. On this view, the right to suicide follows from a deeper right to self-determination, a right to shape the circumstances of our lives so long as we do not harm or imperil others (Cholbi 2011, 88–89). As presented in the “death with dignity” movement, the right to suicide is the natural corollary of the right to life. That is, because individuals have the right not to be killed by others, the only person with the moral right to determine the circumstances of a person’s death is that person herself and others are therefore barred from trying to prevent a person’s efforts at self-inflicted death.”

-all from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

While arguments from potential against suicide seem to make an intuitive sense, it’s important to remember that individuals are allowed to have preferences and choices about their own potential.  The idea that someone should be obligated to act out all their potential makes no sense when we think about the vastness of potential in our lives.

When we look at the question of immortality and whether we should seek immortality, people seem far less invested in the question of whether or not we are cutting short our potential. The difference appears to be active interruption of potential vs. simply not encouraging potential (leaving a place with all the potentials that organically would grow if you were to stay there vs. actively working to create more time and space to live out potentials). Do we have an obligation to not actively cut short our potential? Perhaps.  Perhaps it is important to have some sense of the amazing number of possibilities that our life contains and discards, some way to motivate ourselves to continue trying and expanding and growing. Perhaps an awareness of all the amazing things we could be doing will give us some hope for the future and prevent something like suicide.

Of course suicide is the ultimate question of cutting off potential. But going home and taking a nap instead of going out into the world and doing MORE THINGS is like a tiny suicide in terms of its impact on potential. This is again, making an active choice not to live out your full potential. Should we shame those who choose to do less active things in their lives, or who choose to do the same things over and over again? Should those people feel guilty for wasting their lives and their potential? Doesn’t the emphasis on potential put an undue amount of pressure on each human being to never be quiet, engage in self care, rest? Don’t we lose some element of enjoyment in what we are actually doing by putting an ethical value on the things we could be doing?

I don’t know that we can ever entirely discount the importance of being aware of the size of the world and the amazing possibilities that we ourselves contain, but I will leave you all with this thought:

“Time is like wax, dripping from a candle flame. In the moment, it is molten and falling, with the capability to transform into any shape. Then the moment passes, and the wax hits the table top and solidifies into the shape it will always be. It becomes the past — a solid single record of what happened, still holding in its wild curves and contours the potential of every shape it could have held.

It is impossible — no matter how blessed you are by luck, or the government, or some remote, invisible deity gently steering your life with hands made of moonlight and wind — it is impossible not to feel a little sad, looking at that bit of wax, that bit of the past. It is impossible not to think of all the wild forms that wax now will never take.

The village, glimpsed from a train window — beautiful and impossible and impossibly beautiful on a mountaintop, then you wondered what it would be if you stepped off the moving train and walked up the trail to its quiet streets and lived there for the rest of your life. The beautiful face of that young man from Luftnarp, with his gaping mouth and ashy skin, last seen already half-turned away as you boarded the bus, already turning towards a future without you in it, where this thing between you that seemed so possible now already, and forever, never was.

All variety of lost opportunity spied from the windows of public transportation, really.

It can be overwhelming, this splattered, inert wax recording every turn not taken.

“What’s the point?” you ask.

“Why bother?” you say.

“Oh, Cecil,” you cry. “Oh, Cecil.”

But then you remember — I remember — that we are, even now, in another bit of molten wax. We are in a moment that is still falling, still volatile — and we will never be anywhere else. We will always be in that most dangerous, most exciting, most possible time of all: the now. Where we never can know what shape the next moment will take.”

-Welcome to Nightvale

Suicide and Rationality

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The ethics of death and dying are complex and emotional, but also incredibly important. For most young adults, questions about death are interesting mind games: puzzles that you can play with and then put away for a while. This is not the case for people (like me) who have been or are suicidal. I like to fancy myself a rational individual (or as rational as an individual can hope to be in any given circumstance), but common wisdom holds that suicidality, particularly suicidality if one has depression, is irrational.

