“And yet, sometimes, I tell myself I must search for the truth, but which one. Even when it remains obscure, especially when it remains obscure, and we feel there’s any truth present (…) All of a sudden, this truth appears, and it’s an extraordinary moment and doesn’t happen every day, and it’s good.”
– My mother laughs. The Song Cave, Chantal Akerman.
A month has passed since I moved to Berlin, and everything seemed light and easy. I was sure that my truth was finally here, with me, inside of me, surrounding me despite the obstacles, setbacks and challenges. Even with the weather getting colder, not knowing too many people or barely speaking the language. I was happy.
Then, suddenly, that morning, everything changed.
It was so clear to me that this burden was unbearable, and I thought of death again. Those lingering thoughts reappeared and that voice, quiet for a while, sounded louder than ever. I was safe until that morning when I thought about death again.
It’s hard to find the right words to express how heavy, scary, and hopeless it is and it feels. Especially when people who think they know you judge your life as “perfect.” I didn’t chose to be like that, a lonely, intense and tormented person, but I’m doing my best to survive from it.
That morning I realised how fragile my spirit is and how much I must accept myself to feel at peace. But, at the same time, I began to question whether what I see and what I am supposed to accept is the only possible thing. This darkness unnamed tries to tell me something, and I must sit down and listen.
These intense depressive episodes have allowed me two things: to channel them into creative acts and to question everything. I refuse to let fear paralyse me or set traps to feel secure with what makes me unhappy. Yet fear is like a huge bear approaching you with mile-long claws, ready to rip your insides out.
I always turn inward. I become this hierophant who read, listen, and (re)search. I feed my soul with resources that illuminate my path. However, solitude feels heavy on my shoulders. There are days, like that morning, when loneliness feels so comfortable allowing itself to be overcome that the only way out is imminent and terrifying.
Disintegration can be many things.
“The dream is real, my friends.
The failure to realise it is the only unreality.”
– Toni Cade Bambara.
When searching for tools to feed and enrich my spirit, I came across the theory of Positive Disintegration. Although its use in traditional psychology is limited to the field of ‘gifted’ people, it is actually a theory of personality development that considers these “dark” episodes as enlightening moments.
The theory of positive disintegration (TPD) was elaborated by K. Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist, and centred on the concept of reaching a “personality ideal”. Dabrowski’s premise is that this “personality ideal” is unique to each individual but is essentially the best possible version of oneself. Thus, the TPD predicts that those who undertake the journey toward gaining a personality (by progression toward their personality ideal) may find themselves at four different levels.
Positive Disintegration Levels
- I: Accepting what it is without challenging the status quo.
- II: A transitory level in which an individual starts experiencing inner conflict but can’t consciously move toward the next level. It can quickly revert to level I or tip over uncontrollably into level III.
- III: Multilevel disintegration where an individual has the ability to differentiate “what is” from “what should be”, and it can self-reflect. At this level, some people might experience anxiety or neurosis but also have the awareness necessary to actively develop their personality in a self-directed, autonomous way.
- IV-V: It’s a transitory level towards self-realisation. A person can act according to self-developed values all the time, and under all circumstances, those values are toward the greater good rather than self-serving goals.
Despite seem a bit rigid –like any other psychological theory–, TPD has allowed me to broaden the spectrum of acceptance and understanding of my depressive episodes. At its core, my unhappiness is a trauma response and some of my relationships were and are based on trauma bonds. When the “darkness appears”, it is something within that asks me to disintegrate those notions to give me the permission and the freedom to be who “I truly am”.
This positive disintegration can be many things, and it doesn’t work the same way for everyone. The multilevel of your own discomfort will take you to the place you are supposed to be, but only if you allow yourself to go there despite the fear. Even in the midst of inner-conflict, some people choose to go back to Level I. I say this acknowledging my process, that has been going forward and then backwards for many years.
But, believe in the dream -your dream-, as crazy as it seems.
You have to let go.
“If I come into a room out of the sharp misty light,
and hear them talking a dead language
if they ask me my identity
what can I say but
I am the androgyne
I am the living mind you fail to describe
in your dead language
the lost noun, the verb surviving
only in the infinite
the letters of my name are written
under the lids of the newborn child.”
– The Stranger (fragment), Adrienne Rich.
I know that I have been talking about this process for quite some time. I am starting to fear that my blog is turning into a self-help pamphlet (I hope not). But, honestly, I find this space comforting and empowering. I believe that people facing trauma are more likely to engage cognitively with fundamental existential questions about life and death in an honest way.
These existential questions are all-encompassing and force you to make decisions that are alarming or petrifying to many. For instance, moving to a city where, like Adrienne Rich, I am “the stranger”. It also can be reflected in the process of outgrowing relationships, friendships, situations. It means reinventing yourself and losing yourself in that process, many times.
Or simply when embracing the self that I am without caring if I am losing the person that I used to know. There will be people in your life who will not understand it and will resent it. There will be others who will celebrate it and those you will meet during the journey.
The same will happen with questions and ideas about what your life should look like because even the most unrestrained person will show you that society has engraved us that notion of needing frameworks, definitions, and roles to play in order to course our actions. You can’t just be. So, it is scary when someone asks you: who are you?, and you have no idea.
Positive disintegration as a creative act
This frightening episode gave birth to an exercise, a series of photos expressing my loneliness in white light. The flat where I’m staying is surrounded by white buildings and white curtains, giving a pristine look to everything, even in the dark. I also made a playlist with songs that I listen to on my long walks around Berlin.
If you reached this point, I see you and appreciate you. Thanks for reading and listening.