My Life Matters

I’m tired of hating myself. I’m tired of the disgust that rips through me when I see my reflection. In  conversations, my contributions leave me with a sour stomach and a trail of self-recriminating thoughts. I look at what I have written, and I recoil at my own words. 

I have to fight myself to continue typing. My fingers feel  leaden and numb. But this is my truth. My truth is as important as that of anyone else, isn’t it? Either none of us matter, or we all do. Either way, we are all equally important. I choose to believe that we all matter, and as such I ought to believe that I matter as well. Intellectually, I do know this makes sense.  Still, I struggle against a deeply ingrained belief that I am inconsequential. Worthless. Useless. A waste of space and resources. And worse: burdensome, disgusting, selfish, irritating, lazy, and stupid. 

At times, the hate is an all-consuming fury. The rage wells up in my core and spills out into my limbs. It is acid burning my insides, boiling up through my skin towards the light. Rage demands expression. I desperately want to run a blade across my skin. Maybe to punish myself for being me, or maybe simply a distraction. The rage overwhelms the senses; I am blinded to the external world. My insides are on fire. I envision myself being hurled against walls until the pain triumphs over the fury.

The fury takes form in my imagination sometimes, late at night. She is a child within me, some grotesquely twisted version of my youth. Her hair is so matted and covered in grime that one would think it black. It drapes across her in greasy tangles, obscuring her from view. She is a small little thing. Perhaps nine or ten. But she engenders no warm feelings. She is cold fury, and she stands apart. If her countenance were not enough to keep people at bay, there would still be no one clambering to offer affection, as she is covered with protruding metal needles from head to toe. To touch her is to be pained. And so she remains alone inside of me, a loveless child, curled in a ball of coiled fury that unravels in sudden bursts.

I am trying to heal that child. For her sake and for mine, as she lashes out at me incessantly. She needs to know that she is loved and that she matters. So I am writing this post, despite the protests of my body. With every word, I am telling my inner child that she matters.

 

Control

Every time my health improves, I become convinced that I finally have control over my illness. I tell myself that even if the disease worsens, I will be able to use all that I have learned and retain control.  This time, it will be different.

It’s an irrational belief, but it reappears every time. Perhaps, the belief in one’s ability to control the self is healthy.  Lack of self-control is certainly terrifying.  Culture dictates that it is also shameful.  Impulsivity, imprudent choices, promiscuity, over-spending, addictive behaviors, etc. are all seen as cause for embarrassment even when they are symptoms of mental illness. Symptoms of other, more accepted, “physical” ailments also cause feelings of shame. Incontinence, for example, is often very difficult for people.  Why? Is it shame at a lack of control over something that one associates with being childlike or immature? Whether that shame is due to cultural or biological factors, it is certainly a widespread phenomenon.

We may need to believe that while we cannot control external circumstances, we can learn to control ourselves. Maybe this belief gives us a sense of safety in an unsafe world. If so, it would be only natural for this belief to return when depressive symptoms abate.

When my symptoms became more severe several months ago, I was so certain that I would be able to continue writing regularly.  Obviously, this was not the case. Days passed, and then weeks had flown by under the covers.  My thoughts were in complete disarray, and the idea of capturing the words flying about and forming them into coherent sentences was ludicrous.   I couldn’t even respond to simple texts and facebook messages, let alone emails. Paragraphs were entirely out of reach.

I felt extremely guilty about my absence from Treasure Island. I was ashamed of my inability to control my illness.  The simplest things seemed impossible. I was unable to respond to friends and acquaintances. I was late paying bills. I missed appointments.  I couldn’t get in the shower or wash my clothes.  The house became a disaster zone.

The guilt and shame were misplaced and unfair, but powerful nonetheless. We are taught to believe that ‘mind over matter’ is a possibility.  It is not entirely false that we can become better at directing our thoughts and emotional states, but it is not entirely true either.  A mental illness is a dysfunction or disorder of the brain.  A dysfunctional brain cannot be expected to control itself, and symptoms of a disease are no cause for shame.

I am sorry for my absence. Is it possible to be apologetic without guilt? I will probably continue to feel guilty. Still, I need to learn to have compassion for myself.  I hope you can have compassion for yourself as well.