I’m not going to say that I’m pro or anti suicide here. This isn’t the place for a discussion of the morality of suicide. But I do want to talk about what it means to be rational and whether or not someone with a mental illness can accurately evaluate their life in a rational way.

Statistically speaking, if someone attempts suicide and lives through it, they are likely to indicate that they’re glad they are still alive. Mental illness absolutely can amplify the hopelessness of a situation and make it appear that things will never improve. People with severe depression tend to underestimate their ability to feel happy and overestimate all the things that will make them unhappy. Most of us would define this as the essence of irrationality: you cannot accurately see your own circumstances and you cannot make educated guesses about the future because of a skewed view of the cost/benefit analysis of your life. Rationality is about seeing facts without being skewed by emotion, and mental illness tends to create an emotional lens through which all facts are viewed.

So at first glance, it appears that suicide while in the midst of a mental illness is wholly irrational: it’s seeing a skewed version of the world and then acting on it as if it were objective. But I wouldn’t be writing this if it were so simple and clear cut. While it’s easy to simply see mental illness as a distortion of reality, what we often ignore is the intense pain and struggle that comes along with it, as well as the difficulty of recovering and the chronic nature of many mental illnesses. For someone who is in the midst of a mental illness, most decisions have to involve a consideration of the amount of mental pain or difficulty involved.

Especially for chronic conditions or personality disorders, this also means taking into account the fact that their mental health will likely be a struggle in the future. This is a very real and rational consideration: ignoring the impact of a chronic mental health condition when thinking about how to structure the future would be wholly irrational because it ignores a fact about reality and about an individual’s ability to cope.

To take this into the context of suicide, if an individual is struggling with a mental illness, it may be rational to look at the amount of pain that their illness causes in their life and decide that on balance, the good isn’t worth it. For some people whose conditions are temporary it’s probably a good idea to recognize the transience of the suicidal feelings, but as previously mentioned, chronic and personality disorders are likely to affect (and cause harm) throughout an individual’s entire life.

I see this as recognizing that you will most likely have a skewed vision of the world indefinitely and that the skewed vision of the world is painful. In that way it is recognizing the reality of your situation. Where this gets really complicated is in trying to figure out the likelihood of recovery. One of the trademarks of something like depression is the inability to imagine anything other than a life with depression. Trying to determine with any amount of rationality the likelihood that your mental illness will persist, the suckiness of your mental illness, and the amount of that suckiness that you can reasonably live through is a challenge for even the most rational individual.

Obviously suicide is highly contextual and the rationality or irrationality of the act is dependent on the individual and the life they’re living. But it does not seem out of line to me to imagine someone with serious mental illness deciding in a completely rational way that their mental illness has made their life more painful than it’s worth. Having a mental illness does not necessarily imply that your decisions are irrational.

All of that being said, I don’t believe that rational or irrational is an appropriate criterion for whether something is a moral and good decision so please no one go off and hurt yourself on the basis of this post.

Looking Forward: Technology, Identity, and Community

Whozit

Disclaimer: I am not actively a part of any communities that are bound together by disability or illness. I have some experience with these communities as an individual with an eating disorder and visual impairment, but if I totally step in it please let me know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and about technology recently. As I’m gearing up to start a degree in ethics, EVERYTHING has become ethically focused for me, and the ethical implications of technology that can utterly change what human bodies are capable of are fascinating to me. In particular, I have always been interested in the communities that form out of illnesses, diagnoses, or disabilities: the blind community, the autistic community, and even the gay community (which formed out of what was once viewed as an illness).

Fun fact about me: I am blind in one eye. This has been a major part of my identity since we discovered it when I was five. It is highly likely that in the near future we will have the technology to fix my eye in some fashion (whether by replacing it through stem cell research, with a bionic eye or by bypassing it with some sort of alternative technology). This seems like it would be a really cool thing and that I would jump at the chance, right? Oddly, I feel conflicted. Because I have built so much of myself and my self understanding around this deficit, because I’ve found ways to build up a sense of self around it, it seems odd to take it away.

