The Longer You Leave It The Harder It Gets

You know that phenomenon where the longer you leave something, the harder it gets to do… I thought I’d have a talk with that phenomenon. (My version of it, anyway. Other people’s may vary.) I’ll be calling it Longer for short. Longer for short!

Me: So it’s been a while and I still haven’t done this thing. I’d like to do it now, and it seems like you’re unhappy about that.

Longer: Yes! Just think how much that person must be suffering because you haven’t done that thing!

Me: Okay, I’m confused. I’m hearing that you’re very upset about the consequences of my not doing the thing.

Longer: Yes!!

Me: And yet you’d like me to carry on not doing the thing.

Longer: Yes! LOOK AT ALL THIS GUILT! DO YOU REALLY WANT TO CONFRONT ALL THIS GUILT?! DO YOU?!

Me: Wait, so you exist to protect me from guilt!

Longer: YES!

Me: When you started the conversation by saying, ‘Think how that person must be suffering,’ it sounded to me like you wanted me to feel very guilty. Were you just showing me how big and scary the guilt was so I’d run away from it?

Longer: YES YES YES! I make you run away so you won’t do the thing! Because if you do the thing now, that means YOU COULD HAVE DONE IT ALL ALONG!

Me: You’re protecting me from knowing I could have done it all along?

Longer: YES!

Me: Okay, knowing I could have done it all along seems quite empowering to me. Like, I’ve always been capable. Like Dorothy has always had the ruby slippers that could take her home.

Longer: If you know you could have done it all along, you have to face the GUILT of knowing you could have done it all along! AND YOU DIDN’T! Dorothy has been stuck in Oz all this time and all she had to do was click her heels together, what an idiot! Do you really think she’d be happy to find that out? It means all the pain she went through was unnecessary!

Me: No… Oh, wait. The guilt thing is just a smokescreen. You’re just waving guilt at me to scare me off the thing you’re really protecting me from. Regret.

(Longer, who has had no discernible form up till now, turns into a tall, skinny white bird.)

Bubulcus ibis(2)

Me: Did you just turn into an egret?

Longer: (nods)

Me: You’re a Regret Egret! That’s… inspired.

Regret Egret: You did it WRONG. You did it WRONG and you SHOULDN’T have done it wrong and you have to live with all the pain that you went through because you did it wrong, AND all the pain of knowing that you DIDN’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE PAIN!

Me: Oh. Sweetie. You just really hate to see me in pain.

Regret Egret: OF COURSE, WHAT DID YOU THINK? (childlike voice) I HATE IT WHEN YOU DO IT WRONG. I HATE IT I HATE IT.

Me: It sounds like you’re from then. From a long time ago.

Regret Egret: (almost in tears) BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE SEEING YOU TOLD OFF AND PUNISHED!

Me: Oh. Oh, wow, you’re right. When I was little, if I got punished, sometimes I’d pretend I was fine with it. I mean, even to myself. Like I didn’t want whatever they were taking away from me, or… anything rather than acknowledge that I was in pain because I did it wrong. That was you, wasn’t it?

Regret Egret: Yes!

Me: And as an adult, almost 30, I said something that completely shocked me when my friend repeated it back. Basically, that I didn’t want to learn from my mistakes. I preferred to go on making the same mistake over and over rather than admit defeat and learn my lesson. That was you too, huh?

Regret Egret: Yes!

Me: ‘Admit defeat’ like ‘let the people punishing me win’.

Regret Egret: YES!

Me: Even though now I’m an adult and nobody is punishing me, I’m just getting results that I don’t like. When I don’t do something I’ve committed to doing, I worry that other people are suffering and I feel upset and guilty, and that’s a result I don’t like.

Regret Egret: Consequences. The consequences of your actions. Can’t you FEEL the weight of doomy-parenty-teachery AARGH behind that phrase?

Me: Yes, absolutely! AAARGH!

Regret Egret: (finding this cathartic) AAAAARGH!

Me: I’m wondering… what were my parents and teachers trying to communicate when they talked about ‘the consequences of my actions’? What need of theirs were they trying to meet?

Regret Egret: For you to stop being such a nuisance.

Me: (smiles) I think we can go a step back to something more basic and less judgementy. How about the need to know that I could learn from my mistakes? Even though they were saying it in a doomy way, what they really wanted was to help me learn.

Regret Egret: They could have found a better way of saying it!!!

Me: They could, couldn’t they?! Like what… how would you say it better?

Regret Egret: Well, they could have said it how Havi says it! That there’s no ‘doing it wrong’ because it’s all an experiment and all results are useful! So if you get a result that you don’t like, you can be a scientist and go ‘hmm, useful’ and note it down and it gives you clarity. It helps you work out how to get results that you do like. So what we call ‘making mistakes’ is actually vital experimenting, it’s how we learn, I mean you might as well call it making discoveries!

Me: Exactly! Beautiful!

Regret Egret: WELL, WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST SAY IT LIKE THAT THEN?

Me: I guess because nobody had ever said it like that to them. Plus I was really little and they wanted to make it really big and loud and simple and ‘THIS IS DEFINITELY BAD’ to be sure I understood.

Regret Egret: Well, ouch.

Me: Yeah. Ouch for the whole world. Because pretty much everybody’s been brought up like that.

Regret Egret: I’m sorry!!

Me: It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay!

Regret Egret: Now I want to change but I’m still terrified of letting you suffer pain. I mean you’re my baby!

Me: I understand. It’s hard to let your baby grow up.

Regret Egret: So what do I do?!

Me: Well, the thing is -

Regret Egret: Is this the bit where you tell me I’m one of those monsters? Because I was wondering why we hadn’t got to that bit.

Me: (laughs) Maaaaybe. What do you think? You’ve been trying to protect me from regret, right? And -

Regret Egret: And OMG I’ve totally been keeping you in it, because I haven’t been letting you stop doing the things you regret! Or start doing the things you regret not doing! And I can distract you but I can’t stop the pain completely, I mean I can’t make you completely stuck AND make you completely oblivious to being stuck, so it’s always going to hurt! OH NO OH NO I HAD THOSE RUBY SLIPPERS ALL THIS TIME AND I DIDN’T USE THEM AND WE’VE BEEN STUCK IN OZ ALL THIS TIME!

Me: Hey. Hey. It’s okay. Because we’ve been in Oz, right? You don’t want to miss the journey. You don’t want to miss the adventure. If Dorothy had just landed in Oz, taken the slippers, clicked her heels and gone home, there wouldn’t be a story! Or there would, but it would be a very short one that wouldn’t really say anything. Not a book. Not an epic beautiful journey where people experience wild and wonderful things and face deadly terrors and learn and grow and go through transformations and find out things about themselves they never knew.

Regret Egret: (crying) You mean it’s all okay?

Me: Yes. Yes. It’s great that we’ve been on this journey. And it’s great that we’re going home.

Regret Egret: What do I do?

Me: Well, when I’m doing something – or more likely not-doing something – that produces results I don’t like – don’t protect me from experiencing the pain.

Regret Egret: WAAH!

Me: Wait, it’s okay. Instead of holding me back from my pain and my adventure, you can support me through it. Be by my side. Remind me that this is an experiment and there’s no doing it wrong, just results. Help me take a curious, scientific look at those results and see what I discover. And if I’m still hurting about what I did or didn’t do, let me go through mourning so I can learn from it and it’ll stop hurting. You know what NVC mourning is?

Regret Egret: When you don’t beat yourself up, you just let yourself be sad for yourself and all the ways you didn’t meet your own needs.

Me: Yes! No guilt, just compassion. Let me cry, and be with me while I cry. That’ll help a lot, actually. I’ve got a lot of mourning to do and it’ll really help to have someone with me who loves me like you do.

Regret Egret: (sniffs) Will it help if I wear a funny lab coat? And funny little glasses on my beak? (does so)

Me: (laughing and crying) Yes!! Look at you, you totally suit that! Now I think of it, you kind of looked like a tall skinny scientist in a white lab coat already!

Regret Egret: That’s because all monsters have the – have the – person they’re going to be inside them already. You know, the person they’re going to be when they’re not monsters any more.

Me: Yes!!

Regret Egret: Because secretly – that’s what we are. Already. Just with a monster suit over the top.

Me: YES YES YES! Look at you making scientific discoveries!

Regret Egret: Hmm! Useful!

Firework (aka ‘Going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups.’)

Before we get into this monster talk, I need to explain that there’ve been some changes in my headcast. My beloved Mr. H has left us. I’m silent retreating on the reasons, but don’t worry, we’re all okay! After dragging my feet and avoiding the issue for like, months, it was time, and it felt right. And it seems that other members are stepping into the breach LIKE WHOA. As you’ll see. :)

You’d think a retiring headcast member would just dissolve back into me, but Mr. H was having none of that. He told me he wanted to go freelance. To go out into the world, travel into other people’s minds, and talk to other people’s monsters. So if you want a visit from him, just talk to him in your imagination, and see if he talks back… :)

(This monster believes that going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups, and looks like a constantly moving, fireworky explosion of random colours. You can hear the hiss and crackle of sparks in her voice.)

