It doesn’t love me. It doesn’t have my best interests at heart. It doesn’t want me to grow. And it will literally kill me if I let it.
“It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear! And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!” Creative Commons license photo by Daniel Oberhaus (2017) on Flickr
Many mornings I wake up and think, “Shit, I’m still alive.”
My favorite time of the day is night, when I sleep and enter oblivion — what death must be like, sans dreams, if atheists are right. I’ve read that a coma is one step away from death, and sleep one step from coma.
Two steps from death, every night. Maybe one night I’ll get lucky, huh?
I hate feeling this way. I’m not, by nature, an unhappy person. In fact my mental health support group sometimes wonders what the hell I’m doing there; I’m always smiling and cracking jokes and saying positive things to others.
It’s no facade; that’s the real me.
But I’m there because I’ve struggled on and off with depression since adolescence. I went through an entire life stage I call the Angry Drunken Bitch years. When sexually frustrated single guy George Sodini shot up a women’s gym in Pittsburgh screaming about feminists, I became fascinated with his blog because, as monstrous as his act and sexual entitlement were, I felt a certain uncomfortable weird kinship with him. Along with Elliott Rodgers, the Killer Virgin.
I ‘got’ that sense of entitlement.
They felt entitled to sex with women, and I felt entitled to romantic success, to love, perhaps spoiled by much easier pickin’s when I was under thirty and a popular belly dancer in a medieval re-creation group.
It took me many years to figure out just how entitled I felt as an A.D.B.
Now my jaded ennui has evolved from losing my job last year to a life re-evaluation revealing just how much my life has sucked for years and how I don’t want to do this anymore, but I don’t yet have an escape plan.
Is it a good idea to just sell everything, move to an island, and die in a small community younger than I might have, or am I ignoring how I can stay put and find meaning and a happy life again right here?
How much of my depression is actually my fucking Terminator trying to keep me from ever doing anything that makes me happy, and most of all personally growing?
Resistance is insidious. Resistance is implacable. Resistance is indefatigable. Resistance is protean. It shape-shifts. It lies. It dissembles. Its aim is to destroy us, body and soul. The Terminator, i.e. Resistance, i.e. the yetzer hara, does not change and cannot change. — Steven Pressfield, Villain = Resistance
American novelist and screenwriter Steven Pressfield writes books about the Resistance that dwells within us all and ceaselessly toils to keep us from achieving our true potential. It’s my fear of moving forward, the procrastination, the perfectionism, the excuses I make, the endless distractions I create for myself— Netflix series, movies, social media — so I can keep the Resistance — my own personal Terminator — at bay, where it waits patiently for me to get up to brush my teeth and go to bed, so it can resume whispering its destructive messages.
You aren’t good enough.
You’ll never succeed.
Your business venture is a crock of shit.
Don’t even think about trying to strike out on your own, you moron. Better than you have failed. What makes you think you can do it?
You don’t deserve better. You’re the very definition of mediocrity.
Yeah, you’re successful now but it’s all about to end. Then they’ll see the imposter you really are.
Resistance is, as Pressfield explains, an ‘entirely negative force’ built into us whose ‘solitary aim is to block the soul from communicating with us and us from communicating with our soul.’
He defines ‘soul’ by the Jewish tradition, the part of me that wants the best for myself in a beneficent, non-selfish sense. The yetzer hara, Resistance, is my compulsion to self-obstruct and self-destruct. He compares it to The Terminator.
Why the hell I have an Inner Terminator seems to be a mystery to brighter brains than mine, but we all have it. Even the most successful. It’s why so many young, promising musicians join the ’27 Club’. Why so many celebrity lives have been destroyed by drugs like cocaine and crack. I never understood why celebrities took such a self-destructive drug until I read about the sense of power and confidence it gives, especially before a big concert or performance.
Okay, fair enough. I can’t imagine what I’d do if I had to perform in front of 45,000 people in Shea Stadium who’d paid good money to see me do — something or other.
Someone I kind of admired, who always seemed to have his shit together, who’s more successful and more educated and more experienced, born into more privilege than I, just failed at his third attempt at being a senior leader. I know he failed this last time and I suspect he failed at his first two. He gave what I thought were inauthentic excuses for why he’d left the other jobs so soon. He got demoted at his last position and left shortly thereafter for a new job — where he’s no longer in a senior management position. Pretty sure he’s dealing with his own Resistance, as on top of the world as he often was. Something stops him, I suspect, from examining why he’s not cutting it as a senior manager when his stars are otherwise aligned.
I’ve spent the last year attempting to confront my own Terminator, a seemingly disembodied entity that lives within me trying to tear me down the way one particular guy in high school did. Dan is sort of my psychological bête noire. No matter what I did, what I tried to learn or accomplish, he was right there with me in a lengthy class hanging over my shoulder assuring me almost every damn moment that I was ugly, stupid, a dog, a Wolfwoman, that I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I’ll never be any good at anything.
