This weekend my dad and I spoke about my “demons”. (his words, not mine) Just like my mom comparing eating disorder behavior to self-control, my dad asked how I could stand to cut my arms and yet I couldn’t read a few pages in a boring book. My mom referring to restricting or purging as self-control bugs me because they aren’t displays of self-control. If anything, they’re a lack of control. She, of all people, should know that! At first, his similar question bugged me because I thought he was downplaying self-injury.
He explained himself saying the first time I cut myself it had to hurt. However, I kept doing it and the more I cut, the deeper the cuts became. I got “better” at it. I learned to withstand an increasing amount of pain, despite its aversive nature. Thinking about it, he has a point.
Why is scarring my arm easier than reading a stupid book? What is so aversive? Well, it is boring. That hardly seems like a good enough reason. I think the problem is I’m imagining a lifetime of exceedingly boring work. It isn’t just a chapter because it represents years, which scares me. Overcoming a semester or 2 of boredom would be simple, but a lifetime is different.
Why is class so aversive? Right now, I’m sitting 30 feet away from the classroom I should be in. Why is sitting through an hour and 15 minute class so awful that I can’t bother to walk 30 feet to endure it?
Well, my self-concept as an intelligent person is shaky. It is one of the few things I like about myself, but for most of my life I didn’t believe it. So, the belief is easily upset. Classes confuse me because I skip most of them and don’t read. Therefore, class is aversive because it makes me feel stupid. However, logically I know if I skip, I only become more lost. So, what is really keeping me from going to class? I am more terrified of others seeing me as an imposter than discovering I’m not good enough on my own. If I don’t read, I will look stupid if I am cold called. I’ll look especially stupid; reading doesn’t guarantee a good answer.
I think my problem is I cannot face people thinking I am not good enough. Here, that means my IQ. I’d rather hide and leave the possibility that I’m intelligent. It is a vicious cycle because the more I avoid class, the more lost I feel, and the more lost I feel, the more painful class becomes. At the beginning of each day, I tell myself I’ll do the right things. I’ll read for class and go to all my class regardless. Yet, every day I procrastinate thinking I’ll begin reading in an hour, after the next article, or after I read all my open tabs. As soon as that happens, I invent some other excuse. Since I don’t read, I feel increasingly anxious about class and true to form, I skip it. Then I feel guilty. When I get home I know I should study, but I feel awful and the mounting absences and unread pages, makes it feel overwhelming. Therefore, I avoid beginning the task and it all starts over…
How can I fix the problem? Get more real will power? I need to change how I think and/or feel. The thoughts cause the feelings. I could manually alter the feelings with my usual coping “skills”. In fact, at the moment, I very much want to cut. Yet, even though the coping mechanisms help wash the pain away, I usually still don’t want to study because all of them tire me. So, the best road is to change my thoughts, but that is a long journey. It is difficult to catch, challenge, and change all incorrect thoughts. Plus, it takes time to actually begin to believe the changed thoughts.
Is there anything I can do in the meantime? Accountability doesn’t work, at least not with my parents, because I lie to them so they aren’t disappointed. I have the next 3 days to do better. If I can’t at least read and go to every class for the next 3 days, I’m quitting. A leave of absence is pointless because law school is the environmental factor creating my depression! Other than the inevitable ego loss from failure, I think my depression will abate if I leave. The only way a leave of absence would help is if I fixed all my maladaptive thought patterns and then tried again. I don’t think I can. I think I’m stuck like this.
I don’t know what else to do that could help me do the right things in the next 3 days/ the rest of the semester.