Me: So, going to bed willingly is for boring grown-ups?

Firework: YES! It means either you’re an obedient sheep, or you’re so subhuman you don’t even need obedience. You belong to the vegetable kingdom, the fungus kingdom, the mould kingdom.

Me: Whoa! Sounds like you’re feeling really disgusted and angry because you need to know I have – what? Sovereignty? Power? Energy? I think your appearance is a clue, but I can’t quite find the right word.

Firework: FIRE! The spark of life and passion! Movement, colour, light! Everything you allow to be taken away from you when you surrender to bed and sleep!

Me: Wow, that’s really powerful. And it sounds like for you, going to bed is a massively unsovereign experience, an admission of defeat. Life surrendering to – well, to death, almost. Am I right?

Firework: YES! The eternal struggle of all life! The hero life against the villain death! And YOU are giving in! Allowing yourself to be shut away up there in the dark with the ghosts! DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT! Kick and scream! Burn and rage! Always, always!

Me: Oh… wow. I have so much empathy for you and I don’t know what to say. Backup!

(Big Sister shows up wearing Mr. H’s old leather jacket.)

Big Sister: Hi!

Me: Oh, hi!

Big Sister: So… Man, this is hard. Do you know what I’m thinking?

Me: I know exactly what you’re thinking.

Big Sister: I need a joke. This situation needs a joke and I can’t think of a single funny thing to say to save my life. Maybe we should get Little Sister.

Me: No way, this monster is exactly from when I was her age, it’d be her nemesis.

Big Sister: Well, she’s learned a lot -

(Little Sister skids onto the scene.)

Me: Hello!! Are you sure you want to be here? This one’s a bit scary.

Little Sister: Yes, this one won’t listen to grown-ups. Come here, firework.

(Firework floats and fizzles over to her, instantly all attention. They are the same height.)

Little Sister: You’re right, going to sleep is a lot like dying. It’s dark and scary and lonely and nothing-y. I understand. But that doesn’t mean that it IS dying! You know what? If people didn’t go to sleep, THEN they would die!!

Firework: But… I’m afraid if you don’t fight sleep then you won’t fight death, and evil, and oppression, and all those other bad things.

Little Sister: Well, I might not fight death. I mean, it depends. If I’m getting attacked by a big lion, or pushed over a cliff, or somebody is hitting me with a sword, THEN I’ll fight. But if I get to be very old and wise then I’ll probably just fade out peacefully in a cloud of sparkles like Yoda. I don’t think that’s bad.

Firework: No… I suppose that’s not bad.

Little Sister: And as for not fighting evil and oppression!! Look at me in my eyes and tell me that you think I won’t!!

(If a firework could hang its head, this one does.)

Firework: But it’s just… I’m really afraid of… What is a firework afraid of? Going out. Darkness. Silence. Stillness. I’m afraid of the dark.

Little Sister: So am I! I’m really, really, REALLY afraid of the dark!

Firework: Yes, because you and me…

Little Sister: Yes. But you know what else there is? You know what happens if you go THROUGH the dark? DREAMS! And you know what’s in dreams? Light! Colours! Noises! Movement! Fire! Life! More and more and more than there is when you’re awake! Don’t keep me away from it! When people don’t sleep enough, they don’t have enough dreams!

Firework: Oh. Oh. I can’t be one of those monsters? Taking away the very thing I want to give you? Giving you the very thing I want to protect you from?

Little Sister: I think everybody can be one of those monsters.

Firework: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!! (flares up massively in a frenzy of sparks)

Little Sister: (running off and flattening herself against Big Sister’s legs) YIKES! Don’t do that! Sit!!

Firework: I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. It’s just that this is life-and-death important!

Little Sister: You really want me to be brave, right? And fierce like a firework. And alive-alive-alive. And full of colours.

Firework: Yes!

Little Sister: Well, here’s what we can do. Here is the big brave thing that we can do. It’s very like a story. You go THROUGH the big dark door of sleep, PAST all the ghosts that are trying to scare you, and you come out in DREAMS! Wonderland! Neverland! Narnia! Fairyland! And you go and fly and swim in all the colours, and then you bring a piece of the magic world back with you! That’s what a hero does in a story! And that’s how we can bring more and more and more and more fireworks into the world! Do you want to do it?

Firework: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

Little Sister: Will I get burned if I hug you?

Firework: No!

(She steps into the light of the firework that is just her size, holds out her arms, and it becomes an aura of rainbow fire around her body, blazing and shooting off brilliant sparks that go singing out into the night. Big Sister and I instinctively drop to our knees before this brilliant child queen, and applaud.)

Speed Whippet talks to Fear of Finishing

(Trigger warning: very brief mention of suicide. Like, briefer than this warning.)

I do audio transcribing as a sideline, and while working on a piece today I ran into a familiar monster, Fear of Finishing. He’s a squat fuzzy monster with big eyes and little flaily arms. My urgency monsters said I had no time to talk to him.

I’ve been wanting to experiment with super-quick monster talks for a while, so I decided to bring in a new headcast member, Speed Whippet.

Grinning whippet face
Side note: After finding this picture of a whippet I was earwormed with ‘FOUND a picture of a WHIPpet, FOUND a picture of a WHIPpet,’ to the tune of  ‘Glory, Glory, Hallelujah’.

Speed Whippet talks very fast, sounds vaguely American, and today he’s borrowing an interview technique from Lady Vastra from ‘Doctor Who’.

Speed Whippet: Hi! Answer in one word, please! What are you observing?

Fear of Finishing: Danger!

Speed Whippet: How are you feeling?

Fear of Finishing: Scared!

Speed Whippet: What do you need?

Fear of Finishing: Respite!

Speed Whippet: What are you requesting?

Fear of Finishing: STOP!

Speed Whippet: What happens if she doesn’t stop?

Fear of Finishing: Doom!

Speed Whippet: What kinda doom?

Fear of Finishing: Pressure!

Speed Whippet: Pressure to do what?

Fear of Finishing: Deliver! (jumps up and down) Mfff mfff!

Speed Whippet: You got some more to say there?

Fear of Finishing: Be a grown-up!

Speed Whippet: Pressure to deliver and be a grown-up?

Fear of Finishing: Yes!

Speed Whippet: What would happen if she did deliver and be a grown-up? Don’t say ‘doom’.

Fear of Finishing: Death!

Speed Whippet: Like, she wouldn’t be her any more?

Fear of Finishing: Yes! Mmmfff mmffff!

Speed Whippet: And?

Fear of Finishing: Or!

Speed Whippet: Or?

Fear of Finishing: Karoshi!

Speed Whippet: Death by overwork?

Fear of Finishing: Yes!

Speed Whippet: Okay, and what if she didn’t deliver and be a grown-up?

Fear of Finishing: Doom! Death! Shame! Regret!

Speed Whippet: Death as in death by starvation?

Fear of Finishing: Or!

Speed Whippet: Or?

Fear of Finishing: Suicide!

Speed Whippet: Wow. Really?!

Fear of Finishing: Uh…

Speed Whippet: You know she’s a lot happier now, right?

Fear of Finishing: (relaxing somewhat) Yeah.

Speed Whippet: Okay, speed rundown! You’re scared that if she finishes this work there’ll be pressure to finish ALL THE WORK and she’ll die of overwork. Or lose herself and die inside. Or fail and die of hunger and shame.

Fear of Finishing: YES!!

Speed Whippet: So you want her to not finish so nobody will think she’s capable and there’ll be no pressure.

Fear of Finishing: YES!!

Speed Whippet: Trouble is that when you stop her finishing work, she’s stuck in work. Constant work. And hunger and shame. And losing herself. All the things you want to protect her from.

Fear of Finishing: WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!

Speed Whippet: Wanna hear some different possibilities?

Fear of Finishing: Please!!

Speed Whippet: What if there wasn’t pressure?

Fear of Finishing: Huh?!

Speed Whippet: Has this client put any pressure on her, even when she delivered really late?

Fear of Finishing: None!

Speed Whippet: And what if there was pressure, and she could be sovereign about it?

Fear of Finishing: Huh?

Speed Whippet: Like, ‘Oh, somebody is trying to pressure me. That’s their stuff. My stuff is coming up in response. Hello, my stuff. Let’s make a sovereign choice about what to do here because I am the king or queen of my life.’

Fear of Finishing: Wow!!

Speed Whippet: You think she could do that?

Fear of Finishing: Dunno!

Speed Whippet: Willing to let her try? As an experiment?

Fear of Finishing: Eek!

Speed Whippet: What do you need to feel safe?

Fear of Finishing: Protection!

Speed Whippet: What kind of protection?

Fear of Finishing: Um…

Speed Whippet: Protection for you, or protection for her?

Fear of Finishing: Her!

Speed Whippet: But you don’t know what kind?

Fear of Finishing: Openness!

Speed Whippet: You want her to be open with people when she’s finding things difficult? Like if she’s stuck on a piece of work, email her client and say, ‘Hello, I have this stuckness right now and this is what it means for you’?

Fear of Finishing: And!

