Under Pressure

I’m going to make this into a video on my second channel some time this week, but I wanted to get my thoughts out here first. Sometimes I wish I could see into the minds of others. Not for any deep, philosophical reasons, but more so merely to see what exactly is going on. I’ve always had that kind of thought, because, well, I suppose there always seemed to be circumstances which necessitated it. I never enjoyed discussing fantasy with the other kids in elementary school – Greek mythology was popular back then, especially because of the Percy Jackson books, as was Star Wars. It just never seemed to be something that piqued my interest. My family always said I just wasn’t into fiction, like some of my relatives – something which was true, I wasn’t into fiction at all at the time. I enjoy it now, but for reasons that (I suppose?) are somewhat unique, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I used to like playing sports and playing mindless games during recess, but even then, over time I just didn’t really seem to take an interest in those either. Gossip never really interested me, and when it did, I always felt selfish for indulging in it, so I tried not to. What I did enjoy as a kid was limited mostly to music (which I only really came to enjoy by the age of 11), YouTube videos, and movies.

Maybe it was how I was raised, maybe I was just born this way, I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. I just never really liked anything that people would term “fun”. And even then, my family and friends used to tell me all the time that I was “too serious” and that “we can’t be serious all the time.” I got a reputation as a snob as a kid for it. Even now, I think there’s at least a few people who’ve watched my videos that might say the same. I’ve stopped watching YouTube videos as much as I used to, simply because I don’t think I’ll get any “value” out of them, or something like that. I don’t really know why I’ve stopped, there’s just this feeling I get now while watching them, a kind of pit in my stomach that’s indescribable other than through that analogy.

Other than that, in many respects this was something that got better as I got older. I watch football with my college friends, I enjoy drinking with them and carrying on, and shit, I even partially enjoy going to parties now, something my family still finds hard to accept. I meme, I joke around on twitter and discord, I’ve got a few buddies that enjoy me for who I am, and I’m thankful for them. Without them, especially the one or two I got to know in high school, I don’t think I’d be able to write something like this out today, to get to a point where I feel comfortable to share this kind of thing with the world, to get it off my chest.

But even then, none of this comes natural to me. “Enjoying things” just isn’t something I can do “naturally.” I don’t know if that comes off pretentious, I apologize if it does, but I don’t know how else I can phrase it. That pit in my stomach that I feel watching YouTube videos now – I’ve come to realize that I’ve always felt it, always during the things that other people seemed to find enjoyable. Shooting the shit about fiction – there it is. Making some memes – there it is. Playing video games – there it is. Just joking around in general – there it is. It’s like this background noise – these abstract thoughts that are telling me that I should be doing something productive, doing something worthwhile, doing something, as though what I’m observing in these moments is less than something. I feel like people may read that and think “Oh, so he thinks he’s above these things. Who does he think he is? Some grand enlightened master?” I used to get comments like that as a kid. From my family too. And, I admit, I was jerk about it, because I never understood the feeling. I interpreted it then as a legitimate emotion – these things suck, I don’t like them, they’re stupid.

But I don’t think that way now. I want to like these things, I really do. But the background noise, it’s like this pressure. This constant, incessant pressure to improve. Pressure to produce. And when I see anything, my handwriting, my editing, my (plain) writing – there it is again. Its like a colorful lens through which I see something – I can’t see the whole as it is, but merely these pieces which call for improvement. It’s not as though I consciously am doing this, either. Not like turning up the volume up and down on a TV, but more like static in the background of a radio, static you can’t remove, static which becomes louder with the music. The more I’d try to focus on the good, the big picture, the more the background noise becomes. The more I want to like these things, the harder it is for me to like them. And I don’t know what to do about it. I remember watching a Christmas story as a kid, seeing Ralphie’s handwriting as he decoded the little orphan annie commercial, and thinking nothing of it. But now, as I saw it just days ago, my mind instantly fixated on the poorness of his handwriting. The moment I saw it, it’s all I could think about. It was as though my entire perception of the image cognitively had become completely different.

I’ve been told, and I’ve read, that the worst thing you can do for these kinds of feelings and thoughts is suppress them. Call it anxiety, call it pressure, call it whatever you’d like. Trying to force them away, well, that doesn’t work. But I simply don’t know what else I can do. The advice is “accept” thoughts, “accept” the feeling, and do what you want regardless. Easy for someone else to say when they don’t feel it. Also easy when that pressure isn’t the totality of your sight. One of the methods of “acceptance” is questioning how “legitimate” the feeling is, how “productive” it is towards you meeting your goals.

But of course, doing this just leads me to ruminations, and, ultimately, self-justifying conclusions which end up supporting the pressure. Take video games. Suppose I want to engage in them for social reasons, to grow closer with those around me, that’s my goal. Suppose I ask myself “How well does this pressure to not play video games help me to my goal?” My gut thought it is thus: “It helps me very well. I don’t enjoy video games. I enjoy other things. I want to find people who enjoy what I enjoy. The people who play video games don’t enjoy what I enjoy. I don’t want to hang around them. Therefore, I don’t need to play video games.” But of course, the flaw in this logic lies in the fact that no one enjoys (merely) what I enjoy. My “enjoyment” is refuge from the pressure, satisfaction of the pressure: piano, video editing, design, scriptwriting, productivity. I “enjoy” that. And of course I don’t really. It’s stressful being productive all the time. Real enjoyment is in those games. And here, in this self-referential self-fulfulling logic, I don’t know where to go. I know these games are enjoyable. I know they help me fulfill my goals. I know I can accept my anxiety. I know these truths, because they’ve been told to me my entire life. But I have no way of justifying them in my own head. Video games are not productive. Video games do not improve me. And even if someone found counterexamples, we both know that the study of philosophy or music is infinitely more productive anyway. I don’t mean to sound arrogant in saying so, but it’s self-evident. The former is designed for pleasure, the latter are academic disciplines. And it is this reality that prevents me from throwing away that anxiety, that pressure – it reflects a realty I cannot logically and truthfully deny. However, does that make academics better? No. Both pleasure and academics have their place in a healthy life, both are necessary. I just can’t seem to accept pleasure for pleasure’s sake, or for others’ sake, in my own head.

An interlocutor may propose I just jump in, go ahead with the games, fiction or whatever. Build a habit out of trying, doing. Perhaps I could do this, and that’s what it’ll take. A rough, bumpy road at the beginning and, eventually, smooth sailing. But when I do jump in, I find I don’t enjoy what I’m doing. The background noise, on its own, becomes louder. I want to quit, I do quit. I come out of what I just did not enjoying what I did. Or, if I did enjoy it, if I were to keep doing it, eventually I’d need to be productive again. I’d need to do something that satisfies the pressure. And then, in that satisfaction, I’d think to myself: “Damn, I’d rather be doing this than [whatever it was that I was doing before].” And the ruminations, the pit in the stomach, etc, all begin again. Habit, virtue, is my only way out I suppose – building the habit of social acceptance, of pleasure.