If anyone was wondering why spontaneously discovering I like something I didn't expect to is weirding me out no end, it's because I have big toothy brain-weasels that pop up every now and again. If you have any self-awareness at all, you end up trying to keep tabs on the godforsaken things, just to know when you should stock up on canned soup and Netflix DVDs, so you don't accidentally go outside and say something unutterably stupid to someone else. It's like putting your phone in airplane mode so you can play Angry Birds without risking a drunk-text to your ex at two in the morning when the bar turns you out. History has shown that a dozen shots of tequila will make you forget how to get back into that damn menu, and all you can do is hope that past performance is still a reliable predictor of future behavior.

The first thing I do whenever I get one of my daft ideas is make sure I'm not manic. I know perfectly well I'm not, but I check anyway. This is because if you tell a doctor that sometimes you're really depressed and sometimes you're not, after they take a history wherein you explain that you read through the DSM-IV-R symptom list and decided you're not bipolar, asked a bunch of bipolar people you've known what it was like and was told repeatedly that you're not bipolar, and in fact have a fair number of medical records that indicate other doctors have declared you not bipolar, the first thing they'll ask is 'are you sure you're not bipolar?' For some reason, swearing at them in exasperation at this point is considered to reflect badly on me.

The second thing I do is reality check. Sometimes this is easy. Any romp through Wikipedia, travel brochures, and Expedia that was prompted by the thought, "You know, if I won the lottery, I'd..." is something that is obviously never going to happen, and is easy to treat as just research-intensive daydreaming. Sometimes, it's less clear. I've learned it's a bad idea to embark on anything where the conditions for success involve counting on other people to act a certain way. (Nothing teachers you this faster than writing for and running a tabletop RPG. I've had parties who couldn't stay on track if you chained them to the locomotive.) Every so often I'll get the urge to have one of those Deep And Meaningful Conversations with someone who almost certainly has no idea what's going on in my head. I have to stop and remind myself that imagining is fine, but this scenario needs to stay locked safely in my brain-meats forever, because if I actually tried it the odds the other person would react like I'm envisioning are within epsilon of zero. Same goes for anything that relies on other people judging me well. "Write a 400-page novel," might have a reasonable chance of success. "Get someone to publish a 400-page novel that I have written," is a lot dicier, and probably not something I want to tackle just for the hell of it.

It's also a good idea to figure out whether I'm wanting to do something in order to avoid something else. "Yes," isn't always the wrong answer here. Doing things to avoid being bored out of my mind is A-OK. I've decided I'm also allowed to do things in order to avoid being neurotic about situations over whose outcome I genuinely have no control. If I want to stuff the Pimsleur Portuguese (European) Beginner Course I Part A CDs into my ears in order to drive out the internal whining about how much I hate having a head cold, so be it. I also have a tendency to do random housework when I'm in that 'mulling things over' stage of a project, so I can't wander off and find myself outside of typing range when I finally have something concrete to write.

I also have to figure out what to do if it turns out not to be as fun as I think. This looks stupid now that I type it out, but if I'm expecting some sort of 'reward' feeling and I don't end up getting it, I don't take it well. I don't throw a fit or anything, but the disappointment hits me hard and colors my mood for quite a while. It's not one of those things where I can think my way into self-improvement; if it were, I'm pretty sure that method would have worked at some point in the preceding 32 years, thanks. I'm okay with not being good at whatever, but not being good at whatever and not knowing how to make any progress is not something I deal with gracefully.

F'r ex, I tried to take a salsa course a while ago. The very first class started with the instructor demonstrating some footwork once and then telling us to just go do it a million times until it magically sunk in, which is just the 'shut up and let me do vectors' problem all over again. The second class revealed that I am really not comfortable being put in a situation where I'm required to let perfect strangers touch me, and that being really really tense does not make 'shut up and let me do vectors' go away. I had a multi-hour argument with myself over whether to go to the third class until I realized 1) this was supposed to be fun, and 2) it wasn't, so 3) fuck it, I'm going to sit here and watch Top Gear instead.

I vacillate on whether I think it's reasonable to cope by trying to keep a lid on the anticipation. No expectations means no disappointments, but it also means never looking forward to things. That's probably not good for me. In the worst bits of my life, the only way I managed to not just lie in bed and starve to death was by just dragging myself from scheduled event to scheduled event. It's a lot easier to break up a gray fog of staring at the wall through a hole in the pile of blankets when you figure if you could just exist until some defined point in the future, something you kind of vaguely care about will happen. I'm fine right now, but life being what it is, I expect I'll be not-fine again at some point, and being excited over something sounds like a bad skill to lose.

Other people are entirely capable of killing my buzz over something, too. Usually it's unintentional. It has less to do with outside opinions affecting whether I enjoy something than with whether I have correctly estimated my aptitude for whatever it is. With the figure skating jumps, I've come to the conclusion that I'm probably working this out quicker than most people mainly because I've gotten a lot of the prerequisite skills from elsewhere, and I've gotten feedback suggesting I'm reasonably good at those as well. (Usually it's second-order feedback. People rarely outright say 'goodness, you have excellent balance', but when I was doing the Black Widow cosplay shoot, the photographer had to pause and re-jigger where he was aiming the camera, because he did not expect me to be able to bend that far backwards in heels and stay standing.) I put a lot of work into trying to develop some sort of internal scale for this stuff, so if someone comes along and demonstrates that I'm wrong about my level of aptitude and competence, not only does it mean I haven't made as much progress with the hobby-thing as I thought, but it also means I've fucked up on the meta-skill of self-assessment. This pisses me off, and I have only myself to blame.

Comments

  1. I just got diagnosed bipolar. I don't think I've ever seen so apt a description of my internal brain processes.

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  2. I am officially not bipolar because A) none of my problems are cyclical -- they are all directly related to external stressors, and I do not head down the depression roller coaster without identifiable life prompts, and B) I've never been in any state that corresponds to either mania or hypomania. I have normal and I have miserable; there's no generalized up, only anticipation of specific things that sound like they might be exciting to try. The closest I've ever come was when I tried SSRIs once, very briefly. I couldn't sit still, finish any thoughts, or sleep at all, and my goddamn brain itched. It was completely foreign and scary as fuck. It terrified me so much that I now tell people I am allergic to the things, so that their legal department will prevent them from ever handing me any again.

    Well-controlled bipolar people, on the other hand, are a great source of ideas to try for when life isn't going well. I've gotten a lot of this from people I've known who are obviously and profoundly bipolar, as well as media figures like Stephen Fry, who has a pretty cracking case of it, and for whom I have great respect as a brain and a human being. My philosophy is that if it works I might as well steal it, regardless of whether or not I'm technically who it's meant to apply to.

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