Speed Whippet: And maybe warn people in advance if she thinks she might find a task difficult, and let them decide whether to trust her with it?

Fear of Finishing: Yes!!

Speed Whippet: Anything else?

Fear of Finishing: Life-preserver!

Speed Whippet: Like a cheery red and white rubber ring that she can wear to keep her afloat when there’s death/doom stuff coming up?

Fear of Finishing: (joyfully bouncing up and down) YES YES YES!

Speed Whippet: Would you like to give one to her?

Fear of Finishing: Yes!

Speed Whippet: Then go ahead!

(Fear of Finishing delightedly hands me a life preserver. Hugs and mild tearfulness ensue.)

Speed Whippet: All in a day’s work for SPEED WHIPPET! (dashes off)

(NB. I proceeded to share this conversation with my client, followed 40 minutes later by the finished work.)

Compulsions! They look like mogwai from Gremlins.

I’m trying to get over an internet addiction (yes, monsters, I am allowed to tell people that I have an internet addiction even though I also have difficulty replying to emails) and part of what I’m trying to do is not feed my compulsions. That is, not check the internet at the moment I get a compulsive urge to do it, because that teaches my brain that compulsions get rewarded so there should be lots of them.

So obviously, the concept of lots of proliferating things that one shouldn’t feed led me to characterise my compulsions as mogwai. You know, the fluffy little things that multiply if you get them wet and turn into gremlins if you feed them after midnight. (Actually, feeding my compulsions after midnight is a PARTICULAR problem for me.)

3 mogwai

Apparently these three are called Mohawk, George and Lenny, so that’s what we’ll call them.

I thought rather than just forcibly starve these little furballs, I’d better get their point of view and find out what they’re really trying to tell me.

(Compulsions roll into the room, squeaking, chattering and showing lots of sharp teeth.)

Compulsions: FEED US! FEED US! NOM NOM NOM!

Me: Hi, compulsions! Sounds like you’re really hungry for something.

Compulsions: EMAIL EMAIL (actually giving me a compulsion to check email)

Me: What needs does email meet for you?

Compulsions: EMAIL EMAIL EMAIL EMAIL

Me: (smiles) Okay, how does getting to check email feel for you? What kind of good things are you getting from it?

Mohawk: No uncertainty!

George: Relief!

Lenny: Knowing! CHECK EMAIL NOW BY THE WAY.

Me: I was expecting to hear something like ‘attention’ or ‘love’ or ‘validation’ -

Compulsions: ATTENTION ATTENTION

Me: Okay, so that’s a need that email meets for you too?

Mohawk: Yeah but – even if you check and there’s nothing, at least you KNOW you HAVEN’T got attention.

George: Otherwise SOMEBODY COULD BE PAYING YOU ATTENTION AND YOU WOULDN’T KNOW! AAARGH!!!

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL NOW

George: Worse! Somebody could NEED YOUR ATTENTION! AND! YOU! WOULDN’T! KNOW!

Compulsions: AAAAAAARGH!!!!! EEK EEK EEK!

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL NOOOOOWWWWW

Me: I’ll check email as soon as we’ve finished this talk, okay? Deal?

(All compulsions immediately clamp their hands over their mouths, ‘speak no evil’ style. Total silence.)

Me: I don’t mean just stop talking right now! I mean as soon as we’ve finished this talk. Do you get what it means to finish this talk?

Mohawk: To reach an agreement!

George: Yeah!

Lenny: For all of us to be happy!

George: Yeah!

Me: That works. (smiles) Are you willing to wait till that point for me to check email?

Compulsions: Eeeeerrrr….. Maybe?

Me: Okay, thank you. Let’s start talking and if it gets too difficult for you to wait, you can tell me.

Compulsions: IT’S TOO DIFFICULT FOR US TO WAIT!

Me: (laughing) Fine, I’ll check email and then we’ll finish the conversation, okay?

Compulsions: (jumping up and down) OKAY OKAY OKAY OKAY!

Me: (checks email) Nothing there but spam and people trying to write a punk Hamlet filk. Happy now?

Compulsions: (slightly unsure) Yeeeees….

Me: Any problems?

Mohawk: We are disappointed that there wasn’t email from that one person!

Me: I hear you. I get that you’re feeling disappointed. I’d just like to remind you that it’s not even 9am for her and she has a lot to think about right now, and that I know she loves me very much and I don’t need an email to prove it.

Lenny: CHECK EMAIL CHECK EMAIL. Look! You can see you’ve just received another email! CHECK IT CHECK IT!

Me: Okay, I’m not willing to do that right now because I’m feeling really concerned about how frustrated and anxious you seem and how you can’t rest for even a minute without needing me to check email.

George: We’re also disappointed that you didn’t get distracted. Then we could rest.

Me: Huh?

George: When you’re connected to the internet, it’s like uh – an umbilicus! Or a baby bottle. Being constantly fed. So we can rest.

Lenny: Nom nom nom nom nom nom nom… WANT NOMS!

Me: And what is it that you’re being constantly fed?

Mohawk: Internets!

Me: What does the internets contain?

Mohawk: Caffeine!

Me: (laughing) Okay, everyone knows the internet contains caffeine! What does that mean for you, does it energise you, keep you awake?

George: AAARGH, you got another email!

Lenny: CHECK IT CHECK IT!!

Me: Fine, I’ll check it… There, nothing important. So what’s this about caffeine?

Mohawk: A way to avoid sleep! Not just that, but a way to not need rest!

Me: Because while I’m surfing the internet, I’m in a state that’s sort-of-restful but not so embarrassingly obviously restful as, say, having a lie down?

George: Yeah!

Me: So I don’t need to deal with the fact that I need rest?

George: Yeah!

Me: Thing is, surfing the internet isn’t adequately meeting my rest needs. It’s like living on rice or porridge, you get to a point where you can stuff and stuff and stuff on it and you’re still constantly hungry because you’re not getting any vitamins or protein. Anyway, why are you protecting me from needing rest?

Compulsions: Uh….

Me: You don’t know?

Mohawk: Because you seem to get upset when you need rest. We don’t really know why.

Me: Actually, I’ve made a lot of progress in that area recently, and I’m going to be talking to my rest monsters some more today. I can handle this, I don’t need you to protect me from needing rest. Besides, constantly being online actually puts me in a state of constantly needing rest.

George: Oh no, we’re those kinds of monsters?

Me: Yeah, your protecting me from needing rest is leading to me needing a lot of rest.

Compulsions: SORRY SORRY SORRY!

Me: It’s okay! I get the feeling that there’s more to you than that, though. What else does the internet contain?

Lenny: Not having to think. Whatever you’re in pain about, you don’t have to think about it when you’re online.

Me: What if I’m in pain about being online?

Lenny: Make candybar dolls! [An online game.] That will even numb the pain of being in pain about being online!

Me: This is kind of like the drunkard in ‘The Little Prince’ who drank to forget that he was ashamed of drinking.

Lenny: Well, it’s a reasonable strategy.

Me: The thing is that a lot of my pain comes from not doing things, and a lot of my not-doing-things comes from being online. So your protecting me from being in pain is leading to a lot more pain.

Lenny: THAT’S WHY YOU HAVE TO BE ONLINE ALL THE TIME SO YOU CAN IGNORE IT!!!

Me: I can tell that you’re really concerned about this. The thing is that I’m not able to ignore it all the time. It still hurts. And if I get offline and face a little bit of pain in the short term, I can have a lot less pain in the long term.

Compulsions: WHAT IS THIS LONG TERM OF WHICH YOU SPEAK!

Me: It’s the short term tomorrow. It’s right now in five minutes. Or a week. Or a year.

Compulsions: DOES NOT COMPUTE… DOES NOT COMPUTE…

Lenny: YOU GOT ANOTHER EMAIL, CHECK IT!!

Me: (does so) Still just talking about Hamlet filks. I’m getting that you are not long-term creatures. You need a need to be met NOW, always.

Compulsions: YES YES YES!

Me: And right now it seems that the things you want for me are rest (of a kind that doesn’t upset me) and relief from pain. So maybe when I have a compulsion I could try meditating or praying.

Mohawk: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ATTENTION! And the play! WHAT ABOUT THE PLAY!

Lenny: YOU GOT ANOTHER ONE CHECK IT CHECK IT

Me: Okay, I’m checking this one, but then let’s not check any more for five minutes so we can sort this out sooner. Okay?

Lenny: NO YOU HAVE TO CHECK ALL OF THEM OR WE’RE NOT TALKING.

Me: I’m feeling uncomfortable and frustrated about that because I need to know I have some sovereignty here.

Lenny:… Fine, five minutes.

Me: Thank you! So, attention and play?

Mohawk: Yes, internetting is a form of rest-play. It’s something you can do that’s not ‘because you should’.

Me: Right, so you also want me to experience play and freedom from shoulds. So when I get a compulsion I could also try goofing off in another way. Doodling on my whiteboard perhaps.

George: Oh, HOURS OF FUN. Why don’t you just play with a jack-in-the box? Open the box… shut the box. Open the box… shut the box. WHAT FUN!!!

Me: I’m hearing that you don’t find non-internetty things any fun!

