on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

the off switch

Sometimes I think it is somewhat of an evolutionary miracle that most humans can go on with life even with the world burning around us. Most of us just grow numb and switch off. We can only hold so much information, so much grief, so much anxiety. So we ignore everything else as though everything is fine. I think this switching-off is not even conscious for most people, but perhaps it can be observed with how they keep on choosing to indulge in ways of escapism: food, shopping, alcohol, travel, work, “love”, etc.

I switch off too, except somewhere in my programming something went wrong and I am very conscious of what I am ignoring. In fact I am hyper-conscious of plenty of things. I think this is primarily why I have been chronically depressed and suicidal since I was capable of thinking. If we start thinking about it, the world is full of suffering and it makes no sense. Even if we are privileged to avoid economic suffering and social discrimination, we still have to suffer through a society that is keen to reduce us to a robot-like existence. The “perfect” life in the eyes of most societies is to be an obedient child, have good grades, get a good job, get a good spouse, have children, spend most of your adulthood and marriage working our asses off for our children, wait for them to graduate and get a job, then finally enjoy a bit of life – which by then we’re too old and too conditioned to know that enjoying life is a practice and a skill. If we’re lucky we get ill only then, and we spend the rest of our lives depleting our savings to pay for our medical bills, watch our family and peers get ill and leave the world.

Many of us never ever get to know ourselves or who we can actually be, because there is actually no time. From pre-school more than 8 hours of time is devoted to something else. By the time we’re parents there is not enough time for sleep, much less self-discovery. For those of us who are not parents we are probably still addicted to validation so we waste copious amounts of our time on our job or our “passion” instead of having an opportunity to discover what makes us truly thrive?

Isn’t this depressing? I think for many people it is not because they survived by learning to cope with it, to not argue with reality, and they find small moments of joy in all of this societal structure. There is probably a moment probably during school when we go, “this is life” and switch ourselves off permanently. It is just too painful to be in prison and wonder what is life like outside, so it is simply better to make excelling in that prison our purpose, and believe the prison is beautiful.

illustration of an "off switch"

I get that, especially after living in a world infected with covid and terrible politics. It is just too overwhelming to contemplate how it could be otherwise, so I choose to retreat into my own self-made prison. I go on many days pretty well, indulging myself with learning things and creative pursuits. But once in a while I go into a sombre mood and wonder if I am simply pretending to live?

Somewhere along the way I felt like it was not tenable to be passively suicidal all the time, so it is better for me to “switch off” and develop this laser focus on my inner life and individual lifestyle instead, so I won’t have time to look up. Being chronically and passively suicidal is harmful to the people around me as well, especially now that I am partnered. I can’t have my partner noticing I am gazing out of the window half the time.

Buddhism advocates for a healthy detachment to events in our life because we’re overly attached. But I wonder how many buddhist practitioners are practicing healthy detachment versus disassociation? Is there a way to tell? I keep writing in my morning journal that I don’t know if I’m detaching or disassociating.

Perhaps healthy detachment is about finding a healthy distance to care so that we don’t become obsessed about something until it profoundly affects our lives, whereas disassociation occurs at an extreme when we can no longer relate to that part of us in a meaningful manner.

Maybe we can’t have perfectly calibrated responses to the events happening in our lives. That sometimes we need to disassociate first in order to gradually find a position somewhere in the middle.

At the end, we can only do our best to survive. Life seems inherently traumatic to me, as I navigate one loss after another in various forms. I feel like in order to have some semblance of enjoyable living I have to do a lot of pretending and ignoring. Otherwise it would just be a constant anxiety and hyper-vigilance waiting for the next shoe to drop, because I don’t have that subconscious off-switch that everyone else seems to have.

I feel like I can only seek solace in the mundaneness of my everyday and continue to develop some form of forgetfulness. That I can still have this space where I can be brutally honest even just for a little bit, that this brutal honesty of mine probably seems skewed and extreme to others, but it is the reality that wraps around my mind.

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