A few weeks ago, I wrote the following lines:
"Most of the time
It's about being brave
When your brain is your enemy
Try not to cave"
When our brains are working against us, how can we fight back? I've been searching for an answer to this question for years, but I'm beginning to realise that we need to stop fighting our own brains and instead try to understand them.
You see, your brain is playing a cruel trick on you: it's turning you against yourself. You have become self-destructive, and you are following scripts that only exist in your head. You are letting these ill-written scripts run your life, because you are unaware of them. They run the show and you are nothing but a puppet. It's time to change all of that!
I have horrible scripts in my head. These scripts tell me I'm supposed to be miserable, and I'm supposed to fail. I'm not supposed to ADMIT to failure, but I'm supposed to fail. Having been made aware of these scripts, I am now deeply disturbed by what I have been doing to myself for years without even knowing it. And yet, I don't know how to stop.
But awareness is key. Awareness is step one.
A helpful tool in the process of self-discovery is to keep a journal in order to document your "findings". I've been doing this for a few weeks now, and here's what's been happening so far.
Thursday April 23rd
"My mentor has superhuman powers.
Had mentoring today. This woman reads me like an open book, and it makes me so uncomfortable. At the same time, I feel like it is necessary for me to have someone to push all those buttons, and, in turn, push me to realise things about myself that are buried so deep within me that I didn't even know it was there.
I have realised that I can't remember the last time I did something for myself. It's always about other people, ultimately. It's about not letting other people down. It's about not being a burden to my parents. It's about the feeling that I HAVE TO, rather than it being something I genuinely want to do. I do what is expected of me, because it is ingrained into my being that this is the way of life. There is no pleasure in it, just obligation.
Even staying alive wasn't for me. I didn't kill myself, because I didn't want other people to feel guilty, wondering if it was their fault. I didn't think anyone would miss me, but I did think they would experience some guilt over it, and that wasn't something I wanted anyone in my life to have to go through. So I suffered in silence, as I continued to to feel endless amounts of shame.
I feel like I am almost expected to fail, because that's what it has been like my whole life. I have never felt good enough, and a large part of that was down to me, but my mentor insists that I couldn't possibly have been born with that level of self-criticism. It must have come from somewhere. Subconsciously, I am meant to fail. I'm supposed to. It's in the script. No matter what I do, it will never be adequate, so it will be a failure, and therefore not doing anything at all is what makes the most sense.
In addition to that, I'm not doing any of it for me. I'm doing it because I'm expected to. I have always done things because I've been expected to. And I am expected to live up to the standards of healthy people, because my illness is invisible. That is the way it will always be, and there's no getting away from it; people are going to judge me, and I will not be able to make them understand that it isn't actually “all in my head”. I didn't just wake up one day and decide to be sad, or whatever, and it's not about “changing my outlook on life” or “snapping out of” something. THIS SOLVES NOTHING. THIS IS NOT THE PROBLEM. Depression, like every other illness, has a root cause that's PHYSICAL. It starts developing because your nervous system begins to fail you. There is a re-uptake of serotonin that prevents this neurotransmitter from being transported to where it is actually supposed to go: TO YOUR BRAIN. Serotonin is what makes you feel happiness. If you didn't have a steady supply of serotonin flowing from your nervous system to your brain, you would be depressed, too. However, no amount of explaining this to ignorant people is going to make them understand.
This is why I don't want to go “easy” on myself: I am the only one who's going to be doing it. Everyone else is still going to judge me. I cannot escape from that, so I need to accept it. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Society isn't going to allow me to give myself a break, so I can't do that. There is no point. It has just become easier to agree with them, to nod my head and say, “Yes, I am a failure. Yes, I need to pull it together.” They're never going to stop saying it, and I'm never going to stop feeling that way. I haven't got it in me to fight it anymore.
My mentor then said, “No wonder you never actually do anything. Because what's the point? You're not doing it for yourself, and you're supposed to fail, so why bother?”
Am I really supposed to fail?
I talked about how doing something for myself, like taking a stand when I'm unhappy about something, mostly ends badly for me. In my experience, if I stand up for myself, I will get told that I'm wrong. Like in year seven when several boys in my class spent the better part of a lesson throwing pieces of rubber in my hair, and I eventually exploded, standing up and shouting at them to “fuck off”: my teacher took me out into the hallway and told me that I was not allowed to do things like that. To me, that was like being told I was supposed to sit back and accept the shit people did to me because, after all, they weren't the ones who were disrupting the whole class. They weren't being loud, shouting inappropriate things. They were really only bothering one person: me. And clearly, I didn't matter. I wasn't important. I was a human punching bag, just there for other people's amusement, and if I were to speak up and say that I wasn't okay with this, I would get in trouble for causing problems. This was not a positive message for me to receive as a child, and it did serve to reinforce that I was a bad person.
