(Note: This is a mental health post. We’ll get back to talking about publishing and writing in a second. I know that these posts don’t get a lot of traffic, but it’s not a bad post, and I think you might find it worth your time. This is a small trigger warning for suicide, a larger one for codependency and a larger one for low self-esteem and self-value)
I woke up this morning about four hours ago, pretty convinced that everything was going to suck at some point in the near future. The laundry I didn’t finish folding last night would be in various states of disaster. People were going to call and tell me that they never wanted to talk to me again. People weren’t going to call and never wanted to talk to me again. The shower wouldn’t work and I’d be left a stinking fetid mess. The sale I’m running would collapse. The dog would run away because I’m such a terrible person. You know the sort of suck-age I’m talking here. The stuff that we work extraordinarily hard to keep under lock and key that only manages an escape when we’re tired or intoxicated or already feeling damaged. Epic suck-age of the highest level.
All these morning horsefeathers come after a late, tired night after a long and draining day. See, among the less-than-lovely mental health issues I deal with on a regular sometimes moment-by-moment basis, I’m codependent. I don’t handle separation well. I don’t feel good enough about myself to know with any certainty that the people I love are going to come back to me if they go anywhere further than a twenty minute drive, like they’re going to hit that twenty-first minute and say, “Holy shit, what the hell am I doing with John?” I don’t know how to be a 100% me alongside another 100% person, so that any relationship is a partnership and two-way street of communication, not just some weird conglomeration of people that occasionally includes food, humping and watching TV.
This lack of self esteem partners with a stunted emotional development growing up. I grew up in a barely demonstrative home. I only heard “I love you” when I was on the verge of tears or about to something consequential (like when I had to go to court for moving violations and was scared) or it would get written to me in emails while my parents were on vacation somewhere. It wasn’t bantered around, and as a result I had no real sense of how to express it. Hell, I thought even hugging a person of the gender you’re attracted to was a prelude to getting into bed with them. This left me fumbling when it came to sex, since I had learned from religion and my parents’ view of it that you only do it with the people you love, that you do it in private, and you do it only in “normal” ways. I’ve spent the last 15 years expunging the sense of limitation and shame that gave me.
I’ve gone through a lot of relationships, dates, and experiences to bring me far enough to where I can see that how I used to be, pre-therapy, pre-working-on-myself was remarkably unhealthy, immature and held back. I tend to use the phrase “-starved” to describe it now: I have been touch-starved, love-starved and affection-starved for more than a decade. Getting it now is like discovering an oasis, it brightens everything, but at the same time because it’s new, it’s feels ephemeral. Most of the good things in life feel ephemeral. I don’t like getting something I like then feeling like it will be taken away. It’s why I eat quickly and give myself hiccups. It’s why I mope around when people go off for a weekend. It’s why I feel jealous when people I know are making awesome things and I’m not asked to help.
Because my moods were unstable and I was mentally volatile for so long, I heard from a lot of people (family, friends, relationships) that I had to “control” myself. I don’t know how to explain what it really feels like, it’s somewhere between feeling shame that you’re doing things that upset others and feeling out of control and off the tracks – you’re trying to make things better so as not to keep hurting people, but the harder you try, the worse you make things, because you don’t really know what you’re doing or how to fix it. So, at some point, I just learned it would be preferable (read: I wouldn’t feel like everyone hated me) to clamp down on all my feelings. Not feel them. Deny them. Lie about them. Skimp on pleasure. Skimp on connection. If I didn’t have to feel anything or risk anything, then I wouldn’t upset people, and then because I wasn’t upsetting people, they’d be happy with me, and (nebulously) love me.
This is probably the same decision that brought me loneliness, worsened my depression and sent me into a spin of really bad decisions and consequences. Because I was constantly trying to avoid upsetting people or avoid any feelings that didn’t conform to what I thought people expected, I never got a chance to develop familiarity with a lot of skills people need. It retarded my growth and rather than learn things in my early 20s, I’m learning them in my mid-30s. I don’t always have enough words to express how ashamed and embarrassed I am of that.
For instance, I never learned really how to miss people. My first experience with the feeling that I would miss someone came in the sixth grade when my friend Alex yelled from one backyard to me in mine that he was moving to Michigan, and did I want to come over and play kickball. I remember telling him no, and I think I said that I had to eat dinner or something, but the truth is that I didn’t want to play kickball because it would end at some point and then he’d be moving away. This began a lengthy game of tag between me and loneliness. People leave to go to different places for different reasons and I don’t know how to deal with that – I’m not okay with them going, I don’t want them to go, they’re my friend/partner/lover/co-worker/whatever and I selfishly ask, “What am I supposed to do?”
Codependency is loneliness’ toady. I don’t like being lonely. Loneliness and disconnection from others is what led to me slice my wrists on more than one occasion. Loneliness convinced me long ago that I was worth less than garbage, and that’s a thing I’m still trying to disprove. Oddly enough, I don’t feel that way when I’m not alone. It makes for a neat little destructive cycle.
