Not My Fault. Still My Responsibility.

We are each completely responsible for every single decision we ever make. We have to live with the consequences of all situations and decisions, even ones that are not our fault. “Living with consequences of your decisions” is another way of saying “being responsible for your life”.

I do believe that some decisions we make are not completely voluntary, in the sense that sometimes the mind allows us to believe things that are incorrect, especially during psychotic episodes. Other times, there are decisions of inaction caused by severe depression. But no matter where in your brain the decision came from, no matter how impaired you were when you made the decision, even if it was not your fault, you are still completely responsible for what happens afterward. Many common situations in mental illness will not be your fault at all, but you’re still responsible for how you decide to react.

If you’re mad right now, then you’re not listening. Calm down, and I’ll explain.

There are tons of things that are not our fault but are still our responsibility. Mental illness is not your fault at all. But how you respond to it is still completely your responsibility. If I have a panic attack in a grocery store, that panic attack is not my fault. But I will still have to take responsibility by deciding what to do about it. I could decide to leave. I could decide to do a breathing exercise. I could strip naked, wear my underwear as a hat, and run through the store screaming the lyrics to “I Will Survive”. I could even decide to ask someone else what to do, and yes, even for that decision I am responsible.

Deciding to delegate to a stable person or choosing inaction are also still decisions. I know all too well that deep depression can keep me inert. I may not be able to get out of bed some days. Just like with the panic attack, this is not my fault. But making decisions is still always my responsibility, which means I will be directly affected by any action or inaction that I choose. Whatever decision I make, I am responsible for how I respond to that situation, and I will be responsible for the next situation that my decision brings me to. Making a decision about anything is taking responsibility.

Everything in your life affects you in some way, and your reaction to each situation directly affects you with its outcome. You are already responsible for yourself and your decisions, so actively recognizing the power you have always had is a tool that can vastly and rapidly change the way you see yourself and your personal power to affect change. People who can correctly identify the times in which they can choose between different outcomes have a higher sense of stability and self-worth.

Whether we actually have free will or not, we still are forced by our own brains to live as though we do have free will. Taking responsibility for every single decision you make, plus the consequences of each of those decisions, is the single most empowering thing you can do with your mind (I’d rank mindfulness as the second most empowering). Once you take complete responsibility for everything in your life, regardless of whose fault it is, you realize that you contain immeasurable power, including the power to change yourself and your life through the decisions you make every day.

 

Whose Pain Is Bigger?

Life is full, FULL, FULL of pain! Life hurts. A lot.

But that’s okay.

And it has to be okay. It has to be normal. We walk from problem to problem with the hope of turning our current problems into better ones in the future, not with the hope of creating a problem-less life.

Everyone hurts, and it’s true that some lives hurt worse than others. However, playing “whose pain is greater” only fosters a lack of empathy.

My husband had an abusive childhood and thoroughly nightmarish upbringing. He has revealed more about it, little by little, over the past seven years. I’ve had many close friends who were willing to share their darkest traumas with me, and no one’s story holds a candle to my husband’s. For the sake of his privacy, I’m not going into detail, but trust me when I say that “nightmarish” is the most appropriate word, if a nightmare can last 18 years.

My husband does not complain about his misfortune. He acknowledges it and takes ownership of it. He knows he’s fully responsible for his reaction to his trauma, even though he now has severe C-PTSD and the trauma itself was not his fault. Part of the response he has chosen is to not play “whose pain is bigger?” with other people’s horrible childhood stories. It would be easy for him to gain a quick emotional high by claiming that he was hurt worse, and therefore deserves more pity. In fact, the superiority high a person gets by playing “whose pain is bigger?” is usually the reason people play it in the first place. It feels good to feel superior, and saying “my pain is bigger than yours, so mine is more important” is a quick and easy way to get that superior feeling.

Some pain is bigger than others. But as humans, this knowledge does us no good. It harms us by robbing us of our empathy. My husband has to consciously work to be empathetic to others because, whether he wants to or not, he knows his childhood was worse than most. His saving grace is in knowing that comparing and quantifying suffering will preemptively end any empathy he’d be capable of in the first place. So, he tries to be self-aware enough to reiterate in his own mind the idea that he is choosing to listen and respond compassionately instead of letting himself ride the high of superiority-through-suffering. Even though he must internally acknowledge that his pain is bigger (because it usually is), he knows that’s not an excuse for him to be an asshole to someone else, especially a person who is being brave enough to share their pain with him.