I am not a part of the blind community, and even without having ways of understanding and communicating between people, I would feel some sort of loss at the change. Having ways to connect with other human beings, even if those ways are things that are typically conceived of as “bad” (illness, challenge, disability) is a good thing. I fully understand not wanting to change facts about yourself that have deeply shaped your entire life, particularly things that you have come to see as simply unique and not wrong or bad (although potentially frustrating and challenging). Especially since things like autism, deafness, or blindness often aren’t just a deficit but involve a completely different perspective on life from the average, as well as some pretty awesome talents in other areas, there are some good arguments out there for not “correcting” these things.

But I’m also a part of a different community that has grown up out of disorder: the eating disorder community. I’ve dabbled in pro anorexia communities and certainly understand the vitriol they inspire in many people. Promoting eating disordered behaviors is legitimately dangerous. People die from this shit. At the same time, pro ana communities create very real and important social structures similar to the ones found in the autistic community or any other shared identity group. There are unique skills and perspectives that come from the eating disordered mind: I have met some amazingly dedicated individuals there, and while the ability to not eat isn’t exactly a stellar skill, it pulls from some traits that are important (self control, goal setting, focus). It’s easy to label eating disorders and the communities that surround them as “bad”, but in reality most traits are far more complex than that and can be used in positive and negative ways.

So what differentiates these different communities as good and bad? If we had the technology to remove all of these diseases and impediments, would it be moral to do so?

It seems unlikely that I’ll be able to give you all a definitive answer here, so instead I’m just going to propose some of the relevant interests and considerations that we should keep in mind when thinking about how technology interacts with health.

1. Personal choice
The moral choice for one person may not be the moral choice for another person. As a society, we may not have to deny or require anything, but simply try to allow for individuals to make the choice that best suits their lifestyle. A good way to think about this consideration is that while it would be absolutely abominable to force someone to have a surgery or adopt a technology that they aren’t interested in, withholding something that could improve an individual’s life because you want to preserve their identity is the most disturbing kind of paternalism. There is likely no wholly correct answer, and it’s possible that some communities may continue while others find technology or medicine more appealing.

2. Maximizing ability and ease/reducing harm
While we do want to give individuals choice, it’s also important to consider what might improve people’s lives. In the case of eating disorders, it might make sense to force recovery on someone. This becomes far more hazy in the case of things like blindness or deafness, which certainly make life more difficult but don’t detract from the ability of the person to live a long, healthy life. People who are part of some disabled communities promote the idea that their differences don’t make their lives more difficult, rather a society that’s been created to cater to different abilities does. This is one of the fuzziest lines in considering whether we should “improve” our bodies: we could just as easily make adjustments to society instead. Is there something better about changing an individual to fit into the society we’ve created? There is an obvious benefit that someone who’s blind would much more easily be able to navigate our current world if they could suddenly become sighted, but this might not be the only way to create that ease.

Conversely, with something like eating disorders, there is likely no way to adjust society to make the disorder less harmful.
3. Potential loss
For most people, the idea of correcting something that they deem to be broken about the human body is common sense, but this piece is what we often forget. There are potential losses involved: different senses that have developed more strongly, new perspectives and technologies, communities and friendships. Especially when we look at something like autism, there are some amazing abilities that come with the deficits, and who are we as outsiders to say those aren’t worth it?
5. Cost to society
There are a few elements to this: how much does it cost to develop these technologies and provide them to individuals who might want or need them? Alternatively, are there benefits to society that we’re missing out on because some members can’t participate fully? There are definitely a lot of people who want to ask “what do I have to pay for this”, but personally I think the cost to society is not the most relevant consideration, as making life easier for such large swathes of people would outweigh the cost.

6. Cost to the individuals involved
It’s possible that objectively an individual’s life might be easier/better if they embraced technological enhancements to their bodies, but they don’t know how to rebuild community or extricate themselves from the communities that they’re involved in. It’s possible that asking an individual to make the changes to fit into society puts too much burden on them rather than on a society that purports to support them.