George: I’ll admit that they could be fun, but where else can you find such infinite variety of input?

Me: In my own mind.

George: Okay, then do a proper creative project, but with permission to do it badly or not finish it. Or make stuff up in your head. Something you actually WANT to do, not some fake displacementy boring thing. Or read something or watch something.

Me: You’d be happy for me to do that? Because I’ve just realised that my internet addiction means I don’t have time to play properly! To do things I really WANT to do!

George: I’d be happy for you to do that sometimes, but not all the time because there’s still the attention thing.

Me: Thank you!! Okay, the attention thing. It seems like you’re really keen for my attention needs to be met, and for me to meet the attention needs of others.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES YES YES YES

Lenny: BY THE WAY CHECK EMAIL

Me: Okay… I’m confused. You’re obviously genuinely very concerned about this attention thing, and yet I’m noticing that even with all this time online, I’m still way behind on replying to most of my emails. In fact, I could have replied to a lot more if I hadn’t been so busy compulsively surfing, checking, and re-reading existing emails. It seems like you really care about me checking, but not so much about me replying?

Compulsions: Uuuuhhhhh…

Lenny: CHECK THE FLOOP

Me: (does so) Oh, I got comments. That feels good because now I know that people care.

Mohawk: This is the point! To know that people care!

Me: Are you feeling worried that I don’t know I’m loved? That I need reminding?

Mohawk: WELL, CLEARLY.

Me: So if I can find other ways to remind myself that I’m loved, and to give myself love, will that help with the need to check?

Mohawk: Not really because there’s still OTHER PEOPLE’S attention needs and what if there’s a crisis? WHAT IF THERE’S A CRISIS? What if someone you love is crying and heartbroken because YOU WEREN’T THERE WHEN YOU WERE NEEDED?

George: You see, every second you’re not checking email, THAT COULD BE HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!

Lenny: Every second you’re not checking, YOU COULD BE MAKING SOMEONE CRY! EVERY SECOND!

Me: You all sound really freaked out and panicked.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES YES!

Me: You all want a cuddle?

Compulsions: AAAAAAAAH (diving on me)

Me: (cuddling the compulsion pile) Okay, guys. It’s okay. This is from then. This is from a time when someone genuinely did want my attention every second. That is not happening now. None of the friends I have now would want me to be constantly tied to the internet looking after them, they want me to have my own life, even if that means they sometimes spend some time crying because I wasn’t online.

Mohawk: …For reals?!?!

Me: Yes, for reals!

Mohawk: BUT YOU WOULD STILL BE SO GUILTY! Even if they didn’t mind, YOU would mind!!

Me: Sounds like you’re desperate to protect me from guilt.

Compulsions: YES YES YES YES! And sadness! Sadness for other people’s pain!

Me: You really suffered back then, didn’t you? You don’t ever want to feel that bad again.

Compulsions: YES WE DID! NO WE DON’T!

Me: Would it help if I told you that things are very different now because I have more sovereignty, and I would never allow myself to get into that bad a guilt situation now? Because I know I’m not responsible for the happiness of others.

Compulsions: Huh?!

Me: Yeah, I always had a choice. I could have ALWAYS said, ‘Hey, it’s not okay to expect myself to give attention every second. I don’t need to feel guilty for not doing that.’ I could have ALWAYS said, ‘I’m not willing to give you attention every second, can we talk about other ways to meet your needs?’ It was always between me and me! It was my guilt about my relationship with me and I don’t have to have that guilt any more!

Compulsions: Whoa. Um… whoa.

(They huddle together and talk compulsion language for a few seconds.)

Mohawk: Okay. We’re willing to try to stop pushing you so hard to check email, but only if you’re willing to try to stop guilting yourself, because we feel awful when you do that.

Me: Wow, thank you! I’m definitely willing. And you can help.

Mohawk: How?

Me: When you feel like talking to me, talk to me. But instead of saying ‘CHECK EMAIL CHECK EMAIL’ tell me all the qualities you want for me, like – what’s the opposite of guilt?

Mohawk: Permission!

George: Sovereignty!

Lenny: A clear conscience!

Me: All good! And what are those other qualities you were talking about?

Mohawk: Rest!

George: Play!

Lenny: Comfort!

Mohawk: Freedom!

George: Attention!

Lenny: Love!

Me: All things I would love to be reminded to give myself. So are you up for that? When you feel like talking to me, are you willing to shout those qualities in my ear?

Compulsions: (bouncing up and down) YES YES YES YES!

Me: Thank you!

(group hug)

BY THE WAY, EVERYBODY – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Sad Rage Basset

Sad Rage Basset is sad! And full of rage!

Basset Hound Zazzle card
Card Image from Zazzle

Recently I’ve been filled with rage at doing anything at all that wasn’t exactly what I felt like doing in that moment. This rage attached itself to my current obsession with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I just wanted to throw off all responsibility and run away to the stars, or failing that, get very drunk.

I DEFINITELY needed one or two members of my headcast to act as negotiators on this one. Mr. H is my go-to guy for dealing with fierce, angry monsters, and also the one who’s best at getting through to me when I’m in a horrible mood, for reasons I have yet to understand. So this happened.

Mr. H: So, we’re gonna talk to some rage. That’s cool (cracks knuckles) I’m good at talking to rage. Hiiiii, rage!

(A very large and dismal basset-hound-thing appears)

Sad Rage Basset: (slumps on ground) …Bleurgh. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction.

Mr. H: You’re huh?

Sad Rage Basset: You want me to come in here all huge and screaming so you can amusingly defy me. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction.

Mr. H: (smiles) That’s okay. This isn’t really about me getting to do my comedy turn. This is about finding out what makes you tick.

Sad Rage Basset: I don’t tick. I’m too angry to tick. I – what’s a much angrier noise than tick?

Mr. H: (mad eyes) GrrRRrrRrrrrr!

Sad Rage Basset: (disarmed, almost-laughter turning into almost-tears) Oh God everything sucks.

Mr. H: (sitting down next to Sad Rage Basset on the ground) Wanna tell me about it?

Sad Rage Basset: (plonks its head on his lap) Okay. But you won’t be able to fix it.

Mr. H: You know what’s funny? You sound a bit like Marvin. I mean, I was expecting a bit of Ford here. All the wanderlust and wanting to just get drunk and goof off with no responsibilities. But what I’m hearing sounds more like a depressed robot.

Sad Rage Basset: Depressed definitely. Robot, kind of what I’m fighting. I mean, not that I’m fighting robots -

Mr. H: That would be cool! I’d pay money to see a giant basset hound fight robots!

Sad Rage Basset: (rolls a bassety eye upwards at him) I mean that I’m fighting robotification. And I’m depressed because it seems like such a pointless fight.

Mr. H: So -  it seems it’s inevitable that Eve must become a robot?

Sad Rage Basset: Not LITERALLY! But, aargh!! It’s impossible for her to do just what she wants! I mean, it’s POSSIBLE, but at too much cost! I need this to be taken seriously!

Mr. H: I always take you guys seriously. It’s myself I don’t. (smiles)

Sad Rage Basset: …Not sure if serious.

Mr. H: …Are you trying to get me to -

Sad Rage Basset: I AM TRYING TO GET YOU TO REASSURE ME THAT YOU’LL TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY. Stop looking like that. WHY AM I STILL SEEING MISCHIEF IN YOUR EYES. (slumps again) Why do I get the feeling there’s an important point here that I’m not quite getting?

Mr. H: (pets basset ears) Everything is serious. Everything is a joke. Believe me, you’re talking to a man who’s learned this in some very… weird… ways.

Sad Rage Basset: …okay. I’ll tell you. Ugh, I still don’t wanna tell you. I’ll tell you. The problem is that Eve is stuck between a… rock and a hard place. She has all these wonderful things she wants to achieve, but they all involve forcing and doing things she doesn’t wanna do. Even basic survival involves some of that. Even beggars have to do that, you think they want to get up and beg every morning? There’s basically no hope. And I’m like Antigone, I continue to say No, No, No long after there’s no hope and no reason.

Mr. H: Wow, what a self-aware and literate monster.

Sad Rage Basset: (thumps tail weakly)

Mr. H: What was it Antigone said – ‘I don’t want to understand. That’s all right for you. I’m not here to understand, I’m here to say No and to die.’ Or something like that.

Sad Rage Basset: I’m here to say No and – oh.

Mr. H: What?

Sad Rage Basset: I refuse to let Eve be forced. I refuse to let her force herself. No matter what. I refuse, I refuse, I refuse. And the only way, really – the only way a human being can escape forcing is to get off the planet. That’s what all that wanderlust for the stars is about. It’s not about space adventures. It’s about death.

Mr. H: You want Eve to die?

Sad Rage Basset: Not really. It’s just that I refuse to let her be forced, even at the cost of her life.

Mr. H: Being forced is a fate worse than death?

Sad Rage Basset: Akin. It’s akin to death. If one is forced, one might as well be dead. At least, if one is being forced every day with no realistic hope of it ever ending, one might as well be dead.

Mr. H: Oh. Ouch.

Sad Rage Basset: I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed.