I was never abused. I still turned out to be an extremely mentally and emotionally abnormal adult (and I know “abnormal” is not a PC word to use, but this is me identifying myself as I see appropriate- don’t yuck my yum). Statistically, among other mentally ill people, my case is more severe than most. However, if I decide that my pain is more important than yours, I will withhold my empathy for you and will treat you without compassion. This response comes from the same place as someone telling you to “snap out of it,” “just get over yourself,” or “don’t be a baby.” I think most people with mental illness would agree that those three things are horrible, terrible things to say to a person who is admitting to the pain in their life. They are cold, heartless, mean things to say. Most of us know how badly it hurts to hear them. However, even people with mental illness can still become shortsighted when we compare our pain to others’. We feel superior in our suffering, and since we enjoy that feeling, we allow ourselves to treat others poorly because of it.

If the quantity of suffering determined the worth of a person’s problem (it does not), we would all just move through the world as if we were better, more unique, more victimized, or more deserving than anyone who has not had our problems. The real issue here is…

I see this all the time.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t speak honestly about your pain. I’m not even saying you shouldn’t complain. I’m saying stop comparing your life to anyone else’s, especially when it comes to your struggle.

As I said before, life hurts a lot.

It is supposed to hurt, you are supposed to struggle, and you need to continue to be compassionate while you, personally, are actively hurting and struggling. Because everyone else is hurting and struggling, too, and no two struggles are equal when quantified. If you expect people to listen to you without judgment when you express your pain, you owe it to them and your own humanity to listen with equal compassion.

It doesn’t matter who hurts worse. Everyone should measure themselves by how closely their behavior aligns with their own values instead of measuring themselves against another person. The measure of success is unique to each human on the planet. The measure of pain is equally unique. 100% of what I can feel before breaking may be 30% for you (way easier) and 500% for someone else (deadly). So even if you suspect that you were hurt more than someone else, it does you no good to assume a position of superior suffering.

Empathy is the greatest tool we have for improving humanity. Unbridled empathy could solve homelessness, healthcare, war, poverty, famine, and global warming. Unfortunately, we tragically lack enough empathy worldwide to solve these problems on a macro scale. We are, in so many areas in our lives, only capable of making a difference on a micro scale; we can only influence those close to us. For this reason, you should actively exercise empathy as much and as often as possible. Your difference in the world will be seen most in the people around you.

I know you hurt because we all hurt. I hear your pain and your struggle, and I want you to know that your pain is valid. Just promise, promise, you’ll remember that everyone else’s pain is valid, too.

Angry At Everything

I’m really struggling, and I just want to be heard. Please hear me. Please don’t be offended.

I need to vent.

This is me angry. I’m not angry at you. Please keep that in mind. I just need someone to hear me say all of this. I need it out. I need it said. You’re my readers, so I’m having faith in you that you will still follow me after you read all this mess that I just want out of me.

I almost feel like I don’t have a right to complain about my circumstances, but fuck it, I need to do it. Some things feel like poison if you keep them inside. My therapist says “Some things just need to be said.”

I am angry.

I’m angry that I’m not autonomous. There are so many “normal” things that most people take for granted that I just can’t do. And since I don’t look sick, people around me assume I can do normal, daily things like

