ISSUE Magazine

Mea Culpa by Atiqah Mokhtar

I think I may have a dependency on disliking myself.

It’s hard to say that line without wanting to jump in with outstretched arms to take that back, provide justifications or do damage control; switching gears to talk about an addiction to cream puffs or crack. But let’s give this a go.

I use the term dislike, because this tendency is not something that justifies the seriousness of a term like, say, ‘loathe’.  It is not clinical depression; there are no suicidal tendencies, nor do I inflict any physical harm on myself.  It is just, put simply, this: I seem to have an increasing aversion towards the person that happens to be me.

I understand this isn’t anything new.  Everyone at some point gets angry at themselves, no epiphanies there. And it would also be easy to argue that this is a case of insecurity – a bag of self-esteem issues and an inferiority complex bundled up in a hot mess. It probably is. Let’s get over ourselves and move on.

And yet.

I feel like this isn’t something I can neatly write off or chalk up to being yet another jaunt down the well-trodden path of self-indulgence.  Or rather, it’s not something I want to. Because you see, I’m at that age where you start wanting to get your shit together (or maybe I’ve actually lost the shit I previously held together? Sometimes I can’t tell), and  usually when you want you do that, that’s where you stop to take a good look at yourself for the first time in maybe a long time. And from then on out who knows how it will go. Maybe if you’re lucky you just see you, a few pounds heavier and a couple of almost-heartbreaks under your belt this time around, but still intact. Maybe you get surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, as you realise some new things about yourself; maybe some new habits have formed or your mindset has morphed. Maybe things work out and you realize, hey, I’ve got it going pretty okay at the moment, this calls for a fist bump. And sometimes, maybe you’ll be caught off-guard, because you realize there are parts of you that you’re no longer familiar with; maybe you no longer recognise exactly who you are.

I took a good look at myself for the first time in a long time, and I just didn’t like what I saw anymore.

My dislike for myself manifests like this – it is the drive home after a long day, a day where I have screwed up and my incompetence has done its damage. As I weave my way through elevated highways and toll booths, I cannot seem to think of much else but all the ways I have fallen short for the day, a post-mortem of my most recently tabulated wrong-doings, which will be many.  I will go through them over and over, like a record skipping, scrutinising to find all possible ways to blow them out of proportion, being as unforgiving as I can. Here’s where I was a complete idiot; there was when I could have saved it but was too slow to do so.

It is the voice in my head that tells me I can’t do something,  the one that points out I have let someone down yet again,  that  I am not dependable, that I am not deserving of whatever it is I am presented with. This voice used to be snarky and blunt and sometimes funny. These days it’s a calm voice, a voice that firmly, seriously, states that this is beyond me, that I am simply not intelligent enough, that this exceeds my capabilities. It is a voice that stays silent when I go through one of those short-lived, let’s-clean-up-this-mess-and-turn-over-a-new-leaf phases, and when those attempts blow up in my face or when I slip back to my old ways, it doesn’t gloat; it just sounds weary as it tells me to give it up kid, you can’t change. And maybe that’s what scares me, how this voice makes perfect sense, that it is not there to hurt me, or hold me back. It just is. It just states what is. So I believe it.

My self-dislike is the feeling of having my affection unreciprocated, that simple pathetic plea of “Why not me?” compounded and amplified into some disgustingly predictable fear that I am not worthy, that I am lacking.

On the worst days, for some reason, I can’t really describe it in a way other than saying it feels putrid. Like something is fundamentally rotten inside, something unsalvageable. And it is on these days, where I can’t muster the optimism to look on the bright side, the faith to leave it to God, or the decency to overcome this self-centeredness, that I start to wonder whether I am in fact dependent on this act of not liking myself.

Because why else would I be so weak as to succumb to this…thing? It goes against rational thought. As much as I mentally slap myself, telling myself to get a grip and do whatever necessary to get past this, I seem to disregard that very same sound advice more and more easily these days. I’ll do the prerequisite consideration of the things I should do and the way I should feel, but then it quickly recedes as I go to the self-berating segment of things. I seem to be adopting an ever-present need to tell myself I am doing wrong, that I am screwing up.

Why? Sometimes I think I need it because I solicit comfort from the idea that if I know I’m doing wrong and tell myself off, I can at least be assured of being one step better than a person who messes up and doesn’t even realize it. And if I can’t fix my screw-ups, the very least I can do is feel bad about them, right? It’s as if I believe if I can berate myself enough, if I can inflict enough aversion and let this feeling swallow me up whole, I will somehow deserve a second chance and things will be better. That I will have served penance and things will work themselves out.

I think I also seem to be reassured by the fact that if I am able to bury myself in enough self-criticism, I will be a more decent person for it. I will never be egotistical; I will never state an unnecessary opinion. I will never let anything go to my head, I will not forget my place. I will never let anyone’s words hurt me more than I hurt myself.

Sometimes, it almost seems like I’m cocooning myself with it.

One of my favourite songs in the world is Winter by The Dodos, and in the very last verse, Meric Long sings

Goodnight my love,
You seemed so nice, ’til I knew you better
Now I can tell you’re always thinking twice
About what might be better
On the outside, there’s no conscience
You’re a victim of your cautiousness
You don’t try, you just lie there
Hoping that someone will come to make it right

And each time I hear that verse, I think that it will be me, that my self-dislike will permeate all that is me and I will become someone who doesn’t even try, alienating the people around me until one day they give up.

And that’s it, really. I was thinking about addiction, and I was listening to Winter on one of my drives home, and I thought of this, and I thought I’d try writing it down.

Featured image by Atiqah Mokhtar.

Atiqah considers Winter by The Dodos one of her High Fidelity-style Top 5 Songs of All Time and would marry it, if marrying songs were such a thing.

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This entry was written by atiqahmokhtar and published on 09/11/2012 at 23:07. It’s filed under Atiqah Mokhtar, Essays, ISSUE6, Writings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Mea Culpa by Atiqah Mokhtar

  1. i hope it helped, writing it out.

    it helped reading this, getting to witness someone brave enough to be as honest and open in their writing. it’s not just the self-dissection/analysis, it’s laying your guts out unapologetically and saying, Yes, I Go Through This Shit. i commend you for it, because i think it’s a huge step forward, in fighting bad thoughts. i’m glad you wrote this piece and i really really hope letting it out like this will make it easier for you to beat the monsters of self-dislike (they’re bitches, all of them, treat them as such).

    and i love youuuu!!!! *fist bump*

    • Oh, you blessed child. The kindness of your words! i think it really did help, in a way. I can’t say I’m able to wholeheartedly beat away the monsters of self-dislike, but I do jab at them menacingly with a walking stick every so often, lol.

      I love you tooooo!!! Fist bump and backslaps and high fives galore.

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