Core beliefs

It’s not been an easy week. I’m feeling very fatigued and depressed on and off and am struggling to get things done at work. In the end, I’ve just decided to take it easy until I go on holiday on Saturday and see how I feel when I get back.

My September 11 posts have been disturbing me because they seem to suggest a core belief that my worth is very much measured by external achievements, that I have to work very hard to prove my worth, and another that I’m not worthy of help and support. The first I thought I’d dealt with in therapy with F and the second I had no idea was there. I’m scared by how much it resonates with me. Other people deserve help and support, but I should just be able to pull myself together and deal with my problems alone. I know the way many health professionals have treated me has fed into that, but if I’m honest I think it’s been with me all my life.

I’ve been pondering what it means to be ill as well, and I started thinking about this in group therapy on Wednesday. It’s clear I have a difficult time accepting that I am ill (or living with the aftereffects of trauma, depending on your perspective) and that this affects my ability to function – and in particular accepting my limitations and issues in between the obvious episodes of depression. Yet it’s also been clear to me for years that I can’t just pull myself together by trying a little harder. I feel I should be able to, but I know I can’t. Where does that leave me? Doesn’t that prove I’m ill? I realised in therapy that on the deepest gut level I don’t think of myself as ill but as flawed and wrong. Other people are ill and deserving of treatment but I’m just wrong and there’s little hope for me.

They’re distressing beliefs and I don’t know what to do with them. I remember Mind Over Mood suggested challenging core beliefs by writing lists of evidence against them, but that never really changed anything for me – it might help in the short term, though. I asked on Twitter and got some suggestions of resources from @bethlehemballet and @ZHBully, so I’ll have a look at those. I talked a little about how I felt in therapy and found that others have similar experiences. A lot of people in the group seem to feel that everyone else knows something they don’t – some fundamental secret to coping with life. With me it’s more like there’s something bad about me that no one else has and I have to hide it from them at all costs. Of course I know this isn’t rational, but that’s what I feel on a gut level when I really let myself pay attention to it.

Identifying these core beliefs has raised a lot of questions for me. Am I really this fucked up? Have I been believing these things all along and operating on denial, lying to myself while behind the scenes my unconscious wrecks my life? Or is therapy damaging me by encouraging me to find, almost create issues and think about myself in a way that’s destructive? Or are these beliefs actually just a symptom of depression that’s more severe that I’d realised? These questions have been going round and round in my head and exhausting me because I don’t know which one’s true and they all have different solutions.

Yesterday I gave up on the idea of getting some work done and decided to practise mindfulness. I took a shower (the running water always seems to help me focus) and tried to pay attention to what I felt deep down rather than ruminating. I started to wonder whether my different theories were really mutually exclusive. Aren’t they just extreme positions on a spectrum? I sat with this idea for a while and it began to make sense to me. I can’t know whether these beliefs were truly gone when I was well, or whether I was just doing a better job of pushing them away, but I’ve started to think of them as possibly transitory beliefs which I’m vulnerable to and which are likely to strike when I’m feeling low or stressed. This idea helps a lot because it means both meds and therapy can help with them. It means it’s not my fault if they go away then come back. And it means I’m not somehow more fucked up now, just more aware. The therapy I’m having is supposed to make me more aware of these things and is supposed to be uncomfortable at times. This is the approach I wanted. In time I can judge how much it’s helping me, but for now the most effective thing for me to do is make sure I get enough support in facing these things.

Ah, support. It’s a shame that these very core beliefs and issues make it difficult to reach out. :(

At least I am reaching out online. And I spoke about things in therapy, if only briefly. Another member of the group actually congratulated me on how much I’m contributing and how much I’ve shared about myself, given that I’m such a new member (nine weeks is not long when one person’s been there for six years!) I’ve been beating myself up for not ‘using’ the group more but maybe he has a point. Trusting people takes time, psychoanalytic therapy takes time, and if I have to live with my problems in the mean time I don’t need to add self-loathing to the mix. ;)

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7 thoughts on “Core beliefs

  1. it takes all of us a while I think – any sort of therapy is so gruelling, and MH stuff comes with so many labels and theories that I know I find it hard to work out what’s wrong, and whether it’s my fault, and if so, whether I deserve help, and if not, if it’s all in my head. Sounds like group is doing you good though – I’d be TERRIFIED. Not many people could do it – you’re so brave.

  2. “I’ve started to think of them as possibly transitory beliefs which I’m vulnerable to and which are likely to strike when I’m feeling low or stressed. This idea helps a lot because it means both meds and therapy can help with them. It means it’s not my fault if they go away then come back. And it means I’m not somehow more fucked up now, just more aware.”

    I really like this! Probably because it’s a similar view to mine (confirmation bias, hah) – if I’m stressed out or run down I am hounded by beliefs and thoughts and urges which during other days/weeks/months just aren’t present at all. I’ve done a lot of work on relapse prevention and increasing my resilience, but this still happens when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I think it always will happen. That’s not to say that I will be ill for the rest of my life, just that I need to be careful during times of stress :)

    I’m glad group therapy is helping! I hope you have a nice relaxing time away too.

  3. um, I just wrote a really long reply – I didn’t think that is had anything that could identify you – but if I’m wrong tell me and I’ll take it down – I’ve posted it on my blog as ‘a reply to a friend’ as I felt that it was a bit too long winded to leave in your reply box, and it was making me think things through. ((hugs))

    • Thanks! I like the look of the Change for the Better book and have added it to my Amazon wish list. :)

      I remember that chart in Feeling Good. When I was severely depressed I scored very highly in the negative range (or should that be low…? You know what I mean) but after therapy with F my scores were healthy and normal. I don’t have the book any more but I’m pretty sure if I did the test again it would show a lot of emotional vulnerabilities once more.

      I like what you said:

      “Experiencing being very mentally well and very mentally unwell, is unnerving and bizarre, but in all of us who want to work hard to be good, pull our socks up and get on with it and are maybe a bit rubbish at knowing how to look after ourselves emotionally I think it adds a dangerous trap. That we’ve moved from A to B before, we can see A to B, so we should just be able to go to B. And it sounds like you’re also thinking that you’ve made A up, so you should be just turning it into B NOW.”

      That is very true. I feel as though having achieved such a good recovery before, having learned strategies and gained insight, I should just be able to BE well. In fact, I was very triggered the other night by a poster with a slogan something like, “Your mental health is important. Don’t let it be a problem” because although I think the point was that you should take care of your mental health to avoiding developing problems, the way the second sentence was worded seemed to imply that you can just decide not to have a mental health problem, and that was a painful match with the (irrational) beliefs I’m struggling with. I think it doesn’t help that a lot of psychological stuff does seem to assume recovery is a one-way journey and doesn’t place much emphasis on any biological component or on the episodic nature of some illnesses. I’m coming to suspect that my issues are a lot more episodic than those of others in my therapy group – though there’s also the argument that I left therapy with F too early and wasn’t as ‘fixed’ as I thought I was, and that it was always going to be easy for a few major life stresses to push me over the edge. I will blog more about this in the near future!

      As always, thank you for such an insightful comment. :)

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