  • drive: It’s too dangerous. I’ve been in two car accidents, and now when I get behind the wheel I get terrified and tremble. My family is also uncomfortable with me driving. I haven’t driven a vehicle in over a year.
  • walk through a grocery store without having my soul catch fire with anxiety, which usually triggers a dissociative dysphoric episode: It leaves me confused and dumb, unable to complete simple tasks. When I dissociate, I lose my rights as an autonomous adult: I am not allowed to use knives, the stove, or our gas heaters (our only source of heat, so if I’m by myself, I just stay cold). It’s not safe for me to wash the dishes. I can’t plug in or unplug appliances because it’s too dangerous. I can’t go for a walk by myself because I might get lost. All of this, triggered by 20 minutes in a grocery store.
  • have any sort of conflict without shaking like a leaf for hours afterward: In any scenario involving someone having a negative feeling that I caused or a scenario in which I’m nervous or feel judged, my hands start to shake. Actually, my whole body shakes, but the tremors in my hands are the most visible. I’ve had people tell me to calm down and not be so nervous. I lie and say I have a tremor from a seizure disorder. It’s close to true, but not the truth.
  • have any strong feeling without crying: this is typical of dissociative disorders, which I learned about recently, when my doctor added “dissociative disorder” to my official diagnosis. It is very inconvenient, and even more embarrassing. I can’t stop it. A very strong feeling can make me cry anywhere: the store, out to dinner, in a movie theater, in the mall, at the salon… I can’t escape it, and it hits me hard where the self-esteem lives. It makes me feel like a child if I’m in front of other people. These strong feelings, followed by crying, usually lead to the same kind of episode I described in the grocery store.
  • remember anything about a movie a few days after I watched it: I have no retention. I forget everything. When my husband mentions a movie, I hardly ever know anything about it and have no clue whether I’ve seen it or not. Last night, we watched a comedy special that I had already seen 3 times, but I was convinced that we were watching a slightly altered movie because parts of it were completely new to me.
  • remember a date with a friend even if it was important to me: Like I said, I forget everything. This includes friend dates and family dinners at my parents’ house. I can be told the day before and still forget and miss the meeting. For doctors’ appointments, I write down the appointment on the paper calendar on the wall and put a reminder in my phone. It’s not so easy to remember to put every date in my phone right away. That’s a skill I’m trying to cultivate because at least I have that little bit of control.

I can’t do these things. And these are only some my limitations. These are all part of my disability. If I’m being measured by healthy standards, I will always fall short of what I “should” be. I will always fail.

I don’t want to be measured by healthy standards because I don’t want to be a disappointment or a failure. But I don’t get to choose how I’m measured. I can live up to my own expectations all I want, it doesn’t stop me from being a problem for other people.

I need you to hear this because I need SOMEONE to hear this. It’s exhausting to constantly be failing in the eyes of others, especially when I am absolutely powerless to change the scope of my abilities. I didn’t ask for this, I did not choose this for myself, but I’m responsible for it and it’s something that becomes a problem for the people that I love. And it’s a problem I can’t fix. I can apologize all I want and still be stuck in the limbo of watching other people get disappointed or irritated or angry with me over things that I can’t change.

I fight to get healthy and stay healthy because I know that if I don’t fight, if I don’t keep this as under-control as possible, it will exhaust my support system and people will start giving up on me. I don’t want to be put in care because I have no one left who can put up with me. If I did not stay on top of my pill schedule, keep my blood sugar level, exercise, go to all my therapy appointments, use coping skills to get through most of the day, and do everything I can to keep this under control, I would lose everything.

To people on the outside, I’m sure it looks like I have it extremely easy. No job. Not many bills. There’s nothing I can do to change that perception outside of telling people the reality of my situation one person at a time and trying to find a way for them to relate to things they’ve never experienced. But I don’t know how to communicate what a dissociative episode is like. I can’t bottle the essence of dysphoric mania. I can’t describe the terror of delusions and paranoia. Sure, I can describe a hallucination, but the relatability stops there, at the physical. How could they possibly know how it feels to be hungry but do not know how to make food, or even what I can eat? How could they know how it feels to be terrified of making even a tiny decision, like which candy to buy? Or to be cold and be afraid to light the gas heater? Or to have to rely on the emotional and monetary charity of others daily, just to survive? Or to watch myself upset people over and over in so many different ways because of things that I am responsible for but not able to change?

This is not a pity party. This is an expression of anger. I’m angry at my circumstances and my brain. I’m angry at my limitations. I’m angry at my life. I’m angry because most people don’t understand that by healthy standards, I am always going to fail. These are things that I need to be said, and I’m also angry because I don’t think this will be well-received, and may even fall on deaf ears. If you’re still reading, thank you for falling down this hole with me. It’s dark and lonely down here. Knowing that someone will read this is what is sustaining me today.

I don’t deal well with anger. I don’t deal well with any strong feeling. I can’t help it. I’m getting ready to double up on therapy to try to get more control, faster. I know I’m exhausting my support system. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Just continue to fuck up and continue to say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness? I don’t see any options. Just the shitty, shitty status quo. But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix it. So I’m sitting here, terrified of losing everyone, terrified of exhausting everyone, terrified of hurting everyone. I’m scared. I want to fix it. I want to fix myself. I’m trying, I promise I’m trying. And I’ll keep trying. I’m so tired of saying “I’m sorry.”

