I had a weird session with my therapist yesterday. Whilst I don’t want to get into specifics, there was a point in the discussion that I thought was really interesting, and kind of reminded me why this man is so perceptive. Sometimes he makes me roll my eyes – everything has to have a deep and meaningful reason to him, which sometimes irritates me slightly – but overall he’s definitely the right therapist for me.
I was complaining about work – or, rather, my lack of it. This specific exchange arose after me telling my therapist about my first meeting with my new CPN (see my last post) wherein she mentioned the dreaded letters “CBT”. If she thought CBT was worthwhile, my therapist asked, what was it that needed changing? CBT is all about changing your thoughts and behaviour, after all.
In that case, it had been about my agora- or crowd-phobia, or whatever the heck the affliction is. But when he asked me what, if anything, actually needed changing, I said that I wanted to go back to work.
He let me explain in my typically loquacious way; in essence, I resent the fact that I have a brain between my ears but that I can’t use it in a meaningful way, and that all those idiots I went to school with have the careers that they wanted, and I don’t. (Yeah, okay, my writing pursuits are worthwhile, but I’m not even a part-time professional writer; I take work on a ‘now and again’ basis, depending on my psychological state at the time.)
I complained about the jobs I had had before, and I moaned about how they didn’t realise my potential in any way. He asked what would realise my potential, and I outlined a couple of roles that might do so.
It’s like you have built up a phantasy around work. A ‘phantasy’ with a ‘ph’, not an ‘f’. The difference is that the ‘ph’ refers to an idealised, role-model view you’ve formed, whereas with an ‘f’, fantasy is dreaming about idealisations.
If that’s a little jargonistic for you, what he means is that I’ve made work – my idea of work – into a pedestalised, unobtainable archetype. By way of comparison, it’s like the teenager who idolises Talentless Twat A (TTA). He or she fantasises (with an ‘f’, yes) about TTA endlessly and would do anything to meet him/her (we’ve all done it, haven’t we?) So let’s assume that by some miracle, Teenager meets and begins a relationship with TTA. He/she realises that TTA is not what he/she had dreamt them to be, and that they can never live up to that. That’s what my therapist thinks I’ve made a career into.
But I’m guessing that you fantasise (with an ‘f’) about this phantasy (with a ‘ph’) too.
Both are true. I daydream – often obsessively – about what I can do, occupationally speaking, and who I am and could be within that realm. I exist in this phantasised fantasy as, I’m sure, some sort of comfort; the reality is that no matter how much I might want to have a meaningful career, it may not be possible. Many people have hugely successful professional lives whilst battling mental illness, and it’s just as hard for many of them on a daily basis as it is for those of us on benefits – but I’m not sure that all of them have screwed up (or been screwed, depending on your perspective) so epically in their most occupationally formative years as I have. But even if a career is possible, will it be one that I really want?
Probably not; most people have the pleasure of merely ‘not minding’ their jobs, rather than actively loving them (though there are, of course, a few exceptions).
And the thing is, no matter how much I intellectually want to work and try to live out at least a very redacted version of the false world that plays out in my mind, the present state of my illness dictates that I can’t – at least not in, say, the medium-term. Wanting to work is not the same as having the capability to do so. I’m still far from well enough 😦
And I hate that.
So, by way of both distraction and amelioration, I spend most of my days living in my own head with this completely unrealistic ideal job, and an entire cast of laughably unlikely characters, myself included, to go with it.
This entire blog was founded on the quote in the header image:
Anything savouring of quietness and tameness is maddeningly abhorrent to me — not in actual life, for that I wish as placid as possible; but in thought, which is my more vivid life.
I absolutely epitomise this idea. It sums me up almost entirely in one short, sharp, succinct little phrase. Cheers, Lovecraft.
And my therapist knows this from nothing more than a bitter, petty rant about my schoolmates.
I initially thought my therapist’s use of the word ‘phantasy’ referred to a concept in Kleinian psychology, as it was a term used by her. However, thanks to the wondrous font of knowledge that is Wikipedia, I think he’s talking about a Freudian understanding of the word:
He [Freud] compared such phantasising to the way a ‘nature reserve preserves its original state where everything…including what is useless and even what is noxious, can grow and proliferate there as it pleases’.
It certainly rings true of my experience.
Melanie Klein’s work on phantasy is more to do with infant psychology; babies, she posits, cannot distinguish ‘reality’ from their imagination. Though there’s a certain amount of relevance in that school of thought too, if I’m honest…
Picture credits: see outgoing links.