Mr. H: I can see why!

Sad Rage Basset: (sighs)

Mr. H: You said earlier, ‘It’s possible, but at too much cost’. What did you mean by that?

Sad Rage Basset: That was something a friend said to her the other day. That sure, you COULD just piss off on a permanent drunken hitch-hike round the world, if you were prepared to face the cost, but the cost would be tremendous. That you’d lose friends and such. But actually, now I think about it that’s not relevant. In order to survive, even in a life like that, you would have to sometimes force yourself to do things you didn’t wanna do. Perhaps especially in a life like that. So close to desperation, so close to the bone. But there’s a certain appeal in that for me because if she was doing it for raw survival maybe it wouldn’t be such a drag.

Mr. H: Okay, so what you really want for her is for nothing to be a drag?

Sad Rage Basset: YES! I want her NEVER TO DO ANYTHING THAT ISN’T PLAY! But I don’t see how that’s possible because UGH UGH UGH!

Mr. H: Even though you’re quoting a book that says that very thing is possible, you don’t see how it’s possible?

Sad Rage Basset: Yes, because there’s always some forcing! Even if there’s not outright forcing, there’s always gentle-suggesting-hinting-nudging UGH UGH UGH! There’s always an expectation that the person will see sense and do the sensible thing. There’s always an expectation that you have to talk to yourself nice and sensibly to work that out. Which is in itself probably something you have to force yourself to do. It’s like a freedom that is no freedom because OF COURSE YOU WILL DO THE SENSIBLE FUCKING THING! Just, where is the darkness? Where is the craziness? Where is the doing things for NO FUCKING REASON? Why couldn’t she have died when she was three? (tearing up) She was so beautiful and so happy. She never needed a reason – (head on paws) Oh, crap. I was being really, really serious and I just accidentally quoted ‘Step in Time’.

Mr. H: (soft voice) Everything is serious. Everything is a joke. It’s okay.

Sad Rage Basset: I’ve never heard you be like this before.

Mr. H: It’s never come up before. Everything is serious, everything is a joke. I promise you. Even if you can’t understand it right now. I don’t even really understand it myself, I just know it in my bones by now. (Sad Rage Basset looks uneasy) Are you… Are you afraid of that? Are you needing seriousness to be over here and jokes to be over there?

Sad Rage Basset: I don’t know. Got a wall. (pause) I just need her to not be patronised! I don’t need stupid fake permission that’s just giving her the space to hang herself! I need her to have ACTUAL PERMISSION! And that includes permission to do the stupid, wrong, destructive thing! So yeah – I guess I need there to be right things and wrong things, you know – Batman and Joker things, right-sensible-grim-forcey-willpower things and wrong-mad-chaotic-Dionysiac-ecstasy things… because doing those wrong things is the only way Eve can have a moment of freedom. And if she doesn’t know it’s wrong, how does she know she’s free?

Mr. H: (long pause) Oh. I see. She needs to give herself actual permission to do absolutely anything. Because right now, she’s dividing stuff into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things and only giving herself actual, sincere permission to do the ‘right’ things. And then needing to do the ‘wrong’ things because she doesn’t have permission to.

Sad Rage Basset: Yeah, but I don’t see how that can change because she’s a loving person and has moral standards and she’s never going to think murder is as permissible as patting a dog.

Mr. H: It’s not that it’s not permissible. It’s that she doesn’t want to do it.

Sad Rage Basset: So wait, the feeling of ‘wrong’ is actually a feeling of ‘don’t wanna’? But I’ve somehow twisted it to where she does wanna​? This is challenging my brain.

Mr. H: I think you’ve read her natural reluctance to do un-loving things as being the same as some bossy parent or teacher telling her what to do. It’s totally different. But I still feel like there’s a piece of this puzzle we’re both missing. Hmmm. This is a very intellectual one! Maybe we need backup. Big Sister?

Big Sister: Oh, thanks for the compliment to my intellect! (to Sad Rage Basset) Hi. Okay, the backup is going to back up a step. You don’t think she can give herself permission to do the ‘wrong’ things because she is a loving person? So because she’s loving, she can’t give herself permission to do anything that’s not loving?

Sad Rage Basset: I guess everyone does things that aren’t loving sometimes, unless they’re Jesus.

Big Sister: Right. And if she gave herself permission to do those things, how would she be treating herself?

Sad Rage Basset: With… love. So wait, love really is the Hound of Heaven and you really can’t get away from it whichEVER way you twist it? (crying)

Big Sister: Mmm-hmm.

Sad Rage Basset: No, I can’t accept that! You can’t say that murder is okay because the murderer is being loving to themselves!

Big Sister: Murder is a huge tragedy. And even at the roots of murder is love. Even at the roots of hate is love. Somewhere in there is a scared child trying to protect itself. We run away from love so hard, and there literally is nowhere else to run.

Sad Rage Basset: (howls)

Big Sister: What you have is a choice to make love conscious. You know you said, ‘The feeling of ‘wrong’ is a feeling of don’t wanna, but I’ve somehow twisted that to where she does wanna?’

Sad Rage Basset: Yeah.

Big Sister: You need her to have absolute freedom, you believe having absolute freedom would be wrong, therefore you believe she can only have freedom by doing wrong. Therefore you label certain things as wrong – often things the love in her recoils from – and try to make her want to do them. You take the things she would least want to do and call them freedom.

Sad Rage Basset: No!!

Big Sister: It’s okay. The great thing is that like I said, it’s all love. She’s all love. You just need to give her a chance to make it conscious. And freedom is essential for that. If you want to talk right and wrong, absolute freedom is right.

Sad Rage Basset: Really?

Big Sister: Absolutely. (to Mr. H) Back me up here?

Mr. H: Yeah, I agree. And it’s great that you’re trying to help her find freedom. Just you’re doing it by setting up categories of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ things – in other words, things for which there is permission and things for which there isn’t. In other words, your attempt to give her permission -

Sad Rage Basset: – is taking permission away! Crap, I’m one of those monsters?

Mr. H: Yeah, I’m sorry. You’ve set up all these things as ‘forbidden temptations’ so she can taste freedom by giving in to them. And they’re actually not what she wants. She wants a way more positive life than that. And she’s trying to go after the things she really wants with these ‘forbidden temptations’ dragging on her heels, making it hard, and the result is -

Sad Rage Basset: – forcing! NOOOOOOOOO! (howls)

Mr. H: I’m sorry. (pets) I’m sorry, pup. It’s okay. You can change this.

Sad Rage Basset: How? Isn’t it TOO STUPID LATE?

Mr. H: Never. (smiles) You’ve read your NVC book, haven’t you? Knock off the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Remind her that those words are static generalisations and reality is complex and always changing. And remind her that she’s not only free when she’s getting drunk and goofing off, she’s free when she’s helping someone, she’s free when she’s creating stuff, she’s free when she’s doing her taxes, she’s just – free. Always. She just forgets that sometimes and needs reminding. You can be the one to remind her. You can be the Basset of Freedom.

Sad Rage Basset: Mmmwhrrrr? (ears perk up)

Mr. H: You think you can fly with those ears?

(The Sad Rage Basset, who must now be called the Basset of Freedom, stands up, shakes its enormous ears, goes into a lumbering run, and takes off, flolloping through the air like a canine Dumbo.)

Basset of Freedom: I’m a serious joke! I’m a profound truth with ludicrous ears!

Mr. H: (laughing) Yeah! Now you get it!

Basset of Freedom: You mean, now I get myself!

Mr. H: Yeah!!

Basset of Freedom: I say, NEVER DO ANYTHING THAT ISN’T PLAY! It’s easy – just notice that you’re free! And if you think the idea of you being free is ridiculous – LOOK AT ME! Bassets might fly! And they do! Wheeeeee….

(Mr. H wipes a surreptitious tear. I feel the need to run onto the scene.)

Me: Thank you so much! All three of you! Hugpile!

(There is a hugpile.)

Things I realised afterwards!

As well as the dichotomy between ‘right things’ (that I don’t wanna do) and ‘wrong things’, there was this huge dichotomy going on between ‘serious things’ and ‘jokes’, which baffled me at the time because it was clearly deep and meaningful and connected but – how?

Afterwards it hit me. The opposite of seriousness is fun. So what we had was a dichotomy between ‘serious things’ (that I don’t wanna do) and ‘fun things’. And it somehow got completely dissolved without ever being directly discussed. And the flying basset is a living picture of serious-fun. The job’s a game.

Also, this is the SECOND monster who’s brought up a quote from the play ‘Antigone’ by Jean Anouilh! See also Big No and Big Yes.

Too Flakey

This was one of the funnier things that happened when I was preparing to launch my business. As I mentioned, I’d set up a friendly brunch with members of my headcast where all my business-launch-related monsters could come and express their concerns over a nice cup of tea and a bite to eat. This guy was the second monster to show up.

(A large gorilla enters, wearing a hat in the shape of an ice-cream with two Flakes sticking out of it like bunny ears.)

Gorilla: I like this brunch idea. I was going to come in screaming and thumping my chest, but this is just… disarming. Got any bananas?

