Stinking thinking

Thinking about thinking probably isn’t the healthiest activity for me to engage in, but I have been considering the fallacies of thought that I often fall victim to this week:

  1. The future is a fixed, unchangeable entity that malevolent forces have already decided will be bad for me.
  2. People who don’t know me are constantly waiting for me to slip up and get their excuse to disapprove of me.

Essentially it’s these two mental errors that cause most of my anxiety. I’ve been aware of them intellectually for a very long time and I have explored them in great depth here over the years, but since I began to learn about counselling I have realised the extent to which they still operate unchecked in my life. Prior to my recent learning I was aware of them in a general sense – I don’t think I knew quite how much space they were taking up in my thoughts, or how deeply rooted they are in the unconscious operations of my mind.

I’ve been doing a bit of psychoanalysis on myself. I just wanted to see where these ideas were coming from. I suppose I’m psychoanalysing myself all the time – can’t help it, ever since I had that counselling as a teenager it’s been a secret habit of mine, to try and get to the bottom of my pain. Recently the analysis has gone further and deeper, since I learnt that I was regressing to opinions and behaviours I picked up when I was young child. The two mental fallacies mentioned above came into force in my life when I was three or four years old, when I was suddenly sent to mix with other kids at nursery after spending the first few years of my life safe at home with mum. Instead of lessening in time, they became entrenched through all my upsetting experiences at nursery and later at school.

I’ve enjoyed a few books on the subject of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy the past few weeks. Until now I had no idea the classic philosophers were concerned with happiness and how to live a fulfilled life. Although they knew nothing about psychology, the unconscious mind, cognitive errors and so on, their writings seem to compliment my current beliefs about life in so many ways. It’s ironic that I managed to study the subject at university for three years without once recognising that it could mean anything to me.

Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, along with many other great thinkers in history, thought a great deal about how to spend time on this earth wisely. For Socrates, questioning and doubt were vital for a flourishing soul; for Epicurus, it was the pursuit of a simple life away from the concerns of money and prestige. For Seneca, giving up the fight against fate and accepting what life throws at us leads paradoxically to the greatest freedom and happiness. I don’t claim to have the same intelligence or be on a level with these men, but thanks to the random event of their ideas coming back into my life at this stage, I am beginning to realise that I don’t struggle with my pain alone in a vacuum. If people going back thousands of years have felt the need to talk about what we now know as psychological well being, then this must be something that goes to the heart of what it is to be human. I have always thought of my struggles as wholly unique, something that no one else would ever get. There lies the third mental fallacy that keeps me stuck in life:

      3. I am the only person who feels the way I do.

When I write about my daily experiences I have often used language that puts a box around me, convincing me further that I am alone. For example, going on and on about why someone in the office may not like me, this separates me from them and from the world. I don’t realise when I’m doing it how much further this pushes me into a corner. By reading the thoughts of others in history who went through a similar thing I get the impression suddenly that my problems are universal. I can see how in today’s world people are perhaps less inclined to share their unhappiness, given the stigma associated with appearing to find life difficult. I can see also see how the prevalence of social media paradoxically contributes to this – a place where we think we are being honest and sharing our thoughts, our facebook and instagram profiles, are actually a place where we tell lies about ourselves on a daily basis. This must be why I get a headache now whenever I spend more than half an hour on facebook, because of the falseness, the desperate need for everything to look pretty. One who doesn’t use facebook, who doesn’t understand its influence, may think that’s all obvious, and ask me why I allow it to affect me so much. Well, I don’t think I ever truly understood how much it separates us from each other until now.

*****

I had to establish a firm boundary with my mother this week regarding my diet and her questioning of it. She had started to ask me on a daily basis what I was eating and how much of it. Last year her concern was that I was eating too much; this year she seems concerned that I’m not eating enough, because I’m out most evenings and I’m not eating much at home any more. It required me to explain to her that when I’m out late at a meeting I eat out, so I don’t need to wait until I get home to have dinner; somehow she was never clear on this. At first she didn’t seem willing to take my word for it, like she couldn’t believe that I would always remember to have dinner in town when I’m hungry and staying out for an AA meeting. I had to press the point firmly, because the habit she had developed of knocking on my door at 10pm when I’ve just got home, just to ask whether I’d eaten dinner or not, was becoming alarming.

