Major trigger warnings for sexual violence and explicit detail of its aftermath. Victims of such ordeals may not need to read this. But I’m betting you almost everyone else does.
We all know the internet can be a hive of chaos. People are always at each other’s throats, throwing cheap insults back and forth, deriding and degrading and dismissing others and their feelings. We all should know by now that cyber-bullying is a real problem, not only at school level but generally speaking, as well. The internet provides not only a mask but a barrier, a wall: You can hurt someone without being caught, you can hurt someone without punished, you can hurt someone without seeing them cry.
I have to wonder if people saw the effects of what they do, if they would continue to do it. Looking at a still of someone crying or watching someone crying in a video against multiple attackers is different to most people than being in a room with only themselves and someone else, hurling insults at that someone else until they see them break down.
Would it be different?
Hurt people hurt people
I just read in a specific article that “trolls” are more likely to suffer from mental illness. I can see this as being true but extremely irresponsibly written. Many people think of mental illness rarer than it is or of it being different than it is. Up until 12 years old, I thought going into partial-hospitalization or full inpatient would mean seeing kids my age in the corner, rocking to and fro, and sobbing to themselves. Turns out, I’m the only one I’ve known who does that. Ever.
But I know I wasn’t alone in my gross stereotyping. When NAMI itself points out that 1 in 5 adults in the USA are expected to struggle with mental illness in any given year, you have to start rethinking it.
When I first heard that statistic, I fervently disagreed. I disagreed because so many consumers of mental healthcare are so fiercely misunderstood and ostracized, that I couldn’t wrap my head around it being so common.
But a lot of people go undiagnosed or without help.
And I could talk about this forever, but what I’m trying to get at right now, is that so many people are lacking in happiness in health. Everyone’s so angry. People are acting out with rage towards strangers. It’s not because they are mentally ill. It’s not that the mentally ill are somehow “worse” or more “evil” than “neurotypicals.” It’s that there is a ton of unresolved pain and malnutrition in the world, both of which literally lead to depressive symptoms. The problem is not the mentally ill or even mental illness. The problem is how we approach pain; how we deal with it; how we don’t–how so few people get help.
One of my counselors in partial told me when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old:
“Hurt people want to hurt people.”
See though, I don’t believe that. I myself am in a lot of pain and while I admit to vengeful impulses, I rarely ever actually want to hurt someone. It’s more a matter of “hurt people hurt people.” It’s often subconscious, e.g. someone having a bad day goes to a grocery store and flips out on the cashier because the cashier dropped something. Normally, they wouldn’t give the cashier a hard time. But they let themselves be influenced by this bad day.
Taking responsibility for your actions is always important. But when people refuse self awareness, it becomes more complicated to them, and they are likelier to hurt someone out of retaliation for something else.
The goal is to be assertive. You have the right to express your needs and express your feelings. But next time you have an impulse to lash out or say something hurtful, remember to ask yourself why and ask yourself what effect will it have. We are all hurting, mental illness or no mental illness. We all have bad days. How are you so much of an exception that it’s okay for you to spit venom and for no one else to spit venom on you?
Think about it.
Pain at its roots is neither test nor punishment. It is trial we are guaranteed simply by existing. Nothing greater than ourselves doles it out. Nothing greater than ourselves cares if we overcome it–so we must care ourselves if we do.
It varies by degrees and duration. It’s a war sometimes; an onslaught. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience. Sometimes it’s something in between and it exists for no other reason than “we exist.” We live. It is not the price of living, as pain in itself bears its own independent value. It just “is.” It exists with us. It offers opportunity, change, growth, and new perspectives. That alone makes us better than our suicidal thinking and our suicidal urges. Because there’s always a part of our pain that challenges us to make ourselves better. We just have to find it.
The puzzle is not pain. We may always be in pain while we live, discrete pain or concrete or conspicuous or not. The puzzle is the reaction. The puzzle is the loss and gain and how the pain is handled. Stop asking yourself, “Why?” and “Why me?” and “Why this?” There is no good reason except that it is proof we are alive. Don’t think too much on it–for, really, what better reason would there be than that?
Questions that are important to ask, questions with more productive and concrete answers, are as follows:
1. What can my pain teach me?
2. How can I make peace with my pain? and
3. How can my pain help me grow?
This is how healing begins.
When I was a kid and growing up, I often seemed to almost drown in this question. They’ll ask you in therapy or hospitals, “What are your coping skills?” “How do you cope?” and for me, the answers were ambiguous and nearly unreachable.
“I write,” I’d say, “but it hurts to write. I love art, but art hurts.”
I focused on this one subject so much: Something I value above most other things–creative expression–and how much it hurts to commit to but how much it hurts not to. Art and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. It has saved a lot of people, but truthfully it has only complicated and added weight to my life. It’s okay. I love it. And I feel great sacrifice often comes with great commitments.
So what are my coping skills? Some hospitals will give you print-outs of suggestions that I often found sometimes silly or counterintuitive–holding ice cubes in your hand or snapping rubber bands against your wrist, (which in itself is still self-harm.) I’ve known from an early age that different things work for different people, but nothing seemed to work at me.