He’s not someone I think about a lot anymore, at least not until the past year when I came to realize my Terminator is a lot like Dan. It’s always there to keep me from being better than I am. Telling me I can’t do that, it’s too late, I’m too old, that’s not for me, success is for others, who do I think I am, I’m mediocre and always will be.
But it’s not fair to hang this all on Dan.
I only realized he’s a bit of a bête noire after I re-read my old college journal and was struck by how I was still going on about him two years after graduation. At some point I got over it.
Maybe after I became a belly dancer and proved I wasn’t such an ugly dog who’d never get a guy after all.
The Terminator speaks to me in a chorus of voices synthesized into one. It’s my parents overprotecting their little girl; other bullies from school; the nutty bosses who were either crazy, stupid or gaslighters; the legions of single men who found me utterly unfascinating after 35. But most of all, there’s a little girl’s voice there, feeling not-good-enough on some fundamental level that can’t be blamed on her parents, who always encouraged her to do her best, who always felt a little left out and left behind and dreamed big dreams that would never come to be.
Her Birth Terminator.
My Terminator has worked against me my entire life, and underlies most of my depression.
Adolescence is usually when things go tits-up for kids, especially young girls. My happy life in Orlando was uprooted by a bad economy, and Dad’s job search landed us in a small Ohio town where I had little in common with the other kids and from which I nurtured a lifelong resentment for why I had to put up with these Midwestern numbnuts when things had been so much better in Orlando.
It’s only in very recent years I’ve been able to release that resentment, once I realized that not only would adolescence have ended my childhood innocence no matter where I lived, but, with 20/20 hindsight, I see evidence that my life might well have grown considerably worse had we stayed in Orlando, where I’d begun attending an integrated junior high school half-filled with angry, impulse-uncontrolled black kids shaping up to hate my white middle-class blonde ass in one of America’s most racist states.
‘The road not taken’ is sometimes the one best avoided.
Now I challenge my self-doubting self-image, questioning whether I’m really as much of a loser as I sometimes think. Am I lazy and unmotivated, or is this a siren call to do something different that doesn’t make me want to rip my brain out of my head?
I’ve explored freelancing and becoming a solopreneur as I realize what’s truly been missing is a sense of meaning or purpose. I’ve got a lengthy career in I.T. sales and the first twenty years were awesome; only in the last eight or nine did I start taking jobs for the money, which is almost always a recipe for misery.
Now I’m preoccupied with personal development and growth, which the Terminator doesn’t mind as long as I don’t actually attempt to change anything.
I’m always allowed to dream, I’m just not allowed to change.
I do, though. The Terminator gets over it, but always worries about the next one.
“Where there is a Dream,” Steven Pressfield tells me in a different blog post, “there is Resistance. Thus: where we encounter Resistance, somewhere nearby is a Dream.”
There it is: The Terminator, Resistance, exists to keep me from achieving my dreams, unless I become very good at working to overcome it or just not fucking listen.
It’s a sign, however, that I’m on the right path. The Terminator doesn’t care about unimportant pursuits. It only needs to keep me in the Safe Place where it doesn’t have to face potential failure, rejection or shame.
What’s on my fridge now.
What’s the secret?
How I push past The Terminator is what I’ve always known: Just do the work. Just fucking show up to work every day, whether that’s at an office, or to look for a job, or to turn my side hustle into a real business.
A few things I keep in mind about The Terminator:
It’s not personal. It’s not me holding myself back. My true self wants to be happy, to achieve, to accomplish, to live a meaningful life, as long as that definition is mine and not others’ standards. Resistance is there to stop me. I don’t know why; I can’t imagine what evolutionary purpose it serves. It just is, like the mold in my bathtub. I’ll be bock!
Everyone on the planet lives with their own Inner Terminator, even if they don’t show it. I’m not alone. Everyone else fights my struggle too.
I don’t need to be ‘motivated’. The Terminator binges on ‘motivation’. It kicks up and convinces me I need a ‘mental health day’, often with a lot of ‘navel-gazing’, which amounts to an utterly wasted day I could have spent moving closer to my dream, and now I feel like a loser because I allowed myself to be sidetracked. I can’t work toward my goal when I feel like it; I have to show up for work and do so every damn day.
I can’t kill it. Just like James Cameron’s Terminator, it will be with me until I die. But it doesn’t have to be my giant robot Adversary, blocking me at every turn. Satan tried to distract Jesus in the desert by promising riches and power; Jesus was like, “Nah.”
The most important thing I must remember about my own Terminator, though: It can kill me.
I hear it in myself, and the voices of friends and colleagues who fall prey to the army of Terminators tweeting, posting and botting messages of hopelessness and despair. If I listen to that negative voice long enough, it will wear me down and one day I might toss in the figurative towel and say, “Okay, I agree. Enough is enough.” And then do the deed myself.This morning I woke up and The Terminator said, “Shit, we’re still alive.”
And I said, “Fuck you, Terminator.”
And I settled down to work.
This originally appeared on Medium in August 2020.