Infinite Ascent.

by CJ Quineson

othering the self

and treating myself with kindness

content warning: suicide.

the other day i felt suicidal for the first time in a few months. i was getting worried about gph, a puzzlehunt i’m helping write. our timelines weren’t looking great. we were quite behind with web work, and i felt like it was my fault. i signed up to do things that i hadn’t done yet, and i kept thinking that the cj from a year ago could’ve done this, would be finding it fun, would enjoy doing it, would be doing great. so what changed? why didn’t i feel like doing any work? why did i only feel like playing video games and watching tv?

i slid down the vicious spiral of thoughts. as i always do when i have big feelings, i wrote about it. made a post on my private blog. then… a part of me had the compulsion to write a comment on the post. and then another part of me wanted to reply to that comment. and the first part wanted to reply back, and the second, and so they talked. let’s name the parts, i dunno, orange and blue. the conversation went something like

orange: that sucks. i’m sorry. i’m sorry you feel so much pain right now.

blue: the worst part about this is that if i knew you weren’t me, i’d say “thanks.” but because i know it’s me, i want to say something like, “yeah, sure, that was real helpful!” i want to say “why’d you even reach out, if you can’t do anything?” but if you weren’t me, i wouldn’t dare say any of those things, because i’d be afraid of losing my friends. but i can be hard on myself.

orange: and if a friend told that to me, if a friend asked me, “why’d you even reach out?” i think i’d be a little put off. i’d shrink away. i’d probably start ghosting you if you complained about me listening, and i know because i did that to someone else six years ago. even if i knew, on a rational level, that you only lashed out because you were in pain, i think there’d be some part of me that won’t forgive you. the part that hasn’t forgiven anyone.

blue: and the thought of that hurts! it hurts knowing that if i made this one mistake i wouldn’t be forgiven. that’s why i wanted to shut up in the first place. that’s why i didn’t reach out to anyone about these feelings, instead making a post for myself. i’m scared of pushing people away because of being sad. i’m scared that no one would say anything that’d help. i’m scared that if other people do say things, and then i don’t feel better, it’d make me feel even worse—i’d be thinking, what right do i have to feel bad when all these people care for me?

orange: when i said there’s a part of me that wouldn’t forgive you… i almost left that sentence out, because i knew it’d make you feel bad. even if that part won’t forgive you, the overwhelming rest of me does. that part that doesn’t want to forgive you… it’s been hurt so much, by so many people, so many times before. it’s reminding me of times i tried to ignore it, only to get hurt again. i want to forgive you, i believe you didn’t mean it, but i feel like if i do that, i’d have to forgive the people who’ve hurt me as well, and the thought of that scares me.

blue: look, forgive me or not, i don’t care! it doesn’t change the facts. you could give me advice about how to get stuff done, and i’d ignore it, because i don’t want to do work. right now, i want to play video games, and watch tv, and that’s what i want to do for the rest of my life, until i die, or until i kill myself.

orange: but that’s fine. you can do that. you can take as long as you need to get stuff done. you can wait until you’re ready. you’re not letting anyone down but yourself. i’m sure if you told the other people you were working with, they’d understand.

blue: okay, great! thanks! i already knew that.

orange: and i’m telling you anyway. it sounds like you needed someone to tell you. and i’ll get everyone else to tell you the same thing. and to everyone who won’t, well, we don’t need them in our lives!

and that seemed to convince blue. after that, i played some video games and watched tv, and later that night i did get some gph work done, and since then i’ve worked on this at what i think is an okay pace.

a few months ago i was reading the handbook of closeness and intimacy and one of the chapters argued that closeness can be thought of as the inclusion of other in self. a close friend is someone who you think of as being part of yourself. a sufficiently close friend is someone you think of when you’re making choices that affect yourself.

there’s advice that floats around about treating yourself like you would treat a friend. maybe that works because there’s these parts of ourselves that we don’t see as a part of ourself, so we treat it with hate and spite. and maybe it’s hard to directly “integrate” that part as a part of ourselves, but easier to think of it as a close friend. per the theory of closeness as inclusion of other in self, it’s the same thing, but it’s easier for me to imagine being kind to a friend. maybe that’s why internal family systems is helpful.

commenting and replying to myself, thinking of this as a conversation between myself and a friend, giving these parts names like orange and blue, it’s all part of trying to treat myself with kindness. i remember when writing out these comments, after each reply, i’d imagine putting aside the part that was talking, and putting the keyboard in front of the other part.

as orange, i viewed blue not as an annoying part of myself that was holding me back from what i wanted, but as a friend who was hurting and needed someone to listen. as blue, though, i felt like orange was well-meaning but unhelpful… but despite that, wanted to listen to orange anyway, hanging on to the chance they’d say something that helped.

did it feel weird, talking to myself like that? yeah, but it’s nothing i haven’t done before. did it help, though, treating myself with grace, rather than confronting myself? yeah.