Sometimes the brain is a funny thing; and if you are mentally ill the truth is you probably have more funny things happening than the average soul. You see things that others can’t, you hear things that others can’t, and sometimes you just go into yourself so deep that no one else can actually touch you despite the fact that you are standing right there in front of them. Being mentally ill isn’t just about a simple high or a simple low. It is combinations, it is separations, it is out of left field different moments that don’t fit the pattern that you have been subjected to for years. The world a mentally ill patient lives in can change on a dime. And the only person that sees it, hears it, believes it is the person who is being pushed to know it.
There are times in my life, especially during conversations when certain phrases, words, sentences, answers seem to highlight in big black letters right in front of my eyes. I will be in a normal conversation and a phrase will just light up. I have always considered this a way for my brain to remember something it finds important. With the amount of things that my brain deals with on a daily basis, the highs and lows, the voices, the visions, the crazy and the sane, I have always assumed that my brain developed a way to tell me that there was something I needed to pay attention to; kind of a evolution thing that Darwin could have studied.
The other night it happened out of the blue, much as it always does. I was talking to someone and the person made a comment that went along the lines of, “Well, at least I am still me.” I don’t know what we were really talking about, because once I replied all my little brain could focus on was my response. I stated without thinking, “Well, at least I am still whoever I am today.” I didn’t reply with the common, “Yes you are,” or “I am still me,” or even some platitude about how important it is that they are still who they really are. Instead I felt compelled to say “whoever I am today.” And those words lit up in my brain like the gorgeous fireworks on July 4th. I stopped listening or remembering the rest of the conversation, instead all I could think, all I could see were the words, “whoever I am today.”
I read a fiction book the other day, and I will admit it was a sweet romance, and the male character refused to allow the female to say anything negative about herself. He told her that she couldn’t put herself down, practice self-degradation, because he wouldn’t love someone who wasn’t perfect for him. We all can take a moment to say, “ahhh” and roll our eyes, but there is something there for us to learn.
There aren’t many humans alive who wouldn’t want to change something about themselves. There aren’t many people who could list in detail the things they love about themselves. There aren’t many people who can stare at themselves in the mirror and list the qualities that make them beautiful, or great, or even passably wonderful. It isn’t part of our DNA. We put ourselves down more than we build ourselves up. It’s part of life. It’s why books, magazines, posts are written by the millions about self-confidence, self-esteem, self-realization. It’s why we know the authors of the most popular books about raising ourselves up without ever reading their books. They are on our TVs, commercials, in our feeds, and on our podcasts. It’s why we stare at the guy at the podium, with a mic in his ear, talking about how great he is. It’s why we notice certain individuals in restaurants or on movie screens; not because they have a better life, but because they give off this invisible vibe that they are more than we ever can be.
I practice self-degradation like it is a religion; and I think I finally realized it with the comment, “whoever I am today”. I put myself down about my looks, my day-to-day activities, my friends, my health, my successes, my failures, my attitude. I have often proclaimed that there is not one thing about myself that I actually like; and this has been not only a state of mind but a truth in my life since my time begun. I don’t like myself. I actively hate myself. I hate the person I am in private just as much as I hate the person I am in public. I don’t see anything that I have ever done as something to celebrate. I don’t feel good about any portion of myself. I never have.
We could delve into my childhood and wonder if my parents ever praised me. We could look into my marriage and see if my husband has ever complimented me. We could even parade out the few people I allow close and see if they can pinpoint not only why I don’t like myself, but what exactly it is that I focus so much energy hating. It wouldn’t change the fact that you are not going to make me like myself. It won’t force me to see that I put myself down more than I have ever believed in myself. And it certainly won’t help me to find something, somewhere, that I could love.
I think self-degradation is like breathing. We do it and we do it rather well. But we don’t notice we are doing it until some guy in a romance novel points it out, and our heart wishes someone would say the same to us. We simply self-degrade ourselves until nothing else is ever heard. I know that I have received compliments in the past, but I couldn’t repeat any of them. I know that I have been given a second notice for something I have done, but I don’t know what. And even the times in my memory that I can remember people giving me just a glimpse of the person I wish I was, I ignore those highs for the self-loathing that is easier for me to comprehend. I can’t take compliments because I don’t believe in them, at least in regards to myself.
It may be why I work so hard to compliment my kids, my husband, the friends that I have. It may be why I can have a one-sided conversation with a person in pain and give them that which I can’t give myself. I understand the importance and seeing one’s own strength, one’s own ability to survive. I understand the crucial need to believe that you can do whatever it is that is important to you. And I can certainly see the benefits for others when people, normal people, finally glimpse their own power and take that hill that they were dying on. There are actions that prove our greatness. But no matter what I do, I can’t see it.
I can’t look in the mirror and see beauty. I can’t look at my career and see accomplishments. I can’t look at my children and see my role in their lives. I can’t see my friends and see that I am someone that someone wants. I am blind to any goodness that I might have. I am blind to the possibility that I might be more than the piece of crap I see, hear, feel and know so deeply. And I don’t know if that needs to be changed.
I spend my life writing about mental illnesses. I write about the symptoms, the pieces, the truths and the lies. In order for me to do this, I have to often look within myself to be able describe a key point in my teachings. This means that I have spent years hating myself. And I don’t know if that should be changed.
The thing about self-degradation is that once you start it, you won’t stop it. You can’t convince yourself you are beautiful, or brilliant, or kind, or good, or any of the adjectives that denote something better. When you can’t see something, it isn’t there. When you can’t feel something, you might as well throw in the towel because it will rarely appear in the next minute or two. But is self-degradation a bad thing?
I personally don’t think that putting one’s self down is healthy or a good thing to practice. But try for one moment coming up with a list of your personal greats, and then talk to me how you really feel. For one second be true to your own self, and see what you honestly see. Hear what you honestly hear. Feel what you honestly feel. Don’t make a list as if it is easy and you are the perfect being. Don’t make a list and look at it with a sigh and smile on your face. Make a list and then systematically break it apart until you are able to see the deep down truth of what makes you well…you. I imagine for most of us it is near to being impossible.
My self-degradation is only dangerous when the voices in my head, convincing me that I shouldn’t be on this earth, are louder than any other voice that I can hear. Otherwise, I hate to say but my self-degradation is about as normal for me as that breathing I can’t seem to help doing. Trying to spend even a moment in therapy trying to deal with this would be waste of my husband’s money. Spending even a second coming to terms that there might be things about me that are good wouldn’t make it past the simple but condescending smile I am sure I am wearing even now. There is no person, thing, place or even time that I am ever going to like myself. It is that simple.
So what is the answer, especially if we consider that it might be dangerous to have this much self-loathing? There isn’t an answer and there doesn’t need to be an answer. Because I don’t like what I look like, I don’t look in the mirror. Because I don’t like how I dress, I wear the same three outfits pretty much all the time. Because I hate the health I have been given both mental and physical, it is a matter of changing something or even taking another pill, but rather simply accepting what is. It’s amazing how easy it is to accept your own life and the way you see it.
I have dreams and hopes for things that I can do in the future, or even the person I might become in the future, just like everyone else. The only difference is if I make it there, I will convince myself it was a fluke. Because I am just not that great. Trust me, it’s a truth that I can not and will not escape.