tales from urban dilettantia


Strange Patterns and Rabid Insecurity Raccoons

For the first time in quite a while, I wandered down to Quaker meeting this morning, which was a wise choice as it turned out that the hour of quiet thinking was particularly useful and enlightening.  This post is the outcome of that hour of quiet thinking.

Two of the ideas that have been trending for me recently have been Fear and Shame.  (Why yes, I did have an excellent Catholic education – how did you guess?)  And over the past week, I’ve had a couple of really, really useful conversations about Life, The Universe and Everything which have helped me piece together a pattern I hadn’t noticed.

This is what happens when I do something that scares me:

1. I am scared.
2. I am dismissive of being scared and do the thing anyway.
3. I feel icky, shamey, guilty afterwards, even if the thing was good.

After thirty-one fine years of obliviousness, I noticed this and realised it was rather strange.   I wasn’t getting anywhere figuring it out intellectually, so I tried something else while I was sitting in meeting today and decided to run it past my inner monsters and see what they thought.  (I’d like to note here that my inner monsters care a whole crapload about my well-being; they just tend to have tunnel vision and can be really inept at implementation.)

So, this is what turns out is actually going on in my head:

1. I am scared.  Often I am scared beyond reason because I have had both a personal and a cultural upbringing where women who do scary things are punished and hurt, and regarded as foolish.  And I am scared beyond reason because my brain – for reasons of upbringing, mental health or other – tends to return a lot of false positives.

2. I am dismissive of being scared and do the thing anyway, at which point my inner monsters start shouting ‘hey woman, you have all these shiny fear signals that are supposed to be saving you from being hurt or punished – what the hell are you doing ignoring them? This is horrible, self-harming behaviour – how can we trust you to look after yourself when you dismiss everything we flag as scary!’

3. And then, I feel icky, shamey, guilty afterwards, because I have a vague and hard-to-pin-down sense of having chosen to be self-harming, foolish, unwilling or unable to look after myself.

This is such a strange little pattern, and one I haven’t come across before in anyone else’s writing or discussion.  And I can see there are actually two things here to work on, which is what has been making it a bit more difficult – I need to do something about the false positives and the learned fear at (1), and I also need to work out how to negotiate with the inner monsters at (2) and have them know that I really, truly will listen to them and that they can trust me not to engage in acts of self-destruction.

Now what I really want to know is, is this strange little pattern specific to my brain, or do you recognise it too?

Tiny Seeds & Long Shadows

Some days, I am fortunate enough to stumble across sparkling little ideas and quotes that are Exactly What I Need To Hear at the time. Recently, at a time when I was feeling pretty wretched about a number of things, Havi posted this on her blog:

When you encounter a bully, they seem so big.

They seem so big because you’re also seeing the shadow of every other bully you’ve ever encountered, at the same time.

They seem powerful because you are remembering vulnerable. They seem threatening because you remember being threatened.

And it sparkled (and by sparkled, I mean it shouted ‘hey woman, pay attention – you need to know this’) because I realised that – while she is ostensibly writing about bullying – the underlying concept translates so well to other things.

Relationships seem so overwhelming and powerful, because I am remembering being vulnerable and hurting and exhausted. Projects seem so overwhelming because I am remembering being let down by others and overwhelmed. Social engagements seem threatening because I am remembering being threatened or harassed or otherwise encroached upon.

My sense of overwhelm, my fear and my near-constant catastrophising are products of my bringing Every Single Thing That Has Ever Happened To Me to new experiences. It’s time to start realising that new experiences are just that – new – and only tiny seeds, neither great, nor looming, nor foregone conclusions.

To borrow from the late, great Bill Hicks (and if you haven’t seen American yet, you should), it’s a choice, right now, between fear and love. And tiny seeds grow into better trees with love.


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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.