I cried a lot. I still cry a lot. Many times it’s worse than crying. It’s that shrieking that accompanies a lot of internal violence and darkness, throwing oneself at a wall and the floor. But crying doesn’t help much, either. In fact it literally physically hurts and ties me too tightly with my pain.
But I have become much more self aware since I was 7, 12, 15, et cetera and have realized I’ve had a really high standard for coping skills. Many people, even professionals, like to act as if coping skills are “it.” They’re “survival things;” “things that make you feel better.” I didn’t really understand this concept, because I felt nothing really helped and that I’d just have to wade the pain out.
Then I started looking at three major elements:
1.) What are my instinctual responses to negative feelings and/or situations and why?
2.) What is something healthful I should try? and probably most helpfully:
3.) Is what I’m doing now something that will bring negative repercussions?
I struggled with self-hatred for a long time and still sometimes do–or, nowadays, low self-worth I guess. Self-hatred is something I feel I had to absolutely shut down some years ago, and I’ve worked really hard to do that. But, speaking of it then, many of my urges to were to act on negative or harmful behaviors that more often than not had negative consequences and added more stress. E.g. although self-harm made me feel calmer, it was something I was obligated to report to my doctor or my mother would see it or I’d have to wear long sleeves in summer to cover it up or et cetera, and truthfully, just pragmatically, it was more trouble than it was worth.
Let’s look at #2 now. We’ve more or less covered #1 and #3, so two is, again: “What is something healthful I should try?” Trying is a key thing in not just therapy but progress and development. It’s important–always–to keep going and to keep trying. If something doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. Move on. Go to something new, something healthful and helpful. I prefer coping skills that work things “out.” They’re rare. I don’t count “venting” because honestly, for me, talking about the thing directly sometimes stresses me out further. And as I’ve said, writing’s not tremendously healthy for me in these situations.
There is something about art I didn’t factor in though–until I tried painting with an OSP (Open Studio Process) therapist. More on the process itself later, but painting was something I had never truly done much of. But when I tried it–awesome. I was 19 and in this therapy session, I was basically asked to use any colors I felt I “jived” with and paint anything I “felt” like painting. OSP helped me to be non-critical of myself and considering it is not a major art of mine, I quickly unlearned the pressure to be good. I bought some acrylic paints, cheap canvasses, cheap brushes, and then realized how freeing it was to paint with my hands. I further connected to the canvas and to my “inner eye” and now in hard times, it is my best coping skill. I can use it to express the pain, to work some of it out. It’s creative, which is something I appreciate and flourish with. So it’s great. And things that have come into play also have been warm showers, although with body image and PTSD that has taken a while to develop into a coping skill; taking walks; adding things to a “beautiful things” list which I suppose is my equivalent of a gratitude journal, etc.
Many of the people I have talked to in the past have gone right along with my old mindset and have said, “Well, nothing works.” But I’ve learned: something’s gotta work. Something. And it doesn’t always have to carry negativity with it. Something positive has got to work. But you have to keep trying and thinking outside the box. With depression, it’s something that is often very hard to do. But you’ll find something if you keep trying. It’s not as unreachable as you might think it is!
Yesterday was hard for me. I had a lot of bad crashes and cried a lot. Today I was faring better until some intrusive negative thoughts began and started me on a downward spiral again–but then I stopped that spiral, crumpled it up, and threw it away.
It takes a lot of practice to manage your thinking, especially since most of our thoughts are automatic. And considering a single thought can change your entire mood and demeanor, that’s pretty scary and overwhelming. It can ruin your motivation and hope, and even when temporary, it’s still dangerous.
So let’s start fighting together today. I challenge you to try to be self-aware and for the love of all that is good in the world, routinely practice telling yourself:
“I am worthy of good things,”
“I get stronger every day,”
“I survive to make tomorrow better,” and possibly most importantly,
“I am more powerful and more significant than this negativity.”
If suffering from a mental illness–and truthfully, even if not–you are awesome for getting this far. Surviving is hard. I imagine it will always be hard for me, and it may be for you too. But we have a lot more control over our lives than we think.
So take it.
And make living better.
Love and strength to you always.
This is kind of long so while I hope you’ll read all of it, I’ll write key sentences in bold.
They often suggest goal-setting in psychiatric environments, and I have to say that this is one totally generic, simple thing that has effectively worked for me. For two years now, I’ve used “resolution” binders in which I try to set goals daily in accordance with my New Year’s resolutions. I feel like the biggest problem with achieving New Year’s resolutions is not necessarily motivation (or lack thereof), but the fact that people so often lack a formula or plan to achieve those resolutions. There’s additional complication to that.
In 2015, I set goals such as “lose weight” and “live in less clutter” and wrote down ways to achieve them in bulleted lists. The only goal I accomplished in 2015 was “read 30 books,” which was fairly easy-ish for me, since I love to read, counted some children’s books, and I had just bounced back from a long period of not being able to focus and was so elated that I could. But the way I worded the goals by and large was the problem.