Tag: mental illness (page 2 of 7)

Getting Good at Starting Over

Hi.

It’s been a while. And I’m not sure we’ve actually met.

I don’t think this is comfortable for anyone involved. There are a lot of people, who saw who I was and tried to be there for me, that think of me or look in my direction and are completely baffled by or uncertain of who I am. For months I became more and more unrecognizable, even to myself, and confused those closest to me with decisions and behaviors that were, for lack of a better term, aberrant. It took a catastrophic turn of events, largely the result of my own actions. Some saw it coming; others are still reeling from the aftermath. For my part, it caused me to finally sit with myself, as I should have long ago, and look unflinchingly at who I am, and the gap that had been widening between that person and who I’ve wanted to be.

Let me state, for the record, that none of what follows is meant to be an excuse or attempt at exoneration for my actions. I own, and accept, that I made the choices that lead to so much disaster, shock, pain, and loss. Regardless of the influences and experiences that motivated those choices, I still made them, and the consequences for doing so are mine. I caused damage to people I hold very dear, violated boundaries, manipulated situations, broke trust, and inflicted emotional wounds. To those victims, for whatever it might be worth: I am so, so sorry.


Okay. Deep breath. We’re diving into this mess.

In the past, I have externalized some of my emotions and thought patterns and called them ‘head weasels’. Anger and depression and hubris and anxiety — each was their own entity. At one point, as I was trying to tell one from the other back in 2016, I started giving them their own personalities. I didn’t realize then, and perhaps to some extent couldn’t know, that each of them was part of something larger, something deeper, something far more sinister. Like a kraken lurking in the darkest of waters under an unsuspecting boat, it would reach up with this or that tentacle to push the boat off-course, damage it, even try to sink it. It didn’t just appear out of nowhere for no reason one day. I know why it’s there, and I know who set off the process that spawned it.

I was a smart kid, even from a young age. I was brought into a ‘gifted’ program in my elementary school. The teacher once told my parents that “Josh will never be accepted by his peers; he marches to the beat of his own drum.” She had no idea how right she was. My school was part of a district very big on athletics, football most of all. Most boys my age were being groomed for that — the cheering crowds, the scholarships, endorsement deals, NFL contracts, all of it. They moved in groups, developing swaggering machismo from a young age. They didn’t care about grades, and not much about what other people thought of them, either. They were, in their own minds and the eyes of their parents and the system, nascent golden gods. It seemed like everything was handed to them.

I never assumed that. My dad instilled in me the importance of working hard from the start. I always saw him working. On more than one occasion, I’d walk into the dining room at my parents’ old house and have to walk around to see him past the stacks of legal documents he had to parse through. I knew he was doing it for us, to show up at his job as his best self — I didn’t have that vocabulary back then to describe it this way, but I knew it deep down. And I wanted to be like my dad. I looked up to him and believed in him. So I worked hard at school, not just to get good grades, but to be a good boy. I talked to my teachers, I tried to help others in need, especially the girls around me. My sisters, one older and one younger, impressed upon me how important it was for me to treat others of their gender well. So I did the best I could.

I didn’t always get things right. I made mistakes – the sorts of mistakes all kids make, to one extent or another, when they see what they can get away with when their parents aren’t looking. Poking around areas of the house that one shouldn’t, or doing something without my parents’ permission. I even peeked under my parents’ bed before Christmas one year. And I was always terribly ashamed of those mistakes. I’d fib about mistakes I made to try and hide that shame. My mother always knew when I was fibbing. She tried to tell me how important it was to always own my mistakes, to be honest, and to accept responsibility for everything I did, good and bad. It’s a lesson that I should have internalized, and possibly would have, if something else hadn’t gotten there first.

I was ten years old. There were three of them — preening, spoiled boys raised on the vicarious expectations of their fathers and a steady diet of hyper-masculine 80’s action movies. I was walking down the hall. Two of them grabbed me, while the third pulled off my backpack. Holding me by the arms, they pulled me to the side of the hall. The one with my backpack opened the door to the girl’s bathroom, and I was tossed inside. They laughed.

“Yeah!” The third boy, their leader I guess, opened my backpack and threw it in after me. Books and papers scattered everywhere. “That’s where you belong, nerd!

They walked away and the door swung shut.

