I am a man of many flaws, but chief among them is my self-centredness.
I’d say it wasn’t always the case, but then I’d counter that most of the times I was selfless, even the years where it became a defining characteristic of mine, were times I was trying desperately to fix a failure sized hole in my heart in the absence of understanding where that came from and why. I needed a new identity, so I put more of myself out there for friends and close family, and I needed the stability of those relationships, so I kept it going until it broke me.
Once it did, I started going the other way. People kept telling me I put too much of myself out there, so I retreated. It took time, but eventually I had a positive feedback loop going. Saying No, or creating distance, reduced my risk of harm and enabled me to live more in a bubble. It gave me Power. It gave me Control.
But I’ve never been particularly good at balance. And so to the other end of the scale I went.
The problem with dwelling at either end of the extremes is the difficulty in clawing your way back to the middle, or even just out of the red zone. If you’re just a bit of course, it might be a small correction and admission of error and back you go. When you’re way off into the red, there’s something more fundamentally wrong at play, and that’s a bigger admission that most people want to or even can make.
It feels both correct and a cop-out to blame this, or anything, on my mental health. On the one hand, a long term battle with mental health leaves its scars, and to continually struggle puts you in a state of constant vigilance and hyper-awareness.
There’s a scene in West Wing where Leo and Fitz are talking about the President’s reluctance to assassinate a foreign government minister who also happens to head up a terror cell. Fitz, chairman of the joint chiefs and a Navy Admiral, asks if Leo can tell the difference between war time and peace time anymore against the backdrop of terror attacks and skirmishes in the absence of a formally declared war. They both agree they could not.
That’s how I feel on a daily basis. Is this stress I’m feeling a pre-cursor to something more? Are my anxieties getting the better of me? My motivation is slipping again; am I falling back into apathy? Is any of this noticeable? Even when I’m not in the thick of a crisis, I’m expecting one any day now. Waiting to see how it manifests this time. This breeds a vigilant self-obsession. Constantly monitoring and assessing my symptoms, whilst fearing committing to things I’m not 100% certain of in case of the unforeseen being too much.
On other other hand, I made, and continue to make, a series of choices in the aim of making me feel better. I actively seek what I feel is best for me and makes me feel in control of myself, and while I never directly aim to hurt others, by insulating myself in a bubble and creating a ‘healthy’ distance I have done so and fractured relationships. I may not be fully lucid when I make these choices, but I make them all the same pursuing the quick emotional fix.
The irony is that the fix for my obsessive self-centredness is to be vigilantly aware of my decisions and their motives.
Today is Mother’s Day in the UK. My wife got pretty excited about the present we got her yesterday, and wanted to take it over last night. This presented two problems.
- I wanted to go to the gym to get my sweet endorphin and masculinity fix that I needed after a really bad week and a day of cleaning.
- I didn’t want to go, and didn’t want to go alone today.
My mum and I have a strained relationship, almost entirely on my end as befits this post. The finer details are best left to my therapist, but in a nutshell, it’s a textbook case of difficult childhood causing problems later in life and me learning that distance can be good for the soul, although not so good for the relationship. A relationship that was made closer by her being my only parent, and looking after her in her mental health episodes became a defining corner of my Selfless times.
My wife, no stranger to my times in Crisis, saw the look on my face and said it’s fine, we’ll go Sunday. So I had an out, so long as I could stomach being selfish to both my wife and my mum and putting my needs above theirs for an hour of my evening. Thankfully, I couldn’t.
I make dozens of these decisions, week in, week out. I won’t catch them all , but as long as I catch enough, I’m hoping the snowball effect takes over. That’s the short term fix.
But there is still a balance to be made between not being a prick and not sacrificing myself for others on a constant basis. No is a perfectly fine word to use, just not constantly. That’s how I end up alone, and try as I might I can’t function alone.
That’s when the real dark times happen.
For now though, it’s about just trying to be a better person, day in, day out. And hoping the snowball takes me further.
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