A thought disorder? Thought is disorder.
Drowning alone in a sea of words…
“The doctrine of the Real Presence asserts that in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is literally and wholly present—body and blood, soul and divinity—under the appearances of bread and wine. Many Protestants attack this doctrine as unbiblical…”
Though I am not a practicing Catholic I understand the need to believe in in Jesus’ “Real Presence”. Through the consecrated wine and bread we enter into a sensual relationship with Christ: he is taken in through the senses and consumed by the body. It seems important to add intimacy and sensuality to faith. It infuses life into our relationship with Christ by grounding it in something we can touch.
While I can understand the attack on the literalism of the Eucharist, I also feel protective of it. I despise the way religion asks that we compartmentalize ourselves: body and soul; good and bad; purity and sexuality.
There is so much sexuality in the confusing, sprawling, awful, contradictory mess of Catholism. Some of it is beautiful. Much of it is disturbing. Christ hangs near naked on the cross. Statues and paintings of the Virgin Mary depict a perfect nurturer: one at whose breasts we would all love to suckle. And how did she become “The Virgin Mary”? She was told (not asked) by an angel that she would conceive God’s child. I am certain that many have derived erotic pleasure through this imagery whether they realize it or not.
I understand the need to believe in Jesus’ Real Presence because I understand loneliness and the need for touch and presence. Harlow’s experiments prove the importance of contact comfort. It is not enough for Jesus to be something we hold in our imagination or through our “virtuousness”. Sometimes we need to get down and dirty. The Eucharist and all of the imagery allows us to receive a vicarious contact comfort. It grounds something that would otherwise exist only in our imaginations. (I do not believe that this was the Church’s conscious intention. Indeed, I believe I would be scorned for everything I am saying.)
I do not intend to partake of the Eucharist (even when we get past this pandemic). But now more than ever I understand the unconscious needs and desires it fulfills in people. If Christ is to really comfort us then we need to be touched by him. And to be really touched by him requires body as well as spirit.
I started a video game yesterday as a form of distraction. But it has ended up being a captivating experience that requires thought and feeling. There is a soulfulness to the game that I find quite beautiful.
I’ll set up the basic backdrop of the game (which is a typical sci-fi trope) and then get to what’s actually unique and rewarding. It’s 2038 in Detroit, USA. It is a world divided by many things, one of which is the existence of androids. People are threatened by the ways in which they are different and because they take jobs from people (clearly a metaphor for immigrants). You play through different scenes as three different androids.
It is a choice based game meaning that every choice you make determines what happens next. There are so many choices that at the end of every scene you are given a flow chart showing you how your choices led to certain outcomes. There are blanks in the flow chart for all the different possibilities that you missed by not making other choices. It doesn’t show you what would have happened–there are only blank boxes. It is a lovely way of connecting one to free will and responsibility and, therefore, to regret and doubt.
I will confess that at one point I wondered if, like most other games, you can go back to a previous save point and replay a scene. This was handled beautifully by the game designers: when you access the menu that would allow you a replay an android appears and, while looking you straight in the eye, gently reminds you that it is your life and your game and that you can indeed replay the scenes. However, it also asks you to let go; to allow yourself to play through the game once without altering your decisions. What a powerful and creative way remind us that–even within the context of a video game–we often try too hard to control things. I decided to go ahead and allow my decisions to stand.
The scenes are full of difficult decisions that reveal to us our biases, values and character. I don’t mean that in a “linear” sense because in fantasy one can also choose to live out one’s shadow sides without hurting anyone. But even so, if one is self-aware enough then even the choices one makes under the guise of “it’s-only-a-game” can themselves be revealing!
One especially powerful scene was one where I play an android named Kara. Kara is a “household” model of android–especially designed to cook and clean (again, the metaphor is clear). She works for an extremely abusive man who has a young daughter. You find out in the scene that this man frequently destroys you and then, when getting you repaired, asks them to wipe your memory. The scene begins with the man picking you up from the repair shop and taking you home. He asks you to clean and initially the only choices are cleaning options. Sound boring? Good! That’s part of what makes the game unique: in life we often have limited choices whether they be self-imposed or imposed by context. As your choices broaden you can do things like approach the daughter and play with her. It is clear that the child knows something. That she is guarded around you but that she seems to care. She is full of love but deeply frightened. After earning her trust (an accidental byproduct of my sincere sweetness toward her) she drops a key in your hand (I realize I just went first person) leading you to a beautiful little box she keeps on her nightstand. In it are drawings she has made. In one drawing it is implied that the father has previously ripped you to pieces.