I don’t know how long I was laying there, crying, before I stood up and started gathering my things.

A part of me stayed on those cool, pink, little square tiles for the next 30 years.

I never told my parents about it. Hell, I didn’t even remember it this clearly until recently. It got lumped in with “I was bullied” as a general statement, which usually was the beginning and the end of my description of events of my early childhood. But in that moment, on that floor, the thing in the shadowy depths of my psyche began to take shape.

You’re a nerd. You’re an outcast. You’re a loner. People hate that. You should hate it too.

It was the first time in my life that I wanted to die.

Somehow I’d failed in being a good boy, in being a person people liked. How? What had I done wrong? As far as I could tell, nothing; I’d simply had the audacity to exist. For two years I let other, less aggressive bullying, mostly in the form of ridicule and heckling, sink into my mind to reinforce the idea that every breath I took was somehow offensive, or a mistake.

The only person I told about this at the time was my big sister, Jen.

I came home one day from school and opened the kitchen cabinet. I looked up at the big knives Mom kept on a magnetic strip to keep them out of reach of us kids. But I was taller, now. I could reach the knives. I could stop hurting. Because it would hurt less if I used one of those sharp knives. Right?

I closed the door, walked upstairs, knocked on my sister’s door, and before she even finished asking who was there, I opened it.

Jen shrieked, because she’d been changing. I backed out and apologized, but didn’t close the door all the way. I just looked away and started crying.

She asked me to come in and to talk to her. She stood on the other side of her bed from me, sheet held up against her chest, listening to me. We talked for a long time; she told me that I was going to be okay, that those boys didn’t matter, that I was a good boy with a good heart that people really loved. I said I didn’t know how to keep going, that I just wanted to stop hurting so much. Jen told me that the best thing to do was to keep going forward, doing what I was doing. “It’s going to hurt sometimes,” she said. “Best thing you can do is suck it up and deal with it.” I remember her looking at me with this mix of sympathy and determination. “You do that by remembering that you’re loved, you’re smart, you’re funny; if nothing else, remember that I love you, and I don’t want you to quit.”

I stepped out into the hall to let her finish changing. She came out of her room and hugged me tight, and told me again how much she loved me.

I kind of fell in love with her a little bit in that moment.

When I was sixteen, she was engaged to be married. We had talked about her boyfriend, who I liked, even if a part of me was a little jealous of him getting so much of her attention. But I was getting used to it. I liked seeing Jen become more and more of her own person. I told her so, in one of the last conversations I remember having with her. She was so happy; she practically glowed. She told me that she wanted the same for me. She’d heard me sing, seen me act, read my writing. She asked me to never stop telling stories, because that was what I was born to do.

She was killed not long after that.

It was a horrible car accident. The bridge she and her fiancee were driving on was heavily fogged in. She was driving as carefully as she always did — well, unless ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was on the radio, which meant she’d hit the gas while she and I headbanged like idiots from ‘Wayne’s World’. This was anything but; driving in fog had always tended to make her nervous. She barely saw the tractor trailer in time to swerve. According to the police report, she swerved in a way that put her side of the car towards the trailer and aimed her for the other lane. She hit the trailer on her side of the car, and then another vehicle, an orange pick-up, slammed into her back end. Her little Plymouth was shoved even harder into the big truck. The rear fender, at about head level for those seated in a normal car, shattered the driver’s side window on its way towards her head. She was killed instantly.

Her fiancee got away with a bruise from the seat belt and some scratches from his glasses. And the emotional scars, of course. We all were our own wrecks in the wake of what happened. And like the girl’s bathroom, a part of me never walked away from where I’d been standing next to the cardboard box my mother was crying over, our last letters to Jen in an envelope slid under one of the thin straps holding it shut, ready to be rolled into where she’d be cremated.

I left my home the first chance I got, going to university an hour away, and then moving to the other side of the state after that. It hurt too much to stay. I wanted to be my own person, the way that Jen had been. And if I’d gotten into an accident of my own, I wouldn’t really complain. I did get into a few over the next couple of years, but I always ended up walking away, usually without a scratch. That didn’t seem fair. What made me special? Why was I still here, and Jen wasn’t? Like a black hole in my soul, my grief grew until it obscured all that had come before it, including the little boy still on the floor of the girl’s bathroom in that elementary school.

