Most of the time you hear someone ask “What the hell is wrong with me?”, it is just posed as a rhetorical question. In spite of this, I think most of us are actually preoccupied with finding out what could be wrong with us, only on a more introspective level. Surveying my own quest for answers, this is what I came up with: deep down, I’m apathetic toward everything in my life. That’s what’s wrong with me.
This idea has been in the making for several years, but there are two relatively recent developments that have shed a lot of light on the issue. One is a job from which I garnered just the right amount of failures to keep me alert and just the right amount of reward to save me from apathy. So what might this mysterious job have been? You guessed it: camp counselling.
What scared me most about camp was the amount of responsibility those kind near-strangers who were planning it would lay upon me. I’m naturally afraid of responsibility, which is undoubtedly a phobia that you can only allow yourself to give in to if you’re very privileged. Turns out I’m lucky enough to be able to do that. It came as a big surprise, then, that I was coping rather well with having to take care of six kids for three weeks straight. There were times when the team leader scolded me for forgetting about one part of the program or the other, but overall I didn’t stick out as the “unreliable one”. (Way to go, me!)
I’ve found that you don’t feel responsibility preying on you the way it does at home when you can simply look into its cold, piercing eyes saying, “Even if I give it my all, you’ll still find the performance lacking. So I’m just going to give it my all.” I can’t get at such a truce with responsibility — or any truce — when the person who is setting the expectations for success versus failure is solely myself. This is because, frankly, I don’t have particularly high standards for myself. The only way to raise the stakes is by bringing other people’s moods and feelings and expectations into the mix. More specifically, I have to mingle with people I haven’t yet let down. So the best bet for me is to find people who don’t know me yet. As for my colleagues at camp, that turned out splendidly: I worked at avoiding disappointments on all fronts.
One front where I had already done the damage by the time I went to camp was friendship. A friend I had made the previous year was very insistent on letting me know I essentially didn’t give a damn about her, which is a pretty nasty thing to say but contained — as I was unable to deny at a certain point — a grain of truth. At first I had found it hellishly annoying to be told who I do and don’t care for; but when my friend and I got to the bottom of it, I had to face up to the fact that I was way less invested in our relationship than she was. Part of the reason why it unfolded this way is that she had become more emotionally involved than was conducive to a normal friendship. But that discrepancy just made my own detachment more noticeable; I realized I couldn’t get around claiming at least partial responsibility for the dysfunctional dynamic between us. I had always been the more passive one of us two, but now the time had come to dig up the terrifying truth underneath.
What arguably worsens my passive behaviour is that I’m very quick to accept new twists and turns in my life and move onto other things. Previously, I had thought of my adaptability as a great asset. For instance, I can get used to sleeping in virtually any environment, be it a tent, an apartment with noisy neighbours, or a room shared with a very smelly roommate; I can also reconcile myself to the unpleasant yet immutable fact of life that I will never be fully satisfied with the way I am. This is a valuable trait to have in your back pocket if you’re as prone to despair as I am; but it can reach a level where some icky side effects crop up here and there — given that it’s all symptomatic of a fundamental apathy toward yourself and your surroundings. Like, when you become accustomed to living in a dirty household too easily, so you start to neglect your own cleaning duties. Or when you would rather move to an apartment with a smaller bedroom, but the actual process of doing so would be too much of a hassle. You get the idea: indifference lends itself to indolence. And if that tendency starts to show on an interpersonal level, you’re in some deep shit. Hopefully, I’ll figure out a way to stem the tide of apathy that washes over my every non-decision. I want to learn from it; I really do.
Don’t get me wrong: I can still be affectionate, compassionate and attentive to other people’s needs. I’m not some reckless person who was granted an instant of self-awareness and chose to commemorate it on his blog. This apathy I’m talking about isn’t so much an attitude as it is an illness: an insidious virus infesting all that is dear to me, all I could have cared about and taken care of, if only I had noticed in time that I was letting things run their course without intervention on my part — even though this is my life and everything justifies an intervention. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Or, you know, just a shrug.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me.