Take heart – knowing yourself is hard.

I suppose I could blame it on the full moon, but since I straddle the line between believing and disbelieving in lunar influences, I’m going to give that a pass. I change my mind on this from moment to moment. I believed in the power of the moon absolutely when it hung full overhead the other night; I believe it less today. But, because I flip-flop, blaming my behaviour on the moon would be hypocrisy, something I try to avoid.

Yesterday was a write-off. I slept poorly and woke to a head full of pressure; I wanted to smash my skull into the drywall until it eased. There is a perceived physicalness to my mental illness at times. I was not happy with the situation.

Social distancing was going so well too.

However, because I believed I had pinpointed the source of the distress and because I am long-practiced in dealing with anxiety, I decided to ride it out with a day spent mostly on the couch. A little THC and rest and it would pass, would subside to a manageable level.

This is how I came to watch eleven episodes of “Timeless” on Netflix, a show I enjoy for all its many weaknesses.

The most obvious is the amount of time spent filming the time machine’s ignition sequence. It’s a long and boring sequence full of flashing LEDs and whirling metal rings. I thought the same when the show first debuted; I timed the visual this go around – thirty seconds. That’s time I won’t be getting back. And they do it over and over. With odd camera angles. As though the attempts at artsy make it less of a time-wasting filler.

Taking a day when mental illnesses flare can work well. If you are fortunate enough to be able to do so, it can work as a kind of reset. I had high hopes at any rate.

Waking this morning, I realized I had been mistaken. I was not having problems with anxiety yesterday after all.

It’s interesting to me that I can make still make diagnostic mistakes. I spend a great deal of time with myself, much of it navel-gazing, so you’d think I’d be more accurate. An incorrect self-diagnosis is a rookie mistake; I’m anything but that.

I’m not struggling with a surfeit of anxiety. I’m depressed. The pressure in my head and the feeling that I needed to be let out of my skin was the buildup before the collapse. It’s happened before. It’s like my mind takes all the available energy and throws it at the incipient depression in one last, desperate attempt to stave it off.

It didn’t work. I woke up a solid four points lower in mood today. I was already sitting at a negative two so this is not a good thing. I’ve been struggling with suicidal ideation all morning and the voice in my head is calling me a moron for not recognizing the problem yesterday.

Not that it would’ve done much good. It’s not unlike being at the top of a roller coaster. Once you reach the apex, there’s no place to go but down.

The good thing about precipitous drops like these is that most of the time, they’re of short duration – days to a few weeks versus months. Most of the time. If I remember to drink water, take my meds, get fresh air, and be kind to myself, hopefully, I can swing back towards neutral before the drop takes hold.

I’m irritated I missed it but I really shouldn’t be.

Knowing ourselves is hard.

I’ve only been working on it for a few years. I have far more time invested in not knowing myself.

Sages and philosophers work and study for years to understand themselves and the world. Expecting to get there after such a short time is unrealistic. No matter the endeavour, mastery – even competency – takes time.

Knowing ourselves takes time and thought. It takes study. It’s not something we’re encouraged to do. We’re encouraged to busyness in other areas. It starts in kindergarten and carries on until we retire. No wonder retirement is such a shock to the system. Suddenly there’s time to think. For some, this is not a welcome change.

Especially hard is understanding ourselves in our entirety. We understand bits and pieces – for instance, I know I have a bad temper – but we aren’t encouraged to spend time exploring what the bits and pieces mean and add up to. Control the behaviour, don’t analyze the source.

Few people push us to figure out what it all means. We’re just taught to soldier on.

Not recognizing depression for twenty-four hours isn’t much of a sin.

Things are starting to get better on the “knowing yourself” front. Not just for me: globally. People are starting to wise-up. For instance, mindfulness is being introduced in some schools. What better way is there to learn and understand yourself than to sit with yourself? To explore your thoughts? To start trying to understand the things you think? To try and figure out the whys.

(Though I recognize that this is often a function of privilege; access to these kinds of things is not the universal it must be.)

Knowing yourself is hard. It’s a journey that takes a long time.

It’s worth it.

All my life, I wanted to be safe. I wanted a road map, a checklist, a guide that would show me the right way to think, be, and act.

As it turns out, that’s something knowing yourself can provide.   

9 thoughts on “Take heart – knowing yourself is hard.

  1. Good quote, I’m still a novice in the world of Greek philosophers so I hadn’t heard of Thales yet but now I’m ordering a book on his writings. Amassing quite the collection of difficult to parse ancient Greek literature, lol.

    I don’t think that there’s one SINGULAR “meaning of life” but trying to know yourself is certainly one of the many meanings. In today’s fast paced world, people rarely stop to just sit with themselves and think about how they truly feel about a subject… or even more rarely… what they truly KNOW about a subject.

    But you’re so right, it is infinitely valuable to understand where our impulses come from. Thank you for the reminder to think today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. Thank you for reading and commenting. I love quotes: I’ve started collecting them in my own notebook this year – easier than amassing the piles of books I’ve been prone to.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I keep a journal of quotes too, it’s a wonderful idea! I picked up the tip from Ryan Holliday (great author if you haven’t read any of his work, he focuses a lot on early philosophers too), he keeps a rolodex-style box full of notecards with his favorite quotes on them and can just pull one out when needed. I’m not on that level yet. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That is an excellent idea. I’m not at that level either. Yes, I like Ryan Holiday. I have his “Daily Stoic Readings” and I find it quite helpful 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This is very thought-provoking and true. The fact that it takes time is the reason I think it’s so hard to do. Time is something many of us don’t want to take. It’s hard, like you say. It requires effort, like you say. The rewards, however, for taking this time and putting in the effort to come to know yourself are enormous: self-acceptance; realization of our flaws and imperfections and that we can work on them; realization that some of our flaws and imperfections might actually be better characterized as strengths and uniqueness, depending on how we apply them; calmness of spirit; quieting of the noise in our heads (my personal challenge); developing empathy for the things others go through; gratitude; the development of creativity and creative works; and probably a hundred things I can’t think of right now. Knowing yourself is like going to college and majoring in life studies, an education you will actually use every day. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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