I have had A LOT of people tell me A LOT of things I don’t want to hear. You didn’t get the part you wanted; the boy doesn’t like you that way; we can’t accept you to this program; you didn’t get the job; this medication won’t work; I can’t help you – the list goes on and on.
Lately, those things I don’t want to hear are less about not getting things, but about how to be or act or what I have to do. You have to attend, you need to help me, you have to do this for me.
I like helping people. I don’t think most people go into non-profits unless they want to help people (it’s certainly not for the money or the benefits or work hours.) But lately, those requests feel guilt-ridden, imposing, and detrimental to my progress. To clarify, these tasks aren’t imposing because someone is asking me to do something – it’s because A) they aren’t asking, they’re telling, making it not a “choice,” B) they don’t leave room for me to say no, C) they do not accept, believe, or understand how the task can impact my mental health.
Maybe I’ve created this relationship with others. In my depression and fear of disapproval, I have created relationships with unhealthy boundaries where it is assumed I will do what needs to get done, no matter its’ impact on me. But for these past 1o months, I have spent all of this time trying to evaluate what is good for me: what should my life look like; who should be in it; what I should do with it, in order to make me strong, healthy, and happy. Lately, I’ve felt myself being pulled into situations I have managed to avoid while I have been trying to regain strength. It’s not like I didn’t know they were there. However, I was hoping to hold them off long enough until I felt strong enough to deal with them.
Instead, I have people pushing me around, not respecting my feelings, invading my personal boundaries, “asking” me to do things that make me feel uncomfortable, ashamed or sad. All of them fall under the guises of “family,” “friendship,” or “mature responsibility.” But they feel like guilt and disappointment. I was frustrated the other day because when I thought about telling someone I didn’t want to do something because I didn’t want to do it, I knew the only way they would understand is if I was in a psychiatric hospital, on my way there, or dead. Otherwise, my “excuse” wouldn’t be valid enough.
My therapist wants me to take ownership of my choices. She wants me to learn to say no and accept that others’ disappointment is something I have to learn to live with, but still shouldn’t change me from doing what I know is right for me. She wants me to speak up for myself, to feel confident in making my own decisions, and accepting that others might not understand and might not forgive but that is their choice, not mine.
I don’t think she is saying you don’t have to have responsibility in your life. You can’t always not go to work because you just don’t feel like doing an assignment. But you are allowed to tell people in your life, especially people who don’t understand the impact a social event or task might take on your well-being, that you cannot and will not do something.
But life is more complicated than that. There are things you have to do sometimes, even if you don’t want to. Deep in your heart, you can say no, but at the end of the day, you have to get up and be there and deal with the mental implications later.
For me, when someone tells me they are unable to do something for or with me, I may feel disappointed, but I understand why and I empathize with their reasoning. But I don’t think all people do that. I believe some people are programmed to “suck it up” and “take one for the team.” It reminds me of how people often tell those with depression to “think positive” and “work harder.” It’s not that I WANT to disappoint anyone, but I also don’t want to fall backwards and spend months trying to get back to the state I was in. I find myself agreeing or being dismissed and crying later at my weakness, frustration, and fear.
In the past two weeks my anxiety has increased, I have been unable to sleep, and I feel exhausted all the time, unable to go to the gym, cook, or basically do the tasks I find help make me feel better and provide me with strength. I am going to try and do the tasks I have been told to do. I am going to try and create spaces where I can have time alone, try and get to the gym, eat healthy, and take deep breaths. I’m not hopeful I will. I see myself falling back into old habits.
When all is said and done, I hope it won’t take too long to recuperate mentally and get back on track but I’m scared at how long that may take. As for the future, when these moments arise, I know I have to practice feeling the fear of anger and disappointment and siding with myself and maintaining my boundaries. I have to retrain my brain to not think of self-care as selfish but as sustainable maintenance. It’s a laughable goal – but I can’t imagine ever truly becoming stable without it.
Life (and yes, Pat Benatar, love) is a battlefield. Here I go, into battle, with very shitty armor.