I haven’t had a lot to show you this week, but it’s not that I haven’t been writing – there are a lot of words in a few drafts here, they’re just sprawling and unfocused and I can’t toss up any kind of conclusion. I’m having a hard time right now if you want to know the truth. A lot of stressful, expensive life shit coming up, but also the journey to mental health isn’t a straight line, as they say, and sometimes you fall in the Well again.
Last weekend I stumbled, because the previous week was too good. Yep. That’s the exciting world of trauma.
“Hey, so I see you got a gig. Seems like somebody thinks your work is good. I see you went on a date. Someone wants to be your friend. Of course… you know what’s going to happen, don’t you?
Of course you do.
You’ll show them that you’re utterly worthless and they were foolish even to offer an opportunity, and they will be angry at you for wasting their time by continuing to exist while not matching their exact specifications.
That person you went on a date with will discover any moment that you’re too broken to be a good friend, can’t offer anything to anybody, and then they’ll be hurt because you were so callous and stupid as to accept their offer of friendship.
You should have known better than to accept any of those things; look at you, you’re going to drop them any minute, and then everyone will find out how worthless you really are. It’ll happen sooner or later. Why not speed up the inevitable?”
I know I sound like I’m being dramatic here. I wish I could say that this isn’t exactly what happens inside me every time I’m offered any kind of opportunity. Any kind of help. Any kind of reward beyond the barest minimum I’ve earned. But this is it, the bottom of the Well. This is where I’ve lived for a very long time. I’m just starting to get out of it now. Last few weeks have been a little setback.
electrified steaks with legs and hats
But I am getting out. What’s interesting about that is… the first time, it was instantaneous. A bit of a mind flip. I’ve tried to write about this, and that’s one of the huge, sprawling drafts I’m failing to finish, because it’s very simple and yet very complex to explain. The short version is, I saw it one way, and then I found the right words to look at it another way, and suddenly my perspective shifted. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, and that was part of my certainty that if I ever fell down again, I would never get back up. How could I? How can you reproduce an epiphany?
It turns out that an epiphany is like anything else: if you slow it down enough, you can see that it’s composed of many different parts. Like anything else, it’s a chemical process, because that’s what we are, arrogant sacks of protoplasm, electrified steaks with legs and hats. Everything is chemicals, including all our emotions, and all the physical responses they create in our meat machines.
pick the miracle apart
How do I get back up again, when finding any kind of self-worth the first time was so hard that it felt like a miracle? Walk through the miracle again, slowly. Slower than that. Pick the miracle apart. Yes, this will diminish its glory. No, it doesn’t matter, because there are more miracles ahead, and this one you must know how to execute in your sleep.
Walk through all the steps we took again. We started with self-care. Eating food. Remember food? Drinking water, not just Coke. Man cannot live on caffeine alone. You slip on this stuff, not a lot, just a little over time. Usually when things are going well. Your good mood doesn’t feel as precarious, so you don’t stress too much when you forget to eat a time or three – this is different, you’re busy, you’re feeling better. And then it all crumbles away under your feet in an instant, and you’re right back where you started.
Remember the words we said. The things that really mattered, that expressed what we needed to say. Say them again. It feels so much stupider the second time, and it felt stupid as hell the first time, but grit your teeth harder if you have to, okay? Do it when nobody else is home. Take it seriously one more time for me. Just one more time, say the stupid words out loud.
I love you. I am right here beside you. I will never, ever leave you.
You’ve said that to a girlfriend or two, right? A child, maybe? Probably more than one. You can’t say it to yourself? I know, you’re rolling your eyes, what’s the point, that’s dumb. Sure, okay, if it’s dumb then why wouldn’t you just do it? Just do it for me, because I asked you to, and it’s dumb and it doesn’t matter, right? Why can’t you look yourself in the fucking face and say what you said to at least four girls in your twenties?
I love you. I believe in you.
I will not abandon you, no matter how many mistakes you make.
You are worth it. You are worth anything. You are worth the whole world to me.
If it makes you cry when you say it, that’s a sign that you need to say it more.
If you really, really don’t want to, if you’re ostentatiously not giving a shit, if you’re still rolling your eyes at me? That’s a sign too. You can ignore them as long as you like. Recovery isn’t a straight line, as I said, and I’m gonna mix my metaphors here, it’s like riding a bike. Sure, sure, with the falling and getting back up again business, that’s part of it.
What I mean is, when you’re learning to ride a bike, there’s this moment when you’re going, it’s working, you’re pedaling, and you get excited. You’re doing it! You’re really doing it! And you look back to see if your parents are watching – and turning around makes you wobble and crash. That crash is bad, the first fall where you had any kind of speed built up behind it, and it feels like you never want to try again. And when you do, you hesitate – you know what it feels like to fall now, how much it hurts, and you don’t want to feel that again. But when you hesitate, the bike wobbles. You have to pedal fast to stay up. So your fear makes you more likely to fall.
You’re going to fail at getting better again and again, and it’ll make you want to hesitate, make you scared to trust yourself. It’ll make the steps you took feel stupid and trite. You’ll doubt, you’ll look back, and when you look back, like Orpheus, you’re lost.
Go through it all again. Don’t just go through the motions – do it like a priest going through a ritual, a doctor doing their pre-surgery wash. You’ve done it a thousand times, and each time you do it carefully, lovingly, mindfully. Not because every time is important, but because that’s the kind of person you are. Because it’s important to you, not to anyone else, and what’s important to you matters.
“If you find yourself at the edge of a cliff and you’re wondering whether or not to jump… try jumping.”
– John Lennon
What can you hope to gain if you scoff your way through everything you do? That’s the thing about magic they’ve been telling us since the beginning, right? It only works if you truly believe that it will. Step forward with surety when you’re at your most unsure. If you’re headed at the cliff anyway, don’t walk off the cliff, god damn it, leap. Because it’s only exciting when you commit. Because it’s only fun when you try.
This is the thing. It’s not that every single day is going to be worth your time. It’s not that every single person is going to be good to you. It’s not that every single occasion is really worth putting on pants and getting all styled up for.
It’s that you are. You are worth doing those things, and a thousand things more.
Be honest with yourself. When you say, “Is it worth it? Should I bother? Should I ask for what I need? Should I insist on being treated well? Should I put effort into this thing that matters only to me?”
What you’re asking is, “Am I worth it?”
Start from the baseline assumption that you are. That’s your rock. You are worth any amount of effort… to you. You are worth any trouble, any amount of time spent making you happy… to you. This really shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but for a lot of us, it is. The idea that we have a right to prioritize self-care, the authority to decide what that looks like… the society we live in would like very much to squash that idea. It would like very much to decide what your self-care should look like, so that it can sell it back to you at bargain summer prices.
That means that self-care is a radical act. So stick it to the man.
Say it. Once more, with feeling:
My needs and boundaries do not make me unreasonable or crazy.
I can and will defend my self-care ferociously.
I am entitled to decide what constitutes self-care, and to change that definition as I see fit.
When I disregard self-care for even a few days, I quite literally risk my own life.
I am worth the trouble.