She may not knock on my door to ask about my eating habits any more now that it’s been cleared up, but the problem remains of me feeling stifled here. When I came back to live here in 2015 I knew it was for a good reason and that I had every chance of making it a success. I also knew I was doing it by choice, not necessity, which would mean I need never feel trapped here again. Well, in 2017 I’m beginning to approach the point where I want to exercise my choice again and consider moving out. I wouldn’t say I was fed up or depressed here, yet. It’s still ok, I can still get on with mum, with boundaries in place (I really do appreciate the ability to have these boundaries in the relationship now). But it’s not just the thing about food, it’s so many things that could end up getting to me. Although she doesn’t ask when I’m coming home in the evenings I always feel that I have to tell her, because it’s what I’ve always done. I know she worries, and it’s just not an issue when I’m not living here. The fact of me living here means she expects me to be here at certain times, and it’s hard to stand knowing that living here leads to that thinking on her part. I could create more boundaries, or I could stop caring – but I don’t think it will solve the problem. The best time in our relationship will always be the time when I lived away from here. We got on better, and we didn’t worry about each other so much.

I was meeting P for the monthly book group on Thursday, and I decided to test the water on the subject of whether he was still considering taking in a lodger. We were all set to become housemates a couple of years ago, even going as far as viewing two bedroom properties for P to buy (he currently lives in a studio flat so would have to move out). He wanted to upgrade his living space and take in a lodger to boost his finances, and I seemed the natural fit at the time. But then for some reason in 2016 the plan was forgotten about, and I got really angry with P for a while over his politics and habits.

Those who know how I felt about P last year may wonder why the hell I’m considering living with him again. Surely it would drive me mad. Well it’s probably ironic that my feelings towards him have calmed recently – I no longer experience the same depths of anger towards him. This could be because I’ve accepted his politics and realised he isn’t to blame for the problems in the world, or it could be because we don’t spend so much time together any more. It’s probably both. For a while on Thursday night as we were discussing it, I thought maybe living with him could work, now that he’s not my only friend and I’m back in AA full time.

It would be lovely to live in my own place again, away from mum – I certainly can’t stay here forever. Once I had reignited the idea in P’s mind he seemed keen to start looking at places again. But what seems clear is that I won’t get the same favourable rent that I would have got two years ago. He wants to stay in the same area where he is now, one of London’s most expensive areas to live. He won’t consider moving any further away from the centre – one of the things that annoyed me about him last year. He likes his comfortable life in town too much. He’d be willing to offer me a mate’s rate of £600 a month for a room, once he’s found somewhere – a phenomenally low rate for central London as things stand, but for my salary I’ve realised it would be just too much. I’m earning a pittance in my current job. While I was planning to stay here for a few years that seemed fine. Now that I’ve remembered I’m an adult and I want my own space without an anxious mother intruding every five minutes, it’s not so easy to live with.

I’ve got some tough choices to make. I didn’t expect life to become magically easy when I left the bank last year, but I’m now coming to understand that adult life is about making one tough choice after another. That’s why it’s for adults only. I need to decide whether I want to move in with P, pay £600 a month, never save anything again, but get my freedom back; or whether I stay here, save lots of money, continue to have nice holidays, and potentially cut my working hours later in the year so I can have more time for my studies. If I move out I’ll never be able to cut my working hours, which means potentially many more months of boredom at work as I wait for them to find things for me to do. It would also be a struggle to afford any more nice holidays – I’d soon be getting into serious debt, which is the last thing I need.

But there would be the freedom of living in a better place, with someone who knows me and won’t intrude on my privacy. The fact is that if I ever hope to move out of this place, being P’s lodger would be my best option. I’d get a good deal on rent, and I’d only have to share the space with one person. Most people of my generation when they leave home face years of sharing houses with multiple strangers because that’s the only option open to them in London. In a mega rich city, the rent market is out pricing too many of us.

I don’t know what to do, so I will have to give it time. In the mean time, I suppose I should practise the Stoic principle of acceptance.

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