One evening as you serve them dinner you witness the man’s dark shame and pain get projected onto the daughter. He hits her across the face. You watch helplessly (there are no choices available yet). She runs upstairs and he tells you angrily not to move. The words “Do Not Move” are shown in your vision matrix making it feel like it’s not only the command of the abusive man but a command from the game itself (meta profundity!). In many games, going against linear structure leads to your demise (like when you fall off a cliff and die). I sat motionless for 10 seconds. Then I thought, “Fuck this. I cant’ just stand here!” I moved my controller just a bit and suddenly the screen went haywire and I had to move the controller a certain way to break through my own programming. I decided to run upstairs and go to the daughter. I tried to play non-violently but my attempts to hide and run off with the girl were thwarted by the violence of the father. I was beaten pretty badly but managed to operate the controls well enough to escape onto a bus with the child. At the end of the scene the child leaned her head against me and I chose to hold her hand.
After playing through the scene I went to the kitchen to get myself a snack. I wondered if I was avoiding playing out my shadow side in the game because I am disowning it or if it is because I spend so much time connected to it that it is gratifying to play as the shadow to my shadow. It occurred to me that I play the scenes as close as possible to my sincere feelings. If we look at the examples above aspects of my personality show right through: my distaste for authority; my love of the underdog; my tendency toward despair; my tendency to–for better or worse–overvalue feeling, my love of beauty; and maybe even my reactivity (hey, there is no way to know if I would have caused less damage or been given different options if I had not chosen to break free of my chains so soon. Maybe biding one’s time is better in the bigger picture). I would say that even though my character’s choices did not imply anger, there was a part of me who wanted to kill the abusive man. To abuse the abuser. I did not choose that route, but wow did I want to. So even my rage was right there.
Another touching, but far less dramatic, scene involves you playing an android named Markus (a black android I should add for context). The scene begins with you running an errand. During the course of this errand you encounter both micro-aggression and straight out aggression. The worst coming when a group of protestors beat you up. A police officer steps in to stop it but not because he cares about you; he makes it clear that the violent hoard might be “guilty of destroying private property”. Eventually you get home and you come to learn that you are not only the caretaker but the best friend of a paraplegic artist. He speaks to you as though you were human and it confounds your character who you can tell continually tries to make sense of human emotion. The artist insists on treating you with humanity and, though you help him with going to the bathroom and serving him meals, he never treats you like a servant. Indeed, he encourages you to go off and do your own thing. I chose to read Shakespeare (I chose between Plato, Shakespeare and Keats or doing other activities–not easy choices!). After your guy eats breakfast he takes you into his studio and you watch him paint. He then asks you to try. Initially I painted something that was technically perfect but shows no unique vision. He asks me to try again. He asks me to close my eyes and paint that way. Choices suddenly appear on screen: “LOGIC”; “DESPAIR”; “ANGER”; etc. You have to make a quick decision. I chose “despair” and the painting I end up with is actually quite lovely. You realize that the elderly artist believes in you and infuses you with humanness. He is not long for the world and it is meaningful to him to do so. He insists on you having a soul even if you yourself doubt it.
Enough about my game. I realize that, like a little kid, I felt the need to ramble on about a silly thing that I’m excited about. I enjoy doing my best to show people that some video games can be edifying and soulful experiences. Yes, most games lack depth and are pointlessly violent; but there are people out there creating unique and visionary gaming experiences.
Having said all of that, I think I’m going to read and listen to music now as even an “edifying game” can become numbing if you forget to do other things.
My Friday in Sort-of-Quarantine. Asterisks will be placed after everything that shows privilege.
–Wake up at 8am and think to myself, “Holy shit balls. How am I going to do four video sessions in a row when I’ve only done two in my life?”*
–I soon wonder if I want to eat breakfast or not while guzzling down 20 ounces of coffee. *
–Decide not to eat breakfast and to instead eat a few healthy snacks between sessions.*
–Exchange a few texts with good friends. Realize that the content of the texts feels less important today than the reaching out.*
–Notice that my natural bedhead has made for a hair day for the ages. Worry that my clients will all experience erotic transference. Then realize that I’m projecting my own feelings toward myself onto them.*
–Have four video sessions with clients. They go pretty darn well all things considered. Tired nevertheless.*
–In between some of the sessions I exchange letters (emails) with woman I met on dating site. Worry that I said something off-putting in response to one of her very flirtatious messages. Neurotic worry. Did I misread that? Uh-oh! Or maybe she’s just living her life. Oh well.*
–Decide to go on a run. Run for 49 minutes (well if I’m honest, I run hard for about 30 of those minutes and walk the rest).*
–Come back and ask “Do I even want to eat lunch? Maybe a little fasting thing is good?” I sure as heck felt chubby on that run. Eat some trail mix. *
–Sit down and think for a moment about what is really happening in the world. How the world is going to be changed in ways that I can’t wrap my mind around. Hoping some of the changes are for the better. Scared about the ones that will not be. I picture one of my friends to help calm my nerves.