I wasn't considered to be of much worth, in general. That's why no one ever stood up for me when I was being teased, or bullied. That's why the teachers didn't pay attention to what was going on with me, and occasionally punished me instead of trying to help me. I was, in all honesty, the very definition of a joke. It is very hard for me to alter the way I have seen myself my entire life, even now that I know I was suffering from bipolar disorder the whole time. If I accept that I need to change the way I see myself, and in particular who I was before I was medicated, it is like I'm accepting that everything I've known my entire life has been untrue. It doesn't sit right with me. I can't just undo twenty-two years of my life like that, even if I really should.
So how am I supposed to suddenly decide that I am a good person, or whatever? Who am I to say that about myself? My mentor said that these are all things that other people think about me, and not the truth. She then asked me what the truth is. My answer? “Whose truth?”
I was also asked to choose between these two alternatives:
a) I am a good person
b) I am a bad person
and I couldn't. It had to be one or the other, and to me that was just impossible. I didn't want to call myself a bad person, but I also didn't want to say that I'm a good one.
She asked me to explain why I couldn't choose one, and I said that I don't consider the things I am saying about myself as a child as either good or bad; it's just what I know to be true. They are facts. This was my reality. It may not be my reality anymore, and no, I may not have changed my personality, but that's what it would feel like to me, if I had to re-arrange history by changing what I know about being a child/teenager. That's all there, now. It happened. The best I can do is accept it, no?"
Saturday April 25th
"Thinking about the, “If you can't beat them, join them” thing.
I think this is true for a lot of things in my life. I learned to stop fighting back against the bullying, for example. I couldn't beat them. I couldn't win. So I ended up joining them instead. When they laughed at me, I laughed with them. I accepted that they were right, that I was ugly and worthless, and that I deserved to be laughed at just for being alive.
How bad does it have to get before a person accepts something like that? I started to bully myself, in the end. I started to see those things as the truth. It became MY truth.
Being pushed into realising these things, though very uncomfortable, is incredibly important. I didn't want to accept it at first, and I especially hate all the compliments because to me they are lies, but I now realise that my mentor has been a much needed catalyst for me. She isn't afraid to call bullshit."
Friday May 15th
"My mentor has a lot of interesting thoughts.
I told my her that I can't handle the pressure of doing my work in the sessions, because having someone dictating to me what I should be doing and telling me all the things I am doing wrong reminds me of all the times in the past where I have felt stupid because my dad has done the same thing. The difference is that my dad actually called me stupid several times, whereas my mentor hasn't called me that once. And yet, I sometimes feel like she thinks I'm an idiot. But it isn't her fault. She wanted to know what she did that made me feel stupid, but all I could say was that it's not something she's doing, it's what I'm doing. It's what I do to myself.
Then she told me that she doesn't deal very well with idiots, and laughed about it because as a therapist she shouldn't be saying that. She insisted that she doesn't think I'm stupid at all, because she can tell when a person is stupid just by talking to them, and she thinks I'm “extremely clever”. It's hard, though, to accept that as some sort of truth. Most of the time I do feel stupid.
She also told me that she sees a lot of people who don't even have half the problems I have, yet they come in and cry about everything, saying they can't do it (their uni work). Apparently, she thinks I am someone who actually has a lot to be proud of. That's definitely hard to get on board with, because really, what do I have to be proud of?
Am I supposed to be miserable? Am I supposed to suffer because I deserve it? Do I push myself to keep going, even though I'm not supposed to succeed?
I'm supposed to fail, but I'm not supposed to admit the ultimate failure: quitting. I don't quit. No matter how miserable something is making me, I do not quit. Giving up is not an option.
My mentor's theory is that if I keep going this way, I'm going to end up making some crappy attempt at suicide, and end up with some kind of permanent damage. She seems to think that's where I'm headed, that this would be the end result for me. I won't actually kill myself, but I will try, and fail (because I'm supposed to). I tried to tell her that there is no reason to worry about that, because I'm not going to, but she didn't seem convinced. She thinks I'm very good at “pretending”. I have a lot of practice.
She's not wrong. She's also not the first person to point this out.
“I have a lot of time and energy for you,” she told me at one point, after telling me she thinks I'm clever and determined. She claims she would be sad if I stopped seeing her. I told her I’m not going to do that, because I don't quit. At least she seemed to believe me when I said that."
Thursday May 21st
"I'm so confused and tired.
I asked my mentor if her telling me that she sees suicide in my future was a scare tactic, or something like that, because that's what my therapist seemed to think.
However, my mentor said that it was meant as a reality check. She doesn't think that I can sustain what I'm doing to myself in the long run, so, as she pointed out, she decided to be straight with me instead of being “polite” or whatever. According to her, I am cruel to myself. I beat myself up. Basically, I'm abusing myself, because that's what it would be called if someone else was doing it TO ME. So I'm abusive, and I won't be able to live like that forever, she says.
