I’m a pediatric speech/language pathologist by trade. A “speech terrorist” as my friend Ken often quips. Today, I had a sub-par session with a bright, strong-willed, difficult-to-understand young man (…my Pappy would’ve called him a “whipper snapper” who “don’t take shit from no one”…) who stated in completely certain terms that he didn’t want to work one-on-one. I tried to convince him, then cajole him, and eventually I begged. (I fucking begged a four year old to hang out with me.) “I just don’t want to,” he finished the interaction, clearly exasperated and uncomfortable. I ultimately shifted to more integrated work and we reconnected just fine, but my confidence was shot…and I became dull and listless. A Nerf ball could have bowled me over. Immediately, I knew that I’d be dealing with my brain the rest of the day, obsessing over the minutiae of my self-perceived ineptness.
Sitting here now, I think back to “The Chris Farley” show on SNL, and the interview with Paul McCartney in particular. (My mind often drifts to Chris Farley when I find myself in the dark caverns of my perception.) An initially confident and ecstatic Farley is rendered bumbling and ineffective in the face of the legendary Beatle and he ends up revealing something that is simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching. Here’s a bit of that transcript:
Chris Farley: Um, Hi. Welcome to The Chris Farley Show. I’m…Chris Farley…and, my guest tonight is…one of the…greatest musicians…uh, rock musicians…I guess, songwriter, ever. [Smacks himself. Speaks to himself, but out loud.] God! That sounds stupid! God, I’m an idiot! I never know how to start these things!
Paul McCartney: You’re doing great, Chris.
Chris Farley: [Hopeful] Really? No, I’m not. [Hyperventilating] Anyway…I guess…I didn’t have, have to say, who you were, because…man, I mean…everyone knows who you are. Mmm…you’re Paul McCartney.
Paul McCartney: Well, it’s great to be here.
Chris Farley: [Utterly uncomfortable] You…you…you remember when you were with The Beatles?
Paul McCartney: Yeah, sure.
Chris Farley: That was awesome!
Paul McCartney: Yeah, it was.
Chris Farley: [Now feeling confident with Paul’s seeming acceptance] Okay. Oh! You…you remember when you went to Japan…and, uh, and at the airport they arrested you ’cause you had some pot, and…it made all the papers, and everything?
Paul McCartney: Well, to be honest, Chris, I’d kind of like to forget all of that.
Chris Farley: [Smacks himself harder] IDIOT!! That’s so stupid! What a dumb question!!
Such comedy and tragedy rolled into one. Unfortunately, when one actually approaches oneself and the world this way, there is no comedy. It’s all tragedy. I held it together through the rest of the morning and two additional sessions, dreading the moment my feet hit the cold pavement, thus initiating my walk of shame to the car. In the car with only my emotional dysfunction to keep me company, I cast my memory back there…entirely overwhelmed thinking about it. Instead of processing that morning interaction through a realistic lens, I conceived my entire life through the prism of what my brain proclaimed was an utter failure. And let me tell you, when I look through the goggles of my narrowly focused emotional loathing, I see a landscape…a lifescape…of foundational, pervasive, to-the-core failure.
In moments like that, and even now sitting at a computer, hours later, with a clearer consciousness, I find solace thinking about Chris Farley…because it’s painfully clear that he meant it all. He put on tight pants, torso sweaty and abundant, and donned a bow tie as he danced alongside a svelte, muscular Patrick Swayze. He portrayed Matt Foley as a complete buffoon and abject failure. He did stupid, self-depreciative, and ultimately brilliant shit. Why? Because he knew it would be hilarious? Partly. Because he knew he was agile, both mentally and physically, for a funny fat man? Sure. But really, I believe it was because he deeply doubted, likely loathed himself and if he could at least make people laugh with this reality…well, it would prolong him needing to take a really long look in the mirror and contend with the deeper demons. Look…what the fuck do I know?! Perhaps I’m just projecting my own shit. (Obviously I am.) However, Farley’s ultimate demise and the comments of his closest colleagues and allies proved the point.
I Google searched a variety of terms: Self-Loathing, Self-Hatred, Self-Doubt, Fear of Failure…and ultimately I found a bunch of definitions (not helpful) and people who’d figured it all out and had the solution in several “simple steps.” These simple steps are almost always founded on some psycho-spiritual jargony bullshit suggestion to, “Just let it go.” When I’m calm and relaxed, these posts cause me to nod in agreement. (“Yeah, brother. I dig. Cool, sister. I’m with you.”) However, when my anxiety is high and my self esteem is low, I can only think, “Oh, fuck you. Take your loads of money, ample free time, California sunshine, healthy outlook, self-control, prayer gong and vegan smoothie…make a nice enema sack and shove it all up your ass.”
Freud would have assumed the self-hatred was the tip of an iceberg…and that I need to explore underwater extensively. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) would have me perhaps purposefully sit with these thoughts, even “fail” on purpose…and ultimately realize, nay, deeply understand, that these thoughts are ultimately harmful and indicative of nothing deep, nothing that is the core “me.” Then there’s the third wave of psychology, the mindfulness camp. It’s really just a classic Buddhist method of meditation, of allowing thoughts and feelings to float by like clouds. We don’t need to explore them (Freud), we don’t need to battle them or counter them or even change them (CBT), we need only acknowledge them then let them pass. Here self-hatred comes. “Oh, hi there.” There self-hatred goes. “Okay, bye. See you soon.”
I’ve done these all. Several times each. And all of the experience and practice means not a damn thing after a four year old rejects me. The depth and strength of the emotional plummet is almost indescribable, except to perhaps compare it to actual plummeting. When you’re falling, you can’t stop yourself. Gravity gives zero shits about your ability to explore, expunge, or dismiss. As does the cold, hard ground waiting for you at the bottom. Zero. Shits. That’s what it feels like. Like Goose, in Top Gun, when he simply can’t pull-out of the flat spin and needs to eject.
The fortunate piece, I suppose, is that I am better able to eject today than I was just several years ago. I spend a bit of time wallowing, but I rebound…after a run, an hour at the gym, an hour at the keyboard (…thank you very much for reading, responding, sharing…), just a minute with my wife and step-daughter. Hell, even a positive interaction with a barista can pull me back out. I *can* find perspective…and let go of the failure from earlier this morning. It baffles me, however, that such a small thing can still push me straight off the cliff and into an emotional freefall. (Christ, are you also sick of my fucking falling analogy?! I’ll stop, I promise.) Perhaps this is where the lesson lies. It’s not that I find myself again in a position of self-loathing and depression, but rather that I find myself again in a position of regained self-confidence and optimism. I’m better today than I was yesterday, was better yesterday than I was the day before yesterday, and if I keep working (…writing, running, meditating, exploring, living, loving…), I’ll be better tomorrow than I am right now.
Remember that time you were happy?
Yeah, that was awesome.