[Written 31st October, 2014]
“What I’d like you to do is try to get outside every day; enjoy the sunshine” – my psychiatrist, yesterday.
Well, that doesn’t seem too bad! That list of things to do is a whole lot shorter and easier than my list! Having only directions to do that one simple task feels like such a relief comparing to the humongous growing beast that is my list of things I should do but most likely won’t be able to do and so will keep snowballing onto each subsequent day!
Go outside; enjoy the sunshine. Pretty straight forward, pretty simple. Okay. Cool.
What about the rest of the massive list I had? What do I do with that?
My GP: ” Pretend you’re a patient with diabetes. You don’t blame yourself every time you get a high or a low, it just is what it is – its the condition. You do what you can: take your insulin, have some sugar, exercise, check it again later to see where it’s at. You complain to your doctor – it’s my job to fix it, not yours. Don’t blame yourself, don’t start a forensic examination of what you did wrong. This is different to physical tiredness that you brought on by exercise. This is being down; it’s just the condition, you can’t do anything about it except what you’re already doing – medications, personal development, psychiatrist/psychologist/GP, self monitoring. Nothing you do or think can make you high or low. But if you’re feeling off, come and tell me about it early so I can do something to fix it.
Do what you can, and if you can’t do anything and its a bad day, that’s fine just don’t panic and think you’re falling off the rails. This is a mood cycling disorder. It wouldn’t be called a cyclothymia if it didn’t cycle! That’s the nature of it. It’s not something gone wrong, or you did something bad, it just is that way because it is that way. If you can do stuff, do; otherwise just take it easy and try to keep a positive attitude”.
Do what you can, and if you can’t – don’t. Pretty logical. If you can’t do anything, by definition…you can’t. If you can’t you can’t – so why are you still expecting yourself to do something? Why do you still have a list of shoulds and must dos and have to dos? A list of want to dos; sure. You can always have that. Motivation is always helpful. But stop forcing it.
I guess the reason this is hard for me is that I expect a lot from myself, and I’m still not convinced that I have the authority to say, I can’t do that today. Or this week. And I’m not sure of what I can’t do versus what I don’t think I can do, what feels like it will be a huge effort, what feels hard or awful and what I don’t want to do. But then if I have any of those feelings it’s probably an indication that I can’t, right? Or is it? Maybe if I tried a bit harder, maybe if I pushed myself…and here we go around again! What’s the right answer? Will I ever know? Or will I forever doubt myself and my own judgement, my own feelings and thoughts, my own authority, my own ability and commitment, my own conviction?
Don’t blame yourself. What a liberating statement. Every time I hear it said to me by someone that knows what they’re talking about or who I feel is qualified to give that as an instruction, it lifts so much weight of my shoulders! It’s almost a literal bodily feeling of weight and responsibility being lifted and taken away. It’s magic!
When I say someone who is qualified, it gets tricky. Mainly I mean my GP and my psychiatrist, sometimes my hubby (but I’m afraid he’s going easy on me!} and sometimes other people who have been through mental illness themselves. My brain works in this way that if anyone else said it, I couldn’t rely on or trust their words because I don’t know why they would be qualified to tell me not to blame myself; how would they know?
So I apologise if you are the kind hearted person trying to be consoling or comforting but for some reason my brain needs evidence of your qualification to give advice before I am able to give myself a break of any kind! I do wish it wasn’t like that; it was make life much simpler and easier for me.
I think some of this way of thinking is because we were brought up to believe strongly in the consequences of our actions. I couldn’t take bits of bark out of the garden to write on the concrete with the other girls because if every one in the school did that, there would be no bark left. I needed to get up early enough to make my lunch for school otherwise I wouldn’t have lunch. If we stayed outside too late after school we would get the coughs (which I finally realised in my university studies was asthma!). I was a big girl and I needed to remember to bring my jumper home every day. If I forgot to feed and water my canary he would die. Etc.
That’s just how we were raised. And in lots of ways it’s been good. Almost every school report from prep to Year 12 had the word ‘conscientious’ or the phrase ‘helps people’ or ‘thinks of others’.
But it’s been very problematic for me while I’ve been sick, because my default setting is blaming myself. This sort of thinking also stopped me from getting medical attention for my moods and anxiety for a long time because I instinctively thought that the reason I wasn’t functioning well because I wasn’t eating well enough, exercising enough, drinking enough, sleeping enough, keeping myself in a good routine enough etc etc! So I made a deal with myself that when all of those conditions were perfect then if I still wasn’t okay I’d go to the doctor.
This is a very bad idea! Any condition of any kind is better treated as soon as possible and that is certainly true in regards to mental illness. Delaying only leads to potentially poorer response to therapy, likely worse outcomes in terms of suicide attempts and more pain and sorrow to be endured. Plus, getting every one of those conditions perfect is something that takes a LOT of time and effort and really isn’t a very nice way to treat yourself. It might not even be physically possible!
I saw a great quote the other day:
“Treat yourself kindly. Because what has being mean to yourself ever gotten you?”
I’ve been so glad for my treating team who repeatedly and patiently and clearly and helpfully explained to me, Danika, this is not your fault!
I know I’m slow to take it on board, but I’m so glad they persist with me! And insist on me being kinder and easier and less judgemental on myself. Which I’m trying to do….
So, outside, sunshine, no blame. That’s the plan; wish me luck!