I wanted to die more than ever, but how could I make that happen? How would it possibly be okay if I did that? I was loved and supported; I couldn’t let down the people who still wanted to see me be my own person, to live up to my potential, to be happy.

Ah, came the logic from that slowly maturing and growing kraken. But what if you did let them down? What if you did something so heinous and selfish that they hated you, instead of loving you?

That would make it okay. That would mean they wouldn’t mourn you the way you do Jen. They’d throw a fucking party to celebrate.

And you won’t care. You won’t be in pain. You won’t have to keep trying so hard.

Again, this is something I didn’t realize was happening until much, much later. And even when I did realize it, the behaviors were so deeply ingrained that I couldn’t necessarily stop them before they happened. And then, ashamed of the actions I’d chosen to take to act on those thoughts and emotions, I’d lie about it. Which, of course, ended up making it worse. It created time bombs in my relationships. And when they went off, they went off in spectacular fashion. The ramifications of my actions fueled my shame and self-hatred, which pushed my thoughts back in a suicidal direction. Every time it happened, I came a little bit closer to doing something I couldn’t take back.

Along the way, I tried to understand what was going wrong, what I was doing wrong. At the time, seeing each of these individual tendrils as isolated feelings rather than realizing they were connected to a greater, central source of trauma and internalized toxicity, I failed to really get to the heart of the matter. This was especially true in the last year; looking back, I cannot help but admit that the harder I tried to do better, the more I failed and made things worse. The worst part was, I didn’t realize I was failing. I thought I was making progress, and I’d talk about the work I was doing, patting myself on the back and looking for approval or validation from others. I didn’t know, as ill-equipped as I was, and as deeply I was engaged in self-deception, that all of that work was merely scratching the surface. And all the while, the timers on those bombs I’d laid in my relationships, the best relationships I’ve ever had in my entire life, were tick, tick, ticking away.

Then, on March 28 2019, they went off. All of those lies, and all of the harmful decisions I’d made, from actively hiding or obfuscating communication to engaging in gaslighting behavior, came screaming into the light to drown out everything but one quiet voice in my head.

There. You see? You really are everything you claim to hate. Look what you did to these people you’re in love with, and the ones that trusted you, that believed in you. You broke their hearts. You showed them your true colors. Well done, good and faithful servant.

You’re the monster. It’s time to slay the monster. Go ahead. You won’t be missed. It’s okay. It’s the right thing to do. It’s time for you to pay for your crimes. Man up and get it done. The sooner you’re gone, the sooner everyone can get on with their lives. Prove that at the very least you’re not a fucking coward. Go on. Do it.

I almost did. My behaviors had finally pushed my emotions past their breaking point, and that turned my thoughts to a single goal: self-destruction. My behaviors then moved my body away from work, away from love, away from everything but that final, fatal act. It was only the intervention of strangers, whose names I wish I knew and whose faces I’ll never forget, that I’m able to sit here and write about how behaviors begat emotion begat thoughts begat behaviors.


Let me take a moment to expound on that interaction.

Courtesy the Taylor Study Method –
https://blog.taylorstudymethod.com/cbt-triangle/

This triangle, a concept in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), illustrates the effect our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors have on one another. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and in an ideal world, there would be balance between the three vertices.

Part of bipolar disorder, as I’ve discovered, is that the mercurial nature of the emotions and perceptions that are generated and influenced by the chemicals in the brain can be difficult to predict or to control at times. Environmental factors, triggers, and the potential for rapid cycling all contribute towards when and how those chemicals are generated. The upshot of this is that the emotional vertex of the triangle above isn’t something over which we always have control or influence.

However, we always have control over our thoughts and behaviors. While our emotions directly influence both of these things, we can choose how that influence is interpreted and applied. When emotions are particularly intense, these choices can be difficult to discern. We may even feel that we have only one choice to make. This is almost never the case. Even if it takes more time or energy than we’d prefer, at the very least, we can choose to allow our emotions to simply be felt or examined, rather than allowing them to have a direct immediate influence on our thoughts or behaviors.