Here’s a nice chart that sort of describes my terrible thinking
See how screwed up that is?
- It’s incredibly selfish. Notice there’s no box about the other person having to do whatever they’re doing – they might be at a job, or on a business trip, or dealing with hostages or whatever. To my panicked brain, self-preservation becomes self-absorption. AND I’M NOT EVEN UNDER ANY THREAT OF ATTACK OR HARM. I JUST DON’T WANT TO FEEL IGNORED, DISCARDED, NEGLECTED OR LIKE I DON’T MATTER.
- The only positive is when I’m not alone. Now, granted, I shower regularly and make an effort to smell good and am, at times, very pleasant and funny. But sometimes, people just can’t be around me (again: jobs, other responsibilities, other things they like that aren’t me). It basically says that if I’m not the center of someone’s universe, then I’m awful.
- The negatives are REALLY negative. It’s not that I’m boring or that I only tell the same three jokes, it’s not a matter of being “not fun” as to why I’m alone, it’s because I’m whatever’s beneath pond scum and garbage’s garbage.
This was a majority of my thinking yesterday. It was incredibly draining. I’m pretty sure it frustrated my friends to hear me go on and on about how not-good yesterday was. I know it frustrated me when SIX different people said variations of “Dude, you’re being way clingy and anxious. Sit down and be cool.”
What to do?
Last night, feeling like needed to get a handle on it today, I argued with myself (the dog was asleep by this point) as why I felt the way I felt. Normally I bounce this sort of stuff off someone, but when that someone is the same someone you’re in the middle of missing, you end up talking to yourself and feeling horrible for burdening them with anything less than glorious purpose. Because I know that if didn’t arrest this line of thinking, if I didn’t derail this craptastic train of doom, then it would get worse and then that dread I was uh, dreading … the bad stuff I didn’t want to happen would happen, and I’d be alone. Learning that I deserve and am good enough to be with people, be in a relationship, be good enough to work as hard as I do, be good enough to have friends, be good enough “not to suck” has been a tough struggle over the last three years, with a lot of tough times and a lot of thoughts that sap and erode the idea of “deserving” anything other than boxes of misery and sadness.
After a tough and teary conversation with myself, where I didn’t let myself off the hook until I got into the reasons and feelings that underpin the craving for attention and love and people, I promised myself that the next day would be better than today – not just because I felt I needed to do better by others, but because I didn’t need to drain myself and feel crappy like that again.
Which brings me back to this morning.
So I’m up early, laying in bed, feeling this sense of “Oh this day might blow” when I catch myself and remember the promise I made last night. And then I start applying the tools I’ve acquired. I made a list of facts, things that are true no matter what I feel or think or worry about. Things like “I know that today X Y and Z things will happen” (I’m not going to detail the list, that’s for me, but I’ll give you the broad strokes) or “I know this person said _______ to me.” Because I have these facts, I know I can reference them with two taps of my phone whenever I’m worried or anxious about something happening out of my control or not happening out of some imagined neglect. This list took me a good forty-five minutes to generate 11 things, because they’re all relevant to the problem I’m feeling and I skipped the stuff like, “I know the sky is blue” or “I know the dog likes me”.
This list, even knowing I have it, before I even look at it, helps. Facts get written down, and facts kill anxiety in the face, because anxiety is generated by my lying brain trying to get me to do things (however negative) that I’m habituated to doing thanks to brain chemicals.
I could have stopped there, because it’s enough to know I have 11 statements providing me some manner of grounding and comfort, but I didn’t. I wanted to temper the other side and make a list of wants, although looking at them now, a lot of them read like goals or regular efforts I’m going to do everyday, “I want to be better at _____” and “I want to _______ every day.” It’s good to have these too, although they don’t ground me like the facts do, they give me a vector and a “job” (that’s not the right word) that isn’t worrying about things that are on the fact list. They also snap the cycle of “how legit do I think these facts are?” because I’ve written them down, so they’ve got to be accurate – why would I write myself nonsense?
Doing that motivated me. I got up, I had breakfast, I started my day with a commitment to make it better than yesterday. Is today going to be tough? Yep. No doubt. But I’ve got these tools and I’ve got this resolve, so I’m going to do the best I can (and honestly, it wouldn’t be hard to have a better today than yesterday, that’s a low-ass bar). Then seconds after I got out of the shower (Hello, ladies.), I got a chance to express this plan and what is more or less this blogpost verbally. I’m a verbal guy. Words have a ton of meaning to me, so if I can say to someone, “I’m going to do this better” you can bet I’ll do everything I can to do it, and then exceed it.
Which brings us to right now. I sat down to write this post, knowing full well my mental health posts get as much traction as a running puppy on a wood floor, but I don’t care. Words have meaning and power, so I’m writing this down.
So onward. To make today better. To not be anxiety and codependency’s bitch. To celebrate the good. And put away laundry. And read a book. And pay some bills.
Maybe not in that order.
Yes, I swear, we’ll talk about writing and publishing next.