For different communities these considerations will shake out in different ways. But as we move towards more and more technology that can get rid of disabilities and illnesses, we’ll have to spend more time thinking about it.

Talking Over

talking over

Yesterday I posted about a personal experience that I had. I identified certain things about my identity and mental health, and mentioned some things that were helpful for me in terms of both of those things. The majority of the post was about things that pertained to me and me alone, with the suggestion that perhaps others could try as well because I had found it helpful, so maybe it would be helpful for others as well.

Now overwhelmingly, the response has been positive, but I did get one comment that summed up for me all that is wrong about talking over another person and their experiences.

Well first off she should stop telling people she is asexual. As she isn’t. She made several references to sexual or romantic relationships she has had in the past. And never once did she say oh I hated the sex part….

Second she right love is awful painful for a borderline and most do get clingy. But this whole if I don’t have sex with you I can love you so hard thing is kinda of not really true. She just removed added simulation to her emotions. Yea borderline emotions are intense and painful.they lead to thinking crazy. But the key part she left out is.you don’t have to act on those feelings. Or thoughts. That once you start learning how to wait them out you learn how to think through them and separate the borderline b.s from what’s actually happening…

All she did was remove an emotional trigger.. and her fb experiment will bite her in the butt when all those friends don’t start giving that love back when she crashes again. But that’s just what I think.”

Normally I don’t take the time to respond to comments like this because they’re awful and just deeply unhelpful, but the problems with this comment are problems that I see over and over and so I wanted to take the time to break down why this isn’t actually constructively engaging with the ideas that I presented. This is a classic example of talking over someone.

So first and foremost, when someone identifies themselves (whether as asexual or bisexual or pansexual or whatever) you don’t get to tell them they don’t identify that way. Identity is complex and personal, and no human being is the Grand High Judge of Sexual Identity. This is one of the most common ways that sexual minorities get fucked with: by others defining what they are and why. It hurts absolutely no one for an individual to identify in the way that they find most compatible with their life experiences, but having your identity undermined or denied is quite painful (and especially for asexual individuals leads to things like corrective rape). As a corollary to this, if you are going to play Sexual Identity Police, at least understand the definitions of the identities you’re policing. Asserting that someone can’t be asexual if they don’t explicitly state they hated all the sex they’ve ever had fundamentally misses what asexuality is, and worse it demands that anyone who is asexual give personal information about their sex lives in order to legitimize their identity to randos on the internet.

Basically, the next time someone tells you how they identify and you feel the need to challenge it, remember that what you’re essentially doing is ignoring someone whose identity puts them in a vulnerable position because you Know More and don’t care about whatever thought they have put into identifying that way.

Now the rest of the comment seems like it’s less harmful because the commenter specifies that it’s just her opinion. The problem comes when she imperiously declares what will happen in my future and what I’m doing with my emotions. This is a nice bit of mind-reading and psychic abilities. I’m impressed.

When someone with a mental illness brings up something that they tried that seemed to help them out, telling them that they’re wrong and that they’ve actually just hurt themselves is incredibly invalidating. While you may have had a different experience from theirs, that doesn’t mean that you get to ignore the words that they have actually said or the experiences that they’ve actually had. If your depression didn’t get better through exercise but someone else says “I tried exercise and I’m really happy with how well it’s working. If you’re interested you could try it too”, the appropriate response is not “You don’t actually feel better! It’s all a lie! Exercise doesn’t work!”

The secret (not so secret) about experiences is that they’re personal. Different things work differently for different people. It’s easy within the mental illness community to get defensive or catty when someone else copes differently from the way you do. It sucks to see someone else doing well if you yourself can’t find good coping mechanisms. But despite how easy it is, it’s a horrible plan. If someone isn’t asking for advice, don’t give advice. If someone did something differently than you would have, you can just move the fuck along. The more we perpetuate the idea that there’s a “right” way to recover, the worse off everyone will be. It’s simply not true that her way of dealing with BPD is the same as my way of dealing with BPD, but that doesn’t have to come with a judgment.

