TL;DR: Trust me. Anything seen up close and personal is way better than seeing it on an a screen.
Originally Written: 13-Mar-2020
Word Count: 2316
Read Time: 8 minutes
What’s the difference between viewing photos of a glacier online and seeing one in person?
Living vicariously through someone else’s experiences can certainly bring us joy or help us catch a glimpse of what things are like, but we frankly cannot know, we cannot empathize or relate, unless we have been immersed into the same pools of experience as another. How else does one know what the water feels like unless they’ve taken a dip themselves? I’m not talking about just dipping one’s toes in to test the water, I’m talking full immersion here.
This is what is important for people with mental health disorders to understand and for people who do not understand people with them need to get. Unless you’ve been through the ringer, the most you can do is sympathize with that individual’s experience. Even among people with similar mental health disorders and ailments, the experiences of the mind is unique to the person containing it in their heads. We are mental snowflakes.
What I have learned over time from trying to grow out of my own trauma is people with mental health disorders can come across as narcissistic. More pointedly, I can be narcissistic, even when I think I’m looking out for others’ well-being, namely if it is ultimately just trying to serve myself and my own megalomania.
As a person who is obsessive compulsive, I spent years feeling like I had to prove to people, specifically family members, that I had a problem. When I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, OCD, and bipolar disorder, it still struck a few chords within me and I related with the disorders as if they were all I was. I viewed myself as a robot that had been programmed for survival due to the experiences I went through and was stuck repeating the same stupid patterns and behaviors of pleasing people and seeking attention ad infinitum for the rest of my life. I immersed myself into my condition as the human I was and felt stuck in this pool I’ve been spending years trying to figure out the name of. I knew I was different and didn’t know why. It wasn’t until I was asked what kind of person would exhibit the behaviors I noted I had problems with that did it hit me in the head like a ton of bricks.
I collapsed under the weight of such news initially, as already implied. I didn’t know how to deal and I felt stuck dealing with my continuous ruminating to the point that I would self isolate. I wanted to hide from others at risk of showing myself for my complexes. Even though everyone has them, mine are more obvious to read, this being before you consider the fact I am an open book for vultures to feed off of and spill the tea about when I inevitably slip.
It makes sense that I’m a narcissist, really.
When you spend a majority of your childhood tending to the needs of a mother who couldn’t deal with life enough to show you affection, you inevitably ask the question of whether you’re going to get any level or attention for your efforts, especially in the same degree you had to provide. You begin to ask if you even matter unless you’re doing something for them. You try continuously to impress this person because their love means something to you, perhaps everything. They raise you as a person who believes they must to do everything in their power to make sure others are happy at all times, only to pull the rug from underneath you as soon as you’ve settled on a working formula. Love is deprived from you as a mechanism for coaxing you into action. Your actions become motivated by the desire to just be loved over whether you even wanted to do said action in the first place. You begin to resent your mother after being tricked continuously into putting up with a living situation that is sucking the lifeforce out of you. You decide you have had enough and want to live with your father, only for your mother to respond by making an attempt on her own life and blaming it on you not loving her.
So frankly, when it comes to wanting to be loved for who I am, I don’t know who I am when I am not of service to others. I need to be needed in order to feel wanted or even desirable to be around.
It’s not my fault, but it is my circumstance.
When I hear Gaga’s latest song ‘Stupid Love’ I cannot help but think of how silly all of my actions can be at times just to avoid the pain of someone not liking or loving me for that matter, of not feeling needed.
All I ever wanted was love.
I wish it was as easy as shouting “I want your stupid love” to get my mother to act like a mother because as an adult I get to deal with the aftermath of feeling like my choices have to consider the perspectives of others before they leave the front door of my mind’s home. I can barely get some thoughts to put their shoes on before I decide they are not good enough for SOMEONE and put it them rest. Save those thoughts for yourself, silly boy.
So, instead, I ruminate. Constantly.
I ruminate on past mistakes, current mistakes, and potential future mistakes. I ruminate on what I could have done differently, I question if I’m enough for what is coming ahead. I doubt myself even though I am a person who has only proven themselves to be capable of handling every problem life has thrown at them because ‘next time could be different’.
I ruminate because I live in fear. Fear of the fact that doing what I actually want in a moment could hurt someone because my mother has made more attempts on her life than I can count on one hand, each time related to her skewed perceptions of reality as working against her. Each time I am made to feel as if I had the knife or pill bottle in my hand. That I made the choice to inflict harm onto her.
I don’t know what she’s going through. To me and everyone that has had it with her shit, she’s an absolute narcissist bent on serving the needs of numero uno.
But she needs help, just like I did.
With our childhoods in the rearview mirror, my mother has issues coping with the mistakes she made and uses substances to deal. She lets things go. She doesn’t take after herself.
Someone never taught her that no one is going to give a fuck about you more than you. That no one else can, no one else should. Really, no one else should.