The importance of understanding this relationship, especially for those with mental illness, cannot be understated. It takes work and time devoted to self-exploration to understand it on a fundamental level and apply that understanding to our everyday lives. Personally, I would not be where I am now, in terms of showing up as a person whose outward persona matches their inner self, if I did not take the time to do that work, both in the past and in the present. I highly encourage you to look into this further, and it is a subject on which I plan on writing and speaking more in the future. I hope you’ll find that insight useful.


When I woke up in the 7-North wing of the UW Medical Center on the day after they’d brought me in, I made a decision. I knew I couldn’t trust my own mind, not as it was, and I had to find a way to do that, once and for all. I decided that this would be the last time I ended up in a place like that, the last time I punished myself for my actions to the point I sought my own death penalty, the last time I hurt and betrayed people I love so dearly. Nobody deserved what I’d done to them. I didn’t deserve to do these things to myself. If nothing else, it would be worth my time to once and for all find a way to not be so incredibly miserable all the time.

It’s only been a handful of weeks since that day, but the changes are manifesting themselves already in ways that I could not have anticipated. I was expecting to be in the hospital for a long time, but they discharged me in relatively short order. I didn’t get the impression they were trying to get rid of me, either. In fact, the reaction I was getting from pretty much everyone was that I was on the right track, and walking the right path, maybe for the first time. And I’m still getting that impression, from what I feel might have been the most unlikely of sources.

The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. Mostly it’s because “Walk” by the Foo Fighters is a very good song to describe what I’m going through right now. I’ve talked the talk before, about doing The Work. If and when you see me now, you’ll see me walking the walk.

And for the record, I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for me. Because I’m worth it.

We can’t go back to the past. We can’t undo the mistakes that we’ve made. We can only own them, admit to our part in events, and make the effort to get and be and do better. And the sooner we start that process, in and for ourselves, being honest with ourselves first and foremost, the sooner that effort we make gives us tangible results. I am sorry for what happened, what I did, and how much damage my choices caused. This was going to happen, eventually, and it happened in the worst possible way, and I’m sorry for that, too.

I no longer want to die. I believe in myself too much to want that. I have too many hopes for the future to want that. And at the end of the day, I’m far too stubborn to let a trio of insecure little boys who hated what they didn’t understand determine the course of the rest of my life. Now that I see these things for who and what they are, I can deal with them. Not fight them, not attack them, but deal with them.

And it started with me going into that bathroom, helping that hurt and terrified 10-year-old boy off of the floor, wrapping him in my arms, and telling him that we are going to be okay.

I tell him that we’ve stumbled quite a few times since he ended up in that bathroom. We’ve made some big mistakes. We’ve hurt people. And we’ve hurt ourselves most of all. We’ve hindered ourselves, gotten in our own way, even come close to breaking. But we’re not broken. We’re still here. And there’s still a world ahead of us, and we’re walking into it, one step at a time.

The most important thing is, every time I’ve stumbled, to one degree or another, I’ve managed to get back up. I had trouble in the past seeing what it was that had truly knocked me down. Now I see these things for what they are, and I’ve realized I was fighting back against them with one hand tied behind my back. And embracing things, accepting things, and committing to treating them and myself better works more effectively if one uses both arms.

I believe in that little boy. I believe in the teen who was struggling not to completely fall apart over his beloved big sister’s body. I believe in myself, here and now. I have it in me to right the course of my ship, run out onto bowsprit, glare down into the depths of the waters in the inscrutable face of all of the pain and trauma and self-hatred that wanted to destroy me for so long, that even now fights to survive and prevail over my better nature and my innermost Self, and say the words “I AM.

In my mind, I then flip that eldritch abomination the bird, get back behind the wheel, and steer for warmer and cleaner waters. Forget living in the past and fuck wallowing in self-pity and misery. I have too many awesome things to accomplish; I can’t waste one more second doing any of that shit.

Radically accepting that truth isn’t the same as fighting the old, internalized aspects of my Shadow, viewing them as antagonists or monsters to be slain or destroyed. Doing that has caused more problems than it’s solved, and caused the people around me to become casualties of a war that raged entirely in my own head. Rather, it’s healthier and more constructive to sit with them, see them for what they are, understand where they came from, and allow them to exist as parts of me that have gotten in my way before and still could. Making the choice to move past them after accepting them in that way is not only the better choice to make, it’s an empowering one. Things only have the power we give them; when I make that choice, I’m taking power back for myself, to show up and keep moving forward, allowing me to be the person I am and want to be.