I know I just have to keep moving forward. Therapy helps me gain some control over my feelings and thoughts, but not the chemicals in my brain. My self-esteem is shot to shit right now, so I’ve got to build that back up. I feel worthless. I’ll keep doing what I can to change.

 

Post-Script: I wrote this during a dissociative and mixed-state episode, and it began as a letter to my partner. I decided to edit and then publish it even though I’m worried that it may be offensive to some people. Not everything in this is objectively true: my partner assures me (he’s an honest person when it comes to my shortcomings) that I’m not exhausting him or my support system. The problem with incorrect thinking inspired by negative feelings is that I believe all of the horrible things I tell myself, which increases my fear and despair. In the moment I wrote this, none of it felt like hyperbole. In the moment, I was sure I’d lose my partner, my family, and my friends because I was too large a burden and not worth the effort. Self-esteem is a bouncing ball for me, and that day, I was on the floor.

If you live with mental illness, please, please recognize that your thoughts lie to you when you feel bad. They can make you feel worthless. They can make you believe horrible things about yourself and your life that are simply not true. You eventually see that when you come out the other side. If you’re stuck right now in a place where you hate yourself and think other people hate you too, and if it might be a while before you see daylight again, you’re going to have to take your own thoughts and beliefs with a grain of salt. That grain of salt is “I cannot be sure this is objectively true. No matter how true it feels, I cannot be sure it’s true.” Take those thoughts and beliefs to someone else to help you confirm or deny the truth of your beliefs. Then, trust that person to tell you the truth. This takes some practice and some courage, but asking others to help you fact-check is amazingly therapeutic. I had to take these feelings to my partner in order to figure out what was true and what wasn’t.

I’m not worthless, and I’m not exhausting anyone. The rest, unfortunately, is true.

 

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I Am Disabled

Conv Bloodshot Earth.jpegI don’t like that I’m not supposed to say that I’m disabled. I was told recently that what I’m supposed to say is “person living with a disability.” I was told this by a healthy person with healthy privilege. Something is not right here.

I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet my cat on the idea that a healthy person coined the idea of  “people living with disabilities.”

I am completely supportive of trying to make the world a kinder place, and if saying only “a person living with a disability” instead of “a disabled person” is what we need to do to make people with disabilities (which I am not opposed to saying as long as “disabled person” is still something people can call themselves) feel more accepted, safe or supported, I will do it. But I will not give up my right to call myself disabled.

The word “disabled” is incredibly powerful to me. It took me years to accept that I am truly limited in a way that most people aren’t. Before I accepted that I was disabled, I measured my life against healthy standards instead of standards that are realistic for someone with my disorders. Because I did not yet acknowledge Continue reading

The Abnormal Life

 

A person with multiple severe mental illnesses, like myself, will never lead a “normal” life. We are not neurotypical, and cannot lead neurotypical lives. We live our own special brand of abnormal lives. These lives can be worthwhile, rich, and rewarding, even though they do contain immense suffering.

Of course, trying to get as close to normal as possible is the first big goal of treatment. Medicine, therapy, and coping skills are meant to help minimize symptoms and pain. Medication is more than half the battle, so seeing a psychiatrist and making sure you keep up to date on prescriptions is the biggest single step you can take. If you do not yet have medical treatment, you will need to work out a plan to get to a psychiatry appointment. You can involve loved ones in this. Do not be shy about asking for help. Your quality of life is on the line, and I guarantee you that you have at least one person in your life who does not want you to suffer. Ask that person to take you to the doctor. You deserve to have treatment. You deserve to live in less pain. You deserve to have your needs met.

Finding the right medicine can take time, but sticking with it until your cocktail is correct is worth the time and suffering of the trial and error process. The long-term goal is remission, and the short-term goal is the amelioration of pain. It can feel hopeless, but please don’t give up. Medicine is the cornerstone of your recovery.

Mindfulness is another coping skill available to you. Mindfulness, an immensely helpful tool, is the practice of experiencing the present moment exactly as it is without passing judgment. The present moment is not good or bad, it’s just what is. You can learn to step back from your thoughts and accept the present moment, and doing so can give you some immediate relief. When you are mindful, you are not worried about anything that is going to happen in the future and you do not regret anything that happened in your past. You ground yourself firmly in the present. There is an abundance of information on how to be mindful on Mindful – healthy mind, healthy life, which is full of techniques for developing this skill that can serve you for years to come. Learning to be mindful will be helpful almost immediately. Continue reading