Self-Stigmatization

doubt-494x329Deep down in the cockles of our hearts, or maybe below that, somewhere in the sub-cockle region (with a nod to Denis Leary), do any of us really think we deserve nice things? Some, not all, self-help gurus and life coaches might tell you that yes, absolutely, without a doubt you do and you need to hold onto that as a positive affirmation of your worthiness and go out and grab what you deserve because it’s yours and so on and so forth and you’re just terrific, the world sucks, it wants to suck you down with it but rise above it, and if you think good thoughts good things will come to you. The run-on sentence as a dramatic device, and this description of it as a confusing metaphor.

There’s a psychologist I know who dabbles in inspirational quotes and Internet memes, who once told me in a private conversation that she thinks those guys are mostly tools. I’m sure we have different takes on why, but I agree. They peddle fallacies and shallow motivation like skin cream meant to take away wrinkles; It saturates the surface, fills the crevices with moisture so they puff up for a little bit, and though it looks nice for a little while it never lasts long. But this little foray into things deeper isn’t about them. It’s about you.

Well, actually, mostly it’s about me, but I’ll share.

The other day I had an appointment with the mental health nurse who works with my shrink to go over some of the therapeutic options I’d discussed with him at our last meeting. She’s a wonderfully smiley, easy-going person, with an office specifically designed to put people at ease. It’s not the first time we’ve met, probably won’t be the last, and yet I am still riddled with anxiety. The physical signs are prominently featured: coat on and zippered up, legs tightly together and my hands often tucked under them, upper body leaning forward ready to bolt, awkward self-deprecating jokes about it all, and the guy in the penthouse upstairs standing in front of his picture windows watching, mumbling under his breath, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

That’s the thing, right there. My thinking brain, as the rest of me was on red alert, was actually wondering if I was faking the whole thing. It’s up there in its silk robe, sipping its lemonade, judging me. Judging itself, really (temporal paradoxes give me a headache). Maybe I really was just lazy and unmotivated. Maybe I didn’t have that work ethic everyone’s always talking about, and was sucking on the social welfare teat like every conservative politician and hard-working person out there supporting their families thinks people like me always are. Those thoughts are still lingering there in the corners even now.

A good friend of mine sent me a text last night to vent, as she knows she can without worrying about some useless platitude I might shoot back. She described a very good therapy session that she should’ve felt happy about, but instead wound up crying for the rest of the day.

“For some reason I just feel like I don’t deserve my freedom back. Like this is my punishment for being a horrible human being.

“Stupid right?”

Another friend, Natalie Harris (read her blog), made a Facebook post not long ago about experiencing an anxiety attack while at her son’s hockey game. Her own inner Yousuck McSmartypants woke up and she agonised over the same things I did, at that appointment.

Over the last few years, there’s been a hue and cry about the deep-rooted stigmas surrounding mental health, a strongly concerted effort to fight the old entrenched attitudes that seem to some like truths, but only because they’ve been taught as such for so many years. There’s been definite and quantifiable progress (yay us!). Awareness is right up there, and though in first responder circles the warrior culture, deeply planted and fighting tooth and nail to stay that way, is still an issue, many no longer feel the need to hide away so much anymore. And yet, despite all of that great effort and wonderfully satisfying movement forward, we do it to ourselves all the time.

I call it self-stigmatization because I like making up important sounding hyphenated words. It’s the practise of flagellation without the whip, in our minds, where our worst critics reside and have more power over us than anyone on the outside of our skin possibly could. We carry our own stigmas with us and apply them even as we feel their sting and reel away from it. We are our own, sharpest, pointy sticks of doom.

Neither Natalie and I are faking anything, I know that. I know that for a number of reasons, but right now I know it because my next door neighbour just turned on her shower and I leapt out of my chair like someone had kicked in my door (exaggerated startle response). My friend knows she’s not a horrible human being, but a smart, feeling, reasonable person in the middle of a hard fight (and winning it, albeit agonisingly slowly). I know that because she reached out to tell me, though not in those particular words, and probably not intending to.

You may not know it yet. You may still slap your head and get angry at yourself, criticise your failure to rise above, to be positive, to struggle for that happiness the Interwebs tell you is yours for the taking if you only just change your attitude, but maybe this will help a little: When that sanctimonious self-defeating prick in his silk robe scowls at you, look him straight in the eye, acknowledge he’s there (and roll your eyes at him because he hates that), then tell him to sit down and shut his cake hole because you’ve got more important things to do. He can come along for the ride if he must, but he can’t change the radio station. He certainly is not allowed to drive.

That metaphor I borrowed from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, because it is still one of the best ways I’ve seen to deal with negative, self-defeating thoughts like this. The roll your eyes bit was all mine, though.

Everyone deserves to be healthy. Recognise when you’re not and don’t let anyone, especially yourself, tell you otherwise.

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