We can easily get hung up on the thought that we “must” or “are supposed” to be or act a certain way. Those thoughts are erroneous, based almost entirely on external influences. Our source of truth is within ourselves, and is sovereign and self-contained. Embracing that, and manifesting it in our everyday lives, allows us to succeed in being who we are, rather than failing in trying to achieve an erroneous or even unrealistic goal.

Things can get in our way in being able to reach that source. We can make wrong choices, act on incomplete or incorrect information, or fuck things up spectacularly. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better choices to make, even in the wake of a mistake, especially if we own the fact that we made that mistake, rather than denying, projecting, or trying to shout down the truth. There are always better choices to make.

It’s never too late to start making those choices. It’s never too late to start over, try again, to get and be and do better.

And that is a choice that, now more than ever, is the first and most important one I make every single day.

I’m standing on my own two feet, and I’m taking deliberate steps forward, one day and one moment at a time.

So… hi. This is who I am.

And I’m very, very glad to be here.

I believe I’ve waited long enough. Where do I begin?

500 Words on Happiness

HOLY SHIT IT’S A NEW BLOG POST

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much time I’ve lost, or has been stolen from me, because I’ve been unhappy. Unhappily married, unhappily employed, unhappily living. As human beings, nobody would choose to be unhappy, save for the willfully masochistic, and I’m not one of them. I neither wish to glorify nor romanticize ‘the struggle’. I’d rather not struggle at all just to be happy for more than a couple of hours at a time.

I know that a bulk of my unhappiness is not my fault. There’s trauma in my past that has undeniable influence on my bipolar disorder. The grief I carry is fairly substantial, and with that comes a generous helping of survivor’s guilt. These things raise barriers, between me and happiness, between me and others. They alter my perceptions, deprive me of balance, and prevent me from focusing on happiness. They squat in the back of my mind, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. And I have to work to wrangle them, every single day.

Even when they don’t overwhelm me, fighting back against the tide of negativity takes focus and energy. It’s an expenditure of spell slots, to put it in D&D terms. And those are fewer spell slots I have for writing, for looking ahead, for just enjoying life and the good things and people I have in mine. Again, this isn’t anyone’s fault. I refuse to make it anyone else’s fault or responsibility. Because these damaged processes and erroneous perceptions are entirely internal, they’re mine to understand and overcome. Even if I can’t, at least I can try.

On top of that, it’s not just me they effect. It takes a toll on my relationships. It has for a very long time. I’ve built most if not all of my committed relationships, anything beyond being close friends, on some form of false assumption or premise in terms of what role I feel I need to fulfill. I know that I am able-bodied, privileged in many ways, and simply have a willingness to add value to the lives of those around me, rather than keeping it for myself. That creates in me a sense of noblesse oblige, that it’s not only my desire to use these things for those I care for with less privilege than me, but it is my duty. It’s another thing that negatively impacts my happiness.

And rather than actually adding to the happiness of others, as consistently and completely as I want to, it gets in the way of their happiness, too. Thus creating a cycle that breaks me down and wears me out.

So, what can I do about it?

I can talk to my therapist, adjust my medication if necessary, keep reaching out for resources and knowledge and guidance. I can push myself to learn more and do better. I can at least try. I can fight.

And I can write about it.

Sometimes, that’s all I’ve got.

A Pawn No Longer

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” — Denis Waitley

I know this is a long post. Thank you for reading it in its entirety.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

I was diagnosed with Type II Bipolar Disorder 14 years ago at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. This was probably a diagnosis that should have been discovered long before the point of the nervous breakdown that put me in there. There have been inciting incidents, before and since, that have caused emotional reactions within me, and it has taken me years to develop the tools to properly manage my behavior in light of those reactions. The intensity of the emotions has not changed, but as I continue to work on myself for myself, these tools become more refined, more precise, and I handle these things better.

One of the ways in which these tools can be forged is through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). A DBT instructor’s manual on emotions defines them in the following ways:

“Emotions are complex; they consist of several parts of different reactions happening at the same time.

“Emotions are automatic: they are involuntary, automatic responses to internal and external events.

