I am to become the
proud ambivalent owner of a brand new car come this Saturday. It's the first new car I've ever owned. Hell, it's the first car I've ever bought. It's probably some sort of rite of passage, which is meant to make me feel all grown-up and responsible. It doesn't. I feel nervous and worried —
Did I spend too much? (Rationally: probably not, it is an award-winning small car, the cheapest to begin with, before taking into account that I took advantage of a sale, so I got the 5-door at the 3-door price, but still, it's the most money I've ever spent in one hit. It's a 5-door manual 1.6l Hyundai Getz, for the record.)
Can we afford it? (Rationally: probably. We didn't borrow a cent to buy it, it's all out of savings, even if it will take a long time to restore them to anything healthy again, and anyway I've calculated that I will save about $1000 a year on petrol alone, let alone saving the servicing the old car needs.)
Will it feel as comfortable as the old car? (Rationally: of course not, but that's just a matter of getting used to the way it drives. And at least I won't have to fight the thing when it's cold, and will have air conditioning and a decent stereo.)
Can I live with the colour? (Rationally: who cares? It's sky blue, so it's light, which will make the Insurance happy, and beyond that what difference does it make, even if black looks so much cooler.)
So rationally, I've done what had to be done, and will be ahead on points. That doesn't stop the slow sick feeling of wondering whether I've done the wrong thing. But at least I've done it.
Mim said to me the other night that she was proud of me: I had made a decision and followed through on it. That made me think this morning, about why I am so hopelessly indecisive.
My indecision is something that most people who have known me well should recognise. I can spend aeons agonising about trivial choices, and as for big important nasty choices...
Why? What is it that makes me like this? My conclusion is that it is both a direct and an indirect result of the Black Dog.
I have been suffering the attentions of the Black Dog for as long as I can remember — from well into childhood. I simply don't remember a time when I was consistently happy. (Well, not strictly true — my time in Stage Crew at High School was just such a time. One reason possibly why I am so attached to the people I still know from then — that, and I like them.)
Now, the Dog has two direct effects relevant here: first, when it's on you, you find it far more difficult than normal to make a decision in any case. Indeed, that's one of the symptoms. (I believe the mechanisms to be that 1] the lack of any feelings of pleasure or happiness remove the ability to make any positive choice: nothing 'feels good' enough to select for it - the best you can do is select the least worst, and 2] the Dog makes one doubt one's own ability to judge, and at the really low points, one's right to judge - you simply feel you don't deserve a choice.) Second is the fact that under the Dog, you only see the bad things, and these are blown out of all proportion. A mild criticism is read as both official censure and a personal statement of no confidence. A simple mistake is seen as evidence of one's own horrible, crippling incompetance, and so on.
But that's not all. The flow on effect from this is that you are always, always second-guessing yourself. Am I under the Dog, or do I really not know? Do I think that because of the Dog, or is the current situation really that bad?
I've stayed in some crappy jobs, and I was deeply upset at the conditions at the time, but I didn't leave under my own volition. When I was under the Dog, I both distrusted my own opinion of the situation, and felt too useless and hopeless to dare hope that changing anything could possibly make it better. When I wasn't under the Dog, it didn't feel as bad so I figured I could cope with it (even where this turned out not to be the case). It felt so much better relative to when I was under the Dog that it felt like everything was fine.
Of course, I've had these effects on my thinking for as long as I can remember, and that has affected how I think. I always second-guess myself. I always doubt that my opinion is a real one, instead of one formed under the Dog's influence. I always doubt my own ability to make a good decision, or even a reasonable one, especially from the gut. I may still get Gut instincts, but I have long since trained myself not to trust them, simply because they are often not trustworthy. Thus, every decision must be made rationally (and studies of brain-damaged people who cannot feel emotion reveal that emotion is critical to making decisions...), and every decision is agony. And simple aversive therapy says that you avoid things you find agonising, so I try and avoid any situation where I might have to make a decision.
It's not always that bad. Choosing, for example, what movie to see is a constrained choice, where the convenience of the showing time influences a decision already strongly limited by negative choices: I simply won't waste the time to see most movies, so really, it isn't even a decision. Going into a bookshop and choosing one book, on the other hand, can be impossible. Or picking which book from my own library to read next. Or what music to listen to. Or which job to do next. Or where to take Mim for dinner. Or whatever.
What to do about it? Well, there are probably several routes I could take on that.
I just have to choose.