She claims that I “kid” myself. I'm mean to myself and then I laugh about it, which allows me to continue doing it. I turn it into a joke, so I don't really have to think about how horrible it actually is. I told her that I don't actually think hating myself is funny, but I have learned how to use laughter to cope with it. She says that I shouldn't be doing that.
Me: “So what am I supposed to do?”
Her: “You're supposed to stop.”
But how can I do that? It's similar to that conversation I had with my therapist on Tuesday, where her question was, “What positive messages do you want to give yourself?” I don't know how to respond to that, because I don't want to give myself any positive messages. I want to punch myself in the face. I have nothing nice to say to myself at all. If I just made some shit up and pretended to say them to myself sincerely, wouldn't I be “kidding” myself that way, too?
I just don't know anymore."
Friday May 29th
"How did I get here?
My mentor thinks I'm this hard on myself because of the environment I grew up in. It was somehow projected to me that I wasn't good enough, that I was “wrong” or “faulty” or something.
My parents wanted to take me to PPT (pedagogic-psychological services in Norway) to have me evaluated when I was starting school, but were told by my teachers that it wouldn't be necessary. So if my teachers insisted that I didn't have any problems that needed the PPT's attention, how did that affect my parents? Could it be that my parents have placed blame on me for being who I am? And if so, did they do that because they ultimately blamed themselves?
My mum has admitted to me, more recently, that she does feel like she has failed as a parent. How is that supposed to make me feel? Am I such a disappointment that I can be referred to as one of her “failures”?
The thing about feeling stupid also came up again. I told her that I know I'm not stupid compared to the greater masses of people, but in relation to where I come from… I'm pretty stupid. I'm not good enough.
I do bully myself. I've become more aware of it now that it's been pointed out to me, and it's a continuation of the bullying I experienced in school. I joined the bullies, back then, because I couldn't beat them. I laughed at myself, just like they did. I learned how to do that, and to this day I still do it.
So I know that I do this to myself. But I can't stop it.
“Why not?” my mentor asked me.
My response? “Because I don't want to.”
“That's it!” my mentor concluded.
I'm uncomfortable with the idea of being nice to myself. It seems wrong to me; it would be fake. So I can't do that. I can, however, make a mental note every time I abuse myself. I can try to identify how it actually makes me feel.
I know one thing for sure, though: if someone came up to me tomorrow and told me that how I feel right now is as good as it's ever going to get… I would kill myself. And maybe, if I don't turn myself around, I will drive myself to suicide by continuing to beat myself up until I can't take it anymore.
I don't know. I don't know what to think or feel anymore. But I'm not happy. I'm tired, and I don't want to live like this."
Tuesday June 9th
"I have a negative amount of credit.
I was asked in therapy today to define the meaning of “success”, and my answer was, “reaching your potential”. I guess I have this idea of what my potential is supposed to be, and so far I am failing horribly.
I feel the need to validate myself. I need to make up for all the shit of the past, but that seems impossible, so instead I just sit back and accept failure. My credit is so far into the negative digits that it feels impossible to rectify it. It can't be done. I will never be good enough.
My therapist asked me who I feel I'm “in debt” to; whether it's my parents, or society, or myself, and I realised that it's all of those things. She asked me to strip away the thought of “owing” other people something, and I told her that, even so, my credit would still be negative. The stakes are too high, and the pressure is too much, and I just can't cope with it. It seems so insurmountable, and it's terrifying.
I'm supposed to change the way I view “success” and place less importance on it, but I can't do that. My life is already a huge disappointment. My life so far has sucked. If I'm going to restore the balance of my credit, I can't just aim for mediocrity; I have to aim higher. So I do, and then I shut down. I can't make it happen. I will fail, no matter what. I always fail. I'm supposed to fail.
My grandma never reached her full potential. My dad didn't reach his full potential. The pressure falls on the next generation, I suppose, but I can't do it. I'm not what they're looking for.
Has this pressure always been there? Did my parents put it on me, or did I do that myself? Neither my therapist nor my mentor thinks I could have created that pressure in my own head. It must have come from someplace else. But where?"
That's it so far. It's been an interesting journey, and I'm sure it will continue to be interesting for years to come. Having been bipolar my whole life without knowing it, I have a lot of unresolved issues. On top of that, I also have an unfinished BA in music that urgently requires some of my brain capacity. Due to my illness, I've already spent five years on a degree that should only have taken three, so I need to do this thing, but my brain has gone into overload and it feels like too much. Thinking about it, life has always felt like too much.
And I am definitely thinking about it. I'm aware. And I'm working on it, one step at a time.
By the way, I highly recommend the book "They F*** You Up" by Oliver James. Because your family does; they're just not aware of it.
Lots of love
A Norwegian girl in London