Trigger Warning for those struggling with suicidal ideation. If you are I urge you to call a friend and tell them how scared you are. The disorder will tell you not to: don’t listen to it. If you don’t have someone to call then call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They help. I swear it.
It usually doesn’t make sense to rank emotions (they are multifarious sensations that can seemingly control us at times, theirs not best or worst), but I think there’s an ugliest emotion. It’s ugly in that it, like king Midas’ touch, makes everything it comes in contact with of similar substance. It can taint in a certain way. It even hard to talk about and hard to see due to what it invokes in the lookers or listeners: self-loathing.
Like any emotion self-loathing is a mix of other, less complex feelings that then employs itself in various particular forms. But a lot of times it’ll look like this: someone in the corner of an unevenly lit room, still wearing their jacket, with their greasy, un-showered hair hanging down as they viciously swear at themselves again and again and again. The person is both isolating themselves, but speaking audibly enough that others don’t hear and this, perhaps, is the unstable crux of self-loathing: it is both directed at the individual who hates, while still being directed outwardly. It contains the rage of a despair that says “Why couldn’t you love me enough?” while being unable to accept any love as honest or genuine. It can also go from a dense point of anger to a wide, subtle pattern of self-sabotage. It, like everything part of the depressive attitude, is cunning as hell.
I can tell you that shame plays a large part in self-loathing. The idea that you’ve done something wrong around other people and they knew you’ve done something wrong and that now they might think ill of you seems to bring out in people a tendency to mentally and verbally self-flagellate, as if their self-imposed anger might pre-empt and cut of the need for others to punish them (punish in the imagined form of more shame or some yet undiscovered terrifying feeling). So this brings out another layer to self-loathing; the anger for others is derived from what they might be doing and saying and how that feels like a true reflection of oneself.
I felt the need to write about this little talked about feeling because it’s one that visits me from time to time and it’s one that very few talk about in a calm way. Frankly, I’ve had a tough week regarding inter-personal relationships. I said some stupid things, had so things said to me, and walked home with my head hung and my heart heavy. On the walk from my friend’s house to my own all I could do was picture a whirlpool I was at the bottom of, a whirlpool that turned out to be a charming porcelain toilet where I was forced to eat shit for things I said. I kept imagining how disgusted others were with me (when I was disgusted with myself) and I kept imagining how this thing I call a person was now a broken veneer that I’d been desperately trying to hold in place for a long time. I was angry, but only angry enough to hurt myself. It seemed logical to slam my head against the wall, or a hammer on the back of my hand. I wanted the external word to exactly reflect the inflamed pain of my psyche. Instead I played Mario because I was so crippled by overwhelming shame/loathing/fear.
There’s a reason this stuff needs to be talked about. The thing is the above scenario is one I’ve lived in spirit a lot of times. The intensities have been different, sure, but all with the same strange mix of anger and contempt for myself and others. The only thing is, when self-loathing and depressive tendencies team up they start to become really dangerous. On that walk home I did more than think about hurting myself. I wanted to escape this cavalcade of painful confusion I was in so I looked up and thought the telephone pole was a nice place to hang a noose.
In every despair there’s usually something else struggling to get loose, something that wants to be free of the despair. This struggling can take the form of suicidal ideation (the final escapism) or the torrent of thought and feeling associated with self-loathing (if only I could contain all these thoughts and feelings in one grand picture, maybe I could purge them!), but despair must be struggled with in the right way. Friends help. So do pets. Tactile and soothing things that don’t seek to remove you or your thoughts, but rather, to coax them into submission, like cooing at an infant. In fact it’s this most basic ‘self-talk’ that gets me through self-loathing periods. Repeatedly telling myself “okay John, you’re doing this, you’re okay because you’re doing this and you’re doing this because you’re okay” (the ‘this’ referring to anything from walking to eating to teaching to goddamn breathing. When the black hole of self-loathing is involved talking to myself makes me a little less crazy.