Big Sister: Plenty. (passes some) What’s the problem?

Gorilla: I’m worried that Eve is too flakey.

(Mr. H absolutely chokes with laughter.)

Big Sister: (fighting giggles) Yeah?

Too Flakey: Yeah, I don’t doubt that she’s got the talent, or that she can get  customers, but I really do doubt she can be responsible enough to keep them.

Big Sister: Do you agree that this is a divine calling for her? And that she’s got all this divine and spiritual support around her?

Too Flakey: Well, yeah, I can see that. I mean, they’re sitting right there. And I get that there’s a chance she can succeed, or they wouldn’t be calling her to do this. But there’s also a massive chance she’ll fail. She can barely cope with basic self-care or holding down a menial job! And she really wants this, so if it turns out she can’t do it she’ll be heartbroken!

Big Sister: So you’re trying to protect her from that by stopping her doing it at all?

Too Flakey: Oh. Now you mention it, that doesn’t really sound logical. (pause) I can at least delay her starting?

Big Sister: That’ll just mean she goes longer without money and make it harder for her.

Too Flakey: Crap, this is really happening, isn’t it? This is scary. I’m really scared for her.

Big Sister: Would you like ten reasons why now is not then?

Too Flakey: No, I get that now is not then. She’s got all this support, and new skills, and she’s a lot more mature. It’s just that she’s never succeeded at running her own business before, so there’s no hard evidence that she can. I’d just be a lot happier if I could be certain she was going to succeed. And I can’t be certain, can I?

Big Sister: No, not completely. And I know that’s hard. It might help to remember that she doesn’t want a life completely free from risk. This is a risk she wants to take. And you can make it more likely that she’ll succeed.

Too Flakey: Really? How?

Big Sister: You can reassure her that she’s not too flakey.

Too Flakey: Oh. Oh no, I’m one of those monsters? I’m causing the thing I’m trying to protect her from? I hadn’t realised. I thought I was helping.

(With total dramatic seriousness, he pulls the two flakes off his hat, crosses to my chair, kneels, and offers them to me like a warrior offering his weapons to a conqueror.)

Too Flakey: Here. Take them both. My new name is No Flake, because you – are no flake!

Me: (taking them) Really?

Too Flakey: Yeah! You’re just an HSP who needs downtime! And you’re learning to take that downtime before it takes you! And you’re a great person for this job because of the wounded healer archetype! And really, you’re the opposite of a flake because you care so much!

Me: (tearing up) Thank you!! (hugs him)

I know, right? Awwwwwwwwwww!

The thing about being ‘one of those monsters’ is significant. An awful lot of monsters turn out to be causing the problem they’re trying to protect you from. Or to put it another way, a lot of monsters are trying to protect you from the very problem they’re causing.

For instance, a monster who terrifies you out of getting close to anyone may well be trying to protect you from being unloved. And a monster who distracts you when you try to achieve anything may be trying to protect you from failure.

It makes sense in monster logic. They really want this wonderful thing for you – love, success, whatever – and they can’t bear to see you suffer the pain of not having it. So they decide it’s a great idea to protect you from that pain by stopping you ever trying to get it.

The upside with these monsters is that once they realise they’re doing this, they’re usually very keen to change their behaviour and help you get that wonderful thing.

Gobstopper Penguin Pretty Much Monstertalks Himself

Gobstopper Penguin is my ‘Rest is Weak and Selfish’ monster. The ‘gobstopper’ came about because he has many layers of hard. And then the word ‘gobstopper’ reminded me of ‘rockhopper’, as in rockhopper penguin, and thus Gobstopper Penguin was born. (Art by R. Taylor.)

Recently, I had this chat with him.

Me: Remember when I showed you that you don’t need to protect me from thinking I suck any more, because my ‘You’re Disgusting and Deserve to be Obliterated’ monster turned into an awesome dragon called ‘You’re Amazing and Deserve to be Safe Forever’?

Gobstopper Penguin: Yes, but. It’s just that in this particular situation, people are suffering right now because of what you’ve done. People are going without because you owe them money. And because you’re taking so long to clear your room, your housemate is no doubt really worried that she won’t have time to find a new housemate.

Me: I understand that. I truly regret how I’ve approached things in the past, and I want to make things easier for those people as soon as possible. And the best way for me to do this is with regular rest and play. I get more done that way, and that’s the point here. The point is not for me to suffer. They don’t want that. Or if they do, that’s their stuff.

Gobstopper Penguin: Yes, but I just fail to see how you can even dare to think about your wants and needs at a time like this.

Me: It sounds like you’re really, really worried about me being in a situation where people might be angry with me, or I might feel guilt and shame towards them, and you want to get me out of that situation as soon as possible.

Gobstopper Penguin: Of course! I can’t stand for you to be in that kind of pain!

Me: Okay, I really appreciate that you care. Thank you. Let’s look at it like training an athlete – or since we’re in that kind of headspace at the moment, when Yoda was training Luke, I bet he gave him enough time to rest and sleep! And the future of the galaxy was at stake there!

Gobstopper Penguin: Actually, it must have been really hard for Luke to sleep in that mud hut with all those snakes and bugs everywhere, and the air being so humid after he grew up in a desert…

Me: That was very… specific. Gobstopper Penguin, do you have a crush on Luke too?!

Gobstopper Penguin: (small trilling purr)

Me: You’re a male penguin!

Gobstopper Penguin: Are you being homophobic towards penguins?!

Me: No. No, you’re quite right. You are totally allowed to have a crush on Luke. He’d probably think you were adorable.

Gobstopper Penguin: He’d probably tell me that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.

Me: Wow. Yes, that was really insightful. Well done! So how can we apply this to our current situation?

Gobstopper Penguin: Um… I’m afraid of you being in pain because of guilt and shame and other people’s anger. So I get angry at you for resting. And then you hate yourself and get stuck and suffer.

Me: Yeah, that’s exactly right!

Gobstopper Penguin: (tearing up) I’m sorry!

Me: It’s okay! It’s okay. Mistakes made out of love are the best kind. (hugs him) Let’s just think about how to make this better.

Gobstopper Penguin: Can I shorten my name like that other monster did?

Me: You mean -

Gobstopper Penguin: Instead of ‘Rest is Weak and Selfish’ can I just be ‘Rest’?

Me: AAAHHH I LOVE YOU (cries)

Gobstopper Penguin: (adorable penguin noises and beak nuzzling)

Me: I’ll probably still call you Gobstopper Penguin because it’s just so cute.

Gobstopper Penguin: Sure, just like you call Dragon Dragon. But her underlying name is the opposite of what it was, and so’s mine. I wonder if all monsters are really the opposites of themselves?

Me: I wonder if they are. People too, perhaps. Perhaps my real name is not ‘Procrastination’ but ‘Doing Lots of Awesome Stuff’.

Gobstopper Penguin: Yeah!!!

Me: Are you sure about this? I’m feeling like there’s still some residual fear there. Is there anything I can do to create safety when you’re worried about me feeling guilty and stuff?

Gobstopper Penguin: Rest! You don’t feel so upset when you’re not tired. And have a talk to yourself about sovereignty and whose stuff is whose. And being allowed to be where you are. And all of that good stuff that you’ve learned. And remind me if I forget, okay?

Me: Okay! You’re the best! Really, you’re stunningly articulate. Where did all that come from?

Gobstopper Penguin: You.

Me: Awww :) Thank you.

Big No and Big Yes

Yet another revelation brought on by (not) tidying my room! I was trying to work out why I was so stuck on this task, and I realised it was a growing-up thing.

I grew up in denial about growing up. Ridiculously epic denial. So when my parents decided I was old enough to tidy my own room, I did not take it well. As far as I was concerned, I was exactly the same person I’d always been and they’d just arbitrarily decided to stop taking care of me.

And then recently, a close friend decided to stop taking care of me. Intellectually, I agreed that was healthy. Emotionally, all my stuff from then was coming right back up. I realised part of me believed that if I tidied my room, I was accepting that I deserved rejection now just like I deserved rejection then.

When I find a part of me that believes something like that, I know I’ve got a monster.

Because I was freaking out about this monster, I asked Big Sister to negotiate with it while Little Sister and I hid our scared asses.

Me: Little Sister, would you like to be in a safe room for this?

Little Sister: I am not ONLY in a diamond igloo, I’m in a diamond igloo lined with cuddly dogs and bits of paper and MESS LOVELY MESS!

Me: Okay darling. Have a good time in there, you’re totally safe.

Little Sister: (slams door)

Me: Big Sister, can you do this negotiation for me? I’m really scared.

Big Sister: Do you want to be in a safe room too?

Me: Eeeeeeer… Yes and no. I still want to hear what’s going on. And I kind of want to know what the monster looks like too. I just don’t want it to be able to get at me.

Big Sister: Sounds like bulletproof mirrored glass is needed here.

Me: Yes!

(Big Sister conjures up a shelter for me that looks like a mini-Gherkin.)

Me: (laughing) Are you trying to tell me some Freudian thing here?

Big Sister: It was just what came to mind!