–Decide to sit down and write woman from dating site one last time (unless she responds in which case it won’t be the last time). Ask her about music and poetry. Decide that since we’re doing everything unconventionally (and since she’s clearly quite brilliant and clever) that she might enjoy my questions. At peace with idea that she may not write back. Almost more worried that one of my close friends will be more disappointed than I am! Realize that’s sweet. *
–Decide to have a bubbly water. Wonder why I did not stock up on more.*
–Worry about my toilet paper running out. Decide that I want to write an open letter to the country that goes:
Dear Fellow Americans,
It is important to write from the mind and the heart. But it is equally important to write from the butthole. And it is from that place that I remind you all to stop hoarding TP. TP will not protect you from the virus or cure your death anxiety.
For the sake of all of our buttholes please remember: Sharing is caring and it is important that we–literally–have each others’ backs at times like these.
My Butthole *
–Decide to sit down and write this frivolous entry because…I don’t know. Not everything has to be deep and heavy. Sometimes the darkness leads you right into inanely funny places.*
Note: sprawling stream of consciousness where tangents are the norm and by the end I’m not even sure what I really wanted to say. Catharsis. I remembered just now that in choosing to call my (unreadable) blog “Fragmented Thoughts” I gave myself a free pass from day one to jot down whatever the hell I want.
I’m tired. And it’s the sort of tired that comes not just from tending to clients but from being overly empathic; from feeling the energy around me–the love, paranoia, fear, beauty, sweetness, greediness, anger and sadness. In everyday life people often walk through the world without noticing one another. Now people are hyper-aware of one another. I get more responses and acknowledgments than ever; whether it’s a big smile and greeting or a subtle scowl. Some even tilt their heads away as though avoiding eye contact and moving their mouth two inches away (when there is already a dozen feet between us) will be the difference between life and death. Though I do not take any of that personally, I can feel it.
Now more than ever the challenge I have around creating psychological boundaries is being tested. This is a time where too much sensitivity can be exhausting and painful. I don’t know how to keep my heart wide open for clients and loved ones while also closing it up a bit when I’m walking through the world or reading a news article. I don’t think it has to be a binary choice, but given my limited capacities at this time it feels as though it is. And if it is then I choose to keep my heart open for as long as possible (I’ll let you know how that goes).
I’m often too quick to use the pejorative term “needy” whenever I feel any interpersonal want or need. The reality for me (and perhaps for billions right now) is that I have an increased desire for emotional and physical intimacy because I’m tired and afraid. I’m tired in the way everyone is tired and I’m tired because I tend to others in my work while growing through this [I meant “going” not “growing” but what a lovely typo!]. People long for support and consolation and mutual reassurance. People long to be held. I caught myself trying to make this impersonal. I long for consolation, support and touch. It feels important to say that aloud so that I won’t disown it and turn it into numbness. I wish to say it clearly and loudly: this is a really lonely time. I do not feel sorry for myself when I say that. I actually feel somewhat empowered. Like I don’t have to apologize for my humanness. It points me toward the reality that I’m going to have to be resourceful: take in the love that is there; be flexible and use forms of communication that I normally don’t prefer; write so that I don’t lose my voice; take walks and read soulful things. And one of the biggest challenges for me: I will need to stay connected with my sexuality in life-affirming ways, not in soul-numbing ways. That is always a work-in-progress but I’m aware it will become increasingly salient as the social distancing increases.
Yesterday I enjoyed having a laugh at myself. I saw a comic (or maybe it’s a “meme”) where a character realizes that his quarantined life is not that different from his “normal” life. I shared it with a few friends and it felt good to have them laugh with and at me. My colleague has a chocolate bar in the drawer next to our chair at work and I scratched out the “hemp” from the “Hemp Chocolate” and changed it to “CV-19 Chocolate”. They later added “death” to the ingredients list. Seeing how we created this gallows humor together felt delightful to me. It was like we were saying (even if not consciously): “We may not be able to conquer death and illness but we sure as hell can laugh at our mortality!” I’m not sure why I’m sharing this other than to add dark humor to the resourcefulness list.
