That doesn’t mean I live a happy, contented life, or that I’m never bothered

Hello, Animal

I am bothered, I just don’t realize it. If my kitchen is messy, for example, which is often, I do not prepare food in it. That may sound like perfectly logical behavior, but logic plays no part in what is actually a series of competing impulses. The way I experience not-cooking as a function of kitchen messiness is as a Thing That Happens Over and Over Until I Start To Wonder If There’s a Correlation. It’s not a decision I’ve made; rather, it’s a behavior I have observed, as if I were my own lab rat. Never have I said to myself, “This kitchen strikes me as unhygienic. I don’t want any food that’s prepared in here. Maybe I should clean up.” Instead, I get up in the morning and blearily imagine making breakfast. Somehow it doesn’t seem appealing, so I don’t. Later I think about breakfast again, and it seems just as unappetizing. Then it’s 2:00 in the afternoon and I have a migraine from not eating. Am I conscious of how this came to pass? I am not.

Luckily, I live with someone who brings these things to my attention, and the best advice I received this year was from him. Weary of finding me an insomniac mess in the morning – often because I’d been cold all night because I went to bed with wet hair, for example – my boyfriend has made me a list of questions I need to ask myself at regular intervals. It’s a simple list and has proven very effective. My life is better because of it. Here is the list:

Hello, Animal

(Incidentally, while typing those questions out, I realized the answer to #1 was Yes, so I have relocated to the closet where I do most of my work and have turned on the space heater.)

It’s a good list, but my need for it makes it hard not to feel like a defective animal. I’ve thought about this a lot, about how I lost my body’s ability to signal to itself (assuming I ever had it). I have guesses, of course. I think a cultivated unconsciousness is a way of getting myself to do things I don’t want to do. (Because the fact is I don’t do things I don’t want to do. I’m lazy and willful. Therefore, the best solution for people like me is to trick ourselves, to not notice that we don’t want to do the things that need doing.)

I don’t notice, for example, that being in front of people takes a lot out of me. If I did, I might be forced to reevaluate my profession (I teach), or to find some real coping mechanisms, like exercise. Instead I teach, enjoy it immensely, and nurse the migraine that blooms by the time I get home. Is this repression? Some sort of complex? It feels more muscular, less tormented. I like teaching. I find it risky and enriching and – when done right – incredibly rewarding. That’s probably why I also unconsciously dread it. One of the truths my generation seems to miss is that anxiety can coexist with – and even intensify – enjoyment. Instead, we turn the volume down. We medicate, psychiatrically or psychologically. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s the uncritical pathologizing that seems problematic; anxiety, like stress and pain, does have positive value.) I do, too. The upshot is that I don’t realize I’m tired unless my eyes are closing, or that I’ve been stressed until a migraine retroactively tells me so. Historically, I’ve been fine with this. It’s frankly maladaptive to notice when you’re tired or stressed – you have to get the thing done, so what use it is to notice that you’re sleepy? Push that out of your conscious awareness until it goes away!