“Emotions can not be changed directly; we can change the events that cause emotional experiences; but not the emotional experiences directly. We can’t make ourself ‘feel’ a particular emotion and then feel it. Willpower won’t stop an emotional experience no matter how desperately we might want it to.”

The sequence in which synapses fire within our brains is not within our direct control. We cannot choose to not feel something. The emotions are not something we can stop or merely turn off. We have to handle them. We can avoid them with distractions, which is not advisable. We can cope with them through various mechanisms, some of which are healthier than others. Hardest of all is to try and reason with them. It is an entirely internal process. We must apply facts and evidence to a situation in comparison to the emotions being felt by that situation in an attempt to choose the best and healthiest way to handle and express those emotions.

For a person with a mental illness, going through the process of reasoning with emotions is far more difficult than it is for someone who is neurotypical. And this is not a temporary condition. It’s not like breaking one’s leg, then needing to learn how to walk on it again. This is more along the lines of a physical chronic illness, where walking in and of itself can be challenging due to the nature of one’s body.

It is unreasonable to say to a person with such an illness, “Just get up and walk! It’s so easy, why can’t you just do it! Your inability to consistently walk is holding me back/making me feel bad, and that’s your fault.

It is just as unreasonable to say to a person with mental illness, “Just stop feeling these things! I don’t, so why do you? Your inability to handle your emotions the way I do is making me feel bad, and that’s your fault.

These are things I have been forced to learn, wrestle with, and draw conclusions from since that breakdown 14 years ago. The steps have been incremental, sometimes frustratingly small, and some have fallen on unstable ground. There have been times when it has been difficult to take these steps and use these tools entirely on my own. Others can help, be they therapists or family or friends. But, in the end, no other individual can or should be expected to do it for me.

Within the last few months I have found myself gainfully employed after a long period of searching for work that falls within a marketable and well-documented skillset I possess. My list of published and referencable writing is rather small, while my experience with web development operations and programming is better at filling out a résumé. It is with the latter that I secured employment. After over a year of not having something with this rate of pay, this sort of work environment, and this sort of support and direction, the stress caused by not being an “earner” in a post-capitalist society was removed. My significant lack of an inability to recognize self-worth, however, remained, and in the space of that removed stress, that neural pathway found new room in which to exist. It amplified, causing emotions and reactions that proved very difficult to handle.

As I said, distracting ourselves from our emotions is inadvisable. I distracted myself by spending a great deal of time not engaged with my personal space or my partner, instead choosing to be elsewhere. This was pointed out to me by them and, at first, I denied the cause. Subsequent discussions, sometimes highly emotional ones, helped me realize what I was doing. As a result, I chose to take a step back from major in-person social interactions to focus on handling this underlying problem in a more healthy and comprehensive way.

Part of that process was writing a post about that sense of self-worth, and how much I want to believe in myself, now more than ever. Writing is, and has been, my primary way of expressing myself and exploring these spaces. Rather than do so in a story, I chose to write about my real emotions and experiences, and I chose to post it publicly. I made that choice for posterity, and to provide insight into my emotions and behavior. I thought it might be useful to and for those who are in my life, and who have watched me go through these moments of emotionality that have a negative impact upon them. Others can see or even feel the effects of what my emotions do to me; they cannot always see the cause.

I have been told “it hurts me to watch you put yourself through this, to beat yourself up.” I believe that. I’ve experienced that, as well. My partner, who has chronic illnesses, cannot always do the things they wish to do. To watch them struggle against the constraints of their bodily pain, to hear them express disappointment in themselves for not being able to do what they want, is painful to me.

At no point do I hold my partner’s illness against them. They can’t simply not be sick. It’s not their fault. It’s unfair, unreasonable, even cruel and abusive, to make them feel responsible for my feelings regarding their disability.

By the same token, it is unfair, unreasonable, even cruel and abusive, to make someone with mental illness feel responsible for another person’s feelings regarding that illness.

If something said or done directly to another person causes harm, the person who said or did the thing is responsible for that. And it does not have to be direct physical or even emotional harm, either. A manipulative turn of phrase — “if you love me, you’ll do X” — is the responsibility of the person who says it, because it is delivering an ultimatum to the person in question. Words have meanings; it is through language that we communicate what we feel, what we intend, who we are.