It is indeed funny that in some ways my life isn’t that different so far. Still working a job that is both solitary and intimate. Still come home to an empty apartment. Still spend a lot of time alone thinking and feeling. The extra thinking and feeling leads to extra writing. And more than that, to writing without quite as much self-judgment (the voice that says “don’t publish something that isn’t good” is still there, but I’m getting better at bypassing it). In these ways I can handle the isolation better than many. But in some ways that makes the feelings about what will be missing more acute. A couple (hopefully) can take for granted that they have hugs and simple passing touches. I, on the other hand, am like a chipmunk: I store touch away in my cupboards for the winter months. Naturally, I long for hugs from my friends and–in my fantasy life–I long for X to hold me. I suppose this is an overly-wordy way of saying that despite a life that is defined at times by solitude, the fact that touch is not an option still hurts even if the math doesn’t compute a large sum total difference. Mmm. Yes. That’s it. The paradox is that, in some ways, this is even more trying for those whose personal lives have not changed that much.
Last night a young grad-student client (who is in my field) cried her heart out confronting the fact that she was essentially the mother of her family, despite being the youngest sibling (not uncommon in economically deprived Latino families). She realized that she had coped by focusing on the beauty and closeness of her family (and there is a lot of beauty in her family) but by neglecting the darkness of it as well as her own subjective experience. I gave her the space to sob (she is strong enough to sob) and sat quietly with her. I felt so much love for her that it hurt. I find it easy to love soulful, sincere clients. When she was done she looked at me and I looked back at her and I said, “You never got to be little.” She began to cry again but in a more controlled way. She nodded and then verbalized her unmet need to be nurtured. Again, I sat with her quietly. When I conjectured that she had been given enough space to feel, I asked, “I wonder if you can let yourself feel little here”. “I think I’m doing that right now.” She was right. It made me smile at her (so bright and self-aware) and at myself (hello, Captain Obvious! You’re not so clever!).
Last night a handsome, tall white undergrad had his closing session because he has finished his undergraduate work. He said that the end didn’t feel “real” (regarding the end of therapy). I said, “Well we can make it feel real by talking about how it’s over”. He immediately began to cry (something that has occurred maybe three times in three years in our work) and expressed appreciation for my being there for him. I teared up a little with him. I told him the truth. Uncensored for the most part. I told him that when I first met him he seemed to glide by on his intelligence and looks and that he hadn’t accessed anything much deeper. I told him it was off-putting but that I sensed a lot of untapped depth. I told him how I saw it in his curiosity and his willingness to look at things from different perspectives. I let him know how deeply I respected him for plunging into his own depths and becoming increasingly complex, sensitive and empathetic. I told him I believed that his strength was resting on something bigger than his societal privileges. I imagine that the session would have ended with a firm handshake from his immensely large hand (as is his wont). Instead it ended with a wave and a goodbye.
I’m afraid about how this pandemic is going to impact my ability to work. Not just economically (thought that anxiety is very high as well) but in terms of how the work feeds me at times. The reality is that when I correctly conjectured that my grad school client was never “little” I was addressing myself as well as her. I wasn’t saying it for me (not consciously), but I was nurturing myself while nurturing her. She cried the tears of every neglected child and I jumped into the lovely stream she made with them.
When I gave my client feedback at his closing session yesterday and I appreciated his courage, I was, in a sense, appreciating the strength in my own sensitivity.
Two days ago when I tried to help my client access his sensuality I was addressing my own lack of person-to-person sensuality and was cultivating it through my instructions and suggestions.
There is a way that we help ourselves by helping others. I worry that those who are not in the field will not understand. Or that the more linear thinkers in our field will misunderstand and think that I am using my clients to heal me. Well, I am. But I’m not.
I’m not sharing with them the details of my life. I do not allow them to directly tend to me (unless some subtle tending is actually necessary for their own growth as it might be with a more narcissistic person). But I do let them impact me and I allow for the reality that in good therapy our souls merge and diverge. It’s no different from our relationships in day-to-day life. We can be deeply connected and temporarily merge and yet, for that to be sustainable, we also have to diverge and own our ultimate separateness. When Rilke says that love requires us to stand guard over the solitude of our loved ones he is referring to the way that we must protect our loved ones sense of their own Self–to respect their need for solitude and space. At least, that has always been my interpretation.
My point is that my clients grant me as many gifts as I grant them. And though it’s exhausting to me it’s deeply meaningful. If we come to a time where we must shut down our doors completely and I am left with a few phone/video clients I worry that I will lose this. That is the selfish side of being a therapist. I need clients as much, if not more, than they need me.
His was too adamant about his indifference to be indifferent.