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.