on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

the box on our heads

This week I finished reading “What my bones know” by Stephanie Foo: a memoir on complex PTSD (CPTSD). Reflecting at different stages of the author’s story, it reminded me a lot of my own ongoing healing process.

Even though now at times it is still difficult for me, I do forget how bad it was for a very long time. Reading the book brought me back to those times, when I was always angry, sad, self-loathing, chronically suicidal, exhausting. Always. For decades. It has only been a few recent years that I feel like I am moving forward, a process that took a few million tiny steps. Like the author, knowing that I have CPTSD (someone recommended me Pete Walker’s book) was life changing.

If our bodies are hurting, we can only start to heal if we know where is the injury. Knowing the nature of the injury allows us to apply the appropriate treatment for it. Otherwise it is like walking blindly in the dark. For people with mental/emotional pain, we might not even know we are hurting, maybe because when we’re in the same state for years and years, we don’t know there is another possible state. We may think being in a state of constant hurt is the baseline for any human being. Some of us grew defences so thick all we feel is nothing. There is no hurt in nothing, right?

Reading Pete Walker’s book made me realise precisely why I was hurting, why it hurt so much, and why I always seemed to be going into these emotionally painful states very often. I wasn’t even aware how my life was coloured so deeply by these until I started to experience them less frequently.

The change was very slow and painful, but the accumulated difference is dramatic. Only upon hindsight I realised I was walking with a suffocating box around my head, limiting everything I see and experience. I had such a narrow view of the world, of people, of myself. It was constrictive and deadening.

CPTSD aside, I think the concept of having a box around our head applies to social conditioning in general. We’re all brought up with all these rules, norms, expectations, ideas.

illustration of small box around our heads versus a bigger wider sphere. by @launshae.
box vs wider sphere (illustration by @launshae)

How much more can we see and experience if we remove that small, tight box around our heads? We will always be trapped in a limited sphere of perception because we have inherent conditioning and biases as human beings. But we could endeavour to widen this sphere, to experience a fuller version of life, of this world, of other people and our selves.

This is one of the reasons why I keep a daily journal, and that I try to review my past entries, tweets, instagrams, etc on a daily basis. I get reminded of how small was the box on my head trapping me, and how much more I am seeing in my widening sphere. The differences are stark, and I cannot help but feel sorry for my past self. I have wasted so much time.

It adds to my time anxiety, that somehow I worry that something bad is going to happen to me just when I am beginning to truly experience the world and become who I am (this is also a symptom of CPTSD – always thinking the worst is going to happen). Having been chronically suicidal I never really cared about my future – which at times worked out well for me as I took on risks normal people would never take – but I have found myself caring about it in recent times. It is truly weird, to want to live a little more after so many years of secretly hoping I’ll get knocked dead by a car.

Similar to the buddhist belief that we are not our thoughts, I think we’re not the boxes on our heads. What lies underneath? I see people express their bigoted beliefs, and I wonder if they are aware of the boxes on their heads? How do we make people see wider than the limited views we’ve been conditioned with?

It is tiring, to be suffocated with limiting views all the time, to perceive fellow human beings as inherent sinners instead of actually seeing that we bestow ourselves with traps the moment we’re born. We all have to be obedient children, get good grades, get good jobs, fulfil our gender and societal norms, meet everyone’s expectations, achieve high status, etc, without stopping to ask what is the whole point of our existence? How do we wish to live, how do we want to engage with our fellow human beings Is a lifetime of condemnation and policing people including those we love a really good way to live?

Human beings seem to be self-sabotaging, I really wish we could see that. That we suffocate ourselves with unnecessary boxes.

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