I don’t really care if this person fundamentally misunderstands why I did what I did or how my asexuality is interacting with my BPD or doesn’t get that the point of my experiment wasn’t to just take sex out of love but rather to see what it was like to be open with love and love more people more fully. What I do care about is the implications of her comment that I’m doing something Wrong because I didn’t do what she’d do. I care about the implication that she gets to decide what identities and treatments are better for random people she’s never met. I care that this is considered appropriate dialogue on the internet.

It’s not dialogue. It’s talking over.

 

Experiments in Loving

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One of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder is high emotional reactivity: people with BPD feel more, harder, and longer (bow chicka wow wow). Oftentimes this is a serious struggle: it makes it hard to react to things appropriately, it can lead to serious fears of abandonment, flashes of anger, and major depression. I have heard it described as having no emotional skin: everything is raw and immediate.

This is one of the traits of BPD that I fall quite classically into. In the past, it has been almost exclusively a negative force in my life. The past few weeks I’ve been trying some new things in terms of riding extreme emotional highs. Ever since I began to identify as asexual, the concept of loving in ways other than romantic or sexual has appealed greatly to me. I have always felt strongly about my friends, but I suddenly felt this huge rush of validation for all the ways that I care for people, along with the realization that I can make those relationships as important as I so choose.

As part of this I have been experimenting with letting myself love as hard as I  have always wanted to. One of the downsides of having a culture that emphasizes sexual and romantic relationships above all others is that you are expected to have one primary relationship that serves all your needs. Unfortunately this can put a great deal of pressure on the one person you pick, and loving too much is “clingy”. In all reality, this is an unhealthy relationship model and putting all your love and emotional needs on one person is not good for either of you.

While a healthy way to react to this might be to add more relationships into your life, find healthy coping mechanisms, and take responsibility for your emotions, what more often tends to happen is that people learn the message that they shouldn’t love too much. Love becomes something dangerous, something that puts you in a vulnerable, dependent position, something that drives others away when it is too strong.

And so I have spent a great deal of my life pulling back when I care a lot about someone. Oh sure, there were a few youthful relationships that involved passionate declarations of love, but those bit me in the butt pretty quickly and I learned. I learned not to love as hard as I can love.

Unconsciously, I’ve been challenging this for quite some time. I’ve been more open with my feelings. I’ve been letting myself care about more people. I’ve been working to do kind things for others and find ways to express my love other than telling people “you’re super awesome”. I tried a Facebook experiment in which I told my friends exactly what I loved about each of them, uniquely and individually.

The conclusion you’d never expect? It has been fantastic. So far no one has told me “wow that’s creepy, stop telling me how much you like me”. People are flattered and like the attention and get a boost. No one has blocked me or stopped speaking to me. Even my newer friends have appreciated when I tell them what I like about them. It has been one of the best weeks I’ve had in years because I am not asking myself to deny my emotions.

Now of course this does mean I’ve made myself vulnerable a number of times. I’ve asked people to accept me, to accept my emotions.  Bad things do happen sometimes, and I’ve had a few moments of serious and crippling self doubt and fear. But the experiment in loving wasn’t in loving one person and being vulnerable with one person. It was in letting myself feel all sorts of love for all sorts of people. Even when I was terrified that I was going to be hurt by one individual I had relied on or opened up to, I had someone else who would listen to me and prop me up a bit. That’s a lie. I usually had three or four people who would ask me to spend time with them or laugh with me or distract me or give me hugs.

This isn’t simply an experiment in telling your crush that you like them (although that’s certainly part of it). It’s in taking the time to identify what you feel and then act on it (if and when appropriate).

Try experimenting. Try letting yourself feel a little high off of how cool someone is. Try daydreaming about someone you wish you saw more often. And then tell them just how much you miss them. Maybe it won’t work for you, but man, even feeling this much love is enough of a reward for me. It’s so easy to be afraid of big emotions. For now, I’d rather do the work to just feel them. I’d rather experiment with who I am when I love. I have a feeling I’m kind of a badass.

Featured pic is of why I love my friends so much.