Fear and Self-Loathing in Amsterdam


I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

– Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, Dune series of books, written by Frank Herbert

As an Englishman of a certain generation, I was brought up to believe that it was bad to show emotions, that I should keep everything bottled up inside… “stiff upper lip”, “it just isn’t the done thing”, “it’s a sign of weakness”, and all that. If you’re scared, then you should put on a brave face: if things are going badly, then still look cheerful and don’t let anybody know how unhappy you are.

For most of my adult life, I’ve known that it was a wrong belief, but it’s difficult to break a habit that has been ingrained from such an early age. My emotions are one of those things I still find very difficult to talk about with people, even writing about them isn’t easy; and actually showing any form of emotion is very difficult.

Two years ago, I was so unhappy with the state of my life that I seriously considered ending it. I’ve written about that previously, and about how instead I chose to make a fresh start, moving to a new country, and reviving the magic and excitement again.

With such changes in my life, I also wanted to make myself a better person: I didn’t want to fall into the same state again. And a part of that change was allowing myself to express my emotions more openly and freely.

So last year I decided that I was going to make a positive effort to break that habit, to allow myself emotional release. I’ve been reading up about Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), to try and help recognise when my mind is blocking me. I’ve tried to rationalise all of the objections that my mind raises, to show that they’re all just “straw man” arguments; and to replace the negative thoughts that it generates with more positive ones.

It’s not been easy allowing myself to let my emotions take control; and the first time that it happened back in January this year, I had a complete meltdown. That scared me, and my mind was going “told you so”; but I didn’t let it stop my efforts completely, and I even cried watching a couple of TV shows, and I believed that I was still breaking down those mental restraints.

Then along came Covid-19 and self-isolation. The first twelve weeks or so, I think I coped reasonably well with the lack of social contact. I set myself up to work from home; I forced myself to go for a walk each day, which gave me a positive energy; I established a routine. I made some changes around my apartment; I baked pies for dinner, and tried (not so successfully) making cakes; I planned things that I wanted to do once the lockdown and travel restrictions were eased.

But as the weeks have turned into months, it’s become a lot harder. Over the last two months, I’ve turned inward, isolating myself still further, even as the lockdown restrictions have been relaxed. I focused myself on developing a new feature for PHPSpreadsheet, I’ve focused on trying to improve my reading and writing dutch (hopefully it has improved my vocabulary, although my spoken dutch is still largely non-existent); telling myself that they were important, while neglecting the things that really mattered. I’m not going out every day, only when I need to get something from the shops: a couple of days spent walking around AmstelPark and Amsterdamse Bos over the last month have probably helped keep me going, but taking a walk every two weeks isn’t enough. I’m finding myself tired and drained of energy most of the time. I’ve not been attending to the routine chores around my apartment – cleaning and washing and ironing my clothes, until it was absolutely necessary, and even then, only the absolute minimum; More importantly, I’ve not been communicating with other people. I know that my work is suffering too, because I’m not communicating with my team and my customers as I should.

I want so much to be able to spend a day at a spa; to visit the Afsluitdijk, Westerbork, the Caravaggio exhibition at the RijksMuseum, the Deltaworks or Biesbosch; or to have a meal at a new Sicilian restaurant that I’ve seen near the VondelPark; even just to hug somebody. But I’m scared that I’m too emotionally unstable now to do these things after so many weeks of self-isolation: my mind is telling me that human contact will trigger another emotional meltdown, so it’s shutting down all forms of communication. I’m freezing the very people who could help me out of my life.

I hate myself for allowing it to happen; but haven’t yet managed to break free from the mental chains that I’ve wrapped around myself: perhaps putting it down in writing like this is a first step toward resolving things.

But in the meantime, that lack of communication is hurting the people that I love; and I’m scared again: scared that I’m destroying the new life that I’ve created for myself here in Amsterdam.

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1 Response to Fear and Self-Loathing in Amsterdam

  1. netMan says:

    Wish you the best of luck with your efforts!


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