So when I write at length about an internal process regarding handling my self-worth, or as above regarding the nature of my mental illness, and no language is employed that makes these things the responsibility of others, to have others claim that I am making them responsible for these things or that this language is somehow problematic or abusive is absolutely baffling to me. As a person with a mental illness, I am using that terminology and language to expand upon and explore my condition. Again, I am making the choice to write this for posterity and to allow insight into my internal thoughts, emotions, and processes. That is the purpose of this writing. Nothing more.

These emotions of mine — complex, automatic, immutable — are simply that: mine. They are entirely internal. Disregarding their influence on my life, it does not impact other people when I feel something. When I feel a question or lack of self-worth, for example, that is an entirely internal process. No person outside of myself is responsible for it, nor is it my desire to somehow make it another person’s fault. That would be unfair. That would be manipulative. That would be bullshit.

When someone else, on the other hand, questions my self-worth, or validity, or integrity, that is another matter entirely.

I’ve read over my posts, this one and the previous one in this vein, several times. Others have as well. At no point in either do I directly say that a person or group of people outside of myself is somehow responsible for my feelings or my actions. These things come from a place within my self, and from no other source. These things are amorphous, difficult, and even painful. The last thing on this planet I would ever want to do is put them onto someone else. I would rather not deal with them; why make someone else do it? That is, as above, unfair, unreasonable, and even cruel and abusive.

We cannot choose when and how we feel things. We can, however, choose how to handle those feelings. And when we take action to handle a feeling, we can choose to take responsibility for those actions, or we can choose to make someone else responsible for it. We can own, or we can project. We can accept, or we can blame.

We get to choose that.

I do not agree with all of the choices I have made in the past, but I accept those are the choices I made. Some of my choices have caused me pain or loss; that, too, is my responsibility. Others have made, and will make, choices to make me responsible for things that are not mine. Those choices will attempt to manipulate me into taking responsibility for those things. In the past, my lack of self-worth and my desire to do good for and please the people around me put me in a position to simply accept what I was given, despite its absurdity or toxicity. It is a weakness of mine that has been exploited time and time again.

I cannot accept this. I will accept this no longer.

Just as how I get to choose how I handle my feelings, I get to choose who I am and who I want to be.

I am a person with bipolar disorder. And I choose to not be a pawn of my emotions, nor of anyone else’s.

500 Words on the Mirror

It can be difficult to recognize the face that looks back at me in the mirror. Especially since I’ve grown my hair out and started styling my facial hair in certain ways. But the eyes are still there, the eyes I’ve had since I was a child. They’ve seen a lot, perhaps more than they should have. I see them in the mirror, these mechanisms through which I see the world, and try to process who’s looking back at me.

Is this a person worth fighting for?

Movies with Mikey‘s “Creed” episode draws attention to a mirror moment, where the protagonist is told by his coach (Rocky Balboa, in this case) “that, right there, is your toughest opponent.” A somewhat unspoken agreement — a ‘creed’, if you will — between fighters is discussed. It’s simple: “I fight, you fight.” If you step into the ring, so will I, and we’ll each give our all to prove ourselves to ourselves and to one another.

(Seriously, if you’re not watching Movies with Mikey, do yourself a favor and check it out.)

I’ve started repeating that creed to myself when I see myself in the mirror.

“I fight. You fight.”

Who or what am I fighting, though? Is it that other person, the one in the mirror?

Yes and no.

In the past, that person in the mirror has resembled someone else. Someone I don’t recognize. Someone who had been influenced by other people.

First of all, some of those people are fucking monsters.

Not everybody has your best interest at heart. People will seek to take advantage of you, to exploit your weaknesses. Those sorts of abuses, which can hurt more deeply and thoroughly than any punch or cut, give fuel to the monsters that live in our heads, the voices that say we’re better off dead.

That’s what I’m fighting. Those voices, those monsters, those irritating head weasels.

You can’t see them, though. And it’s very, very hard to fight what you can’t see. Ask anybody who has a chronic pain disorder or a mental illness. Ask about their experiences with doctors, with society. You’ll see how hard it is to fight the unseen.

What we can see, though, is the person in the mirror.

“I fight. You fight.”

