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Shifting Gears: Part 2
I was raised on a farm, and as much as I hated it sometimes, I didn’t know how good I had it. I had specific chores that had to be done before and after school every day. I was responsible for getting myself to the bus or driving my sister and I. More or less, I knew what would happen each day, and I was left to my own devices to make sure things got done, because there would be some very strong pressures (groundings, being yelled at, animals being unwell) if I didn’t perform the way I was supposed to. I still had maladaptive behaviours that would make my tasks feel impossible, such as staying up all night even though I would have to feed the animals in the morning, but I didn’t have the choice of sleeping in, so I got up, and eventually I might start to feel better if I wasn’t too far gone. I got straight A’s and graduated top of my class (at the last of the five schools that I attended.)
When I left home, everything went to crap. Now, you might think that having university classes would make me get up and go, but since there was no one to yell at me at home for missing school, I went less and less often, being less and less present, not completing homework, retaking classes, asking for second chance after second chance, until finally dropping out. I have yet to complete my degree, and I don’t know if I ever can. Not without some serious internal strengthening.
I tried making promises to myself, making schedules and budgets and planning everything down to the T. taking all the stuff from therapy and really trying to plan how I was going to make it happen, and trying to make myself stick to it with some reward system or another. One thing about us is that we are motivated to change. But the reason that diagnoses matter is that certain people need different things to be able to do so, otherwise we just pile up failed attempts until we give up completely. And honestly, why wouldn’t we give up? If someone asked you to learn how to make crème brulee by watching videos like everyone else, when what you needed was an instruction manual that included the history of the dessert, you’ll have a lot of smashed ramekins and a sticky mess everywhere, and you’ll think there’s something wrong with you.
Today really hit home the fact that I require external regulation because, as mentioned, I’ve been feeling like absolute hot garbage, but I had a bit of an unplanned layover between tasks and ended up at a business centre with a beautiful indoor garden. Stone steps, huge plants, fish ponds, waterfalls, the works. I was absolutely delighted. So I sat down to have some lunch and watch the fish, and then I checked on some work things, and watched a funny video from one of my colleagues that had me laughing out loud. I finished going through messages, the only task that I set for myself in an effort to be gentle, and when I was walking out of there I caught myself smiling. But then I felt sad and confused about why that’s what it took to get me out of my funk. Why couldn’t I just think positive and feel better on my own?
This has been the same thought that I’ve come back to over and over again. Whenever I’m coming up for air after an episode, a different sort of episode begins, one that has less to do with processing my disorders and more attacking the core of my character. One where I conclude that there’s something irredeemably wrong with me, something stemming from an irreconcilable flaw. I conclude that I’m unlovable, that I’ll never be able to have a normal life or achieve any of my goals. I’m nothing but a cliché and a statistic, and nothing I do will ever make things better.
Maybe some of these things sound familiar. I almost went there today. But then I realized that I could either beat myself up about it or I could accept it. And honestly, beating myself up about means that I get to wallow and lay down and avoid the pesky complications that come with positive change, so that sounded pretty good to me. Trying is terrifying. But maybe I’ll try just a little, for just a little bit.
The fact that I require external regulation does not mean that I’m not responsible for my own life. Just like the victim of a natural disaster can’t just give up responsibility for repairing their house. However, some people have a hammer and nails, others have power tools. Technically, they “can” finish the job with the primitive tools, just like someone technically “can” stop a bookshelf from falling on them while a hurricane is wrecking the house. But it’s so complicated and requires so much brute strength that it leaves no room for anything else afterward, and the chances of getting permanently injured are high. Just like when you and I try to brute strength our way into mental health. Instead, with the right tools and support, we have a better chance. The work still needs to be done, and half-measures will mean a problem down the line that we’ll have to fix all over again. But if we can figure out a way to make things easier, why not?
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13