Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Piece of Should

If you'd asked me a few weeks ago if I was depressed, I would have said "Oh, no. I have a lot of anxiety, but I'm not really depressed." I would have said that because, to me, "depression" was staying in bed for 12-16 hours at a time for weeks, loving the rain and winter because the dreary washed out gray mercifully made the world look the way I felt, and spending most of my free time on weekends researching suicide methods. Fortunately, that is no longer the case.

But I'm beginning to realize that I really am depressed. I'm pretty high functioning, but nevertheless I am depressed. And at the core of the depression, when I really get right down to it, is an unrelenting stream of "shoulds" so integrated into my sense of self that I don't even notice them (you should be better should be smarter should be faster shouldn't make mistakes should be happier should eat better should exercise more should have better work habits should shouldshouldshouldshould)

[I've heard other counselors aptly refer to this as "shoulding all of yourself."]

"Should" is a weird concept. It's pretty much the superego personified in word form. It's a sense of responsibility or obligation instilled from the outside. It's contrasted with "want." That's the id. It's desire, zest, joie de vivre.

Far too often, "want" conflicts with "should." Some "should" is probably a good thing. Much of Freud's theory of the subconscious centers around the idea that socialization happens when parents/society tell a child "no" (and because it's Freud, this is often surrounding sex/toilet training). The child starts to internalize those voices and gradually learns how to regulate themselves to fit in with the rest of society on their own.

And sometimes, that can be pretty great. But for me, I've internalized so much that I've lost touch with what I want. To various extents, it's made me a pretty responsible and conscientious person. But it's also left me pretty unhappy most of the time, too.

But one of the reasons I really like existentialism is because it basically says that we get to decide who/how we are in the world. There are limits on that, certainly, but working within those limits, we get to decide. There's not a clear answer, there's not much direction, it honestly might not work out. But we get to decide. And I am increasingly getting to the point where I want to consider what I want to do and how I want to be instead of how I feel I should be.

So a goal that I want to work on over the next few months is to figure out what I want. And not just in a broad, self-actualization sense. I mean, asking myself "How do you want to handle your mistakes?" Not "How do you feel you should respond to your mistakes?" but how do I want to. What kind of person do I want to be in my relationships? How do I want to approach stress? To approach uncertainty? To approach boredom?

Obviously, wanting alone is not enough. But I think moving away from depression will require some guideposts that I can hold onto whenever I start to slip into a sea of should's. And, at the very least, it will be better than all the ruminating I've been doing. I think that's something we all can want.

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