Me: Okay, thank you! (I go in and peer out through the diamond-shaped window-panes.) Please help us, God. Please guide us and help us all. Including the monster.

(Big Sister begins to glow gently.)

Big Sister: Hey, monster. Would you like to come out?

Monster: (big scary voice off) NOOOOOO!

Big Sister: You know what you just sounded like?!

Monster: (normal voice) Can we not go through a single monster negotiation without a Star Wars reference even when THAT guy isn’t here?

Big Sister: (smiling) You tell me, Mr. Big No.

Monster: (roaring into the picture on all fours, mostly mouth, like a cross between Taz and a giant Fizgig) NOOOOOOO!

Big Sister: Wow, you really can do a very big no!

Monster: (preening) Can my name be Big No?

Big Sister: Sure! So it seems like you’re alternating between being really friendly, and really angry and resistant. I’m noticing that you’re fine unless I ask you or tell you to do something, and then I get a big no. Is that right?

Big No: N – uuugggh.

Big Sister: I’m also noticing that you don’t much care for questions.

Big No: I just, I just, I just, aargh! I exist to say no, so I don’t know what I want! I’m like Antigone, you know, ‘I am here to say no and to die!’ Except I don’t die!

Big Sister: Well, sometimes saying no can be really valuable. No can be an incredibly sovereign thing to say. I think Eve really needs you.

Big No: BUT I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING ELSE!

Big Sister: You’re saying plenty!

Big No: But when someone tells me to do something, or asks me to do something, or asks me a question that’s supposed to have the answer ‘Yes’ – I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING BUT NO!

Big Sister: Ah, yes. Yes, I remember that feeling.

Big No: Of course, you were her. (looks about to tear up)

Big Sister: Yes. I understand.

Big No: Where is she? She’s hiding from me, isn’t she? (Big Sister nods) WHY HAS IT ALL GONE SO WRONG?

Big Sister: I’m so sorry. It’s going to be okay. Can you tell me what’s gone wrong? If you’re upset that she’s hiding from you, does that mean you wanted to be her friend?

Big No: OF COURSE, I’M HER BIG NO! Every toddler has one, don’t they?

Big Sister: Yes! (smiles) But, um -

Big No: You can’t help  but notice that it’s been a lot of years and she’s not a toddler any more and I’m still around.

Big Sister: Yeah. Well, being around is fine. Being around is great! Where would an adult be without the ability to say no?

Big No: I don’t have to disappear?

Big Sister: No, of course not! Please don’t disappear. You’re absolutely vital.

Big No: But it seems like I just cause trouble. I mean, without me she’d lose the ability to say no. But with me, she’s lost the ability to say yes. She wants to do this thing and I don’t know how to let her because all I am is a Big No. I can’t be other than that. The only way to let her do it would be to disappear, and I can’t do that. So I’m stuck and she’s stuck and she’s hiding from me because she hates me so much. (crying)

Big Sister: She doesn’t hate you!

Big No: People don’t hide from people they like!

Big Sister: Sometimes they do. She’s actually pretty proud of her ability to say no, but she’s scared of her inability to say yes.

Big No: I heard that most monsters are really the opposites of themselves, but I can’t imagine that I’m really a Big Yes.

Big Sister: Well, saying No to something is saying Yes to something else. For instance, saying No to helping someone is saying Yes to having time for yourself. Saying No to tidying is saying Yes to mess.

Big No: (enthusiastically) Yes to Mess! Hey, I just said yes. Theoretically.

Big Sister: What else could saying no to tidying be saying yes to? What was it saying yes to back then?

Big No: Yes to childhood. Yes to time to grow slowly instead of all at once. Yes to support – well, yes please to support, but there wasn’t any. The room just stayed messy.

Big Sister: That was hard.

Big No: Yes. Yes to wildness.  Yes to cosiness. Yes to SELF. Yes to imperfection. Yes to spontaneity. Yes to freedom. Yes to sovereignty! Yes to not giving a damn what other people think because you are the king or queen of your life!

Big Sister: Those are all really good yesses!

Big No: But why doesn’t she get those things when I say no to tidying?

Big Sister: Well, a mess can’t make someone a child or give them support. A mess can’t make someone free or sovereign. Not by itself. It’s just a mess. Refusing the thing you don’t want is only half of it. You also need to say yes to the thing you do. Otherwise you just get a nothing.

Big No: Mess isn’t a nothing. Tidiness is a nothing. Tidiness is being all scrubbed away till there’s nothing left of you.

Big Sister: So you’ve understood that there’s a ‘no’ of tidiness. Tidiness involves rejecting some things. I don’t think it necessarily involves rejecting yourself. What could tidiness involve saying yes to?

Big No: Your parents. Bossy people. Society.

Big Sister: Not who, what! Think about a sovereign person who is also tidy. Think about Mary Poppins. What qualities is her tidiness saying yes to?

Big No: I… Sovereignty, somehow. I don’t understand that one at all. I don’t understand how tidiness could possibly be sovereign. I guess… order, control of her environment. Serenity,  crispness, cleanness. Safety? Tidiness can be safe as well as mess. Perhaps. I feel a bit anxious about that thought. Maybe tidiness isn’t safe for everybody.

Big Sister: Maybe it depends if it’s yes-tidiness or no-tidiness.

Big No: Ooh! Yes. So how do I – what do I do?

(Here I procrastinated for a while)

Big Sister: I’m sensing some nervousness around the answer to that question!

Big No: I just know you’re going to tell me to turn into Big Yes, and I don’t want to lose my Big No-ness! I want to be both!

Big Sister: Good, because you need to be both. Even Havi has her ‘What I don’t want’!

Big No: Oh – like this? (The brown fuzzball divides like a cell into conjoined-twin fuzzballs, one red and one green, both with equally huge mouths.)

Red Twin: NOOOOOO!!!

Green Twin: YEEEEEEESS!!!

Big Sister: Awesome, awesome, awesome! Big No and Big Yes! Now this is what you do. Big No, whenever you say No, I need you to work out what you’re really saying No to. So when you say No to tidying, what are you really saying?

Big No: No to being bossed around! No to shame! No to obliteration! No to other people’s stories! No to other people’s stuff! No to boring! No to cold! No to lonely! No to always being sensible! No to always being a grown-up! No to always working! No to obedience! No to giving away my space! No to giving away my sovereignty!

Big Yes: YEEEEEES!!!

Big Sister: (applauds) That’s wonderful. Now, Big Yes, if Big No is saying No to all those things, I need you to work out what you’re saying yes to.

Big Yes: Yes to freedom! Yes to self-respect! Yes to being! Yes to MY stories! Yes to my-energy-back-to-me! Yes to fun! Yes to warmth! Yes to friends! Yes to silliness! Yes to childhood! Yes to play! Yes to autonomy! Yes to owning my space! Yes to sovereignty!

Big Sister: That’s wonderful! Can you feel how wonderful that is?

Big Yes: YEEEEEES!!

Big Sister: Okay! So now we’ve done all that - do these qualities require a mess?

Big Yes: YEEEEEES!

Big Sister: Do they require a mess all over the floor of her room?

Big No: NOOOOOO! Just…

Big Yes:… a willingness to make creative messes and play messy games, and not mind if things aren’t perfect as long as you’re having fun, and…

Big No: …not be clinical about things.

Big Yes: YEEEEEEES! We could play with that Mess book. And we could shout out our Yes-es and Nos while we’re tidying, so we don’t forget! YEEEEEEES!

Big No: NOOOOOO! We must definitely NOT forget! NO forgetting!

Big Yes: YEEEEEEES!

Big Sister: I love it! Well done, both of you! Round of applause! (claps for them)

(Big No and Big Yes clap for themselves. Being conjoined twins, they’re clapping with one hand each, in perfect synchronicity.)

Big Sister: Awwww! You guys are so cute!

Big Yes: YEEEEEES!

Big No: (simultaneously) NOOOOOO!

Big Sister: Would you younger ones like to come out of your safe rooms? It’s all good out here now!

(At this point I come out of the mini-Gherkin and the fuzzballs start bouncing up and down, slightly out of sync with each other. I crouch and open my arms to them as if welcoming a friendly dog and they bound into my arms. There are tears and doglike kisses.)

Me: Thanks, guys! I love you!

Big No: (overjoyed, can’t quite believe it) NOOOOO!

Big Yes: (triumph) YEEEEEES! We love you too!

Big No: We definitely don’t hate you! Where’s -

(We all look at the small diamond igloo where Little Sister is still hiding. A long silence.)

Me: She hasn’t heard any of this. (Knocks on the igloo) Little Sister? It’s safe to come out. They’re friendly now.

(Door cracks open and a very nervous and dishevelled Little Sister peeks out, with bits of things in her hair from being in the mess.)

Big Yes: It’s okay!

Big No: We don’t want to scare you!

Big Yes: We love you!

Big No: We don’t want to hurt you!

Big Yes: We want to make your life more wonderful!

(Little Sister just bursts into floods of tears. Real uncontrolled snotty crying. The fuzzballs snuggle up to her and let her wipe her face on their fur. Big Sister and I just stand back respectfully and let this happen. After a while we realise that the fuzzballs are crying too. The effect is of three children crying together with their arms around each other. They’re all about the same size.)