The final trap in this is the one in which we fight against ourselves, not with ourselves. The difference is that in the former case, we make ourselves an antagonist, a foe to be conquered. But what good do we do ourselves if we cast ourselves as our own villain?

We can be our greatest ally, instead. Whatever the threat might be is one that both entities fight together. You can see what was, or you can see what could be. When you see the image of yourself in the mirror, it’s yours. The you in the mirror is a you that needs you.

You can fight it, or you can fight for it.

“I fight. You fight.”

On Fridays I write 500 words.

No Pity

Courtesy Adult Swim

Good media doesn’t just entertain. It invites us to take a long, hard look at ourselves and our world. It shows us things that can change, or need to change. And, sometimes, it points the way to the tools required to make that change, to be that change.

Take Rick & Morty. In the midst of all of the cruel cutting humor and Cronenbergian body horror, there are moments of true introspection and insight. “Pickle Rick” provided wonderful for-and-against arguments regarding therapy. We’re seeing Morty grow and change, standing up to Rick more often and seizing opportunities to be his own person. And now, in “The Wirly Dirly Conspiracy”, we more closely Jerry, the sad sack that exists mostly as a punching bag, a savage take on the typical “everyman” character, and the unwitting catalyst for the family problems that are just as important to the storylines as Rick’s alcohol-fueled mad science.

“You act like prey, but you’re a predator. You use pity to lure in your victims. It’s how you survive.” – Rick, to Jerry

Maybe it’s just me, but I had to pause the episode, step away, and take a long moment to think about myself, my past behaviors, and the changes I’ve made.

At some point when I was very young, I developed a titanic guilt complex. I would be extraordinarily hard on myself. I would emotionally (and, at times, physically) beat myself up, punish myself, for making a mistake. I think that part of my motivation for doing so was that if I punished myself hard enough, other punishments would pale in comparison.

Another part was that if I was outwardly hard on myself enough, others would take it easy.

I, too, preyed on pity.

Writing that out is at once damning and freeing. It’s something of which I am deeply ashamed. I am struggling to put into words just how insidiously toxic such behavior can be. I think about my past behaviors and actions, impulsive decisions I made; the knowledge that those choices hurt people I love, respect, and care about hurts.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about those things I did. That I don’t turn the evidence over in my hand and look for things to correct and change. There isn’t a day that passes where I don’t admit to myself how afraid I was of being abandoned should these things come to light — and how much I still fear.

Courtesy HBO

Fear is no excuse. There is no excuse.

I cannot take pity on myself any more than I should expect others to have pity on me. The things inside of me that served as the roots sprouting that poison fruit are not excuses. They are explanations. When a tree in your garden is rotten, you have to deal with it, before it lays waste to everything. You salvage what seeds you can. Then, you cut it down. You burn it.

You plant anew and you move on.

I’m still hard on myself. I still examine myself more closely and more exactingly than I do those around me. But that is because I am still growing, still changing. I do wish, deep down, that those who were affected by my actions could see — maybe even appreciate — the changes I’ve made and the ones I’m still making.

However, the only validation that truly matters is the validation I find and give to myself.

Other people will always think how they wish to think, feel how they wish to feel. For whatever their reasons, the way they look at me is something beyond my control. It doesn’t matter if they choose to be “on my side” or not. All I can do is show up as the best version of myself I can muster, own my mistakes in the name of doing better, and be present for people I want to be present for me. How they deal with that is up to them.

They cannot and should not have pity on me. Neither can I.

I will talk about how I think and how I feel. There are others in the world who fight similar battles against depression, anxiety, PTSD, all sorts of head weasels that clamor and screech for attention. It is my hope that being open and honest and up-front about these things can inspire others, or at least reassure them that they are not alone. In the past, that would not have been my motivation. But that is what it is now.

The line between asking for help and begging for attention or pity can be a fine one. And if you’ve done the latter in the past as I have, there are those who may not believe that you are engaging in the former.

Look within yourself. Do whatever you can to remain on the side of the line that will lead to you changing and growing. Distance yourself from the people and things that would drag you to the other side.

This is not easy. For me, it is one of the most difficult things to admit about myself and one of the hardest changes I’ve made.

And I am never, ever going back.

There is no pity in my soul’s city.

Tuesdays are for telling my story.

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