On cultivating a sense of ‘aliveness’

A few nights ago I woke up in a cold sweat, convinced I was about to die. It was one of those awful 2am panics, unfounded, irrational, impossible to ignore. Not even my husband’s kind, sleepy words and heartfelt embrace could calm me.

The next afternoon I re-read a collection of psychoanalytic essays entitled ‘The Dead Mother’ a smorgasbord of case studies about patients who analysts experienced as psychically dead. Reading these essays, I felt relief. Thomas H. Ogden’s words particularly grabbed me- he remarks in his essay, ‘I believe that every form of psychopathology represents a specific type of limitation of the individual’s capacity to be fully alive as a human being.’ No wonder I’m experiencing anxiety. I am afraid of going dead again, and perhaps stopping therapy has made me wobble. There was a long period at the beginning of my life where I merely survived, and I never want to go back to that place again. One of the projects of psychoanalysis is to re-vitalise those of us who have numbed or gone dead inside, and many times I have compared the work my therapist and I did together as a heart transplant or some kind of reconstructive surgery. There is some part of me that is worried I will have to give the heart back or that he was more like an iron lung and I’m not sure I’m capable of sustaining life without being in his presence.

I need to remind myself that I can and will choose to go towards the thing that makes me crackle with electricity. I am committed to organising my life around whatever it is that makes me feel alive. Often these things aren’t Instagramable or pretty acts of self care or particularly nice or uncontroversial. Often the stuff that makes me feel alive has an edge to it – it’s something I’ve had to battle some demons to claim. I’ve had hang ups about these things, I’ve thought but mums shouldn’t… or nobody else wants this why am I weird or I’ve battled a sense of betraying my family or god. My guiding light is the question, ‘am I even allowed to do this?’ And if I’m asking myself that question, I know I’ve sniffed out my next move. Here’s a list (very specific to me!) of cheap thrills that remind me I’ve got a pulse:

My weekly pilgrimages to Blake’s grave and my stupid little dissenter prayers to him

Watching Supermarket Sweep with Dale Winton. I don’t do this often enough

Loving my friends excessively. I sometimes feel guilty for how much they mean to me

Scummy pubs. The seedier and cheaper the better.

Planning excessively romantic date nights for my husband. I’m insanely romantic and if I don’t have an outlet I’m prone to various pathologies

Wearing pretty frocks and lipstick

Rubbery nachos

Dancing to power ballads and sentimental cheesy pop with non sensical, tasteless lyrics

Eating a whole pack of Oreos

Writing pointless, lengthy emails or texts, usually to friends I see on a regular basis

Scrolling through my Instagram feed, feeling nothing but the ludicrous question, should I ‘like’ this or not

Smelling freshly licked cat fur, especially if its still damp

I love bluntly saying no to things. Like ‘nope. No. Nah, not my thing.’ Cheap thrills every time.

Cooking alone by myself

Drinking whisky in the green chair and listening to Leonard Cohen album, also alone

Solitude on a sexy bike enjoying lite post-industrial urban cityscape

Late night grocery shopping

Scheming gifts to make for birthdays

Going to church. Every week I think what the fuck am I doing here and I also, confusingly, thoroughly enjoy myself

Drinking apple cider out of a champagne flute, a thrilling practice my friend Tilly put me onto. Just any fancy glassware I am generally seduced by

Feeling all my feels including rushes of hatred, puddles of guilt, spikes of anger potholes of shame and all the baddies, not just the ‘nice’ ones of love and peace and happiness

Eating elaborately cooked meals

Copyright Diana Smith 2018

Thomas H Ogden’s essay ‘Analysing forms of aliveness and deadness of the transference-countertransference’ can be found in ‘The Dead Mother: The work of Andre Green.’ Also enlivening is when my friend Kat texts and says they have a stack of psychoanalytic books in their used bookshop and do I want them? and I come home with a hoard

📸 Asha Panesar Bourne a good friend I love allot

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