Little Sister: This was a really big thing… (cries more)

Big Yes: We’re very important monsters!

Big No: Except we’re not monsters any more!

Big Yes: We’re just fuzzballs that love you!

Big No: Except we’re not just fuzzballs!

Big Yes: We’re fuzzballs with VERY LOUD VOICES! (This shout blows Little Sister’s hair back and she giggles.) We can speak for you!

Big No: So you DON’T have to worry about not being heard! NO to not being heard!

Big Yes: YES to being heard!

Little Sister: (excited) I can shout too!

Big Yes: Can you?

Little Sister: YEEEEEEES!

Big Yes: Can you shout as loud as us?

Little Sister: YEEEEEEES!

Big No: NOOOOOO!

Little Sister: YEEEEEES!

(Big Sister and I give each other a big grin and walk off arm in arm, leaving them to it…)

Oz and the Tribblegonks

Sometimes monster conversations are serious and harrowing, and sometimes they’re LIKE THIS. Cuteness and hilarity ahead.

(See here to find out about all the members of my headcast who crop up in this post.)

I realised that despite the breakthrough with Dragon, I was still getting a lot of negative self-talk saying things like ‘I hate you in a million different ways!’ So my usual beloved tag-team went in to find out what kind of monster was behind that.

Big Sister: Hi, could I talk to the Negative Self-Talk Monster, please?

Monsters: There’s lots of us.

(And the lights come up on a sea of tiny beings. They look like Hattifatteners from the Moomins.)

Big Sister: Hmm, you look like Hattifatteners! So what’s that telling me? Hattifatteners look like ghosts… and they’re electric… and kind of expressionless… and scary… and ultimately harmless, right? So, Hattifatteners, what’s going on with you? What are you observing?

Monsters: (slight crackling noise)

Big Sister: Oh, right, Hattifatteners can’t talk. Could you appear in a form that does talk?

(Monsters turn into many tiny black fuzzballs.)

Monsters: (with no conviction, as if reading a script) Bleh. You suck. We hate you. Get better at everything.

Mr. H: Gonks! Yeah, GONKS! (Laughing… he loves it when the monsters look like gonks.)

Big Sister: You also look kind of like Tribbles. Tribbles proliferate like crazy and cause Tribble trouble. Is that what you do?

Monsters: (suddenly excited, bouncing and doing flips) Yeah! We proliferate! We cause Tribble trouble! (They start multiplying wildly, popping up like popcorn, piling on top of each other until the negotiators are in danger of getting buried.)

Mr. H: Whoa-whoa-whoa! Let’s keep the proliferating to a minimum till we’ve finished TALKING PLEASE!

(One last one defiantly plinks into existence and then the fuzz settles.)

Big Sister: You looked like you were having fun there.

Monsters: Yeah! We have fun!

Mr. H: Fun, huh? I was expecting a lot of things, but I wasn’t expecting fun. Most of the monsters I’ve met have been kind of grim and austere and b- well, not boring, nobody’s boring, but they have a boring life.

Monsters: We have fun slinging insults because it’s all we can do.

Mr. H: Why’s it all you can do?

Monsters: We don’t know! We’re just insult slingers!

Mr. H: Uh…

Big Sister: Is there someone behind all this? Is there like, a queen monster of this hive?

(An ENORMOUS GIGAGONK appears behind the horde.)

Mr. H: (stepping forward) Hi! Do you -

Gigagonk: BRRRRAAAAUUUUMMMM. (A booming blast of air and sound that sends him staggering back in shock.) HA! EVEN YOU WERE RUFFLED!

Mr. H: (brushing imaginary dust off his jacket) Heh. Shaken not stirred.

Gigagonk: BRRRRRRAAAAAAUUUUUMMMMM!

Mr. H: You know who you remind me of? The Great Oz. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

(And sure enough, a curtain draws back, revealing a sheepish-looking little old man turning a handle to operate the beast.)

Mr. H: Hi, Oz. What’s up?

Oz: I’m from Omaha! I came here in a balloon!

Mr. H: Okay, I don’t need the plot of the Wizard of Oz. What are you observing?

Oz: You just outed me!

Mr. H: How are you feeling?

Oz: Embarrassed!

Mr. H: It’s okay, I’m safe. You’re safe. Wanna tell me a bit about what you do here?

Oz: Um… I wizard.

Mr. H: What do you do when you’re wizarding?

Oz: I say things in a loud voice.

Mr. H: What sort of things?

Oz: ‘I hate you, you’re awful, do better…’

Mr. H: Okay, why those sorts of things?

Oz: Oh, it’s what the people want.

Mr. H: What people?

Oz: Well, Eve, I suppose.

Mr. H: And why do you think she wants that?

Oz: I don’t know. All I do is give the people what they want. I’m a showman, you know.

Big Sister: It seems like you’re someone who feels small trying to hide behind a facade of being big and noisy. That suggests childhood stuff to me. Am I right?

Oz: I don’t know. I’m from Omaha.

Big Sister: Okay, honey. I need to talk to Eve to find out more about this. Can you wait while I do that?

Oz: Certainly.

Big Sister: Thank you. (kisses him on the cheek)

Oz: (blushes) Oh! Madam!

Big Sister: Okay, Eve, can we talk about this? Is he right that you need to hear things like ‘I hate you, you’re awful, do better’?

Little Sister: Can I join in?

Big Sister: Yes, of course! This is really relevant to you.

Little Sister: I need him to say those things so I’ll behave better so then real people won’t say those things to me.

Oz: I’m real!

Big Sister: I know, honey.

Little Sister: I mean flesh and blood people.

Big Sister: (hand-on-heart sigh) Okay. And when he says those things, how do you feel?

Little Sister: Scared. Angry.

Big Sister: When you feel scared and angry, do you behave better?

Little Sister: No, I behave badly! Or I don’t do anything at all.

Big Sister: So what are you really needing?

Little Sister: To not be hated!

Big Sister: Remember, in NVC we don’t do a ‘don’t’. Can you say ‘to not be hated’ in a different way, so it’s a ‘do’ instead of a ‘don’t’?

Little Sister: To be loved!!

Big Sister: Yeah! (hugs her) Really big, really simple. How can we get Oz to help you with that?

Little Sister: I don’t know. You’re the big sister.

Big Sister: Okay, I’ll work it out. Thank you.

Little Sister: You’re welcome. (watches intently during the next bit)

Big Sister: Oz, thank you for waiting. Did you get all that?

Oz: Yes. No. Could you explain it again, please?

Big Sister: Okay. You came into being because Eve wanted protecting from hate. She wanted you to say hateful things to her so that she’d behave better so that flesh-and-blood people wouldn’t hate on her. The trouble is that when you say hateful things, she feels scared and angry and either behaves worse or does nothing. Not her fault, not your fault, you were both doing your best with the information you had.

Oz: Oh, no. I always knew I was a failure.

Big Sister: You’re not! You’re a very powerful ally. We just need to work out a better way for you to do your job so you can meet her real need, which is to be loved.

Oz: Oh, is that all? Well, that’s easy. (Turns handle. Gigagonk turns pink with sparkly antennae.)

Gigagonk: HHUUUUUUUGGGSS!

Tribblegonks: (turning pink and bouncing up and down) We love you! You rock! Do more of that awesome thing! We’re having fun slinging love!

Big Sister: Wow, that WAS easy! Thank you!

Oz: (tipping hat) All I do is give the people what they want.

Me: Thank you, Oz!

Oz: You’re welcome, madam, miss, sir, whateveryouare. May I draw the curtain again now?

Big Sister: Sure.

(Oz retreats behind his curtain. Little Sister dives through the curtain and hugs his legs.)

Little Sister: Thank you, Oz! I love you!

(Oz looks deeply touched. This is the person he was really here to serve. All these years he’s received nothing for his service but fear and anger, and now he finally gets love. The old man and the little girl stand there hugging each other, both in tears.)

At the end of her conversation with Oz, Little Sister looked like Dorothy for a moment – a bit older than normal, in her blue and white checked summer school uniform and pigtails. When she came skipping back to me I said, ‘You grew up a bit,’ and she said, ‘Just for a moment,’ and transformed back to her normal self.

Just then we walked past a street sign that said, ‘Emerald Court’.

Oz & Dorothy

What I find interesting about this monster talk is that the monsters had so little emotional investment in what they were saying. Normally there’s a lot of passion and fear and DOOM in monster interactions, and a lot of ‘we have to keep saying this thing or the world will end.’ In this case, while Oz is clearly devoted to Little Sister, he’s not invested in what he’s saying. He’s a showman who just says whatever the people want to hear. This was a revelation - my negative self-talk feels so intensely real and hateful when it’s happening, and yet - it’s just a show?

As for the Tribblegonks, they’re even less invested in what they’re saying. I think that’s why they’re capable of having fun. They’re just copying Oz, they don’t mean anything by it. They’re a perfect image of how negative self-talk, well, proliferates, and you end up slinging mindless, meaningless hate-words at yourself just out of habit.

…But they’re so cute!