I didn’t learn this on my own. I learned this from the help of dozens of people who each offered me their own slice of humble pie by sharing their perspective on my life when I made the choice of spilling my innermost thoughts. The most common response I’d get when sharing my experience of life was “I can sympathize, but I cannot empathize” – a most frustrating of answers to receive for someone wanting some solution to life that would help me unfeel the way I would feel.
Who the fuck is swimming in this pool of experience with me or is it really just me? I would wonder incessantly if I was really alone in how I would feel, how my ticks would manifest, or whether I’d ever be able to grow out of it all.
Turns out, sort of.
The longer a plant spends in a pot, the more its roots continue to grow to entrench itself into the containment nourishing what grows above. A plant must be uprooted if it is to find fresh soil and expose its roots to something greater than the space it is confined in to achieve new heights and foliage. This change is downright traumatizing for the plant, but is necessary for new growth. That is what talk therapy was like for me. That is what taking SRIs was like for me. That is what addressing my trauma was like for me.
I can only speak for myself. This is my pool we’re swimming in right now.
It was unnatural, it was foreign, it was scary. I didn’t think I could handle going back to therapy, a place where my mother frankly abused the opportunity to sort out issues as a place to gaslight and play victim. Each week I was put on the defendant stand and had to fight through the lies in attempts to get to a point where I could say how I actually felt, which was fucking anxious as fuck.
I’m anxious all the fucking time. Almost as a default.
When I wake, I’m anxious about the day. When I get to work, I am anxious about how I will perform that day or what email is going to start my next fire to put out. When I get home, I’m anxious about what I’m doing with my life and whether I’ll make an effort to go outside that day. When I get outside, I’m anxious about looking like I know what I’m doing and feel the need to have a direction or purpose to even both going outside. When I am with people, I am anxious about what they’re thinking about me, whether it be close friends or complete strangers. When I am interested in someone, I am anxious about whether I am saying the right things, being too much, or not being enough.
My anxiety is like that of the tide, it comes in and it goes out but, either way, there are always ripples in the water. It’s easier to manage when I’m rested, fed, and have adequate balance from my obsession of work, but holy shit does it rear its ugly head from time to time. The noise can be incessant.
I can’t control it at times and, frankly, it controls me when problems arise or I feel I’ve made a mistake. I go into damage control mode and am trying to survive the moment because I feel I’m in literal deep shit and will drown in it if I don’t do something, anything, to address whatever my mind has fixated on as an issue – I freak out.
All I ever wanted was love.
Meditation has perhaps been the most insight-granting practice I have adopted to date.
Meditation is helpful for anyone with anxiety, whether infrequent or rampantly constant. It calms the waters of my mind, if even for a minute or ten.
Meditation is how you find a reason to love yourself through moments of anguish and uncertainty by immersing yourself in your own experience.
Meditation is an active measure of creating space in your life for yourself to experience something that is always there, your breath.
Your breath is there for you to come back to whenever you’ve gone astray from the thoughts in your mind that grant you comfort.
What meditation has taught me most is based all in how you actually meditate, which is to pick a spot where you can feel your breath and focus in on the sensation of it going in and out.
Eventually you get distracted and herein lies the whole game of it all. The point of meditation, at least for me, is not to actually focus on your breath, it is to practice the act of compassionately bringing yourself back on track with your breath once you’ve noticed your monkey mind running astray.
The act of compassionately returning back to your breath over and over again works to build the mindfulness muscle in your brain and increases your awareness in moments when you are not meditating, or at least that’s the experience I’ve had after immersing myself in such a practice.
Translating that into daily practice, I apply such a lesson to matters surrounding exercising, working, socializing, and romance. Whenever I come into awareness I am ‘off track’ with where I want to be, I practice compassionately bringing myself back to where I want to be.
Why? Because that’s all you CAN do.
Doing anything else only furthers the cause of falling more off track with your true intentions. Then you have to deal with both the mistake of falling off track and the act of berating yourself, which is anything but healthy self talk. You won’t get a medal for how much you beat yourself up. Shaming yourself is not how you restore integrity or take responsibility for your actions.
You just do better. You just be better.
That’s all you can do. Expecting anything more is expecting the unreasonable and only sets you up for further disappointment.
So what am I getting at here?
All I ever wanted was love and that’s all I really needed from myself.
And guess what? You can give it to yourself in the absence of what you want.
You can free yourself from the chain, find your own peace, and protect yourself from your own pain, one barely focused breath at a time.
All I ever wanted was love.
And now I have it.
But don’t just take my word for it. Immerse yourself into yourself and really feel the waters of your mind. What do they feel like? Choppy? Rough? Placid? Tranquil? You won’t really know how to swim in such waters unless you give yourself a chance to really feel what you’re experiencing.
Enjoy the water, it’s yours to have and no one else gets to experience it, so own it.
Make the best of it.
Things could always be worse.